In July, Rebecca “Bex” Levine ’01 started a new job as an officer in Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. She spent one month in training and then began working as a disease detective on one of the most significant health challenges in recent years: the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Levine was deployed for a month in Freetown, Sierra Leone, with a CDC team that supported local partners in epidemiology and contract tracing, finding the people who’ve come in direct contact with sick Ebola patients. She will be heading back for another 30-day stretch beginning in mid-December.
The Ebola outbreak’s size and scope has presented significant barriers for public health officials, according to Levine. “It does sound like a major undertaking for us, as we sit here in the United States,” she said. “Take all of that and put it in a context where computers are not regularly used, where power is not reliable, where resources are so incredibly limited.” What we might think of as easy tasks, she said, become “immense challenges” in Sierra Leone.
For Levine, an ecology and evolutionary biology major at Princeton, the path to her current job started in her junior year, when she took Professor Andrew Dobson’s course on the ecology and epidemiology of parasites and infectious diseases. “It was a life-changing class,” she said. “Two classes into it, I was completely hooked.”
When Levine researched career paths in her newfound area of interest, she realized “it was all happening at CDC,” so she pursued CDC fellowships and later earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. at Emory University, not far from the Atlanta CDC headquarters.
Levine is well versed in the safety precautions that health workers need to take in regions affected by Ebola, and she said that her family and friends have been supportive of her work. “Everybody was very nervous and worried for me, but they also know me and they know that … essentially for 15 years, this is the job I’ve wanted,” she said. “So they’re very happy that I’m getting to live my dream.”