Thursday, November 8, 2007

To the field

For those of you who don't know, part of my job is to investigate outbreaks of infectious disease. My team works closely with the government to identify outbreaks, to determine the cause of the disease, and to figure out what put people at risk for the disease. This is a busy week for us. Today we sent three outbreak investigation teams to the field. We're investigating one outbreak (13 cases and 8 deaths) which appears to be some kind of toxic poisoning, one outbreak of encephalitis in children (13 hospitalized and 4 deaths), and one outbreak of pneumonia in children (120 hospitalized and 10 deaths). When we go to the field we make a 'case' definition, based on the presenting symptoms of patients in the outbreak, make a line list of everyone who might be a case, collect information about when they became ill and the symptoms they've experienced, ask questions about exposures which may have led to disease, perform clinical evaluations, and collect biological samples. We also give 'messages' to patient care givers and health care workers about how to prevent further spread of infection. Often these message are very general because we frequently don't know what's causing the illness.

The health advisor (equivalent to the health minister in this care taker government) called our offices today to formally request that we participate in the investigations. Of course, we were already involved with our government colleagues. This kind of interest is sure to bring a spotlight to the work we're doing... it's going to be a busy weekend. Hopefully, I'll have some interesting pictures to share with you this weekend.

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