SPH on the Frontlines: Ebola


Last year's outbreak of Ebola in West Africa put public health on the front pages.

And sent members of the SPH community to the frontlines. Here's a look at some of the activity:

In November, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deployed epidemiologist Kim Lindblade, MPH '92, PhD '99, a 15-year CDC veteran, to Liberia to quickly investigate possible Ebola outbreaks in hard-to-reach places. Lindblade and her colleagues worked with officials in Liberia's Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and with partner organizations to isolate rural patients with Ebola and safely transport them to the nearest Ebola treatment units. They then tracked down each patient's contacts. By the time Lindblade left Liberia in late December, she and her team were hearing about new cases within the first few days of illness.
Clementine Fu, MPH '13, spent several weeks in Guinea last summer conducting real-time research on the Ebola outbreak response for the International Federation of Red Cross. With so many humanitarian organizations on the ground, Fu says there was an urgent need to understand the efficacy of coordinated response activities and the challenges in messaging and communications methodologies. Fu and her colleagues identified a series of recommendations to strengthen services—including new communications strategies emphasizing the benefits of early treatment, and the use of community-based social mobilization strategies rather than passive methods like static educational posters.
U-M SPH preventive medicine resident Aristotle Sun, MD, MPH '12, made several trips to the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, to take part in ongoing CDC efforts to train medical workers in how to safely care for Ebola patients. Sun conducted exercises on infection-control principles, proper and safe use of personal protective equipment, and triage for potential Ebola patients. As of late January, nearly 400 workers had taken three-day training classes in Anniston. Once trained, they were deployed to West Africa. During one training session in Anniston, Sun met with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murphy.
Three graduates of the SPH Department of Epidemiology worked on site in West Africa to assist with Ebola treatment and prevention. Rebecca Coulborn, MPH '08, spent 15 weeks in Guinea with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. As an officer with the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service, Mariana Rosenthal, PhD '13, was also deployed to Guinea. Working with the World Health Organization, Mikiko Senga, PhD '13, spent 11 weeks in Sierra Leone, where she coordinated field epidemiology and surveillance for Ebola response, chiefly focusing on data management, case investigation, and contact tracing.
While on temporary assignment to the CDC Ebola team last fall, Erika Willacy, MPH '03, lead health education specialist at the CDC specializing in refugee health, developed a CARE (Check And Report Ebola) Kit to help travelers conduct daily health checks for 21 days after returning to the U.S. from Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone. For more on the kit visit cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/travelers/care-kit.html. CDC responders also included SPH graduates David Hunter, MPH '05, who served more than 30 days in Nigeria as part of outbreak response efforts in that country; Stefanie (Anderson) Erskine, MPH '02, who was deployed to Sierra Leone to assist with the Ebola vaccine trial; and Amanda McWhorter, MPH '06, Gabrielle Benenson, MPH '99, and Michael Guterbock, MPH '08, who took on multiple assignments focused on communications, policy, and international deployment activities.
As part of a group of U.S. scientists involved with the Models of Infectious Disease Agents Study, an NIH-funded program focused on infectious-disease-transmission modeling, SPH epidemiology faculty members Joseph Eisenberg, Marisa Eisenberg, and Rafael Meza contributed to Ebola projections about infection rates and deaths.