Top Trends in Public Health News
Written by Chelsea Dunning
Public Health Hot Topics in 2015
The past year has brought many public health issues and concerns to the public eye, resulting in awareness, policy changes and, in some cases, near panic. Some of these issues are reoccurring topics of debate but many highlight how much the human species does not know about medicine and Mother Nature, including the high level of adaptation of survival by viruses and species.
As a public health administrator, care provider, or even as a layperson, having an idea of current and emerging public health topics is essential to maintaining order and spreading awareness.
Take some time to read about the most prominent issues that arose in public health this year, and take the knowledge you gain to prepare yourself for what may come in 2016.
On September 30, 2014 a man in the United States tested positive for Ebola, igniting fear of an epidemic in the public. Several other cases were confirmed in the United States in 2015, including one transmission within the states, and a handful from other countries outside of Africa. Special contamination units in hospitals across the country, including the biocontainment unit at UNMC, successfully treated and contained the disease and stopped it from spreading to the public.
In May 2015, Ebola bounced back on the radar as doctors found the virus living in the eye of a doctor who had been eradicated of the disease, so doctors thought. Even though the doctor showed no active symptoms of Ebola, surface tissues and fluids in the eye tested positive. Whether the virus has mutated to remain in the body during medical treatment or whether this is a lasting effect of the disease, is not yet known.
What is known is that doctors, public health experts and epidemiologists understand that there is much about Ebola, and viruses in general, that still remains to be learned.
Chikungunya highlights the importance of considering travel as a means of spreading disease, as it is thought to have a huge part in the spread of this disease. Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne and spread virus originating from Asia and Africa. While it is not a deadly disease, it causes severe joint pain which can last for days to months, headaches, fever and nausea. In 2013, the disease was first detected outside of its origination point in the Caribbean and by early summer 2014 was found in South and Central America. Confirmed cases of Chikungunya were diagnosed in the United States this year, reaching further north than ever before. With warming climates, infected mosquitoes are reaching areas in which they had not previously been able to survive.
Kissing, or triatomine, bugs carry a parasite which carries the Chagas disease. Bugs transmit the disease while feeding on the blood of humans or other animals such as dogs or cats. These bugs originate from Latin America but eleven different species have now been found in southern United States. The bites can cause an allergic reaction in the host, resulting in hives, itching, swelling and in some cases anaphylactic shock. Chagas can also be transmitted when feces of the infected bug are rubbed in to a human's eye or opening in the skin.
Chagas is a chronic disorder which can have digestive, neurological and cardiac implications and can be transmitted through pregnancy. The Chagas outbreaks are one to watch for 2016 and beyond, as Triatomine bugs have been spreading north through the U.S., which some people attribute to warming climates resulting in their survival in new areas of the world.
Turkeys across the United States contracted Asian Avian Influenza, also known as H5N2 bird flu, resulting in the total loss of many flocks and farm populations. The virus was first detected in the U.S. in December 2014 and spread to 21 different states by mid-summer 2015. The H5N2 bird flu is highly contagious and affects multiple organs in birds, and can result in death in high numbers.
Food borne-illness outbreaks across the U.S. are becoming far too common with the mass production and distribution of produce and goods. The most recent E. Coli outbreak involving the fast food restaurant chain, Chipotle, has shown just how fast and far these outbreaks can spread. People contracted the Shiga toxin-producing strain, E. Coli O26in connection with eating at the restaurant. While no deaths resulted, the outbreak started in October 2015 and by December 2, 2015, 52 people from 9 states had been infected, 20 of which had required hospitalization.
This single-celled organism (Naegleria fowleri) is found in warm, stagnant water sources such as ponds and lakes. The organism can cause meningoencephalitis if it travels through the nasal passages and into the brain. Long thought to be harmless, due to the fact that digestive juices and chlorine can both kill the organisms, researchers are now changing their stories.
In 2015, scientists found that the organism, which can be neutralized with concentrated chlorine, can survive the low levels of chlorine in water treatment systems, due in part to the bio-film that often coats pipes. The danger is also increased by the fact that researchers now know that it can be a risk if inhaled, for example during a shower. Despite these new findings, the risk of infection is low; since 1962 only 133 US deaths are attributed to brain eating amoeba.
Scientists discovered a 30,000 year old virus frozen in Siberia and extracted samples to investigate. They warn that the warming temperatures attributed to climate change are now threatening to wake the virus, and could result in new illness and outbreaks. They report that this virus, a single-cell amoeba, is different from current viruses, as it is both more complex and more dangerous.
From the recent discovery of a new strain of gonorrhea which remained detectable and contagious after medical treatment to the emergence of the superbug virus of 2015, scientists are now turning their focus to antimicrobial resistance. This is the phenomenon in which medicine stops working in treating an illness or disease, which threatens disease prevention and increases the incidence of outbreaks.
Do these topics interest you? Do you want to be on the forefront of learning about these public health outbreaks and be a part of helping to control them? If so, you may want to join the ranks of public health officials across the United States.
Take some time explore our site further, or request information from the schools that offer public health and epidemiology programs.
With the right education, you could be at the forefront of dealing with the public health issues and epidemics of the future.