What’s scarier — bats, drum circles or unvaccinated kids?

Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy those visions of sugar-plums dancing in your head, a public health group has declared this week as “Outbreak Week.”  Sort of like Shark Week, if you swap out the Great Whites for antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, on its NewPublicHealth blog, is asking Americans to recognize Outbreak Week with the tagline “spread the word, not the germs.” The goal is to “crystallize discussion among the public health community and beyond about whether we’re prepared as a nation to handle the next big outbreak—infectious disease or otherwise.”

One installment on the blog lists the “Top 5 Things You Didn’t Know Could Spread Disease.” Here are a few, visit the blog for the rest.

Bats! A Chinese species has been tied to the SARS outbreak.

Drum circles. Animal skins that cover some drums may harbor anthrax spores.

– An unvaccinated child. In a more familiar public health message, RWJF reports that more than two million kids under age three don’t receive all the recommended shots, leaving them vulnerable to diseases including measles and whooping cough, which have both resurged nationally.

RWJF also teamed up with the Trust for American’s Health to release a report today that found major gaps in the country’s ability to prevent and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.

The “Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases” report found that 34 states, including Maine, scored five or lower out of 10 key indicators of policies and approaches that protect Americans against infectious diseases.

“There’s a widespread mistaken belief that we have infectious disease under control,” Tom Inglesby, CEO and director of the UPMC Center for Health Security in Baltimore said this morning on a press call about the report.

New Hampshire scored the highest, with eight out of 10 indicators. Georgia, Nebraska, and New Jersey fared the worse, with just two.

Here’s Maine’s performance:




Number of States Receiving Points

A “Y” means the state received a point for that indicator

1 Increased or maintained level of funding for public health services from FY 2011-12 to FY 2012-13.


2 Met the HHS goal of vaccinating 90 percent of 19- to 35-month-olds against whooping cough.

2 + D.C.

3 Requires the HPV vaccine for teens — or funds HPV vaccination efforts or educates the public about the HPV vaccine.


23 + D.C.

4 State vaccinated at least half of their population (ages 6 months and older) for the seasonal flu during the 2012-2013 flu season.



5 State has a complete climate change adaptation plan that include focusing on the impact of human health.



6 State mandates that healthcare facilities in their state report healthcare-associated infections.


35 + D.C.

7 Does your public health lab have a plan and capability to handle a significant surge in testing over a six to eight week period in response to an outbreak that increases testing over 300%.

36 + D.C.

8 Does your public health lab currently have the capacity in place to assure the timely transportation (pick-up and delivery) of samples 24/7/365 days to the appropriate public health Laboratory.


46 + D.C.

9 From July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013 did your public health lab evaluate the functionality of your continuity of operations plan (COOP) via a real event or an exercise.


10 State covers routine HIV screening under their Medicaid programs.

31 + D.C.



What’s climate change have to do with public health? In addition to more heat waves and destructive weather patterns, Inglesby said we will again face diseases previously eradicated in the U.S., such as the tropical Dengue fever, a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes. Cases are ticking up in the southern U.S. as the warming climate encourages the insects’ spread and prolongs the season during which they can infect humans.




Jackie Farwell

About Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and finding new ways to help you stay well. I live in Gorham with my husband Nick and our hound dog Riley.