Monday, November 07, 2005

Bird Flu and Occupational Respiratory Disease Outbreaks

BrooklynDodger's posts on popcorn workers lung illustrate a previously unknown hazard being noted from a statistically unusual cluster of illnesses. Unfortunately, the outbreak was not noticed for nearly a decade after the index case was observed.

The Dodger bashes public health authorities for their "don't ask, don't tell, don't persue" mind set, particularly in relation to legionaire's disease.

An argument against a sentinel event system for respiratory disease is that a flu outbreak may be mistaken for a workplace problem. [Actually, if you work with chickens, the two might be the same.]

Effect Measure posts a benign explanation for the reticence of public health authorities. In 1976, public health authorities pulled the trigger on the pig flu. That was a time when Republicans would try to do something for public health, launching a immunization campaign against a real illness [not like smallpox]. But the pig flu never showed, and possible adverse reactions poisoned the well for the vaccination far into the future.

For public health officials, it's much worse for your career to pull the trigger on a response to a threat which never really presents, than it is to stand by and let it happen.

Based on CDC data, 2/1000 workers in hospital for respiratory diagnosis in a month, or 3/1000 on sick leave, is unusual and should trigger a response.

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