Foodborne illnesses are not generally considered to be “highly contagious.” There are exceptions of course. Children in close contact can give each other E. coli infections.

But generally speaking, if you don’t eat the contaminated food, you aren’t going to become ill just because you have contact with those who did. ‘

Nobody wants to get a foodborne disease, but we probably fear much more those “highly contagious” diseases.

The kind of contagious diseases of which I speak is the kind that is transmitted through the air or someone’s sweat or spit.  We’ve been lucky to live in the public health era because most of those kinds of contagious diseases are history, or so we thought.

I was not long out of college when the planet Earth eradicated smallpox. It was highly contagious and deadly. An army of public health workers took it down on every continent.  The world cheered.

Smallpox only exists now in government laboratories and vaccine stocks are available if it ever gets out. As recently as last week, a company called Emergent BioSolutions was providing $170 million in vaccines for smallpox.   We suppose the consider eradication and vaccines a belt and suspenders approach to smallpox.

What makes the government nervous about infectious diseases that we thought no longer exist? Maybe it’s because they keep popping up.

Take measles, for example. Once childhood diseases, we thought measles were history.

Measles charted some new record territory in 2019. From January 1 to September 5, 2019, 1,241 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 31 states. That’s the highest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992.

More than 75 percent of the cases this year are linked to outbreaks in New York. Measles is more likely to spread and cause outbreaks in U.S. communities where groups of people are unvaccinated. Everybody wants to believe their own science in this country and we’ve grown a generation in some locations that do not believe in vaccines.

The majority of 2019 measles cases are among people who weren’t vaccinated against measles. Measles can cause serious complications. As of September 5, 2019, 130 of the people who got measles this year were hospitalized, and 65 reported having complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis.

Measles is highly contagious. It spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

What else might be out there to worry about?

Well, how about this.   Dr. Marc K. Siegal, professor of medicine and medical doctor at Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health, says it is only a matter of time before there’s a Leprosy outbreak in the United States. “Certain populations” in the U.S. make the country ripe for a battle with Leprosy, which is now called “Hansen’s disease.”

The United States experiences 150 to 250 individual Leprosy cases each year, compared with 20,000 new cases annually in Central and South America.   Leprosy is caused by slow-growing bacteria that spreads where close quarters meet unsanitary conditions.

Those conditions are not unlike those often described as contributing to the hepatitis A outbreak.  In the past 30 months the hepatitis A outbreak has infected nearly 25,000 people and results in almost 250 deaths.

Leprosy is easily treated when detected early, but the question Dr. Siegal seems to be raising is now many American doctors are looking for a disease from the Middle Ages.  But the NYU doctor has been looking at what comes after tuberculosis, measles, and typhus and then matching it up with the homeless conditions in places like Los Angeles County,  and figures a Leprosy comeback is likely.

We cannot allow contagious diseases to get any kind of foothold and we definitely need to keep these diseases from the Middle Ages from making any kind of a comeback.     To achieve both of those goals, we first and forecast need to support our local health department.   We need to extend that support to the larger public health community.

It’s nice living in a country that does not let its contgous dieases run wild.


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