Report: NC better prepared for outbreak
by Anna Oakes
North Carolina is better prepared than most states for an infectious disease outbreak, according to a report released Dec. 17 by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
North Carolina scored seven out of 10 on key indicators of policies and capabilities to protect against infectious disease threats, sharing that score with seven other states. Only New Hampshire scored higher, with eight out of 10 indicators. A majority of states (32) scored five or lower.
"Every state has the general public health authority to act to control communicable diseases, but state laws, programs and funding levels vary significantly," stated the report, titled "Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases."
North Carolina met the report's indicators for HPV vaccination funding or education, seasonal flu vaccination rates, mandated reporting of health care-associated infections, public health lab testing capacity, public health lab transportation capacity, a recent evaluation of an emergency plan through a drill or real event and Medicaid coverage of HIV screenings.
The state did not meet indicators for increasing or maintaining public health service funding from fiscal year 2011-12 to 2012-13 (17 states did), vaccinating 90 percent of 19- to 35-month-olds against whooping cough (only two states and Washington, D.C. did) or having a climate change adaptation plan focused on the impact on human health (15 states do).
The report's indicators were developed in consultation with leading public health experts based on data from publicly available sources or information provided by public officials.
"It is not a comprehensive review, but collectively, (the report) provides a snapshot of the efforts that states are taking to prevent and control infectious diseases," it said.
The report concluded that the nation's ability to prevent and control infectious disease outbreaks is hampered by outdated systems and limited resources.
"Many infectious disease threats keep me up at night -- from the emergence of a new deadly disease, such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), to the prospect of bioterrorism, to antibiotic resistant infections, to the worsening of mosquito-borne illnesses being driven by changes in the climate," said Tom Inglesby, CEO and director of the UPMC Center for Health Security, in a statement released with the report.
Resurgences of measles and whooping cough and emerging and re-emerging threats such as the H7N9 flu strain, MERS coronavirus, West Nile Virus and malaria are listed as "major infectious threats" in the report. As of Dec. 17, 165 MERS cases have occurred worldwide, with 70 percent resulting in fatalities, according to U.S. News & World Report. The first human case of the virus -- which causes fever, cough and shortness of breath -- was reported in September 2012. No cases have been reported in the U.S.
The report also notes that health care-associated infections, antibiotic-resistant "superbugs," bioterrorism, foodborne illnesses, cuts to public health funding and HIV/AIDS infections are concerns. The report noted that in the U.S., there is "an alarming increase" in new HIV infections among gay men, which accounted for the majority of nearly 50,000 new diagnoses in 2011.
The report includes several recommendations to address gaps in infectious disease control and prevention, including strengthening public health support to maintain an expert workforce and modernize testing equipment; prioritizing research and development to counteract antibiotic resistance; increasing vaccination and screening rates; improving global coordination; and combating complacency around HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C and tuberculosis.
For more information, visit http://www.healthyamericans.org/reports/outbreaks2013.