In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. David Hill of Quinnipiac University explains the challenge of containing communicable illnesses in a highly-mobile society.
David Hill is a professor of medical sciences at Quinnipiac University’s Frank H. Netter School of Medicine where he is responsible for directing global public health education initiatives. He is also working to integrate global public health themes into all medical school curricula. Before joining the Quinnipiac faculty, Hill served as the director of the National Travel Health Network and Centre in London.
Dr. David Hill – Germs on the Move
Each year there are nearly 2 billion people on the move, nearly a third of the world’s population. They are crossing international borders for vacations, study abroad trips, business ventures or to visit friends or relatives. Or, they are moving their home within their own country or to another.
Many people move because they have no choice. They are fleeing persecution, conflict, famine, flooding, or poverty, and frequently end up in refugee camps where living conditions can be horrific. It is in these conditions that diseases of poor sanitation can rapidly spread, like cholera, which can kill a person within hours if not immediately treated. More than 500,000 persons displaced by the earthquake in Haiti and living in makeshift camps have experienced cholera; 7,000 of them have died.
With so many people moving there is the well-recognized chance of spreading infectious diseases from country to country. The best example of this was the spread of pandemic or swine influenza around the globe in 2009. At the time, the World Health Organization commented: During previous pandemics, influenza viruses took more than 6 months to spread as widely as the swine influenza virus has taken to spread in less than 6 weeks.
There are other, less well-known examples of the spread of infections by people who are traveling, such as tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and malaria. While many of these diseases will not easily spread, because of good sanitation, or the absence of a mosquito that is needed to transmit infection, people who have the disease will still need to be identified and treated.
How can we deal with these germs on the move? The options are many, but world health leaders agree that providing primary medical care for newly arrived migrants is important to detect infectios and to treat them cost-effectively. There also have to be excellent methods to identify outbreaks of disease around the globe that may be a public health threat and to develop the capacity to respond to and manage them.
It will then be more likely that we will have healthy people on the move, rather than their germs.