Vol. 1, No. 1
Aug. 2009

Staff unites for response to novel H1N1

For two weeks in the late spring of 2009, the University Hygienic Laboratory was an integral part of the response to a public health emergency that captured the nation's attention and tested the preparedness of clinical laboratories and public health agencies throughout the United States. This was the beginning of the outbreak of novel influenza A H1N1 (swine-like), which was still being confirmed in Iowans in late July.

Jeff Benfer

During the initial surge in testing from April 27 through May 15, the Hygienic Laboratory rapidly increased its testing volume to meet the demands of the epidemic, while still conducting routine infectious disease and environmental testing. The Laboratory's response was successful due to the efforts of several UHL departments.

While clinical staff in the Disease Control Division prepared for the technical aspects of testing, UHL's environmental team of chemists, managers and support personnel pitched in to fill the demand created by a dramatic rise in test requests. Some helped assemble the more than 4,900 sample collection tubes and specimen collection kits that were sent to physicians and clinics across the state. Other employees manned the call center established to respond to novel H1N1 testing questions. All told, in two weeks time, the Hygienic Laboratory staff logged 2,654 hours directly in response to the outbreak and rapidly tested more than 1,400 specimens sent from physicians across the state.

Although these numbers provide a glimpse of the surge in testing at the beginning of the epidemic, they do not reflect the ongoing activity in testing, training additional staff, test validations and influenza surveillance performed by the Hygienic Laboratory. Unlike previous years, the novel H1N1 influenza virus has continued to be active during the summer months, and predictions are for a reappearance in the early fall, when the typical influenza season starts. The actual impact of novel H1N1 may not be fully measured until after the upcoming influenza season.

Links of interest:

Pandemic Flu: Lessons from the Frontlines

Iowa Department of Public Health Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Virus

CDC's H1N1 Flu page

World Health Organization's Pandemic (H1N1) 2009