by Dr. Mark B. Johnson, Jefferson County Public Health Executive Director
comments open from Dec. 1 until Dec. 19
Jefferson County Public Health’s (JCPH) Emergency Preparedness and Response Program works year-round to help prepare the county for any public health threats, from a biological Anthrax attack, to a foodborne outbreak of E. Coli, to a global pandemic. JCPH’s epidemiologists, emergency response planners and health communications team work together to ensure we are prepared and ready to respond.
Commonly known as disease detectives, infectious disease epidemiologists investigate infectious disease outbreaks in the community. By investigating outbreaks, epidemiologists can contain the spread of the disease in the population and help prevent a similar outbreak from happening in the future. JCPH’s epidemiologists investigate approximately 25 to 30 outbreaks from Norovirus to E. Coli, and respond to over 150 disease complaints each year.
Every disease outbreak is unique, however most investigations follow the same process. JCPH works in coordination with health and medical systems across the county and throughout Colorado. Working together, they use robust surveillance systems to quickly identify potential outbreaks. Diseases that are particularly concerning are classified as reportable conditions. This means that anytime someone is diagnosed with one of these diseases, it must be reported to the local health department. This helps health departments quickly identify potential outbreaks so they can be rapidly contained.
If there is an outbreak, the epidemiologist will start an investigation. The epidemiologist will interview the index case to determine what he or she has been doing, where they have been and who they’ve come into contact with. This helps to determine how the person may have become infected, and who else they may have infected while they were contagious. This is called contact tracing. The epidemiologist will use the information they gather during contact tracing to develop a scientific hypothesis or explanation about the source of the outbreak. They will research their hypothesis and use their findings to help the health department determine how they will control the outbreak.
Public Health Emergency Response Planners
Public health emergency response planners plan for the worst public health disaster that they can possibly imagine. From a biological anthrax attack to a fictional zombie apocalypse, public health planners work to ensure that the community is prepared for any type of public health disaster. Planners start their work by analyzing the threats to the community so that they know what the most likely potential threats are. They work alongside Emergency Management, Fire Departments, EMS, Law Enforcement Agencies, and Healthcare Agencies to find effective and efficient ways to prepare the community.
Public health planners focus on public health threats and provide expertise about the public health impact of any disaster, such as smoke inhalation during a wildfire. They write plans, train professionals and the public, and conduct drills and exercises to test their plans and their trainings. At the end of the day, emergency response planners create a more prepared community.