Staff member working in Senator Tom Daschle’s office in Washington, DC opened a letter and noticed a small burst of powder from it. Alert to the threat of anthrax, the aide notified the police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the area was vacated. The letter tested positive for anthrax. Staff and visitors who were potentially exposed were offered antibiotics, as were workers in the Capitol’s mail rooms.


The perpetrator of the anthrax mailings was finally identified in 2008. Public health is not easy to define or to comprehend. A telephone survey of registered voters conducted in 1999 by a charitable foundation found that over half of the 1234 respondents misunderstood the term. Leaders in the field have themselves struggled to understand the mission of public health, to explain what it is, why it is important, and what it should do.


Winslow, a theoretician and leader of American public health during the first half of the 20th century. The Future of Public Health defines the mission of public health as “the fulfillment of society’s interest in assuring the conditions in which people can be healthy.” The substance of public health is “organized community efforts aimed at the prevention of disease and the promotion of health.”