Can Lessons from Public Health Disease Surveillance Be Applied to Environmental Public Health Tracking?
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Can Lessons from Public Health Disease Surveillance Be Applied to Environmental Public Health Tracking?

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  • English

  • Details:

    • Alternative Title:
      Environ Health Perspect
    • Description:
      Disease surveillance has a century-long tradition in public health, and environmental data have been collected at a national level by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for several decades. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced an initiative to develop a national environmental public health tracking (EPHT) network with "linkage" of existing environmental and chronic disease data as a central goal. On the basis of experience with long-established disease surveillance systems, in this article we suggest how a system capable of linking routinely collected disease and exposure data should be developed, but caution that formal linkage of data is not the only approach required for an effective EPHT program. The primary operational goal of EPHT has to be the "treatment" of the environment to prevent and/or reduce exposures and minimize population risk for developing chronic diseases. Chronic, multifactorial diseases do not lend themselves to data-driven evaluations of intervention strategies, time trends, exposure patterns, or identification of at-risk populations based only on routinely collected surveillance data. Thus, EPHT should be synonymous with a dynamic process requiring regular system updates to a) incorporate new technologies to improve population-level exposure and disease assessment, b) allow public dissemination of new data that become available, c) allow the policy community to address new and emerging exposures and disease "threads," and d) evaluate the effectiveness of EPHT over some appropriate time interval. It will be necessary to weigh the benefits of surveillance against its costs, but the major challenge will be to maintain support for this important new system. Key words: environmental health, evaluation, intervention, registries, surveillance.
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