Category Archives: Infectious diseases
Over the weekend, NewPublicHealth conducted an email interview with Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO), on Ebola efforts on the ground in West Africa and the impact on the global effort of the cases recently diagnosed in the United States.
NewPublicHealth: Is there concern among global health leaders that the attention on a handful of cases is taking away attention from the thousands of cases in West Africa?
Tarik Jasarevic: While countries need to be vigilant and prepared for a possible case of Ebola, we need to focus on getting all possible resources—trained health workers, medical facilities with beds and money—to the affected countries in West Africa.
NPH: Several weeks ago global health leaders had a checklist of things, including money and personnel, needed to stem the outbreaks in the various countries. Where do things stand now, and what is still needed?
Jasarevic: We need a lot of resources if we’re going to get the virus under control. WHO and partners constructed 12 Ebola Treatment Centers in Liberia, 15 in Sierra Leone and 3 in Guinea—30 out of the 50 that are needed. These facilities contain more than 1,100 beds for patients, out of the more than 4,000 needed. There are more than 2,500 beds becoming available in the next few weeks, but we still need more. We also need international health workers to come work alongside national health workers to manage and run the health facilities. WHO has set up “training academies” in each of the affected countries to train more local health workers, but more are needed.
NPH: What is the current fatality rate?
Jasarevic: The fatality rate for this particular outbreak has always been approximately 70 percent. We are seeing higher numbers of cases and deaths because of the geographic spread of the disease, from urban city centers to rural, hard to reach villages. There is also significant under reporting of cases in the three countries, especially Liberia.
In light of the ongoing Ebola outbreak, NewPublicHealth recently launched an in-depth look at the current state of several infectious diseases and efforts to stem Ebola and other outbreaks. Tomorrow night the PBS documentary series Frontline will air “The Trouble with Antibiotics” (10 p.m. EST), taking a look at antibiotic use on American farms and the death of a patient being treated at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) three years ago who succumbed to a superbug the NIH was unable to treat.
According to the program’s correspondent, David Hoffman, a former journalist with the Washington Post, 70 percent of U.S. antibiotics are used on farms and are linked to at least some of the two million people who become ill and the more than twenty thousand people who die of antibiotic resistance each year.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Hoffman about the project.
NewPublicHealth: What made you interested in the topic of antibiotic resistance?
David Hoffman: In 2012, the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health disclosed the details of an outbreak of resistant bacteria in the hospital during 2011. It was a remarkable story in which advanced genomics from an NIH institute were used to unravel the mystery of how the organism had spread, and the hospital took extraordinary measures to combat it. This led to a 2013 Frontline film about the growing problem of resistance in human health, “Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria.” While working on “Hunting.”’ we heard a lot about antibiotics in animal agriculture. But the issues were complex and needed time for serious examination. We decided to devote our next film to answering some of the questions and that process took about a year.
Infectious diseases—and the treatment of infectious diseases—has been a common theme in the news recently, with almost 4,000 people now dead from an Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It was only yesterday that Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, died in a Dallas, Texas, hospital.
Earlier this week, some of the leading experts in infectious disease came together in the Google Hangout “TEDMED Great Challenges: Track, Treat, Prevent—A Better Battle Against Communicable Diseases.” They discussed the risk of communication, treatment, drug resistance, disease tracking innovation and related ethical issues. The event was moderated by Helen Branswell of the Canadian Press.
The panelists—across the board—agreed that the recent Ebola resurgence has served to highlight the importance of public health. Not just what it brings to the table during such emergencies, but the need for it to focus even more on prevention efforts and ensuring public health is fully funded and supported.
“Public health funding is one of those things people only really notice when something goes wrong,” said Dara Lieberman, a Senior Government Relations Manager at Trust for America's Health.
Amy L. Fairchild, PhD, MPH, Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, believes that “in many ways, we’ve really lost our way in public health.”
“There was a period at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century in which the field made these enormous strides in combatting infectious diseases and combatting communicable disease,” Fairchild said. “And then, with the rise of chronic diseases, we began to forget some of those...lessons learned about the need to focus on broad, sweeping environmental changes.”
As the number of cases and deaths soar, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is rightfully front and center in the news, both in terms of the disease’s progress and of the need for funds and manpower. However, infectious disease specialists are urging public health leaders to also stay vigilant in preventing and handling outbreaks of many other infectious diseases. Earlier this month, the White House issued the first ever executive order on antibiotic resistance to help prevent the 20,000 U.S. deaths that occur each year because of infections are resistant to available antibiotics.
Writer David Olsen reported last week in GlobalHealthHub that, based on figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS, at least three disease in West Africa are currently claiming more lives than Ebola: Malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS. No one is suggesting a slow down in the Ebola efforts—in fact public health experts are urging ever greater ramping up—but as Olsen points out, “another of [Ebola’s] terrible legacies may be that it will distract attention and resources from other diseases that are killing far more people worldwide.”
Over the next few weeks NewPublicHealth will be doing a series of research and outbreak updates on several infectious diseases and their impact in both the United States and globally, starting today with HIV/AIDS.
This Saturday was HIV/AIDS awareness day for U.S. gay and bisexual men. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five gay men in 20 major cities is estimated to be HIV positive, with about one third not knowing they are positive. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) estimates that, based on CDC data, 12-13 percent of gay men are HIV positive and that there is evidence that the situation is worsening. Between 2008 and 2010, the CDC reported new infections rose 12 percent overall among gay men, and 22 percent among younger gay men, with the highest increases among men of color.
A new survey released late last week by KFF found that at a time when infections among gay and bisexual men are on the rise, more than half of gay and bisexual men say they are not personally concerned about becoming infected; only three in ten say they were tested for HIV within the last year, despite CDC recommendations for at least annual testing, with even more frequent testing recommended by many health departments.
U.S. public health officials have continually said that it is highly unlikely that the Ebola virus will spread in the United States, even if infected travelers land here. Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that the disease is most contagious when people come into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is ill—and someone that ill would be very likely be identified by border and airline personnel quickly. If hospital admission became necessary, U.S. infection control procedures could stem an outbreak, according to Tom Frieden, MD, the CDC’s director and the point person for the U.S. government on the current Ebola outbreak. Frieden has discussed the issue repeatedly during several news conferences in the last few weeks.
Of course, that changes if the virus becomes transmissible through the air, rather than just via bodily fluids, as Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, suggested in the New York Times last week. While Osterholm often addresses the direst potential outcomes of infectious disease outbreaks, it’s prudent to at least know what to do, which is why agencies such as the CDC and the Network for Public Health Law say what’s needed is information and procedures...but not panic.
Last month, the Network held an online webinar on preparedness measures and Ebola which was watched by more than 1,200 public health officials. Following the webinar, Network experts posted answers to follow-up questions, including one about the right of public health or hospital workers to refuse to care for/help with someone suspected of having Ebola.
The Network also recently created an online primer on preparedness and legal issues surrounding the Ebola outbreak, both for public health officials engaged in the response overseas and for those with current or future responsibility for handling Ebola-related issues in the United States.
>>Bonus Link: Richard Besser, MD, now the chief health editor for ABC News, was formerly the CDC’s head of disaster response and led the early response to the H1N1 outbreak in the United States several years ago. In a recent opinion piece for the Washington Post, Besser laid out what’s being accomplished and what still needs to be done to stem the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Mandatory Policies Increase Flu Shot Rates for Health Care Workers
Hospitals can improve their flu vaccination rate among health care workers by using a mandatory employee vaccination policy, according to a study by researchers at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. At Henry Ford, getting the flu shot is a condition of employment and the health system now has a 99 percent compliance rate. Nationally, only 63 percent of health care workers were immunized against the flu in the past two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which poses a risk to patients. The study was presented this weekend at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Washington D.C.
Before making flu vaccination mandatory, the vaccination rate at Henry Ford was between 41 percent and 55 percent. An increasing number of health systems are making flu shots mandatory for employees. At Henry Ford, employees can opt out for religious or medical reasons so long as they have documentation from clergy or a physician and then must take other precautions against the flu, such as wearing a mask when caring for patients.
Many doctors’ offices, pharmacies and clinics already have the flu shot on hand for the upcoming flu season. The HealthMap flu shot locator has been updated for the 2014-2015 flu season.
Read more on the flu.
Study: Alcohol Ad Reminders to “Drink Responsibly” Promote Drinking
A new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health finds that magazine ads from the alcohol industry that advise readers to “drink responsibly” or “enjoy in moderation” fail to convey important information about dangers associated with alcohol consumption.
The study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, analyzed all alcohol ads that appeared in U.S. magazines from 2008 to 2010 to determine whether messages about responsibility define responsible drinking or provide clear warnings about the risks associated with alcohol consumption.
According to the study, 87 percent of the ads analyzed included a responsibility message, but none actually defined responsible drinking or promoted abstinence at particular times or in certain situations. When responsibility messages were accompanied by a product tagline or slogan, the messages were displayed in smaller font than the company’s tagline or slogan 95 percent of the time.
Responsibility statements are voluntary and are also frequently included in ads appearing in other media including radio and online ads. The researchers say more effective ads would have prominently placed tested warning messages that directly address behaviors and that do not reinforce marketing messages. “We know from experience with tobacco that warning messages on product containers and in advertising can affect consumption of potentially dangerous products,” say Katherine Clegg Smith, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a lead author of the study. “We should apply that [tobacco ad] knowledge to alcohol ads and provide real warnings about the negative effects of excessive alcohol use.”
Read more on alcohol.
NYC Health Department Investigating Meningitis Outbreak among HIV Positive Men
The New York City Health Department is currently investigating a cluster of meningitis cases among HIV-positive men who have sex with men. Three cases of meningitis have occurred in Brooklyn and Queens since August 24, with the last two cases reported since early September.
Meningitis is a severe bacterial infection that has a high fatality rate. A previous outbreak of the disease among men who have sex with men ended in February 2013 after 22 cases were reported, including seven fatal cases.
The Health Department recommends meningitis vaccination for all HIV-positive men who have sex with men. Meningitis vaccinations are also recommended for men, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have intimate contact with other men met through a website, digital application (“app”), or at a bar or party.
People living with HIV are at a greater risk than the general population of acquiring meningitis and, if infected, dying from infection. This disease is spread by prolonged close contact with nose or throat discharges from an infected person.
Read more on sexual health.
In the last few days, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders have sounded alarms on the growing needs of several countries in West Africa fighting the Ebola outbreak. The groups have called for increased funding, equipment and expert health personnel to help stem the rapidly increasing numbers of infections.
As of last week, there have been more than 3,000 cases and more than 1,500 deaths, making it by far the largest outbreak since Ebola was discovered during the 1970s, according to the WHO. CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, who last week visited the main West African countries dealing with the Ebola outbreak, said the number of cases could spike to 20,000 if more isn’t done to stem spread of the disease in those countries.
In addition, a recent post on ForeignPolicy.com said that the epidemic must be controlled before it also poses a security threat. Liberia, which has seen the highest number of Ebola cases and deaths in the region so far, has been under the watch of an international United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping force since a civil war ended in 2003. While the U.N. had planned to begin drawing down the force next year, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he’d like to delay any drawdown for at least three months because of the virus outbreak, which has needed troops to help secure order.
However, several countries want to pull out troops now in order to reduce the risk to their personnel and to citizens at home who they worry could be infected by returning soldiers. Ban has said that the nature of the illness poses little risk to the troops, who are unlikely to have contact with the bodily fluids of people who are ill—which is the way the virus spreads—and some of the countries involved are considering sending their own experts to assess the risks.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a division of the National Institutes of Health, is set to begin an early-stage clinical trial for a vaccine to protect against the Ebola virus. The trial should begin as early as September. The vaccine to be tested was developed by the NIAID’s Group Health Research Center in Seattle and does not contain infectious Ebola virus material. Instead, it’s what is known as an adenovirus vector vaccine containing an insert of two Ebola genes. The vaccine works by entering a cell and delivering the new genetic material, causing a protein expression that activates an immune response in the body. Researchers have seen success with studies in primates.
The vaccine being tested is not the experimental serum that was used on two Ebola-infected health workers recently evacuated from Liberia. In those cases, Samaritan’s Purse, the aid organization that sent the health workers to Africa, contacted officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Liberia to discuss the status of various experimental treatments they had identified through a medical literature search. CDC officials referred them to an NIH scientist in West Africa familiar with experimental treatment candidates who was then able to refer them to pharmaceutical companies working on experimental treatments. The serum being used is made by Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego, Calif.
Read more on NIAID Ebola vaccine research.
>>Bonus Content: The CDC has released a new Ebola infographic.
Since March, several African countries have reported more than 1,000 cases of Ebola virus and more than 670 deaths. During a United Nations Foundation briefing in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, public health experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization raised concerns about airline passengers from these countries spreading Ebola well beyond Africa. This week that fear became a reality when a U.S. citizen, Paul Sawyer, who had been in Liberia very recently as a consultant to the country’s finance ministry, fell ill on a flight from Liberia to Nigeria. Sawyer was hospitalized in Lagos, Nigeria, and died there of Ebola.
Several West African nations have responded by planning to set up monitoring stations at airports to identify people with fevers before they board planes. On a CDC conference call this week with reporters, Martin Cetron, MD, the CDC's director for Global Migration and Quarantine, said it makes more sense to put checkpoints in West African countries than to scan incoming passengers in the United States because there are few direct flights from West Africa, and fevers found among passengers entering the United States are unlikely to be Ebola.
“Ebola is contagious only when symptomatic, so someone unknowingly harboring the virus would not pass it on, “ said Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, during the conference call, also adding that even passengers showing symptoms are unlikely to pass the disease on to fellow travelers because blood and stool carry the most viruses. Cetron also said that those at highest risk for Ebola infection are family members who care for sick loved ones and health care workers who treat patients or accidentally stick themselves with infected needles.
"We do not anticipate [Ebola] will spread in the U.S. if an infected person is hospitalized here," CDC Director Tom Frieden told reporters. "We are taking action now by alerting health care workers in the U.S. and reminding them how to isolate and test suspected patients while following strict infection-control procedures."
The National Geographic recently took an in-depth look at the Ebola virus in Africa and the risk of it spreading to the United States. Read the full article.
Tomorrow, March 25, the day after World Tuberculosis Day, the Public Broadcasting Program Frontline will present TB Silent Killer a new documentary that looks at tuberculosis in Swaziland, the country with the highest incidence of the disease.
While many people, especially in the United States, think tuberculosis has long since been eradicated, there are in fact more than 8 million new infections every year, many of them virulent new drug-resistant strains that are passed—throughout the world—through a cough or a sneeze. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis has become the second-leading cause of death from an infectious disease on the planet.
Jezza Neumann, the filmmaker who created TB Silent Killer, tells the story of several people in Swaziland suffering daily from the disease, including ten-year-old Nokubegha, whose mother recently died of a multidrug resistant strain of tuberculosis and whose 17-year-old brother cares for her.
“In Swaziland, a quarter of all adults are HIV-positive, which means their immune systems are compromised and especially susceptible to TB infection,” said Neumann, “But globalization and international travel mean that these infections have the potential to spread all over the world.”
NewPublicHealth spoke by phone with Jezza Neumann a few days before the documentary was scheduled to air on Frontline (Check local PBS schedules here.)
NewPublicHealth: Why did you choose tuberculosis as your topic?
Jezza Neumann: The idea being to make films that make a difference and give voice to the voiceless. In doing so, we’ve made and kept relationships with nonprofits and NGOs and other organizations and look to find the issue that’s hidden in the background that no one is hearing about, that’s not getting the platform that it needs.
One of the organizations we’d worked a lot with is MSF, Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders as it’s known over here. The press officer at the U.K. office knew that Doctors Without Borders had been struggling to get the issue of tuberculosis out on the mainstream. People had done small reports but she knew there was a big impact possible with a documentary because the reality is if you combine the facts, stats and figures in documents with a film that has a human face and a human cost of those facts, stats and figures, it becomes something so much bigger. The documentary becomes a platform that has a life far further reaching than just the transmission.