The County Public Health Laboratory added three state-of-the-art testing systems in 2016 that almost immediately helped protect the public’s health and increased the County’s efficiency in detecting and treating infectious diseases.
The new testing systems were put to good use quickly. Within days of installing a system capable of detecting and analyzing certain infections diseases, the Public Health Laboratory was tasked with identifying the source and organism causing a large outbreak of suspected foodborne illnesses in San Luis Obispo County—an unfortunate, but not unusual occurrence.
Before acquiring the new equipment, this type of molecular testing would have taken highly-trained microbiologists at least two days to produce results, but the new equipment produced results in about an hour and required only a few minutes of staff time.
Faster identification of the organism that caused the illness meant that the County Public Health Department was able to intervene days earlier and prevent many more people from getting sick. This produced faster results that better supported patients and public health while also reducing staff time from days to minutes, which substantially reduced costs and saved taxpayers some money.
Another new system in the County Public Health Laboratory also proved valuable soon after installation in 2016. This new equipment offers a significant advantage during a large outbreak of an infectious disease by extracting DNA from multiple specimens simultaneously. In January 2016, this technology enabled one County scientist to test as many as 300 specimens for a specific strain of influenza circulating in San Luis Obispo County.
The lab also installed a new benchtop robot in 2016 that extracts DNA and tests for tuberculosis in just two hours. Besides improving testing efficiency in the lab, this new equipment detected a rare form of multiple-drug-resistant tuberculosis in SLO County.
Without this state-of-the-art equipment, the County Public Health Laboratory would have had to send the specimen to a State lab for testing. In the few days it would have taken to get definitive results from the State, the individual with multiple-drug-resistant tuberculosis could have potentially infected others in the community or traveled elsewhere, never knowing they carried this dangerous infectious disease.
The County Public Health Laboratory performs clinical, environmental, food, and animal testing services for a variety of clients, but it is also responsible for specialized testing services and responding quickly in the event of a public health emergency.
These technological upgrades expanded local testing capabilities, improved staff efficiency, provided results much faster, improved individual patient care, and mitigated public health risks in 2016.