Health Matters Special: Outbreaks and Epidemics - The Role of Public Health

Airs Thursday, July 30, 202, at 6 p.m.

You know you've made it when you get parodied on Saturday Night Live … by none other than Brad Pitt. And you really know you’ve made it when Pitt breaks character to thank you for your service. That was an honor recently bestowed upon Anthony Fauci, America's bespectacled top infectious disease physician, who’s achieved rock star levels of fame in recent weeks. Usually, though, public health officials have much lower profiles. They’re behind-the-scenes thinkers and doers, who help keep their communities healthy with initiatives like traffic safety, vaccinations, and fluoridated water. In the best of times, we don’t even know they’re there — but during disease outbreaks, their work kicks into high gear. So how did this field get its start? And what can we learn from past crises, starting with the yellow fever outbreak of 1793, through the AIDS epidemic, into the present? In this episode, we hear stories about the origins of public health; how the 1918 flu pandemic shaped the modern bathroom; and how schools and public health became a power couple.

Yellow Fever Outbreak.
We explore the very beginnings of public health in America by telling the story of the yellow fever epidemic of 1793, which ravaged the young nation’s capital.

Vaccines and schools — a public health power couple.
Every school year, in all 50 states, parents must prove their kids have received certain vaccines before enrolling them in school. Specific requirements differ from state to state, but the general rules are the same: no vaccines, no school. Reporter Avi Wolfman-Arent explores how this relationship between schools and public health took root.

What is public health?
Alison Buttenheim, an associate professor of nursing and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, joins us to talk about the role of public health during the coronavirus outbreak and explains why the core of her job is to make it seem like nothing’s happened.

Lessons from HIV/AIDS pandemic.
What lessons can we learn from America’s last major epidemic — HIV/AIDS? We ask Carlos Del Rio, a professor of medicine and global health at Emory University, about how public health approaches shaped the HIV epidemic, and vice versa.

How a pandemic inspired your bathroom.
During the coronavirus outbreak, we’re constantly hearing about the importance of washing our hands and keeping surfaces clean. A little more than 100 years ago, this same concern over cleanliness emerged during the 1918 flu pandemic. Architect David Feldman joins us to discuss how this past pandemic helped to shape our homes — especially the bathroom. .