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Is Kentucky Prepared for an Infectious Disease Outbreak?

Original Title: H5N1 flu - colorized
Photographer: Cynthia Goldsmith
Original Title: H5N1 flu - colorized

Yesterday,NPR reported on a study that found many states are not prepared for outbreaks of infectious diseases.

The report, Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases, issued failing grades to half of the states and the District of Columbia on 10 measures of preparedness. They looked at state's efforts to get half the population vaccinated for flu; reduce the number of bloodstream infections caused by central lines for people in the hospital; and response time for emergency laboratory tests.

Kentucky scored three out of 10 on key indicators related to preventing, detecting, diagnosing and responding to outbreaks like ebola, enterovirus and superbugs.

Indiana scored five points on the report.

Rich Hamburg, deputy director of the non-profit Trust for America's Health, said the report was designed to look at the underlying gaps that may exists in a state's preparedness.

"These are indicators that are important to have in place to prevent the spread of disease, detect, diagnose and respond to outbreaks," he said. "If you don't meet them all or you meet a smaller amount does it mean you're unprepared? No, not necessarily."

But the report may be still concerning, he said.

The state received a total of three points for meeting the Healthy People 2020 target:

  • 90 percent of children ages 19-35 months receiving recommended doses of the Hepatitis B vaccine
  • conducting an exercise or utilizing a real event to evaluate the time for sentinel clinical laboratories to acknowledge receipt of an urgent message from laboratory between July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014;
  • and meeting the national performance target of testing 90 percent of reported E. coli O157 cases within four days.

Public health funding in the state has decreased by 8.1 percent from fiscal year 2012-2013 to 2013-2014.

The report also said the state has made budgetary cuts for public health the last three years.

"Funding is absolutely an important component, if not the most important component, in emergency preparedness," he said.

Hamburg said that there have been dramatic improvements in state and local capacities, but state officials still need to be vigilant.

"We have formerly deadly diseases—polio, mumps, measles—that we thought were eradicated that you see coming back because there isn't a prioritization of those outbreaks since we're confronting other outbreaks," he said.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

The report was issued by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America's Health.

It also outlined actions state public health officials could adopt to manage potential outbreaks, such as quickly diagnosing outbreaks with laboratory testing and having investigators who can tract contacts.

Testing and contract tracing were used to contain the Ebola cases in Texas, and are used routinely by state and local health department to combat outbreaks of food-borne illness and containing outbreaks with vaccines, medications and other countermeasures, including quarantine.

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