Is NJ doing enough to stop infectious disease outbreaks?
A new report released by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds NewJersey is doing better than many other states when it comes to preventing, detecting, diagnosing and responding to infectious disease outbreaks — but we’ve still got plenty of room for improvement.
The report gives the Garden State passing grades on 6 of 10 key indicators, including public health funding, childhood immunization school requirement policies, syringe exchange programs, controlling central line-associated bloodstream infections and staffing and training at public health laboratories. But Rich Hamburg, the deputy director of trust for America’s Health says New Jersey’s flu vaccination rate is too low.
"The bar that we set here was simply if a state had half or more of its state 6 months or older vaccinated for the annual flu, and New Jersey was at 46.8 percent, and that’s below the national average," he said.
The report finds another area of concern is that the state does not have an adequate HIV-AIDS surveillance program.
“There’s a lot of complacency on that,” he said. “More than 1.2 million Americans are still living with HIV. One in 8 don’t even know they’re infected.”
Hamburg adds another area where New Jersey needs to do better is in food safety testing.
He said 48 million Americans get sick from a foodborne illness every year, "but the question is. 'How far does it spread and how quick is it detected?'”
The report also finds New Jersey has not yet completed a climate change adaption plan.
“Most infectious diseases are preventable, but we haven’t made the types of investments that we need for basic protections that can help avoid significant numbers of outbreaks," he said. "We need better surveillance, it needs to be in real time, and then also we need to make sure that health systems are prepared for a range of potential threats.”
Five states had passing grades on 8 out of the 10 indicators: Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, New York and Virginia.
The states doing the worst job, with just 3 out of 10, are Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah.
When the New Jersey Department of Health was asked to comment on the report, Donna Leusner, the department’s director of communications issued a written statement that reads:
This report misses the big picture of New Jersey's extensive experience in responding to disease outbreaks by pinpointing narrow timeframes and in some cases using outdated data from 2013.
For example, had the report looked at 2014 instead of 2013 for Food Safety, it would have shown New Jersey significantly exceeded the target. NJ tested 96% of e coli cases within four days, well above the 90% benchmark. And in 2013, New Jersey fell just technically below the 90% target with 89.66 percent (which I would round to 90) .
Vaccination was the other measure New Jersey just technically just missed the mark, vaccinating 46.8 (I would round to 47) for flu w the benchmark in the report being 50.
New Jersey continues to improve and strengthen our public health response efforts.]