Friday, May 10, 2013

The Next Contagion: Closer Than You Think

Opinion Piece
New York Times
By:  Michael Osterholm

Michael T. Osterholm, an epidemiologist, is a professor of environmental health sciences in the School of Public Health, and the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, at the University of Minnesota. .

May 9, 2013
THERE has been a flurry of recent attention over two novel infectious agents: the first, a strain of avian influenza virus (H7N9) in China that is causing severe respiratory disease and other serious health complications in people; the second, a coronavirus, first reported last year in the Middle East, that has brought a crop of new infections. While the number of human cases from these two pathogens has so far been limited, the death rates for each are notably high. 

Alarmingly, we face a third, and far more widespread, ailment that has gotten little attention: call it “contagion exhaustion.” News reports on a seemingly unending string of frightening microbes — bird flu, flesh-eating strep, SARS, AIDS, Ebola, drug-resistant bugs in hospitals, the list goes on — have led some people to ho-hum the latest reports. 

Some seem to think that public health officials pull a microbe “crisis du jour” out of their proverbial test tube when financing for infectious disease research and control programs appears to be drying up. They dismiss warnings about the latest bugs as “crying wolf.” This misimpression could be deadly. 

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