Georgia among the least prepared for outbreak

 

Georgia is among the least prepared states to prevent or respond to an outbreak of infectious disease or to help its citizens avoid illness, according to a report released Tuesday.

But a Georgia public health official said the report doesn’t reflect the state health lab’s true capacity and Georgia did very well on a different measure of preparedness.

Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report that ranked states on 10 key areas related to infectious disease prevention and detection. Georgia was one of three states, including Nebraska and New Jersey, that met only two of the criteria.

Georgia was faulted for low vaccination rates against seasonal flu and whooping cough, had inadequate public health lab capacity and failure to have a plan for how climate change may impact public health, such as introducing new diseases like mosquito-borne dengue fever to the U.S., according to the analysis. That has a real impact on Georgia citizens, said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health.

“You are at greater risk certainly for those conditions and for the ability to respond” to outbreaks, he said. “If I lived in a jurisdiction where we have lower vaccination rates than we should, where we aren’t planning for things like climate change, I would be worried.”

Many of these are conditions that are beyond a private citizens ability to control, Levi said.

“That’s where we do need a strong government effort,” he said.

Georgia got credit for maintaining its level of public health funding and for requiring health care facilities to report health-care associated infections, according to the report. South Carolina, which met five of the 10 criteria, got credit for the same criteria as well as having adequate public health lab capacity and planning. Neither state did climate change planning, vaccinated half of its population against seasonal flu or allowed routine screening for HIV under its Medicaid program.

But while Georgia’s lab may not have the personnel to sustain a surge in testing for weeks, as one criteria required, the state has agreements with other states to do testing should Georgia need it, said Dr. Patrick O’Neal, director of Health Protection for the Georgia Department of Public Health.

“That happens on a regular basis,” he said.

Earlier this year, for instance, when there was an outbreak of cyclosporiasis in the Midwest, Georgia’s lab volunteered to do testing for them, O’Neal said.

The report Tuesday also did not reflect the state’s true emergency preparedness, he said. On a more valid and comprehensive report released recently called the Homeland Security Preparedness Index, that analysis was “extremely favorable for Georgia,” O’Neal said.

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