Microbe: Are We Ready for the Next Plague?

By Alan P. Zelicoff; Michael Bellomo | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
OUTBREAKS, RESERVOIRS,
AND DEAD-END HOSTS

There is no exact number that defines an outbreak. Public health officials treat the word with extreme caution the vast majority of the time. It's an extremely politically charged word, laden with the possibility of unnecessarily terrorizing the public, and one that is difficult to withdraw once used. It carries far higher power than almost any other word besides epidemic. Consider these two headlines:

CENTRAL CITY SHOWS A POSITIVE TREND IN PLAGUE CASES
Or
OUTBREAK OF PLAGUE SPOTTED IN CENTRAL CITY

Which one carries the greater potential for economic, social, and political disruption?

Disruptive power isn't always negative; it often serves a greater purpose when a public health official is demanding quarantines or asking for more resources to combat a disease. There is no question that judicious use of the term outbreak is appropriate for a great variety of human and animal diseases.

For example the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) crisis in the United Kingdom in 2001 was a true emergency. Action within even a few hours after the first cases were verified might have eradicated the disease more quickly and saved billions of dollars in agricultural trade. Yet use of the

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