The Public Health Merit Badge: Your Ultimate Guide In 2020


How do we keep society safe from disease? By raising our community’s awareness of public health! In earning the Public Health merit badge, you’ll learn about different forms of illness, understand the systems we have in place to prevent outbreaks, and even see for yourself how our public facilities properly handle materials to prevent contamination!

Now, more than ever, it’s important that we build a strong understanding of how diseases work. As this article is being written, our planet is in the grips of its worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918. COVID-19. But together, we’ll make it through this illness stronger than ever.

If you have any Eagle-required merit badges left to earn, you should check out my Difficulty Ranking Guide to Every Eagle-required Badge. There, you’ll also find the links to my other merit badge guides, as well as a description and summary of each badge’s requirements. I’m certain this resource will be helpful to scouts on their road to Eagle!

Buckle up, it’s time to start earning your next merit badge! Take a minute to thoroughly read through each of the requirements below. Then, I’ll walk you through all of the knowledge you’ll be needing to learn to understand the science of disease and earn your Public Health merit badge!

(Click here to visit part 2 of my guide to the Public Health merit badge!)

What Are The Public Health Merit Badge Requirements?

  1. Do the following:
    • 1a. Explain what public health is. Explain how Escherichia coli (E. coli), tetanus, HIV/AIDS, malaria, salmonellosis, and Lyme disease are contracted.
      1b. Choose any FOUR of the following diseases or conditions, and explain how each one is contracted and possibly prevented: gonorrhea, West Nile virus, Zika, botulism, influenza, syphilis, hepatitis, emphysema, meningitis, herpes, lead poisoning.
      1c. For each disease or condition in requirement 1b, explain:
      • I. The type or form of the malady (viral, bacterial, environmental, toxin)
        II. Any possible vectors for transmission
        III. Ways to help prevent exposure or the spread of infection
        IV. Available treatments
  2. Do the following:
    • 2a. Explain the meaning of immunization.
      2b. Name eight diseases against which a young child should be immunized, two diseases against which everyone should be reimmunized periodically, and one immunization everyone should receive annually.
      2c. Using the list of diseases and conditions in requirement 1b, discuss with your counselor those which currently have no immunization available.
  3. Discuss the importance of safe drinking water in terms of the spread of disease. Then, demonstrate two ways for making water safe to drink that can be used while at camp. In your demonstration, explain how dishes and utensils should be washed, dried, and kept sanitary at home and in camp.
  4. Explain what a vector is and how insects and rodents can be controlled in your home, in your community, and at camp. Tell why this is important. In your discussion, explain which vectors can be easily controlled by individuals and which ones require long-term, collective action.
  5. With your parent’s and counselor’s approval, do ONE of the following:
    • 5a. Visit a municipal wastewater treatment facility OR a solid-waste management operation in your community.
      • I. Describe how the facility safely treats and disposes of sewage or solid waste.
        II. Discuss your visit and what you learned with your counselor.
        III. Describe how sewage and solid waste should be disposed of under wilderness camping conditions.
    • 5b. Visit a food service facility, such as a restaurant or school cafeteria.
      • I. Observe food preparation, handling, and storage. Learn how the facility keeps food from becoming contaminated.
        II. Find out what conditions allow micro-organisms to multiply in food, what can be done to help prevent them from growing and spreading, and how to kill them.
        III. Discuss the importance of using a thermometer to check food temperatures.
        IV. Discuss your visit and what you learned with your counselor.
  6. Do the following:
    • 6a. Describe the health dangers from air, water, and noise pollution.
      6b. Describe health dangers from tobacco use and alcohol and drug abuse.
      6c. Describe the health dangers from abusing illegal and prescription drugs.
  7. With your parent’s and counselor’s approval, do ONE of the following:
    • 7a. Visit your city, county, or state public health agency.
      7b. Familiarize yourself with your city, county, or state health agency’s website.
      —After completing either 7a or 7b, do the following:
      • I. Compare the four leading causes of mortality (death) in your community for any of the past five years with the four leading causes of disease in your community. Explain how the public health agency you visited is trying to reduce the mortality and morbidity rates of these leading causes of illness and death.
        II. Explain the role of your health agency as it relates to the outbreak of diseases.
        III. Discuss the kinds of public assistance the agency is able to provide in case of disasters such as floods, storms, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other acts of destruction. Your discussion can include the cleanup necessary after the disaster.
  8. Pick a profession in the public health sector that interests you. Find out the education, training, and experience required to work in this profession. Discuss what you learn with your counselor.
1a) Explain what public health is. Explain how Escherichia coli (E. coli), tetanus, HIV/AIDS, malaria, salmonellosis, and Lyme disease are contracted.

Public health is defined as the “science and art of preventing disease.” The aim of public health is to prolong life and well-being by creating an organized effort to improve sanitation and prevent the spread of disease. Simply put, the goal of public health is to keep society from getting sick.

There are two main aspects of public health initiatives: prevention and treatment. Common public health initiatives to prevent disease and treat victims include:

  • Immunization of children.
  • Providing regular updates on disease outbreaks and spread.
  • Researching diseases and developing vaccines or cures.
  • Screening people for diseases.
  • Keeping our communities clean and unpolluted.
  • Providing health services to underserved areas.
  • Encouraging the reduction of unhealthy behaviors like smoking, drinking, and drug use.
  • Promoting healthy behaviors like exercise, nutritious diet, and stress reduction.

How Diseases Are Contracted

Although the odds of contracting a serious illness have been relatively low in modern times, there are still many ways that diseases, infections, and illnesses can spread. For instance:

  • Escherichia coli (E. coli) can be contracted by consuming contaminated food or water.
  • Tetanus can be spread through cuts r wounds from infected objects (like rusty metal).
  • HIV/AIDS is spread through infected blood or unsafe sexual contact.
  • Malaria is most often spread through mosquito bites.
  • Salmonellosis can be contracted after consuming undercooked meats, or by being exposed to an infected animal such as a cat, dog, or reptile.
  • Lyme disease is most commonly spread through tick bites.
1b) Choose any FOUR of the following diseases or conditions, and explain how each one is contracted and possibly prevented: gonorrhea, West Nile virus, Zika, botulism, influenza, syphilis, hepatitis, emphysema, meningitis, herpes, lead poisoning.

I’ve researched and will be explaining the contraction and prevention methods of influenza, botulism, hepatitis, and lead poisoning. If you’re interested in the other diseases and conditions, don’t worry! We’ll be briefly covering each of them later on in requirement 1c.

Influenza:

Commonly known as the common flu, influenza is a disease caused by the influenza virus. Influenza is by far the most widespread form of illness, with an estimated 3-5 million reported cases each year. Symptoms of influenza include fevers, runny nose, sore throat, muscle pain, coughing, and a feeling of weariness. In non-serious cases, the symptoms typically last for up to one week.

Transmission and prevention: Most types of influenza are spread through the air from coughs and sneezes (Like Covid-19). Touching contaminated surfaces and then making contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth can also cause infection.

To prevent contracting the flu, wash your hands frequently using soap and water, and cover your face with a surgical mask. Annual flu vaccinations are also recommended by the WHO, as they provide immunity against the most widespread strains of the flu during that year.

Botulism:

A rare but potentially fatal illness, botulism is caused by a toxin that is typically eaten or that enters through a wound. Foodborne botulism is the most common type of botulism and can result in blurred vision, difficulty speaking, and a feeling of weakness.

Within 12-72 hours of contact with the toxin, vomiting, swelling of the abdomen, and even respiratory failure may also occur. It is important to take a person suspected of botulism to the emergency room as quickly as possible.

Transmission and prevention: Botulism cannot be passed between people. The most common ways that botulism can be spread are through contaminated foods and wounds (especially when using dirty needles).

To prevent the spread of botulism, you’ll need to destroy the toxin. Try to heat high-risk foods to at least 185°F for five minutes or longer, as this will render the toxin ineffective. Improperly canned foods are the most common cause of botulism. 

Remember: Avoid canning your own foods without extensive knowledge.  Also, avoid eating foods from dented or damaged cans. Botulism can be spread more easily to infants, so avoid feeding honey to children younger than 12 months.

Hepatitis:

There are many different varieties of hepatitis, but its most common symptom is inflammation of the liver tissue. Hepatitis A, B, and D can be prevented with immunization. Hepatitis C is mainly spread through infected blood when sharing needles. 

Symptoms of hepatitis can include yellowing skin, poor appetite, and abdominal pain. However, hepatitis can also be fatal. Each year, liver failure and liver cancer are the leading causes of death for close to 1 million individuals infected with hepatitis.

Transmission and prevention: While hepatitis can be transmitted in a variety of ways, most forms of hepatitis can be prevented through vaccination as well as by avoiding the use of hard drugs. 

Heavy alcohol use, consumption of feces (lol, hep A), and some autoimmune diseases can also damage the liver and cause a person to develop hepatitis.

To prevent hepatitis, get vaccinated. Washing your hands can also reduce your odds of contracting hepatitis, so remember to practice good hygiene. Most forms of hepatitis don’t require treatment to overcome. However, antiviral medications may help to lessen the effect of hepatitis and to speed recovery. If you are ever experiencing any serious symptoms of discomfort, visit your doctor as quickly as possible.

Lead Poisoning:

A type of poisoning that occurs in the body and brain, lead poisoning can cause a victim to experience abdominal pain, headaches, irritability, memory problems, infertility, and tingling in the hands and feet.

Lead poisoning was a much more common problem around 100 years ago, but today, lead poisoning still causes around 500,000 worldwide deaths each year. You may not notice that you’ve been exposed to lead until symptoms develop over a span of weeks to months.

Transmission and prevention: Lead compounds contained in foods, water, consumer products, and air could expose individuals to lead poisoning. Today, the most common causes of light poisoning are from occupational exposure. If you ever are working a job that uses x-rays, ammunition, or circuit boards, you’re more likely to be in contact with lead.

To prevent lead poisoning, be aware of its symptoms. If you begin to experience any tingling or other symptoms, assess what sources of lead may be present in your life. It’s estimated that there are still millions of houses that are coded in lead-based paint. On a positive note though, lead poisoning has a slow onset time, so you don’t need to be too worried.

1c) For each disease or condition in requirement 1b, explain:
I. The type or form of the malady (viral, bacterial, environmental, toxin)
-II. Any possible vectors for transmission
-III. Ways to help prevent exposure or the spread of infection
-IV. Available treatments

Before we dive into this requirement, let me get a bit nerdy for a second to tell you about some of the crazy differences between viruses and bacteria. This is super interesting, but you can skip ahead if you’re in a hurry.

While both of these microbes cause disease, viruses and bacteria are extremely different. In fact, WebMD states that bacteria and viruses are about as different as giraffes and goldfish!

Here’s what you need to know. Bacteria are pretty complex single-celled microorganisms. They exist in all areas of the planet and often don’t need a host to survive. Fun fact, studies have indicated that the average human has just as many bacteria cells in their body as they do human cells! This isn’t a problem though, because many types of bacteria are actually helpful.

On the other hand, viruses are super weird. They require a living host to survive, and will always cause some sort of illness within the host. Plus, viruses are small. In fact, they’re much smaller than bacteria, and are one of the smallest microbes known to man. In general, scientists consider viruses to be nonliving. Yikes!

If you’re interested in learning more about the wacky world of viruses and bacteria, watch the following video (6:48). It was way too interesting to leave out of this guide, and it even has cute illustrations!

Okay, this concludes your virus/bacteria crash course. Now it’s time to get back into the requirements! Read through the table below to complete requirement 1c.

I. Type or form of maladyII. Possible vectors for transmissionIII. Ways to help prevent the spread of infectionIV. Available treatments
GonorrheaBacterial (STD)Sexually transmitted via genitalsPractice abstinence or safe sex (Condoms and monogamous relationships)Antibiotics (Usually ceftriaxone and azithromycin)
West Nile VirusViral (Causes fever)Can be spread by birds and mosquitoes. Very rarely spread from human-to-human.Prevent mosquito bites by using repellent and wearing covered clothingNo specific treatments. In serious cases, pain medication and IV fluids are administered.
ZikaViral (Causes fever)Spread by mosquitoes.Prevent mosquito bites (eliminate sources of stagnant water for breeding)Vaccines are currently in clinical trials
BotulismToxin (From bacterial spores)Improper food preparation; use of unclean needles.Avoid canning own food and eating from dented cans. Don’t use drug needles.Botulinum antitoxin is used to neutralize toxins but does not undo existing paralysis.
InfluenzaViral (The flu)Spread from person to person via physical contact, coughing, or sneezing.Get vaccinated, wash your hands, and wear a surgical mask.Drink fluids and get bed rest. Acetaminophen can also reduce fevers and relieve aching.

Syphilis
Bacterial (Sores)Sexually transmitted via genitalsPractice abstinence or safe sex (Condoms and monogamous relationships)Variety of treatments depending on severity. Typically, antibiotics are used.
HepatitisViral/Environmental (Liver inflammation, has many forms, see 1b)Many causes. Viruses or unhealthy habits can lead to Hepatitis.Get vaccinated and avoid liver-damaging activities.Antiviral medications, and reduced alcohol consumption are recommended.
EmphysemaEnvironmental (Basically a chronic lung disease)Smoking or AAT deficiency (lack of infection-fighting protein)Avoid lung-damaging activities like smoking. Wear a mask when working around fine dusts.Bronchodilators help to relax lung muscles, aiding in breathing.
MeningitisViral/Bacterial (Inflammation of membranes covering brain and spine)Many causes, can be transmitted by infected people.Get vaccinated, avoid sharing personal items , distance from infected people.Antibiotics have been used to treat some types of meningitis
HerpesViral (Sores and blisters)Spread by direct contact with infected persons. Typically via sex.Practice abstinence or safe sex (Condoms and monogamous relationships)Antivirals and topical creams can suppress herpes and are commonly used as treatments.
Lead PoisoningEnvironmental Toxin (causes brain/nervous system damage)Long-term exposure to lead (by breathing, eating, or skin contact)Check for lead in old products like paints, cutlery, pipes, etc.Removing the source of lead and supplementing with calcium iron and zinc to reduce deficiencies.

Moral of the story, guys? Nature is deadly and terrifying! Haha, I’m kidding :P. Statistically, it’s actually quite unlikely that you’ll contract any chronic or fatal illnesses if you practice good hygiene and common sense.

Plus, you can feel relieved that we’re living in the 21st century and have made incredible medical breakthroughs for treating, and even curing disease in the past 100 years. Want an example? Read on to requirement 2a!

Do the following:
2a) Explain the meaning of immunization.

Immunization is a process that strengthens a person’s immune system against disease-causing microorganisms. Often, once an individual overcomes a disease, their body will know how to fight it. The goal of immunization is to protect people from diseases without them needing to get sick. We typically immunize people by using vaccines.

Fun fact: Before vaccines, the only way to become immune to a disease was to catch it — and survive! Trust me, getting a serious illness is NOT a fun time (Consider the Bubonic plague or the Spanish flu).

Vaccination is done by injecting a weakened or killed form of a disease-causing microbe into a person’s body. The person’s immune system will fight off the bacteria and learn the ability to quickly respond to that type of pathogen in the future. Vaccines are a much less risky way of becoming immune to a particular disease than by overcoming the actual illness!

PS: Many studies have shown that there is no connection between vaccines and autism. The people who first published that study were not using scientific methods, and were subsequently stripped of their medical licenses. Just in case you were wondering.

2b) Name eight diseases against which a young child should be immunized, two diseases against which everyone should be reimmunized periodically, and one immunization everyone should receive annually.

The CDC recommends that people should periodically be reimmunized against the following diseases:

  • Reimmunize Annually: Influenza (Flu shot)
  • Reimmunize with booster once every 10 years: Tetanus (DTaP vaccine)
  • Reimmunize once before age 27 and once between ages 27-45: Human papillomavirus (HPV vaccine)

Other diseases that children are recommended to be immunized against include:

  • Hepatitis B (HBV vaccine)
  • Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR vaccine)
  • Polio (IPV vaccine)
  • Rotavirus (rotavirus vaccine)
  • Whooping cough (DTaP vaccine)
  • Chickenpox (Varicella vaccine)
2c) Using the list of diseases and conditions in requirement 1b, discuss with your counselor those which currently have no immunization available.
No Immunization AvailablePublic Immunization Available
Gonorrhea
West Nile Virus
Zika (As of 2020)
Botulism
Syphilis
Meningitis
Herpes
Lead Poisoning.
Emphysema
Influenza (For most flus)
Hepatitis (Excluding Hep C)

As you can see, a large portion of diseases have no immunizations available. Furthermore, diseases with immunizations can mutate, making those immunizations less effective over time.

The good news though, is that vaccines have undoubtedly slowed the spread of illness. In some cases, vaccines have practically eliminated once-deadly and widespread diseases (like polio), thereby saving countless lives!

3) Discuss the importance of safe drinking water in terms of the spread of disease. Then, demonstrate two ways for making water safe to drink that can be used while at camp. In your demonstration, explain how dishes and utensils should be washed, dried, and kept sanitary at home and in camp.

Remember learning about E. coli, hepatitis, and botulism earlier in requirement 1? These are all common examples of waterborne diseases. Therefore, you’ll need to learn how to purify water to ensure that your drinking water is safe and bacteria-free.

Purifying Water In The Wild

Watch the video (3:37) below for a quick walk-through on how to filter water while at camp or on a wilderness trek. The speaker in this video goes over some important safety tips, so be sure to watch this one all the way through!

Finished watching? Good! Basically, the two ways that you can make water safe to drink are through filtration or boiling. Again, it’s important that you choose the cleanest source of water possible to purify. 

Keep in mind that filtration cannot illuminate viruses, and boiling cannot eliminate solid, unsafe compounds in the water. Therefore, your best option is to first filter and then boil your water if you have the time available. 

Washing Dishes While Camping

Now on to camp sanitation. Dirty dishes can spread disease and attract wild animals. For a quick lesson on how to properly clean your dishes during a camp, watch the following short video (1:21).

This video should’ve served as a good refresher to the three-bucket method. Remember to strain the food particles out of your dishwater after washing, and to splash the water over a wide area. With this lesson down, you’ve just about mastered water safety for campouts!

(Click here to visit part 2 of my guide to the Public Health merit badge!)

Conclusion

Geez, the Public Health merit badge is more work than most of the Eagle-required badges! I’m exhausted, haha. Well done though, you’re doing an awesome job! You’ve already built a solid understanding of diseases, and are now almost halfway done with the Public Health merit badge. Keep pushing! ?

BTW, I’ve started splitting these articles into 2 parts so that the pages can load faster and your computer won’t start lagging like mine currently is. Hope that’s not bothering you. Anyway, be sure to check out part 2 of this article to find the answers for requirements 4-8. You can get to the next section by clicking here!

Cole

I'm constantly writing new content for this website because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making this world a better place. Until next time, I'm wishing you all the best on your journey to Eagle and beyond!

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