The COVID-19 response is the largest in CDC history. But the virus that causes COVID-19 wasn’t the only infectious disease that CDC responded to last year. Diseases like those caused by the Marburg virus and antibiotic-resistant bacteria didn’t go away because of the pandemic.
The National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID) deployed 1,736 staff who devoted 1.35 million hours to the COVID-19 response in 2020. At the same time, the center worked to protect people in other important areas. NCEZID details its activities in the Protecting Health in 2020 NCEZID Progress Report.
The COVID-19 response
The magnitude of CDC’s COVID-19 response was reflected in last year’s raw data. People viewed CDC’s COVID-19 webpages over 2.3 billion times. They used the Coronavirus Self-Checker over 40 million times.
About 1,500 staff, including members of NCEZID, deployed nearly 3,000 times to about 250 cities in the United States and other countries. NCEZID also set records in the amount of funding it awarded. It gave $11 billion to 64 public health departments to help fight the spread of COVID-19.
An NCEZID lab ran 6,417 pathology tests to study COVID-19’s damage on a cellular level. The Advanced Molecular Detection (AMD) program built a national network of more than 600 scientists to track COVID-19’s spread using genetic data while keeping track of new variants.
Over the course of years, NCEZID successfully encouraged 90 percent of U.S. health departments to switch to electronic laboratory reporting. This has paid off during the pandemic response by enabling health departments to send more COVID-19 testing and other data more quickly to CDC.
Scientists think that the virus that causes COVID-19 likely circulated in bats before making its way to humans. NCEZID scientists monitor bats for emerging disease threats. Last year, they found an especially deadly strain of Marburg virus circulating in fruit bats in Sierra Leone. Marburg virus disease causes hemorrhaging and other Ebola-like symptoms but is often deadlier than Ebola.
Melioidosis, a life-threatening bacterial disease, infected a few people in the United States last year. Catching it in the country is unusual. Infected people usually get the disease on trips abroad. NCEZID researchers found evidence that melioidosis could be an emerging threat in the U.S.
Other researchers used genetic sequencing data to explore why gastric cancer caused by bacteria afflict Alaskan Native people more than other people.
Years of public health and healthcare measures have reduced infections with antibiotic-resistant germs, but they are still a threat. CDC is spearheading an action plan in communities where infections are on the rise.
The threat of Ebola typifies NCEZID’s dual mission of preparing for and responding to disease threats. Last year, two outbreaks were declared over. Now, two new outbreaks threaten two African countries. Experience gained in last year’s responses will help prepare this year’s Ebola responses.
NCEZID is one of the national centers, institutes, and offices that together make up CDC. NCEZID protects people from domestic and global health threats, including:
- Foodborne and waterborne illnesses
- Infections that spread in hospitals
- Infections that are resistant to antibiotics
- Deadly diseases like Ebola and anthrax
- Illnesses that affect immigrants, migrants, refugees, and travelers
- Diseases caused by contact with animals
- Diseases spread by mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas
NCEZID has led efforts to prepare for and respond to infectious disease outbreaks. Its staff includes subject matter experts in bacterial, viral, and fungal pathogens and infectious diseases of unknown origin.