Spotlight: Communicable diseases

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 4.15.12 PMThe Guilford County Department of Public Health is acknowledging this week as National Public Health Week. National Public Health Week runs April 2 through April 8. Today’s spotlight is focused on communicable diseases. NPHW is an initiative of the American Public Health Association.

To date, the world has eradicated only one infectious human disease, smallpox, and one animal disease, rinderpest. (Though after decades of work, we’re closer than ever to eradicating polio, too .) What keeps the rest of those communicable diseases at bay is prevention. And that requires a combination of strong public health systems, access to medical and preventive care and individual responsibility. No one can fight off infectious disease on his or her own.

Public Health: If there’s a front line in the fight against communicable disease, it’s being manned by your local, state and federal public health officials. These are the professionals who monitor our environments for dangerous viruses and bacteria, investigate and contain disease outbreaks and administer key education and immunization programs. Public health workers are also our first responders, protecting us from emerging communicable disease threats such as Zika, Ebola and pandemic flu.

Access to care: Widening people’s access to health insurance and medical care can prevent communicable disease in the first place, offer timely treatments to those who are sick and cut down the chance of community transmission. For example, after the Affordable Care Act required insurers to cover preventive services, young women were much more likely to get immunized against human papillomavirus, the communicable disease linked to cervical cancer. People with health insurance are also more likely to report timely care and are less likely to go without needed care because it costs too much. Finally, ensuring everyone has access to care protects the larger community from preventable and costly disease: For example, early access to antiretroviral therapy reduces the chance of HIV transmission.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 7.00.22 PMIndividual responsibility: Fending off communicable disease requires personal action, too. It’s up to us to get immunized against the flu and encourage our loved ones to do the same. Flu vaccine effectiveness can vary year to year, but it can reduce your chance of getting sick by up to 60 percent. And remember: immunizations aren’t just about you — it’s also about protecting those for whom vaccine-preventable diseases are a deadly threat, such as the very young, very old and people with compromised immune systems.

What can I do?

Learn more about the role of public health in keeping your community safe from communicable disease. Then let your elected officials know that you support strong public health systems — and call out lawmakers for budget and spending decisions that weaken our ability to protect communities from preventable disease and disability. In particular, voice support for the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, a critical source of funding for state and local public health agencies. (Also, take part in Public Health Thank You Day! Send a note recognizing the efforts of your local public health workers.)

#SpeakForHealth in support of the ACA and its success in widening access to timely and affordable medical care. Visit Advocacy for Public Health to stay informed on the latest policy issues, and write to your members of Congress. Also, support policies that make it possible for people to seek out care when they or a loved one gets sick with a communicable disease. For example, about 37 million workers have no access to paid sick leave, despite research showing it can produce significant health benefits without negatively impacting business.

Learn how to protect yourself from communicable diseases. Visit APHA’s Get Ready campaign for resources on flu immunizations and hand-washing. Talk to your teens about preventing sexually transmitted diseases — surveys show parents actually have a big influence on teen decisions abut sex. And take precautions to protect yourself from disease vectors like mosquitoes and ticks. If you’re traveling out of the country, take the necessary precautions to keep yourself healthy and avoid bringing an uninvited guest back home.

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