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:


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