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School and Program Updates

School and Program Updates

Columbia Preparedness Initiatives

The Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) is one of the world’s most advanced academic centers for research in disease surveillance, diagnosis and discovery in acute and chronic illnesses. CII has established unique partnerships with academic and public health institutions and governmental agencies in over 40 countries to provide expertise in managing outbreaks and assistance with pathogen discovery, training and surveillance.

The CII was issued its first Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its novel multiplex Zika diagnostic. This powerful tool will allow for accurate distinction between Zika virus and other viruses that are so similar that they tend to counfound traditional diagnostic tools. The CII submitted this EUA at the request of the National Institutes of Health for use in its multi-country Zika in Infants and Pregnancy (ZIP) study, which is a large prospective study that will enroll up to 10,000 women to determine the prevalence and impacts of Zika virus.

CII researchers have been working closer to home to monitor active tick-borne infections in the New York tristate area. They developed a new test that can simultaneously detect 5 different tick-borne agents including the pathogens responsible for Lyme Disease, Powassan virus disease and Babesiosis. This new tool has several advantages: it lowers costs, facilitates testing for agents that are rarely tested for, and provides risk assessments for co-infections which may adversely affect the course of disease.
In August of 2017, CII researchers traveled to the site of a major unexplained encephalitis outbreak that has killed thousands of children in Gorakhpur, India. They are helping to assess local facilities, train clinicians and provide advanced diagnostic tools to determine the exact cause of the disease.

Forecast of Infectious Disease

Infectious disease modeling experts at the Mailman School, led by Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, continue development and dissemination of operational infectious disease forecasting systems.  These include real-time weekly predictions of influenza incidence in cities and states across the U.S. (presented operationally in real time at cpid.iri.columbia.edu), as well as West Nile virus, respiratory syncytial virus and dengue.

The forecasting systems adapt model-inference techniques used in modern weather prediction to create local forecasts of future incidence by locality.

Flu forecast website features include: an interactive map of the U.S. displaying the relative severity of seasonal flu in cities across the country with flu and incidence numbers for each; influenza incidence predictions by city for the coming weeks; a map illustrating the proportion of flu cases by region; and charts comparing the timing and severity of the four most recent flu seasons.

Dr. Shaman and colleagues are working to expand the number of infectious disease prediction systems and to improve existing forecasting methodologies.  To this end, they have launched an intensive, active surveillance program for influenza and other respiratory pathogens in the urban Manhattan environment with the aims of significantly advancing understanding of transmission dynamics, documenting the genetic basis of immune response to respiratory virus infection, bettering now-casting capabilities, and improving respiratory disease model simulation and forecast.

The Mailman School of Public Health leads the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education (GCCHE), an international forum for health professions schools that are committed to developing and instituting climate change and health curriculum, in order to ensure a future cadre of highly trained health professionals who will be able to prepare and protect society from the harmful effects of climate disruption.

Institutions interested in joining the GCCHE should visit Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education

Research News

Dr. Steven D. Stellman, professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, co-authored several studies with colleagues in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, reporting on continuing health consequences of exposure to the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. Dr. Stellman was formerly research director for the Department’s WTC Health Registry, a cohort of 71,000 exposed individuals that has resulted in over 70 publications to date.

A new study in the journal Injury Epidemiology based on eleven years of post-WTC follow-up found that persons who experienced an injury during or immediately after the collapse of the towers on the morning of 9/11 had an increased risk of subsequent heart disease, and that acute exposure to the dust cloud that morning was associated with increased asthma and other lung diseases.

Dr. Stellman also co-authored a series of three papers on health of adolescents who were directly exposed to 9/11 as younger children. Eleven years after the event, those who had witnessed “disturbing events” were twice as likely to report alcohol use and three times as likely to report marijuana. Among 472 children in 9/11 exposed families, there were significant associations between 9/11 related parental mental health and the adolescent’s school functioning. Finally, in a follow-up to Dr. Stellman’s 2013 study of asthma and respiratory symptoms in children, adolescents with asthma who screened positive for at least one mental health problem had a significantly greater likelihood of poor asthma control. Poorly or very poorly controlled asthma was also associated with lower household income and unmet overall healthcare needs.

Student Surge Capacity for Outbreak Investigation

The Student Surge Capacity for Outbreak Investigation (Team Epi) is an educational collaborative program between the Mailman School of Public Health, the National Center for Disaster Preparedness and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH).

Team Epi, not limited to Epidemiology graduate students, recruits and trains student volunteers from Epidemiology, Environmental Health Sciences, and Biostatistics to provide surge capacity support of epidemiological investigations at the NYC DOHMH in the event of an outbreak in New York City.

The course is offered each semester as an on-going request from the NYC Department of Health. Dr. Stephen Morse is a co-founder of the program and presents to the students throughout the year on outbreak investigation interviewing strategies.