The health department laboratories in Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota are working on a program that will link the three together to share information on a potential flu outbreak. Dari Shirazi is overseeing the project for the Iowa lab, and says they’ve received a federal grant to put it together.
Shirazi says they are trying to create a computer system where each lab can share information between the states. In the case of an influenza outbreak for example, Iowa could take samples and log in and send the samples to Nebraska where they don’t have the outbreak, and Nebraska can test the samples.
Shirazi says the system could be used in a major outbreak, or in other cases where one lab is out of commission. He says Louisiana is a good example, as their public health lab was completely underwater after a hurricane and they couldn’t do testing on newborn kids. It was a natural disaster that shut down the lab, and this system would give the three states the opportunity to use the labs of neighboring states in a major outbreak, or a natural disaster.
Iowa’s University Hygienic Lab did the testing for Louisiana for three years after the hurricane. This project is just got started at the beginning of this month. Shirazi says they’re getting some meetings together with the three states so they can look at the tests that Nebraska does and Minnesota does, how the tests are reported, and create what’s called a "test menu." He says that test menu can then be used to share information on the types of testing needed and what’s available.
Shirazi says the system could eventually be expanded nationwide to link all the state health labs together.
"Although we are starting with influenza the potential for doing this in large scale, whether it’s newborn screening, whether it’s influenza or other diseases, or other testing in general, is incredible, and it gives the capability to be flexible in the case of natural disasters as well as disease outbreaks," Shirazi says.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided the $258,000 grant to develop the three-state program. Shirazi, works out of the University Hygienic lab and says they hope to have it up and ready to run by this time next year.