Budget cuts may hinder U.S. lab network

On the 10th anniversary of the 2001 anthrax attacks, the U.S. laboratory network that tested more than 125,000 samples for the deadly bacterium is eroding, a new report has revealed.
The Association of Public Health Laboratories is concerned that investments in laboratory capacity might hinder a similar response to a terrorist attack or other type of crisis in the future.
The APHL released a paper on Tuesday tracing the evolution of the Laboratory Response Network as the capacity for laboratory response to hazards has declined as a result of funding cuts. The LRN became operational in August 1999 as a network of laboratories with standard protocols for handling and testing possible agents of terrorism. The LRN went into a high state of alert on September 11, 2001, and the alert became even more real when a possible case of inhalational anthrax was found in Florida on October 2, 2001.
Since its peak years of funding following the anthrax attack, the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement's funding has been cut by one-third, while other grants and cooperative agreements funding laboratory preparedness also face cuts.
"The whole infrastructure is being eroded," Eric Blank, DrPH and APHL's current director of public health systems, said. "I quite frankly - and this is my personal opinion - I'm really worried about the next pandemic or the next emergency situation. And here's why: The public health laboratory community will do everything it can to respond. But, we saw hints of cracks even in our H1N1 response, which was a good response. And the next time, when we don't have all our tools and all our staff and all our capabilities, we're not going to be able to do it."
Between August 10, 2009 and August 10, 2010, the 51 state and DC laboratories received nearly 3,500 samples suspected of contamination with radiological, chemical or biological threats. There were more than 500 threat letters alone.