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'The New Normal' In Disease

Dealing with exotic diseases, like SARS, West Nile virus, and Monkeypox, is becoming the new normal in the nation's health care industry, says Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control. She called for changes in the way these diseases are contained and controlled.

On The Early Show Tuesday, Dr. Gerberding said, "One of the most important perspectives is to keep in mind that we have to be thinking globally."

Last week, in a commencement speech at the University of California, Los Angeles she dubbed these exotic diseases the "new normal" and said that it was time to develop an effective strategy to respond to them.

"Anything can get into this country," she told co-anchor Rene Syler. "We have to think about the whole world as a place where infections emerge. A problem in one corner of the world could very soon be a problem here."

She stressed a pro-active approach to health care in which communication and accurate reporting of outbreaks are very important.

Dr. Gerberding explained, "The very first step in the reporting process is for the clinician who sees the first patient to report it to the local health official. That step is something that we've got to work on in every corner of the world, including here in the United States.

"But once a disease is detected, it's also important that the countries or jurisdictions involved know where to take that information so that the whole globe can be alert for the whole problem."

New illnesses can spread rapidly as a result of international trade and travel and it is unlikely that these diseases will be completely eradicated, Dr. Gerberding said.

The latest outbreak, Monkeypox, is still under study.

Dr. Gerberding said, "We have a little more than 80 cases now that are under investigation. We know it's linked to these exotic animals. Now that we've taken the steps necessary to prevent their spread throughout the country, we're confident we'll be able to get this under control, at least in the short run."

But she emphasized that the issue is not to put too much emphasis on exotic pets per se. She said, "These emerging infections are going to come up in all sorts of form. Even a flu could be the problem. We are familiar with the flu virus."

Dr. Gerberding, who just spent two weeks caring for patients at a San Francisco public hospital where she had previously worked for 17 years, said it is importnat not to let these exotic diseases cause health care workers to lose sight of normal health maintenance. Working in a hospital reminded her of the real health issues that doctors treat daily such as obesity, addiction and diabetes.