Washington State Public Health Lab – A Resource that Requires Prior Approval
The Washington State Public Health Lab (WA PHL) is a laboratory operated by the Washington State Department of Health in Shoreline, WA. In addition to standard newborn screening and testing for biohazardous materials, WA PHL offers testing for a wide variety of organisms of public health concern. Both public health practitioners and medical providers can order testing through WA PHL; however, specimens to be shipped to WA PHL by medical providers must first obtain approval from their local health department prior to shipping. Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) Epidemiology staff can be reached at 509.324.1442 during normal business hours and 509.869.3133 after hours.
WA PHL offers quick turnaround times for certain tests for pathogens of public health significance, such as measles, mumps, rabies (in deceased animals), C. botulinum toxin, MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), and carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). These tests are conducted at no cost to the patient or provider with prior approval from the local health department.
WA PHL does not bill insurance like a commercial laboratory; tests are covered under public health funding. Because of this, testing is almost always reserved for cases in which a provider and/or public health maintains a high index of suspicion for the disease in question through both clinical presentation and epidemiology.
Other tests, also conducted at no cost to the patient or provider, are used for surveillance purposes. All positive cultures identifying a reportable enteric pathogen, such as Shigella or Salmonella species, are automatically forwarded by commercial labs to WA PHL for serotyping. DNA fingerprinting through PFGE (pulsed-field gel electrophoresis) is conducted and input into the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) PulseNet database, which can quickly find outbreaks by connecting similar cases of foodborne illness and linking these illnesses across states and countries.
WA PHL has the ability to test for some pathogens, such as B. pertussis or Zika virus, in uninsured patients that would be otherwise charged by commercial laboratories. Again, approval from the local health department is required prior to submission.
Most tests are run Monday through Friday and the lab generally does not accept specimens on weekends. Exceptions will be made to run a test if the disease in question could have significant impact to public health, such as measles or botulism.