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WSLH Proficiency Testing

Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene

Tag: public health history


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Remembering Our Laboratory Leadership

As you may or may not know, WSLH Proficiency Testing is the only proficiency testing provider that is a part of a public health lab. We are particularly proud of the history of public health excellence that our colleagues at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene (WSLH) have advanced since our inception as a clinical proficiency testing provider in 1966. In light of a colleague’s recent passing, we wanted to highlight his contributions to immunology and to public health overall. Rjurik (Rik) Golubjatnikov, PhD, emeritus chief immunologist at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene (WSLH) and emeritus University of Wisconsin (UW) professor of preventive medicine, passed away in late July 2021 in Madison, Wisconsin. Dr. Rik was the WSLH’s Chief Immunologist from 1967 until his retirement in the late 1990s. Dr. Stan Inhorn, emeritus director and medical director of the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene and emeritus UW professor of preventive medicine wrote this obituary for Dr. Rik. Telling stories about each other and about our work as medical laboratory professionals and public health leaders remind us why we do the work that we do and keep us feeling connected as a community. Here is an excerpt of that obituary:

Rjurik (Rik) Golubjatnikov, PhD Rik Golubjatnikov was born on June 19, 1931 on Muhu island, one of many islands that lie offshore of Estonia in the Baltic Sea. His father was the island’s doctor, health official, and coroner. His mother was a singer and expert in national dresses and textiles. Because of its location in Europe, Estonia was affected by cultural and political events in Scandinavia, Russia, Germany, and other European countries. Consequently, Rik became proficient in speaking Estonian, German, Russian, and later Spanish.

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Rik’s life changed in 1939 when Germany and Russia signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that gave Estonia and Finland to the Soviet Union. […] On July 1, 1941, a mass deportation resulted in Rik’s father being sent to a gulag in Russia where he perished within a year. Rik, his older brother, and their mother were sent to a camp in northern Estonia where they worked in the fields, slept on the floor, and endured many hardships.

In August, Germany violated their pact with Russia and invaded the Baltic countries. Rik’s family was allowed to return to their home. Life under the German occupation was difficult. Their attempt to sail to Sweden in a small boat was unsuccessful, resulting in the family being sent to a labor camp near Frankfurt where Rik contracted tuberculosis.

The nightmare ended in 1945 when the U.S. Army swept into Germany. A camp for Estonian displaced persons was established in Geislingen, a town in Southern Germany, under the direction of UNRRA. Their home for the next four years was a small room in a duplex house. A school was started with enough teachers but little in the way of supplies. The curriculum included English, and Rik’s proficiency in English was bolstered by writing to pen pals in the U.S. Boy Scout leaders from England and the U.S. came to the camp and started a troop. At a Jamboree in France, Rik’s brother met a Scoutmaster from Illinois who found a sponsor for the family in Springfield, Illinois. In August, 1949 they sailed to the U.S. and to their new home, a large estate near Springfield. They bonded with the lady of the house and her two children, performing household jobs in exchange for their board.

Rik passed the high school equivalency exam and obtained a scholarship to Millikin University in Decatur, IL. […] He received his Ph.D. in Epidemiologic Studies [at the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan] in 1964 and took a job at SUNY in Buffalo as an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine. His research was in a virus vaccine evaluation project, which required that he build a virology and serology laboratory for the project.

In 1967, Rik accepted an offer to start a Section of Immunology at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene (WSLH) on the University of Wisconsin campus. […] Rik was a leader in designing programs for control of syphilis and gonorrhea, and later other sexually transmitted infections. He helped design the creation of serum banks, which were crucial in documenting epidemics of infectious diseases. […]

Rik’s research interests extended to Central and South America, where he carried out serum surveys to determine the prevalence of various infectious diseases. When the AIDS epidemic started in the 1980s, he carried out serologic studies in Wisconsin and several countries in the Americas. Other studies included tests for infectious mononucleosis, HIV, maternally transmitted agents, enzyme tests for streptococcal infections and tests for other respiratory infections. […]

Rik had many friends in Madison and in the countries where he traveled. He is survived by his  nephews and their families.


Bringing you clinical lab features, news, and updates via the WSLH PT Blog! If you are interested in receiving an email digest of news along with curated staff picks from around the internet, sign up for WSLH PT’s monthly newsletter, The MedLab Retriever.

Public Health: A Heroic History

L0025222 Plague doctor
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Plague doctor: ein Kleydung under den Todt.
Published: 1932
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

By Kristine Hansbery
Director of WSLH Proficiency Testing

With the recent Covid-19 outbreak our nation is realizing the importance of having a strong public health presence both to avert disaster and protect the wellbeing of our public. During these tumultuous times I am reminded of the words of Jon Snow from Game of Thrones, not to be confused with the “father” of epidemiology, John Snow. However, the John Snow of public health would probably agree with the Game of Thrones Jon Snow, that “There is only one war that matters. The Great War. And it is here.” Yes, the fight against the Coronavirus has become our great war and it is indeed here.

So, why is public health such an important part of this war against the pandemic? Using a historical lens, we can better understand the important role public health labs play in supporting clinical labs in this fight.

Tracing the conceptualization of “public health” and how it has translated into actions in the United Kingdom and the United States can illuminate the important role public health labs play in supporting clinical labs. In particular, the role of public health labs today in providing statistical analysis and reporting to prevent and respond to epidemics is salient to elucidate historically.

John Snow, the father of epidemiology, first made his mark on disease prevention with the “Broad Street pump.” In late August of 1853, cholera broke out in the Broad Street area of London. Snow believed the outbreak was linked to the communal pump located there. To prove his theory, he tracked and recorded incidences of cholera in and around the pump. This was the beginning of using statistics to define disease patterns so interventions could be performed.

The rise of epidemiology and subsequent interventions to stop the spread of disease, gave rise to the creation of government entities who could implement and enforce such mediations for the overall health of the public. The first public agency for health in the United States was the New York City Health Department, which was founded in 1866. This event in history marked the very beginning of the concept of “public health” in the United States. At the end of the 19th century, newly established state and local health departments in the United States began to establish laboratories to develop and apply the new scientific knowledge. (Winslow, 1923)

The early part of the 20th century in the United States saw the creation of federal programs of disease control, research and epidemiology, including the establishment of the Communicable Disease Center in 1946, now known as the Center for Disease Control and prevention (CDC). During this time, state and federal passed regulations to incorporate the concepts of sanitation and disease control using the scientific findings of public health labs.

Today, public health labs all over the U.S. work together under the CDC’s Laboratory Response Network (LRN) in order to quickly and efficiently respond to emerging infections and other public health emergencies. The Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene (WSLH), which is the home of my organization WSLH Proficiency Testing, works closely with the CDC to provide reference and specialized testing services. Currently the Communicable Disease Division of WSLH is providing validations to help prepare clinical laboratories for Covid-19 testing.

What this dive into the history of public health has taught us is that the rise of epidemiology may have provided the foundation for public health, but social values, including community intervention and health goals, have brought about its system as we know it today. Collaborative partnerships and networks between public health labs and clinical labs will need to continue to grow to adapt and respond to today’s challenges in maintaining the health of our communities.

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