Flu, salmonella, vaping dominate health headlines in 2018

Public health issues regularly made headline news and affected millions of people throughout 2018.

From flu outbreaks to foodborne illnesses, the CDC and other federal authorities had a lot on their hands in the way of tracking, monitoring, and reporting on threats to the public.

Influenza - We ushered in the year with a record number of Americans battling influenza; 172 children died in the 2017-2018 flu season. It was the largest number of fatalities since the CDC began tracking childhood flu deaths 14 years ago.

In February, the CDC's acting director, Anna Schuchat continued recommending flu vaccines.

"In severe seasons in the past over 700,000 people have been hospitalized and 56,000 people died from influenza we may be on track to reach or even exceeded these records," Schuchat said.

Foodborne illness - Also in 2018 were multiple reports of foodborne illnesses.

Most notable were the salmonella outbreak leading to the recall of 6.5 million pounds of beef and multiple E.coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce.

CDC foodborne outbreak team leader Laura Gieraltowski spoke in April 2018, outlined the signs and symptoms of the symptoms of infection with the toxic E.coli strain.

"People that develop E.coli they usually experience bloody diarrhea and stomach cramps three or four days after eating a food contaminated with the germ...and you know, most people recover within a week, some do have a more severe illness that requires hospitalization."

Lower life expectancy - Life expectancy for Americans continued to decline for the third year in a row in younger adults, a troubling trend driven primarily by drug overdoses and suicide. Last year's rate was the highest in almost 50 years.

William Dietz, MD, an expert at George Washington University believes social stressors are contributing to the decline.

"There is a sense of hopelessness, that people are unemployed, they're not sure of their future, there is divisive politics, the income gap is widening," Dietz said.

Sexually transmitted disease - There were also sharp, sustained increases in sexually transmitted diseases with nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

Hardest hit were 15 to 24-year-olds.

To help combat cancers linked to a sexually transmitted disease, the FDA expanded the use of the HPV vaccine Gardisil-9. It can now be given to children and adults age 9 to 45.

Vaping - As cigarette use hit an all-time low in teens, the number of teens vaping is skyrocketing.

In spite of an FDA plan to curtail use, the latest survey revealed more teens are using e-cigs like Juul, than ever before.

The disproportionate popularity of Juul prompted U.S. surgeon general Jerome Adams to publicly address the problem in December  2018, "75 percent of retail sales are of the Juul product this USB product that is easy to hide and that delivers a much higher nicotine content."

New, polio-like disease - More than a 150 cases of a polio-like illness called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, were diagnosed in the U.S.

Amid allegations the CDC didn't follow up with children diagnosed in prior years, the CDC established a task force to aid in the investigation and research of AFM.