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The question of infection should concern us

August 18, 2012
By C. Paul Martin, M.D. , Marshall Independent

The following bit of medical history appeared in the "On this date" history column of the Independent a few days ago: "In 1878, Kate Bionda, a restaurant owner, dies of yellow fever in Memphis, Tenn., after a man who had escaped a quarantined steamboat visited her restaurant. The disease spread rapidly and the resulting epidemic emptied the city."

While that incident occurred 124 years ago when yellow fever, malaria, small pox and other deadly infectious disease were prevalent in the United States, infectious diseases are still a very serious aspect of modern medical care in our daily lives. A review of the infectious diseases featured in the news in just the past two weeks shows how concerning is their presence.

Our last column in the Independent (Aug. 4, 2012) noted the local concern and appropriate reaction to a possible outbreak of the water-borne infection called Cryptospiridosis. Thankfully, it appears that the incident has passed, but continued vigilance is necessary to prevent a recurrence of the infection and resultant contamination.

Also in Minnesota, in Washington County, Lily Lake has been associated with the death of a young boy from a pathogenic amoeba causing meningitis (PAM), a very rare disease; notably, a similar case occurred two years ago associated with the same body of water. It has been postulated that the two deaths may be related. The Minnesota Department of Health and the CDC (Center for Disease Control) is investigating these cases.

Since January of this year, there have been more than 2,000 cases of pertussis (whooping cough) reported in Minnesota, a significant increase in the prevalence of the disease. A repeat Tdap immunization for all adults, especially those over 65 years or immunologically depressed, is strongly recommended.

A few days ago, a new problem was noted in a CDC release which showed an increase in the prevalence of Influenza A variant, H3N2v infections, all linked to exposure to swine. The strain is felt to be mild and spreads mainly from pigs to humans. However, as the influenza season approaches, combined with the occurrence of 40 agricultural fairs including the Minnesota State Fair, warning signs will be posted in all barns at these fairs notifying the public about avoiding contact with the animals, eating in the barns, and the importance of proper hand washing.

"The best way to prevent influenza is by getting vaccinated each year," Dr, Karen Midthun said in a statement. "It is especially important to get vaccinated this year because two of the three virus strains used in this season's vaccine differ from the strains used in last year's strains."

About 5-20 % of the U.S. population develops influenza each year, resulting in over 200,000 hospitalizations due to complication from the virus. Influenza seasons are variable in time, and annual influenza-related deaths may vary from 3000 to 50,000 people in the U.S. The CDC now recommends that everyone 6 months of age or greater receive an annual influenza vaccination.

What can we do to protect ourselves and our families from the effects of infectious diseases? The pertinent answer is maintenance of good health and prevention. Routine and specific evaluations by your family physician and his/her staff will optimize your health. Attention to persisting symptoms will ensure the possibility of medical diagnosis and proper treatment.

It has been stated by many infectious disease experts and others: We live and operate in a sea of bacteria, fungi, and other parasitic organisms. The maintenance of good health and preventive measures will give us the best chance for survival. Education and proper public health awareness is paramount to good health.



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