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December 17. 2013 9:07PM

NH best at controlling spread of infectious diseases

New Hampshire scored highest of all 50 states in terms of controlling and preventing infectious disease, according to two national non-profit agencies that promote health issues.

The state met eight of the 10 indicators identified by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases, according to their report released Tuesday titled "Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infections."

"I'm clearly pleased and clearly challenged to maintain and improve where we are today. Our duty to the people of New Hampshire is to get all of these indicators," state Public Health Director Dr. Jose Montero said Tuesday.

Still, Montero said the high score does not mean "we are going to be complacent."

"It seems that New Hampshire is well positioned in both addressing current problems and being able to identify and respond to new problems," Trust for America's Health executive director Jeff Levi said.

Vaccinating the public against whooping cough and seasonal flu were the two areas where the state came up short.

New Hampshire failed to meet the federal Health and Human Services standard of vaccinating 90 percent of 19- to 35-month-old children against whooping cough. It also failed to meet the standard of vaccinating at least half its population aged 6 and older against the seasonal flu in 2012-2013, the report revealed.

Montero said the state still has an overall high rate of immunization and is making progress each year.

The state's vaccinated 88.7 percent of children in the recommended age group for whooping cough last year, Montero said.

And its vaccination rate for seasonal flu is "somewhere in the high 40s," he added.

The state intends to improve these rates by working more closely with clinical providers and the general public to encourage more people to get vaccinated, he said.

Levi said there are certain things individuals can do to protect itself from infectious disease, such as hand washing and getting vaccinated.

Beyond that, "if there is one central function for public health, it is to protect us from things over which we have no control....We as individuals don't have control over infectious disease and that is why we need a strong public health presence," Levi continued.

New Hampshire scored high in either maintaining or increasing public health funding and maintaining a public health laboratory capable of handling a surge in testing due to an outbreak in a particular disease, the report found. It also has the ability to provide round-the-clock transport of samples to the state's public health lab.

Montero said the public health budget has actually stabilized since recent increases have mostly made up for cuts in past years.

"I don't want people to get the impression that we have plenty of funding, because we don't," he said.

Other indicators New Hampshire scored well on include its requirement that health-care facilities report health-care associated infections to the state and provides human papillomavirus vaccines for teens.

"From antibiotic-resistant superbugs to salmonella to the seasonal flu, infectious disease disrupt lives and communities," Levi said.

New Hampshire also developed a climate change adaptation plan that includes focusing on the impact it has on human health. This includes reporting on the rise in tick- and mosquito-borne viruses among the state's population, Levi said.

Seven states met seven of 10 key indicators, according to the report. Most states (34) met five of the 10 indicators. Three states tied for the lowest score, which was meeting two of the 10 indicators. They are Georgia, Nebraska and New Jersey.

kmarchocki@unionleader.com


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