Disease outbreaks can cripple communities and economies alike. Back in September 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began receiving reports from health officials in Tennessee about patients diagnosed with a rare form of meningitis.
This worrisome information set off alarm bells at the CDC, which quickly launched an emergency response team led by Dr. Jonathan Todd Weber, chief of CDC’s Prevention and Response Branch.
Weber and his team ultimately linked the outbreak to injections of a steroid, which had been produced by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts and distributed to 76 facilities in 23 states. For his work Weber has been nominated for the Service to America Medal Awards which are put on by the Partnership for Public Service.
Weber sat down with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program for an extended look at how the outbreak was detected, monitored and controlled.
“Our division is responsible for detecting, preventing and monitoring infections and other adverse events that occur in healthcare through the entire spectrum,” said Weber.
State, Local and Federal govs come together
“For us working across government levels is a great system. There has to be responsibility on all levels. It is pretty clear where those lines are drawn and where it is helpful to bring in the next level of support. Sometimes the state and local governments need expertise that only the federal government can provide. Or the resources,” said Weber.
Big Data tracks disease
The CDC has an app that allows the public to track diseases, it’s called Mappyhealth. (You can check it out here.)
But Mappyhealth isn’t the only tool in the CDC’s big data toolbox. “We have hundreds of data sets from state and local health providers and we also have data sets from non-traditional sources like Medicare and Medicaid. Those data sets may not seem to be directly helpful at first, but there really show us where trends are developing,” said Weber.
PPS notes, as of April 8, 2013, there were 733 reported cases of patients with infections attributed to the tainted steroid, including 53 deaths in 20 states. Most of the deaths occurred early on during the outbreak, and dramatically decreased after Weber and his CDC team intervened.
Without early and prolonged treatment, fungal meningitis can lead to stroke and death. Many months of one or more antifungal drugs are required for treatment.
Weber’s team provided frequent updates for more than 240 clinical and professional organizations, held clinician conference calls that reached 5,300 participants, released multiple health advisories, and provided regular updates for the press on the CDC’s websites that were accessed more than a million times.
You can find all our Sammies interviews here.
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