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Public health approaches to infectious disease
Public health approaches to infectious disease

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3.3 Tertiary prevention strategies

Medical treatment to prevent the worst outcomes of a disease in an individual is known as tertiary prevention. Although this may greatly improve the quality of life for that person, it has at most a limited impact on the spread of infectious disease. For example, physical therapies that support the rehabilitation of children with paralytic polio are at the tertiary level of prevention, i.e. they can reduce the impact of paralysis on the child’s quality of life, but they have no impact whatsoever on the spread of polio virus in a community.

However, tertiary strategies contribute to public health in a more subtle way. By alleviating the pain, distress and disability experienced by individuals, the community as a whole benefits from the input these people are enabled to make to the ‘social capital’ of all (Figure 7).

Described image
© WHO/TDR/Crump
Figure 7 Tertiary prevention can benefit the community as well as the individual. This man with elephantiasis in both legs, caused by lymphatic infection with filarial worms, follows a rigorous hygiene regime daily, washing with soap and water and applying antibiotic cream. This has enabled him to work at a local coir factory in India.