State Epidemiologist Dr. Patricia Quinlisk Set to Retire

Jul 26, 2018

From mumps and foodborne illness to Ebola and Zika, whenever there have been health threats in the news, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk has been there to inform Iowans. In a few days, she'll retire from her position as Medical Director at the Iowa Department of Public Health.

On this news buzz edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Quinlisk about her upcoming retirement and some highlights from her 24 years with the Iowa Department of Public Health.

"I've always been primarily doing infectious diseases, so the foodborne outbreaks, the mumps and measles, and then of course the emerging diseases, the Zikas the Ebolas and things like that," Quinlisk says. "Those kinds of diseases are probably the ones that I've spent most of my time on."

Interestingly, the recent headlines about foodborne illness caused by McDonald's salads mirror one of Quinlisk's early experiences in public health.

"Years and years ago I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal and learned to speak Nepali," Quinlisk says. "Then in the early 1990s there was an outbreak of a strange new disease in Nepal. I was working for the Centers for Disease Control and they sent me to Nepal since I spoke the language and I spent several months there trying to investigate this new disease."

"After about three months of investigating, we found the organism and we found that it was on lettuce. Today we call that cyclospora. And that is the organism that was recently found on McDonald's salads," she says. "I feel like my career has made a circle and I've now come back to the beginning."

Post-retirement, Quinlisk plans to sharpen her focus on the prevention of dementia.

"Believe it or not, if you just do a few things in your lifestyle you can reduce your risk of getting these diseases by over 70 percent," Dr. Quinlisk says. "I'm not going away, I'm just going to change what I'm working on."

You can take a short quiz about reducing your risk of dementia on the Iowa Department of Health website.

Also on the program, we hear from IPR's Eastern Iowa Reporter Kate Payne about President Trump's recent stop in Iowa. Chris Larimer, associate professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa, joins the conversation with his political analysis of the President's visit.

Later in the hour, Alan Czarnetski, professor of meteorology at the University of Northern Iowa, talks about the dozen tornados that hit Iowa this week. Then, NPR's Don Gonyea and Scott Horsley share anecdotes about their first five days of RAGBRAI.