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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Columbia Preparedness Initiatives

The Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) is one of the world’s most advanced academic centers for research in disease surveillance, diagnosis and discovery in acute and chronic illnesses. CII has established unique partnerships with academic and public health institutions and governmental agencies in over 40 countries to provide expertise in managing outbreaks and assistance with pathogen discovery, training, and surveillance.

To this end, the CII formalized ongoing partnerships with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to provide on-site infectious disease surveillance, discovery, and capacity building and train scientists in the advanced methods for detecting infectious agents pioneered by CII researchers.

With support from and Becton Dickinson, the CII made a significant advance in the fight against Ebola and other infectious diseases by developing an assay that can simultaneously detect several different infectious agents including Ebola, Lassa Fever Virus, Yellow Fever Virus, Salmonella typhi (agent of typhoid fever) and Plasmodium falciparum (agent of malaria). These tools increase ability to track the spread of Ebola and other infectious diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa and provide clinicians with the guidance needed to deliver specific interventions.

Ebola Design Challenge – in an idea put forth by CII Director Lipkin and sponsored by the Engineering School and the Mailman School of Public Health  to develop low-cost, technology-driven solutions to meet the urgent challenges posed by the Ebola crisis – a team of Columbia students won the USAID Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge with their solution, Highlight, a powdered additive for bleach solutions that improves decontamination of infectious diseases. The team, one of 12 selected from more than 1,500 applicants, will receive support from USAID and undergo intensive testing to ensure readiness for production and field deployment of their product.

CII director, Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, continued his service as a member of the National Institutes of Health Advisory Committee to the Director and received numerous honors and awards including the 2014 Mendel Medal.

Website Predicts Weekly Influenza Outbreaks

Infectious disease experts at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health continue dissemination of real-time weekly predictions of influenza incidence in cities and states across the U.S.  This system has been scientifically validated system and is found at

The flu forecasting system adapts techniques used in modern weather prediction to create local forecasts of future influenza incidence by locality. “People can see the outlook for seasonal flu in their area by going online,” says Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, associate professor of environmental health sciences at the Mailman School, who led the development of the site and forecasting system.

Website features include: an interactive map of the U.S. displaying the relative severity of seasonal flu in cities across the country with flu and incidence numbers for each; influenza incidence predictions by city for the coming weeks;  a map that illustrating the proportion of flu cases by region; charts comparing the timing and severity of the four most recent flu seasons.

Dr. Shaman and colleagues are able to predict the timing and magnitude of influenza incidence many weeks into the future.  The first large-scale demonstration of the flu forecasting system by scientists at the Mailman School was carried out during the 2012-2013 flu season for 108 cities across the U. S.  Since then, they have expanded the website capacity to include predictions at the state level and by flu type or subtype.

For the public, the flu forecast may promote greater vaccination, the exercise of care around people sneezing and coughing, and a better awareness of personal health.  For health officials, it could inform decisions on how to stockpile and distribute vaccines and antiviral drugs, and in the case of a virulent outbreak, whether other measures, like closing schools, are necessary.

Households Affected by 9/11 Exposure and Hurricane Sandy

Dr. Steven D. Stellman, Mailman School of Public Health professor of epidemiology, was a co-author on research by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that studied the level of preparedness in households dually affected by 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy and surveyed shortly after the superstorm. The sample of nearly 4,500 World Trade Center Health Registry enrollees, who only months before had participated in the Registry’s Third Wave follow-up survey, were considered prepared if they reported possessing at least 7 of 8 standard preparedness items. Over one-third (37.5 percent) of participants were considered prepared, and 19 percent possessed all eight items. Overall, findings indicate that prior 9/11 exposure favorably impacted Hurricane Sandy preparedness. Two prior Registry publications also co-authored by Dr. Stellman focused on Sandy-related injuries and PTSD in persons previously exposed to the 9/11 disaster and who resided in a FEMA-defined inundation zone at the time of the superstorm. Injuries during the week of the storm were more likely to be experienced by those with flooded homes, especially with over three feet of water, and by those who engaged in clean-up/repair.  Among inundation zone residents, Sandy-related stress symptoms indicative of PTSD were greatest in persons who had been injured during Sandy, who had experienced 9/11 related PTSD, or who had low social support.

Student Surge Capacity for Outbreak Investigation

The Student Surge Capacity for Outbreak Investigation (Team Epi) is an educational collaborative program between the Mailman School of Public Health, the National Center for Disaster Preparedness and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH).

Team Epi, which is not limited to Epidemiology graduate students, recruits and trains student volunteers from epidemiology, environmental health sciences, and biostatistics to provide surge capacity support of epidemiological investigations at the NYC DOHMH in the event of an outbreak in New York City. Each of these disciplines brings a set of skills to the overall goal of providing surge capacity to the NYC DOHMH during high volume large-scale outbreaks and emergencies or disasters.

The course is offered each semester as an on-going request from the NYC Department of Health to prepare graduate students in outbreak response.

Dr. Stephen Morse is a co-founder of the program and presents to the students throughout the year on outbreak investigation interviewing strategies. This project has been consistently a success for both the NYC DOHMH and Mailman School public health graduate students.