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About the Delaware Public Health Laboratory



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Mission: To provide accurate and timely analytical data, information and consultation to protect and enhance the health of the people of Delaware.


Vision: To be recognized as a vital component of the public health team, providing a wide range of laboratory expertise and services using state of the art technologies.


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Introduction to the Laboratory

The Delaware Public Health Laboratory is centrally located within the state, inside the town of historic, Smyrna, DE. Due to Delaware’s unique geographic size, 95 miles long and 35 miles wide at its furthest points, the public health lab is able to provide same-day service to our submitters and providers. A statewide courier system picks up samples daily, throughout the state, and returns them to the laboratory each afternoon, Monday through Friday, and 24/7 during public health emergencies.

The laboratory receives specimens from a variety of submitters from a variety of sources: from infectious disease testing for Correctional Facilities, State Service Centers, School based Wellness Centers and Federally Qualified Health Care Centers, to drinking water samples from public and private wells, to environmental samples submitted from Delaware’s Division of Agriculture to Division of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

The Delaware Public Health Laboratory uses Delaware’s small size to rapidly perform testing and return results to submitters, often the same day samples are received. The lab also offers educational tours and information for interested parties. Tours can be arranged by calling the laboratory.

History: The DPHL was established in April 1899 in Newark. The trustees of Delaware College, now the University of Delaware, provided space and renovations in the main building's east wing. The laboratory tested water and food, for bacteria and chemicals. The laboratory also tested clinical samples for infectious organisms including diphtheria and tuberculosis. As technology evolved, the laboratory’s testing capabilities expanded to include various bacterial and viral agents. To keep health care providers and agencies informed of significant developments, the laboratory began publishing a quarterly bulletin which today is called the Delaware LabOrator.

The lab moved five more times in a perennial search for additional space. First, the laboratory moved above Hinkley’s Feed Store in Dover, its municipal home for many years. Then it moved to the Margaret O'Neill Building on Federal Street. In 1960, the laboratory moved across the street to the basement of the Jesse Cooper Building and, by 1985, the laboratory had outgrown its space. The discovery of asbestos precipitated relocation to three modular buildings at the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control on Kings Highway in Dover. By May 1989 plans were underway to build a new facility in Smyrna on the grounds of the Delaware Hospital for the Chronically Ill. The new laboratory opened in 1990.

Since then, the facility has expanded its services by leaps and bounds. The laboratory’s newborn screening section tested for metabolic diseases in every Delaware newborn to prevent mental retardation, serious illness, and even death. The laboratory tests drinking water for bacteria and chemicals, and detects rabies. It also tests for sexually transmitted infections and monitors the emergence of drug-resistant microorganisms to prevent the spread of infection and save lives.

In 2005, the facility added a Bio-Safety Level III laboratory for Preparedness testing of Bioterrorism agents and became a member of CDC’s Laboratory Response Network. The environmental and molecular microbiology section introduced new technology, including pulse field gel electrophoresis for food borne illness, molecular testing for Norovirus, B. pertussis, West Nile virus and rapid detection methods for potential bioterrorism agents. DPHL also started Chemical Terrorism Laboratory testing to detect metals at trace levels, and cyanide and nerve agents in clinical sample.

The laboratory has gone through some major modifications, with the addition of genomic sequencing and mass spectrometer analysis. Methods have become faster with increased sensitivity, using molecular real time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and multiplex assays. New methods that have recently been added include detection for Influenza, Ebola, Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya. Methods for the detection of Mycobacteria have expanded to include molecular identification and quantiferon testing. Antimicrobial Resistance Mechanism detection is a new CDC initiative that DPHL has implemented in April of 2017 to identify, contain and control the spread of Carbapenamase Resistant Enterobacteriaciae.


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