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University of Utah Joins CDC in Effort to Stop Spread of Ebola, MRSA and Other Infectious Diseases in Health Care Settings


(SALT LAKE CITY)—In its effort to develop and implement strategies to stop the spread of infectious diseases, including Ebola, in health care settings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has chosen the University of Utah and five other institutions nationwide to partner with the agency to spur innovations that help control the transmission of such organisms.

The CDC announced on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, that it had granted $11 million to the University of Utah, Emory University, The Johns Hopkins University, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Iowa and University of Maryland at Baltimore to join its Prevention Epicenters Program. The six schools, which join five other existing epicenters, will undertake a variety of projects to investigate new approaches to prevent disease transmission in health care settings.

"To help protect Americans from infections spread in hospitals, CDC supports the Prevention Epicenter program to look for better ways to stop these preventable infections," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. "The University of Utah will play an important role in discovering how we can make hospitals and health care facilities even safer."

The U of U's Epicenter, called SPIRIT (Strategies to Prevent Infection and Reduce Inter-individual Transmission), will bring together physicians, epidemiologists, biomedical informaticists, psychologists, and mathematicians, according to Matthew H. Samore, M.D., principal investigator and professor and chief of epidemiology at the School of Medicine. SPIRIT will receive $2.2 million from 2015 to 2018 and includes four individual studies.

  • Quantify the impact of factors that influence transmission of MRSA and other multidrug-resistant organisms using state-of-the-art statistical methods (Led by Alun Thomas, Ph.D., professor of internal medicine; Makoto M. Jones, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine; Matthew Samore, M.D., professor of internal medicine)
  • Enable effective regional collaboration to prevent the spread of multidrug-resistant organisms (Led by Jeanmarie Mayer, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine)
  • Develop and implement strategies to improve use of personal protective equipment by health care workers–in partnership with the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Led by Frank Drew, Ph.D., professor of psychology)
  • Use mathematical models to examine the risks of transmission of emerging pathogens, including Ebola, in health care settings (led by Damon J.A. Toth, Ph.D., assistant professor of internal medicine)

The design of the studies reflects the University's ability to integrate expertise in biomedical informatics, population analytics, mathematical modeling, cognitive psychology and implementation science, according to Samore, also director of the Center for Innovation (IDEAS Center) at the Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health Care System and an H.A. and Edna Benning Presidential Endowed Chair at the School of Medicine. Each study also sheds light on a different part of the picture, making it easier to integrate ideas and solutions.

We have a remarkable team of multidisciplinary investigators and also a long track record of research in this area," says Samore.

The spread of infectious diseases in health care settings is a growing problem that adds billions of dollars to costs to U.S. health care. The CDC established the Prevention Epicenters Program in 1997 to facilitate partnerships with academic institutions to find ways to prevent health care-associated infections, antibiotic resistant organisms and other adverse events in health care settings.

John A. Jernigan, M.D., MS, director of the Office of Prevention Research and Evaluation in the CDC's Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, said the Epicenters Program promotes collaboration among researchers to work together to innovate and stay ahead of the spread of germs. "This rare program allows us to work closely with leading academic researchers to efficiently design and conduct collaborative projects to learn what interventions work best to reduce the risk of health care associated infections and improve patient safety."

The schools and health care systems already part of the Prevention Epicenters Program are: Cook County Health & Hospital System and Rush University Medical Center; Duke University; Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and the University of California, Irvine; University of Pennsylvania; Washington University.