Student Teams Increase Capacity for Enteric Disease Interviews

One of the primary goals of the OutbreakNet Enhanced (OBNE) program is to support sites as they improve timeliness and completeness of enteric disease investigations. Several OBNE sites use student teams to improve interview processes. These student teams assist with routine interviews of case-patients for Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), Listeria, and other enteric diseases. Over the years, many OBNE sites have demonstrated an increased capacity for interviewing and the following are examples of how student interview teams have contributed to some of that success.

Illustration of Salmonella bacteria

The Indiana Department of Health’s Indiana University Student Epidemiology Response Team (IU-SERT) was created in 2015 to improve Indiana’s ability to investigate clusters and outbreaks of salmonellosis. Now, the team consists of five student interviewers and a fellow who interview all case-patients with salmonellosis, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, and listeriosis in two-thirds of the counties in Indiana. Since its formation, IU-SERT has decreased the proportion of case-patients not interviewed to less than 1% compared with approximately 10% at the local health departments that don’t use the student team. Additionally, IU-SERT has also been able to complete interviews an average of one day sooner. The student team also provides support as requested during outbreak investigations for counties that don’t routinely use IU-SERT.

Illustration of a team of people

The Louisiana Office of Public Health’s student interview team was created to provide assistance and support for investigations within the Foodborne Disease Program. The student interviewers attempt interviews for all reported cases of salmonellosis, which resulted in a 60% increase in interview attempts. The student interviewers complete the case investigations and provide educational materials to the people they interview, as needed. Since the student interview team performs so many interviews, other staff members in the Office of Public Health have more time to complete interviews for all case-patients with Listeria infection as well.

Illustration of a bag of salad

In 2018, when Illinois experienced an unprecedented year with more than 1,200 Cyclospora infections, its newly established Student Epidemiology Team (SET) was ready to help. Using the Cyclosporiasis National Hypothesis Generating Questionnaire, the student team interviewed case-patients with domestically-acquired illnesses and assisted with efforts to obtain more detailed exposure information. Illinois was able to determine that one of several Cyclospora outbreaks was linked to salad green mix. Since the SET’s primary focus is interviewing case-patients with Salmonella and STEC infections, they were trained and ready to quickly assist with interviewing for the Cyclospora response.

Illustration of a person working at a laptop

The Kentucky Department for Public Health’s (KDPH) Centralized Student Interview Team serves more than half of the state’s counties. The team of six student interviewers initially focused solely on interviewing Salmonella, STEC, and Listeria case-patients, but have expanded to include other reportable enteric diseases such as Campylobacter. The extra capacity provided by the student team has also allowed KDPH to conduct more interviews and conduct them faster. Additionally, the Centralized Student Interview Team was able to interview more case-patients and cut the number of days until the first interview attempt in half.

Student interview teams enhance the capacity of OBNE sites, while also giving students the opportunity to gain real world experience in the public health field. Over 20 OBNE sites have active student teams of various sizes that aid with enteric interviews and provide support to improve overall capacity. Student teams help OBNE sites interview more case-patients more quickly, which results in improved cluster and outbreak investigations. To learn more about the work of student interview teams, please visit the OBNE webpage and the model practice for FoodCORE Student Interview Teams.