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Harwood Medical Complex Expands Lab to Better Handle Public Threats

Sept. 2, 2006 – In the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy and Katrina hurricane devastation, the federal government is equipping all states with products and resources to aid in the public health of their areas. And the Virgin Islands is considered a "viable terrorist threat," according to Dr. Eugene Tull, an epidemiologist.
Tull began the Center for Public Health's research and the application of the grant from the Center for Disease Control's cooperative agreement for bio-terrorism. Tull explained that one of the aims of the agreement is "to have the capacity to do preliminary detection of bio-terrorist agents."
The grant, valued at more than $400,000, allowed for the expansion of the Charles Harwood Medical Complex's public health lab in order to be able to investigate bio-agents that may be used in germ warfare and bio-terrorism.
But terrorist threats are not the only concerns. Tull said that Hurricane Katrina helped put additional focus on major disasters. Storms of that magnitude can cause pollution of water supplies and a "grand-scale public health crisis," Tull said.
Should a public health situation arise, the newly equipped lab would investigate the cause of the crisis here in the territory instead of simply collecting the data.
This type of capability can also help with current serology efforts. Serology is described as the search for antibodies in blood or serum. Blood tests that diagnose HIV and hepatitis can now be performed at the new lab.
Tull said this will allow physicians to "better treat their patients" and emphasized "the purpose of the lab is to support current labs within the territory."
Research is the key. The lab's goal is to be a source of revenue for grants, to develop studies and to do testing. Tull expressed his confidence in the lab's improved capabilities as well as its ability to grow with the strength of its research endeavors.

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