Three years on, COVID-19 kept making headlines in 2022, from news about boosters and variants to research on long COVID. But there were plenty of other public health developments this year—including both promising breakthroughs and worrying new threats—that are no less pressing, even as the world continues to grapple with the pandemic.
As we hope for a healthier 2023, the NYU News team turned to our faculty for research-backed insights and commentary on some of the biggest non-COVID stories that emerged in 2022. Here’s a refresher on seven of them:
Monkeypox surged—and then declined.
Joseph Osmundson, clinical assistant professor of biology, was sounding the alarm on monkeypox before most people had heard of the infectious disease that began to spread among queer men and their sexual networks in New York late this spring. (He also called for its renaming for accuracy and to reduce stigma; the WHO is in the process of changing the name to mpox.) Osmundson knew that to fight mpox, we needed to apply lessons from HIV and COVID-19, including improving access to testing, vaccines, and treatment. He worked with New York City health officials on mobile vaccination programs that brought mpox vaccines to queer nightlife venues, which helped to vaccinate thousands in the LGBTQ+ community, ultimately stemming the spread of mpox.
“This success belongs first to the queer community and the nightlife and event hosts we partnered with," Osmundson said. “We showed that sexually transmitted diseases can be dealt with openly, without stigma—and that caring for one another is sexy!”
Climate change is a public health issue.
This year brought a devastating hurricane to Florida, widespread flooding to Pakistan, and extreme heat waves to Europe, disrupting food systems and taking lives.
Climate change—which studies show increases the frequency and intensity of severe weather events—is not often recognized as a threat to public health, but NYU faculty are changing that.
Researchers at GPH’s new Center for Public Health Disaster Science published a new analysis and report on the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy to document the region's recovery and the storm’s long-term effect on residents’ health and wellbeing. NYU Meyers is incorporating climate change into the curriculum to address this underlying driver of health issues like asthma and heat exhaustion, and launched a brand-new course focused on environmental health this fall.
AI can be harnessed for good in health care.
Artificial intelligence holds promise for improving certain aspects of health care—especially when it comes to sifting through vast amounts of data. For instance, the Machine Learning for Good Laboratory developed an automated system for detecting emerging public health threats—from drug overdoses to infectious outbreaks. The “pre-surveillance” system, which was tested and fine-tuned with New York City health officials, can rapidly identify possible epidemics using anonymized data from emergency rooms. Similarly, GPH is partnering with the Novartis Foundation, Microsoft AI4Health, and local hospitals to determine how AI can be used to address heart health inequity in New York City. And research from the Center for Data Science and Grossman School of Medicine found differences in how radiologists and AI systems read mammograms, pointing to the value of having humans and computers work together on breast-cancer screening and revealing areas for improvement in AI technology.
Polio makes an appearance.
Mpox and COVID-19 weren’t the only infectious diseases to make news in New York this year. In June, health officials reported a case of polio that led to paralysis in Rockland County, and traces of the virus were found this summer in New York City’s wastewater. The news prompted public health leaders to urge people to get vaccinated (and sent people scrambling to locate their vaccine records).
“The only approach to avoid further cases is better vaccination, as the greatest danger is to children and adults who are not vaccinated,” said Michael Merson, visiting professor of global health at GPH. “We cannot afford to lose our hard-won advances in global polio eradication.”
Questions emerge in a post-Roe America.
The Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization eliminated federal protection of the right to an abortion. The decision not only led to abortion restrictions in many states, but raised countless questions about the future of reproductive health: Will IUDs and other forms of contraception be restricted? (GPH Professor Jean Bae said some states exempt contraception from their abortion bans and insurance coverage for contraception is protected by the Affordable Care Act, but it’s unclear if future efforts will lead to restrictions.) Will medical students continue to receive adequate training in abortion and miscarriage care? Is the future of IVF and surrogacy uncertain? (Law Professor Melissa Murray forecasts a highly uncertain legal future for IVF, given that the same medical procedure can be used for IVF, miscarriage, and abortion.) Will hesitation among patients and providers delay care, leading to complications and worsening already poor maternal health outcomes?
Vaping is under scrutiny (again).
For several years, e-cigarettes have been at the center of a heated debate. Some research shows that e-cigarettes could help smokers quit—but along the way, millions of young people picked up a vaping habit, thanks in part to the industry’s marketing. Moreover, there are new concerns about the safety of vaping: Researchers at NYU Dentistry have found growing evidence for the role of vaping in gum disease, and Langone research uncovered a connection between e-cigarettes and erectile dysfunction. This year, US regulators began cracking down on companies, with JUUL paying a major settlement for its marketing to youth and the FDA banning its products (an unresolved issue). “There’s little question that regulatory and other public health authorities must continue to restrict marketing of the sort promulgated by JUUL Labs and other copycat companies,” said Jennifer Cantrell, assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at GPH. “What is less clear is how best to communicate age-appropriate messages on the potential risks and benefits of e-cigarette use alone and relative to other tobacco products, particularly when scientific evidence and the tobacco marketplace is quickly evolving.”
Oral health gains global attention.
Oral health has long been neglected in global health efforts, but the tide is starting to shift. Last month, the World Health Organization released its first-ever Global Oral Health Status Report—co-edited by NYU Dentistry Professor Habib Benzian—which creates a comprehensive picture of oral health around the world with data profiles for 194 countries. For instance, in the US, nearly half of adults have signs of gum disease. “We hope that our candid diagnosis of challenges and problems initiates a broad societal, professional, and political discussion,” said Benzian, co-director of the NYU Dentistry WHO Collaborating Center for Quality-improvement, Evidence-based Dentistry. “Continuing ‘business as usual’ is not an option.”