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October/November 2012
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From the President: IDSA and the Fungal Meningitis Outbreak

One of the most challenging and captivating aspects of our field is that there is always something emerging, evolving, or unanticipated. As ID physicians and scientists—and as the professional society for the field—we must be flexible, agile, and creative, so as to be able to tackle new problems as they arise, in real time.

As the fungal meningitis outbreak associated with contaminated steroid injections unfolded this fall, IDSA responded in several ways to keep members informed and support the public health response.

During IDWeek in San Diego, the Program Committee quickly organized two late-breaking additions to the meeting. A brief panel discussion—moderated by IDWeek Co-Chair Liise-anne Pirofski, MD, FIDSA, and featuring fungal infection experts Tom Chiller, MD, MPH, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Carol A. Kauffman, MD, FIDSA, and Thomas Patterson, MD, FIDSA—updated attendees on the scope and features of the outbreak and clinical implications.

An additional late-breaking session provided more data and frontline perspectives from clinicians dealing with a large number of cases in Southwest Virginia. Shortly thereafter, an update was emailed to all IDSA members on Oct. 18—and subsequently published online in Clinical Infectious Diseases—with a concise summary of the latest clinically relevant information on the situation, key definitions, diagnostics, treatment, and management of asymptomatic patients.

A regularly updated page on the Society’s website, accessible through the IDSA homepage and via search, was created to provide links to the latest and most clinically relevant updates on these topics in addition to related resources.

Throughout the outbreak, IDSA distributed relevant alerts from CDC’s Health Alert Network (HAN) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to members who have signed up to receive these messages through IDSA’s website. (To subscribe to these alerts, log in to the IDSA website and check the appropriate boxes to receive CDC’s HAN messages and/or alerts from FDA, and provide your email address and name where indicated.) These are also posted on the IDSA homepage, under “Breaking News and Alerts.”

IDSA also provided input to CDC as it developed a Clinicians Consultation Network of experts in fungal disease treatment and management to assist physicians treating patients associated with the outbreak. Through the network, doctors can consult with participating medical experts by calling 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).

Lastly, the Society has emphasized to policymakers and the media how this outbreak underscores the need for the U.S. to maintain a strong and well-funded public health system that can detect and respond to public health emergencies. Pending cuts to CDC’s budget would seriously threaten our nation’s ability to prepare and respond to outbreaks and other emergencies, such as Hurricane Sandy. You can share this message with your representatives in Congress and urge them to oppose these cuts here.

IDSA’s Rapid Communications Task Force, led by Marguerite A. Neill, MD, FIDSA, has been instrumental in the Society’s efforts to provide useful updates to members as the outbreak progressed. This work is ongoing as more is learned about the extent of the outbreak and the clinical implications for exposed patients.

As during previous outbreaks, such as the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, IDSA will continue to provide clinically relevant updates to members as the situation warrants. As I start my term as IDSA president, I welcome your input on how the Society has responded and what the Society’s role should be in this and future outbreak situations. I look forward to serving you in the year ahead.
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