CDC Responds to the 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

CDC's Disease Detectives managing the 2014 Ebola outbreak

When the Ebola outbreak in West Africa began to escalate last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put into action a response effort.  A major component of the response involves deploying CDC staff to directly assist the affected countries, some of which are officers from the agency’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS). These epidemiologists, also known as disease detectives, are prepared to travel to any corner of the world at a moment’s notice to assist with CDC’s disease control and prevention efforts.


CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden has called this Ebola outbreak the “largest, most complex outbreak that we know of in history.” As highly skilled CDC staff and EIS officers mobilize to combat Ebola in West Africa, the world has gotten a glimpse into the work of epidemiologists through the news as well as through features developed by CDC about deploying officers. Popularized by films like Contagion, the epidemiological work of CDC staff on the ground involves outbreak investigation, surveillance, and management.


EIS officer Leisha, pictured with her crate full of supplies on CDC’s Ebola Response webpage, emphasized the importance of locating infected patients’ close friends and family members. Through a process called contact tracing, EIS officers gain insight into the spread of an outbreak and can help stop its progression by isolating symptomatic cases.


Another EIS officer, Kelsey, has recognized that the success of Ebola containment efforts depends upon successful communication with the local culture.


“You go over there with a lot of ideas about what you want to help people understand, but the people you encounter have very different backgrounds and beliefs than you have,” she said in her profile on CDC’s website. “I learned so much about how to reach people and communicate more effectively, no matter whether the people I am working with are Guinean, or Sierra Leonean, or Liberian. What they have to teach us is invaluable.”


Dr. Frieden said that even if all goes well, containment efforts will take months. However, the 24/7 outbreak monitoring and work done on the ground by EIS officers and CDC staff can significantly slow the spread of Ebola and will save countless lives.


Greg, a U.S. Public Health Service officer and EIS officer, was recently deployed to Africa for the third time during his service at CDC.


“Being safe and careful are guiding principles of our mission to stop the spread of Ebola,” he said in his profile on CDC's website. “My short-term goal is to help do the basics of public health epidemiology— preventing the spread through contact tracing—with the long-term goal of ending the outbreak. It will happen, but only through painstaking hard work.”


Ongoing assistance will be key to successfully managing this outbreak. The CDC Foundation’s Global Disaster Response Fund supports CDC in their work with local public health teams from the impacted countries by purchasing necessary items like personal protective equipment, laptop computers and thermal scanners. You can help aid these efforts by giving today.


“We at CDC are surging our response along with others,” Dr. Frieden said. “Although it will not be quick and it will not be easy, we do know how to stop Ebola.”


Visit CDC’s Ebola Response website to learn more about the EIS Officers deployed to West Africa.

Natalie Duggan is a communications specialist for the CDC Foundation.