An epidemiologist who’s been working at the Iowa Department of Public Health is now in Sierra Leone, one of the American experts dispatched to respond to the Ebola outbreak. Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the state epidemiologisty, says Dr. Samir Kiorala is an “epidemic intelligence service officer” for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
“He is doing special training through the CDC to learn about infectious diseases and how to stop them,” Quinlisk says. “Since he wanted to learn about a whole variety of them, he asked to be sent to a state health department so that he could get a real broad spectrum of experiences, so that’s how he ended up in Iowa.”
When this latest Ebola outbreak occured in western Africa, Dr. Kiorala volunteered to go to Sierra Leone. He’s working with local health care workers on “contact tracing.”
“Once they know somebody has Ebola, then they’re trying to identify all of the people who potentially were exposed to Ebola and then educate them on what to do if they become ill, how to not spread the disease if they become ill,” Quinlisk says, “all of that to try to stop it from being spread any further.”
Kiorala’s assignment is only for a month.
“As you might imagine when they go over there, they are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it’s very intense,” Quinlisk says. “And, of course, because of the situation, it’s also quite stressful.”
Quinlisk knows this firsthand. She was an epidemic intelligence service officer, too. In 1990 she was dispatched to Nepal to track an outbreak of what is now known as cyclospora. Quinlisk says she used what she learned in Nepal last year when there was a cyclospora outbreak in Iowa. Kiorala will likely return to Iowa in September and conduct seminars for Dr. Quinlisk and other health professionals here to share what he learned in Sierra Leone.
“He’ll be able to apply some of those things here in Iowa should be have a disease, hopefully not Ebola, but even other diseases like influenza and really give us an insight into how to find some unique ways to try to get those diseases stopped,” she says.
Kiorala will be subject to all the precautions in place for travelers returning to the U.S. from Africa and, if he shows any symptoms or is at risk, he’ll be quaranteened for 21 days according to Quinlisk. Kiorala is from Nepal and one reason he chose to work in Iowa’s public health department is because Quinlisk speaks Nepali. Quinlisk not only served as a CDC officer in Nepal in 1990, she had previous worked in Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Kiorala is sending dispatches from Sierra Leone and you can read them on the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Facebook page or the agency’s Twitter account @IAPublicHealth. They’re using the hashtag #IAepi.