Have You Thanked Your Disease Investigation Specialists Lately?


This article is published in partnership with the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD) as part of our joint series on STD Awareness

Have you ever wondered how epidemics are controlled? Well, you can thank your local DIS for that. Prior to my employment with the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD) I never really had a full understanding of how critical and versatile the role of a Disease Investigation Specialist (DIS) can be for health departments and public health as a whole. I can’t imagine what the field of public health would do without them and it’s time we recognized their important work on a regular basis and this is why NCSD is starting a National DIS Recognition Day.

A DIS is a public health worker that investigates cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). They locate and counsel people with STDs and inform physicians and health departments on the diagnosis and treatment of patients. They diligently work to notify, educate, test, counsel and ensure adequate treatment for infected and exposed clients. DIS are required to go through extensive training in order to do their job effectively which includes a great deal of communication skill-building as they are expected to communicate effectively in difficult situations and think quickly on their feet with a broad range of constituents. These trainings, provided by the CDC through the National Network of STD/HIV Prevention Training Centers, include the STD Employee Development Guide (EDG) and Advanced STD Intervention (ASTDI).

DIS personnel are often considered the backbone of STD/HIV programs and even the face of the health department to their community. The role of DIS is crucial to many health departments, not only for STDs and HIV but also for hepatitis, tuberculosis and in outbreaks of other diseases.  I am always amazed to hear that DIS are often pulled from STD/HIV programs to work other disease outbreaks such as H1N1, listeria and salmonella and they also assist during crises such as natural disasters.  While they tend to work specifically within STD and HIV prevention they are integral to all aspects of a healthy population.  

NCSD is following the lead of the Florida Health Department by starting a DIS Recognition Day. For several years now, the state of Florida has selected one day of the year to recognize all of the state Disease Intervention Specialists. They have even gone so far as to get the State Surgeon General to sign off and provide affirmation of DIS Recognition Day.  

Ways of recognizing the DIS have been different throughout the state from an e-mail “thank you” to the DIS Supervisor cooking breakfast for their DIS a pizza lunch and even the creation of a DIS calendar that included stories and pictures of all of Florida’s DIS. One of my favorite things about Florida’s DIS recognition is that they have created an award called “The Annual Tommy Chandler STD Excellence Award” named after Mr. Chandler who has been a DIS in Florida for over 40 years.  And to top it off Florida even came up with this awesome DIS Creed which reads as follows:

“I am a proud Disease Intervention Specialist, a highly skilled health professional who stops at nothing to prevent the consequences of communicable disease among those so unfortunate to be infected or exposed. My greatest reward is knowing I make a difference.”  

How cool is that?

These are just a few ideas of ways in which to recognize DIS. What suggestions do you have? It is well known that resources are extremely limited and extravagant recognition isn’t always possible so creative thinking will have to occur to help bring this to fruition on a national level.

In case you needed more reasons as to why DIS deserve an annual day of recognition (which would be silly if you did) take a minute and review the detail of what DIS often experience and the knowledge they must possess. These dedicated individuals go to great lengths to do their job. They are known to drive hours and brave unsafe neighborhoods to locate patients, they have to work very quickly to locate, refer and interview exposed patients and their partner(s) which often leads to them giving up time on weekends and holidays and working overtime to curtail disease in their community. DIS are also often expected to:

  • Have knowledge of all communicable diseases including incubationperiods, periods of infectiousness, transmission, and the type and amount of medicine recommended for treatment.  And they should know laboratory techniques used to evaluate specimens for communicable diseases, appropriate techniques to collect, preserve, and transport specimens, and of how to interpret test results.

  • Be knowledgeable about their state and federal of regulations and guidelines governing communicable diseases.
  • Navigate hazardous, risky and/or uncomfortable situations.
  • Prepare case reports and program narratives that provide policy and procedural evaluation.
  • Present lectures and in-service training to physicians, nurses, students, and civic groups.  
  • Consult with physicians, hospitals, and laboratories to facilitate required reporting of communicable diseases.
  • Provide recommendations to and collaborate with local health department officials regarding the control of communicable diseases outbreaks based on results of field epidemiology and state and federal guidelines.

I think it takes an incredible person to be a DIS – one with a strong commitment to the field of public health as well as perseverance, passion, commitment, diligence, open-mindedness, acceptance and dedication to improving the quality of life for those in their community.  They make amazing contributions to their community and truly care!

More details will soon be available on the NCSD website regarding the first annual National DIS Recognition Day.  Stay tuned and begin thinking of how you could recognize the DIS in your area!

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