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Pickens native battled Ebola outbreak in Liberia




CDC / Photo courtesy

Laura Adams in the field in Liberia as part of the CDC’s Ebola response team.

Laura Adams has spent her career in public health and last fall traveled to Liberia as a member of a Centers for Disease Control team to battle the most prominent scare to global public health in some time - Ebola. 

A Pickens native and daughter of Paula and Stan Adams, Laura, the career epidemiology field officer went to Liberia to support their county health teams and devise ways to effectively battle the active Ebola transmissions in that country.

Based in Phoenix, Arizona at  the state health department, Adams spent a month in Liberia as part of the CDC’s Ebola response. 

“In particular I was working on some of the Ebola outbreaks in remote communities that were hard to reach,” she said via a phone interview last week.

Adams, who began working with the CDC over two years ago, was stationed in Grand Bassa, Liberia, a coastal county about three hours south of the capital.

“There was active Ebola transmission there and we were investigating cases on a daily or weekly basis,” she said. “The county health team had been doing a lot of work already and we were trying to figure out how to support their efforts. We would hear about a cluster of deaths happening in a remote community and support the response to stop the transmission there.”

The CDC’s Ebola containment strategy, which Adams and roughly 900 other CDC employees to date have been a part of, had a dramatic impact in affected regions. The Rapid Isolation and Treatment of Ebola (RITE) helped end the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, according to the CDC and is now being used in Sierra Leone and Guinea.

“Whether it’s traveling by air, Jeep, canoe, or walking many miles on foot to find every case of Ebola, the RITE teams are helping Liberia get closer to zero cases than ever before,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “It’s critical that we continue to support these teams – and to expand their work into Sierra Leone and Guinea to help to get the epidemic under control there as well.”

RITE teams can isolate and treat Ebola patients, collect patient blood samples and transport them to labs, and track the first case to understand transmission patterns.

According to the CDC, compared to six outbreaks in Liberia that began before RITE was implemented, six outbreaks after RITE lasted less than half as long, had a lower death rate, had shorter chains of transmission, and had nearly three times as many Ebola patients enter isolation and receive treatment.

Adams said the people she encountered in Liberia were supportive.

“They were welcoming to the help we were trying to give,” Adams said. “Particularly in the more remote areas, we taught people that we could stop the transmission by making sure people who were sick were taken to treatment and care areas. We know how Ebola is transmitted and when people follow the protocol of not touching people who are ill, the outbreak will stop. The biggest thing was communicating with these local communities.”

Adams, a 2003 PHS graduate, studied biology at The University of Georgia, where she also received a masters in public health. 

“I think I really enjoy that in public health we are generally trying to protect the health of the population. Diseases can travel anywhere in the world. I just wanted to go and support the response effort there. When health teams could get to those remote areas and help, we saw the number of people affected go down.”

Adams said she has received a lot of support from the people of Pickens County both during her trip and beyond.