Ector County Health Department epidemiologist Amrinder Chahal is in the business of disease identification. He keeps an eye out for certain illnesses to help prevent them from spreading.

Chahal’s position is funded through a Texas Department of State Health Services grant that is good through Aug. 31, 2019. Ector County Health Department Director Gino Solla said after an ebola patient turned up in Dallas, the state realized it didn’t have enough epidemiologists and asked interested health departments to apply.

“My job is to investigate these reportable conditions directed by the state health department. These investigations kind of help us to identify the risk factors … behind these conditions,” Chahal said. “Then we can study what’s happening in the community and come out with the policies to prevent those things from happening again.”

Chahal has a list of conditions that have to be reported within a certain timeframe.

“Whenever a case gets reported to me, I fill out our investigation form, which is provided by the DSHS website, and try to get detailed information about the medical records from the physicians. Then I go on to interview the patient. There’s a questionnaire which is prepared by DSHS separately for every condition to understand if we can narrow it down what the exact reason behind that condition,” Chahal said.

He also consults with the Department of State Health Services’ senior epidemiologist for Region 9/10 for their opinion and also with the Emerging and Acute Infectious Disease Branch of the Texas Department of State Health Services in Austin.

From Gurdasbur, Punjab, in India, Chahal was a dentist in India before moving to Odessa. During the last year of his internship, he said he was mainly involved in public health with a focus on oral cancer and drug and tobacco use.

He said he has gone door to door giving presentations on tobacco use and counseling people.

“That’s what generated my interest and then I wanted to further my expertise in that and come over to the U.S. to do my masters, and hopefully one day become a public health dentist,” Chahal said.

He earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of North Texas Health Sciences in Fort Worth. Chahal began his job in Ector County March 15, 2017. His goal is still to gain experience here and become a public health dentist.

When he completed his master’s, he was looking for a job. In larger cities, Chahal said everybody wants experienced people.

“I had job offers from Florida, from New Jersey and from Odessa. But in Odessa this was a full- time contracted epidemiologist position,” Chahal said. “It allows me to maneuver between different fields. I can do food borne to communicable (illnesses).”

Larger cities would have more of a division of lab.

“But you can go to those positions when you do have some experience on your side. Plus, they pay good,” Chahal.

Solla said Chahal plays a critical role at the health department in disease surveillance and investigation and educating and incentivizing health care providers to report diseases they see in the community.

With the current flu outbreak, Chahal monitors the community to see if the county is spiking, or is at the normal baseline.

“So it’s very important,” Solla said.

Rates of sexually transmitted diseases:
  • Cases of Chlamydia have risen from 1,036 in 2013; 1,069 in 2014; and 1,067 in 2015.
  • In Odessa, there were 907 cases of Chlamydia in 2016.
  • There were 309 cases of gonorrhea in Ector County in 2013; 366 in 2014; and 352 in 2015.
  • In Odessa, there were 279 cases of gonorrhea in 2016.
  • There were 13 cases of syphilis in Ector County in 2013; 19 in 2014; and 40 in 2015.
  • In Odessa, there were 16 cases of syphilis in 2016.
  • In Ector County, there were 232 cases of HIV infection. Of those, 183 were male and 49 were female. Three were cases in people age 0 to 14; 14 were cases in people 15 to 24; 51 cases in people 25 to 34; 57 in people 35 to 44; and 107 in people 45 or older.

Source: Ector County Health Department epidemiologist Amrinder Chahal.