Bath native Christine Prue is a public health executive who is on the front lines battling the Zika virus, and she just returned from working 75 days in Puerto Rico with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, devising strategies to help keep the virus from spreading further.

Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has been stricken by the mosquito-borne Zika virus, with more than 1,900 cases, according to the CDC. The virus can cause birth defects, including microcephaly, in which babies are born with abnormally small heads. The tropical mosquito that carries the Zika virus cannot live in Maine because of the cold climate, but it could turn into a significant problem in the southern United States.

Prue, 52, is the associate director for behavioral science with the CDC’s National Center of Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, and she has spent her entire career working in public health.

Prue, a University of Maine alumna, worked for the city of Portland’s health department and the Maine CDC before landing a job at the U.S. CDC in Atlanta 18 years ago.

As a behavioral health scientist, Prue studies how to prompt people and communities to take actions to protect themselves from viruses.

“What are the behaviors that can protect against the disease, and how do we get people to do these behaviors. That’s what I do,” said Prue, who is single and lives with her identical twin sister, Irene, in Atlanta.

Prue said one of the most difficult aspects of the Zika virus is that it can be transmitted both by mosquitoes and through sexual activity. Pregnant women are especially vulnerable, because the Zika virus attacks the fetus’s central nervous system, Prue said.

Prue said it might seem counterintuitive for pregnant women to have their partners wear condoms, but using condoms can help prevent the spread of the disease and birth defects.

Other strategies include using non-chemical larvicides in standing water, wearing long sleeves and pants, using insect repellent, sleeping under a mosquito net, getting screens for windows and removing standing water from property.

“I did not get a single mosquito bite, but I used insect repellent and wore long sleeves and pants,” Prue said of her time in Puerto Rico. “I didn’t see a lot of Puerto Ricans wearing long sleeves and pants.”

Prue said it may be unrealistic for Puerto Ricans living in the tropical climate to wear clothing covering most of their body, but the other steps can be taken.

She said she met with hundreds of pregnant women to tell them about protection measures they could take, and she handed out kits that contained condoms, insect repellent and mosquito nets.

Prue said she also met with many local leaders to work on community solutions, such as cleanups, public education and spraying.

Prue has also worked on efforts to reduce polio, traveling to India and Indonesia with the CDC in the early and mid-2000s. In the United States, she’s helped with efforts to control food-borne illness outbreaks, such as salmonella found in peanut butter that sickened more than 700 people in 2008-09.

Meredith Tipton, a former health officer with the city of Portland and a mentor to Prue in the 1980s and 1990s, said she quickly recognized the talent in Prue when they worked together in Portland.

“Chris has always been a superstar,” Tipton said. “I mentored her right out of her job. She’s a kid from Maine who has really excelled.”