To promote the role of public health laboratories in shaping national and global health objectives, and to promote policies, programs and technologies that assure continuous improvement in the quality of laboratory practice and health outcomes.
A healthier world through quality laboratory practice.1899 American Public Health Association formed the Committee of Laboratories
1921 Southern Public Health Laboratory Association (SPHLA) formed
1927 SPHLA became State Laboratory Directors Conference and opened membership to other states
1939 SPHLA changed its name to Conference of State and Provincial Laboratory Directors
1951 Association of State and Territorial Public Health Laboratory Directors founded
1998 Renamed the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) and became a more inclusive organization with new membership categories
Public health laboratories operate as a first line of defense to protect the public against diseases and other health hazards, ranging from testing of water, food, dairy and environmental products to investigation of newly emerging infectious diseases. Working in collaboration with other arms of the nation’s public health system, public health laboratories provide clinical diagnostic testing, disease surveillance, newborn screening, environmental and radiological testing, emergency response support, outbreak detection, applied research, laboratory training and other essential services to the communities they serve. Public health laboratory scientists are highly educated specialists with knowledge of one or more scientific disciplines, advanced skills in laboratory practice and the ability to apply this expertise to the detection and solution of complex problems affecting human health.
Every US state and territory, and the District of Columbia, has a central governmental public health laboratory that performs testing and other laboratory services on behalf of the entire jurisdiction. In addition, some states have local public health laboratories ranging in size from large metropolitan laboratories with over a hundred scientists to small rural laboratories with one or two staff that support local public health. Examples of testing performed by public health laboratories include testing drinking and recreational water, food safety testing, testing for lead exposure in children, screening newborns for genetic and metabolic disorders, rabies testing and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
Many state public health laboratories also perform environmental testing. In some states, the environmental and public health laboratory are the same laboratory and are often within the state health department. In other states, the environmental laboratory is separate from the public health lab and is part of the department of environmental quality or natural resources while the public health laboratory is part of the health department.
Similarly, testing for food safety may take place in the public health laboratory or in a food lab within the department of agriculture. With global food sourcing, each year sees new outbreaks take headlines (e.g., E. coli in lettuce, Salmonella in peanut butter), and the laboratory is a critical link in the chain of detection that helps to quickly identify the source of the outbreak and facilitate recall of unsafe consumable products.
No matter where the laboratory is housed, one common feature among all of them is the commitment of laboratory personnel to keeping the environment safe and protecting public health.
Through its programs, APHL advances the excellence of public health laboratories.
APHL’s Environmental Health Program focuses on the role of the laboratory in detecting the presence of contaminants – both in people and in our environment. Environmental laboratories conduct regular testing of water, air, soil, food and other media to ensure that populations are not being exposed to unhealthy levels of contamination. APHL works to raise awareness of environmental health issues; to inform public policies that help the nation detect, reduce and prepare for environmental threats; and improve environmental health laboratory practice. The association serves as a liaison between member laboratories and federal agencies, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health and the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Public health laboratory surveillance of foodborne disease detects outbreaks limits the spread of illness. APHL’s Food Safety Program promotes the role of state and local public health laboratories and agricultural laboratories in the detection, testing and surveillance of foodborne pathogens.
The program collaborates with partners at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Department of Agriculture-Food Safety Inspection Service, the Food and Drug Administration and related organizations. The program also works closely with CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases to support state and local laboratories in Pulsenet, the national network of public health laboratories, food laboratories and regulatory agencies coordinated by the CDC that recognizes and identifies foodborne outbreaks as soon as possible.
APHL is likewise an active member of the Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response (CIFOR), which integrates local, state and federal efforts across many food safety disciplines to reduce the burden of foodborne illness in the United States. They also sit on the Advisory Council for the International Food Protection Training Institute.
APHL’s Global Health Program assists resource-limited countries to strengthen their national laboratory systems. The program also builds connections across regional and national laboratory systems to foster cross-border collaboration.
APHL’s Global Health Program offers a full range of technical assistance services, including development of laboratory networks, design and presentation of lab training programs, planning and management of lab renovation projects, planning and implementation of laboratory information management systems, procurement of equipment and supplies, and US-based advanced training for senior laboratory professionals.
The program has significant experience with developing national strategic plans for public health laboratories, developing laboratory quality assurance programs, and implementing quality testing programs such as drug susceptibility testing for tuberculosis and CD4 lymphocyte testing.
APHL’s Infectious Diseases Program promotes the role of the laboratory in disease detection and surveillance, and works to expand and enhance relationships among member laboratories, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other federal and state agencies, associations and academia involved in relevant public health activities, including laboratory testing, policy and training.
The Infectious Diseases Programs leads APHL’s efforts on HIV, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, and influenza. When new infectious diseases emerge, like the 2009 spread of H1N1, APHL supports crisis response by facilitating rapid transfer of credible information, and technical guidance from federal agencies to state and local laboratories.
APHL is a leader in the movement to transform the transmission of health information from paper to electronic data. In tandem with its partners, APHL works to build a secure, nationwide health information infrastructure.
One effort by the Informatics program is PHLIP, the Public Health Laboratory Interoperability Project. PHLIP aims to establish reliable laboratory data exchange between state public health laboratories and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by fostering collaboration in IT and laboratory science.
APHL works with partners to build the foundation for quality testing, comprehensive standards and integrated public health laboratory systems. One of the initiatives, the Laboratory System Improvement Program, provides individual assessments of public health laboratory systems that include engage stakeholders for system improvement, performance, implementation of strategies and continual evaluation. APHL also collaborates on the National Laboratory System project to build a public-private network of laboratories nationwide.
APHL’s Newborn Screening and Genetics in Public Health Program strengthens the role of public health laboratories in genetics testing and designs strategies to address changes in the newborn screening testing field. The program proactively develops and recommends position statements related to newborn screening and genetics to the association. The program also provides input to the Newborn Screening Quality Assurance Program on quality control and proficiency testing issues relevant to newborn screening laboratories across the globe. The program interacts with state, federal and association partners in implementing national recommendations on newborn screening and genetics testing by participating on national and federal committees.
APHL promotes the critical role of public health laboratories in detecting and responding to all health emergencies. It sponsors training to increase the competency of preparedness staff, advocates for resources to sustain key programs and builds partnerships for a stronger public health system. Its goal is to ensure a nationwide network of safe, state-of-the-art facilities staffed with personnel trained to respond and capable of effective emergency response to all hazards. Public Health Preparedness and Response works closely with federal partners at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies.
APHL monitors trends in public health laboratory diagnostics, personnel and infrastructure. It uses this data to benchmark against national norms and to define issues of importance to lab practice and policy. APHL also disseminates research findings via issue briefs and communications with federal decision makers, health partners and the laboratory community. Members have access to survey data online, enabling them to leverage this information quickly to identify promising strategies and practices.
APHL offers a range of training to strengthen the skills of all laboratorians and promote excellence in laboratory practice. APHL sponsors education programs both independently and through the National Laboratory Training Network (NLTN), a training system sponsored by APHL and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the high quality, low-cost continuing education courses offer laboratory continuing education credits to laboratorians. The participants are from public health laboratories, hospital laboratories, public agencies, reference laboratories, academic centers and other healthcare institutions. Courses focus on priority topics of public health significance, such as hands-on training on molecular techniques, emerging infectious disease detection and laboratory biosafety/biosecurity. APHL routinely partners with other organizations, such as the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute, to facilitate training.
APHL directs the National Center for Public Health Laboratory Leadership, a resource designed to develop leaders and expand knowledge of public health laboratory management. The Center also collaborates with other associations, academic institutions and federal partners to provide information about careers in public health laboratory science to middle and high school students and to support career fairs for college students. In addition, the association also manages fellowship and traineeship programs that prepare laboratory scientists for a career in public health and advance the skills of mid-level professionals. Through these efforts, APHL works to ensure future leadership in public health laboratory science at a time when the number of scientists entering the workforce is dwindling.
The Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) Laboratory Fellowship program prepares laboratory scientists for careers in public health. The two-track program (for bachelor’s-/master’s-level and postdoctoral-level scientists) emphasizes the practical application of technologies, methodologies and practices related to emerging infectious diseases. Qualified candidates learn to support public health initiatives and conduct high priority infectious disease research in local, state and federal (CDC) public health laboratories. Fellows receive a stipend, individual medical insurance and a professional development allowance. This program is co-sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
APHL works to safeguard the public's health through advocacy for state public health laboratories and their federal partners. The association provides expert testimony, guidance on legislative proposals and comments on federal rulemaking. APHL connects US public health laboratories with federal agencies, serving as a conduit for exchange of information. It also advises agencies on development and implementation of national health initiatives. Additionally, APHL researches and responds to inquiries, represents members at national forums and provides guidance on federal protocols and directives.
APHL liaises with industry sectors and coordinates ad hoc public-private partnerships. For example, APHL has coordinated emergency placement of diagnostic equipment in public health laboratories. In addition, it supports industry research and development to advance public health science by providing forums for discussion between corporate and laboratory leaders.Lab Matters: Each issue of APHL's quarterly magazine, Lab Matters, considers a pressing health issue of importance to public health laboratories.
Bridges: Connecting the nation’s environmental laboratories, Bridges is APHL’s semi-annual newsletter for environmental health professionals.
Social Media: APHL is active on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and has a video channel on both YouTube and Vimeo.
Blog: APHL’s Public Health LabLog features recent and interesting stories about the work of APHL and public health laboratories.
APHL convenes leading national forums on public health laboratory science, policy and practice. Its meetings attract laboratory scientists, federal and state health officials, industry and other public health decision makers from the United States and abroad. APHL routinely convenes its Annual Meeting and Environmental Laboratory Conference in early summer. Besides the scientific content, the meetings also include an industry exhibit hall, which exposes attendees to new technology, products and services they can use in their laboratories. Other conferences are held in conjunction with federal partners, and include the Newborn Screening and Genetic Testing Symposium (held every 18 months), the HIV Diagnostics Conference, the annual PulseNet Update Meeting, the National Conference on Laboratory Aspects of Tuberculosis, the National Laboratory Training Conference and others.