“The backbone of public health:” Celebrating our Disease Intervention Specialists  

Friday, Oct. 6, is Disease Intervention Specialist (DIS) Recognition Day. If you haven’t heard of DIS before, you’re not alone—chances are, they’ve helped you live a healthier life regardless.

Disease Intervention Specialists are what CDC calls “the backbone of public health in the United States.” From DIS Supervisor Brad Cox’s perspective, a DIS is simultaneously a detective, a counselor, and a scientist—all these skills come together to ensure that highly contagious diseases like syphilis or HIV can be contained: “Our main goal is following up with people with HIV and STIs to make sure that they get notified, they get treated, they receive education about their infection and what happens next, that they get linked to resources, and also that they have an opportunity to have their partners notified confidentially through us,” he explains.

Brad adds that DIS are essential at a time when syphilis infections in particular continue to increase exponentially across the country. And because HIV and STIs can have serious long-term health consequences, diagnosing infections early and making sure people have access to treatment is critical. “I might be a little bit biased,” he says, “but I think DIS is one of the hardest jobs in the health department. It can be emotionally taxing, and we go to pretty great lengths to find people and help get them started on treatment earlier.” From his perspective, it helps to have “a zoomed out, big picture concept of what public health looks like. The people who benefit most from what we’re doing are actually people who we never talk with and, frankly, who don’t know that we exist. Because we got this person treated, the person that they may come into contact with tomorrow doesn’t get exposed.”

In addition to Brad, the RHHD DIS team is Lindsey May, John Whitener, Chloe Riblet, and Bekah Read in Richmond, and Timi Adedokun, Markez Johnson, Claudia Crispin, and Mariona Taylor in Henrico. Together, these folks make an enormous impact in our communities’ health and disease rates. Thank you for the work you do with such empathy and expertise!