Surge in infectious diseases was inevitable, Dr. Michael Osterholm says

From COVID-19 to polio to monkeypox, infectious disease threats have dominated the headlines and public discourse in recent weeks.

Monkeypox has sickened more than 10,000 Americans, New York recently reported the nation's first polio case in nearly a decade, and COVID-19 is still spreading nationwide. And Chinese researchers just discovered a new virus, Langya henipavirus, that appears to have jumped from animals to humans for the first time. 

This uptick in infectious disease activity is no coincidence, but rather the result of a culmination of global factors that define the new, modern world of infectious disease that we live in now, Michael Osterholm, PhD, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told Becker's Aug. 11.

"That is a theme today. We have to expect this," he said, pointing to the rise of international travel and trade, household overcrowding and the increased movement of animals around the world as factors contributing to rising infectious disease risks. 

At the same time, the growing threats of antibiotic resistance and vaccine hesitancy are complicating efforts to fight these diseases, according to Dr. Osterholm. In the last few years, hundreds of public health officials across the globe have resigned due to stress, burnout and harassment, contributing to a weakened public health infrastructure. 

"So many things that could go wrong are going wrong," Dr. Osterholm said. "Any one of them by themselves are a problem, but when you add them all together, you've got a real problem."

Dr. Osterholm cited the polio situation in New York as a key example. Health officials confirmed polio in an unvaccinated man in Rockland County, N.Y., July 21, and a subsequent investigation detected the virus in wastewater samples, suggesting further spread of the disease. Now, health officials are suggesting the single case may just be the "tip of the iceberg." Hundreds of other cases may havegone undetected in the community, where only 60 percent of residents are vaccinated against the virus, state data shows. Nationwide, polio vaccination coverage sits at about 93 percent, according to the CDC.

"We were talking about polio eradication just a few years ago, and today, we're trying to hold on by the skin of our teeth so that this does not continue to spread around the world," Dr. Osterholm said.


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