Jan 30, 2015, 5:47 PM, Posted by
“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras,” the late Theodore Woodward, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, cautioned his students in the 1940s. Woodward’s warning is still invoked to discourage doctors from making rare medical diagnoses for sick patients, when more common ones are usually the cause.
And while many Americans have worried about contracting Ebola—in viral terms, a kind of “zebra”—more commonplace microbial “horses,” such as influenza and measles viruses, continue to pose far greater threats. For instance, a large multistate measles outbreak has been traced to Disneyland theme parks in California—while this year’s strain of seasonal flu has turned out to be severe and widespread.
One obvious conclusion is that many microbes remain a harmful health menace, expected to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans this year. Another—speaking of Disneyland—is that much of America appears to live in a kind of fantasyland, thinking that it is protected against infectious disease.
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Dec 22, 2014, 5:08 PM, Posted by
In the shadow of this year’s Ebola outbreak, the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a new report, Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases.
The report finds that while significant advances have been made in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from emergencies, gaps in preparedness remain and have been exacerbated as resources have been cut over time.
On the eve of the report’s release, I spoke with Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health to get his thoughts on today’s preparedness landscape—think, Ebola—what to do about shrinking budgets and growing infectious disease threats, and where to go from here.
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Oct 21, 2014, 2:44 PM, Posted by
I returned from Cape Town, South Africa a week ago and want to share some reflections on my trip and my participation in the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, in Cape Town September 30-October 3, with the theme “Science & Practice of People-Centred Health Systems.”
In the opening session, Professor Thandika Mkandawire from the London School of Economics made two remarks that resonated with me, and that were referred to by other speakers throughout the conference. First, referencing Napoleon’s quote that “War is too important to leave to the generals,” Mkandawire said that “health is too important to leave to health specialists.” Instead, there is a need for multiple disciplines and sectors to create health and devise health policy. He went on to address the policy issues related to the most vulnerable populations, saying that “policies targeting the poor are poor policies”, arguing for the importance of social solidarity, not charity.
The current Ebola epidemic highlights the gaps in public health in many nations, as well as the erosion of public health emergency preparedness and response at WHO and many other nations, including the US.. This is putting our health at risk from all kinds of infectious and emerging diseases (e.g., MERS, polio) and threatens progress in health in other areas.
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Jun 6, 2014, 11:24 AM, Posted by
Ah, springtime: especially welcome for those of us who experienced a particularly harsh winter. Spring often conjures up images of blossoming trees and blue skies, freshly cut grass and picnics.
Yet in May, several anniversaries of devastating natural disasters reminded us that springtime can also bring with it some of nature’s most violent weather phenomena:
- On May 20, Moore, Okla., marked the first anniversary of the devastating tornado that killed 24, including seven children at an elementary school. It was the second EF-5 tornado to strike the city in 15 years; the May 3, 1999, tornado left 46 dead.
- In Joplin, Mo., residents remembered the May 22, 2011, EF-5 tornado that killed 161 people.
- On May 31, Johnstown, Pa,., observed the 125th anniversary of the devastating flood that leveled the entire city and killed 2,209.
While improved warning systems and 21st century technology have certainly played a role in reducing the number of lives Mother Nature’s temper tantrums claim, the fact remains that these events have a substantial impact on our health as a nation.
We recently talked to Paul Kuehnert, director, Bridging Health and Health Care portfolio—as well as a pediatric nurse practitioner and longtime state and local health official—to get his thoughts about the role public health plays in helping us prepare for, cope with, and learn from natural disasters.
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