A doctor who investigates epidemics for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention got her foundation growing up in Cherokee County.

Dr. Rebecca Chancey, who used to live in Ball Ground, graduated from Cherokee High School in 2000 before the beginnings of her medical career. She’s now in her first year as an epidemic intelligence officer for the CDC’s Center for Global Health, focusing on parasitic diseases.

“I’m passionate about pediatrics, parasites and public health,” Chancey said.

At Cherokee High, Chancey enjoyed her science and math classes that served as the foundation for her medical education. She was also on the cross country team, among other extracurricular activities, and took piano lessons at Reinhardt University.

The education she received at Cherokee High School helped Chancey get to where she is today, she said.

“Those were the foundational years that embarked on this career path. I’m appreciative of the education I received and the opportunities I had,” she said.

After high school, Chancey completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia, studying biology and Spanish. She earned her medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She completed pediatric residency at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C.

She spent part of her residency in Kenya, where she developed an interest in global health.

“I really was captivated by helping children who potentially would have a better outcome in the U.S., because we have more resources,” Chancey said.

The doctor learned more about the global health system, and learned that local hospitals would benefit from improved disease surveillance and tracking. After that, she worked as a pediatrician in Rwanda for two years through the Human Resources for Health Program and mentored pediatric residents and medical students.

She then went to Peru to study tropical medicine through the Gorgas Course in Clinical Tropical Medicine. After returning to the U.S., she spent three years as a pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where she also trained residents.

Chancey, now 36, is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Public Health Service and works with the CDC investigating epidemics, specifically those of parasitic diseases.

Her first assignment as an epidemiologist for the CDC has been investigating an outbreak of cyclosporiasis, an intestinal illness contracted by consuming food or water contaminated with the parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis. Although a specific source hasn’t been identified yet, the disease is typically caused when people eat contaminated produce. The epidemiologist’s work took her to Texas, where the most cases in the U.S. have been reported, earlier this fall.

“As the disease detectives of the CDC, we get sent out for the front line response,” she said.

The investigative team worked there until Hurricane Harvey, after which they worked remotely from Atlanta. Since May 1, 597 people have been reported to have the disease. Texas has had an overwhelming share of the cases, at 172. In comparison, Georgia has had 13 cases.

“We are recommending people have good washing and hygiene practices for produce, washing it well before eating,” she said. “Good hand hygiene is always appropriate, making sure you wash your hands.”

Now Chancey is reviewing information about schistosomiasis, a disease caused by a worm that isn’t common in the U.S., but sometimes Americans can get it after traveling abroad.

“Every day is different, you never know what you’re going to walk into,” she said. “It’s extremely exciting. I've had opportunities to take care of patients in the U.S. and overseas. I’ve had the opportunity to study parasitic diseases overseas, and to work with clinicians all over the U.S. We confirm the diagnosis, we provide treatment when indicated, and I am enjoying that role.”

Shannon is a reporter covering education, city governments, crime, features, religion and other local news. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and currently lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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