UCF Grad Works at Johns Hopkins Hospital to Prevent and Control COVID-19 Spread | University of Central Florida News
Frankie Catalfumo ’13 has worked through outbreak responses to cholera in Haiti and Ebola virus disease in the United States, but he says the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is more stressful than any of his other work with controlling infectious diseases.
“You see the waves in China and then we started to see it spread across the globe,” says Catalfumo, an infection control epidemiologist in the Department of Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Control at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
“You have a warning of what’s to come and you’re just waiting to see what the next day will bring as you see more and more cases pop up in your own state.
” As of April 21, Maryland has had 13,684 cases positive for and 582 deaths due to COVID-19, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
“You have a warning of what’s to come and you’re just waiting to see what the next day will bring.”
For the general public, controlling the spread of the virus mainly consists of practicing excellent hand hygiene, social distancing and staying home.
But in hospitals across the nation, healthcare professionals must consider many other factors to keep patients, themselves and everyone else safe.
It’s Catalfumo’s job to help develop the necessary infection prevention and control practices to ensure safety is maintained.
“A hospital’s kind of a sick hotel, so patients being admitted may have some type of infection and risk of spreading it,” says the health sciences graduate. “Now is an especially important time for healthcare providers and other frontline staff to collaborate on identifying how this particular infection may be communicable to everyone in the hospital, and outside of it.”
His recent workdays consist as much of being responsive to the many matters that evolve daily as of thinking ahead on potential obstacles. One of the biggest issues hospitals across the nation are dealing with is providing essential personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers. Catalfumo has helped establish guidance at his hospital.
“In a pandemic, it is crucial to know how to clean specific PPEs, such as face shields, so we can reuse them,” he says. “Knowing which type of equipment can be reused and how it can be cleaned will help the hospital mindful use our supplies.”
Catalfumo also has to consider routes that minimize contact between patients and others, proper laboratory specimen collection and transport, and problem-solving with staff on personal concerns, such as what to tell family members now that they’re working with COVID-19 patients.
“Epidemiologists frequently work behind the scenes and if an outbreak doesn’t become very notable that’s because they were able to intervene.”
Before working at Johns Hopkins, Catalfumo worked as a consultant for the Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While studying at UCF, he volunteered with International Medical Outreach (IMO), a student-led nonprofit organization that specializes in medical service and shadowing trips in impoverished areas around the world.
It was with IMO that he gained his first experience working hands-on with epidemiology in Haiti and subsequently motivated him to pursue a master’s degree in public health.
“All disasters and all public health emergencies are incredibly interdisciplinary. Even if you’re working with an issue that appears simple or more readily understood, such as cholera, or one that’s new and evolving, such as COVID-19, you have to be able to adapt and be flexible when responding to the event,” Catalfumo says.
For epidemiologists, a job well done is often one that the majority of people can’t tell has even happened.
“Epidemiologists frequently work behind the scenes and if an outbreak doesn’t become very notable that’s because they were able to intervene,” he says. “It requires providing a lot of hands-on, in-the-moment education, to make sure everybody has the information they need to feel very safe caring for patients.”
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We need to make sure we’re going to be at our best and be prepared in our response.”
When it comes to making sure the general public has the knowledge they need, he suggests referencing the CDC website on a frequent basis to get the most accurate and up-to-date information available.
many other healthcare professionals, Catalfumo can feel the strain of the everchanging conditions in hospitals. To remain on top of their responsibilities, he knows it’s essential to maintain another good practice off the clock.
“Right now, it’s important for healthcare workers to practice self-care because we’re just beginning,” he says. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We need to make sure we’re going to be at our best and be prepared in our response.”
Johns Hopkins APL Biologists Sequencing Genome of the Virus Causing COVID-19
Newswise — Inside the molecular diagnostics laboratory at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, while health care workers and hospital staff work tirelessly to process patient tests to detect the virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic, two biologists from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) are working alongside them.
Peter Thielen and Tom Mehoke, members of APL’s Research and Exploratory Development Department, are waiting for the positive tests. Certainly, positive tests are no cause for celebration; but for Thielen and Mehoke, they are an invaluable sample — and a key to learning more about the rapidly spreading virus.
With software and molecular biology approaches developed in part at APL in Laurel, Maryland, Thielen and Mehoke are using hand-held DNA sequencers to conduct immediate on-site sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 genome — the virus that causes COVID-19.
“This information allows us to track the evolution of the virus,” Thielen said. “It gives us a sense of where the new cases coming into Baltimore could’ve originated, and insight into how long transmission may have occurred undetected. There are a lot of things we can glean from that.”
Topping that list is the ability to see how quickly the virus mutates — integral information for mapping its spread, as well as developing an effective vaccine. Influenza, for example, mutates constantly. That’s why it’s necessary to vaccinate against different strains of the flu each year.
The virus causing COVID-19, Thielen said, does not appear to be mutating as fast.
“When this virus was first sequenced in China, that information was helpful in starting the process to develop a vaccine,” Thielen explained.
“What we’re doing informs whether or not the virus is mutating away from that original sequence, and how quickly.
the mutation rate, early data indicates that this would ly be a single vaccine rather than one that needs to be updated each year, the flu shot.”
In the near-term, the mutations inform how the virus is spreading.
With the United States continuing to ramp up testing and mitigation capabilities, the ability to understand how outbreaks are linked gives public health departments another tool for evaluation.
Mutations can explain how long the virus may have gone undetected and the supposition that there are ly far more cases than diagnosed, and can advise on what measures to put in place (such as the social-distancing efforts and closings that are ongoing nationwide).
Sequencing of the virus’ genome is being performed by scientists all over the globe as they work to trace the source of regional outbreaks. In northern California, for example, news reports suggest that genome sequencing has linked the Bay Area outbreak to the Grand Princess cruise ship, which linked back to the virus found in Washington State, which ly came from China.
That’s the type of insight — a DNA fingerprint, if you will — that Thielen and Mehoke will gain as more virus genomes are sequenced from the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., regions.
As part of the Johns Hopkins Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance, Thielen and Mehoke have sequenced the genome of influenza for years in their work at APL, and are currently transitioning similar capabilities directly to the diagnostic laboratory at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
They’ve completed analysis of the first four COVID-19 samples, with upward of 100 in the queue from the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, and expect many more in the coming weeks.
Operating remotely using just hand-held sequencers and laptop computers, and at the mercy of how long the tests take to return results before they can be transferred to them, Thielen and Mehoke’s initial method was multiday. But, at the end of last week they validated a new process that enables same-day sequencing — one that can be done by the hospital staff members already administering the diagnostic tests.
Ultimately, it’s what they’ve been preparing for.
In the last nine months, Thielen and Mehoke held two workshops with the National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center to help train scientists from low- and middle-income countries on how to use the hand-held sequencers to do this work.
“We were doing that to prepare as many researchers as we can, in the event that there would be a future pandemic,” Thielen said. “It’s here.”
The latest workshop was held last week, where they trained stateside researchers to do the same type of on-site sequencing in their own laboratories. Participants included researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the U.S.
Naval Research Laboratory, the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Auburn University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Kansas State University.
Due to recent national travel restrictions, it was held virtually.