About the Viral and Rickettsial Diseases Laboratory (VRDL)
The Viral and Rickettsial Disease Laboratory (VRDL) is the oldest
state public health virology laboratory in the United States, established in
1939 as the Influenza Research Laboratory with support from the Rockefeller
Foundation. Dr. Monroe Eaton was the first laboratory director. The VRDL
began offering diagnostic services in 1943. In 1947, when leadership was passed
to Dr. Edwin H. Lennette, the laboratory could test for 14 viral agents or
diseases. With a strong commitment to the development and evaluation of new
viral assays, by 1976 the VRDL was able to perform tests to identify over
300 different viruses. Diagnostic Procedures for Viral, Rickettsial, and
Chlamydial Infections, edited by Dr. Lennette and VRDL team members, is still
widely used as a laboratory reference. Leadership passed to Dr. Richard
Emmons in 1978, to Dr. Michael Ascher in 1994, to Dr. Mike Janda in 2001, to
Dr. Carol Glaser in 2002, to Dr. David Schnurr in 2009, to Dr. Sharon
Messenger in 2011, and to Dr. Dongxiang Xia who assumed the leadership in 2012. VRDL has been a
highly recognized resource for laboratory diagnostic consultation, training,
and research with active collaboration with epidemiologists, clinicians, and
The Viral and Rickettsial Disease Laboratory provides laboratory support, technical assistance, and research required for the diagnosis, investigation, and control of viral diseases and for the development and maintenance of high quality local viral laboratory services in California. VRDL also provides consultation services to the staff of local public health laboratories, California Departments of Public Health (CDPH) and Health Care Services, and other state agencies. For counties not having available public health laboratory services, VRDL functions as the reference and local public health laboratory for viral and rickettsial diseases. As part of the Department's laboratory science training program, VRDL trains local public health laboratory personnel in state-of-the-art standardized laboratory procedures.
The VRDL is composed of five sections that are responsible for the following functions:
The Vaccine Preventable Diseases and Herpes Viruses Section performs antibody testing and nucleic acid detection for over 20 different infectious diseases such as herpes simplex, varicella zoster virus, measles, mumps, rubella, and arboviruses [e.g., West Nile Virus (WNV)].
The Respiratory and Gastroenteritis Diseases Section is responsible for the identification of respiratory and gastroenteric agents, including:
Respiratory agents: diagnostic testing to identify 22 viral respiratory agents including influenza, MERS-CoV, respiratory syncytial virus, rhinovirus and enterovirus as well as the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae.
Gastroenteric agents: testing of suspect acute viral gastroenteritis cases and detection and characterization norovirus, sapovirus, astrovirus, rotavirus, and the gastroenteric adenoviruses.
The Zoonotic and Vectorborne Diseases Section is responsible for the identification of rabies virus and
other animal and vectorborne diseases, as well as virus isolation and fluorescent antibody and direct
The Retrovirus Diseases Section serves as a statewide reference laboratory for HIV and other retroviruses and provides extensive consultation to local public health labs and clinicians throughout the state. Research activities include the development of new viral assays and monitoring of HIV vaccine trials.
The Medical and Epidemiology Liaison Section coordinates all diagnostic specimens received by VRDL
for testing and answers questions regarding test availability, sample collection and shipment, and
interpretation of test results. Our clients include other branches of CDPH, local public health laboratories,
clinical laboratories, and physicians throughout the state. This section coordinates several statewide
surveillance efforts including the Neurologic Surveillance and Testing, West Nile Virus Surveillance, and
Sentinel Physician Influenza Surveillance in coordination with CDPH and Centers for Disease Control and