Wednesday, May 15, 2024
State Hygienic Lab 1

The State Hygienic lab (SHL) celebrated Medical Laboratory Professionals Week or Lab week on April 15-19th 2024, to show appreciation to its hardworking staff. It is a week where laboratorians and all lab staff take a break from the demands of the job to participate in fun activities and events. The SHL is Iowa’s official public health lab, and its work directly impacts the life of every Iowan. 

Did you know? In 1956, the SHL was one of 40 nuclear surveillance systems chosen to measure radioactivity in the air and rivers in Iowa. SHL fulfilled this role again in 1986 in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster.

Established in 1904 by the Iowa code in response to the typhoid and smallpox epidemics, the SHL started as the Bacteriological Laboratory (part of the UI College of Medicine). The lab would continually expand in both scope and locality. The SHL currently has 3 sites: Coralville, Ankeny and Lakeside (Milford). Consistent with the core functions of a public health lab, the SHL performs testing for food safety, lead levels in blood, drinking water and air quality (Environmental health), newborn screening (NBS), maternal prenatal screening, disease control (monitoring and testing), emergency preparedness and response (chemical and biological threats), training and research.

Did you know? During the HIV/ AIDS epidemic in the 80’s the SHL received national recognition for its work in developing HIV testing standards.  

Though a national celebration, Lab week at SHL has a distinct flair and is organized annually by volunteers from SHL HR and the SHL staff council. This year saw various activities for staff to participate in, such as a wellness walk, virtual bingo, Wordle, informative SHL-related presentations and food & clothing drives. There was a significant increase in prizes and giveaways compared to previous years. Staff were treated to pizza for lunch on the penultimate day of lab week and a ‘snack of the day’, with goodies on offer such as: granola bars, donuts, cookies, cupcakes, and popcorn.

Did you know? The SHL was at the forefront of flood water surveillance during the great Iowa flood of 1993.

Another event called ‘SHL Field trips’, was born from staff suggestions and occurred at the Ankeny lab. Participants were able to meet their colleagues from different sections. They learned about the 50 disorders screened for by newborn screening (NBS); the water, air quality and blood lead testing done by the Environmental section; and were shown fascinating examples of the organisms found in rivers and lakes by the Limnology section. These tours elicited so much interest and questions from attendees, that they ran twice as long as originally scheduled. 

Did you know? After Hurricane Katrina devastated LA in 2005, the NBS lab in Ankeny began testing samples from LA newborns and continued doing so for 3 years? Also, the lab is currently contracted to perform NBS testing for AK, ND and SD babies.

However, the highlight of SHL’s lab week was the annual Bags/ Cornhole tournament, which was moved indoors owing to rain. The Coralville lab had a very genteel tournament that saw the ‘Kornholers’ beat ‘The Big Bag Theory’ to clinch the trophy in a nailbiter of a final. In the Ankeny lab however, Bags mean war! Team ‘Hold my Drinks’ entertained the crowd with their trash-talk and showed off their prowess in the art of psychological warfare. This was followed by a thrilling semifinal that saw the reigning champs suffer a shock defeat at the hands of the opposing team. The final however, set up yet another Environmental vs NBS showdown. In the end, Team ‘Bags of steel’ showed their mettle and defeated team ‘Baggin’ & Braggin’ to clinch the trophy for the Environmental section. However, NBS will be seeking redemption, so next year’s tournament will be a can’t miss event. 

Did you know? The SHL played a critical role in identifying biological threats in Iowa during the West Nile virus epidemic, the SARS, H1N1 and anthrax scares and the COVID-19 pandemic? 

As SHL looks forward to next year’s Lab week, the important work does not stop. From the air you breathe, to the water you drink, to saving the lives of Iowa’s babies, rest assured that the SHL will be working 365 days a year to ensure the safety and health of the Iowans they serve. Learn more about the SHL here.