Lab Matters Fall 2018 | Page 32

MEMBERSHIP The World is Their Oyster: Humboldt County Public Health Laboratory by Nancy Maddox, MPH, writer The Humboldt County Public Health Laboratory (Humboldt PHL) specializes in something most local public health laboratories don’t even test for—Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria in oysters. Indeed, the work of scientists at this California laboratory, located about 300 miles north of San Francisco and just a few blocks from Humboldt Bay, is essential to maintain a steady supply of bivalves for diners at local seafood joints and trendy San Francisco oyster bars. In fact, Humboldt Bay is so productive— yielding up 70% of all oysters harvested in the Golden State—that it has been dubbed “the pearl of California’s shellfish industry” and the state’s “oyster capital.” however, the county’s 2.3 million acres of green space translate into an elevated risk for rabies and tick-borne pathogens. Laboratory scientists test for both, most recently responding to a rabies outbreak among foxes. Jeremy Corrigan, MS, manager of Humboldt PHL, said “One of our biggest claims to fame is our oyster testing and especially our molecular V. parahaemolyticus testing.” He said, “We do all the testing for the county’s oyster growers and also test a lot of oysters sent in from other counties. For our growers, we test the oyster-growing waters for total and fecal coliforms. And we’ll monitor in response to regulatory needs or if there’s a large rainfall that flushes a lot of runoff into the water. The other thing we do is test their holding tank water weekly to make sure it’s clean.” Facility In addition to shellfish, Humboldt County is home to over 40% of the world’s remaining old growth coast redwoods, and its production forests yield 30% of the total value of California’s forest products. From the laboratory’s perspective, On top of its extensive testing on behalf of county residents and visitors, the laboratory supports eight federally- recognized Native American tribes. “We pick up samples from the United States Indian Health Services [mostly for childhood blood lead and vaccine preventable disease testing] and also do rabies testing on sovereign land, upon request,” said Corrigan. Humboldt PHL takes up 1,600 square feet on the top floor of the two-story, Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services Public Health building in downtown Eureka, the county seat. Microbiology services spill over into a stand-alone, 840-square-foot BSL-3 module, where all molecular, clinical bacteriology and white powder work-ups are done. “What I really like about our location is that downstairs are our communicable disease team, our health officer and epidemiologist, and our Public Health Clinic and administrative staff,” said Corrigan. “Being co-located makes it so much easier to communicate and work on cases.” Because the facility is just a few blocks from the county’s 110-mile coastline, laboratory staff hold meetings at a nearby marina overlooking the water, and often spend breaks strolling along the shore. Laboratory Manager Corrigan grew up in “the coldest town in Alaska”—the tiny hamlet of Tok where winter temperatures reliably dip to -70°F. “From Alaska,” he said, “I found Humboldt.” He studied at both the College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University (HSU), graduating with a BS in molecular biology. “At that time,” Corrigan said, “I was planning to be a physician, and I went to South Africa as a volunteer medical student in Cape Town.” In Africa, he discovered that “I really like the diseases that make people sick.” Spurred by this revelation, he segued into public health practice, taking a job as a laboratory assistant in Humboldt PHL. Around 2007, he went to work for the Sonoma County Public Health Laboratory (Sonoma PHL) to gain the experience required for state licensure as a public health microbiologist. After two years, however, the Sonoma County job ended. Corrigan returned to HSU to earn a MS in biology. “When I was about halfway done, a microbiology position opened at Humboldt PHL,” he said. “So I started working here, and I became the laboratory manager in 2010.” Corrigan is now in the first cohort of students enrolled in the University of South Florida DrPH program in clinical and public health laboratory science and practice. Staff In addition to Corrigan the laboratory employs one microbiologist, plus one senior laboratory assistant (“a phenomenal asset to our laboratory”) and six laboratory assistants. Michael Ferris, full-time director of Sonoma PHL, serves as Humboldt PHL’s part-time CLIA director. Additionally, Corrigan said, “We usually take on a [microbiology] trainee every year, because you have to train in a public health laboratory to get your California public health microbiologist license. We have one trainee now and will take another in January.” Revenue The laboratory’s proposed FY 2018-19 budget runs to $1.3 million, including Annayal Yikum loads PCR plates. Photo: Humboldt PHL 30 LAB MATTERS Fall 2018 PublicHealthLabs @APHL