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Applied Epidemiology in Infectious Diseases and Environmental Health in the Australian Capital Territory




Gomez, Algreg

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Thesis Summary From February 2021 to December 2022, I undertook a 22-month field placement within the COVID-19 Response Branch, ACTHD. The Health and Emergency Control Centre (HECC) was responsible for surveillance, prevention, and control of SARS-CoV-2 infections in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). This thesis presents the major projects along with additional public health experience to meet the competency requirements of the Master of Philosophy (in Applied Epidemiology) (MAE) program. Chapter I This chapter introduces my field placement and summarises my experiences during my candidature. It outlines my primary role within the COVID-19 Response Branch and public health activities that I undertook during my placement. Chapter II This chapter encapsulates the data analysis project component of my thesis. This project aimed to present new information about an emerging COVID-19 variant of concern at that time. This information was essential to inform future public health risk assessments, modelling studies and impacts on hospital capacity. The aim of my analysis was to characterise how SARS-CoV-2 Delta (B.1.617) and Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant infections vary in symptomology by sex, age and vaccination status throughout an individual's infection using cases identified between 12 August 2021 and 21 January 2022, in the ACT. Chapter III I conducted an outbreak investigation of a public health problem with the COVID-19 Response Branch on a cluster of SARS-CoV-2 Beta (B.1.529) infection in hotel quarantine in March 2021. An Acute Response Team (ART) was formed and an outbreak investigation was initiated, after two passengers were detected with acute SARS-CoV-2 infection whilst undertaking mandatory hotel quarantine. The main objectives of this investigation were to utilise epidemiological evidence from case interviews, contact tracing, and laboratory evidence to support and inform the relevant decision makers for appropriate public health measures to prevent further spread of infection. Chapter IV This chapter contains the experiences and learnings from implementing an improved surveillance system for salmonellosis with the team at HPS, ACTHD. I was the lead investigator and project officer for this project. I was able to distribute a pre-implementation evaluation questionnaire that was used to inform how the system could be improved. Overall, the implementation of this system was aimed to improve the public health follow-up process through automated surveys. The implementation was deemed successful by key stakeholders, which resulted in time saved (both by individuals completing the automated surveys compared to a full routine case interview) and improved organisation of the respective data that could be used for future enhanced epidemiological analysis. Chapter V The fifth chapter describes an epidemiological study in which I investigated environmental conditions (such as particulate matter) that could be associated with respiratory syndrome-related hospital admissions in the ACT. This project provided an opportunity to explore other concepts and data analysis techniques that was outside of my routine activities within the COVID-19 Response Branch. Chapter VI This chapter in the thesis provides learnings from multiple teaching activities conducted as part of the MAE program, with reflections on the teaching sessions and lessons I learned. The teaching activities include; peer-to-peer teaching to first-year MAE scholars, lessons from the field (LFF) and various teaching opportunities I undertook during my candidature. Chapter VII The seventh and final chapter of this thesis describes my experiences as an epidemiology fellow for WPRO, WHO deployed in Manila, Philippines. I also outline my involvement with numerous COVID-19 outbreaks and related projects in the ACT and multiple foodborne outbreaks with the Communicable Disease Control section (CDC), Health Protection Services (HPS).






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