Houston Opens New $17 Million Regional Health Laboratory

Rasmita Patel prepares samples for gonorrhea and chlamydia testing at Houston's new regional public health laboratory.
The City of Houston has moved its public health laboratory into a newly renovated building near the DeBakey Veterans Hospital. Scientists perform half a million tests in the lab every year, checking for everything from rabies to daily pollen counts.

 

The city’s public health laboratory is separate from its crime lab. The public health lab tests for food poisoning, sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, and environmental contamination.

Dr. Vern Juchau is in charge. He says that the lab does testing for a 17-county region.

It also has a lead role in responding to bioterrorism threats or emerging infectious diseases:

“We’re frequently the first laboratory that can respond to things like the outbreaks of H1N1 influenza, the West Nile outbreak we had several years ago, the anthrax scare after 9/11, because we have a close connection to CDC.”

The laboratory was previously housed in an old building that had problems with climate control.

Shannon York is the lead microbiologist for HIV testing.  She says the problems at the old building led to delays.

“Sometimes we’d have to shut down testing, wait for the temperature to come back up to levels we can test in. We had some water leaks and that make it interesting.”

The city spent $17 million to buy the building and renovate it.

Testing for public health threats costs about $2 million a year. An additional $1 million comes in the form of grants, particularly for sexually-transmitted disease tests.

From the KUHF Health and Science Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.

 

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...