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To Your Health: NLM update Transcript

Improving the international response to infectious illness: 04/02/2018

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus.gov

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D., senior staff, U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Here is what's new this week in To Your Health, a consumer health oriented podcast from NLM, that helps you use MedlinePlus to follow up on weekly topics.

Flawed international responses to the bird flu, Ebola, and Zika viruses are a byproduct of how public health agencies assess public risk and coordinate with each other, suggests a leading medical anthropologist in a recent lecture at NLM.

Although Theresa MacPhail Ph.D. emphasizes (and we quote): 'I sleep well at night' (end of quote), she explains there is a need for national and international public health agencies to better respond to the epidemics caused by the spread of harmful viruses.

MacPhail explains the delays and eventual responses to the outbreaks of bird flu in 2009, Ebola in 2014-15, and the Zika virus in 2015-16 suggest similar operational difficulties within national and international public health agencies. MacPhail notes while national and international public health agencies overreacted to the spread of bird flu in 2009, they underreacted to the health threats from Ebloa and Zika. She adds the inability to respond appropriately three times in less than a decade suggests some underlying, continuing challenges in the assessment of risk and the coordination of medical interventions.

MacPhail, from the Stevens Institute of Technology, explains recent inappropriate responses from public health agencies occurred despite initial, quick reports about the emergence of bird flu, Ebola, and Zika within the nations where the outbreaks were identified. She praises the existing international network that detects when adults and children become ill from diverse infections.

However, MacPhail counters the workers who initially detect infectious diseases often are not well paid and rarely stay on the job for a career, which can result in little institutional memory among generations of on-the-ground staff members.

In contrast to the latter employees, MacPhail notes it is the ability of data analysts to estimate and predict the eventual importance of the initial cases to public health that often results in an appropriate or inappropriate medical response.

MacPhail explains the ability of data analysts to foresee the potential extent of an outbreak in other nations (or regionally) - from voluminous and geographically isolated data - directly impacts a nation's or region's readiness to the spread of infectious diseases and possible epidemics.

MacPhail, the author of a recent and forthcoming book about how public health agencies respond to epidemics, says (and we quote): 'the information (about a virus) is transparent but the context about the information does not circulate as well' (end of quote).

MacPhail adds when the initial reports of harmful viruses are sent to labs for corroboration, public health agencies within the country of origin, or internationally, sometimes do not trust the findings because the initial lab has a questionable track record or is unknown to public health officials.

In addition, MacPhail suggests other mistrust among public health agencies undermines international coordination. She explains national and international agencies need to be in sync about the need and timing of responses to external outbreaks. For example, MacPhail notes the World Health Organization delayed suggesting international responses to the Ebola virus for several months in 2015 despite counsel from some national public health agencies to intervene earlier.

MacPhail's lecture was part of a series sponsored by NLM, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Virginia Tech.

Meanwhile, MedlinePlus.gov has health topic pages devoted to international health, bird flu, the Zika virus, and Ebola.

All four health topic pages additionally provide links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the 'journal articles' section. Links to pertinent clinical trials that may be occurring in your area also are available in the 'clinical trials' section within all four health topic pages.

To find the health topic pages, please type 'international health,' 'bird flu,' 'Zika,' or 'Ebola' in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov's home page, then, click on 'international health,' 'bird flu,' 'Zika,' or Ebola (National Library of Medicine).'

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It was nice to be with you. Please join us here next week and here's to your health!