A Multi-Faceted Approach Is Needed to Fight Infectious Diseases

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A study by the Washington-based Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has found that most U.S. states are underperforming when it comes to treating infectious diseases.

According to the report, just 16 states and the District of Columbia scored 60 percent or higher on a report card assessing states' capabilities in responding to infectious disease risks, including indicators like public health budgets, vaccination rates, and chronic diseases screenings.

The poor performance of the majority of U.S. states should be alarming to us all. Millions of Americans contract infectious diseases each year, and these illnesses are the third-leading cause of death in the United States each year. Infectious diseases -- which are also called communicable diseases -- are highly transmittable and pass easily from one person to the next. While illnesses like chicken pox are manageable, others such as the flu, pneumonia, hepatitis, and HIV/AIDS can be life-threatening. We must adopt a greater sense of urgency about the prevention of infectious diseases in order to successfully detect and prevent the spread of these serious health issues.

Infectious diseases impact more than our health. Annually, the United States spends more than $120 billion to treat communicable illnesses. Yet, as this number grows, many state and federal health organizations are actually cutting investments in public health initiatives. These reductions have led to nearly 44,000 job losses since 2008 and raise the question: How are we to properly protect ourselves from infectious illnesses that are becoming increasingly antibiotic-resistant if we do not have the proper infrastructure, staffing, and financial resources?

These alarming realities illustrate that we are approaching an important crossroads in our health care system. We must advance the health literacy of Americans about infectious diseases and create a path to ensure that every state has the tools to respond to infectious diseases more effectively. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) have already started addressing this important issue, calling for the installation of proper systems that will control and guard infectious disease risks.

Just as in the past, Americans need protection against infectious illnesses. Cooperation at every level, from government, to health care organizations, to communities must aggressively mobilize around prevention. Only by coming together to recognize and address these issues can our nation be properly protected against infectious diseases.