The Maricopa County Department of Public Health will get a hand in looking for signs of infectious-disease outbreaks, foodborne illnesses and injuries at the big game in Glendale, Arizona.
Kristen Pogreba-Brown, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, is taking a team of graduate students to the Super Bowl on Sunday – but the team won't be there to watch the game.
The students are members of Student Aid for Field Epidemiology Response, or SAFER, and they will assist the Maricopa County Department of Public Health with surveillance for signs of infectious-disease outbreaks, foodborne illnesses and injuries.
SAFER has been providing surveillance assistance to health departments throughout Arizona for 10 years. At Super Bowl XLIX, team members will be located at every first-aid station inside University of Phoenix Stadium, working alongside emergency medical technicians from the Glendale Fire Department.
“Our students will interview every person who visits a first-aid station. And we will also be asking everyone who enters if they have had the measles vaccine,” Dr. Pogreba-Brown said.
The SAFER team enters data in real time to a public health database. Working with digital tablets and using Qualtrics software, information entered will be available immediately to health department staff, who will be looking for potential “hot spots” within the stadium for outbreaks and areas of concern.
The SAFER team also has been assisting the Maricopa County Health Department with the measles outbreak in metro Phoenix. The team has been contacting those who may have been exposed to measles.
Dr. Pogreba-Brown said there are advantages to having SAFER at a large public event such as the Super Bowl. In addition to providing an educational opportunity, SAFER supplies additional staff to local and state public health departments in the event of a large-scale incident or disaster.
“Having public health at these large events is not any different from having law enforcement,” Dr. Pogreba-Brown said. “You hope you won’t need to respond to anything, but you have the right people on-site to react, if needed. EMTs are amazing at treating patients in a short amount of time and assessing their medical needs. By partnering with public health, it allows them to get a broader view of what is going on regarding the health and safety of the population at the event.”
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the SAFER program. The 2008 Super Bowl, also played in Glendale, was the first large-scale special event at which SAFER provided surveillance. Other recent events at which the SAFER team was deployed were the NFL Pro Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl.
“As far as I know, we are the only college of public health in the nation that does syndromic surveillance for large events with the help of students,” said Dr. Pogreba-Brown said.
County health departments do not typically have a surveillance team at a large public event. Maricopa County only does this for high-level events, ones that SAFER can help to staff.
Dr. Pogreba-Brown describes the SAFER program as a group of public health graduate students who learn what it takes to investigate an outbreak and execute many of the tasks needed in a local or state health department.
SAFER is housed in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. It receives the bulk of its support through a contract with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.