Disease Control in the 21st Century

March 12, 2010

I recently viewed a TED lecture by  Larry Brilliant on stopping pandemics.


Larry Brilliant was a part of the smallpox eradication team that was  responsible for the global eradication of  smallpox (1967-1980).   This was one  of the greatest accomplishments in public health.  His message for disease control now as then is “early detection, early response.”

He advocates for  innovative surveillance systems for early detection such as the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), an organization that monitors internet media sources in seven  languages to detect events  of public health significance .  Early detection is vital to  successful early response .


Food Rules

January 21, 2010

Michael Pollan has done it again.  He has some wonderful  recommendations on diet and healthy eating  in his new book  Food Rules. For those of us who are tired of reading labels and trying to decide if  “low fat” is better than “lite” or if the caloric content is more important than  the nutritional value,  here  is the  answer in 64 simple rules.  He gives sensible advice that is easy to remember.  Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”

“It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.”

“Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients.”

I will no longer gaze at the labels on the sides of packages.  Most of my food will come with no packages or labels  and hopefully much of it will not have traveled long distances to arrive in my kitchen.

What does public health do?

May 16, 2009

I recently saw a great presentation from the American Public Health Association describing what public health does. generationpublichealth.org

An excellent  explanation of  the value  of public health in promoting healthy lifestyles.

Virginia Bans Smoking in Bars and Restaurants

February 21, 2009

The Virginia General Assembly has finally banned smoking in bars and restaurants and the bill goes  to  Governor Kaine who will almost certainly sign it with ” the quickest drying ink he can find.”  After weeks of debate the legislation passed despite the opposition of Phillip Morris, the nation’s largest cigarette producer, headquartered in Richmond.

There are a few exceptions to the ban such as:

1. Any outdoor area of a restaurant

2. Any portion of a restaurant that has a door and is separately vented to prevent the recirculation of air

3. Any portion of a restaurant that is used exclusively for private functions and those portions  of the restaurant are separately vented and have a door

4. private clubs

One of the more important sections of the bill says “No individual who is wait staff or bus staff in a restaurant shall be required by the proprietor to work in an area of the restaurant where smoking may be permitted without the consent of such individual.

Finally, the staff can avoid the health effects of second hand smoke.  In June 2006 the U.S.Surgeon General reported that there is no safe level of exposure to second hand smoke.

At last, health wins over big tobacco  in Virginia.

Diet and Nutrition in the U.S.- the Obesity Epidemic

January 19, 2009


I recently saw the movie Super Size Me and was once again reminded that the U.S population is fat and getting fatter.   What are the causes of the obesity epidemic ?  Certainly the availability of cheap calorie and fat laden fast food  contributes to the problem.  How many times a week does the average family eat out?  If children are not getting meals  at  home where do they learn to  prepare food?  Where do children learn about diet and nutrition?

My sons are excellent cooks, are not obese, and understand nutrition.  I am not the best cook (famous for my rubber chicken)  but we ate most meals at home.  My husband and I encouraged our sons  to cook meals for the family.  They learned that food comes from the grocery store and not the drive through.  They also learned that home cooked food tastes better and is more nutritious than burgers and fries.

My suggestion to help combat the obestity epidemic is to introduce children to cooking  and keep family meals at home.

A New Source for Flu Data-Google Flu Trends

November 17, 2008

Google.org recently launched a new source for flu data called Google Flu Trends.  Flu activity is estimated by the number of Internet  searches  for flu information.  This may correlate with the number of people  having flu like illness.  CDC and states now  collect data from outpatient visits for  flu like illness, laboratory reports of specimens testing positive for influenza, as well as reported outbreaks of influenza.

According to Google.org, they were able to estimate the 2007-2008 flu activity 1-2 weeks faster than CDC published reports.  Some states monitor daily influenza like illness activity through  syndromic surveillance which may be more timely than the published CDC reports.  Also some state health departments  are  looking at  data on over the counter medication sales.

Early warning allows state and local health officials to put into effect prevention and control activities as well as help people take appropriate precautions if flu is in their area.

The unique aspect of the Google flu surveillance is that it looks at the both the population that is seen by a clinician and those that are not seen by a clinician  for their symptoms.

Google.org adds to the growing sources of  innovative sources of health data such as ProMED-mail and Healthmap and I applaud their efforts. It will be interesting to follow this  data through the coming flu season and determine how it can be used to benefit health.

Prevention Platform – Obama-McCain Comparison of the Health Care Issues

October 4, 2008

The Kaiser Family Foundation has a new resource on its health08.org web site detailing Sen. John McCain’s and Sen. Barack Obama’s positions on key health care issues.  The side by side comparison focuses on issues not necessarily addressed in their health care reform proposals compiled from the candidates’ web sites, speeches and campaign debates.  These issues include:

  • Biomedical Research
  • Care Coordination and Prevention
  • Health Care Reform
  • Health Information and Technology
  • HIV/AIDS/Global Health
  • Long-Term Care
  • Medicaid and SCHIP
  • Medical Malpractice
  • Medicare
  • Mental Health Parity
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Racial and Ethnic Disparities
  • Transparency and Comparative Effectiveness
  • Veterans’ Health
  • Women’s Health

Under the heading of Prevention, Senator McCain

“believes individuals should do everything possible to prevent expensive, chronic diseases, and that parents have a moral obligation to educate their children on healthy lifestyles.”

I would like to know how he plans to accomplish these goals.  Other than advocating that businesses and insurance companies  promote the availability of smoking cessation programs and funding research on chronic illness prevention, he has little to say about how individuals and families can accomplish disease prevention.

Senator Obama, on the other hand, would require federally supported health plans to cover essential preventive services such as cancer screening and smoking cessation programs so individuals and families can have access to these services. He  would increase funding to expand community based preventive interventions. He  would work with schools to create more healthful environments for children with  school based health screening programs and clinical services as well as  increased support for physical education and educational programs for students.  His plan supports expanding and rewarding work site health promotion and prevention.  I see his plan as more than just  hoping that “individuals do everything possible to prevent chronic diseases”.