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Most states unprepared to handle disease outbreak

By Stephen Feller
Most states unprepared to handle disease outbreak
Increasing resources -- funding, personnel, and public outreach -- is essential to preventing and dealing with future outbreaks of disease. Researchers in a new study said that while the United States ramps up funding and efforts in the face of an existential threat, once the threat has passed efforts fade. Photo by science photo/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Less than half the states in the United States score a five or higher on 10 indicators experts say are key to detecting, diagnosing and responding to outbreaks, according to a new report.

The Trust for America's Health released it's latest report on the country's preparedness for an outbreak, finding 28 states and Washington, D.C., are not ready to handle health threats from superbugs, hospital-borne infections, the flu, food-borne illnesses and epidemic diseases such as the Middle East respiratory syndrome.

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Researchers found investments in infectious disease ramp up when a clear threat emerges but readiness falls back when problems appear to be contained. Among efforts that are often lacking is emphasis on vaccinations.

"The overuse of antibiotics and underuse of vaccinations along with unstable and insufficient funding have left major gaps in our country's ability to prepare for infectious disease threats," said Dr. Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health, in a press release. "We cannot afford to continue to be complacent.

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The researchers graded all 50 of the states and the District of Columbia, finding just 22 of 51 scored more than a five on a 10-indicator list of preventive measures and methods: public health funding, flu vaccination rates, childhood immunization requirements, HIV and AIDS surveillance, syringe exchange programs, climate change and infectious disease, central line-associated bloodstream infections, public health labs with a biosafety profession, public health labs that provide training for clinical labs, and food safety.

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The highest score any state received was an eight, which just five achieved: Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, New York and Virginia. On the bottom end, seven states -- Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah -- scored a three on the checklist.

On some indicators, a majority of states met goals and requirments. Forty-three states and Washington, D.C., had sufficient programs for HIV and AIDS surveillance, 39 states met national performance targets for food safety testing, 36 states have laboratories have a biosafety professional, 35 states have labs providing training, and 34 states and Washington D.C. increased or maintained public health funding from last year to this year.

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A majority of states, however, allow exemptions for vaccinations, do not have syringe exchange programs, and have not made plans to deal with health impacts from climate change on infectious diseases.

"We need to reboot our approach so we support the health of every community by being ready when new infectious threats emerge," said Paul Keuhnert, a director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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