Keeping an eye on disease

If there’s a major disease outbreak in Snohomish County, such as bird flu or tuberculosis, Tim McDonald will be helping plan the response to it.

Here’s what the new director of communicable disease control for the Snohomish Health District has to say about some of the current health issues being faced by the public:

Q: What’s a public heath issue that concerns you?

A: There are a number of issues that fall under communicable disease. Just a regular year of influenza usually has a mortality rate in the United States of about 30,000 people. That’s a very serious disease.

There’s another serious disease on the rise. It’s not a new disease; it’s one we’ve known a lot about and thought we had cured for a while. That’s tuberculosis. It is on the rise in general in the United States and in general in Washington state.

Q: How much do you worry about bird flu triggering a worldwide pandemic?

A: Well, we’ve been very lucky in this country. We haven’t been impacted. In Asia, there has been a lot of impact.

The virus hasn’t changed so that it could be transmitted easily from human-to-human. It’s still bird-to-human. When and if it changes, then we’ll worry about having a pandemic influenza. Pandemic influenza would be the kind that happened in 1918; there are a lot of people who get very ill. Unfortunately, a lot of people die from this kind of thing. Hopefully, we can avoid it.

Q: Everyone is always looking for a magic answer to ensure good health but do they underplay how important taking basic steps, such as frequent hand washing, can be?

A: I think in general the public has an understanding that things like hand washing are really important for (battling) any communicable disease.

It’s certainly very important for influenza, but also any kind of stomach (virus) or anything else, such as colds.

Q: What do you think the public perceives as the greatest public health danger and what do you think it is?

A: Normally the public has a concern about whatever is in the news during that particular period of time. That’s kind of natural.

My concern would be communicable disease in a more general way, making sure that the public has the information it needs, and local health agencies like the Snohomish Health District have the infrastructure in place to react appropriately.

Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or

Tim McDonald

Job title: Communicable disease control director, Snohomish Health District

Previous job: Worked for 21 years as director of Health Services for Island County Public Health.

Age: 60

Education: Earned masters of public health degree from the University of Washington in 1992.

Hobbies: Hiking with his wife, Laura McDonald, on nearby Whidbey Island trails such as The Kettles and in the Cascade Pass area of Cascades.

Recent read: “This Boy’s Life” by Tobias Wolff.

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