A DISEASE DETECTIVE'S STORY
On January 24, 2020, an epidemiologist named Wang Senlu boarded a near-empty train to Urumchi, the second-largest city in China’s northwestern interior. “I said goodbye to my parents, my wife, and my daughter, who had just learned to walk. The train looked desolate but my destination was clear: to the epidemic’s center.”
Epidemiologists like Senlu play a critical role in detecting and responding to disease outbreaks. Senlu said he yearned to contribute his skills to fighting the pandemic.
“I applied to participate in three major domestic and international field investigations. Those 208 days of fighting started on the eve of Chinese New Year. My main task was to locate the infectious agent and conduct contact tracing. The day and night seemed to blur in the COVID-19 designated hospital for high fever, where most of my interviewees were.”
Photo caption: Senlu tracking cases at a hospital in Urumchi. Courtesy of TEPHINET.
“On average, a case investigation took around two hours,” said Senlu. “To make the most of the one-time-use PPE (personal protective equipment), my teammates and I did not stop until almost all of our strength left our bodies. On good days, I could complete over five case investigations. I still remember the sweat dripping down my back and the seemingly permanent mask marks on my face. Knowledge of my duty carried me on.”
On April 27, the day after his son’s birthday, Senlu boarded a plane to Kyrgyzstan with a team of Chinese public health experts to share lessons learned with their neighboring country. By July, he was again working in Urumchi, combing through investigation findings and identifying transmission routes. Following his three “frontline battles,” Senlu had developed a clear sense of purpose and received a medal from the Kyrgyzstan government for outstanding contributions to public health.
“With all the struggling and striving, my belief strengthened that it is the duty and mission of public health workers to guard the health and safety of the people from disease,” Senlu said. “I will continue to pass on the ‘learning by doing’ spirit and contribute all I can to strengthening our field epidemiology workforce.”