September 8, 2004
Charlotte, NC - The newest N.C. Regional Response Laboratory is near completion. The laboratory, located at the Mecklenburg County Health Department's southeast campus, is one of three new regional labs being established in the state that can be used to more readily identify a potentially dangerous biological specimen.
The state recognized the need for such regional labs after a flood of suspicious material samples were sent to the State Laboratory for Public Health in Raleigh immediately after the events of September 11, 2001. Establishing regional labs across the state will help rule out benign materials faster, and allow more hazardous materials collected locally to be safely contained for shipment to the state lab for further testing. Other regional response labs are in Pitt County and Buncombe County.
The lab is considered a Biosafety Level 3, or BSL-3 laboratory. Laboratories that handle potentially infectious agents are rated on four levels. BSL-1 laboratories handle agents that are considered harmless. BSL-4 labs handle agents that are considered extremely dangerous and life-threatening. BSL-3 labs handle agents that may cause serious or potentially lethal diseases.
Having such a lab located in Mecklenburg County also provides an invaluable resource for more routine communicable disease investigations. The lab and its staff played a key role in the Health Department's investigation into an outbreak of shigellosis in child care facilities and schools last year. The lab tested many of the thousands of stool samples collected, which were used to quickly identify patients with the disease.
Dr. Leah Devlin, State health director, Dr. James W. Kirkpatrick, State bioterrorism coordinator, and other local officials are to tour the laboratory during an open house on Thursday, September 9, 2004. The open house is being scheduled before the lab is fully up-and-running. Once bacteria and viruses are present in the lab, it will be off-limits to visitors.
Media will be allowed entry into the lab on Thursday between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.
# # #