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Where Will the Next Pandemic Threat Come From? Public Health Watch Report

SEP 13, 2017 | BRIAN P. DUNLEAVY
In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which ravaged Texas and Florida (as well as the Caribbean), respectively, wouldn’t it be nice to know what other threats could target our shores?

Well, when it comes to infectious disease pandemics, such knowledge can be a double-edged sword. True, to be forewarned is to be forearmed and “better the devil you know,” etc; but, increased awareness has also led to irrational panic. Think: the US media in the face of the Ebola crisis in 2015.

However, although such shrill reporting of the 3 cases of Ebola to hit North American shores back then led to much hand-wringing (and, to be fair, much-needed public health reform at the national level), actual data highlighting real potential future pandemic threats to the American people have received relatively scant attention in the press.

Indeed, in an article published in the journal Health Security on August 14, 2017, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Global Disease Detection Operations Center (GDDOC) provided an update on several infectious diseases it cited as the “top threats to public health” from 2012 to 2016, and what, if any, concerns they have regarding the threats posed by these diseases in the near term. Perhaps not surprisingly, the report received little to no attention in the mainstream press.

No wonder infectious disease and public health experts sometimes feel like they’re screaming in an echo chamber.

In its update, the GDDOC team provided information on influenza viruses, primarily influenza A, and H5N, in particular. They write that H5N1 “is of major concern because case clusters representing limited, nonsustained human-to-human transmission [have] been reported in multiple countries, and viral evolution is ongoing in infected poultry.”


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According to reports in multiple media outlets, clinicians on the hurricane-ravaged island have already identified at least 10 cases of a rare water-borne bacterial infection, and they warn of the potential for more.
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