The Office of Undergraduate Studies at the USF College of Public Health is maintaining a poster that tracks the U.S. measles outbreak. Using the Center for Disease Control’s online updates as her guide, administrative assistant Alana Falcone updates the map whenever new information is available. A state marked with pins is a state with reported cases.
The map is in a hallway just outside the department’s doors, a location with increased pedestrian traffic while portions of the COPH building are under renovation.
“I see a lot of people stopping and looking at it,” said Dr. Kay Perrin, associate professor and assistant dean of undergraduate studies. “It’s a community service due to construction,” she joked.
“The map is basically tracking the outbreaks that are related to the initial outbreak at Disneyland in California,” said undergraduate instructor Deidre Orriola, MPH. “It’s very pertinent to what we do as far as educating students and staff and faculty, and it’s something current for students to see.”
Orriola teaches the undergraduate pandemics course. One of its requirements is a group poster presentation, she said.
“It’s simply for students to inform and educate their classmates about a variety of infectious disease outbreaks that have happened recently,” she said. “Two of my groups chose measles as their topic. One group, in particular, did this one – the one that started in Disneyland – and another group did an outbreak that happened in 2013 in Orange County, Fla. So, they do have an interest in the topic, and they were able to educate their classmates about measles in general.”
With all the attention the measles outbreak is getting, Orriola noted the importance of continuing to recognize the myriad of other public health threats, particularly the other infectious diseases of which her students are well aware.
“Some students did the hantavirus outbreaks in the west,” she said. “One group even did a few cases of salmonella that spread from contaminated dog food to people who had handled the food. There were 49 cases as a result of that.”
Orriola said she was pleased with her students’ efforts overall, and noted that they had plenty of positive examples for inspiration.
“They all did really well on their posters,” she said. “They learned a lot. Before they did their posters, I had them go around the building and look at all of the professional posters that are here. Everything that we have in this building is pretty well done, so they learned a lot about how to make their posters visually appealing and contain current, accurate information.”
As far as the undergraduate department’s measles tracking poster goes, Orriola said she keeps it informally in class discussions.
“Not as part of the class requirement, but because it’s so current, it’s so massive, it’s so relevant to the class, it’s good supplemental information for them,” she said. “And it’s so important. We’ve had more cases as a result of this outbreak in the month of January than we had in the same period last year.”
The infamous study that linked MMR vaccinations to autism has been widely disparaged largely because it helped to create a “don’t vaccinate” culture, which was easy to accept on the heels of the CDC declaring measles eradicated in 2000.
“That study had no control group,” Orriola said. “It had a very small sample group – 12 kids. The study has since been retracted. The primary investigator has had his medical license removed. Since then, there have been tons of studies that have not shown the same relationship, but some people really held on to that mistrust of the MMR vaccine.”
As long as the outbreak continues, there are no plans to take the tracking map down. At least, not as long as nothing else comes along.
“Two weeks ago, we had Ebola up there,” Perrin said. “Let’s hope there won’t be anything else.”
Story by David Brothers and photos by Natalie Preston, USF College of Public Health.