IDWeek 2018: Global health security is primary mission of CDC, Director Redfield says

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Science Speaks is covering IDWeek in San Francisco with reporting on breaking news and developments in global infectious diseases, and the people who drive them.

SAN FRANCISCO – Preparing for infectious disease outbreaks with potentially global impacts, both in the U.S. and abroad, must be a permanent and pivotal focus of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said here in a conversation with IDSA President Dr. Paul Auwaerter and HIV Medicine Association Chair Dr. Melanie Thompson.

“Global health security and preparedness is the overarching mission of the CDC,” he said. “It is critical for the CDC to continue to prepare here and help other nations prepare for health emergencies.”

“We need to take time to build a strong public health foundation both here and abroad,” he added.

That includes addressing the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance, which, Redfield said, “some people don’t see as a security concern but really is one of the biggest.”

Every health institution must have a comprehensive stewardship program to prevent antimicrobial resistance, he said, adding that private companies need better incentives to develop new antibiotics.

While governments are better prepared now than they were back in 2000 to respond to a pandemic influenza outbreak, Redfield said, pandemic flu still poses a significant public health risk. “We have the public health workforce, systems and coordination,” he said, “but it depends on the nature of the pandemic. Do we have the right vaccine, the right mechanical ventilation support?”

Dr. Daniel Jernigan, director of the CDC’s influenza division, said “data deserts” – places in Africa and the southern hemisphere with sparse public health surveillance systems – pose a significant challenge to global efforts to track and monitor zoonotic sources of flu, including from birds and swine.

“Specimen sharing from these places is too slow and complicated,” he said.

If a pandemic on the scale of the 1918 Spanish influenza outbreak were to occur today, Jernigan said, it would cause massive disruptions on transportation, supply chains and other healthcare services, on top of the human health toll, he said. The potential economic impact would be huge, he said, citing between $181 billion in losses for a moderate pandemic and upwards of $570 billion for a severe pandemic. In comparison, the 2003 SARS outbreak cost $30 billion in just four months.

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