The Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) is very concerned about the decline in federal funding for public health functions such as detection, surveillance and response in the administration’s budget for fiscal year 2019. “It is extremely disheartening and disappointing to see such severe cuts to public health programs at CDC, HRSA, USAID and the Department of State at a time when the services they support are most in need,” said Scott Becker, executive director of APHL. “What is more, these cuts to public health funding come after a historic bipartisan agreement between Congress and the White House to increase federal spending overall for the next two years.”
$1.26 billion cut to Department of State Global Health Programs which includes funding provided to CDC for PEPFAR; and
$1.11 billion cut to USAID Global Health Programs.
While the majority of the president’s budget proposal is grim for public health, there were a few areas that are not as dark. APHL was pleased to see that the budget request designates $175 million to CDC to address the growing opioid crisis. Additionally, funding for the Global Disease Detection Program would increase by $51 million and funding for the Public Health Emergency Preparedness program would increase by $4.5 million.
As Scott Becker explained, “The director of the president’s Office of Management and Budget said, ‘the budget is a messaging document.’ In that case, the message to the American people seems to be, ‘Good luck if there is an outbreak or other public health emergency because federal early warning and response programs won’t be there to help you through.’”
APHL will continue work with Congress to assure that funding levels continue at the much-higher amounts provided in previous years. Adequate levels of federal support for state and local laboratory contributions are critical to the nation’s public health security.
Recent news concerning limits on language permissible in CDC budgetary communications has drawn considerable attention in the media. As a longstanding partner of CDC, APHL shares its commitment to science-based work to protect the public’s health and improve its health status. We are heartened by CDC Director Fitzgerald’s statement that CDC remains committed to evidence-based work described using all appropriate language, and we are confident that CDC will continue to serve all communities, including those most vulnerable and diverse.
Our primary focus is on ensuring that CDC receives funding that will enable APHL members – local, state and territorial public health laboratories – to do the vital work necessary to detect and respond to public health threats. We feel strongly that, while the words CDC uses in their budget submission are extremely important, the funding levels are at least equally deserving of our attention.
We look forward to working with the Administration and Congress to ensure the best scientific evidence is used in all public health decision making and that all public health professionals are able to use language that appropriately conveys the public health policies and programs that allow for improvement for the health of our nation.
Warm weather brings nature walks, picnics and sunny days by the shore, but it can also bring unwanted changes to your favorite beach. As the temperature rises, lake and ocean waters can turn from blue to mossy green as algae proliferates in unsightly and potentially harmful algal blooms.
What are harmful algal blooms?
Algae are plant-like organisms of one or more cells that use sunlight to make food. Together they can form colonies called algal blooms in both marine and freshwater systems. Some of these algal blooms are hazardous to health, but not all algal blooms are harmful.
Harmful algal blooms may release toxins at concentrations unsafe to humans and animals and may drastically reduce oxygen available to aquatic life. In fresh water bodies, cyanobacteria, aka “blue-green algae,” can produce dangerous cyanotoxins; in saltwater or brackish water, acid-generating plankton – dinoflagellates and diatoms – can pose a health threat.
Should I be concerned about algal blooms?
Algal blooms can pose a risk for human and animal health. People and animals can become ill through eating, drinking, breathing or having direct skin contact with harmful algal blooms and their toxins. Illnesses vary based on the exposure, toxins and toxin levels. Public health and environmental laboratories test samples from harmful algal blooms to confirm the presence and level of toxicity. Remember, not all algal blooms are harmful.
How are public health officials responding to the increase in algal bloom events?
As climate change events amplify conditions favorable to algal blooms, public health scientists are studying when and where associated illnesses are occurring and how to mitigate the effects of exposure. Their efforts have led to increased laboratory testing and electronic surveillance measures at the state and federal level.
For example, public health and environmental officials in Alaska have been tracking and testing harmful algal blooms. The Alaska Harmful Algal Bloom Network, a collaboration of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) and regional monitoring programs, analyzes fish kills, unusual animal behaviors and other related phenomenon to provide early warning of developing coastal marine blooms. DHSS scientists analyze human specimens for illnesses associated with harmful algal blooms, such as paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) caused by saxitoxins. PSP is a potentially fatal poisoning with no treatment except supportive care. Samples from symptomatic patients are forwarded to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for confirmatory testing as needed. Testing of asymptomatic individuals may be included in future studies.
David Verbrugge, chief chemist at the DHSS Division of Public Health, explains the value of Alaska’s testing of harmful algal blooms, “[Laboratory analysis] helps us to understand the nature of PSP exposures: frequency of occurrence, confirmation when lacking meals to test, and the presence or absence of toxins in asymptomatic co-exposed groups. It also allows us to let people know what they are eating before they eat it.”
Is the CDC involved in testing and surveillance for harmful algal blooms?
Yes, only for freshwater. In 2016, CDC created the One Health Harmful Algal Bloom System to provide a voluntary, electronic reporting system for states, federal agencies and their partners. Using the system, which integrates human, animal and environmental health data using a One Health approach, public health departments and their environmental and animal health partners can report bloom events, and human and animal cases of associated illness. Members of the public may report a bloom event or a case of human or animal illness to the One Health system by contacting their local or state health department.
What is the outlook for future testing and surveillance of harmful algal blooms?
As climatic conditions become more favorable to development of harmful algal blooms, state and local health departments will have to ramp up surveillance and testing to protect public health and to preserve local revenue from beaches. These actions will come with a price tag, requiring action at all levels of government. Resources can be leveraged through collaboration to research and expand clinical testing capacity for these persistent health threats.
After four days of fascinating speakers, networking with peers and partners from around the world, and enjoying public health jokes that only insiders would understand, the 2017 APHL Annual Meeting came to a close. It was the largest meeting yet with over 700 attendees. We are so thankful to the APHL staff, members, partners, exhibitors and speakers who made this meeting a success! See you all in Pasadena, California in 2018!
In a very short time, Americans have become increasingly familiar with the cloud. Not the white fluffy ones in the sky, but the cloud where much of our day-to-day computing takes place. Even for people who aren’t familiar with the term, they likely are familiar with the concept of accessing internet-based files from anywhere. Photos taken on your smartphone might be automatically uploaded to a cloud-based storage system where you can view or download those photos on your laptop. Just as this technology has become valuable in our daily lives, it has become valuable in public health.
At this year’s APHL Annual Meeting, Eduardo Gonzalez Loumiet, CEO of UberOps, presented on public health in the cloud. We asked Eddie a few questions about the system that he has worked to develop along with APHL informatics and the value that this platform offers public health laboratories and ultimately the American public.
AIMS is a secure, cloud based environment that accelerates the implementation of health messaging by providing shared services to aid in the transport, validation, translation and routing of electronic data.
The AIMS Platform has grown to a community of more than 85 trading partners involved in several use cases including ELR, Whole Genome Sequencing, ARLN and NMI. New use cases are being discovered every day.
UberOps is an APHL partner that develops and supports the AIMS Platform. We work on the deep technical aspects of AIMS. Our focus is on continuously securing the environment, trading partner onboarding, and ensuring trading partners have the information and tools to leverage AIMS Platform benefits.
Why should public health labs use a cloud-based system? What are the benefits?
The benefits of using cloud computing have surpassed perceived risks. AIMS utilizes Amazon Web Services (AWS), the industry leader in Cloud computing. The benefits of cloud computing include:
Security, high availability and reliability
Centralized processing and message routing
Real-time monitoring and audit systems
Reduced message transport complexity
Reduced data translation and transformation complexity
Reduced development and support costs
Flexible capacity infrastructure
FISMA Moderate compliant applications
FedRAMP compliant environment via the cloud provider
Commitment to innovation and the future
Are public health laboratories the only labs using AIMS?
AIMS was built to serve public health laboratories. Over the last 18-24 months the AIMS infrastructure has expanded capability to allow public health agencies and a select group of private laboratories to securely exchange data as well. We have also seen an increase in cross-jurisdictional ELR data exchange between agencies. AIMS has also been used to host other non-profit data, such as STEVE 2.0, which focuses on exchanging birth and death records between states. And AIMS is being used to process data for the first time in the cloud through virtual workstations for the whole genome sequencing project. We are excited for the emerging possibilities!
Is it secure? How do I know my information won’t be stolen or misused?
The top priority for APHL and UberOps is a secure and compliant AIMS Platform. Stringent healthcare laws and regulations across jurisdictions are monitored on a regular basis, and revisited on a regular basis. The AIMS Platform is FISMA Moderate compliant, which requires a once per year third-party audit. In addition to the audit, the AIMS infrastructure is required to pass firewall penetration testing.
Each member of the AIMS Platform team attends yearly HIPAA privacy and security training. The AIMS dedicated security team uses advanced, real-time monitoring tools to proactively eliminate potential threats.
What does this mean for the public? Are there clear benefits for people in the community?
AIMS is an extension of everything our public labs represent in the United States. The ability to monitor and detect health threats quickly using a shared technology platform is an invaluable asset for the safety of all citizens. Preventing and/or predicting large expected (like influenza) and unexpected (like Zika) public health events is where the AIMS Platform serves our communities.
What does the future hold for AIMS?
APHL, UberOps and AIMS stakeholders are constantly looking to expand the functionality of the AIMS infrastructure. As the evolution of health data continues, we see new opportunities to assist with integrating data and providing a higher quality experience for trading partners, patients and citizens.
Our recent platform growth between public and private collaboration will continue, and we expect to expand AIMS application services (examples: Dashboards, Portals, LIMS), electronic case reporting and much more!
In a kindergarten classroom in Des Moines, a small boy begins to shiver uncontrollably. In a nursing home in Phoenix, a pneumonic grandmother fights for her life from a hospital bed. On a crowded metro car in Washington, DC, in the miniscule droplets of saliva from a man’s kind “Hello” to a stranger, it attacks. The flu. It comes every year as the months begin to shift into winter, returning slightly different than before, exploding and thriving, determined to wreak havoc. It descends upon the nation, preys upon us in our most vulnerable moments, and says, “This is my year.”
In public health, every emerging threat—the flu, E. coli, Legionnaires’ disease, Ebola, Zika—is a race against time. What can scientists learn from these deadly pathogens, and more importantly, how fast? Lives depend on this data, on laboratories’ ability to track patterns, decipher mutations and to share, compare and build upon those findings—crowdsourcing at its finest and most critical.
Only a few years ago, a lab would manually enter its test results and fax them to CDC and other reference centers. Someone would receive the paper transmission and manually re-enter it. The process would take days. In that time, an outbreak could have spread. Lives could have been lost.
Time matters. But thanks to an APHL-CDC initiative, what used to take days can now take minutes. In 2008, public health labs recognized the need to share their data electronically. APHL worked hand in hand with informatics specialists at state labs and CDC to develop what was then known as the Route not Read (RnR) hub. This seemingly simple, but powerful approach sent public health data through a service that read the outside envelope of the electronic message and delivered it to the intended recipient without opening its contents.
Four years later, the increasing complexity and demands for public health data led to the development of the AIMS platform. Now in a cloud-based environment, AIMS has burgeoned over the years. The new environment accelerates the transmission of data and provides shared services, such as message validation translation, to labs and trading partners. Today, more than 85 organizations and institutions exchange data over AIMS, with more than 25 million messages transported to date.
The vital data exchanged on AIMS includes aggregated influenza test results from public health laboratories to CDC, vaccine-preventable disease reports, biological threat data, immunization data exchange among several public health jurisdictions, electronic laboratory reporting between hospitals and their jurisdictions, and whole genome sequencing through the Advanced Molecular Detection initiative. And AIMS is expanding again to offer electronic case reporting to connect laboratories and health agencies with CDC and with other data recipients nationwide.
Since its launch in 2012, the AIMS platform has equipped public health officials to monitor and respond rapidly to health threats, strengthened labs with shared resources and expedited delivery of time-sensitive health information to consumers. As the platform continues to gain traction, its contributions to the nation’s health infrastructure will be tremendous.
PulseNet revolutionized foodborne outbreak detection in the United States. What exactly is it? How did it get started? Why was it so significant? And what does the future of foodborne outbreak detection look like? Brian Sauders, molecular microbiologist at the NY State Department of Agriculture and Markets, and Shari Shea, director of food safety at APHL, answer these questions and more.
One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to learn from a wide range of experiences. We have an obligation to not only respond to emergencies today, but to prepare for tomorrow by learning from the past. Our work extends to households affected by disease, communities ravaged by disasters, and U.S. territories battling new and changing threats. In fact, all over the world – we try to get ahead of, and manage, complex responses that touch many lives through ever changing circumstances. In an ideal world the health in every community would be at a level that would make recovery and reliance easier. The reality is that emergencies happen in all kinds of environments and populations.
The Public Health Preparedness and Response National Snapshot is our annual report that gives us an opportunity to showcase the work that we and our state partners do. The report reminds us that no matter how big the emergency, we need to work together to respond to the best of our ability—with the cards we are dealt.
1) Four Responses at Once: An Unprecedented Challenge
CDC experts continue to provide 24/7 monitoring, staffing, resources, and coordination in response to natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and infectious disease threats. In early 2016, CDC managed four public health emergencies at the same time through our Emergency Operations Center :
CDC scientists and responders were activated in CDC’s Emergency Operations Center, where they combed through research, developed and distributed diagnostic tests, and provided on-the-ground mosquito control and education to protect people at higher risk for the virus, including pregnant women and infants.
CDC’s Strategic National Stockpile is ready to send critical medical supplies quickly to where they are needed most to save lives. The stockpile is the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies that can be used in a public health emergency if local supplies run out.
Last year, we helped conduct 18 full-scale exercises and provided training for 2,232 federal and state, local, tribal, and territorial emergency responders to ensure that systems for delivering medicines are functioning well before they are needed in an actual emergency. We continue to work with our federal, state, local, and commercial partners to make sure every step of the medical supply chain – from manufacture to delivery – is coordinated.
CDC connects with state and local partners to provide support and guidance, helping every community get ready to handle emergencies like floods, hurricanes, wildfires, or disease outbreaks.
This year, we created a new process to evaluate how well state and local jurisdictions can plan and execute a large-scale response requiring the rapid distribution of critical medicines and supplies. Through this program, we conducted assessments of 487 state and local public health departments. The information from these assessments will be used to help improve the ability to get emergency supplies quickly to those who need them most.
To protect lifesaving research, CDC experts in biosafety and biosecurity conducted approximately 200 laboratory inspections and thousands of assessments of those who handle dangerous select agents and toxins like anthrax, plague, and ricin to keep these materials safe, secure, and out of the hands of those who might misuse them.
CDC’s Laboratory Response Network (LRN)l also develops and deploys tests to combat our country’s most pressing infectious and non-infectious health issues, from Ebola to Zika virus to opioid overdose. The network connects over 150 labs to respond quickly to high priority public health emergencies.
CDC supports efforts all across the country to help those who may not be able to help themselves when a crisis strikes. Some populations, like children, older adults, and others with functional and access needs may need extra help during and after an emergency.
From planning for the 69 million children who may be in school when disaster strikes to the millions of Americans who need to make sure prescriptions are filled, medical equipment is working, and help arrives even if power is out and roads are blocked, it’s up to us to protect our most vulnerable in emergencies.
Learn about an innovative program to help people with disabilities stay safe in emergencies
7) Emergency Leaders: The Future of Incident Response
When every minute counts, we need people who have the knowledge to step in and take immediate action. Learning and using a common framework like the CDC Incident Management System helps responders “speak the same language” during an event and work more seamlessly together.
CDC experts train leaders from around the world—25 countries in 2016—through an innovative, four-month fellowship based at our Atlanta headquarters. Lessons learned from this course were put to work immediately to head off an outbreak of H5N1 influenza in Cameroon.
8) The Power of Preparedness: National Preparedness Month
Throughout September, CDC and more than 3,000 organizations—national, regional, and local governments, as well as private and public organizations— supported emergency preparedness efforts and encouraged Americans to take action.
The theme for National Preparedness Month 2016 was “The Power of Preparedness.” During our 2016 campaign , we recognized the successes of countries and cities who have seen the direct benefits of being prepared, looked at innovative programs to help children and people with disabilities get ready for emergencies, and provided tips for home and family on making emergency kits.
As part of the Global Health Security Agenda, teams of international experts travel to countries to report on how well public health systems are working to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks. In May, a team made a five-day visit to the U.S. to look at how well we’re doing.
In the final report, the assessment team concluded that, “the U.S. has extensive and effective systems to reduce the risks and impacts of major public health emergencies, and actively participates in the global health security system.” They recognized the high level of scientific expertise within CDC and other federal agencies, and the excellent reporting mechanisms managed by the federal government.
Sometimes, a seemingly run-of-the-mill retraction notice turns out to be much less straightforward. Such was the case with a recent retraction of a 2016 paper in a journal published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, apparently over permission to use an evaluation scale designed to test whether patients take their medications as […]
Antimicrobial resistance is arguably the most significant public health threat facing the world today. As resistance builds, the threat of severe illness or death from common infections becomes an increasing possibility for everyone.
What is antimicrobial resistance?
Antimicrobial resistance occurs when microbes, including bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, evolve or adapt to survive exposure to drugs or other treatments designed to kill them. Once the microbes have developed resistance, treatments used against them are rendered useless.
While all types of antimicrobial resistance are extremely concerning, antibiotic resistance – when bacteria become resistant to antibiotics – is often seen as posing the most serious health threat. Why is this?
Compared to other microbes, more bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment, and resistant bacteria can cause more adverse health outcomes in infected people. Antibiotics are also more commonly used than antiviral, antifungal or antiparasitic drugs.
How did antibiotic resistance become such a big problem?
While many complex issues have led to this urgent situation, three factors stand out:
1. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics in healthcare, agriculture and other aspects of day-to-day life is a significant contributor to antibiotic resistance. Simply stated, every time we use antibiotics inappropriately, we’re helping bacteria figure out how to outsmart and outperform them – to resist Inappropriate use includes taking antibiotics to treat viral infections, starting a course of antibiotics and not completing it, using antibiotics in agriculture to improve livestock survival and crop yields, and the liberal use of over-the-counter antibacterial soaps and ointments.
2. Development of new antibiotics and diagnostic tools to detect resistance has suffered due to a lack of investment. As bacteria develop resistance to existing drugs, scientists must work to develop new antibiotics to treat infections. However, for the past 30 years, antibiotic drug development has been stagnant and the prospects are not promising.
Prior to the drug development phase (bringing drugs to market) is drug discovery, the process of identifying candidate medications and active ingredients. This is a challenging and therefore incredibly expensive endeavor with few economic incentives. For companies that make it to the drug development phase, creating drugs that kill bad bacteria without killing good cells (including the host) is extremely difficult.
3. It is difficult to systemically detect, track and respond to new resistant pathogens and outbreaks without a comprehensive global surveillance system. To slow the spread of resistance, we have to know where to find it and have a plan to stop its spread. Though the United States has acted to counter resistant forms of diseases like TB and gonorrhea, it hasn’t taken a public health approach to diseases commonly found in health care settings like the superbug CRE. Failure to detect and stop the spread of these infections at the community level contributes to increased numbers of resistant infections, poor patient outcomes and increased healthcare costs. What’s more, aggressive detection and response efforts are needed to prevent local outbreaks from becoming pandemics.
What’s being done to slow or stop antimicrobial resistance?
The past few years have brought much needed progress. Finally, the US public health and health care systems have a comprehensive plan to combat this problem and resources to make it happen.
In 2014, the White House released the National Strategy on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria and President Obama signed an Executive Order directing key federal agencies to take action to combat the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria. In December 2015, Congress passed a budget providing $375 million to implement this strategy with $161 million going to CDC.
Since then, significant steps have been taken to move the dial in the right direction.
CDC has distributed approximately $67 million to local and state governments to improve their ability to detect and respond to existing and emerging resistance as well as implement strategies to improve antibiotic stewardship.
CDC has established the Antimicrobial Resistance Laboratory Network (ARLN) which will provide infrastructure and capacity for seven regional public health laboratories across the country to better identify and characterize some of the most significant antimicrobial resistance threats. In addition, the ARLN will provide resources to all state and several large local public health jurisdictions to improve their CRE surveillance capacity.
CDC, FDA and NIH have launched a comprehensive campaign aimed at improving antimicrobial stewardship in healthcare and reducing the frequency of antibiotic use in agriculture.
NIH and the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) launched the Antimicrobial Resistance Diagnostic Challenge, a $20 million prize competition that to stimulate innovation in the development of new, faster diagnostic tools.
CDC and FDA have collaborated to establish the Antimicrobial Resistance Isolate Bank, a repository of resistant pathogens that will be made available to companies developing new antibiotics and diagnostics.
These are significant and valuable steps forward. As these and future efforts get underway, collaboration across sectors will be critical to success. APHL is committed to supporting members and working closely with partners in the battle against antimicrobial resistance.