Before moving to Iowa, Jorge L. Salinas, MD, worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), traveling the world in their Epidemic Intelligence Service. As an officer in the CDC, Salinas combatted outbreaks of tuberculosis, Zika virus, and yellow fever in the United States, Brazil, Columbia, Angola, Kenya, and more. However, in 2018, when a dream job opened at what he considers to be “the mecca of healthcare epidemiology,” Salinas moved from the sunny, southern United States to the University of Iowa. Now, Salinas serves as a clinical assistant professor in Infectious Diseases and as hospital epidemiologist for UI Health Care, leading the fight against healthcare-associated infections.
“[Iowa] was a great place and fantastic opportunity,” Salinas said. “There was an opening to be the hospital epidemiologist in such a prestigious place. Everyone in the country and many places in the world recognize Iowa as a leader in hospital epidemiology and infection prevention.”
Salinas was born, raised, and trained in medicine in Lima, the capital of Peru, where he attended the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. Salinas describes his hometown as a nice, warm, and diverse place. Following medical school, Salinas completed his residency at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and his fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Emory University. Now, Salinas helps educate the fellows who come to Iowa from across the globe.
“We receive requests from people overseas who want to come learn and train with us,” Salinas said. “They paved their way here to learn from us. We currently have two fellows from Saudi Arabia, one from Brazil, one from Spain, just for example. Iowa is very well regarded and connected in epidemiology.”
One of the reasons Iowa’s Infection Prevention program is so well regarded is because of its historic commitment to developing and testing new strategies and protocols. Currently, they are developing automated surveillance systems, which continue to keep the infectious disease rates at Iowa very low.
“Our patients are safer,” Salinas said. “Their risk of developing infections while hospitalized are decreasing. We are very proactive in implementing measures to prevent infections, whether they are bloodstream infections, respiratory infections, or surgical site infections. We implement dozens of measures, each of them targeted to a specific type of risk.”
Daniel Diekema, MD, MS, the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases, has worked with Salinas since his first day at Iowa.
“I like working with Jorge because he questions assumptions, challenges dogma, and is constantly thinking about better ways to approach and solve problems,” Diekema said.
During the winter months, Salinas’s Infectious Prevention team sees an increased number of influenza cases, so they continuously monitor the spread of the infection in real time and educate healthcare workers in advance about personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE helps keep the disease from spreading to healthcare workers and allows these workers to continue to provide safe care to the patients. (After a particularly lengthy winter and severe flu season in 2018, Salinas assessed UI Health Care’s prevention and response efforts that year.)
Michael Edmond, MD, MPH, MPA, MBA, chief quality officer for UI Health Care and clinical professor in Infectious Diseases, works closely with Salinas as an associate hospital epidemiologist, monitoring infections both here in the hospital and around the world.
“Jorge’s training in epidemiology at CDC coupled with his informatics skills make him a superb hospital epidemiologist,” Edmond said.
Now, Salinas’s team is closely monitoring infectious disease outbreaks occurring overseas and their risk of importation into United States. The latest emerging infectious disease to grab headlines is the novel coronavirus that seems to have originated in China. The disease is currently being reported mostly in China but several cases have been reported in other countries.
“We are closely monitoring it to make sure it doesn’t represent a risk for our community in the globalized world where patients travel,” Salinas said. At the time of the interview, cases had not yet appeared in the United States, but Salinas predicted then that their appearance here “wouldn’t be totally surprising.” (Read his interview with the Press-Citizen for more on the coronavirus.)
Salinas says he never has two days that are the same. He is constantly working on new things, whether it is quality improvement projects or monitoring an outbreak.
“When things get busier, we just have to react to things as they happen,” Salinas said. “For example, last week, I visited the top of the General Hospital. I had to go up there to inspect because there was the potential of animal intrusions in that area.”
When Salinas is not working, he enjoys spending time with his wife and children and exploring the restaurants of Iowa City. His favorite kinds of restaurants include Chinese, Thai, and Indian cuisines.
“We’re detectives and we’re on call, so if anything happens, we are very proactive,” Salinas said. “We go visit the area, talk to the people involved and implement measures to decrease risk.”