OUR OPINION: Praise for effective public-health responseThe Grand Forks Public Health Department, North Dakota Department of Health, Grand Forks School District and others are handling a tuberculosis outbreak with science-based effectiveness and dispatch. Kudos to them for their measured and professional response.
By: Tom Dennis, Grand Forks Herald
Tuberculosis is one of the oldest problems in public health. As far back as 1020, a treatise in Arabic called “The Canon of Medicine” recommended quarantine to halt the disease’s spread. That certainly was a marked improvement over Pliny the Elder’s advice from a thousand years earlier:
“Wolf’s liver taken in thin wine, the lard of a sow that has been fed upon grass or the flesh of a she-ass taken in broth,” Pliny prescribed.
We’ve come a long way. Today, the Grand Forks Public Health Department, North Dakota Department of Health, Grand Forks School District and others are handling a tuberculosis outbreak with science-based effectiveness and dispatch.
Kudos to them for their measured and professional response.
In Grand Forks, the control that authorities appear to have established over the outbreak seems normal; but as history suggests, it’s anything but. Over the centuries, contagious diseases have sparked riots, evacuations and banishment, the kinds of behaviors that roil up when a mob starts to panic.
That’s not happening here, and it’s not happening because the public has confidence in the authorities’ response. The modern public-health response to tuberculosis includes three key elements — identify all cases, investigate their contacts and identify and treat anyone else who may be infected — and authorities’ progress in carrying out these tasks is being publicly reported every day.
Which brings up another highlight of the state and Grand Forks officials’ response: their openness. Balancing patients’ privacy and the public’s right to know is a tricky business, especially in situations where people’s concern about what’s going on is immense. But the authorities seem to have walked that line, releasing enough information to quell rumors and to explain the situation in detail but not so much that they’re compromising patients’ privacy.
The fact that life is going on, patients are being identified and treated, the public is being kept informed, and nobody is panicking in the face of a TB outbreak is a credit to science, especially to the developers and practitioners of the modern science of public health. Americans in general and Grand Forks residents in particular are lucky to have professionals in place who are trained in this science and stand ready to respond.
And it sure beats dunking a wolf’s liver in wine.
— Tom Dennis for the Herald