Nebraska receives low score on outbreak readiness

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska ranks among the lowest-scoring states in 10 key areas recommended to protect against an infectious disease outbreak, according to a report released Tuesday by two public-health advocacy groups.

The Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said Nebraska complied with only two of their 10 recommended criteria. Georgia and New Jersey received the same score, while all other states ranked higher.

“While the country has made huge advancements in protecting and controlling diseases since the 1940s … we can’t become complacent in the threat that they pose,” said Dr. Jeff Levi, executive director of the Washington-based Trust for America’s Health.

The report says Nebraska fell short in several areas examined: whether funding levels for public health services have held steady or increased; whether 90 percent of 19- to 35-months old were vaccinated for whooping cough; and whether the HPV vaccine was required for teens.

It also said Nebraska failed to meet its recommendations of having a climate-change adaption plan that considers human health; requiring health facilities to report health care related infections; and having the capability to handle a surge in testing due to an outbreak. Also, between July 2012 and June 2013, Nebraska also did not test its operations plan for an outbreak, according to the report. The report also docked Nebraska for not covering routine HIV screenings under its Medicaid program.

The report said Nebraska succeeded in vaccinating at least half of the state’s population in last year’s flu season, and it credited state officials for having a system to transport medical samples to a public health lab at all times.

A spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said Nebraska’s chief medical officer, Dr. Joseph Acierno, was out of the office Tuesday and not available to comment.

In a written statement, Acierno said: “This is one set of indicators. As a result, it doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story in Nebraska and the state’s ability to handle infectious disease outbreaks. Preparedness is an ongoing and continuous effort. We will review the report and use it as a tool to continue our efforts to properly prepare for any outbreak.”

The highest-scoring state in the report was New Hampshire, which met eight of the 10 recommended goals. Officials said 34 states met five or fewer of the recommendations.

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Online: http://healthyamericans.org/reports/outbreaks2013/

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