The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

December 25, 2013

Editorial: Public health

State, residents need to do all we can to safeguard it

— A report released last week by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation lowered the boom on West Virginia’s approach toward handling infectious diseases.

We weren’t alone this time in scoring poorly  — 10 other states were right there with us in meeting just four of the 10 indicators of preparedness.

The report found that outdated systems and limited resources are hampering the nation’s ability to prevent and control infectious disease outbreaks.

One the main issues is failure to vaccinate at least half of those 6 and older against the flu during the 2012-13 season. Nor did we meet a federal goal of vaccinating 90 percent of preschoolers against whooping cough, a respiratory ailment that has seen a resurgence in recent years.

This puzzles us. One would think if the means are there to prevent an illness, most everyone would want to take advantage. Perhaps people have personal reasons for not taking advantage that no amount of prodding will solve.

The report also found West Virginia lacks a plan for severe weather, air quality and other environmental threats that includes addressing health concerns. And state public health officials didn’t evaluate an emergency management plan through a real event or exercise in fiscal 2012-13.

These deficiencies seem like they shouldn’t be too difficult to fix.

Evaluating an emergency plan should only take some organization and planning to schedule an event.

West Virginia should have the people already in place to handle severe weather, air quality and other environmental threats. A few strategic meetings should solve that problem, as well.

What might be the hardest to overcome is not maintaining or increasing funding for public health programs. Again, West Virginia was not alone in that category — only 17 of 50 states met that goal.

Fiscal issues of all kinds push, pull and tug at the state budget. Although West Virginia weathered the recession better than most states, some revenue streams, such as the lottery and other gambling, are slowing down.

You can’t fund everything.

But we believe legislators should take a long, hard look at the funding level of public health programs.

With the overall poor health of many West Virginians, state residents can ill afford a bad bout with the flu, a child with whooping cough or another serious illness. Not only are there the expenses associated with care to get well, but lost wages.

If an infectious disease sweeps through a home, the effects can be devastating.

One issue not covered in the report is that of more and more bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics.

We remind potential patients not to pester their physician to write a prescription for an illness that is virus-based. Antibiotics are not effective on viruses.

Using antibiotics when they are not called for helps render them useless when really needed. But many doctors just give in, write the script and move on to the next patient. That should stop and they should take the time to educate  patients about why the pills won’t help.

Nothing is more precious than our health. Everyone should work together to ensure that we safeguard it as best as we can.