Ready to protect the public’s health at a moment’s notice: The Epidemic Intelligence Service

EISWhen a disease outbreak occurs or a natural disaster strikes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deploys its Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officers to serve on the front lines. EIS officers are boots-on-the-ground “disease detectives” who investigate outbreaks and work on a variety of essential long-term and emergency response health challenges here in the U.S. and globally. Their detective work protects and saves lives.

Established in 1951, EIS is a program administered by CDC as a two-year postgraduate program of service and on-the-job training for health professionals interested in the practice of epidemiology. Each year, 60–80 people are selected and assigned to CDC or state and local health department positions. EIS officers conduct epidemiologic investigations, research and public health surveillance nationally and internationally. Since the program first began, more than 3,500 EIS officers have be trained. These EIS officers serve on the public health protection frontlines.

For more than 65 years, EIS has provided rapid response to major health threats including investigating biological warfare during the Korean War, participating in the worldwide smallpox eradication campaign to more recently helping providing disaster relief following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Katrina and providing on-the-ground response to Ebola and Zika virus outbreaks. 

This week, the 67th annual EIS conference is taking place in Atlanta. At the conference, EIS officers, CDC staff and others have the opportunity to present their research, discuss the findings and take part in professional networking. With more than 1,000 attendees each year, current and prospective future EIS officers come to learn and network with others in their field and recruit new officers.

The CDC Foundation is proud to manage the Epidemic Intelligence Service Alumni Association (EISAA), whose mission is to foster and sustain a sense of collegiality among its members and to promote the welfare of the EIS Program. In recent years, the EISAA has revitalized to strengthen its membership base, enhance networking and alumni communications and support the EIS Program’s role as the premier public health training program in the world. The CDC Foundation manages several funds and endowments that support the work of EIS. For example, gifts to the Stephen B. Thacker Fund, which honors Dr. Thacker’s life and service to public health as well as his passion for the EIS Program, will help support CDC’s Disease Detective Camps for children. The James Buffington Jr. and Lois Chapman Buffington Endowment for the Alexander D. Langmuir Prize provides ongoing support for the prestigious Alexander D. Langmuir Memorial Prize, which is awarded annually at the EIS Conference to a current or recent EIS Officer for the best scientific publication. The Tom Frieden Future Leaders Fund honors Dr. Tom Frieden’s work as former CDC director in America and the world. This fund supports three CDC-led programs—the EIS, the Public Health Associate Program (PHAP) and the recently-established Laboratory Leadership Service (LLS) fellowship program. 

With such a rich and vast history of protecting America, and with emerging global health threats, the vital work of EIS disease detectives, CDC and the CDC Foundation has never been more important. 

Diana Robelotto
Diana Robelotto Scalera is the director of alumni affairs for the CDC Foundation.