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Report questions whether U.S. is adequately prepared for future public health threats

When it comes to public health preparedness, the United States may not ready to respond to a massive disaster, whether it's the result of a terrorist attack, infectious disease or Mother Nature, according to a new report from Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report shows that significant public health improvements following the attacks on the 9/11 attacks were made but that in the past decade budget cuts to local, state and federal health departments have diminished the effectiveness of the initial effort. American Medical News reports:

The cuts are leaving many departments across the country with too few staff members to adequately implement the measures. For example, some local and state health departments might no longer be able to properly staff their laboratories should there be an infectious disease outbreak, said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of Trust for America's Health.

. . .Among the most critical gaps in the nation's public health preparedness is the work-force shortage, Dr. Levi said. The U.S. has 50,000 fewer public health workers than it did 20 years ago, and one in three employees will be eligible to retire within five years, according to the report. Exacerbating the problem are recent budget cuts that have led to a 15% reduction of the local public health work force in the past two years.

Dr. Levi said another concern is the inability of the nation's medical system, particularly in primary care settings, to treat a massive influx of patients in an emergency. He said this problem was demonstrated during the influenza A (H1N1) pandemic in 2009-10, when many primary care offices were overwhelmed with ill patients and individuals who wanted the H1N1 flu vaccine.

The article goes on to say that while measures have been taken to address potential gaps in the country's preparedness, such as the Medical Countermeasures Initiative, some experts say lawmakers need to make public health funding a bigger priority.

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