‘Do not look for a sanctuary in anyone except your self.’
In an age when news about a Zika Outbreak, an Ebola Epidemic, or an HIV Pandemic is no longer shocking, we sometimes get confused as to how large or pervasive these diseases might be. We have become so used to seeing Outbreak, Epidemic, Pandemic, Quarantine, etc…in the news. Have we become desensitized? Who is looking out for us? Who is keeping us safe from these unseen evils?
Outbreaks take hold in the world’s most vulnerable areas -countries with few resources to slow the rate of infection before it reaches the United States. Due to international travel patterns, pathogens can travel from a remote village to major cities on all continents in just 36 hours, the threat to our national security is greater than ever.
Many challenges exist worldwide that increase the risk that Outbreaks will occur and spread rapidly, including: (CDC)
- Increased risk of infectious pathogens ‘spilling over’ from animals to humans.
- Development of antimicrobial resistance.
- Spread of infectious diseases through international travel and trade.
- Acts of bioterrorism.
- Weak public health infrastructures.
The global health security work focuses on building public health systems that work hand-in-hand to help countries detect and contain public health threats. (CDC)
- Surveillance systems to rapidly detect and report cases.
- Laboratory networks to accurately identify the cause of illness.
- A trained network to identify, track, and contain outbreaks.
- Emergency management systems to coordinate an effective response.
The CDC has issued a list of 10 steps used by epidemiologists to investigate Outbreaks. The guidelines aim to ensure the rapid and accurate evaluation of an Outbreak in order to contain the disease as quickly as possible and prevent harm to the public at large.
- Prepare for field work. Investigators should be familiar with the disease (or suspected disease) and have a coordinated plan of action.
- Establish the existence of an outbreak. This includes examining health department surveillance reports, hospital records, and disease registries or conducting field interviews.
- Verify the diagnosis. Investigators will need to review the clinical findings and conduct lab tests to verify the diagnosis or determine the specific nature of the disease, if unknown.
- Define and identify cases. This starts with establishing what constitutes a case. By doing so, investigators can eliminate false-positives when counting the actual number of cases in a population.
- Describe the data in terms of time, place, and person. This includes breaking down when each infection occurred. Where it occurred and the people affected (age, race, sex, etc…).
- Develop a hypothesis. This is simply an educated guess based on the data compiled.
- Evaluate the hypothesis. This requires crunching numbers to either support or not support the hypothesis.
- Refine the hypothesis and carry out additional studies. Additional studies may include lab tests or environmental studies.
- Implement control and prevention measures. These are the actions used to contain and prevent further spread of infection from the source.
- Communicate findings. Communications are meant to coordinate a public health response and to ensure the measures needed to end the outbreak are fully implemented.
Are you prepared for the next Outbreak?