It’s not yet clear if the novel avian influenza A (H7N9) virus causing human infections will remain limited to East Asia, become a pandemic, or fizzle out. The same kinds of questions can be asked about the novel coronavirus first reported in the Middle East that has been associated with severe respiratory illness.
Whatever happens with these emerging infections, both are timely reminders of the need for a strong, robust public health infrastructure and of the important role that ID specialists play in identifying and responding to public health challenges—those we know about today and those yet to emerge. Supporting these resources and efforts has been a longstanding priority for the Society.
In 1995, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), IDSA created the Emerging Infections Network (EIN), a provider-based sentinel network to assist public health authorities with surveillance for emerging infectious diseases and related issues. Today, EIN is composed of more than 1,100 ID specialists, primarily from North America, and helps gather clinical information on emerging infectious diseases and other illnesses, connecting members to each other and to public health investigators. (To learn more, including how to join, read the latest update.)
Recent examples of IDSA’s work in public health include the Society’s co-sponsorship of a March 2013 working group meeting to discuss short- and long-term responses to the ongoing resurgence of pertussis in the U.S., in conjunction with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, and the National Vaccine Program Office (NVPO). The proceedings will be published in an upcoming supplement of The Journal of Infectious Diseases. The Society also serves on the organizing committee for the National Adult and Influenza Immunization Summit, a year-round, broad-based effort to support and strengthen immunization, organized by CDC, NVPO, and the Immunization Action Coalition. The Summit’s annual meeting was held earlier this month in Atlanta.
These activities and others like it are led by IDSA’s Public Health Committee, member volunteers who monitor and make recommendations on domestic and global ID issues, including immunization, public health infrastructure, emerging pathogens, pandemic preparedness, and antibiotic use in agriculture. This work is intended to help guide policymakers, including by highlighting IDSA’s recommendations regarding adult and adolescent immunizations, pandemic and seasonal influenza preparedness, mandatory policies for influenza immunization of health care workers, state immunization mandates (PDF), and other related public health issues.
IDSA will also continue to emphasize the need for the U.S. to maintain a strong and well-funded public health system that can respond to serious threats, such as antimicrobial resistance, influenza, food-borne illness, and the next emerging infectious disease.
In the Society’s response to President Obama’s 2014 budget and in recent testimony (PDF) to Congress, the Society called for increased federal funding for key public health programs at CDC, the National Institutes of Health, and other agencies. IDSA also called on Congress to fund CDC’s new Advanced Molecular Detection Initiative, which would update obsolete technology and build the nation’s capacity to more quickly determine whence emerging diseases are coming, whether microbes are resistant to antimicrobials, and how pathogens are moving through the population. (Read the recent IDSA-led sign-on letter [PDF] to Congress.) Members can support these advocacy efforts by signing up for the IDSA/HIVMA Member Advocacy Program (member login required).
Should H7N9, the novel coronavirus, or another pathogen emerge as serious threats to public health in the U.S., IDSA’s Rapid Communications Work Group also stands ready to help the Society to provide clinically useful information to members and other important stakeholders as the situation warrants. During previous outbreaks, including influenza A (H1N1) in 2009 and the fungal meningitis outbreak in 2012, this group was instrumental in ensuring that members had access to the latest relevant information.
Whatever the future brings, a strong public health system is critical to responding to the existing public health challenges we face and to preparing for those yet to arise. As the specialty society for ID physicians and scientists often on the frontlines of this response, IDSA will continue to support these efforts in every way possible.
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