5 public health issues flaring up amid the pandemic 

Mackenzie Bean - Print  | 

The COVID-19 pandemic represents one of the most severe public health challenges our world has faced in recent history. At the same time, lockdowns and social-distancing measures intended to prevent the spread of the virus are posing unintended consequences for other public health issues. 

Five public health issues worsening amid the pandemic:

1. Mental health. As of early May, about one-third of Americans showed signs of clinical anxiety or depression, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey of more than 42,000 U.S. households cited by The Washington Post. Twenty-four percent of Americans showed clinically significant symptoms of major depressive disorder, and 30 percent had symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. These figures demonstrate a large jump from depression and anxiety rates seen before the pandemic. 

Overall, 40 percent of U.S. adults are experiencing adverse mental health conditions, a June 13 CDC report found. The data suggests the pandemic is weighing heaviest on young adults' mental health. About 25 percent of respondents ages 18 to 24 said they had seriously considered suicide in the last month. Overall, 75 percent of respondents in this age group reported at least one mental or behavioral health symptom.

The findings come after many mental health professionals expressed concerns about how social distancing and isolation would affect Americans' mental health this spring.

2. Drug overdoses. Fatal drug overdoses hit a record high last year after decreasing for the first time in three decades in 2018, according to the CDC. Early data suggests this trend is continuing in 2020, likely due to Americans' prolonged isolation, economic hardships and changes to the U.S. drug trade, reports The Washington Post.

Suspected overdoses were up 18 percent in March, 29 percent in April and 42 percent in May compared to the same period in 2019, according to federal data obtained by the Post on drug-related emergency calls from ambulance teams, hospitals and police. 

Definitive data on overdoses trends may not be available for five to six months due to the slow nature of federal reporting processes. However, the current figures suggest that overdoses are not only increasing, but accelerating as the pandemic progresses, the Post reported. 

3. Preventable infectious diseases. COVID-19-related lockdowns and travel restrictions have forced many countries to pause immunization programs, resulting in a spike of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and diphtheria.

The pandemic also is complicating global efforts to diagnose and treat such infectious diseases as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV, which could undermine years of progress, health experts told The New York Times.

In mid-July, the World Health Organization warned that the consequences of declining childhood immunization rates linked to COVID-19 disruptions could be more severe than the pandemic. Preliminary data from January through April also shows a "substantial drop" in the number of children receiving three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, the WHO said. This could be the first time the world sees a drop in immunization coverage for these diseases in 28 years.

4. Food insecurity. An additional 17 million Americans may experience food insecurity in 2020, according to a projection from the hunger relief organization Feeding America. 

A recent Brookings Institution recent analysis  found that U.S. children are facing an unprecedented level of food insecurity for modern times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of late April, 17.4 percent of children were not eating enough because their families couldn't afford to buy food, according to a survey cited in the analysis. During the 2008 recession, just 5.7 percent of families reported the same, according to The New York Times.

5. Legionnaires' disease. Stagnant water systems in commercial buildings temporarily closed during the pandemic may pose a risk of waterborne-infections such as Legionnaires' disease, researchers and public health experts warned in May.

Since many buildings have been closed since mid-March, there is a chance bacteria has built up in some buildings' plumbing systems. The CDC shared guidelines to help prevent bacteria's spread in water systems as buildings reopen. However, some experts are questioning whether these guidelines are effective after the CDC closed some of its office spaces in Atlanta due to the presence of Legionella bacteria in the buildings' water systems.

More articles on public health:
Vaccine won't have copay, HHS says; Congress to investigate Operation Warp Speed — 7 COVID-19 updates
26 states where COVID-19 is spreading fastest, slowest: Aug. 14
New York City's COVID-19 death rate comparable to 1918 flu pandemic, study finds  

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