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Honoring National Public Health Week

In my eight decades of this amazing life, I have worn a great many hats: son, brother, father, major (USAF), grandfather, council member, state representative, state senator.

Each had some sort of impact on others, and I am grateful for each of those. Many of my experiences as a physician impacted who I am and why I do what I do today. April 1-7, 2024 is National Public Health Week. I would like to salute public health workers everywhere.

Think about cholera. Over the past 200 years, seven cholera pandemics have led to more than 43 million deaths. The first known pandemic dates back to 1817 in India, with many localized outbreaks in between pandemics. Wars and natural disasters often led to higher transmission of the bacteria, due to crowded living conditions and poor sanitation.

In 1854, an epidemic of cholera hit London, England. Dr. John Snow, an epidemiologist, suspected the disease was spreading from water coming from the Broad Street pump. He reviewed death records and interviewed family members, finding most who died lived near the pump. When Dr. Snow presented his findings, local leaders removed the pump handle. Dr. Snow’s studies and the removal of the pump handle became a model for modern epidemiology.

Many roots of public health can be traced to the cholera pandemics. Today, we know things as simple as thorough handwashing, or avoiding contaminated water and food, can prevent the spread of deadly diseases.

This lesson still holds true today in slowing the spread of dangerous bacteria and viruses.

Over the past 200 years, those earliest efforts have been honed into scientific, evidence-based practices, fostering better development of sewer/sanitation systems for cities, protecting our drinking water, developing vaccinations for deadly diseases, and educating populations on disease prevention.

Physicians generally work one-on-one with their patients. Public health is unique in that the focus is on populations. Public health workers strive to improve the quality of life of their communities, help children thrive, promote safety and healthy habits, and more. You can find public health workers in a variety of roles, including restaurant inspectors, community health workers, nutritionists, epidemiologists and occupational health and safety professionals. Public health is responsible for:

■ Tracking disease outbreaks.

■ Vaccinating communities to avoid the spread of disease.

■ Setting safety standards to protect workers.

■ Developing school nutrition programs to ensure kids have access to healthy food.

■ Advocating for laws to keep people safe, including smoke-free indoor air and seatbelts.

■ Promoting emergency preparedness.

Boulder City is fortunate to fall under the umbrella of the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD). At the time of its creation in 1962, the Health District had about 30 employees, including four sanitarians who inspected 800 eating and drinking establishments.

SNHD has grown to approximately 800 staff members working in its five divisions and the Southern Nevada Community Health Center.

Which brings me to a hat that I’ve been wearing since late 2022: I have been honored to serve as Boulder City’s representative on the Board of Health. The board identifies public health needs and establishes priorities on behalf of residents, tourists/visitors, and the commercial service industry.

So this week, when you drink a glass of water, eat in a restaurant or put on sunscreen, think of the public workers who make our world safer every day.

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