Carrie Futch, Ph.D. '10, a post-doctoral researcher with the University of Georgia College of Public Health, has been named a recipient of a post-doctoral fellowship in infectious disease and public health microbiology through the American Society for Microbiology and Centers for Disease Control.
Beginning in November, Futch will spend two years working in the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases at the CDC in Atlanta with Dr. Vincent Hill. Selected from a broad international pool of applicants, she is one of only eight individuals to be selected for the fellowship.
The fellowship with ASM/CDC will deal largely with water quality issues, primarily the detection of pathogens in the water. Tackling the numerous challenges on this front from a public health perspective, Futch will work to evaluate and determine the best ways to efficiently and quickly identify Vibrio cholerae in the environment in an effort to decrease the number of cholera outbreaks.
“Clean, fresh water is going to be a really important issue moving forward,” Futch said. “We take it for granted in the United States, because we have the appropriate plumbing and treatment capabilities. But if you look at Haiti—where they had such a devastating earthquake in 2010 and already lacked the necessary infrastructure—it was the perfect scenario for something such as a cholera outbreak.”
One particular area of research Futch hopes to continue exploring deals with the impact of human sewage pollution in the environment. By honing in on human enteric viruses, such as Norovirus and adenoviruses, Futch will be able to steadily track the encroachment of human pollution in bodies of water.
During her dissertation work, Futch had the opportunity to take part in the Oceans and Human Health Initiative, a program sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that links public health to the aquatic environment. In this program, her studies centered on human enteric viruses in marine mammals, in particular dolphins. These mammals were researched as sentinel species of human pollution. When human viruses are detected in dolphin fecal samples, scientists are able to assume the waters are contaminated. This study was conducted in collaboration with a NOAA lab in Charleston, S.C.
“All this work leads back to public health because people are using marine water for recreation and food, and exposure to contaminated waters increases their chance of illness,” Futch said.
This is the latest opportunity for Futch, who will spend six weeks this fall interning with the World Health Organization in Geneva. There, she will focus on how climate change will impact several challenging public health issues, including a comprehensive review of existing literature on the use of early warning systems for infectious disease outbreaks. Her work could be of great benefit to developing countries, such as Haiti, that are susceptible to outbreaks of disease during times of crisis.
Futch earned her bachelor’s degree in Third World Studies from the University of the South, her Ph.D. in Ecology at UGA, and completed postdoctoral work in UGA’s College of Public Health.
Through Erin Lipp, an associate professor in Environmental Health Sciences, the Georgia Oceans and Health Initiative has guided Futch’s post-doctoral work, a training program offered by the College of Public Health. GOHI brings together various scientists from multiple disciplines to explore how changing marine ecosystems will affect human health, and it has ultimately brought Futch’s academic career full-circle by connecting her with the WHO.
“I had hoped to be able to get back to the point of working with issues that impact water quality in developing countries in my studies, but I was not sure how I was going to get there,” Futch said. “In reality, it was mentors like Dr. Erin Lipp who showed me that public health issues really encompass everything that I’m studying. So, while I didn’t have a plan to make it all fit together, I now realize that ecology, environmental health, and public health are almost inseparable.”
About the University of Georgia College of Public Health
Founded in 2005 as a response to the state’s need to address important health concerns in Georgia, the UGA College of Public Health is comprised of four departments and two research institutes, as well the Center for Global Health. The college offers degree programs in biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, health promotion and behavior, public health, health policy and management, and toxicology, as well as a certificate program in gerontology.
Graduates from the College of Public Health—which is nationally known for its work related to infectious disease, cancer research, gerontology, disaster preparedness and other areas—typically go on to a diverse range of careers, including medicine, health education, emergency management, public health policy, environmental science and social work. For more information, see www.publichealth.uga.edu.
About the Georgia Oceans and Health Initiative
This graduate training initiative is an effort to respond to the challenges of how changing oceans are impacting humans and animals by training doctoral students to reach across traditional disciplines to understand the linkages between the oceans and human health. Students are able to conduct research in microbial ecology of marine and human pathogens, aquatic toxicology, ocean impacts and climate change.
About the American Society for Microbiology
The American Society for Microbiology is the oldest and largest single life science membership organization in the world. Membership has grown from 59 scientists in 1899 to more than 43,000 members today, with more than one third located outside the United States. The members represent 26 disciplines of microbiological specialization plus a division for microbiology educators.