History of OLS

The West Virginia Office of Laboratory Services (a.k.a. State Hygienic Laboratory) has been a branch of the Bureau for Public Health since 1913.  The State Hygienic Laboratory was established to protect the health of West Virginia citizens, especially against infectious diseases, by:
  1. Aiding in diagnoses;
  2. Case-finding, routine screening, surveillance and investigating outbreaks;
  3. Detection of carriers; and
  4. Maintaining safe drinking water and safe milk products.
In the past, the infectious diseases of greatest importance have been diphtheria, typhoid fever, brucellosis, tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, smallpox, sexually transmitted diseases (especially syphilis and gonorrhea), and rabies. Today's infectious diseases of concern are tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases (to which have been added AIDS and Chlamydia), enteric infections other than typhoid fever, legionnaire's disease, rubella, cryptosporidiosis, hepatitis, influenza, rabies, and the possible agents of a bioterrorist attack. The SHL has always performed examinations for intestinal parasites, and for many years has performed cultures to aid in the diagnosis of mycotic diseases.

One of the main functions of the Office of Laboratory Services has always been to provide reference microbiology for clinical laboratory isolates. By performing serological or molecular typing, disease clusters and sources are identified. Also, primary laboratory services are provided for high-risk clients of both public and private sector clinics.

The emphasis on Public Health Laboratory testing has shifted from infectious diseases to include testing for other disorders of public health concern, namely genetic metabolic disorders through newborn screening, testing for lead-poisoning, and monitoring drinking water for chemical pollution. The State Hygienic Laboratory has always adapted readily to public health priorities and to the availability of laboratory services in the private sector. However, we continue to provide core services which include working with local health departments, performing population-based surveillance and environmental monitoring, and responding to outbreaks.

Our work is largely preventive. We report promptly and regularly to other programs in DHHR's Bureau for Public Health, mainly the Division of Epidemiology, the Office of Maternal and Child Health, the Office of Environmental Health, and local health departments, all of which use the laboratory's findings to monitor trends or identify clusters of disease. By so doing, they are able to make informed decisions as to how to initiate and maintain necessary control measures. Time is of the essence in this cooperative endeavor. The entire framework for controlling communicable and many other diseases is built upon the foundation of the laboratory, but the partnership with other public health agencies is essential to complete the structure.

Other services provided by OLS are: training of laboratory personnel in West Virginia; providing quality control materials for county health department laboratories; approving clinical laboratories which perform prenatal syphilis serology in West Virginia; approving clinical laboratories which perform AIDS-related testing on West Virginia patients; administering the program for licensing clinical laboratory personnel in West Virginia; and overseeing the West Virginia CLIA office.

Highlights in the History of OLS


  • 1881 - Legislation established the first West Virginia Board of Health with an annual appropriation of $1000.00 and providing for local boards of health in every county of WV.
  • 1892 - Leading cause of death in West Virginia was cholera infantum.
  • 1893 - Leading cause of death was diphtheria.
  • 1895 - Law passed regulating License to Practice Medicine in West Virginia.


  • 1908 - Need for a laboratory for bacteriological or chemical research emphasized by Board of Health.
  • 1913 - State Board of Health and West Virginia University agreed to establish the State Hygienic Laboratory at Morgantown, under the direction of Dr. John W. Simpson, Dean of the Medical Department. Governor H. D. Hatfield, M.D., was instrumental in establishing the Laboratory.
  • 1914 - The State Hygienic Laboratory was founded at Morgantown in the WVU Medical School. This was the 1st subdivision of the State Health Department authorized by the Legislature.
  • 1916 - Arthur Lederer, M.D., was director.
  • 1914-1928 - Work largely chemical and toxicological; chemical water examination.  Examinations for diphtheria, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, rabies, typhoid and similar exams for doctors and health officers.
  • 1915-1916 - Monthly bacteriological examination of public water supplies ordered by Public Service Commission; about 400 bacteriological water exams performed per month.
  • 1918 - The State Hygienic Laboratory moved to Charleston.
  • 1918 - Free typhoid vaccine and silver nitrate solution purchased and supplied in limited amounts to physicians and health officers.


  • 1922 - Volume of Rabies examinations, July-December: 17 examinations, 11 were positive.
  • 1923 - State Hygienic Laboratory moved to 408 State Street (now Lee Street).
  • 1926 - State Hygienic Laboratory moved to 1902 Washington Street, East.
  • 1928 - Elizabeth Parsons, PhD, was director of the Laboratory (1928 - 1934).
  • 1928 - A permanent system for laboratory records was established.
  • 1927 - 1928 - Fecal and urine samples encouraged for typhoid rather than Widal test.
  • 1928 - The State Hygienic Laboratory moved to 1812 McClung Street.
  • 1929 - Large increase in syphilis serology noted.
  • 1929 - 1930 - Manufacture of typhoid vaccine and silver nitrate solution.


  • 1931 - 1932 - Rabies positivity 63.6%; syphilis serology positivity 19.87%.  The greatest need of the laboratory at present: cold room for storage of biologics.
  • 1932 - 1933 -50,297 specimens received for examination. Rabies positivity 72%.
  • 1933 - 1934 - Rabies positivity 55%.
  • 1934 - Katherine E. Cox was director of the Laboratory (1934 - 1940).
  • 1934 - Rabies: Improved microscopic techniques adopted.  Animal inoculation for verification initiated. Spot maps of rabies incidence initiated.
  • 1936 - Serologic Tests for Syphilis (STS): participation annually in National Evaluation Studies. 
  • 1937 - Additional intra-laboratory quality control by Kolmer CF test, Tb animal inoculations and culture techniques, and diphtheria virulence testing added.
  • 1935 - Laboratory Library organized, using Library of Congress catalog system.
  • 1939 - Improvement of STS services in laboratories throughout WV, under 1939 premarital law of 1939, by inspection of labs, free training for technicians, and supplying antigens.
  • 1936 - Work of Hygienic Laboratory limited to properly certified charity cases, public health agencies, state institutions, and private physicians doing work of a public health nature. (Formerly done for all physicians for a fee.)
  • 1936 - Seven-room residence adjoining 1812 rented for laboratory work. Work of the laboratory was reorganized into natural divisions, each with separate working quarters.

  • 1940 - Prenatal Law adopted: STS on pregnant women.
  • 1941 - Began STS examinations on all inductees for armed services from WV (Selective Service Act, 1940).
  • 1941 - Began complete laboratory service for common and exotic parasitic and rickettsial diseases.
  • 1946 - Cooperation with WVU Medical School in establishing and teaching curriculum leading to Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology.
  • 1948 - Restaurant Sanitation laboratory work initiated.
  • 1949 - Establishment of Typhoid Register in Division of Disease Control.


  • 1950 - Laboratory service for mycotic diseases initiated.
  • 1950 - Statewide Milk Producer Grading Service initiated.
  • 1951 - 1959 - Statewide laboratory program for detection of diabetes among medical indigents initiated, testing blood specimens shipped by mail.
  • 1953 - Virus and rickettsial serology begun (only rickettsial previously).
  • 1954 - June 8, 1954 the State Hygienic Laboratory moved to 167 11th Avenue, South Charleston.  Laboratory built with Hill-Burton funds ($514,560) and State funds ($200,00) - 23,298 sq ft.
  • 1954 - Lactobacillus counts for dental caries instituted for dentists of WV.
  • 1955 - Inspection, certification, and training program for milk grading and milk plant quality control laboratories initiated.
  • 1953 - Poliomyelitis Control Program initiated in cooperation with NFIP and PHS:
    • Immune globulin distributed on trial basis - 1953.
    • NFIP vaccine field trials, materials supplied - 1954.
    • Statewide immunization program, materials supplied - 1955.
    • Virus isolation and identification begun - 1956. 
  • 1957 - Evaluation of local laboratories performing bacteriological milk testing must be augmented by split sample examinations.


  • 1960 - Antibiotic testing program required on producer milk samples, with methodology training and follow-up visits to local laboratories.
  • 1960 - Initiation of training programs and approval of local health and water plant laboratories for bacteriological examination of water.
  • 1961 - New laboratory director: J. Roy Monroe.
  • 1962 - Group A Strep screening program, using FA technology, expanded greatly. This was a rheumatic fever prevention program. , federally sponsored.
  • 1965 - PKU program mandated by state law, requiring testing of every newborn child in WV.
  • 1967 - Abnormal milk program required testing samples for somatic cell content.
  • 1968 - Screening for cervical cancer initiated.


  • 1972 - Gonorrhea culture screening program initiated on a statewide basis. Sickle Cell examination program began. Medicare Title XIX Laboratory Improvement Program begun with SHL approving laboratories which billed for laboratory services.
  • 1974 - New laboratory director: Dr. John W. Brough.
  • 1977 - Staff of 56 employees: 2 doctorates; 5 masters; 28 baccalaureates; 63% staff technical.
  • 1978 - Testing program began for hypothyroidism (T4), mandated by state law.
  • 1979 - Screening test for lead and drugs begun.


  • 1980 - Examination of pasteurized milk samples (in addition to raw milk) required for the presence of inhibitors. Rubella testing program given increased coverage.
  • 1983 - Budget cuts required cutting staff 20%; services cut were (1) virology lab, except rabies; (2) Group A strep screening program; (3) clinical chemistry; (4) general bacteriology, except identification of bacterial isolates (serotyping, etc.), referred by other clinical labs.
  • 1988 - CLIA rules enacted.
  • 1988 - New laboratory director: Timothy Sherrill, DPH.
  • 1989 - Medicaid Title XIX Laboratory Improvement Program closed by Training & Evaluation Section; proficiency testing program also ceased.


  • 1990 - Fees for water testing instituted.
  • 1990 - New laboratory director: Charlotte Billingsley.
  • 1992 - New laboratory director: Frank W. Lambert, DPH.
  • 1997 - Cytology laboratory closed.  Personnel licensure for clinical laboratory practitioners in WV begun. CLIA office moved from Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification (OHFLAC) to OLS, still under OHFLAC.
  • 1999 - New laboratory director: Andrea Labik, ScD.


  • 2001 - Laboratory assumed full responsibility for CLIA program. Chlamydia/GC screening by Gen-Probe begun. Repeal of the premarital blood test for syphilis law.  Rabies surveillance began to determine westward migration of raccoon rabies and the effect of vaccination by bait drops.
  • 2001 - The Threat-Preparedness and Bioterrorism Response Section began accepting environmental and clinical specimens for identification of Bacillus anthracis and other Bioterrorism agents.
  • 2002 - Arbovirus testing (serology) begun, including West Nile Virus. Training lab divided to construct safety level 2 lab for arbovirus, office space, lab for entomologist, and urine screening for chlamydia/GC by DNA amplification.
  • 2017 - New office director: Sharon L. Cibrik, MT(ASCP) and new CLIA laboratory director: James C. Kraner, PhD, DABT, F-ABFT.