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University of Iowa News Release


Aug. 8, 2008

Hygienic Lab develops introductory, safety courses for lab workers

How do laboratory workers protect themselves from infection? This question prompted the creation of "Lab Biosafety: Avoiding Laboratory-Acquired Infections (LAIs)," one of two new interactive courses created by the University Hygienic Laboratory (UHL) in collaboration with the Upper Midwest Center for Public Health Preparedness at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

"We developed the LAI course in response to colleagues' questions about ways to improve lab safety," said Mike Pentella, UHL associate director of infectious disease, who developed the course. "It's vital that we continually strive to create the safest possible environment for those who work with infectious agents in laboratories and, through their work, protect the health of citizens."

This course is designed for laboratory personnel who work with biological and microbiological samples whether in clinical, reference, public health, animal, research or teaching laboratories. The computer-based course is divided into four modules and covers topics ranging from safe handling of pathogens to proper use of safety equipment. A virtual laboratory in the course allows participants to practice what they've learned.

Interactive portions of the biosafety course will be demonstrated during a nationwide series of workshops on "Biosafety and Biosecurity," presented by the National Laboratory Training Network (NLTN). The NLTN is a training system sponsored by the Association of Public Health Laboratories and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The course debuted in May 2008 and is now available through the Prepare Iowa Learning Management System. To take the course, register online at

The UHL also has launched a second course, "Introduction to the Public Health Laboratory System." This interactive Web-based course explains the role of local and state laboratories in the National Laboratory System. It consists of four sections, some specific to laboratory expectations in Iowa and others applicable to labs throughout the nation. This fully narrated course engages the audience with humor, history and colorful graphics.

"We have created 12 five-minute modules that laboratory staff can easily view in short spurts of free time during their busy days," said Jon DeMartino, a UHL writer and creative consultant who developed the course. "I added humor to the course because, having been a laboratory technician myself for many years, I realize these professionals will welcome some comic relief from the very serious jobs they perform."

Members of the Iowa Laboratory Response Network piloted the "Introduction to the Public Health Laboratory System" course earlier this year. The course can now be accessed online at

Both the introductory and lab-acquired infections courses can be used by educators to develop students' skills and by employers to build the competencies of current laboratory staff. Both courses are free, and each offers a printable certificate upon completion.

The University Hygienic Laboratory is part of the University of Iowa and is the state of Iowa's environmental and public health laboratory. The UHL is the designated laboratory for the Iowa Neonatal Metabolic Screening Program, with facilities located on the Oakdale Campus in Iowa City and at the Iowa Lab Facilities in Ankeny, a Des Moines suburb. Among its many services, the laboratory functions as a consultative and analytical support facility for state agencies, health professionals and citizens. The UHL performs analyses on samples from virtually all matrices, including human clinical specimens, air, drinking water, wastewater, soil, sediment, industrial effluents, oil and fish.

Additional information about UHL, its programs and services is available online at

The Upper Midwest Center for Public Health Preparedness (UMCPHP) is one of 52 Centers for Public Health Preparedness funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The mission of UMCPHP is ensuring that the state and local public health workforce has the skills to prepare for, promptly identify, and respond to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies. Since its initiation, UMCPHP has established itself as a partner in meeting the challenge of adding capacity for the development of the preparedness workforce in the Upper Midwest. It has served as a facilitator of strengthened partnerships with public health organizations, including state and local health departments, and it has lead to the development of new partnerships with public safety organizations. 

Additional information about the Upper Midwest Center for Public Health Preparedness is available online at

STORY SOURCE: University Hygienic Laboratory, 102 Oakdale Campus, H101 OH, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-5002

MEDIA CONTACT: Pat Blake, 319-335-4177,