CDC’s Public Health Matters Blog Features SORT’s Involvement in Potential Rabies Virus Exposure

CDC’s Public Health Matters Blog Features SORT’s Involvement in Potential Rabies Virus

Check out the latest post on CDC’s Public Health Matters Blog, which details the response effort to the potential rabies virus exposure in a SC hospital that SORT assisted with! The post is authored by SORT member Jacquelyn Lickness.


SORT Members Assist CDC with Response to Potential Rabies Virus Exposure in SC Hospital

By: Anna Tate
MPH Candidate 2015 | Global Health
SORT Secretary & Communications Chair

We are excited to announce SORT’s participation in the first official outbreak response of the year!

Two weeks ago our members took advantage of an incredible opportunity to assist CDC with a response to a potential rabies virus exposure in a South Carolina hospital, where over fifty bats were reported to have been seen. Because bats are now the most common human source of rabies in the United States, a potential exposure of this magnitude – particularly one that included hundreds of vulnerable hospital patients – is a critical situation and requires a coordinated response. CDC was asked to lead the investigation (in collaboration with the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the hospital), and the team needed to be diligent and to act quickly.

The rabies virus infects the central nervous system (causing acute encephalitis) of those infected and, if not treated with post-exposure prophylaxis before the onset of symptoms, is nearly always fatal. While rabies is rare, a potential exposure (from bats, for instance) necessitates diligent precautionary measures to ensure timely treatment for those who may have been exposed (typically via a bite).

Dr. Neil Vora, MD, an EIS officer in CDC’s Poxvirus and Rabies Branch, led the investigation and coordinated SORT’s involvement in the response. Working shifts over a span of several days, members worked in CDC’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) entering data into Epi Info, conducting systematic data quality checks, and facilitating a centralized call center to interview both patients and staff at the hospital who were potentially exposed to rabies virus.

This hands-on and multifaceted experience at the EOC proved to be a very valuable and rewarding experience for SORT, as our members were able to gain practical experience in a real-time and critical investigation, learning about the various challenges and intricacies of such a response.

Here is what several of the participating SORT members had to say about their experiences:

“It was amazing how quickly those of us working on the response were able to coalesce as a team, even with our varied backgrounds, to work towards the common goal of notifying the public about their potential exposure to a deadly disease. Over the two shifts I was able to contribute to the response, I was personally in a group of two EIS officers and a medical student and a mix of fellow SORT members with very different interests. With one SORT orientation and the open leadership style of Dr. Neil Vora, we had the opportunity to make a real difference in an affected community and to do some good public health work at the same time–in our spare time! In short, a wonderful and unique opportunity to participate in a real, fast-paced and meaningful public health emergency response.”

-Grayson Mitchell Privette
MPH Candidate 2014 | Global Environmental Health


“During the rabies response recently, my role was mostly to conduct data quality checks by double-checking survey entries against what was recorded in an Epi Info database. It was emphasized to us, at multiple times during our shifts, that there was no room for error, so it was useful to be a stickler for correct data!

What I got out of the experience, mostly, was an increased appreciation for Epi Info (I had previously taken a class in it, but never really thought of how to use it in a “real-life” application). At any rate, the whole experience gave me a better sense for what it was like to work in disease response. It’s not just the flashy “go in and save the day” response that a lot of people expect from an outbreak response, but rather more of a methodical “let’s make sure we’ve traced everything” approach — which I really appreciated getting a practical introduction into!”

-Michelle Schmitz
MSPH Candidate 2015 | Global Epidemiology


To see more photos of the response, check out our Facebook page (a special thanks to Sunshine Lickness (SORT) and Mark Fletcher (CDC) for the photos!):

Additional information on the bat exposure:

Additional information on CDC’s EOC:

Law Enforcement Public Health and Stockpiles

You know how much of a hassle it can be to get medication when you are ill. First, you have to go to the doctor and get an exam. Once you get the prescription, you go to the pharmacy to fill it. And if you’re a graduate student like me, you hope you have enough money to pay for the pills. However, in a public health emergency (say an anthrax release), it would be even worse. There would be long lines and limited doses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has come up with a program to avoid this situation called the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). SNS is stashes of critical medicines and medical supplies established to protect the American public if there is a public health emergency large enough to cause local supplies to run out. This means that if there were a disaster, SNS would ship its supplies wherever it’s needed in the U.S. It’s fast and free.

Where would you go to get your medication in an emergency? You would go to a Point of Dispensing (POD). You won’t need a prescription or your credit card. Pick up your pills, take them as directed, and you won’t get sick. It’s prophylactic medicine. If you’re already ill, you’ll need medical attention at a hospital or clinic.

Simple? Well, emergency planners try to make it look easy, but there is a LOT of planning that must happen long before an emergency occurs to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible. I learned this when I was part of a POD planning team. We researched, wrote, and revised (and reviewed, revised, researched, and revised some more) a plan to distribute medication to our employees in the case of an emergency. Many other employers have similar plans to distribute medications to their employees. PODs run by local health departments will be stocked and available to everyone.

When I learned that SORT students had the chance to attend a Law Enforcement Summit on this topic, I jumped at the chance to learn more about the security aspects of PODs. The Law Enforcement Summit added a lot to my understanding of how POD security operates. One of the first things I noticed was the large number of law enforcement agencies present at the summit. The U.S. Marshals Service, Georgia State Patrol, and numerous local law enforcement agencies came together to plan security for distributing and dispensing SNS supplies. A lot of people need to be involved to develop a reliable plan.

Some of the issues considered included crowd control, directing parking, security sweeps of the PODs, active shooter planning, security during transportation of the medicine from the warehouse to the PODs, and what to do if a security breach happens.

As a participant in this summit, I furthered my emergency preparedness planning experience and met local law enforcement and planning leaders. To learn more about the Strategic National Stockpile, visit

Dara Burris is a second year epidemiology student and SORT member since Fall of 2013.