Elite medical detectives defend the U.S. against disease

The young, elite medical detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service are dispatched on short notice to investigate outbreaks of disease in the United States.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Ever heard of the Epidemic Intelligence Service?

Neither had I, until today.

The agency, a branch of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, is made of 160 elite, young "medical detectives" who are dispatched on short notice to investigate outbreaks of disease in the United States.

The organization was created in 1951 and is credited with identifying Legionnaires' disease, Lyme disease, and toxic shock syndrome from super-absorbent tampons; discovering Ebola and Lassa viruses; and stopping outbreaks of diphtheria.

In other words, they are the nation's field doctors when it comes to the war on domestic disease. And they're pretty good at it, too.

Detailed in a new book by Mark Pendergrast entitled Inside the Outbreaks, the public health team has a propensity for secrecy, which is why you haven't heard of them before.

But their impact is widespread. In the 1950s, the team produced evidence that malaria was no longer a leading cause of death in the southern U.S.

More recently, it investigated anthrax attacks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as outbreaks of the West Nile and H1N1 viruses.

The program is an interesting example of highly specific education. A two-year postgraduate training program, it takes epidemiology out of the lab and throws it into the field head-first.

It's like shock and awe for the biological set: superior technology, precision engagement and information dominance of health threats.

Oh, and a bit of covert operation, too.

[via New York Times]

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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