173: Talking About Ticks

Tamyra Porter, a partner at Guidehouse Consulting, explains a project to improve disease surveillance; Sara Robinson, an epidemiologist working for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, spends a lot of time warning people about the...

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Tamyra Porter, a partner at Guidehouse Consulting, explains a project to improve disease surveillance; Sara Robinson, an epidemiologist working for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, spends a lot of time warning people about the dangers of ticks; and ASTHO announces several new sponsors for next week’s Public Health TechXpo – SAS Institute, OpiSafe, Color Health, STC Health, and MicKinsey and Company.

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Vectorborne School Curricula

ASTHO Website: Public Health TechXpo

TechXpo Sponsor: Guidehouse Consulting

TechXpo Sponsor: SAS Institute

TechXpo Sponsor: OpiSafe

TechXpo Sponsor: Color Health

TechXpo Sponsor: STC Health

TechXpo Sponsor: McKinsey and Company

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Friday, May 6, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


We're just a few days away from next Tuesday's opening sessions at ASTHO’s second Public Health TechXpo.

Today, we're visiting with Tamyra Porter, a partner at Xpo sponsor Guidehouse Consulting. She's talking about a project to improve disease surveillance in today's morning conversation.

First of all, tell us how your firm can help public health agencies do their work.


Robert, every day our Guidehouse professionals are working across the healthcare continuum—whether that's with payers, or providers, or state and federal agencies, and even life sciences companies—and as such, we really work with our public health agencies directly at the local, state, and federal level, and then also indirectly.

Directly, we're offering technical assistance to many of the jurisdictions on data modernization efforts. And indirectly it might be, as we're working to install a major EMR platform—which, of course, will enhance our ability to exchange data to support the public health reporting, and really making that exchange of clinical and public health data more real time and robust.

In addition to that, our teams are very well positioned, given our presence across the continuum, to not only help in that exchange, but to also help different players—whether that's a public health agency or payer—better understand where they can find data, tap into it, and use it to present that more public health outcome response.


Let's get into the weeds a little bit.

Can you give us an example of work you're doing right now to help a public health agency?


Absolutely. One of the products I'll highlight—Guidehouse is currently working with CDC Center for Surveillance Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity. As such, we're working with about 60 jurisdictions and territories, supporting them through technical assistance to help them create a more scalable, sustainable surveillance system; looking at ways to enhance the exchange of critical laboratory data; and just overall addressing some of the needs for the public health workforce. Some of that is really around not just knowing how to exchange the data, but also what to do once you have that data—supports with data analytics, visualization, and reporting.

I think all of us can appreciate that need for a more robust infrastructure. Many of our—in particular, clinical—laboratories were quite taxed during the pandemic, with some of our daily test rates going upwards to 5 million. And generally, on average throughout the last year, we're seeing somewhere between a million tests a day for COVID.

And so, our need to have that real-time information around those test results, who's getting tested, and showing symptomology for COVID allowed us to have a more rapid response to mobilize resources where needed. So, we're very thrilled to be a part of those projects, not just in light of what we're seeing with COVID but the opportunity it presents for us to better manage and control for public health outbreaks, disease surveillance, etc.


You're moderating one of the panels at the event next week. Tell us about it.


We are going to be bringing a multidisciplinary panel of representatives both from a technology standpoint, the payer, the provider, and public health officials, to really dive into this need for a better exchange of clinical and public health data. We’ll specifically be looking at where that exchange of information is particularly necessary as we think about HIV and AIDS.

During the pandemic, we've seen a lot of ebbs and flows in terms of our HIV population not going and being tested—or, in some instances, being tested. And, as we know, when we're not in that position to more proactively identify surges or needs, that can have downstream implication in terms of viral load in the communities and our ability to help manage that. And you know, as those viral loads increase, that can be a challenge to our ability to manage the population and spread of disease.

So, we really are excited about looking at this particular use case. We know there's a lot of demand for us to have a better way of meaningfully using data particularly for this population. But certainly this is just one example of our need to have better use of data that might be housed in our care management systems with payers for that more proactive detection of drops in utilization that we can then turn into a public outreach campaign, etc. So, we're very excited, like I said, to bring this multidisciplinary panel and talk about this important topic and its relevance to other disease surveillance opportunities.


We've got more information about the TechXpo at the end of the newscast.


A Maine resident died of a rare illness after being bitten by a tick last month. The news reminds us how harmful ticks can be and how they've become almost a year-round problem because of warming weather patterns in some parts of the country.

Sara Robinson is an epidemiologist working for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. She spends a lot of time warning people about the dangers of ticks.


It's a tricky problem because there's not really a great way to tackle ticks themselves. So, the best that we can do is educate people on how to prevent ticks and how to make their houses more safe, to take prevention when they're going out being in the public, to better identify ticks.

So, that's where we focused on, is we've done school curriculum for kids to teach them about tick habitat. We do social media campaigns in the months when tick activity is the highest to try to make people aware and know what they can do to safely enjoy being outside.


And what about the public's response to those reminders?


Everybody can get on board with prevention. Nobody wants to end up with Lyme disease or anaplasmosis. And so, people are usually pretty receptive to what we have to say. We have good numbers from our social media outreach that we can see that people are clicking on it and viewing the videos and they're sharing it with their friends. We've had good luck with school curriculum as well.



Finally, today, more sponsors have signed on to support ASTHO’s Public Health TechXpo next week. The SAS Institute, OpiSafe, Color Health, STChealth, and McKinsey & Company all will be part of the event set for May 10 and 11.

You can still sign up to attend. And if you've got a.mil, .gov, or.edu email, there's no charge. Visit the link in the show notes to save a seat.


Before we go, we want to remind you to follow the show on your podcast app. And if you're on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn, we'd love a shout out.

That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back Monday morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great weekend.

Sara Robinson MPH

Epidemiologist, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Tamyra Porter

Partner, Guidehouse