What is a public health emergency? What is the role of public health in a public health emergency? You may remember from last week the discussion of the various types of public health emergencies ranging from man-made to natural disasters. In the event a public health emergency should occur, public health has very distinct roles to fulfill.
Winneshiek County Public Health will prevent and control disease outbreaks.

Public Health will monitor for diseases and conduct investigations as necessary. Your local physician is required by law to report infectious diseases to public health officials. Our role is to detect early symptoms by tracking exposed individuals. Testing for an infectious disease is done by the state public health laboratory. Once the disease has been identified, public health will investigate those who may have been exposed to the disease to prevent and control the spread of the infectious disease. Investigations may occur over the telephone, in letter, or in person, depending on the disease. We need to gather as much information as possible to help in controlling the spread of the disease.

Vaccinations may be necessary to control the spread of the disease. It is important to keep up with recommended vaccinations for both children and adults.

In a true public health emergency, large amounts of medications or vaccines may be needed to control the spread of disease. The Iowa Department of Public Health and Winneshiek County Public Health have plans to receive and distribute medications or vaccines as quickly as possible. You would receive information from local public health officials by watching TV, listening to the radio, checking the agency website and other selected websites.

If necessary, the Winneshiek County Board of Health can quarantine and isolate individuals to control the spread of disease. Quarantine and isolation are rarely used but the Board of Health adopted model rules found in the Iowa Code. They are enforceable by law. Quarantine is used for those who may have been exposed to an infectious disease but may not be ill. Isolation is used for those who are ill with an infectious disease.

Your local physician, public health agency or hospital may be the first to recognize problems and will alert the appropriate health officials. Local and state health officials have organizations that are able to respond to a public health emergency in a quick manner.