Photo: DFID-UK Department for International Development via Wikimedia
It can seem next to impossible to prepare for a threat you know will come without knowing what it will be, where it comes from, how it will travel, how bad it will be and where it will go. Yet that’s what thousands of public health officials and health care providers do on an ongoing basis in order to be ready for whatever infectious disease next threatens to become a pandemic.
During Health Journalism 2018, Bara Vaida, AHCJ’s core topic leader on infectious diseases, moderated a panel discussing what’s necessary to be ready for pandemics. That includes the barriers to being fully prepared, many facets related to an outbreak (including the health and safety of responders on the front line) and the challenge this presents for journalists covering public health. Continue reading
In February 1918, a Haskell County, Kan., paper, the Santa Fe Monitor, reported almost a dozen people were “quite sick” with pneumonia. At the time, the stories may not have seemed significant. Many people get sick in the winter.
Decades later, however, the stories became hugely important. The Monitor’s report helped disease detectives piece together the trail of the world’s greatest influenza pandemic and its epicenter, according to “The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History” by author John Barry. The 1918 flu, which ultimately killed about 50 million people globally, likely began in Haskell County, where scientists think the deadly flu virus jumped between animals and humans and then to troops at a nearby army base readying to fight World War I.
Why this matters today was highlighted in a Stat story this week by Helen Branswell, “When Towns Lose Their Newspapers, Disease Detectives are Left Flying Blind.” Continue reading
Reporters covering the flu season know it has been one of the most severe in the past decade. As of early February, the number of people who have visited a doctor due to the flu had exceeded the 2009 swine flu pandemic. Public health officials have known since last fall that this flu season was likely to be severe, yet the health system had trouble keeping up. Hospitals have been overwhelmed. There have been shortages of antivirals, IV saline bags and flu shots. Dozens of children have died.
What does that say about the U.S. health system’s readiness for handling infectious disease outbreaks? We are among the wealthiest nations in the world, and yet every year the health system has trouble convincing people to get the flu vaccine and has further difficulty caring for those who get ill. Continue reading
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This year is starting off with one of the worst flu seasons in a decade. As of the week ended Jan. 27, the number of hospitalizations due to the flu is the highest it has been in nearly a decade, and flu activity has been as highest reported since the peak of the 2009 swine flu pandemic, the CDC said. The CDC was also quick to note that this outbreak isn’t a pandemic.
It is likely that flu won’t be the only outbreak in 2018. Over the past year, there was an outbreak of yellow fever in Brazil, plague in Madagascar, cholera in Yemen and measles in Minnesota. While no one knows what else might occur in 2018, there is likely to be another infectious disease outbreak somewhere in the world in the coming year. Continue reading
The National Institutes of Health recently announced it would renew funding research enabling scientists to alter pathogens to make them more dangerous, raising questions about whether the Trump administration had opened the door to a potential pandemic.
The decision follows a three-year ban on such funding after several accidents at federal laboratories in 2014. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab accidentally exposed workers to anthrax and shipped a deadly flu virus to another lab that had asked for a benign strain. The NIH found vials of smallpox in a freezer that had been forgotten about and thus weren’t secure. Continue reading