Beyond Swine Flu: 10 Possible Plagues That Keep the CDC Up At Night

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) represents one of the major operating components of the Department of Health and Human Services. As such, the CDC covers many issues, including environmental health and injury prevention, health information and services, health promotion, infectious diseases, global health, occupational safety and health and an office for terrorism preparedness and emergency response. While the CDC has had many successes over the years regarding health education, prevention and treatment, some issues remain ongoing concerns for the CDC.

The following list of ten possible plagues that keep the CDC up at night include epidemics that have remained unsolved, some that are new, and some that have unknown causes or treatments. Some ‘plagues’ have been around for many years, such as cancer. Others, such as autism, require more study to learn about causes and treatments for this disorder. Still others, such as sexually transmitted diseases and obesity require the help of the general populace to practice preventative measures and to learn more to avoid both epidemics.

The list below is listed in alphabetical order, and each link leads to a page on the CDC Web site that focuses directly on that particular issue.

  1. ASDS (Autism Specturm Disorders): Autism Spectrum Disorders include “classic” autism, Asperger Syndrome and Prevasive Developmental Disorder (PPD_NOS). There is no cure for ASDs, nor do scientists know all the causes for these developmental disorders. However, most scientists now agree that genes are one risk factor and harmful drugs taken by the mother during pregnancy could provide another cause. More people than ever before are being diagnosed with ASD, and the CDC is part of one of the largest U.S. studies to date to learn more about how this disease develops so better treatments and preventative measures can be taken.
  2. Cancer Prevention and Control: The CDC constantly works with national cancer organizations, state health agencies, and other key groups to develop, implement, and promote effective strategies for preventing and controlling cancer. However, with no cure in sight, the focus is on education, possible preventative measures and treatment to help encourage remission.
  3. Foodborne Illnesses: The recent outbreaks of foodborne illnesses have kept the CDC rocking for the past few months – to the point where they’ve developed a new technique known as multiple-locus variable-number tandem repeat analysis (MLVA). This technique helps the PulseNet Methods Development and Reference Unit (PMDRU) within the CDC to refine their ongoing methodology with uses pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Putting the MLVA to work this past month helped the CDC discover that raw cookie dough was the cause of one recent e.coli outbreak.
  4. HIV/AIDS: This issue goes beyond STDs mentioned below, as HIV/AIDS can be transmitted through means other than sexual contact. At this point, the CDC provides leadership in helping to control this epidemic by working with community, state, national, and international partners in surveillance, research, and prevention and evaluation activities. Education, preventative measures and new drug therapies that keep HIV-infected persons healthy longer and dramatically reduce the death rate. However, this disease remains a global epidemic.
  5. Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever: Although many people are unaware of this disease, it is one of the world’s most deadly infections. There is no vaccine or drug therapy available for those who become infected and as many as 90 percent of those infected during outbreaks have died. The first outbreak occurred in 1967, but no one has been able to identify the natural host. However, the CDC discovered that African fruit bats may be the host, and studies continue to confirm this theory. Read “Isolation of Genetically Diverse Marburg Viruses from Egyptian Fruit Bats” to learn more, especially if you plan to travel to Africa.
  6. MRSA Superbug: Although initially a European issue, this drug-resistant staff infection is keeping many people up at night wondering how to treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) on a global level. Rarely seen outside hospitals and other health care facilities, a new study reveals that marine water and sand may harbor the bacteria. MRSA was discovered in samples taken from South Florida and beaches along the Puget Sound in Washington.
  7. Obesity and Overweight: In July 2009, the CDC hosted its first conference on obesity prevention and control, as more U.S. citizens now are overweight and obesity contributes to health problems. Additionally, a variety of factors play a role in the development of obesity, which makes it a complex health issue to address. Some causes revolve around genes and other body functions, illnesses such as Cushing’s disease that cause weight gain, environment, an energy imbalance (too much food and not enough exercise) and behavior. The fact that the rates of obese children have almost doubled or increased even more in certain age groups since 1980 has caused the CDC to treat overweight and obesity as a health crises.
  8. Rabies: Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. However, almost 90 percent of all animal cases now reported occur with wildlife (before 1960 the majority of reported cases involved domestic animals). While the public has become more informed about this disease, the estimated public health costs associated with rabies’ disease detection, prevention, and control have risen, exceeding $300 million annually. These costs include the vaccination of companion animals, animal control programs, maintenance of rabies laboratories, and medical costs, such as those incurred for rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP).
  9. Pandemic Flu: Outside the season flu and H1N1, a third and highly lethal H5N1 (Bird) flu is being tracked closely by the CDC as outbreaks occur overseas. The majority of confirmed cases have occurred in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, Europe and the Near East. Currently, the United States has no confirmed human H5N1 (Bird) flu infections, but H5N1 remains a serious concern with the potential to cause a deadly pandemic.
  10. Sexually Transmitted Diseases: The focus here is on STDs, which includes BV (Bacterial Vaginosis), chlamydia and LGV (Lymphogranuloma Venereum), gonorrhea, genital herpes, HPV (Human Papillomavirus Infection), PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease), syphillis and trichomoniasis. Any sexually active person can contract any one of these diseases and, although treatments are relevant in most cases, the public continues these epidemics by not becoming informed about these diseases, nor about preventative measures and symptoms that could lead to early treatment before a person continues to spread any one of these diseases.
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