As if climate change and biological warfare were not enough threats to watch out for as the year begins, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has now released a list of five more threats.
These are the CDC's top five health threats for 2014:
1. The emergence and spread of new microbes
In light of the rate in which the CDC comes across new diseases each year, and considering how disastrous these diseases could be not just to humans but to livestock and crops as well, the CDC has decided to make disease detection a priority in 2014.
It was only recently, in 2013, when the CDC and the public health officials in the Republic of Georgia identified a new virus related to smallpox that plague shepherds in the area. It was also last year when the CDC confirmed the existence of the new Heartland virus ticks in northwest Missouri. Two farmers from St. Joseph were struck by the virus and after federal health investigators collected samples in the state, the ticks were found to carry a novel genetic profile.
CDC director Dr. Tom Friedan said that only one in five countries has the technological capability to detect and fight emerging infections. In making disease detection a major CDC priority this year, new technologies that are already in place and continue to be developed shall play a key role in enabling faster DNA identification of infectious germs.
2. The globalization of travel and food supplies
Not only are there new diseases to watch out for, diseases that were thought to have been eradicated in the US have returned. Lower vaccination rates and increased international travel are the primary culprits in the spreading and re-spreading of certain formerly land-locked diseases.
In 2013 alone, there were 175 cases of measles in the US, twice the number of cases in the previous year. While the number alone can seem small, it must be noted that in some cases of communicable diseases, outbreaks can only be prevented the majority has been vaccinated.
Disease can spread very fast. Friedan says this can be in as fast as 24 hours. During the H1N1 swine flu pandemic of 2009, the virus spread to 23 countries within six weeks after being discovered in Mexico. Similarly, the E. Coli outbreak that affected nine states in 2011 started with contaminated vegetables at a local market.
3. The rise of antibiotic-resistant infections
After new diseases cropping up, old diseases returning, and previously local diseases spreading internationally, the next threat is that even if we may have medication to combat infection, they may actually no longer be effective.
After decades of being treated with an ever-changing stream of potent antibiotics, certain bacteria have developed resistance to existing antibiotics, such as certain forms of gonorrhea, tuberculosis, salmonella and strep. It did not help, too, that antibiotics have been overused over the years, and antibiotics given to farm animals before slaughter also make their way into food processed for human consumption, further magnifying human exposure to unnecessary antibiotics.
Drug-resistant infections cause patients to stay longer in hospitals, and suffer long-term effects and even death. The CDC has tracked that 2 million Americans contract antibiotic-resistant infections each year, and 23,000 die.
4. Release of pathogens, both inadvertent and intentional
Even though laboratories are increasingly vigilant about health requirements, safety measures and security protections, there are still cases in which scientists and laboratory workers get infected by the cultures that they work with.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 3 of every 1,000 lab workers get infected each year. Those who work with cultures of hepatitis, typhoid fever, or tuberculosis, have been susceptible to being infected, statistics show. Those who work with certain cultures and pathogens that are highly contagious and dangerous, such as pneumonia, salmonella and E. coli, have been required to work with safety officers who are tasked to oversee lab work with safety in mind.
Scientists who study biological agents that can be transmitted through the air and cause illness and death to a large part of the population are required to work in labs with the required ventilation and other facilities to ensure both safety and isolation. Nevertheless, no system is completely foolproof.
The fear of bioterrorism remains real this 2014, not just on local soil, but for enlisted troops who are sent to fight the war on terror in foreign lands. A new vaccine for bioterrorist plagues is being studied at St. Louis University, for potential use in the military. Previous vaccines caused massive side effects, and the military is keeping up with its search for an effective vaccine with less side effects.