Alumna Fights Ebola on the Front Lines in Liberia

By David Nutt

Karlyn Beer
Karlyn Beer ’06 sits last September with her embassy driver George Momolu in Grand Kru County, Liberia.
Photo: provided

As the largest Ebola epidemic in history ravaged West Africa, Karlyn Beer ’06, an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer with the CDC’s Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch, traveled to Liberia. In that nation’s Maryland County, Beer spent a month surveying the county health team’s protocols for safely caring for Ebola patients and grappling with the complexity of preventing further transmission.

“Let’s say you’re a health official and you intercept a car carrying someone who is sick; what do you tell them? Where should they go?” she said. “Do you have an ambulance that you can transport them in that can then be sanitized with chlorine? Is there a clinic with capacity to isolate the person from other people?”

After returning to the United States, Beer started aggregating the results of her surveys. That data will help Liberian officials and others better prepare for combating Ebola outbreaks.

Her interest in fighting diseases, she said, can be traced back to her time at Cornell. As an honors undergraduate researcher in Dean Kathryn J. Boor’s Food Safety Lab, Beer investigated Listeria monocytogenes. There she learned researchers need to stay in touch with the people whose lives and diseases they are studying. She also gained valuable perspective on scientific progress from mentor Boor.

“Science is hard. You don’t leave work every day with a fuzzy feeling like you’ve done something good for the world.” Beer added. “Kathryn was such a great role model for seeing the amazing things that you are doing, even if every single day doesn’t feel like a success.”