As a public health associate assigned to the Coconino County Public Health Services District (CCPHSD) in Flagstaff, Arizona, I’ve been fortunate to work in a wide array of public health disciplines—and so much of it is beyond what I could have imagined! Sometimes, I’ll find myself crawling in small spaces of homes in full Tyvek® suit and respirator searching for evidence of hantavirus, while knowing there is no cure for it and that it has a 40% fatality rate. Other times, I’m advising providers about which people to test and how to test them, as well as about treating them for various infectious diseases during outbreaks.
One of my favorite field experiences was when CCPHSD’s epidemiology program partnered with environmental health specialists to investigate a waterborne outbreak at a wedding. When we extracted water samples from wells on the rental property where the wedding took place, things got complicated because the test samples had to come directly from the well instead of the spigot (pictured above). Getting samples from the well involved a lot of precision, given the extremely small size of the virus involved and the expected level of difficulty in extracting viable samples from water using an ultrafine filter. Analysis of the samples proved that a leaking well had become adulterated by a nearby septic tank, making the wedding guests very sick with gastrointestinal issues.
Although I’m assigned to work on infectious disease, I’m able to work on so much more than outbreak responses. I’ve collaborated with the Translational Genomic Research Institute for genetic monitoring of disease, the Northern Arizona University Biology Department to draw blood from the hearts of mice for research, and the Coconino County Medical Examiner’s Office to observe autopsies.
I am extraordinarily fortunate to have been a public health associate and to have had the opportunity to begin my public health career with such invaluable learning and field experiences.