Experts to talk about global health risks

URBANA — How much do you know about emerging global health risks — and which ones you need to pay attention to at home and when you travel?

A panel of experts will talk about these health risks and answer questions from the audience at a free community forum from 7 to 9 p.m. March 7 at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, 2001 S. Lincoln Ave., U.

Panelists will include UI veterinary medicine clinical instructor Dr. Yvette Johnson-Walker, speaking on such diseases as tularemia, plague and SARS-like viruses; Dr. Robert Palinkas, director of UI McKinley Health Center, speaking about international disease threats; Dr. Christine Hoang of the American Veterinary Medical Association, speaking about antimicrobial resistance; and John Wirtz of the UI College of Media, speaking about how outbreaks are portrayed in the media.

Johnson-Walker, an epidemiologist, said this event isn't intended to frighten anyone — just to make people aware so they can protect themselves.

"A lot of people think you have to travel to some place exotic to be exposed to emerging diseases," she said.

But plague, for example — spread through infected rodents, pets and their fleas — can be picked up in the western area of the U.S., she said.

"We do occasionally have outbreaks of that," she says.

And there was the deadly Hantavirus outbreak at Yosemite National Park last summer that killed three people. Hantavirus is also spread through infected rodents.

Closer to home, tularemia (rabbit fever) was found in a cluster of cats in Savoy in 2011. Cats can get the bacteria when they're outdoors and exposed to infected rabbits or ticks, and then spread it to people, Johnson-Walker said.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a bacteria carried by ticks, has been on the rise nationally, she said.

Be on the lookout if you're hiking, camping or walking your dog in tall grass, she said.

These diseases largely begin with flu-like symptoms. Some may also come with a rash, Johnson-Walker said.

Don't stop doing the things you enjoy that can expose you to these diseases, she advises, but do take precautions. Among them: Make sure you and your pets are protected from ticks and fleas.

And if you develop symptoms, seek medical attention early, Johnson-Walker advises, because the infections can take time to diagnose.

The forum next week will be the second in a series being presented by the College of Veterinary Medicine's Center for One Health Illinois.

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