Biosecurity expert talks to SV students

October 22, 2014 Cranberry Local News

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JACKSON TWP — Dr. Amesh Adalja said Friday morning he doesn’t expect the Ebola outbreak to become a global issue because it is hard to contract the disease.

The Butler doctor spoke to more than 600 Seneca Valley students Friday, fresh off appearances on CNN and NBC’s “The Today Show” only an hour before.

Adalja, a Butler native and 1993 graduate of Butler High School, is a nationally renowned biosecurity expert and scholar of infectious diseases.

While he didn’t speak much about Ebola during his talk, students during a question-and-answer session quizzed him on the Ebola outbreak, a field he is considered an expert in.

Adalja reassured the students it’s unlikely Ebola becomes a global issue because it’s transmitted only by blood and bodily fluids and it is not an airborne disease.

“It’s really hard to catch it,” he said. “It’s not something that can spread through the air.”

But Adalja said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention erred recently when it allowed a Texas nurse to travel to Cleveland to visit family. But that doesn’t mean there’s reason for concern.

“The risk of anyone on that plane contracting Ebola is exceedingly low,” he said.

Adalja reassured students they have nothing to fear from Ebola, at least not right now.

“But the story is changing every minute,” he said.

He spoke as part of Seneca Valley’s STEM lecture series for students in the intermediate and senior high schools. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Adalja spent most of his time talking about his career path that took him from Butler to Pittsburgh to Baltimore to the world.

He’s spoken at NATO conferences and to high-ranking U.S. Department of Defense officials in Washington, D.C.

His job has taken him to places such as Haiti and other countries to research and treat patients with an array of infectious diseases.

Ebola isn’t his only area of expertise. Adalja has served on government panels tasked with developing guidelines for the treatment of botulism, anthrax and the H1N1 flu.

He talked about his career and how he arrived at being an expert on infectious disease.

There is a tremendous amount of sacrifice and dedication that goes into so many hours of studying, researching and testing, he said, and it is not something to be taken lightly.

“It’s something you really have to make a commitment to,” he said.

Adalja told the students he graduated from high school at the age of 17 and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University at the age of 19.

He also praised Seneca Valley officials for holding the monthly STEM lectures, saying he wished Butler had a similar program when he was in school.

“This is really something you should take advantage of,” he said.

The auditorium in the senior high school was packed as students listened to Adalja for about 30 minutes.

Junior Lindsey Laurune of Cranberry Township said she wouldn’t miss the lecture, especially given the relevancy with Ebola.

“This helps us apply what we learn in the classroom to real-life situations,” she said. “It’s amazing to see what these people do in their careers.”

Junior Cassidy Friedrich from Cranberry agreed and said the topic couldn’t be more relevant.

“Ebola is a big thing right now, so it can’t hurt to learn more about it,” she said. “It’s an interesting topic.”

Adalja is an associate for the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC as well as a clinical assistant professor for the Department of Critical Care Medicine, an adjunct clinical assistant professor for the Department of Emergency Medicine and an adjunct instructor for the Division of Infectious Diseases at UPMC.

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