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Arctic Lab Expansion Provides Early Detection of Infectious Disease and Bioterrorism

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The spread of infectious diseases and bioterrorism across Alaska, especially in the state's rural villages, will meet its match with early detection from a new, expanded Arctic Investigations Program in Anchorage.

The advanced program is part of an effort by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has worked with the Indian Health Service in Alaska since 1948. The CDC recently launched a $2.3 million lab renovation and addition near the Alaska Native Medical Center--an initiative that Dr. Ted Mala, head of the traditional healing clinic at Southcentral Foundation, refers to as the "eyes and ears for any kind of infectious problems that come up in Alaska," reported The Arctic Sounder.

"What's important here is this lab will mean more testing, more surveillance, more early warning," said Mala, an Inupiaq enrolled in Buckland's tribal government, reported the Sounder. "The more they know, the more they'll tell all the doctors and nurses and clinicians in the state. It's all a win-win."

The lab proved itself as a successful warrior in its battle against Hepatitis B in the 1980s and 1990s. Alaska Natives once claimed the highest rates of the liver disease in the country, but vaccines introduced to fend against it brought Alaska Native rates of infection down to one of the lowest tiers, said Brian McMahon, a liver specialist at the Alaska Native Medical Center, to the Sounder.

"The important question we're asking now is how long will the protection last?" McMahon said. "So to do that, we have groups of people enrolled in studies, where we follow their blood to see how long their protective antibodies are present. All that laboratory testing is done down here in this lab. So now we can tell people they're protected for 20, 30 years and if they ever need a booster we'll know when to do it before they get ill."