Friday, September 19, 2008

Let history be our guide: Get ready

History reminds us that there are plenty of good reasons to prepare: smallpox, plague, yellow fever to name a few. The list is long and with new threats emerging, it continues to grow. But the past also reveals how people have identified those harmful things and prepared for and protected themselves against health threats.

Consider the ancient Greeks and Romans who recognized the need for improved sanitation and developed elaborate waterways and drains to safeguard their water supplies. Or the Council of Lyons that in 583 A.D. isolated disease-carrying lepers to keep the rest of the community healthy. Or, more recently, vaccine pioneers like Jonas Salk whose discovery protected generations from polio. All of these illustrate achievements we've made in identifying and getting ready for health threats.

And what about those "old" diseases like smallpox, leprosy, the plague and yellow fever? Well, the last natural case of someone getting smallpox was in Somalia in 1977. And as for the others, while not entirely gone from the planet, they no longer pose a threat like in the old days thanks to advances in vaccines and other disease control steps. Yellow fever can still rear its head in certain tropical regions of Africa and South America, but the last yellow fever epidemic in the United States took place in New Orleans in 1905. The last U.S. plague epidemic occurred in Los Angeles in 1924-25. Since then, only about 10 to 15 people get the plague each year in the United States. Leprosy may conjure up images from the movie Ben-Hur, but the disease is on its way out. In Angola, Brazil, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal and Tanzania, where epidemics can still happen, the governments are committed to eliminating the disease .

As you can see, we've made lots of progress through the ages, but there's still a long way to go. New threats pop into the picture such as bioterrorism, bird flu, SARS and others. So let's let history be our guide: It’s a good idea to be prepared.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

With flu season coming up, preparedness is a major issue. We are planning to launch a brief campaign to members of our health community --- especially pregnant mothers --- about the importance of flu vaccines. Did you know that only 14% of pregnant women KNOW that they are supposed to be vaccinated. We need to educate people about the benefits of prevention and preparation! "An ounce of prevention..."