Anthrax Testing

Statement by Jan K. Carney, MD, MPH
Vermont Commissioner of Health
October 18, 2001
Contact: Nancy Erickson - 802-863-7281

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) have worked together to develop the Laboratory Response Network for the express purpose of dealing with bioterrorism and other terrorism threats.

The network includes all of the state public health laboratories, including our own, and many city and county public health laboratories. There is also a significant role in the network for hospital and clinical labs.

The Laboratory Response Network has been in existence for more than two years and the laboratory protocols recommended by CDC are being followed at the Vermont Department of Health Laboratory and throughout the network.

These protocols rely on the most accurate method of testing and confirming the presence of Bacillus anthracis, i.e. microscopy, culture and further definitive biochemical and phage testing.

These testing protocols are the same whether we are dealing with environmental samples such as suspicious powders or clinical specimens from individuals, such as nasal swabs.

There are more rapid tests, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, that are being developed for the Laboratory Response Network, but these have yet to be set up throughout the network.

It is important to note that even the more rapid clinical tests that are being developed will provide only preliminary findings. Culture and identification remain the most reliable laboratory method available.

For environmental samples, there have been assays developed, including some from the commercial sector, for use in identifying the presence of Bacillus anthracis. However, there has not been a comprehensive evaluation carried out by a federal agency or any other independent body that would objectively review them for their accuracy and reliability.

Some law enforcement or hazardous response operations may be using these tests, but neither CDC nor APHL are recommending them for the Laboratory Response Network.