Public Health Experts Discuss Current Infectious Disease Threats

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Updates on the impact of climate changes on insect-borne diseases, the control of MRSA infections, and the importance of childhood immunizations were presented today at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  The news conference, sponsored by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), also addressed the growing challenge of prevention and treatment of infections due to drug-resistant bacteria.

"Infectious diseases pose an ongoing threat to the nation's public health," said Susan J. Rehm, MD, NFID medical director and vice chair of the Department of Infectious Disease at the Cleveland Clinic. "As healthcare professionals, we need to continue to identify these threats and educate the public about both prevention and effective measures to help control these threats."

The challenges associated with insect-borne infections and climate changes were presented by David M. Morens, MD, at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institute of Health (NIH).  Approximately 1.5 million of 14.8 million annual infectious disease deaths are attributable to insect-borne diseases worldwide.  These diseases, such as yellow fever, dengue fever, encephalitis, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis may cause conditions ranging from encephalitis to congestive heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver, blindness and hemorrhagic fevers. Scientists are studying the effects of global warming and the impact of climate changes on increasing insect-borne infections. "The most important needs are better understanding of the behavior of complex ecosystems to which insects belong, reinvigoration of scientific and public health defenses, and more powerful tools to prevent, control and treat insect-borne diseases," said Morens.

Additional topics discussed at the 13th Richard J. Duma/NFID Annual News Conference and Symposium on Infectious Diseases included:

-- How Should We Respond to MRSA?:  Loren Miller, MD, MPH, director of the infection control program at Harbor-UCLA, associate professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles and faculty member in the division of Adult Infectious Diseases at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, discussed methods to control and prevent MRSA infections. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections have become increasingly common in the past few years. MRSA poses risk for infection within and outside healthcare settings. MRSA is a type of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, commonly known as "staph" that are resistant to many commonly used antibiotics. "There is no simple magic bullet to respond to MRSA. Efforts to prevent MRSA need to be multi-faceted and coordinated," stated Miller.

-- Childhood and Adolescent Vaccines:  More Important than Ever:  Larry K. Pickering, MD, FAAP, senior advisor to the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, executive secretary of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and professor of pediatrics in the department of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine outlined the successes achieved by the immunization program; the importance and benefits of childhood, adolescent and adult immunization platforms; the effects of an unvaccinated population; and future advances to further improved health. "Today, recommended vaccines are available to prevent 16 infectious diseases as well as two forms of cancer. As future vaccines become available to prevent other infectious diseases, cancers, and other conditions, funding mechanisms must be protected and public confidence in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines must not be permitted to erode," stated Pickering.

-- Prevention and Treatment of Infections Due to Drug Resistant Bacteria: Antibiotics Can't Be the Only Answer:  Robert A. Weinstein, MD, professor of medicine and chairman of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Stroger Hospital at Cook County and chief operating officer at the Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center for the Prevention, Care and Research of Infectious Diseases, Rush Medical College, Chicago, provided an overview of antibiotic resistance and infection control practices to help reduce its occurrence. "Antibiotic resistance is driven by lapses in infection control, as well as by antibiotic overuse. Infection control improvements are essential to controlling antibiotic resistance," said Weinstein.

The 13th Richard J. Duma/NFID Annual News Conference and Symposium on Infectious Diseases was supported in part by unrestricted educational grants to NFID from Cubist Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Pfizer Inc., Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Roche, sanofi pasteur, and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.

This event is named for former NFID president and executive director Richard J. Duma, MD, PhD, currently director of infectious diseases at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Fla. 

Source: National Foundation for Infectious Diseases