Deadly germs can come from anywhere — even a cantaloupe. The fruit is just one of many exhibits in Portland’s International Outbreak Museum, a collection of strange and familiar objects all related in some way to a disease outbreak.
So why collect all these things in one place?
“The idea was really a place that we could house all the different success stories that happened when the health department figures out the source of a group’s illness,” said Hillary Booth, lead epidemiologist for Oregon's Public Health Division.
Booth also emphasized the museum’s nod to missteps in prior disease investigations as a learning tool for other epidemiologists.
Located in the state office building in Portland's Lloyd District, the museum is the work of world-renowned epidemiologist Bill Keene, also known as Dr. William. He worked as the Oregon Health Authority's senior epidemiologist and invented a new way to diagnose outbreaks that has saved countless lives over the years.
Keene’s so-called “shotgun questionnaire” is a pages-long checklist of different consumables. It’s used during patient interviews to figure out what exactly each person came in contact with before they got sick.
Keene died suddenly in 2013 from pancreatitis, but his team has kept the museum going inside his former office ever since. Team members hope it will be a way to help both disease professionals and the public understand that outbreaks can come from the most unexpected sources.