Specialist Profile Series: Preben Aavitsland

  Published: 16.12.09 Updated: 16.12.2009 17:32:24

Preben AavitslandPersonal information:

Name: Preben Aavitsland
Background: Medical Doctor
Title: State Epidemiologist of Norway
Organization: Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo
Specialization: Epidemiology
Hobbies: Books, films, kayaking, skiing and cycling

What are your responsibilities at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health?
I am head of the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology with some 35 employees. The department is responsible for the national surveillance systems for infectious diseases in Norway. We also serve as EWRS and IHR focal point. The department is also responsible for national outbreak investigations and for giving advice to the health authorities, the health services and the public. I am also supervisor for several PhD-students and member of the ECDC Advisory Forum.

What motivated you to devote yourself to infectious disease epidemiology?
I was drawn into the field by my former boss, professor Arve Lystad, when I served my mandatory 16 month civil service here. The field combines all aspects of public health; epidemiology, microbiology, clinical medicine and behavioural sciences.

Which of your professional achievements brings you the most satisfaction?
It brings satisfaction to find the cause of an outbreak. I also enjoy when one of my PhD-students defend his or her thesis.

What was your most difficult professional moment?
We had a tough time in 2006 when we struggled to find the cause of an outbreak of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) among children. After 28 days we found the E. coli O103 in a particular brand of sausage. The most scary moment was during the SARS crisis. If there had been an outbreak in a Norwegian hospital, it could have become a disaster.

What do you think are the most important achievements in infectious disease epidemiology so far?
There are several: Improved methods for outbreak investigations. The introduction of electronic surveillance systems. The use of mathematical methods to detect outbreaks and to study the transmission dynamics of infections.

How did you start collaborating in the EpiNorth project?
I was part of the start of the project in 1999 with Nordic colleagues and have been involved since then.

What do you find the most interesting aspect of the EpiNorth project?
Definitely that we bring together infectious disease epidemiologist from European countries with very different historical backgrounds and different public health traditions. We learn from observing the diversity.

What do you consider the most important achievement of the EpiNorth project?
That we manage to run a complete bilingual English-Russian web site and journal and bring together professionals from eleven countries.

What is your favourite book and why?
Kenneth Rothman’s “Modern Epidemiology” because it is the best overview of all advances in the science of epidemiology. His shorter book “Introduction to epidemiology” is a good alternative.

Aside from your professional career, what is your greatest ambition in life?
To have a long and peaceful life with my family in Kristiansand.

What would be your wishes for the younger colleagues in the field of epidemiology?
That they study theoretical epidemiology and apply this to their work and that they study the organisation of infectious disease prevention, surveillance and control in other countries than their own.