CDC: Other countries' health threats can affect U.S.

Officials wearing masks and protective suits dispose of dead chickens in Hong Kong on Jan. 28, 2014. The CDC has warned overseas disease threats, like H7N9 bird flu, may affect Americans if global prevention efforts are not carried out.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that just because there’s a disease outbreak overseas, doesn’t mean people on U.S. shores won't be affected.

On a conference call with media on Thursday, the CDC emphasized that the threat of global infection is real, especially with widespread worldwide travel approaching due to the Winter Olympics in Sochi and Chinese New Year well underway.

Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC's director, said that there are three main threats the agency has identified, in order): new and emerging pathogens such as H7N9 bird flu and the plague, drug resistance, including some strains of tuberculosis, and intentionally created bioweapons.

The Jan. 31 edition of the CDC's journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, included two articles that focused on global health security projects in Uganda and Vietnam. The programs provide good models for potential plans, and Frieden emphasized that it is important for the U.S. to work with foreign nations in order to promote global health.

With the Olympics nearing, the CDC has prepared a page to help travelers stay healthy. Tips include making sure you are up to date on your vaccines and getting the recommended ones for the country you are traveling to, bringing a travel health kit, making sure you have travel medical insurance and practicing basic safety tips including washing your hands, using condoms when you have sex and wearing seat belts when in moving cars.

Frieden flagged travel around China during Chinese New Year as another concern.

“There are 3 billion transit trips in China at this time, including family members that will bring meals,” he pointed out.

He added that last year, H7N9 jumped from bird to human, and now there are already more than 100 cases of infection this season.

H7N9 has many troubling aspects to it, Frieden explained, including the fact that it doesn’t make birds sick, so authorities can’t preemptively kill the flock. It also has a high mortality rate.

“If the virus mutates to a form that spreads between people -- and there’s no evidence it’s done that -- that might bring in the world’s next deadly pandemic,” he said.

At this point, H7N9 is unlikely to cause widespread global transmission, but that doesn’t mean it won’t in the near future.

“We don’t have a crystal ball,” he said. I can’t say if that will happen tomorrow, in 10 years or never.”