Name: Lynnette Brammer

Position: Epidemiologist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Best known for: Flu season is never really over for Lynnette Brammer.

As the architect of the nation’s influenza surveillance system, Brammer analyzes influenza data sent electronically from around the country to the CDC, where she is an epidemiologist responsible for developing, maintaining and enhancing the domestic influenza surveillance system. Brammer and her team publish FluView every Friday, providing influenza data to state public health officials, epidemiologists, clinicians and the public.

In addition to patient information on viruses from 140 labs and about 2,000 doctors across the country, Brammer helps analyze data from vital statistics offices in 122 cities.

CDC influenza guru Lynette Brammer. (Courtesy of Brett Brammer)

“There’s no typical flu season,” Brammer said.

It sometimes hits all parts of the country and lasts one to two months. In other years, it spreads at a low level but continues to spread for months and even into the summer. To prepare for each outbreak, Brammer and her team watch flu activity in the Southern Hemisphere, which has its winter while the United States has summer. When Australia and New Zealand have had bad flu seasons, it has put Brammer’s team on alert that a bad year was ahead.

According to Brammer, the seasonal process for discovering flu outbreaks and preparing a vaccine has changed dramatically since she has been in the CDC influenza group. It used to take from one to two weeks to grow viruses to determine whether they were flu and, if so, what type. Now molecular diagnostic testing can be done in hours.

Government work: Before joining the CDC, Brammer worked in a hospital lab in Atlanta and would drive by the agency’s building and think how she would like to work there. “I always heard of the cool things people at CDC were doing, and I wanted to be a part of that,” she said. She has worked for the CDC since 1987, starting in the Special Pathogens Branch in the Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases before moving in 1991 to the Influenza Division.

Motivation for service: While working as a medical technologist in an Atlanta hospital, Brammer frequently heard about the training programs, outbreak investigations and research that the CDC performed and hoped one day to join the agency and perform a job that would have a larger impact on overall public health.

Biggest challenges: Many people see influenza as an inconvenience rather than a disease that has a significant impact and can be prevented with use of a vaccine. In addition, there is seldom down time to allow more detailed analyses of the influenza data, even in the summer, which is when the CDC has to implement changes to surveillance systems for the upcoming season.

Quote: “Every week, I get to sit down with the best team of people that anyone could ever hope to work with and pull all this data together, interpret it and publish it, knowing that it will contribute to a better understanding of the current situation, patient treatment decisions, vaccine strain selections and prevention and control policy.”

From the Partnership for Public Service

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