Public Health Officials Target Environmentally Induced Diseases at Boston Conference
Public health officials from 15 cities and counties across the nation gathered in Boston on Monday to discuss ways to "better understand" and "better combat" environmental changes that have contributed to diseases such as asthma and West Nile virus, the Boston Globe reports. The goal of the conference was to show how environmental factors, such as global warming and ground-level ozone levels, can relate to illnesses. Officials said that public health agencies need to improve detection of potential disease outbreaks resulting from environmental incidents, such as floods or droughts, and involve the public in efforts to reduce environmental factors that could contribute to health problems, the Globe reports. Officials recommended implementing early warning systems to detect air, water and food changes before they contribute to "potentially lethal" diseases. John Auerbach, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said, "Too often public health will just deal with the symptoms and get people through the crisis and minimize the human harm. We, as public health departments, are just now taking baby steps to deal with the issue of global climate change." For example, the Boston Public Health Commission has given grants to community organizations to ticket idling cars that may be contributing to an "epidemic" of asthma. In addition, the Multnomah County Health Department in Portland, Ore., helped craft a local initiative aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and health officials in Houston are pushing for an improved mass transit system. According to Dr. Vincent Nathan, a deputy director in the Washington, D.C., Department of Health, "If we can reduce some of these environmental effects, we think we can reduce some of these environmental diseases. And isn't that what public health is all about?" (Smith, Boston Globe, 10/29).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.