DMS alum. leads H1N1 response

by Eliza Relman | 10/29/09 11:00pm

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Anne Schuchat DMS '84 is currently the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

"I live in the emergency operations center," Schuchat, who is also the CDC's chief health officer, said in an interview with The Dartmouth earlier this week.

In her current role, Schuchat advises scientists about policy and communication, speaks with the media, represents the CDC before Congress and interfaces with the White House.

Over the course of the H1N1 outbreak, Schuchat has at times served as the public face of the CDC.

"I do a lot of translation, making the scientific information more relevant to the public, to people like pregnant women and hospital workers," Schuchat said.

Schuchat, who has spent her entire 20-year career at the CDC, led a succession of public health and infectious disease programs before assuming her current role.

She joined the CDC in 1988 as an officer in the Epidemic Intelligence Service, which has been the entry point for many high-ranking CDC officials.

"What's really satisfying about public health is that you can really attack a problem in a comprehensive way and over time," Schuchat said. "We can make a difference on the issues that we take on."

Schuchat, while at the CDC, headed a research group that examined how to prevent Group B streptococcal infections in infants. As a result of the prevention guidelines her group produced, the number of infant deaths attributable to Group B streptococcus dropped significantly.

"It was inspiring to realize that I was part of something that brought the occurrence of this disease among newborns down by 80 percent," Schuchat said. "It's just this feeling of being part of something really big."

Following the September 2001 anthrax attacks, Schuchat served as a liason for the CDC's Anthrax Emergency Response Team, according to Dartmouth Medicine Magazine.

Schuchat was also involved in the World Health Organization's SARS response team, traveling to Beijing in spring 2003. The group used a variety of methods, including infection control, isolation and quarantine to help slow human-to-human transmission of the disease, Schuchat said in a 2006 CDC publication.

"For anybody interested in global health, you have to admire someone like Anne who has reached a point in her career where she has national and international impact," Bob Bollinger DMS '84, director of the Center for Clinical Global Health Education at Johns Hopkins University, said in an interview with The Dartmouth. "Her career is very unique."

Schuchat said Dartmouth Medical School professor emeritus Elmer Pfefferkorn inspired her interest in infectious diseases when she was a student at DMS in the 1980s.

Schuchat called Pfefferkorn, also the former chair of microbiology and immunology at DMS, "a great teacher and great story-teller," noting that in Pfefferkorn's classes, "we really got a taste of more than just book learning."

Schuchat said she was motivated to join the EIS by DMS professor Fordham von Reyn, a former EIS officer who taught Schuchat and who is now chief of infectious diseases at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Under von Reyn's guidance, "We were able to piece together the mystery of infectious disease," Schuchat said.

"She was a very bright student," von Reyn said in an interview with The Dartmouth. "She asked good questions and stayed awake during my lectures."