DO WE NEED CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL?
July 17, 2011
What do AIDS,
polio, Pontiac fever, Ebola virus, monkeypox and rabies have in common?
They, along with other viruses, bacteria and parasites that afflict humankind,
fall under the purview of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
headquartered in Atlanta.
deaths in Germany of two dozen people from E. coli infections prompted
me to visit the CDC website. Not surprisingly, the "CDC is monitoring
a large outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli . .
. infections ongoing in Germany." The CDC's mission is "to promote
health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury,
and disability." Tracking the spread and origin of the E. coli
infections is certainly an appropriate undertaking.
deals with a major component of our environment--microorganisms that can
irritate, debilitate, even kill us. The organization is involved with
the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of every notable disease from
anthrax to zoster (the virus that causes shingles). I have long been intrigued
by the accomplishments of the dedicated employees in this group. Their
history of success is impressive.
the Communicable Disease Center (the organization's original name) opened
in Atlanta as part of the Public Health Service. Their primary goal was
to eradicate malaria, typhus, and a few other diseases from the country.
We take for granted the fact that we no longer need worry about those
diseases. By the mid-1950s the CDC had broadened its coverage of problem
areas to include responses to a variety of health emergencies, nationally
as well as internationally, and to focus on the crippling disease known
as polio. Polio, or infantile paralysis, went from a disease with an unknown
cause to being virtually eliminated from the Western Hemisphere in little
more than three decades. The last known case in the United States was
launched a program in 1967 to eradicate smallpox, one of the most devastating
and widespread diseases ever known. By the late 1970s the disease had
been virtually eliminated from the planet. By the 1990s, only two cultures
remained, one in CDC headquarters, one in Moscow.
asked to investigate a mysterious epidemic of a highly infectious respiratory
disease in Pontiac, Mich., the CDC discovered a new species of bacteria
that caused mild flulike symptoms. The disease was referred to as Pontiac
fever. A life-threatening version of the disease erupted in 1976 at an
American Legion convention in Philadelphia. The victims contracted pneumonia
and some died. Legionnaires' disease, as it came to be known, was caused
by the same bacterium responsible for Pontiac fever. The CDC now has procedures
and guidelines for preventing and treating this affliction as well as
does one of these biological terrors become shackled than another one
takes its place at center stage. In 1981 the CDC, working with the California
Department of Health, reported the first known cases of a strange new
illness. They called it acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. The worldwide
devastation and human suffering caused by the AIDS virus is now known
mystery disease, first discovered and investigated by the CDC in the southwestern
United States in 1993, is caused by hantaviruses. You can read about how
hantavirus pulmonary syndrome was identified at www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/hps/history.html.
The story is as compelling as any murder mystery. How the hantavirus pulmonary
syndrome will play out for people is uncertain. Fortunately, a key ecological
aspect of the disease--it is carried by rodents--has been uncovered, underscoring
the importance of continual environmental studies throughout the country,
even when no problem is evident. The CDC's first recommendation for prevention
of HPS is to "eliminate or minimize contact with rodents in your
home, workplace, or campsite."
threats such as HPS and E. coli outbreaks are a part of our modern
world. And as human population densities increase, so will the relative
rates of virulent diseases, both new and old. Fortunately, we have the
CDC watching out for our well-being. It's a government agency we should
all be thankful for.
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