Infectious Diseases

At the School of Public Health, we work hard to reduce the impact of infectious diseases, or stop them all together.

Our research stretches from rural Minnesota, where we explore risk factors and interventions for chlamydia infection, to West Africa, where we’re studying Ebola’s long-term effects on survivors’ DNA. Our ongoing and decades-long HIV/AIDS work has led to new treatment and care protocols for people around the world. Foodborne infectious diseases have long been a focus of our school.

That public health could save millions of lives each year through immunizations and interventions drives our work. We are committed to making that potential a reality.

By 2030, the world will be warmer, cities will be larger, and travel among towns and countries will be easier. Each of these factors will add to the risk of infectious disease transmission. Through our research and community engagement, we are prepared to meet the future by employing novel methods now to explore infection causes, track disease spread, and craft interventions.

Faculty leads
Eva Enns
Associate Professor
Claudia Muñoz-Zanzi
Associate Professor

Learn more about our research

HIV/AIDS is among the world’s most persistent infectious diseases. In 2015, 1.1 million people died worldwide from AIDS-related illnesses; in the U.S., there are 50,000 new cases of HIV each year.

To end the threat of AIDS by 2030 will take an accelerated effort to reduce new infections. We are prepared to meet that challenge through our innovative research into HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and management.

SPH faculty developed a series of breakthrough interventions using cell-phone technology to deliver just-in-time messaging to curb risky sexual behavior or encourage testing for HIV. An app that allows adolescents with HIV to connect with others like them provides support for sticking with their antiretroviral regimes.

A major international SPH-run trial showed that early drug therapy helps bolster the health of HIV patients and reduce their viral load. This finding is having a global impact on HIV treatment.

And ongoing SPH work in Ethiopia is proving that pairing HIV-positive patients with a peer support worker helps them stay in care, a lesson relevant for managing other infectious and chronic diseases.

The risk of foodborne infectious diseases is increasing for a variety of reasons, and to protect consumers now and into the future, we use evolving technology to help secure our food.

In 2016, for example, we designed an app that uses videos and interactive features to train limited English-speaking workers in food-safety practices. And we are investigating social media as part of a food safety and food terrorism surveillance system.

With health as a human right as our guiding principle, we strive to ensure that all countries have the tools necessary to test, develop, and deploy vaccines and evaluate vaccination policies.

When Ebola was sweeping across West Africa in 2014, SPH designed and ran the first study of two experimental vaccines to protect against the disease. Other faculty created the first comprehensive review of what we known and don’t know about Ebola transmission. Through international partnerships, we continue to push for safe, effective, and durable Ebola vaccines.

Just how the public views all infectious disease vaccines in the U.S. and globally can have a major impact on uptake. SPH research discovered that public support wanes for HPV vaccine mandates when people learn that the policies are controversial.

Future changes in demographics and climate may expand the reach of zoonotic and vectorborne disease, like leptospirosis and toxoplasmosis, as well as pathogens that have newly entered human populations and those that have developed new attributes.

Animals spread 6 out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans and through our global and collaborative One Health research, we tackle potential species-jumping infections and emerging threats.

To track the spread and reach of infectious disease across the world, the SPH faculty-led Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) is among the world’s top three resources for real-time information.

Explore our work in Infectious Diseases

(* asterisk marks SPH student, post-doc, or researcher at time of study)

  • Seroepidemiology of toxoplasmosis in rural and urban communities from Los Rios Region, Chile. (Infection Ecology & Epidemiology). Claudia Muñoz-Zanzi, Christopher Campbell*, Sergey Berg. This study highlights the role of household and community environments as influential factors in the prevalence of toxoplasmosis.
  • Immunogenicity of a Meningococcal B Vaccine during a University Outbreak. (New England Journal of Medicine). Nicole E. Basta, Adel A.F. Mahmoud, Julian Wolfson, et al. This study found that only 66 percent of college students who received a recommended dose of a meningitis B vaccine had evidence of an immune response against a particular strain of the disease.
  • Potential Impact of Integrating HIV Surveillance and Clinic Data on Retention-in-Care Estimates and Re-Engagement Efforts. (AIDS Patient Care and STDs) Eva A. Enns, Cavan S. Reilly, Beth A. Virnig, et al. This study shows how HIV clinics could use HIV surveillance data collected by state health departments to help routinely and accurately determine the status of patients who appear lost to care.
  • Investigation into the Airborne Dissemination of H5N2 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus During the 2015 Spring Outbreaks in the Midwestern United States. (Avian Diseases). Montserrat Torremorell, Carmen Alonso, Peter R. Davies, Peter C. Raynor, et al. These research findings demonstrate highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus aerosolization from infected flocks that can increase the risk for the spread of HPAI.
  • HPV vaccine uptake among overweight and obese US adolescents: An analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2009-2014. (Vaccine). Maria E. Sundaram*, Susan M. Mason, Nicole E. Basta. This study found that while HPV vaccine uptake was low among U.S. adolescents, overweight and obese adolescents were just as likely as their normal weight peers to begin HPV vaccine and to complete the three-dose HPV vaccine series.
  • Jim Neaton: 2015–2018, NIH NIAID, “International Network for Strategic Initiatives in Global HIV Trials (INSIGHT): START,” Principal Investigator
    This international clinical trial develops strategies to optimize treatment and prolong disease-free survival across people infected with HIV.
  • Cavan Reilly: 2016–2017, NIH, “PREVAIL IV: Viral Persistence in Semen of Ebola Survivors,” Principal Investigator
    This is a treatment trial for men who have survived Ebola but continue to have evidence of Ebola virus genetic material in their semen. In this double-blind trial, an experimental drug will be tested to see if it eliminates traces of Ebola virus from semen and therefore will decrease the risk of passing the virus to sexual partners.
  • Alan Lifson: 2015–2020, NIH, “Assessment of a Community Support Worker Intervention for PLWH (People Living with HIV) in Rural Ethiopia,” Principal Investigator
    The study aims to measure if HIV-positive people in Ethiopia who are partnered with a community worker are more likely to stay in treatment and adhere to medications, among other interventions.
  • Keith Horvath: 2015–2020, NIDA, “A Technology-Delivered Peer-to-Peer Support ART Adherence Intervention for HIV+ Adults,” Principal Investigator
    This study is testing the efficacy of “Thrive With Me,” a mobile-enhanced website aimed at improving Antiretroviral Therapy adherence for HIV-positive men who have sex with men.
  • Simon Rosser: 2010–2017, NIH, “Men’s INTernet Study III (MINTS-III) for HIV Prevention,” Principal Investigator; Michael Oakes and Keith Horvath, investigators
    This grant builds upon previous research that created Sexpulse, an online HIV prevention intervention for men who use the internet to seek sex with men. MINTS-III aims to increase prevention and test the efficacy of Sexpulse so it could be more widely used.
  • Development of a Non-invasive Method for the Measurement of Epstein-Barr Virus Antibodies (Epidemiology)
  • What have you HEARD about the HERD? An influenza Vaccine and Herd Immunity Study (Epidemiology)
  • Clinical Factors and Antibiotic Use During Campylobacter Enteritis: Association with Post-Infection (Epidemiology)
  • Dentists as HPV Vaccinators: What do Parents Think? (Public Health Administration)
  • Inflammatory and immunologic biomarkers for assessing risk of infectious diseases in smokers (Environmental Health)

Faculty in Infectious Diseases

Faculty Leads

Eva Enns
Associate Professor

Claudia Muñoz-Zañzi
Associate Professor

SPH2030 New Faculty Hires

Assistant Professor Jonathan Oliver is an entomologist and vector-borne disease specialist who studies the interaction of pathogenic bacteria with their arthropod vectors. The diseases and vectors Dr. Oliver studies are of particular public health importance in Minnesota and throughout the world.

Assistant Professor Sandra Safo develops statistical methods for the integrative analysis of clinical/lifestyle/environmental data to help elucidate the complex interactions of these nontraditional risk factors with traditional risk factors, and their impact on disease risk and outcomes.

Other Faculty

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