C-Force: A Sobering Need To Fortify National Public Health Response
In response to a hot day in the past, people would often exaggeratedly refer to the heat that day as a "real killer." It is just one example of how we often dismiss or fail to see a threat to public health -- and act accordingly -- even when it is upon us.
"We never think of heat waves as mass casualty events, but they are," Kristie Ebi, a University of Washington epidemiologist who studies global health and extreme heat events, recently explained to USA Today. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, in June 2021 alone, at least 289 people died in the heat dome that hit Washington, Oregon and California. Reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at the heat dome's peak on June 28, there were 1,090 heat-related illness visits to emergency rooms in the region.
In fact, the actual fatality count is probably underestimated. "One of the tough things about heat versus other disasters is it can sometimes be difficult to immediately tell that the temperature was what killed someone," Scott Sheridan, a professor of geography at Kent State University who studies heat vulnerability, tells USA Today.
As pointed out last week, combined with heat, smog and air quality gets worse. Studies say that air pollution both causes and can worsen respiratory and other diseases. Yet the long-term effects of exposure to poor air quality is not always clear.
For 60 years, experts have documented a steep rise in the incidence of two medical conditions that make up most cases of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) -- ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, reports Time magazine. While acknowledging that genetic factors play a part in a person's risk for contracting IBD, researchers found a strong association between IBD, air pollution and other environmental factors.
Says Dr. Gilaad Kaplan, a professor and gastroenterologist at the University of Calgary in Canada, "Something about a Western lifestyle seems to be allowing this disease to flourish."
Writes Time reporter Markham Heid, in a first-of-its-kind study published in 2010, "Researchers examined the association between ambient air pollution and the incidence of IBD. They found that young people who had grown up around high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide were more than twice as likely as other kids to develop Crohn's disease."
"How could air pollution affect gut health?" Heid asks. "Research has shown that after breathing in pollutants, the lungs may actually push these out into the throat so that they're swallowed. This process is known as mucociliary clearance. Once in the gut ... these pollutants may cause damage to the gut's microbiota in ways that promote inflammation."
Today, news about infectious disease outbreaks seems commonplace and a part of our new reality.
In a separate Time magazine report, Michael T. Osterholm, epidemiologist, regents professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, states that while we have always been confronted by pathogens of all sorts, the attacks are now "becoming more commonplace, and more intense, than they ever have before."