Science/Health: Erika LeClair ’05, Biology Major

Bacteriologist, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Jamaica Plain

Most people run the other way when they hear “West Nile” or “H1N1.” Not Erika LeClair. She thrives on her proximity to these potentially deadly viruses.

LeClair is a bacteriologist in the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain, Mass. The lab tests for West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitus, seasonal influenza, H1N1, measles and bioterrorist agents.

“It’s very rewarding being on the front lines,” she says. “I like helping in the detection of major public health concerns and doing it rapidly.” LeClair’s lab works with many city, state and federal agencies, responding to concerns and threats, and developing assays for various viruses and bacteria strains.

LeClair landed her position after being a contract worker in another state laboratory. When H1N1 influenza broke out in 2009, she assisted by processing samples. Then when a position opened up in the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory, she applied. “They had already seen my work ethic so they knew I could handle high-stress situations,” she says.

LeClair developed her skills and love of the laboratory at Clark under the tutelage of biology Professor Tom Leonard. She was responsible for making media cultures, which required her to develop a sterile technique so that the plates were not contaminated.
“In my current position a sterile environment is essential so I do not contaminate myself, coworkers and samples,” she explains. “A false positive in a test can be a very expensive learning experience that can send people into hysteria and [initiate] a massive cleanup that may not have been necessary.”