What do you think is most responsible for the increase in life expectancy over the last century – the improvements in medical technology or improvements in public health?
The answer is clear, it’s public health. During the 20th century, the health and life expectancy of Americans persons improved dramatically. Since 1900, the average lifespan lengthened by more than 30 years- and 25 of that was from public health interventions like vaccinations, car safety, workplace health and safety improvements and safer and healthier foods.
This week marks the American Public Health Association’s National Public Health Week. During Public Health Week we celebrate the successes of public health over the decades and look to the present and future as we build action plans to continue our success. As Arizona’s Affiliate Organization to the APHA, the Arizona Public Health Association we’re proud to celebrate in unity with our public health system. Today we focus on infectious diseases.
Why should I care?
To date, the world has eradicated only one infectious human disease, smallpox, and one animal disease, rinderpest. (Though after decades of work, we’re closer than ever to eradicating polio, too .) What keeps the rest of those communicable diseases at bay is prevention. And that requires a combination of strong public health systems, access to medical and preventive care and individual responsibility. No one can fight off infectious disease on his or her own.
Public Health: If there’s a front line in the fight against communicable disease, it’s being manned by your local, state and federal public health officials. These are the professionals who monitor our environments for dangerous viruses and bacteria, investigate and contain disease outbreaks and administer key education and immunization programs. Public health workers are also our first responders, protecting us from emerging communicable disease threats such as Zika, Ebola and pandemic flu.
Access to care: Widening people’s access to health insurance and medical care can prevent communicable disease in the first place, offer timely treatments to those who are sick and cut down the chance of community transmission. For example, after the Affordable Care Act required insurers to cover preventive services, young women were much more likely to get immunized against human papillomavirus, the communicable disease linked to cervical cancer. People with health insurance are also more likely to report timely care and are less likely to go without needed care because it costs too much. Finally, ensuring everyone has access to care protects the larger community from preventable and costly disease: For example, early access to antiretroviral therapy reduces the chance of HIV transmission.
Individual responsibility: Fending off communicable disease requires personal action, too. It’s up to us to get immunized against the flu and encourage our loved ones to do the same. Flu vaccine effectiveness can vary year to year, but it can reduce your chance of getting sick by up to 60 percent. And remember: immunizations aren’t just about you — it’s also about protecting those for whom vaccine-preventable diseases are a deadly threat, such as the very young, very old and people with compromised immune systems.
What can I do?
Learn how to protect yourself from communicable diseases. Visit APHA’s Get Ready campaign for resources on flu immunizations and hand-washing. Talk to your teens about preventing sexually transmitted diseases — surveys show parents actually have a big influence on teen decisions abut sex. And take precautions to protect yourself from disease vectors like mosquitoes and ticks. If you’re traveling out of the country, take the necessary precautions to keep yourself healthy and avoid bringing an uninvited guest back home.