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FOR RELEASE: March 23, 2000
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

National Medical Laboratory Week is April 2 – 8

Medical laboratories and their staffs have made vital contributions to the quality of patient care and the preservation of life. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, its Public Health Laboratory Service examined more than 400,000 specimens last year for the detection of syphilis, HIV, hepatitis A, tuberculosis, chlamydia, rabies, metabolic disease disorders, foodborne outbreaks, and other infectious agents.

"These laboratory personnel include medical technologists, clinical laboratory scientists, technicians and assistants who work to protect the health of Oklahomans," said State Health Commissioner J.R. Nida, M.D. "During National Medical Laboratory Week, April 2-8, we want to recognize the benefits the public receives from the knowledge and skills of the medical laboratory professionals working in public health labs around the state."

Public health laboratories have a long history of cutting edge technology development and its application to protecting the public's health. One example is the success of the newborn screening program. The metabolic disease screening provided through the Public Health Laboratory on every newborn in Oklahoma to determine if the infant has an inborn metabolic disease such as PKU, as well as sickle cell disease, hypothyroidism or galactosemia, provides an invaluable intervention resource. The screening and testing of newborns for sickle cell anemia can reduce deaths from this disease by up to 84 percent. Newborn screening and rapid diagnosis and treatment prevent mental retardation, illness, and death in newborns.

"Clearly, the newborn screening technology available through the public health laboratory saves millions of dollars and improves the quality of life for affected babies and their families," Nida said. "Estimates are that for every dollar spent on newborn screening, $9 in medical care and treatment costs are saved, resulting in a national savings of $36 million every year."

Medical laboratory professionals provide services such as preventing disease and disability in vulnerable populations like women and children, developing new methods to combat infectious diseases and preparing for and responding to emergencies like bioterrorism and natural disasters. Some examples of ongoing surveillance and intervention by public health labs nationwide include:

  • Antibiotic resistant organisms – Use testing to detect the emergence of resistant microorganisms so effective therapies can be administered to prevent the spread of infection and save lives.
  • E.coli – Identify outbreaks to prevent and limit severe illness and death caused by these bacteria.
  • Hantavirus – In 1993, federal labs discovered the exposure to rodent excretion that caused the deadly virus, helped develop new testing technology, and implemented guidelines to protect against exposure.
  • Rabies – In one year alone, animal testing by public health labs prevent the pain, trauma and expense of rabies shots to more than 71,000 people and saved more than $100 million nationally.
  • Chlamydia – Early detection and treatment of chlamydia saves an estimated $100 million - $400 million per year over the costs of treating complications later and can reduce incidence of infertility by as much as 56 percent.
  • Hepatitis B – Each year in the U.S., between 20,000 to 30,000 infants and young children are infected with hepatitis B. Early testing combined with a single dose vaccine for the infant within 12 hours of birth can prevent chronic infection in up to 95 percent of cases.

"Early detection of diseases saves dollars, allows early treatment, and allows people to live more productive lives," Nida said. "We are certain that the services of our public health laboratory professionals will help guide our public health system into the new millennium."


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