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MOLECULAR DIAGNOSTICS AND VIROLOGY

JEFF BENFER: jeff-benfer@uiowa.edu

A mumps outbreak that affected many students at Iowa universities and the emergence of Zika topped the testing volume in Molecular Diagnostics and Virology. The section responded by adopting a technology known as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to quickly detect the presence of this virus.

Molecular testing techniques have significantly increased the overall sensitivity and specificity of detection of bacteria and viruses that cause disease. The Molecular Diagnostics and Virology section works in close partnership with the Iowa Department of Public Health to target diseases of public health significance highly communicable diseases that require intervention to reduce or stop their spread. Such diseases include legionellosis, viral meningitis, mumps, herpes and chicken pox.

The section also tests specimens related to disease outbreaks, such as whooping cough (pertussis) and norovirus, the primary cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks in Iowa. The Hygienic Lab is the only lab in the state that performs confirmatory norovirus tests. Identification of these viruses allows state outbreak investigators to optimally target remediation and prevention strategies.

Testing is also performed in support of various surveillance programs: viral respiratory diseases and sexually transmitted diseases through IDPH, and arbovirus surveillance in partnership with IDPH, Iowa State University and local public health departments.

  • Viral respiratory disease surveillance informs the medical community of when and where influenza is circulating in the state and if these strains match the current vaccine.
  • Sexually transmitted disease surveillance provides testing for the diagnosis of chlamydia and gonorrhea infections, ensuring patients receive proper treatment to prevent further spread of infection and providing reliable surveillance data.
  • Arbovirus surveillance tests mosquitoes and humans for West Nile virus and alerts public health officials when mosquito-borne illnesses are circulating, which allows them to implement methods of infection prevention.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Developed protocols and provided training for Next Generation Sequencing for multiple sections of the laboratory in support of the CDCs PulseNet (sequencing clinical isolates associated with foodborne outbreaks), FDAs GenomeTrakr (sequencing suspected food and environmental samples) and tuberculosis surveillance.

  • Responded to a major mumps outbreak across Iowa, primarily circulating within the state university campuses.

  • Facilitated testing of the Zika virus for the state of Iowa at the early onset of the epidemic. Once the Emergency Use Authorization was issued by the U.S Food and Drug Administration, the section provided on-site testing for Zika, chikungunya and dengue viruses using the TrioPlex RT-PCR assay.

TOP TESTS

MUMPS VIRUS BY RT-PCR
ZIKA VIRUS BY RT-PCR
INFLUENZA VIRUS BY RT-PCR
NOROVIRUS BY RT-PCR
CHLAMYDIA/GONORRHEA BY NAAT
50,648 TOTAL TESTS NOT INCLUDING PROJECTS AND SEQUENCING

Other Units in Disease Control


The Office of the Director consists of 10 key functional units that enable the State Hygienic Laboratory to achieve its statutory charge set forth in the Iowa Administrative Code.


The primary mission of the Disease Control Division is to test human specimens, food and water for diseases of public health significance to protect the citizens of Iowa.


The Environmental Health Division monitors drinking water, wastewater, air, soil and food for contaminants of potential environmental and public health concern.


The Division of Administration and Finance is responsible for the management of the business practices, all Hygienic Laboratory facilities, and pre/post testing support.