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Fighting Emerging Infectious Diseases

CDC's important infectious disease work takes center stage March 11-14, 2012, as more than 2,000 leading scientists, physicians, veterinarians, healthcare workers, nurses, climatologists and biologists gather in Atlanta for the eighth International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases (ICEID).

The conference kicked off March 11 with an opening session featuring speakers from CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, the Pan American Health Organization, and the World Health Organization.

CDC and its partners are on the front lines of efforts to identify, prevent, and control emerging infectious diseases. Several of these efforts will be covered during ICEID, including work in the areas of outbreak investigations, and emerging infectious diseases. A sampling of these topics are described below.

Cholera cases among U.S. healthcare workers who traveled to Haiti

Photo: Personnel at UNICEF tent in Haiti during the cholera response.

Personnel at UNICEF tent in Haiti during the cholera response.

In 2010, for the first time in over a century, epidemic cholera was confirmed in Haiti. Cholera can cause severe diarrhea and can be very serious if left untreated. In response to the cholera epidemic, healthcare workers from the United States traveled to Haiti to treat patients.

Cholera infections are very rare among healthcare workers. However, when CDC was informed of two cases among healthcare workers who had traveled to Haiti to provide medical services, CDC worked to find out if there were more possible cases among healthcare workers, and what may have led to these cases.

CDC researchers surveyed nearly 900 U.S.-based healthcare workers who had recently traveled to Haiti and found that 8 percent of these workers had had diarrhea during, or shortly after, their travels to Haiti. While most of the healthcare workers surveyed reported washing their hands frequently, there were some who could not always wash their hands because of a lack of clean water or hand sanitizer. This study highlights the importance of access to clean water and handwashing in preventing cholera.

Hepatitis E more common in the United States than previously thought

Photo: CDC microbiologist Tracey Greene-Montfort

CDC microbiologist Tracey Greene-Montfort conducts serologic and molecular tests on specimens referred to CDC by health-care providers and by public health or commercial laboratories.
Photo courtesy Jan Drobeniuc, MD, PhD.

Hepatitis E is a liver infection that is thought to be rare in the United States, although it is common in many parts of the world. Hepatitis E virus is spread via the fecal-oral route, mostly through consumption of contaminated water. Researchers at CDC looked at virologic and epidemiologic data to find out more about hepatitis E in the United States. They found that the non-imported form of the disease is more common than previously thought, especially among middle-aged males. Hepatitis E can affect organ transplant recipients and lead to adverse outcomes. Other patients with hepatitis E had traveled to countries where hepatitis E is common, and thus imported the disease.

More research is needed to understand the way hepatitis E is transmitted, as well as how common it is. Because cases of hepatitis E are being found in people who have not traveled outside the United States, doctors should consider hepatitis E when diagnosing patients with suspected hepatitis, regardless of their travel history

Inhalation anthrax case leads to investigation

In August 2011, a 61-year-old man from Florida was confirmed to have inhalation anthrax, a rare but often fatal infection. Cases of inhalation anthrax have been linked to risks such as exposure to animal hides, or bioterrorism. In this case, the patient had a history of travel to several states before being hospitalized in Minnesota. During his travel, the patient had exposure to dust stirred up by hooved animals, and had handled rocks and animal products (such as antlers).

Because animals or animal products were a possible source of exposure, CDC worked with veterinary laboratories in the states where the patient traveled to find out if there were related cases of anthrax among wild and domestic animals. No related anthrax cases were found among animals. CDC's ability to work with a variety of partners who work with both human and animal health was very important to this investigation.

Mucormycosis outbreak of skin and soft tissue infection after a Tornado: Joplin, Missouri

Photo: Storm damage in Joplin, Missouri, 2011

Storm Damage in Joplin, Missouri.
Photo courtesy of Robyn Fanfair, MD, MPH

Mucormycosis outbreaks and clusters are uncommon, but when they do occur they are often serious. A rare fungal infection caused by environmentally associated Mucormycetes molds, these fungi are typically found in the soil and in association with decaying organic matter, such as leaves, compost piles, or rotten wood.

The first known cluster of this disease occurring after a tornado was investigated by CDC and state officials among people injured in the Joplin, Missouri tornado on May 22, 2011. Patients with mucormycosis were all located in the zone that sustained the most severe damage during the tornado. Clinicians should be aware of mucormycosis as causes of soft-tissue infections following natural disasters and consider prompt treatment for suspected infections.

Norovirus more common in winter

Norovirus can make people very sick, with symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. It can spread from person to person, through contaminated food or water, and by touching contaminated surfaces. Outbreaks can happen to people of all ages and in a variety of settings.

CDC researchers wanted to find out if there was a seasonal pattern for norovirus outbreaks around the globe. In other words, they asked, "Is there a norovirus season?" To find out, scientists looked at reports of norovirus infections from 22 countries on four continents over 12 years. They found that norovirus infections peaked between November and March in temperate climates, but there are very little data available from tropical settings.

More Information

Conference Information

For more details about the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases, March 11-14, 2012, in Atlanta, GA, visit this site:

  • Page last reviewed: March 12, 2012
  • Page last updated: March 12, 2012
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication
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