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Alumni Spotlight: Emilio Dirlikov

Field of Study: BS, Dual-Major Chinese Studies (Highest Honors) and Biology; Minor: Anthropology

Year in Program: 2005

In March 2003, while studying Mandarin Chinese at Peking University (Beijing, China), I found myself at the epicenter of the global Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic. It was a thrilling experience, and I drew on my coursework as a dual-major in Asian Languages and Cultures and Biology to better understand what I observed and read. The emergence of this novel pathogen has inspired my commitment to pursue a career in global public health.

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 2005, I went to McGill University (Montreal, Canada) for my graduate education. For my Master’s in Medical Anthropology, I investigated avian influenza pandemic preparedness in Hong Kong and Southern China. For my doctoral research, I spent almost two years in China researching tuberculosis control. My dissertation is divided into two parts. In Part One, I investigate two roughly concomitant histories: 1) the history of tuberculosis control (1882–present), and 2) the history of the conceptual linkage between tuberculosis and society in China, as it has developed from the Republican Era to the present. In Part Two, I present an ethnographic account of contemporary tuberculosis control in China, drawing on fieldwork conducted mostly in Kunming, Yunnan Province. I focus on two demographic groups (rural peasants and urban migrants), and what I term “the price of free,” that is the cost incurred by patients despite national policies that aim towards free diagnostic and treatment services.

After receiving my doctorate in May 2015, I joined the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) In July 2015. As the EIS officer posted to the Puerto Rico Department of Health, I have provided support to local disease surveillance and public health activities, including assisting with direct observation of treatment (DOT) for tuberculosis patients, evaluating tuberculosis genotype surveillance data, and analyzing data of imported cases of malaria. In December 2015, I also went to Guinea to support the public health response to the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa.

In December 2015, the first case of locally-acquired Zika virus infection was reported by the Puerto Rico Department of Health. Since February 2016, I have assisted local public health activities by leading efforts to understand cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune condition that has been associated to various infectious agents, including Zika virus.

As a Michigander, I am glad to call the University of Michigan my alma mater, and use the skills and knowledge garnered during my undergrad as a public health officer. Go Blue!

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