Detecting Threats, Protecting People: The Epidemic Intelligence Service

EIS globeEstablished in 1951 amid rising concerns over biological warfare threats during the Korean War, the rich history and vital work of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) spans 65 years. EIS is a two-year postgraduate program that trains officers in ground-breaking and life-saving applied epidemiology, which relates to the incidence, distribution and control of diseases. 

Fieldwork is at the heart of how EIS officers learn and work. EIS officers are often referred to as boots-on-the-ground disease detectives. Historically coined as “shoe leather epidemiology,” the emphasis on fieldwork keeps these epidemiologists constantly on foot, wearing out their shoes and going door-to-door in an effort to track and control disease outbreaks. This method was instrumental in containing and controlling the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa and other major public health events such as Hurricane Katrina and, at present, Zika virus. 

This week, the 65th annual EIS conference is taking place in metro Atlanta. This year’s theme, Data for Action, celebrates the many accomplishments of EIS over the last 65 years and how the program has adapted to the data-driven digital landscape, as well as the current needs of CDC, state and local health departments. Topics at this year’s conference range from domestic food safety concerns to international infectious disease outbreaks. EIS officers, CDC staff and others have the opportunity to present their research, discuss the findings and take part in professional networking. You can follow the 2016 EIS Conference this week on social media using the hashtag #CDCEIS16.

The EIS Class of 2016 is comprised of 79 officers who were selected from 564 global applicants. Of the 79 officers, 37 are physicians, 2 are nurses, 10 are veterinarians and 30 are non-clinical doctoral scientists. Their diverse skills and specialties are essential for strong domestic and global public health response.

The CDC Foundation is proud to manage the Epidemic Intelligence Service Alumni Association, as well as several funds and endowments that support the work of EIS. For example, gifts to the Stephen B. Thacker Fund will help support CDC’s Disease Detective Camps for children.

In a world with increased international travel and emerging global health threats such as Zika, Ebola, MERS and antibiotic resistance, the keys to keeping people safe are prevention and protection. The vital work of EIS, along with CDC and partners, will continue to protect Americans and the global community for decades to come. 

Natalie Duggan is a communications specialist for the CDC Foundation.