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J Clin Microbiol. 2003 Dec;41(12):5372-6.

Surge capacity for response to bioterrorism in hospital clinical microbiology laboratories.

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Section of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, and Clinical Microbiology and Molecular Diagnostics Laboratories, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


Surge capacity is the ability to rapidly mobilize to meet an increased demand. While large amounts of federal funding have been allocated to public health laboratories, little federal funding has been allocated to hospital microbiology laboratories. There are concerns that hospital laboratories may have inadequate surge capacities to deal with a significant bioterrorism incident. A workflow analysis of a clinical microbiology laboratory that serves an urban medical center was performed to identify barriers to surge capacity in the setting of a bioterrorism event and to identify solutions to these problems. Barriers include a national shortage of trained medical technologists, the inability of clinical laboratories to deal with a dramatic increase in the number of blood cultures, a delay while manufacturers increase production of critical products and then transport and deliver these products to clinical laboratories, and a shortage of class II biological safety cabinets. Federal funding could remedy staffing shortages by making the salaries of medical technologists comparable to those of similarly educated health care professionals and by providing financial incentives for students to enroll in clinical laboratory science programs. Blood culture bottles, and possibly continuous-monitoring blood culture instruments, should be added to the national antibiotic stockpile. Federal support must ensure that companies that manufacture essential laboratory supplies are capable of rapidly scaling up production. Hospitals must provide increased numbers of biological safety cabinets and amounts of space dedicated to clinical microbiology laboratories. Laboratories should undertake limited cross-training of technologists, ensure that adequate packaging supplies are available, and be able to move to a 4-day blood culture protocol.

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