How CDC Laboratories Protect Americans

CDC Lab Worker

CDC laboratory scientists work 24/7 in more than 200 cutting-edge laboratories across the U.S. as a key line of defense against emerging health threats. Scientists work on a range of critical work, including research, surveillance, and reference diagnostic testing that protect the American public. CDC scientists and other staff use the latest technology to:

  • Detect infectious organisms, food-borne outbreaks, and biosecurity threats
  • Protect America’s blood supply
  • Screen genetic and other health risk factors
  • Identify environmental and workplace hazards
  • Monitor the health of communities

CDC’s vital public health laboratories also:

  • Maintain a vast reference library of pathogens that laboratories from around the world depend on to help identify dangerous microbes
  • Deploy diagnostic tests and tools, such as advanced molecular detection technology that helps scientists detect health threats more quickly
  • Invent new ways to rapidly test for infectious disease in the field
  • Arm state, county, and local public health laboratories with the expertise and data they need to protect their citizens

U.S. Map of CDC Laboratory Locations

Learn more about CDC’s laboratories:

The laboratories of CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID) provides national and global leadership in the identification, prevention, and control of infectious disease. The diverse, critical laboratories of NCEZID:

  • Conduct research and aid in the control of the most dangerous bacterial and viral pathogens—such as Ebola, Lassa Fever virus, and anthrax—in the highest levels of biological containment.
  • Provide national and international outbreak response activities for a range of infectious pathogens, from vector-borne organisms like dengue and Zika viruses to enteric bacteria like E.coli and Salmonella to rabies and poxviruses to fungal organisms like Candida auris.
  • Conduct laboratory investigations of samples from around the U.S. and world to identify pathogens and diseases that other laboratories cannot.
  • Develop and evaluate new methods to detect and track emerging healthcare-associated infection threats, including new types of antimicrobial resistance.
  • Provide around-the-clock bioterrorism response and triage for suspicious material identification and analysis for samples submitted to CDC by state and local public health laboratories and U.S. embassies.

Laboratory scientists at CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) are global leaders in protecting the public against respiratory and vaccine-preventable disease. NCIRD laboratories:

  • Support respiratory outbreak investigations using multi-pathogen and targeted diagnostic tests.
  • Help monitor and control seasonal and pandemic influenza by conducting year-round surveillance, detecting changes in influenza viruses globally, and advancing influenza vaccine development and testing.
  • Serve as national, regional, and global reference laboratories for respiratory and vaccine-preventable diseases such as meningococcal meningitis, diphtheria, legionellosis, streptococcal disease, pertussis, measles, mumps, and rubella.
  • Evaluate and support the development and use of vaccines, medical countermeasures, and clinical diagnostics for anthrax, respiratory disease, and other priority pathogens.
  • Detect and monitor gastroenteric and respiratory viruses and support preparedness for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus and other novel viruses.
  • Provide leadership and technical expertise in supporting the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in addition to detecting, investigating, and responding to polio outbreaks globally.

Laboratories of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease, and Tuberculosis Prevention (NCCHSTP) provide vital scientific leadership to:

  • Identify, develop, and evaluate effective biomedical interventions and testing technologies to reduce the number of new HIV infections and improve the timeliness of diagnosis. CDC’s HIV/AIDS laboratories serve as a national reference laboratory for HIV diagnosis and drug-resistance testing.
  • Combat STDs by developing and validating diagnostic tests, including rapid and accurate point-of-care tests, which allow patients to be tested and treated during the same health care visit.
  • Serve as the National Tuberculosis (TB) Laboratory for the U.S., conducting research to identify and understand drug resistant TB, strengthening vaccination strategies, and optimizing cutting-edge molecular epidemiological tools.
  • Provide vital support to state and county public health laboratories by serving as the national reference center for viral hepatitis.

Laboratories in CDC’s Center for Global Health serve as worldwide reference laboratories for:

  • Surveillance, diagnosis, and drug-resistance testing of HIV/AIDS and associated opportunistic infections (e.g., tuberculosis).
  • Diagnosis of parasitic diseases, conducting surveillance for malaria drug resistance, monitoring the quality of antimalarial drugs, and evaluating insecticide resistance among mosquitos that can carry malaria.

Laboratory scientists at the Center for Global Health also help over 50 countries by working directly with the Ministries of Health to support outbreak response, laboratory systems, and pathogen discovery, as well as, training, surveillance and the building of core laboratory capacities in support of the International Health Regulations. In addition, collaborating with host countries to implement these activities promotes public health diplomacy.

CDC’s laboratory within CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities monitors for select infectious agents and other abnormal factors among patients with bleeding disorders.

Laboratories at CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health (Division of Laboratory Sciences):

  • Conduct biomonitoring to assess population and individual exposure to environmental chemicals.
  • Support public health emergency response with unique laboratory capabilities for assessing human exposure to chemical threat agents and toxins.
  • Support public health emergency response with unique laboratory capabilities for assessing human exposure to harmful radiologic threats.
  • Provide quality-assurance materials, proficiency testing, and technical assistance to ensure the accuracy of newborn screening tests for early detection of treatable diseases.
  • Develop new or improved methods to conduct the most comprehensive assessment of the nation’s nutrition status.
  • Measure addictive and toxic substances in tobacco products and smoke, as well as in the urine and blood of people who use tobacco or are exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • Offer quality assurance programs and training to help state, clinical, research, and other laboratories improve the quality and reliability of their measurements related to chronic diseases, nutrition status, and environmental exposures.

Laboratories at CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health protect America’s workers through cutting-edge laboratory science. These critical laboratories:

  • Test and certify respirators to ensure a standard level of filter efficiency for all respirators used in U.S. workplaces.
  • Develop methods used worldwide for sampling and analyzing contaminants in workplace air and in the blood and urine of workers who are exposed to hazards in the workplace.
  • Conduct applied research on health hazards, safety hazards, and disaster prevention in mining.
  • Develop engineering controls and safe work practices for preventing work-related fatalities and work-related traumatic injuries across all industry sectors.
Page last reviewed: October 25, 2018