A gator ambassador

A Gator ambassador

Prestigious internship takes student behind the scenes at China’s National Influenza Center

By Jill Pease

Ben Anderson, a UF Master of Public Health student, and Liqun Fang, a team leader in the Epidemiology section at China CDC, pose at the Great Wall of China.

In China, the world’s most populous country and a major hub for international travel and trade, the next infectious disease outbreak could always be just around the corner.

Ben Anderson, a UF Master of Public Health student, recently completed an internship that allowed him to take an inside look at the surveillance arm of the Chinese National Influenza Center, part of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Anderson is believed to be the first American student to do an internship with the Chinese National Influenza Center and is one of few long-term visitors.

Located in Beijing, the Chinese National Influenza Center, or CNIC, is a World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Reference and Research. The CNIC coordinates surveillance with more than 500 sentinel hospitals and more than 400 network laboratories in 31 provinces. Nearly half of the world’s influenza virus vaccine strains came from the CNIC.

During his five-week internship, Anderson worked closely with the epidemiology and management sections of the CNIC to write an operational description of the surveillance network and to evaluate possible areas for improvement. Given the large scale of the center’s operation, Anderson was impressed by its efficiency.

“It has to be a really well-orchestrated and well-organized system of distribution, receiving and processing in order to keep track of all the samples and data and make sure that everything is processed in a timely manner,” Anderson said. “Every week they’re generating reports from the information and data they’re capturing from the surveillance system. I was really impressed by how they were able to do that so effectively, based on just the size of the system.”

Anderson presented his findings to members of the CNIC, including the center director, Yuelong Shu, Ph.D. Anderson made several recommendations that were well-received, including incorporating more testing of influenza antibodies present in populations and expanding the surveillance network to more rural areas. Anderson also suggested the center’s past three years of complete surveillance data be used to calculate baseline percentages for influenza-like illness cases in regions, provinces, counties and even individual sentinel sites, a recommendation Shu plans to pursue in the coming year.

The CNIC staff members were generous hosts both in the work setting and with their personal time, Anderson said.

“I think my highlight was when I was invited to the home of the person who runs the epidemiology and management group and I got to make dumplings with her and her family,” he said.

The internship allowed Anderson to serve as an ambassador for UF and the United States, said Gregory Gray, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the College of Public Health and Health Professions department of environmental and global health, and Anderson’s mentor.

“Ben is an exceptional graduate student, one of our finest,” Gray said. “In part because of Ben’s diplomatic and scientific work, three UF faculty members will visit the Chinese CDC and CNIC in June to pursue new research collaborations and future trainee exchanges.”

Following his graduation in May, Anderson will start doctoral work in the college’s new Ph.D. in One Health and thinks more trips to China may be in his future.

“I think there is potential for future trips to China, not necessarily as a student, but actually working as a collaborator with the CNIC may be a possibility now that this internship has happened,” he said.