Show cover of Public Health On Call

Public Health On Call

Evidence and experts to help you understand today’s public health news—and what it means for tomorrow.


745 - A Conversation With Dr. Antonia Novello, Former Surgeon General
Dr. Antonia Novella served as the 14th Surgeon General under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 - 1993. She is the first female and first Hispanic Surgeon General in U.S. history. Dr. Novella talks with Dr. Josh Sharfstein about her life and career, from being born with a rare condition called Hirschsprung’s disease to her childhood in Puerto Rico and her notable career in medicine and public health. She also discusses facing prejudice, staring down Big Tobacco, and even buying support hose for a U.S. Senator. You can read more in her new autobiography: Read more about the epic surgeons general event here:
26:01 4/12/24
744 - The Power of Positive Childhood Experiences
Much research has been dedicated to the long-lasting negative impacts of adverse childhood experiences—far less has focused on the powerful effects of positive experiences. Dr. Melissa Walls, co-director of the Center for Indigenous Health and a member of the Bois Forte and Couchiching First Nation bands, talks with Lindsay Smith Rogers about her research with benevolent childhood experiences among Indigenous communities. They discuss the importance of researching the positive, not only for public health, but in celebrating the inherent strengths of Indigenous individuals, their families, and culture. Read more:
13:01 4/10/24
BONUS - Coping With The Psychological Aftermath of The Collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore
On March 26, Baltimore’s iconic Francis Scott Key Bridge was hit by a cargo ship and collapsed, killing six people. Since then, many have found themselves watching endless loops of the video and ongoing coverage, and some are feeling symptoms of anxiety or even intense fear. Dr. George Everly, a Johns Hopkins psychologist, talks with Stephanie Desmon about the phenomenon of “psychological contagion” and how something so rare but so spectacular can suddenly make us question our sense of safety. They also discuss how to talk to kids about events like these and what to do when healthy curiosity becomes problematic. Read Dr. Everly’s Psychology Today piece here:
15:23 4/9/24
743 - What You Need to Know About H5N1, The Bird Flu Spilling Over Into Mammals
Recent reports of spillover of avian virus H5N1 into cows, cats, and even one human are concerning to the scientific community for a number of reasons. But what does the public need to know? Virologist Dr. Andy Pekosz and public health veterinary expert Dr. Meghan Davis return to the podcast to talk with Stephanie Desmon about these spillovers events and what they mean for biosecurity and our safety.
16:08 4/8/24
742 - What You Need To Know About PFAS, Or “Forever Chemicals
Per- and polyfluorinated substances are in all kinds of products from waterproof makeup to fire retardants. Dr. Ned Calonge, co-author of a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, talks with Stephanie Desmon about these “forever chemicals” and what is known about their impact on health, who is most at risk, and what people should do if they have high levels of exposure. Read the report here:
16:21 4/5/24
741 - Xolair: The First Drug For Severe Food Allergies
Xolair is the first FDA-approved therapy to prevent severe and potentially life-threatening reactions in adults and children who are allergic to dairy, eggs, wheat, nuts and other foods. Dr. Robert Wood, the director of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins, talks with Lindsay Smith Rogers about this drug that has the potential to make life a little easier for patients and parents of children with severe allergies.
10:52 4/3/24
740 - The Forgotten Youths Who Are Caregivers For Their Families
A hidden population of children serve as caregivers for family members who are chronically ill, elderly, disabled or injured. Left out of the systems that support adult caregivers, these youths often sacrifice their education, health, well-being, and childhoods. Connie Siskowski, founder and president of the American Association of Caregiving Youth, and Dr. Julie Belkowitz, a pediatrician at the University of Miami School of Medicine talk with Dr. Josh Sharfstein about these young people and the enormous responsibilities they take on, and what is needed to help support them so they can thrive. Learn more:
14:21 4/1/24
739 - How an 1882 Play, The Enemy of the People, is Helping Communities Heal from the Trauma of COVID-19
How can a play about rural Norway in 1882 help us process the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic? That's the question posed by Theater of War Productions, which is hosting readings of The Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen—and then is leading intense community conversations immediately following the productions. Bryan Doerries, artistic director of Theater of War Productions, speaks to Dr. Josh Sharfstein about how this old Norwegian play speaks to the trauma experienced by the public health field and by community members during the pandemic. You can watch the Ohio productions live via Zoom and participate in the conversation afterwards on April 6 and 7 at 6pm. You can sign up for free under the events tab at If you missed our first conversation about the parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and The Enemy of the People, you can listen here:
20:51 3/29/24
738 - Why Syphilis Is On the Rise
Despite a national plan to eliminate syphilis by 2010, the sexually transmitted infection has reached the highest rates since the 1950s. Dr. Khalil Ghanem, a researcher of sexually transmitted infections at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, talks with Stephanie Desmon about syphilis infections and the disease course, and why rates are so high not just in the US but around the world. Learn more:
21:21 3/27/24
737 - Secretary Xavier Becerra on the 14th Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act
The 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act marked a major change in health insurance coverage and care for millions of Americans. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra talks with Stephanie Desmon about the remarkable changes “Obamacare” has brought about, why it’s important for all Americans not to take these for granted, and the next set of challenges in mending a health care system that’s still too focused on treatment of complications, not prevention.
15:41 3/25/24
736 - World Water Day: How Water Can Be a Powerful Force to Bring People Together
More than 2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and more than 3 billion are living without safe sanitation systems. For World Water Day, Ken Conca, a professor of international relations at the School of International Service at American University, joins the podcast to talk with Dr. Josh Sharfstein about the state of the world’s water. They discuss how some of the biggest challenges to water access and quality are political and legal, rather than technical, in nature. They also discuss how water, which knows no jurisdictions, can bring people and nations together. Learn more:
20:03 3/22/24
735 - De-medicalizing Menopause
Menopause: inevitable, stigmatized, mysterious, and bringing a broad range of symptoms and experiences. Dr. Martha Hickey, a menopause researcher at the University of Melbourne, talks with Stephanie Desmon about a new Lancet series on menopause. They discuss how ageism and sexism come into play, the vast array of experiences women may have, and how individual circumstances can impact symptoms. They also talk about why it’s time to stop referring to menopause as a medical disorder and think more broadly about the need to provide better support and high-quality information for women during this life transition. Learn more:
15:21 3/20/24
734 - How Hospital Infection Control Has Changed Since COVID
Four years after the early days of the pandemic, how are hospitals thinking about infection control, how much has changed, and to what degree have things returned to “normal”? Dr. Lisa Maragakis, the head of infection control at Johns Hopkins Hospital, returns to the podcast to talk with Dr. Josh Sharfstein about this “post-pandemic phase” and why health care has not fully recovered from pandemic disruptions.
16:10 3/18/24
733 - Projections of Excess Deaths in Gaza Over the Next Six Months
A new report models projections of the human costs of conflict in Gaza over the next six months across several scenarios. Paul Spiegel, director of the Center for Humanitarian Health, and Tak Igusa, professor of Civil and Systems Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering talk with Dr. Josh Sharfstein about the project they developed with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. See the full report here:
13:56 3/15/24
BONUS - How "Illiberal" Is Public Health?
In his new book Within Reason: A Liberal Public Health for an Illiberal Time, Dean Sandro Galea of the Boston University School of Public Health challenges closed-mindedness and invective in public health.  In this special, extended bonus episode, Dr. Galea and his friend and colleague Dr. Josh Sharfstein discuss—and debate—the fairness of his critique.
31:39 3/14/24
732 - Bringing Back Condoms to Prevent HIV
Condoms were once an essential part of the public health toolkit to fight HIV and STIs. But over the last decade, and coinciding with the rise of medication that prevents HIV infection, condom use among men who have sex with men has declined. Steve Goodreau, an expert in mathematical modeling and HIV and STIs at the University of Washington, talks with Stephanie Desmon about his research on declining condom use and why public health should be doing more to tout the advantages of what was once one of the most ubiquitous tools in safer sex. Read his op-ed here:
13:41 3/13/24
731 - A Playbook for Addressing Health Misinformation
Health misinformation is rampant—online and through rumors—but there are steps people can take to help stamp them out. Aishwarya Nagar and Tara Kirk Sell from the Center for Health Security are co-authors of a new playbook aimed at helping public health practitioners, medical professionals, and health communicators recognize and respond to health-related rumors and misinformation. They talk through some specific tactics with Lindsay Smith Rogers and also discuss how we can all help improve our own health information literacy. Learn more:
15:29 3/11/24
730 - Women’s History Month: A Conversation With Sue Baker, the “Mother of Injury Prevention”
When Sue Baker started her research career in the 1960s, there was no field devoted to injury prevention despite accidents being a leading cause of death in the US. In honor of Women’s History Month, Stephanie Desmon talks with injury prevention pioneer Baker about her half century of research looking at everything from aviation safety to hot dog choking deaths, and her hands-on approach to research which included getting her pilot’s license, working in a medical examiner’s office, and driving a commercial truck.
17:21 3/8/24
BONUS - COVID-19 Updated: The CDC’s New Isolation Guidelines, Vaccines For People Over 65, and New Variants
The CDC announced new isolation guidelines last week that bring COVID-19 in line with recommendations for other viral respiratory diseases. Virologist Dr. Andy Pekosz returns to the podcast to talk with Stephanie Desmon about what this means in the contexts of vaccines, variants, and protecting the most vulnerable.
16:29 3/6/24
729 - Hidden Food Insecurity: The Adolescents Who Aren’t Getting Enough to Eat
Food insecurity uniquely impacts youth ages 14-18 but it’s largely a hidden problem. Kristen Mmari, an adolescent health researcher at Johns Hopkins, talks with Lindsay Smith Rogers about the long-term impacts being hungry can have on young people and why most programs aimed at relieving food insecurity don’t help this age group. They also discuss false claims that nutrition assistance programs contribute to childhood obesity. Learn more:
16:22 3/6/24
728 - Methadone Access for Incarcerated Pregnant People
Opioid use disorder is a major contributor to maternal mortality in the US. The gold standard of care is medication like methadone, but for incarcerated pregnant people, treatment can be difficult to access and highly stigmatized. Johns Hopkins obgyn and reproductive health researcher Dr. Carolyn Sufrin and Bloomberg Fellow Camille Kramer talk with Lindsay Smith Rogers about their new study that shows not only just how difficult OUD medication is to access behind bars for anyone, let alone pregnant women in the prison system.
15:21 3/4/24
727 - What The Conviction of a Parent of a High School Shooter Could Mean
The manslaughter conviction of Jennifer Crumbley, whose son shot and killed four students at his school, is unprecedented. But will it be a watershed moment for gun violence in schools? Tim Carey, law and policy advisor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, talks with Stephanie Desmon about the unique facts of this case, larger implications, and why Child Access Prevention laws are an important part of the conversation. Please note that since this podcast was recorded, a man in Michigan became the first person to be charged under the state’s new firearms storage law. The law requires gun owners to store firearms unloaded and secured with a locking device or in a lockbox if a minor lives at or is likely to visit their property.
17:01 3/1/24
726 - Substandard and Fake Drugs
Imagine going to the pharmacy to buy a needed medicine and then finding out you purchased a falsified product that was, at best, ineffective, but at worst contained something toxic or deadly? This is the unfortunate reality in many places worldwide. Dr. Murray Lumpkin, who leads global regulatory systems for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, talks with Lindsay Smith Rogers about the substantial problem of substandard and falsified drugs, and what the world’s watchdog systems are trying to do to counter them.
21:25 2/28/24
BONUS: The Alabama Supreme Court’s Ruling on Frozen Embryos
The Alabama Supreme Court issued an extraordinary ruling on February 16 that embryos that are the result of in vitro fertilization are “children.” Public health law expert Joanne Rosen returns to the podcast to talk with Dr. Josh Sharfstein about the case and its implications for IVF, how it connects to the larger context of post-Roe litigation, and what’s at stake as anti-abortion sentiment crashes up against medical technology designed to facilitate pregnancies.
18:49 2/27/24
725 - “An Unforgiving Virus” Measles Hits the U.S.
Measles outbreaks can quickly spread like wildfire. Vaccination expert Dr. Saad Omer returns to the podcast to talk with Dr. Josh Sharfstein about the threat posed by this highly contagious and potentially lethal virus – especially when communities let their guard down. They discuss the situation in Florida, misinformation spreading on social media, and what's needed to minimize the threat.
16:27 2/26/24
724 - Social Media and Adolescent Health
What's the state of the evidence on the impact of social media on the mental health of adolescents? Dr. Ceren Budak, a computational social scientist at the University of Michigan, talks with Dr. Josh Sharfstein about a new report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. The report finds a gaping need for more evidence – and for participation by social media companies in supporting research. They discuss recommendations for caregivers, Congress, and social media companies to help maximize the benefits of social media while minimizing potential harms.
22:37 2/23/24
723 - The White House’s Initiative to Eliminate Hepatitis C
Deadly hepatitis C is curable, but 2.5 million Americans remain infected without treatment. Dr. Francis Collins, longtime director of the National Institutes of Health, is now serving as a special advisor to Present Biden for an effort to eliminate hepatitis C in the US. He speaks with Stephanie Desmon about why hepatitis C has been so tricky to diagnose and treat and what it will take to launch a coordinated effort to cure every American living with the disease.
15:12 2/21/24
722 - Healing City Baltimore: How A City Is Responding to A Mental Health Crisis
From a 2019 school shooting in West Baltimore, Healing City Baltimore was born. The program aims to help city agencies train their employees, reform stigmatizing policies, and build new response programs—all with a goal of helping to improve mental health and well-being. Councilman Zeke Cohen and executive director Reverend Kim Lagree talk with Dr. Josh Sharfstein about this initiative, which recently won the Culture of Health prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is now a model for other cities. Learn more:
20:53 2/19/24
721 - Preventing Alcohol Misuse, Use Disorders, and Deaths
Alcohol use is the fourth leading cause of death in the US, but there are evidence-based approaches to preventing alcohol misuse and deaths and treating use disorders. Dr. Cara Poland, an addiction medicine specialist at Michigan State University, talks with Stephanie Desmon about excise taxes, evidence of the harms of alcohol, and her personal connection to the topic. They also discuss the differences between misuse and disorders and challenging false notions around alcohol’s health protective effects.
16:31 2/16/24
720 - Medical Diagnostic Errors Are a Public Health Emergency
Missed diagnoses account for 800,000 deaths or permanent disabilities among Americans every year. Johns Hopkins neurologist Dr. David Newman-Toker talks with Stephanie Desmon about the consequences of missed opportunities and diagnoses, especially for vascular events, infections, and cancers. They also discuss why solutions are complex and will require major efforts in terms of research and resources.
17:03 2/14/24

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