Conditions for a Disease Disaster
COVID-19: The deadly spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic initially in China and then within just weeks globally quickly surpassed the threat from earlier virus outbreaks such as SARS and MERS and as a Global Pandemic surpasses the 1918 Flu Pandemic as it moves through its third year, killing more than 6 million people. The coronavirus is spread like the seasonal cold or flu by human contact (through the air and by touch) or to a lesser degree on common surfaces where the virus can live. The speed of the outbreak is a sobering reminder of how vulnerable the world is in a time of ever increasing globalization of trade and travel. The emergence of a new threat can quickly overwhelm health systems. Good planning and prevention are critical in containing and managing these health crises. The rapid development of effective vaccines was a crucial element in fighting COVID. And reliable information from trusted sources is the frontline of those efforts. Get the facts on the COVID-19 Pandemic on our response page.
As COVID remains a threat in its third year, the sudden emergence of the fall flu season and a surge of respiratory syncytial virus(RSV) infections in children has raised alarms with hospitals bracing for many new cases.
Water and sanitation:
Water borne disease might come after a flooding disaster overwhelms local sanitation and contaminates the water supply, infecting those who use the water. In the case of Haiti after the Earthquake, water contaminated by human waste combined with poor sanitation quickly spread and infected thousands of Haitians with a new strain of cholera to which they had no immunity and which a crippled health system had few resources to contain. According to the World Health Organization, there are roughly 3 million cases a year and 90,000 deaths. Patients can lose so much fluid from diarrhea and vomiting that they rapidly become dehydrated and their internal organs shut down; they can die within hours. Cholera is treatable and preventable but it has become a major health threat in places such as Yemen and Mozambique.
Civil Conflict and War Zones:
Civil conflict and other hostilities can lead to a cascade of treatable but potentially deadly outbreaks (e.g. Yemen Complex Emergency, beginning with cholera, then typhoid, and then tuberculosis). These threats generally come after the health system, safe water supplies and sanitation are damaged or disrupted. Preparation and response for such outbreaks involves purification supplies to ensure safe water and prepositioned treatment supplies such as oral and IV rehydration supplies for cholera. Treatment for cholera and other diarrheal diseases involves large quantities of sterile solutions.
In December 2013, a little boy in a village in Guinea, became ill and died just a few days later. This death, unnoticed at the time by few beyond family and neighbors, set off a horrific Ebola outbreak in West Africa, infecting over 26,900 people and killing more than 11,000. In the case of something as deadly as Ebola, new treatment centers and specialized training with protective equipment were necessary to meet this unexpected menace in countries with few or no resources to stop the epidemic. And another Ebola outbreak appeared more recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo that threatened to expand beyond the borders of the country. More than 1,000 people died in this outbreak which was exacerbated by violence in the region affecting health workers.
Where there is standing water and significant rain, mosquitoes can breed and thrive. And in various regions of the world, they can carry painful and sometimes deadly diseases such as chikungunya, dengue and malaria, transmitted through a bite into the human bloodstream.The list of mosquito borne diseases continues to grow as newer threats like Zika appear with dangerous longer term effects. Since these diseases are not easily treated or cured, preparing and responding involves various methods of mosquito control and protection from mosquito bites. And we must now consider the impact of climate change on the spread of mosquitoes and the diseases they carry. “Researchers believe as many as a billion people could be newly exposed to these illnesses within the century if climate change goes unchecked” (NPR story on study in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases)
Monkeypox is in the news – the latest outbreak of the disease is spreading among people in more than 40 countries, most often causing mild illness and a skin rash with blisters. Like other, more deadly diseases, including bubonic plague, Ebola, HIV, influenza, rabies and even COVID-19, the monkeypox virus originated in animals.
When people come into close contact with infected animals – at marketplaces, farms or even in their own kitchens – bacteria or viruses can spread to and between humans, causing disease. These cross infections among people and animals leading to diseases are referred to as zoonotic diseases. Pressures from climate change make crossover infections more likely.
To keep people and communities safe from zoonotic diseases, Americares provides education, letting people know how proper hygiene and sourcing and handling of animal as well as food and water sources, can prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses. More than 150 village health committee members around Majete Wildlife Reserve and Liwonde national park in Malawi received training in workshops through Americares support to share in their communities.
Some diseases that had essentially been nearly eliminated such as Polio and Measles have returned as anti-vax sentiments have created new avenues for their return in new generations of children. Americares long-term programs of support for vaccination programs are being strengthened in light of this trend.