Secondosis: A Tale of One Treatable Disease, Left Untreated

Recently, 115 Democratic members of Congress wrote a compelling letter to the House leadership, calling for an end to a longstanding de facto ban on federal funding for research into a health problem they called a pressing epidemic.

I have written previously about how that lack of funding weakens our efforts to make communities healthier. But now I want to cast the problem in an allegorical framework that illustrates some of the challenges we face in dealing with a disease that could be prevented, were it not for cultural and political entanglements.

Let us say that, for more than a decade, about 32,000 people in the U.S. have been dying annually from the disease of secondosis. Approximately 200,000 other people acquire the disease and recover from it, although the physical and psychological consequences of secondosis can be long lasting and, in some cases, devastating. The health consequences of secondosis outstrip those of motor vehicle accidents.

Although secondosis is found in other high-income countries, it is far more common in the U.S. With about 90 deaths from secondosis daily, the U.S. has seen regular outbreaks of the disease, some of which attract a fair amount of media attention. Since a particularly tragic outbreak in Connecticut in 2012, there have been nearly 1,000 mass outbreaks throughout the country. Public health approaches to secondosis have been well described, and the pathogen that causes it has been identified–and is preventable. Assuming that the U.S. rate of secondosis was comparable to other peer countries, we could readily save 25,000 lives a year.

The presence of secondosis has not gone unnoticed; in fact, the President has made several powerful public appearances, following outbreaks, calling for action to stem secondosis–most recently just last weekend, after an incident in Colorado Springs. But despite the clear recognition of —> Read More