INTO A CRYSTAL BALL,
DARKLY—A LOOK AT
Ever since a now-obscure U.S. Surgeon General declared that infectious diseases were soon to be relegated to the ash heap of history because of advances in medical treatment and the promise of ever more powerful antibiotics, government funding for public health and the role of public health in daily medical practice have suffered enormously. Most government officials and congressional appropriators think of public health as a nineteenth-century collection of aged practitioners inspecting restaurants and occasionally identifying exotic diseases that happen someplace other than the United States and the economically privileged countries. There has been little wisdom in this pecuniary approach and, until recently, nothing but luck has ensured that large outbreaks of disease haven't visited our shores.
Near the dawn of the twenty-first century, however, the appearance of West Nile fever, the massive outbreak of severe diarrheal disease in Milwaukee, and the ever-growing problems of mad cow disease (now also found in elk, deer, and goats) and avian influenza may finally be the crises needed to reorient our collective attention to the evident rise of unusual infectious disease among animals and humans.