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Infectious Disease Epidemiology

In 2012 Dallas County, Texas, was the epicenter of a massive nationwide resurgence of West Nile encephalitis (WNV). Epidemiologists at UT Southwestern Medical Center, working in collaboration with James Luby, M.D., as well as Wendy Chung, M.D., and the Dallas County Health Department conducted an intensive epidemiologic investigation of the occurrence of WNV infection in the County since WNV first emerged in North Texas 11 years ago.

Since 1983, UT Southwestern epidemiologists have conducted extensive research to define the problems of and develop solutions to hospital-acquired (nosocomial) infections. This involved surveys in nationwide samples of U.S. hospitals studied in the Study on the Efficacy of Nosocomial Infection Control (SENIC Project). The study results have contributed to the scientific basis for using targeted surveillance techniques to reduce nosocomial infection risks in hospitals.

Epidemiologists have also conducted a large study to define the modes of transmission of hepatitis C virus (HCV), which has become the largest chronic viral disease epidemic in U.S. history. The study confirmed the causal role of injection drug use and defined the importance of HCV transmission in commercial tattoo parlors and to healthcare workers in hospitals.

Immediately after September 11, 2001, our epidemiologists focused research efforts on developing effective responses to bioterrorist attacks with microbiological agents such as anthrax, smallpox, plague, and botulinum toxin. This research led to coordinated planning for basic research in combating biowarfare pathogens, training physicians on recognition and treatment, and educating the public on responding effectively to bioterrorism attacks.

Recent biochemical studies have focused on discovering the roles paraoxonase 1 (PON1) and paraoxonase 2 (PON2) enzymes play in infection by gram negative organisms such as pseudomonas.