The huge workload that public health agencies manage on a "typical" day can push resources to the limit. However, when a pandemic or other public health emergency arises and health professionals are unable - or simply refuse - to respond, the responsibilities of the professionals who do respond become that much more demanding and more difficult to sustain.
As the nation's circumstances change, unexpected events unfold, and funding shifts, the priorities of the U.S. healthcare system must change with them. The location and timing of the bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon this year helped reduce the number of lives lost, but that incident still raised new concerns about healthcare preparedness efforts and funding priorities.
Natural disasters such as floods and forest fires can have a crippling effect on communities large and small when they damage the critical infrastructure and, at times, literally change the local landscape. However, advance planning for a total and possibly prolonged separation from the outside world can significantly improve the response and recovery operations.
The U.S. public health community is tasked with more roles and responsibilities than ever before in the nation's history. That community may soon have to take on even more responsibilities during a radiological emergency. Uncovering the gaps and challenges involved may help in moving toward realistic operational planning without continuing to stress current public health programs.
When patients are admitted to a healthcare facility after being exposed to hazardous materials, the decontamination location and process may differ significantly from one facility to another. Each decision made will affect the total cost. And that cost must be weighed against the need for the services rendered.
By examining the successes and challenges of national preparedness efforts each year, the nation is steadily raising the bar for protecting its residents. The unresolved question remains, though, about how to sustain efforts on a decreasing budget - especially when the health of the American people depends on it.
The smallest town in the nation's smallest state has an extremely big job - providing fire, medical, and rescue services to its year-round residents as well as 15-20 times as many summer vacationers. Fortunately, through a combination of innovative technology and mutual aid agreements, Block Island residents and visitors have additional lifelines they can use if and when needed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six Americans suffer from food poisoning each year; most of those cases are attributed to familiar pathogens like Salmonella. However, the deadliest U.S. foodborne disease outbreak in nearly a century was caused by a lesser known, but much more fatal bacteria in 2011 - Listeria monocytogenes.
The Annual Meeting of the Association of Public Health Laboratories hosted more than 500 participants who share the common goal of improving public health efforts and laboratory preparedness. Through workshops and online resources, people from multiple disciplines can learn more about the role of public health laboratories in detecting and investigating emerging threats.
Working with several allies throughout the world, U.S. public-health agencies have significantly improved the nation's ability to detect, analyze, and counter a broad spectrum of infectious diseases before they reach the pandemic stage. More effort, though, is still needed in cooperation with the private sector - the biggest and most vulnerable link in the U.S. food supply chain.