In the late 1800s and early 1900s a powerful new paradigm, Public Health, made great strides in reducing diseases and increasing human longevity. Public health is a concerted effort to address disease by applying measures at the society level. In the US, we often think of health efforts at the individual patient-doctor level. Public health works at a societal level to prevent illness an effort which if successful, can produce far better outcomes.
During the period between 1900 and 1945, public health efforts to control diseases spread by mosquitoes eliminated both yellow fever epidemics and malaria from the US. Controlling the mosquitoes that spread a disease and isolating contagious individuals from mosquitoes are examples of public health solutions to diseases that could not be cured by doctors.
On February 1, 2016 the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus to be a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”. What does this entail? The WHO lists the following priorities:
A coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy.
Zika virus moved out of Africa to become an international problem. The most likely solutions will be intensive efforts to improve public health tools and activities.