2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
OF MINNESOTA LABS
by Maureen Sullivan, MPH, emergency preparedness and response unit supervisor,
Minnesota Department of Health, Public Health Laboratory
The Minnesota Laboratory System (MLS) is a statewide, voluntary network of laboratories, established by the Minnesota Department of Health Public Health Laboratory to facilitate inter-laboratory communication, collaboration and cooperation. More than
475 member labs (public health, private clinical, veterinary and agricultural laboratories) serve
A vital component of this system is electronic connectivity, both fax and email, among
members. In addition to providing a laboratory network essential for statewide emergency
preparedness and response, the MLS plays a key role in detecting and investigating common
and emerging infectious disease outbreaks, monitoring trends in antibiotic resistance,
providing continuing education and training, establishing safe transport of specimens and
assuring quality laboratory practice.
The MLS Alert System
delivers an average
of 34 messages to
Minnesota labs annually.
The MLS employs a Laboratory Alert System to keep Minnesota’s labs informed. The system
uses CDC’s Health Alert Network (a system for distributing urgent public health information),
with three levels of messages—Update, Advisory and Alert. The “Alert” level conveys the
highest sense of urgency and requires a response from the receiver. During the anthrax events
in the fall of 2001, this system was put to use quickly, keeping MLS laboratories in the know.
The system helped collect anthrax active surveillance data from the MLS laboratories for the
Minnesota Department of Health epidemiology staff. Communication to MLS laboratories has
helped strengthen public-private partnerships, as noted by one laboratory supervisor from a
small rural laboratory: “I really appreciate the MLS system that MDH put in place. I feel less isolated
since we are not affiliated with any major health care group.” The MLS Alert System delivers an
average of 34 messages to Minnesota labs annually.
Almost all of the messages are defined as “Updates,” providing routine laboratory information
unlikely to require immediate action or response. Examples of topics include MDH training
opportunities, outbreak information, influenza information, agent specific information and
emergency preparedness announcements. Occasionally, an “Advisory” will be released, such
as in June 2005, when an infant death was thought to be due to the organism Enterobacter
sakazakii, and possibly linked to infant formula. An MLS Advisory was quickly released, asking
for MLS laboratories to provide MDH with immediate active surveillance data for the organism.
No other cases were found and no link to baby formula was made; however, the alert system
proved highly effective in gathering data rapidly. The system continues to be a valuable tool for
the MLS and provides laboratories with current information.
Available in the digital edition and mobile app.
Maureen Sullivan, MPH, Emergency Preparedness
and Response Unit Supervisor, Minnesota Public
Health Laboratory, shares how the lab’s alert
system helped them respond to an anthrax event.
Click the Play button to view.
Digi Tal ex Tra