Battling Disease Outbreaks in the Big ApplePosted on by
Over one-third of New York City (NYC) residents are from outside the United States, so in addition to preparing for and responding to numerous indigenous infectious diseases, we also encounter many imported cases, some of which end up causing outbreaks.
After spending five years in the CDC Influenza Division in Atlanta, I became a Career Epidemiology Field Officer (CEFO) in 2005 and moved to NYC, where I am stationed at the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. I currently lead surveillance and response activities for influenza, zoonotic, and vectorborne diseases. My background before coming to CDC was mainly in tropical and travel medicine, so this role has been a good fit.
One of our most recent disease importations came in the form of pandemic H1N1 Influenza in 2009-10. After hearing from a colleague in California about the first two cases of swine influenza occurring in San Diego, I started participating in nightly conference calls with CDC, California, and later Texas when cases emerged there. We knew something big might be happening and mobilized an effort to actively seek influenza A viruses in laboratories across the city to determine whether it might already be here.
Our first cases occurred when high school students brought it back with them after spending spring break in Mexico; we were able to acquire clinical samples and have them tested both in our public health lab and at CDC very soon after hearing about the high school outbreak. In short order, enhanced surveillance and epidemiology in NYC provided important early data during the pandemic, providing clinical information for colleagues worldwide, and helping to target high-risk groups for receipt of antivirals, and later vaccine.
My primary role early in the pandemic was to serve as a subject matter expert for CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, who was the NYC health commissioner at the time, and occasionally for the mayor and other city leaders. I also spent a fair bit of time working with the media.
Earlier in my CDC career, I had been involved in outbreaks both at the international and national levels (Ebola in Uganda and anthrax in Washington, DC). Years spent working with the great people in the Influenza Division were foundational in helping me to contribute to the pandemic response in NYC, and CDC did an exceptional job preparing me for the press interactions, scrutiny, and politics that would occur here at the local level.
An Ideal Place to Serve
New York City runs at 5,000 RPM, and so does its health department. It’s a great place for a CEFO to be stationed, and I count myself lucky to serve the people of NYC as a CDC medical officer.
I’d like to hear your thoughts or answer any questions you may have about this post.
Learn more about the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene.