URMC Awarded up to $9M to Study Infectious Threats

Jan. 24, 2017
Grant from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Flu virus

The University of Rochester Medical Center will receive up to $9 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct infectious disease surveillance and research over the next five years. The award renews the University’s role as a member of the CDC’s Emerging Infections Program, a national network that keeps hawk-like watch on the activity of several infectious threats and conducts studies that guide policy related to prevention and treatment.

The New York State Emerging Infections Program (EIP), based at the URMC Center for Community Health, partners with the New York State Department of Health to track a wide range of diseases that have a big impact on the public, including flu and Clostridium difficile, or C. diff. The program also evaluates new therapies and prevention methods, such as the use of the HPV vaccine to curtail human papillomavirus infection, to determine effectiveness across the population.

“This is the largest national surveillance system for infectious diseases, and most of what we know about the burden of infectious disease in the U.S. comes from the research conducted in this network,” said Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., director of the Center for Community Health and co-principal investigator of the New York State EIP. “This is our 20th year working with the CDC.  Rochester is an ideal community for this research due to the incredible collaboration of physicians, health care institutions and laboratories in our region.”

Nancy M. Bennett, M.D.

The Rochester region and several counties surrounding Albany comprise the New York State EIP, one of just 10 sites selected by the CDC. Data from New York State are combined with data from sites in California, New Mexico, Minnesota, Tennessee and other locations. Together, these communities are roughly representative of the U.S. population on the basis of age, gender, race and health indicators such as population density and poverty level.

Ghinwa Dumyati, M.D., director of the Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Prevention program at the Center for Community Health, leads the program with Bennett. She says the network’s ability to estimate disease rates and the impact of interventions is crucial for creating policies that will improve the health of Americans. For example, a 2014 study found that C. diff, which usually presents following a course of antibiotics, is the most common bacteria leading to infections in hospitalized patients. This finding, coupled with other research, fueled programs and legislation aimed at reducing the inappropriate or unnecessary use of antibiotics in hospitals.

The program also tracks the emergence of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and CRE (carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae) in health care settings and the community. This surveillance provides crucial information to assist in combatting antimicrobial resistance, which was declared a national priority in 2014. The CDC estimates that drug-resistant bacteria cause two million illnesses and approximately 23,000 deaths each year in the U.S.  

Ghinwa Dumyati, M.D.

Dumyati and Bennett’s team includes nurses, infection preventionists and health project coordinators from the Center for Community Health. Over the next five years they’ll continue to track flu and assess the effectiveness of yearly vaccines. They’ll also work to determine: the prevalence of respiratory syncytial virus or RSV to prepare for the assessment of new vaccines; the frequency of health care-associated infections like pneumonia and C. diff in nursing homes; and the emergence of antibiotic-resistant organisms.

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