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Public Health Laboratory Services

Public Health Laboratory Services (PHLS) comprise the majority of programs of the Public Health and Environmental laboratories.  Testing is primarily performed on clinical specimens in the broad areas of chemistry and microbiology.  Within each of these specialties, a variety of subspecialty programs exist.  Examples of such areas include newborn screening, the biothreat response laboratory (BTRL), molecular detection services (MDS), virology, microbiology and the automated assays program.  These programs can be broadly separated into two groups, those that provide services directly to clients (clinical chemistry) and those that perform testing and assays in collaboration with other Divisions within the Department of Health or the Federal Government (clinical microbiology).

Specimen Receiving

More than 15,000 specimens a month come through the Public Health Laboratories Specimen receiving program. Specimens are processed, entered into the information system, and delivered to testing areas. Specimens range from live bats to bacterial isolates and respiratory specimens for flu testing. Please review and use our Contact List for questions about forms, specimen submission requirements, or supplies. Refer also to the Frequently Asked Questions section for maps and directions to the PHEL Public Health Environmental and Agricultural Laboratories (PHEAL) Facility for deliveries during regular business hours and after hours and weekends/holidays.

These instructions are for specimens other than Newborn Screening or Environmental testing needs.


The Microbiology Program processes more than 140,000 tests a year across a wide range of disciplines and including both culture and non-culture procedures.  The units involved include Enteric / Food /Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis, Mycobacteriology, Sanitary Bacteriology, and Special Bacteriology.

  • The Enteric and Foodborne unit performs investigations of foodborne outbreaks, as well as performing routine identification of Salmonella, Shigella, E.coli O157, and Shiga-Toxin positive E.coli.  Specimens are serotyped.  
  • The Pulsed Field Gel unit performs molecular subtyping (DNA fingerprinting) of isolates forwarded by our Enteric Laboratory for incorporation in the CDC's Larger Database for outbreak detection.  Currently the Laboratory performs this testing on E.coli O157, Non O157 E.Coli and Salmonella.  The Laboratory also maintains certification for the fingerprinting of Shigella.
  • The Sanitary Bacteriology unit analyzes potable and non-potable waters for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, State Parks and the Department of Consumer Health.  The Laboratory also tests dairy products produced by New Jersey dairies which are submitted through the Department of Consumer Health
  • The Special Bacteriology Laboratory performs serotyping of Haemophilus influenzae and Neisseria meningitidis from normally sterile body sites and fluids working in conjunction with the vaccine preventable disease program. The staff also read GC cultures and slides for malaria and babesia.

Biothreat Response Laboratory

  • The Biothreat Response Laboratory is a member of the Laboratory Response Network (LRN), and its primary responsibility is to apply microbiological and molecular technologies for rapid detection and identification of bioterrorism agents such as Bacillus anthracis (causative agent of anthrax).

  • The Molecular Detection Services Laboratory is dedicated to the evaluation, application and integration of molecular pathogen detection and characterization methods. These technologies protect and enhance the health of New Jersey ’s citizens by increasing public health decision and response capability. In addition, the Molecular Detection Services program establishes partnerships with other public health laboratory programs in order to facilitate prompt and effective response against infectious disease threats.

Automated Assays

The Automated Assays Program utilizes advanced, state of the art instrumentation for the detection of substance abuse, infectious disease, and sexually transmitted diseases.

The Drugs of Abuse Urine Drug Screening Laboratory performs testing services through Memorandums of Agreement with New Jersey  Judiciary’s Administrative Office of the Courts’ Adult and Juvenile Intensive Supervision Programs, Drug Court Programs and Probation Services,  the Department of Law and Safety’s  Juvenile Justice Commission, Department of Corrections’ state prisons, correctional facilities, and half-way houses, the New Jersey  State Parole Board District Offices and Electronic Monitoring Unit, and drug clinics, counseling, treatment and referral centers.   Testing profiles include stimulants, hallucinogens, narcotics, opiates, depressants, and adulterants.  The laboratory is investigating the implementation of oral fluid drug testing; an easier, less invasive alternative to urine testing which also overcomes the issues of adulteration. 

The Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Laboratory performs Nucleic Acid Amplification Testing (NAAT) for the detection of Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae.    This technology  utilizes the FDA approved Gen-Probe fully automated TIGRIS Direct Tube System (DTS) which increases testing capacity, decreases specimen contamination, and generates more accurate results with increased sensitivity and specificity.  Syphilis serology screening and confirmatory testing are also performed.  The STD Laboratory is a key partner and provides testing for CDC’s Infertility Prevention Program (IPP).

Quantiferon-TB (QFT-TB) testing services are available to clinics as an alternative to the current method of testing for latent TB infection (LTBI), the Mantoux tuberculin skin test (TST).  This technology offers significant improvement in specificity and sensitivity, decreasing the number of false positives that can lead to misdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment for the patient.


  • Influenza:  The molecular virology unit uses real time RT-PCR (reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction) to detect novel H1N1 influenza, as well as all seasonal strains of flu in clinical samples.  PHEL is partnering with the Communicable Disease Service (CDS) to enhance influenza surveillance throughout the state.  In this regard a network of providers has been established to submit clinical samples to PHEL from patients with influenza-like illness.  Rapid molecular testing provides clinicians and epidemiologists at CDS the ability to quickly respond to new cases or clusters of disease.
  • Arbovirus Vector Borne Disease Surveillance: Uses molecular techniques to rapidly identify the following viruses:  West Nile virus, Eastern Equine encephalitis virus, St. Louis encephalitis virus, and La Crosse virus.  The PHEL is part of a statewide surveillance network to test mosquitoes for the presence of the human viral pathogens mentioned above.  This network is made up of stakeholders including the PHEL, NJ State Mosquito Commission at DEP, and the 22 County Mosquito Agencies. Results from the Virology Lab allow the local mosquito agencies to formulate a thoughtful, effective mosquito abatement strategy to minimize the potential for outbreaks of disease.  In addition the Virology Lab confirms all cases of human WNV using a serologic assay.

  • HIV Testing:  Support rapid HIV tests with timely confirmatory testing using a HIV Western blot test.  A new testing platform also enables the Virology laboratory to identify cases of HIV-1 and HIV-2.

  • Testing for vaccine preventable diseases:  Monitors vaccine efficacy by providing clinical testing for measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, and varicella.

  • Outbreak Investigation:  Working closely with epidemiologists at CDS, performs testing to identify new cases or clusters of viral disease. The Department has expanded surveillance for Norovirus into hospitals, long term care facilities, day care, and food borne outbreaks.  It is a serious viral pathogen, extremely infectious.  It can cause widespread illness, loss of productivity.  Recent investigations have also been conducted to identify novel cases of hepatitis and adenovirus.

  • Rabies:  Rabies testing is a public health mandate. This unit performs rapid testing of potentially rabid animals to prevent human disease.  Such testing also provides surveillance monitoring of terrestrial and bat rabies throughout the state. 

Newborn Screening

The Newborn Screening Program tests more than 110,000 dried blood spot samples per year from New Jersey’s newborns.  NJ law requires that every baby born in the State be screened for 54 disorders that can cause serious health problems.  These disorders may not be apparent at birth, but if left undetected and not treated early in life, can lead to problems that include mental retardation, disability, or even death.  Babies with abnormal screening results are aggressively followed by the Newborn Screening and Genetic Services Program in Special Child Health and early Intervention Services to ensure that affected children and their families are linked with a primary care provider and the regional network of specialty care centers to receive timely and appropriate services.

Newborn Screening Program October 2013 Webinar on Use of Revised Collection Forms (IEM-1 and IEM-1a) [pdf 3.8M]

Department of Health

P. O. Box 360, Trenton, NJ 08625-0360
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Last Modified: Wednesday, 12-Feb-14 08:37:06