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Public health lessons from swine flu for the next pandemic

June 10, 2009
by Editorial Staff
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It doesn't take a severe pandemic - or even much of a disease outbreak - to overwhelm America's public health system.
That's an important lesson highlighted in a pair of new reports about this year's swine flu outbreak. New cases are still being reported, but in the northern hemisphere at least, flu season is over. Still, the flu scare and the response to it document vulnerabilities in the U.S. public health system.

The new reports were prepared by the Government Accountability Office and a nonpartisan group called the Trust for America's Health. Some of the vulnerabilities they describe will be difficult to resolve because they involve the way Americans pay for health care.
For example, thousands of uninsured or under-insured people who should have seen a doctor did not because of concerns about the cost. Anti-viral drugs only work when given during the first 24 to 48 hours after symptoms appear.

Another vulnerability: company sick-leave policies and a lack of child care for working families.

The Trust for America's Health report cited numerous media reports about people with flu symptoms who went to work anyway because they couldn't afford to miss time or they worried they would lose their jobs.
The group also reported on parents who sent sick kids to school because they couldn't afford to stay home with them.

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