A Year Since Pandemic Started, Public Health Advice Still Rings True

Dr. Mary Perry, MD, MPH

By Dr. Mary Perry, MD, MPH

National Public Health Week is April 5-11. What a year it has been since I wrote my last public health blog post a year ago!

You can access that 2020 blog here. The advice I gave then still applies as we all continue to persevere through this pandemic: Stay connected, stay active, stay creative, and stay calm.

While COVID-19 is still very present in our daily thoughts and actions, I thought I would take a break from the virus to highlight some different aspects of public health.

Many public health students are very familiar with the 1854 London Cholera Outbreak as a prime example of public health in action. During an outbreak of cholera, a very serious diarrheal disease that was killing many people, a man named John Snow sat down and created a map of where the cases were occurring.

Snow then added to his map the locations of the main water pumps accessed by members of the community. He was able to determine that the majority of the cholera cases were concentrated around one water pump, on Broad Street. As the story goes, he removed the handle from the pump and effectively stopped the cholera outbreak.

Another example of a huge public health win has been the ongoing efforts of polio eradication. Polio is a virus that can cause severe paralysis in those infected. Many children were infected, and you may remember hearing about “the iron lung” as a treatment. This was essentially a large machine hooked up on the outside of a person’s body to help them breathe when their respiratory muscles were paralyzed.

One little girl in North Carolina, named Martha Mason, contracted polio at 11 years old and was paralyzed from the neck down. She lived another 61 years in an iron lung! In 1988, there were 350,000 annual cases of polio from 125 countries, according to polioeradication.org. In 2020, the same website noted there were 140 cases in two countries. How was this possible? Vaccines, plus a lot of dedication and hard work!

Life expectancy has increased by nearly 30 years since the early 1900’s. Devastating childhood illnesses are being eradicated, and cholera outbreaks are (mostly) the substance of history books. The last 50 years has seen an explosion of medical advances.

I chose to complete a Master of Public Health during my medical training because I wanted to have as many tools in my tool bag as possible to help my patients be healthy. Removing barriers to care, preventing disease before it starts, and providing common solutions to common problems are all areas that I am passionate about.

Please join me in gratitude toward our public health workers this month for all the amazing work they are doing!
For more information on National Public Health Week, which will be held virtually this year, visit http://www.nphw.org/