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Madeira faced an outbreak of dengue at the beginning of October 2012. This was the first large-scale, sustained outbreak of dengue in Europe since the 1920s. Portugal requested ECDC’s assistance with an assessment of the situation and guidance for outbreak control. The ECDC response team rapidly identified that going to the field with an EPIET fellow would provide added value. As is always the case when an outbreak arises, quick action was needed, so I was asked to get on the plane immediately. I was in Edinburgh for my first ESCAIDE conference at the time, so I just packed my bag and went to Madeira instead of heading back to London. When I arrived, with a winter coat and a scarf on, it was +20 degrees and beautifully sunny. Photo: The view from the Health Authority office, Madeira
Photo: My first epi curve!
Do you have any particular achievement or anecdote?One of the initiatives of the health authorities in Madeira was to publish a multilingual flyer to inform tourists about the outbreak and to promote prevention measures. To speed up the process, I asked my EPIET colleagues and friends for help. In 48 hours we got back translations in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian and even in simplified Chinese!
What have you learned from this mission/outbreak investigation?Team work and good coordination are always mentioned in the first chapter of every epidemiology book, but a first-hand experience gave me a real vision of how important and challenging this is in real life. Another lesson has been to manage tight working schedules under stressful conditions. That requires a clear mind and logical thinking at all times.
I also learned a great deal about dengue and other vector-borne diseases. My prior knowledge was limited to what I had learnt in medical school. This might seem relatively unimportant, but vector-borne diseases like chikungunya, dengue, West Nile fever and malaria have already made a comeback in southern Europe. Chances are, with climate change and globalisation, they might become more common in the future. I feel that as an Italian, the experience in Madeira might prove to be useful in years to come.
Photo: Meeting Ana Clara Silva, vice-president of the Health Authority, Madeira
What would be your advice to future EPIET fellows, based on your experience in this mission?At the beginning I was unsure whether to apply for this mission since I was new and relatively inexperienced. In hindsight I am very happy I did and would advise other EPIET fellows to take every chance they are offered. Aside from the great working experience, I had the chance to see an incredibly beautiful island, work outside while wearing a shirt in November, practise my Portuguese, make new friends and eat swordfish with fried bananas!