Date of Conferral





Public Health


Raymond M. Panas


Historically, 18th century anecdotal accounts of the decimation of several tribes of U.S. of the Native American population by trading of infected textile blankets alludes to the role of retail in the transmission of infectious disease. This study explores implications of the modern day retail organization practice of reselling returned clothing textiles from a public health infectious disease perspective. A qualitative multi-case study, utilized responses from 20 open-ended, unstructured interviews of retail employees assigned to the returns process. Additionally, several informal observations of select U.S.based, top-ranked clothing retail organizations, identified by the National Retail Federation were completed. Select federal, state, and local public health regulations regarding returned clothing textiles were then examined in an attempt to identify potential public health risks. Under a general systems conceptual framework, the points of interaction between the complex adaptive systems seen in retailer and the public health organizations were examined for infectious disease and infestation implications. Using MAXQDA software to perform the analyses, it was found that current retail practices and policy present unacknowledged infectious disease or infestation transmission risks. The risk applies to all, but is particularly relevant to immuno-compromised individuals. Though the risk in accepting and returning clothing to the sales cycle is an industry wide practice, it can be mitigated. Suggested mitigation takes the form of health training, and introduction of disinfection sanitizing tools such as UVC light exposures, into the returns-resale process.The findings point to an opportunity for social change for consumers, retail workers, and the community through update of public health and retail practices.