9:47am

Fri August 31, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

So You Want To Be A Disease Detective?

Originally published on Fri August 31, 2012 2:46 pm

This summer has had its fair share of newsmaking disease outbreaks.

West Nile virus is on course to break records in the U.S. Hantavirus emerged in a Yosemite campground. And Ebola showed up twice in Africa. On Wednesday, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention even revealed details about an entirely new virus that sickened two men in Missouri.

During all these outbreaks, the "disease detectives" of the CDC were some of the first doctors on the scene to identify the pathogen and coordinate efforts to stop it.

Officially known as the Epidemic Intelligence Service, the unit is home to disease detectives who are the Sherlock Holmeses of medicine. They're a team of 160 physicians, scientists, and veterinarians, who are ready to fly around the world on a moment's notice to investigate a mysterious illness, manage the response to an established epidemic or contain a burgeoning outbreak.

As Shots reported last year, the disease detectives even made it to Hollywood when Kate Winslet played one in the film Contagion.

So what's it like to be a disease detective and how does one break into the business? Four former members of the EIS, who still work with the team, answered questions in a Twitter chat on Wednesday (#CDCChat). Here are some highlights from the conversation.

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Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.