As H1N1 fears subside, support for Public Health Departments should not

Fifty-seven million Americans were infected with H1N1 since last April, according to a new estimate for The Center for Disease Control released today. That’s roughly the population of all of Italy. While thousands did sadly perish form the disease, the rate of mortality was nowhere close to previous flu pandemics, thanks in large part to the aggressive response by local, state and federal public health agencies.

Of course, the danger from this pandemic and others is still present. And while we breathe easy that our worst fears about H1N1 never materialized, major weaknesses to our public health infrastructure have been exposed, so says Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, public health officer for Santa Clara County. Many public health agencies, including the one in Santa Clara County, are have seen budgets and staff slashed in recent years, slowing the ability to monitor and respond to major public health crisis.

As we think about health care reform in this country, it is critical that we remember how essential Public Health Departments are to our safety net. It seems we dodged a bullet this time with H1N1 – but it’s a game of Russian Roulette not worth playing.