When a natural disaster strikes a densely populated area, the efforts to restore order often require the immediate response from members of multiple professional fields and areas of expertise. Likewise, rapidly spreading contagious diseases are able to move through local communities, countries, and the world. Government agencies, clinical professionals, environmentalists, and public health officials all play a significant role in responding to infectious disease epidemics and emergency situations relating to natural disasters. Public health officials must remain vigilant, so they can ensure populations remain protected from contaminated water, airborne pathogens, and easy-to-spread diseases that often surface after a natural disaster, or global epidemic, strikes.

Spotlight

Global influenza epidemics have the potential to infect one third of the world’s population.

Seasonal influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness and is responsible for thousands of deaths every year. The CDC reports that people at higher risk — those with certain chronic diseases, pregnant women, children, and people over 65 — account for more than 90 percent of flu deaths every year. The contagiousness of flu poses potential global risks if a new virus were to emerge. Public health investigators track global influenza cases in swine, birds, and other animals to monitor the crossover outbreaks in humans. Vaccine development, health education, and epidemiology are all important public health professions that combat seasonal and global flu outbreaks.

A strong emergency plan is the most important measure for disaster preparation, protection, and escape.

Spotlight

Devastating earthquake in Haiti leaves widespread health ramifications.

After a deadly earthquake struck the island nation of Haiti in 2010, public health officials were again faced with a major crisis – more than 200,000 people were killed and a quarter million homes and buildings were destroyed. Infrastructure in the country crumbled quickly, and disease and contamination spread among a dense population. Unsanitary conditions and cramped living arrangements led to a cholera outbreak that quickly followed the devastation of the earthquake. Cholera, as well as being highly contagious, is also curable. Public health professionals ensured that individuals had the resources to protect themselves from the disease while receiving proper treatment if infected. Public health officials working in emergency response are well-trained to act quickly and efficiently, making use of the agencies, governments, and organizations that often have a presence in responding to an emergency disaster.