CDC identifies biggest public health threats, makes resolutions for the new year

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked back on the significant health challenges the public faced in 2015, it included in its list well-known health issues such as Ebola, antibiotic resistance, and prescription drug overdoses. Although the CDC notes that progress has been achieved in combating each challenge, it is also making it clear that the fight against these public health problems is far from over as it set forth its plan for tackling each over the coming year.


Over the past year, the CDC assisted in opening up emergency operation centers in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to help with detection and response to future public health emergencies. The CDC is also providing support to nations that were affected by Ebola to allow them to transition from outbreak response mode to focusing on future outbreak prevention. It also launched an Ebola vaccine trial in Sierra Leone, through which over 7,000 individuals were vaccinated.

The CDC has established permanent offices in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea so as to provide ongoing support in the effort to eliminate new cases. The agency is also assisting the African Union to set up an African CDC, which will provide support to the entire continent in preventing outbreaks and to improve public health.

Antibiotic Resistance

It is estimated that at least 23,000 individuals died from preventable, antibiotic resistant infections in the United States in  2015. The CDC intends to continue to focus on preventing such infections and states, “We must preserve these miracle medications so we can avoid returning to the pre-antibiotic era when minor infections often led to death.”

Last summer, the National Action Plan to Combat Antibiotic Resistance was announced during the White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship. The plan is intended to bring together human and animal health groups that are dedicated to improving antibiotic stewardship throughout the country.

The CDC also recently discovered that health care facilities can prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant, “nightmare bacteria” (carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae or CRE) by simply coordinating their efforts, and it published guidelines for state and local health departments to alert local facilities when antibiotic-resistant bacteria is reported in the area.

Over the next year, the CDC will debut the AR Patient Safety Atlas, which is an interactive web platform that allows for open access to antibiotic resistance data relating to health care associated infections (HAIs) that are reported to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN). It also has plans to release the first antibiotic stewardship report that details progress that has been made in human medicine prescribing practices.

Tobacco Use

In 2015, the CDC’s Tips from Former Smokers campaign, which featured ads with real former smokers discussing their struggles with vision loss and colorectal cancers and is estimated to have motivated 1.6 million smokers to attempt quitting. The CDC says that the campaign resulted in 100,000 smokers quitting permanently, which avoided 17,000 premature deaths. The number of current adult smokers is at an all-time low, but the CDC notes that there remains a lot of work to be done to eliminate teen tobacco use.

The CDC plans on rolling out a new round of Tips from Former Smokers ads in order to continue its efforts at helping smokers quit and its January Vital Signs will focus on youth and tobacco use.

Prescription Drug Overdoses

Overdoses from prescription drugs remain at epidemic levels in the country, and the CDC emphasizes that the issue is a top priority for it and all of HHS. The CDC launched Prescription Drug Overdose: Prevention for States, which is an initiative to provide resources to states to help stop prescription drug overdoses. The CDC is also developing opioid prescribing guidelines to assist primary care physicians to provide safe care while reducing the risk of addiction and overdose. It also plans on release its opioid prescribing guidelines for chronic pain and will provide states with funding to better track opioid and heroin abuse and deaths.

CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said, “Old and new threats to our health, such as Ebola, dengue, HIV, e-cigarette use among kids, foodborne illness, prescription drug overdoses, and increased drug resistance are just a few of the threats that kept us up at night – and will keep us busy in 2016.”