With the Zika virus now spreading across South Florida and threatening the Gulf states, we are faced with another public health crisis that could potentially have been averted with stronger disease surveillance systems in the U.S. and elsewhere.
There are dozens of emerging infectious diseases like Zika simmering at any given time around the world. For reasons not entirely understood, Zika has spread swiftly into the Western Hemisphere. The disease was likely being transmitted undetected within populations in the Caribbean and South America for a period of time. It became a public health emergency only when Brazil experienced high numbers of babies born with a disorder called microcephaly that was linked to Zika infection during pregnancy.
We have the tools and expertise to stop diseases like Zika from spreading uncontrollably. But our public health system in the U.S. and those elsewhere are not adequately resourced or staffed for effective disease surveillance and response.