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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 10, 2000


                            January 10, 2000

Today, the White House is announcing that President Clinton will include a substantial increase in his FY 2001 budget to significantly improve the nation's ability to target, contain, control, and prevent outbreaks of infectious disease. The nearly 50 percent increase, $20 million over last year's funding level, will help fund a nationwide electronic disease surveillance network. It will also help implement a new initiative to harness the power of private sector laboratories in increasing disease surveillance efforts.

EMERGING INFECTIOUS DISEASES THREATEN THE PUBLIC HEALTH. Over the past twenty years, America has made tremendous progress in its ability to identify and address outbreaks of infectious disease. In 1982, it took months to identify E.coli 0157:H7 as the cause of the first outbreaks of bloody diarrhea. Now, using modern disease monitoring and laboratory techniques, outbreaks can be identified early, causes can be identified, and interventions can be initiated. Identifying an outbreak early makes it easier to contain its spread, prevent illness, and save lives. Nevertheless, newly emerging or re-emerging infectious diseases have serious health consequences.

Once-conquered diseases continue to re-emerge in stronger, more virulent forms. A number of diseases once thought to be under control, such as dengue, have begun to increase and spread to new regions. The long-term use and misuse of antibiotics has allowed many microorganisms to adapt to these drugs, creating "superbugs" that render current treatments ineffective. In recent years, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and drug resistant pneumococcal infections (the most common cause of middle ear infections in children and pneumonia in the elderly) have become common. These infections result in longer hospital stays, rising health care costs, and increasing death rates.

The incidence of newly emerging infectious diseases continues to rise. Between 1973 and 1999, more than 35 newly emerging infectious diseases were identified, including AIDS, toxic shock syndrome, Legionnaires disease, Lyme disease, and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. The emergence of West-Nile like virus along the East Coast this year, and the recent emergence of a novel strain of influenza pandemic in Hong Kong underscore the ongoing threat that infectious diseases pose to our health and the increasing impact they have on health care costs.

Infectious diseases contribute substantially to the escalating cost of health care. Approximately one out of every six domestic health care dollars is spent on infectious diseases, which account for 25 percent of all physician visits and constitute the most common reason for outpatient visits in the country. In addition, antimicrobial agents are the second most frequently prescribed class of drugs in the United States. Infectious complications in hospital settings result in an estimated $20 billion in excess health care costs.

PRESIDENT CLINTON ANNOUNCES NEW, $20 MILLION INVESTMENT TO COMBAT EMERGING INFECTIOUS DISEASES. Today, The White House will announce that President Clinton's FY 2001 budget will include an increase of nearly 50 percent over last year's funding level, to develop a national disease surveillance system that can rapidly detect the infectious disease cases that signal the beginning of an outbreak. The increased funding, which supplements the CDC's current budget of $44.3 million for this initiative, will ensure that disease outbreak information is used for immediate public health action by:

Speeding the development of a national electronic disease surveillance network. New funds will be used to enhance the development of an electronic disease surveillance network in all 50 states. This new network will develop a two-way information highway that will ensure the timely transmission of information from physicians and health facilities on the front lines to state health departments and the CDC in order to rapidly assimilate information, pinpoint potential outbreaks, and alert health care providers if there is a potential infectious disease threat. Special emphasis will be placed on enhancing reporting systems in emergency rooms, often the first contact between health care providers and rare infectious diseases.

Getting critical information to doctors to ensure effective treatment for infectious diseases. Information collected through these new surveillance activities will also be compiled and sent to physicians through this electronic infrastructure. This will enable physicians to offer their patients more appropriate care. For example, physicians will know which types of bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, or which strain of influenza is circulating amongst their patients, and prescribe a more effective course of treatment.

Coordinating disease surveillance efforts with the private sector. New funds will be invested in developing public-private partnerships to ensure that commercial labs implement an electronic reporting system compatible with the one currently being developed for state and local public health departments. Under this system, private commercial labs, with appropriate privacy protections, will automatically send information on the incidence of infectious diseases to public health departments for analysis and integration into larger surveillance efforts. This will help make reporting of incidence of infectious disease become commonplace. Pilot projects implementing this type of system in seven states have indicated significant increases -- in some states, as high as a 230 percent increase -- in reporting of infectious disease. The increase in reported data provides a more complete picture of disease incidence to public health officials, allowing them to move quickly to address potential public health threats.