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Public Health: Staying vigilant, insuring the fight in the AOR

The Air Force utilizes public health specialists to minimize increasing global population health risk factors, including illness and diseases, to its Airmen.

Staff Sgt. Cassandra Burgess , 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, Public Health noncommissioned officer, checks for trapped mosquitos at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Jan 9, 2018. The Air Force utilizes public health specialists to minimize increasing global population health risk factors, including illness and diseases, to its Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. William Banton)

The Air Force utilizes public health specialists to minimize increasing global population health risk factors, including illness and diseases, to its Airmen.

Staff Sgt. Laura Ibanez, 386th EMDG, Public Health technician 386th determines the sex of captured mosquitos prior to sending them to be tested for diseases. Testing mosquitos helps prevent the spread of vector-borne disease, diseases spread through mosquitoes, ticks and fleas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. William Banton)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 14,676 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations were reported between October 1, 2017 and January 27, 2018. The overall hospitalization rate during this time was 51.4 people per a population of 100,000.

The CDC expects to see increased flu activity for another several weeks. This expected increase comes at a time when reports of infant and child fatalities have been increasing.

The Air Force utilizes public health specialists to minimize increasing global population health risk factors, including illness and diseases, to its Airmen – a vigilance which can be especially important in the confines of a deployed environment.

"It’s the job of public health to look at every illness and disease that health professionals encounter, searching for clusters that are out of normal parameters," said Maj. Jessica McGlade, 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, Public Health officer in charge. "Public health uses this information to educate its base populations on preventative measures and to inform Air Force leadership of possible unforeseen risks or outbreaks."

“The one I always think about – though not as much here – is when we started to get involved in Afghanistan, we were expecting for malaria to be a problem, but in reality what we were really seeing a lot of was Leishmaniosis,” said McGlade.

Leishmaniosis is a parasitic disease that is found in parts of the tropics, subtropics, and southern Europe. In Afghanistan, it is spread by the bite of certain types of sandflies and has symptoms of skin ulcers and then late fever, low red blood cells, and an enlarged spleen and liver.

Thinking on the fly, the deployed public health specialists were sending the information back to higher headquarters. This information directly affected reporting instructions and changed how troops were being educated prior to deploying.

Leishmaniosis is an example of vector-borne disease, a bacterial and viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas. To prevent the spread of vector-borne disease, public health regularly traps and tests local mosquito populations.

"If someone was traveling from an endemic area they could be a carrier and not yet be symptomatic," said Staff Sgt. Laura Ibanez, 386th EMDG Public Health technician. "If a mosquito bit that person, it would be capable of transmitting that disease to another human or susceptible population."

Ibanez said vector-borne diseases can be very debilitating. “It doesn’t mean that the disease is going to take the person out of the fight but it’s going to be very difficult for the person until they get better,” McGlade said.

An important thing to remember is that this job is a continuous progression of disseminating information, helping broken processes get fixed and relaying up-to-date preventive information quickly. .

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