communicable diseases

World Hepatitis Day is commemorated July 28. {Photo credit: C. Urdaneta/MSH, Afghanistan.}Photo credit: C. Urdaneta/MSH, Afghanistan.

Hepatitis is a personal disease for me.  Some years ago, I spent two weeks leading training workshops for faculty at the University of Costa Rica in San Jose, Costa Rica. The work and the participants were delightful, as we worked together to improve medicine prescribing practices. Every day I ate lunch at a local seafood restaurant, often joined by a colleague. One Friday, two weeks after returning home, I felt exhausted—so tired that I could not continue working. By Sunday I was orange as a pumpkin, unable to walk or keep food down. I visited my physician and was diagnosed with acute, severe hepatitis A. I felt like I was dying. I lost 6 weeks of work and 25 pounds before I was able to return to normal functioning. I discovered that the colleague who had joined me for lunch developed hepatitis A with the same intensity and duration, and at the same time.  We traced this “point source outbreak” to some uncooked mussels that the restaurant used in a fish sauce that transmitted the hepatitis A virus to us both.

A hurricane superstorm slams the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of the United States, flooding Manhattan’s subway system, leaving lower Manhattan and Brooklyn without electricity for days and destroying much of Staten Island. The storm kills hundreds of people, destroys thousands of homes, and causes over $65 billion in damage. Prior to October 2012, this scenario read like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster. But now we know these were the very real effects of hurricane Sandy.

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