Environmental Legionella Isolation Techniques Evaluation (ELITE) Program
Although Legionella spp. live in a wide variety of freshwater habitats, they can be difficult to isolate. The ELITE Program was created as a way for laboratories to test their Legionella isolation techniques against standardized samples. On the ELITE application website, the public can view a list of proficient members, new members may enroll, and enrolled members may enter results and receive their certificates. A few areas of the ELITE application website are password protected for members only.
Frequently Asked Questions
For the General Public and Public Health Agencies
Q:Why does CDC offer the ELITE Program?
A: The ELITE Program certifies labs in the isolation of Legionella from water samples. Labs that are proficient in Legionella isolation are listed on our ELITE Members List as a service for the general public. Labs that perform adequately receive a Certificate of Proficiency that indicates that the lab’s procedures are consistent with federal recommendations and that they meet or exceed typical industry standards for recovery of Legionella.
Q:Who is being certified?
A: Any lab located in the U.S. (or territories) that cultures environmental samples for Legionella can participate in the ELITE Program. The program is voluntary and free of charge. Member labs may be commercial or affiliated with a university or state health department.
Q:How are they certified?
A: Participating labs receive two panels of unknown samples each year. Labs that correctly identify which samples contain Legionella in both panels immediately earn a Certificate of Proficiency and are listed as ELITE Members on our map. ELITE members must recertify annually to remain on the list.
Q:What is certified?
A: The ELITE Program certifies labs that are able to find Legionella in a water sample by culture. Appropriate culture protocols include water sample treatment, isolate identification, and characterization. Molecular (e.g., PCR), serological (e.g., DFA), or rapid analytical tests (e.g., dipstick) are not evaluated. We do not certify performance of these other technologies because methods other than culture are suitable for supplemental testing, but are not discriminating enough to be applied as a primary test to environmental samples. The Certificate of Proficiency does not guarantee that a lab will be able to isolate legionellae from every sample in which they are present because the limit of detection may be affected by the quality of the sample provided.
Q:Are all participants on the ELITE Members List?
A: No. Only participants who have demonstrated proficiency in recovering bacteria from a water sample are listed as ELITE Members.
Q:What does it mean if the lab I am using is not on the ELITE Members List?
A: Participation in the ELITE Program is voluntary so not all qualified labs will be listed as ELITE Members. Additionally, it takes a minimum of 3 months for a new lab to become certified. Thus, CDC cannot comment on the proficiency of individual labs that are not listed on the ELITE Members List.
Q:Can ELITE Members provide Legionella remediation services?
A: Possibly, but this is beyond the scope of ELITE certification. The ELITE Program certifies labs in their ability to isolate Legionella from water samples (i.e., to determine if Legionella is present); it does not certify them in their ability to eliminate Legionella from water systems. No standard protocol will eliminate legionellae from every water system. Successful remediation requires a thorough examination of the water system in question and should always be site-specific.
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