Let’s talk about Communicable Diseases!

With so many public health emergencies being “in the news” lately across the globe – such as ebola, the flu and measles,  we sat down with staff from  the Baltimore City Health Department Office of Acute Communicable Diseases to learn more about their day-to-day operations and what it takes to be a health investigator in Baltimore.

Let’s Meet the Team:

Mary Grace White, MPH: Director of the Office of Acute Communicable Diseases

Kompan Ngamsnga, MPH:  Epidemiologist

Don Walls: LPN

Linda Dawson–Green: Public Health Investigator

Kristine Garcia: Program Assistant   

What is a communicable disease?

TEAM: The best way to describe communicable disease is a disease that spreads from person-to-person or by coming in contact with an infected animal.

Describe a typical day at work.
TEAM: We have a stack of labs that we receive every day from laboratories, hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, etc.  These reports list the disease diagnoses, such as Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, salmonella, etc.  We prep the reports to make sure they’re being sent to the proper jurisdiction, which involves a lot of faxing. We also work with the public so we’re on the phone a lot.

How many labs do you receive in a day?

TEAM : A STACK ABOUT THIS HIGH [ Linda’s hands are spaced approximately a foot a part from one another as she answers]. Labs are coming from across Maryland and sometimes outside of the state. All of the work has to be prepped, stamped and reported and sometimes signed. Some cases may result in further investigation. The dates we receive the information is extremely important so it must be done daily.

When did you realize you were interested in communicable disease? What drew you to that field?



MARY GRACE: I’ve always liked science and biology since high school and into college. I’ve always been a little more scientific.

KOMPAN: I became interested while in grad school. The “CSI” nature of the field, needing to think quick and the variety of resources needed to do a job were appealing to me.

DON: The Baltimore City Schools Adult Program and Mayor’s Office of Manpower provided job training for dislocated workers. I passed the nursing test and then took nursing classes at City Hospital, which is now JHU Bayview.

KRISTINE: As a recent graduate (Health Administration and Psychology double major), I’m navigating my way throughout the health field and trying out different sectors.

What type of cases do you typically come across?

TEAM: Food borne such as, salmonella and E.coli; vector borne – tick borne and Lyme disease; and person-to-person – flu and measles.

What are your thoughts on some the recent outbreaks (ex. flu, ebola and measles)?

TEAM: We have experienced investigators, who have relationships with providers and hospitals and local health departments throughout the state so we work as a team and we understand how diseases spread and we know how to control it. We can’t entirely stop what’s happening because it’s how diseases occur and they will always occur. Diseases are cyclical and seasonal. We also work closely with BCHD’s Bureau of Environmental Health, who does great work with food inspections.

What are the best ways to contain an outbreak in Baltimore?



TEAM: Public health follows specific protocols for reporting, identifying, controlling and isolating outbreaks early. It’s a general formula but it works.

What do you enjoy most about your position?

TEAM: Every day is different and unpredictable, working with so many different resources and getting to meet people and really help the community.

Is there anything important you’d want to tell a student who was interested in pursuing a career in your field?

TEAM: There’s no better way to learn public health than being at a health department. Also, don’t be afraid of the unknown. Your peers and resources are available to help you.

Are there any specific characteristic or personality traits needed for this field?

TEAM: Patience, empathy, compassion, thick skin, good listener, time management and a sense of humor.



What new habits have you taken from your job to home?

LINDA: I wash my hands first thing in the morning when I arrive to work. I see a lot of scratching, picking and touching during my commute [laughing].

KRISTINE: I hover over my father while he’s cooking. I make sure he’s washing utensils before using it on a different food. He’s from the Philippines and used to doing things his way.

DON: More cautious with washing hands and using utensils.

MARY GRACE: Regimen of hand washing especially with kids.

If stranded on a deserted island what are your three must haves?

MARY GRACE: Fire, fishing pole and snorkel

KOMPAN: Puzzle, volleyball and wine

DON:  Native female, food and the winning lottery ticket to buy the island

Kristine: Camera, water and a friend not named Wilson [laughing].

LINDA: Food, water and a flare gun

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