SD Public Health Lab has a broad mission

South Dakota Public Health Laboratory
South Dakota Public Health Laboratory has a broad mission(KEVN/KOTA)
Published: May. 7, 2021 at 8:14 PM CDT|Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 8:15 PM CDT
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Thursday night, we took you inside the South Dakota Public Health Laboratory to see how they’re in the forefront in the fight against COVID-19 here in the state. We head back into the lab to see how that’s just part of the work they’re doing there.

South Dakota Public Health Laboratory director Dr. Timothy Southern says, “One of the reasons that the science at the state health laboratory is so important is that we can focus on agents that clinical laboratories may not be able to focus on. So we have a very in-depth TB program. TB can be very, very challenging to work with. We have what is called a bio safety level 3 facility which allows my team of scientists who work with those pathogens on a daily basis. That’s not necessarily something every clinical laboratory can do.” Doctor Timothy Southern is the director of the South Dakota Public Health Laboratory in Pierre. This is a busy place. And here, medical microbiology goes a lot further than COVID-19. Southern says, “We can test for those really nasty agents some might align with bio terrorism, Bacillus anthracis, which causes anthrax. And then some more routine. In the State of South Dakota, West Nile Virus is very very important to us and another West NIle year is ready to start.” The lab also does environmental chemical testing. And a lot of that involves testing to make sure water here in the state stays safe. Dr. Southern states, “This is really where we test many of the water samples that some from our smallest communities to our biggest cities every day. Water is an incredibly important resource in the State of South Dakota. We bathe with it, we cook with it, we drink it, we brush our teeth with it. So we absolutely have to make sure those resources stay pristine and safe for use. In the summertime, because recreation and tourism is so important to the State of South Dakota, our partners at Game, Fish and Parks will often go out and collect waters from the recreational beaches of the state and will send those waters to us for microbiological testing as well to make sure those waters are safe for all our families to recreate in.” The forensic chemistry lab tests blood and urine samples for drugs and alcohol ... tests drug samples ... and will soon be adding another task. Southern states, “As you know, there’s been a significant interest in the past year in hemp and now marijuana in the State of South Dakota. So it’s the forensic chemistry section here at the state public health lab that will develop the programs for testing hemp, marijuana and products derived from marijuana.”

When you combine medical microbiology, environmental chemistry and forensic chemistry, the lab did more than 131,000 tests in fiscal year 2020.