hepatitis a

Unless they're eradicated smallpox-style, infectious diseases never disappear. Like an unlucky penny, they can show up at any time.

The reason is because most microbes can survive elsewhere, either in the environment or other animals or both, a concept known as a "reservoir." That is why prevention is the key to public health. And prevention is achieved primarily through practices such as vaccination, water chlorination, pasteurization, sanitation, and good personal hygiene (as well as common sense). If we take away any one of these practices, we can expect relatively rare infectious diseases to come back. Three stories serve to underscore this crucial lesson.

Rabies in Seattle

Recently, a bat was lying on the ground on the University of Washington...

As if we didn't have enough problems, for example, a particularly nasty strain of influenza going around, another infection which is normally not such a big deal has turned into one. A strain of hepatitis A, a viral infection of the liver, has been making the rounds since late 2016. And it is causing all kinds of trouble.

The current outbreak has been traced back to a homeless man in San Diego in November 2016. Although the case attracted no attention, only four months later the CDC was working...

For the vast majority of people who live in the developed world, infectious disease is an afterthought.

Sure, we still catch colds and (if we're old or immunocompromised) can die of influenza, pneumonia, or food poisoning. Antibiotic resistance is scary -- and directly responsible for about 23,000 deaths in the U.S. each year -- but it hasn't quite become the apocalypse we all feared. In general, the microbial world is just not something the average person has to think about very much.

That luxury of modern life is due to the strong defense provided by the "pillars" of our public health system. According to Dr. Michael Osterholm, these...

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 4.00.55 PMOK, everyone, let's take an informal poll.

Do you want to experience the following?

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially in the area of your liver on your right side beneath your lower ribs
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

Going out on a limb, I going to guess that the answer is ... no.

These are the symptoms of hepatitis A. It doesn't...