Almost invariably, we view health activation as a means of dealing with the triggers for mental and substance use conditions. This is shown in a recent and important report from SAMHSA, "Taking Care of Your Behavioral Health During an Infectious Disease Outbreak" (see http://store.samhsa.gov/product/SMA14-4894). However, health activation also extends to disarming the triggers for other health conditions as well, such as other chronic diseases and infectious diseases themselves. Here, I would like to discuss our response to infectious diseases.
Infectious diseases can range from a common cold to a serious influenza, from common sexually-transmitted diseases to HIV, and all the way to Ebola. All infections require a method of transmission. Colds and influenzas can be transmitted through the air after exposure to a sneeze or by contact with exposed surfaces, such as door handles, where they can survive for extended periods. Transmission of sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV, and Ebola requires direct contact with body fluids. We now have developed effective vaccinations for colds and influenza; vaccines also are available for some of the sexually-transmitted diseases, such as HPV, others are being tested for HIV and Ebola.
As we await the development of effective vaccinations for these infections, here are several essential personal actions that we must take to reduce the transmission of infectious diseases:
- Our personal health literacy requires that we become knowledgeable about the triggers for different infectious diseases, as well as what specific actions we are required to take to disarm them. Our personal health activation then requires that we actually take these preventive actions even before an outbreak occurs.
- Our current wellness activities must be broadened to include training on specific behavioral steps we can take to minimize the transmission of infectious diseases when an outbreak actually does occur. In the past, these wellness initiatives have focused principally on preventing and minimizing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes; in the future, they must give infectious diseases equivalent attention.
- Our own well care through emergent health homes and medical homes must include knowledge and behavioral steps to minimize the transmission of infectious diseases, availability of the tools to minimize transmission, and, whenever possible, appropriate vaccination.
The recent Ebola outbreak also offers several important additional lessons about how we need to respond at a national level: