Since its creation in 1946, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has expanded its mission from the investigation and control of communicable diseases to include interventions targeting prevention of chronic and occupational diseases, injury, and environmental exposures and their sequelae. These changes at CDC also parallel a growing national need for epidemiologists in both the public and private sectors. To respond to these needs, the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) was created in 1951. The first class of EIS officers consisted of 22 physicians and one sanitary engineer.
Since 1951, more than 3703 professionals have served as EIS officers. In addition, the role of the EIS program has evolved from a team of disease detectives, with a mission to track and protect the American public from possible biologic warfare, to include response to the demand for epidemiologic assistance throughout the world.
The backgrounds of the participants have also evolved. Though the program has historically accepted mostly physicians, other healthcare professionals (e.g. veterinarians, dentists, pharmacists, nurse practitioner, and other doctoral-level scientists not trained to deliver medical or health care services) have been increasingly entering the program.
On average, EIS officers are selected from a pool of approximately 500 domestic and international applicants to create a final class of about 70 officers who will serve on the frontlines of public health, conducting epidemiologic investigations, research, and public health surveillance both nationally and internationally.
Some successes of the EIS program include creation of the Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) in 1975, as well as contribution in the eradication of major outbreaks around the world such as the threat of bioterrorism during the Korean War era in the early 1950s, the Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016, Zika virus from 2015 to 2017, and anthrax, hantavirus, and West Nile virus in the United States.