Since 9/11 the role of public health has changed in ways that could not have been imagined.

The Iowa Department of Public Health is working with the local and federal partners in developing plans to increase Iowa’s ability to respond to possible emergencies such as bioterrorism, infectious disease outbreaks and other public health emergencies. We have worked with the local hospital, Winneshiek Medical Center, city and county law enforcement agencies, the local HazMat team, and local fire departments. We invite you—the public to be a part of our preparedness effort. In the next few weeks we hope to enlighten you in how to be prepared.

There are many types of emergencies that can affect the public’s health. They range from man-made threats such as bioterrorism to natural disasters such as floods and tornadoes. As individuals we must be aware of our health and safety risks. Any of us could find our health and safety in jeopardy during a public health threat or emergency.

There are four main types of public health emergencies: infectious diseases; biological; nuclear or radiation; and chemical agents. The public can be infected with disease in three ways—from animal or insect to humans such as with West Nile Virus or rabies; from contaminated food or water to humans such as E. coli and salmonella. The last way diseases can be transmitted is from human to human. These diseases are contagious and generally pose the greatest risk to the public’s health. Examples are chickenpox, measles, mumps and rubella, for which there are vaccines.

There are four important steps to take during a public health emergency:
• Remain calm and have patience;
• Use your personal communication plan;
• Follow the advice of local and state public health officials and;
• Listent to radio and TV for additional information.

In the following weeks Winneshiek County Public Health will give some information on becoming better prepared for emergencies. It is good to remember this quote by C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States, “Health care is vital to all of us some of the time but public health is vital to all of us all of the time.”