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The Illinois Experience: The Perspective of Illinois Department of Public Health’s CSTE Fellows

Posted By Justin Albertson, Whitney Clegg, and Andrew Beron, Friday, February 19, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, February 17, 2016
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Illinois covers 58,000 square miles and is home to 13 million people, making it the fifth most populous state in the country. The city of Chicago draws travelers from across the globe, with 50.2 million visitors in 2014 alone—many of whom enter Chicago via one of the world’s busiest airports, O’Hare International Airport. While a majority of the state’s population resides in the Chicago metropolitan area, the nation’s third largest, the state is also populated by smaller cities and rural countryside. Illinois’s size, large population, and diverse city and rural residents contribute to a number of infectious disease and public health-related challenges. In the past two years alone, Illinois has had to respond to suspect cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Zika virus, and the need to screen travelers from West Africa for Ebola.

As CSTE Applied Epidemiology fellows, we have been able to participate in numerous infectious disease outbreak investigations across the state. In a sense, we’ve been able to act as a rapid response team, quickly addressing important public health issues in Illinois to implement control measures and promote disease prevention. Elements of outbreak response include data collection, management, analysis; implementation of outbreak control measures; and communication and coordination with public health partners and stakeholders. In 2015, we conducted on-site investigations for seven outbreak events, including:

  • Measles among infants at a child care center in suburban Chicago
  • Group A Streptococcus infections among residents and staff at a long-term care facility
  • Invasive MRSA infections among patients receiving epidural steroid injections at a pain management clinic
  • Meningococcal disease among men who have sex with men in the Chicago area
  • Laboratory specimen contamination with Geotrichum, a rare fungus, causing a pseudo-outbreak at a large hospital
  • Legionellosis at a large veterans’ home
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis among infants being cared for in a neonatal intensive-care unit
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These investigations helped to identify needed control measures, to pinpoint infection control deficiencies at long-term care facilities, and to facilitate distribution of vaccines to susceptible populations. The CSTE Applied Epidemiology Fellowship program has provided support to Illinois to respond to pressing public health needs across the state quickly. It has allowed us to gain expertise and skills in outbreak investigations and epidemiologic methods.

Justin Albertson, MS, Whitney Clegg, MD, MPH, and Andrew J. Beron, MPH, MLS(ASCP)CM are fellows in the CSTEApplied Epidemiology Fellowship. For more information on how to host fellows or become a fellow, visit the Applied Epidemiology Fellowship page on the CSTE website.

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