Like many things in life, diseases and pathogens are not linear. What was once under control may resurface or spike due to evolving global conditions — which is something experts from the CDC and American Medical Association are continuously preparing to manage.
“Re-emerging pathogens are always a concern in the world of infectious diseases,” Erica Kaufman West, MD, the director of health and sciences of infectious diseases at the AMA said in a March webinar. “Some pathogens, like Ebola, are sporadic and unpredictable. Some, like pertussis, have a more cyclic pattern. More recently, pathogens typically covered by vaccines, like measles and polio, have been popping up as vaccination rates have declined.”
Since infectious diseases are still a leading cause of death globally, and are continuing to evolve, managing the ones that resurface is vital for clinicians. That is why health agencies like the CDC have implemented programs such as Project Firstline, a national infection control training and education effort coordinated with the CDC created to assist front-line healthcare workers with advanced preparedness.
A combination of climate change, the way humans travel and interact with each other globally, movement of animals, changes in behavior and more can all lead to pathogen re-emergency, Abigail Carlson, MD, a physician within the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion said during the webinar.
When faced with a re-emerging pathogen, Dr. Carlson suggests two key steps:
- Take a syndromic approach if the re-emerging pathogen is one that is already known about to clinicians. “Use syndromes to guide your response, often including your epidemiologic risk factors, to identify and manage your possible cases,” she noted.
- Go back to your basics. By taking a step back and reinforcing “baseline IPC practices in your clinic,” and starting with the fundamentals can ensure there is proper infrastructure in place to respond appropriately.
Dr. Carlson also recommends identifying a key person who is responsible for following, informing the team and monitoring for changes in guidelines in the case of a highly emergent situation.
“You can always expect guidance to evolve as science and healthcare evolve,” she said. “That is the nature of our profession. So having a single person who’s a point of contact for that is usually a wise step.”