Medical things

Right now, Zika virus — a mosquito-borne illness that can cause birth defects in unborn children — is the only disease outbreak listed on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

But that can change in an instant.

In 2014, an Ebola outbreak in eastern Africa unexpectedly gripped the world in anxiety, and over the past five years, tornadoes, hurricanes and extremely cold weather turned communities upside down in little more than a split second.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation last week released its annual National Health Security Preparedness Index, which measures how ready each state, and the nation as a whole, is for any of those public health emergencies.

Virginia scored better than the country, receiving a 7.5 on the 10-point scale compared to the nation’s 6.8 score.

The index measures everything from the state’s ability to collect and analyze data for identifying threats to its ability to mitigate harm from biological, chemical or nuclear agents.

To develop its index, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation pulls together more than 100 measures — such as flu vaccination rates and how states monitor food and water safety — from more than 50 data sources, said Glen Mays, the lead researcher at the University of Kentucky in developing the index.

The emergencies themselves could include a disease outbreak, hurricane, fire, flood or an infrastructure failure, such as the lead poisoning in the water system in Flint, Mich., Mays said.

But because millions of people now travel across the globe and intense weather events occur every day, the need to become prepared for emergencies has grown as well.

“We’re in a period of time now where these risks are growing and we need to be similarly growing our health security protections to be prepared,” Mays said.

The index gave Virginia especially good scores in its ability to collect and analyze data to identify threats before they arise, along with its ability to mobilize and manage resources during an incident.

Virginia outpaced the national score on the index in every category except in community planning and engagement, which measures how well communities within the state mobilize during crises. Virginia received a score of 5.3 compared with the national score of 5.8.

But within every measure, the state’s score improved as compared to its 2013 score, when the index was first created, as has the country as a whole.

Health security has been trending upward, Mays said, but at a fairly slow rate. The national 2017 score was about 1.5 percent higher than the previous year.

“We don’t know where the next event is going to occur, and we don’t know the nature of that event,” Mays said. “That’s fundamentally why it’s important to have these health securities in place everywhere.”

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kdemeria@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6813

Twitter: @katiedemeria

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