Infectious Disease Alert

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Measles cases in the U.S. have hit a 20-year high. Mumps and whooping cough are reappearing with disturbing frequency. We’re approaching summer, when mosquito- and tick-borne illnesses present real threats. And new, emerging diseases, like MERS and dengue, are reaching the U.S. from other countries.

It’s time to raise our awareness about infectious disease - the largest single cause of death worldwide.

The June episode of Physician Focus with the Massachusetts Medical Society examines several of these infectious conditions, their origins, the dangers they pose, and the steps people can take to safeguard themselves from infections.

Infectious disease specialist George Abraham, M.D., M.P.H., joins program host B. Dale Magee, M.D., past president of the MMS, for this discussion. Dr. Abraham is Associate Chief of Medicine at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Massachusetts Governor for the American College of Physicians, the medical specialty society for internists.

Infectious diseases result from viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens that enter the body, most commonly through skin contact, inhaling airborne particles, or insect bites. While conditions such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease are regular threats every year, a stubborn resistance to immunization is helping vaccine-preventable diseases – once thought to be eradicated in the U.S. - make a comeback, and global air travel is bringing new diseases from other countries into the U.S.

“Global travel,” says Dr. Abraham, “has brought diseases which were in one part of the world to other parts of the world, including the United States.” Read another way: an outbreak or epidemic can be just a plane ride away from anywhere in the world.

“The worrisome part about these emerging diseases,” he says, “is that we don’t have specific treatments for them, and people who may have underlying health conditions could be affected with life-threatening complications.” No vaccines, as yet, exist for many of these conditions as well, in contrast to measles, mumps, and whooping cough that can be prevented with vaccination.

Dr. Abraham’s advice is simple: “Protect yourself as much as possible from mosquito bites. If you’re making overseas trips, assess your need for vaccines. Visit a travel clinic, not only for vaccines, but for food safety and water safety tips. Get vaccines for those things that can be prevented, so you minimize the risk of getting disease when you come back.”

And to those people skeptical of vaccines in general, his message is also clear: “Look at the scientific evidence. There’s an overwhelming body of science that supports their benefit and the fact that they are safe to use. Look at the amount of disease we could prevent if we take them as we should.”

Please join us this month on Physician Focus for some timely reminders about protecting ourselves from infectious disease.

Photo: George Abraham, M.D., M.P.H., (seated), and B. Dale Magee, M.D., this month on Physician Focus.