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How can public health win the fight against viruses? What can we do to control and combat diseases like Ebola, Zika and the flu?

Anne Schuchat, the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, addressed these questions during the Frank Black Memorial Lecture Thursday afternoon at the School of Public Health. Schuchat has been a prominent figure in the field of epidemiology for years, playing a key role in several of the CDC’s major emergency responses. Over 100 people showed up to the talk, exceeding the seating capacity of the space and forcing many to stand in the back. The event was also live-tweeted by attendees under the hashtag #YSPH.

“To truly tackle viruses and other health threats, we need to work with the communities that are affected,” Schuchat stressed.

Schuchat’s career at the CDC began in 1988 when she served as an epidemic intelligence service officer, which she described as the profession of Kate Winslet’s character in the movie “Contagion.” In fact, Schuchat said she met Winslet during production of the movie, since the film’s epidemic was based on the real-life SARS outbreak in Beijing in 2003, a crisis she helped manage.

Schuchat was also involved in managing the H1N1 pandemic influenza response in 2009 and the 2001 bioterrorism anthrax scare, according to the CDC website.

Most recently, she held the position of acting director of the CDC from January to June 2017, until President Donald Trump’s administration replaced her with Brenda Fitzgerald; however, Fitzgerald resigned six months after being appointed to the position due to conflicts over financial interests. Schuchat was reinstated in her position as acting director on Jan. 31 of this year.

Schuchat framed her lecture in the context of a boxing match: public health vs. the virus. She reviewed a number of viruses through history, like smallpox and the Spanish influenza, intermittently pulling the conversation back to modern epidemics, like Zika and Ebola. She then delineated the tactics employed by the CDC and other public health organizations to combat these viruses, citing methods ranging from mass vaccinations to quarantines.

A large sign at the back of the room encouraged participants to “Tweet using #YSPH,” and attendees enthusiastically complied. The School of Public Health Twitter account boasts more than 7,000 followers, and 20 tweets were shared with the hashtag over the course of the event. One attendee, @nataleedesotell, shared a Snapchat video of Schuchat with hearts and a superimposed text box reading, “I feel like Leslie Knope when she meets Michelle Obama.” The official Twitter account for School of Public Health also shared a number of tweets highlighting Schuchat’s major points, such as, “With air travel, a disease can spread worldwide in a day.”

Schuchat is one of the more well-known speakers that the Frank Black Memorial Lecture series has featured. According to attendee Adam Viera SPH ’23, the school has brought other well-known speakers to campus this week, like George F. Koob, the head of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Schuchat finished her lecture by offering attendees several takeaway notes and tips for future careers in epidemiology.

“Be first, be right, be credible, show respect, express empathy and promote action,” Schuchat insisted. “How you communicate and what you follow through with are important.”

The lecture is held annually in memory of Frank Black, the third scientist to use the measles vaccine in humans and an important member of the School of Public Health from 1955 to 1996. The lecture typically highlights a speaker with experience in viruses and vaccines.

Madison Mahoney | madison.mahoney@yale.edu