CDC: N.H. public health readiness improving

New Hampshire has made progress in some areas when it comes to public health preparedness, but it has a long way to go in others, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The report, “Public Health Preparedness: Strengthening the Nation’s Emergency Response State by State – 2010,” measured the preparedness and response activities of all 50 states as well as four large urban areas, including such measures as the capabilities of laboratories to deal with biological and chemical agents, communication with authorities, planning and reporting.According to the report, New Hampshire did well in most areas, including having a standardized electronic data messaging system to forward results among networked labs and the CDC, having an available reference lab that can test for biological and chemical agents, and passing proficiency tests. Communication standards among health officials and public health agencies were also found to be at an acceptable level.But, where New Hampshire – like many other states – did not meet the CDC’s target benchmark in other areas.For instance, the CDC has a target that 90 percent of the time test results for E. coli and Listeria – bacteria that can sometimes cause life-threatening food-borne illness – be submitted to the agency within four days. But New Hampshire met the four-day turnaround target 67 percent of the time for E. coli and 71 percent for Listeria.Another measure looked at the number of epidemic information system users responding to system-wide tests within three hours. Some 58 percent of the users of this system responded in that time.Nevertheless, the latest results reflect an improvement for the state. When the CDC issued its initial report in 2008, New Hampshire’s public health lab met the four-day turnaround time for E. coli 50 percent of the time and did not meet the benchmark with the single Listeria sample it received at that time.”These reports are snapshots,” said Christine Adamski, the state’s chief of disease control. “In the world of preparedness, we are always looking for improvements.”She said the real-life discovery of anthrax at the University of New Hampshire last December successfully brought state epidemic investigators together on Christmas Eve, forestalling incidence of the disease to just the initial case. And that person successfully recovered.Adamski said the biggest priority of the state’s public health department is continuously improving response readiness.”The lab is looking at measures,” she said. “We are also building capacity locally and regionally. We are looking to see if we can apply the reasons why we improved in the 2010 report to other areas.”With the flu season beginning, Adamski said the department is gearing up for surveillance.”The flu is really unpredictable, so we don’t know if it will be a bad or better year. We don’t know if H1N1 will be predominate,” said Adamski. “Based on the work we did last year, however, we are better informed. And so is the public.” – CINDY KIBBE/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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