In the current economic climate, it is becoming increasingly common to see outbreaks of disease occur unexpectedly in many different parts of the world. This can have a number of disastrous consequences, one of which is the economy. The worst part is that because people do not have the money on hand to buy necessary supplies when the epidemic strikes, the impact on the economy can be quite severe. The most common example of this is the widespread outbreak of Mumps in the late 1960s. Since the disease was highly contagious, the number of cases was much higher than the actual population, creating a serious shortage of the particular vaccine available at the time.
The economic ramifications of a Mumps outbreak extend beyond the direct costs to the individual. In fact, it is estimated that the total loss from the epidemic could top US $5 billion. Fortunately, public health experts were able to prevent the worst from occurring by making vaccines readily available. Although money was not available to make the mass production of the vaccines, local health departments were able to use the money saved to create schools, clean up living quarters and provide other support services for those who had been affected by the outbreak.
It is important to note that the process of public health and infectious disease control differ somewhat. Controlling an outbreak requires careful monitoring and response to ensure that any cases are properly handled. Controllers are responsible for collecting stool samples from individuals experiencing diarrhea to determine if the ailment is indeed a case of Mumps. Once this is determined, treatment is determined, either through antibiotics or a combination of medicines. During a pandemic, the role of local health departments is not as essential as it is during a flu outbreak, but it is important that they be aware of the forthcoming outbreak and the steps that need to be taken to contain it.
In an effort to save money on paper products and paper bags, county and state offices have begun to sell plastic compactor bags and duffels that can be used during a pandemic. A Powavaclear company in Colorado has also introduced electronic chip identification cards that can be used to scan individuals and hold the data needed to perform public health checks. Several counties in Colorado have held pilot tests using digital solutions to track flu surveillance. The results have shown significant decreases in the number of people diagnosed with Mumps.
Experts say the best way to save on supplies and cut down on waste is to implement a combination of methods. Making the transition to paperless systems easier and less expensive than putting off a trip to the landfill, experts suggest that communities should explore all forms of digital solutions. Digital printing of cervices, posters, tags, and other items is available at low cost. The advantage to paperless systems is that they allow communities to track their own pandemic preparedness and make the necessary adjustments as the illness spreads. Many public health professionals are recommending the use of digital solutions to prevent the spread of Mumps.
The efforts to save on supplies by tracking the contacts of disease-bearing animals has been called into question. “Is it really feasible to track and trace the contacts of every household in an area during a pandemic?” asked Dr. Peter P. Van der Auwenhof of the University of Leuven-en-Auxois, France. According to him, the answer is “yes.” In a study he and his team conducted on infected hamsters, the team found that even if they used traditional quarantines to isolate the hamsters, they still ended up with a higher rate of contact tracing, indicating the importance of digital solutions.
However, despite the importance of digital solutions, some say that vaccines and traceable contacts will still be needed for effective control. “The big challenge is how well people will accept these things, especially in poor countries where people do not trust technology,” said epidemiologist Dr. Gregory Butterly of the University of Michigan Medical School in Detroit. “And I doubt that people will follow instructions blindly if their basic needs are not met.” But others believe that a combination of vaccination and traceable contacts will be enough to save the economy during a pandemic.
The debate on how to save the economy during a pandemic will rage on. Will people continue to live without enough vaccines? Will people continue to ignore their traceable contacts and rely on more traditional means of isolation? And will the global community continue to pump billions of dollars into developing countries to fight the spread of the disease? The answers will certainly determine whether a pandemic can be called “unpredictable,” or if the economy will still be able to function normally.