California lab to be upgrade to respond to bioterrorism agents

California's Stanislaus County has announced plans to upgrade its health lab to add sophisticated equipment that will be used to test for potential bioterrorism agents.

Supervisors have approved $376,585 for the lab, located in the Health Services Agency complex in Modesto, to buy and install a polymerase chain reaction system, which can provide public health officials with powerful diagnostic tools that work to identify potential bioagents within hours. The system detects DNA to identify bacteria or viruses.

Currently, Stanislaus County's only means for such testing is reliant upon regional or state labs located in other counties, further slowing turnaround time. Those labs must grow cultures to recognize bacterias and viruses, which takes days.

The $281,585 in funding for equipment costs at the lab will be covered by Homeland Security. A planned expansion for the lab to house the equipment is expected to cost $95,000. That construction bill will be covered by public facilities fees and Health Services Agency funding.

The new system is currently targeted to begin operation by the end of 2010 according to officials, though the county still has not hired a contractor for the renovations or installed the equipment.

Additional staff will not be needed to run the equipment as the microbiologists working there are capable of running it.