March 3, 2003
Faculty, Staff and Students
School of Veterinary Medicine
RE: The Public Health Lab
There has been significant public interest in the University’s proposal to develop a Public Health Lab here on the Davis campus. The proposal is officially titled the Western National Center for Biodefense and Emerging Disease, but at its essence it is a Public Health Laboratory. The lab is intended to conduct research on emerging infectious diseases which impact animal, human and environmental health. That’s all. It’s not a bioweapons lab. Biodefense was included in the name of this laboratory to signify its role in developing tools to defend our biological health. The primary role of the lab is to develop vaccines, antibiotics, medical treatments and therapy programs to prevent illness and to help those people and animals who become sick with an infectious disease. Veterinarians, physicians and technical staff will study these diseases and develop strategies to control their spread; this is commonly called biosecurity. State officials have been involved in the planning process in support of the lab from the beginning as California has no comparable resource, and they felt that UC Davis has the specific scientific and health expertise needed.
The Public Health Lab will include a Biosafety Level 4 laboratory to protect the faculty and staff working with these diseases for the betterment of humankind. This lab is very important for the schools of medicine and veterinary medicine as there are many disease agents with which we work on a daily basis and because new government regulations require that these agents be handled only in biosafety facilities.
Opponents of the lab have advanced emotional arguments intended to play on the natural fear we all have of things which can make us or our loved ones contract serious or even fatal illness.
Many of the diseases we are referring to already exist here in Davis, in California, and in the Western United States: West Nile virus, Hantavirus, plague, Valley fever, and anthrax. A dead crow found in a parking lot with West Nile virus will have 1,000 times the amount of virus in its body than the disease agents used for study in the lab. This Public Health Lab is essential if we are to have tools available to our medical and veterinary professionals to address these diseases. In the event of a naturally occurring outbreak, or of intentional release of an infectious disease, we would be better served to have taken the steps necessary to understand the diseases, and to develop diagnostic tools, medical therapies and control strategies to defend our health.
I encourage you to ask questions and inform yourself about the goals and activities associated with the Public Health Lab. We’ve placed a fact sheet and an information piece on our web site for your information and I’d be happy to respond to questions or comments.