updated: March 7, 2017
Seems like flu season is either just starting or stopping.... Although nation wide and even locally this seasons flu season was unusually severe, Island County was relatively "lucky" to have only 3 flu related fatalities. And best news of all, the season locally seems to be winding down. Flu Shots can help even if they are not 100% effective, and you still get sick, you will likely be less sick for less time. There is some interesting and somewhat discouraging information that getting flu shots year after year may actually reduce their effectiveness, and more study is underway to try to understand this. The vaccines this year are a good match for the circulating strains of influenza. Nasal spray vaccine is no longer recommended because of poor protection compared to the traditional poke in the arm! As always, it's important to remember what grandma told you as well: Cover Your Cough, Stay Home When You Are Sick, Wash Your Hands. And here is a link to the Washington State Health Department about flu shots: flu shot information . The CDC reminds us that flu shots are recommended for everyone over the age of six months, and they can be particularly beneficial for pregnant women and young children. If at high risk (elderly, underlying health problems, etc), anti-viral medications can also be considered. Unfortunately, just as with many other antibiotics, the antiviral medications are potentially losing their effectiveness against influenza, (there has been no antiviral effectiveness testing yet this year), so as always: Prevention is the best medicine.
CDC weekly update (Current Influenza status)
NOISE EXPOSURE AND HEALTH
The Washington State Department of Health, at the request of the Washinton State Board of Health recently completed a literature and scientific review of noise and health effects: DOH Noise Review.docx . This came about in part because of the tremendous amount of interest and anxiety related to noise in our island community. It is important to remember that noise from ANY source may have the same effects listed in this document. Most of these studies were done relating to industrial, road, or commercial aircraft noise pollution. It is also important to remember that being exposed to a risk factor is not the same as acquiring a disease. For example: the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease are: smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, overweight, inactivity, age and family history. Exposure to noise and stress may add to this risk burden and certain individuals may be more susceptible to their effects than others. In addition to cardiovascular disease, this document also examines noise as it relates to hearing loss and tinnitus, annoyance, sleep disturbance, cognitive impairment, and susceptible populations.
Washington State is currently experiencing an uptick in cases of Mumps, currently 550 cases, primarily in King, Spokane, and Pierce Counties. Island County has not experienced any mumps cases. 2/3 of the cases are under age 19 and have had 2 doses of MMR vaccine. Luckily, for the most part, the cases have been just swollen saliva glands "parotitis", and not the more serious complications of neurolgic or reproductive organ inflammation (orchitis and oophoritis). The state department of health is currently NOT recommending anyone needs a third dose of vaccine, and reminds us that isolation of and from affected individuals is the best way to prevent spread. Unfortunately, there are other diseases that can mimic mumps and swollen parotid glands, so if you are concerned, please call your health care provider.
Until recently, a rare tropical disease of academic interest, over the past several years Zika has become widespread throughout Central America, and has now been transmitted by mosquitoes in Florida as well as having numerous individuals infected both by travel in affected areas and through sexual transmission. It can cause potentially devastating birth defects, primarily microcephaly. Initially thought to be a problem only if a pregnant woman became infected during pregnancy, it is complicated by the fact that 80% of infections or more may cause no symptoms in the woman. And since it may also be transmitted sexually, a man may become infected during travels to affected areas and subsequently infect his partner. Our NW climate does NOT support the mosquito (Aedes aegypti) that transmits the virus, but some of the southern and eastern portions of the US may during warmer months so it may not require even leaving the continental US for a woman or her male partner to potentially be exposed as has been experienced in Florida. And Hurricane Matthew may complicate matters by both adding standing water to previously dry areas as well as spreading the mosquitoes on the wind (as they normally do not travel very far on their own.)
The CDC is continually updating their guidelines and recommendations for travel, guidance for females or couples considering pregnancy, etc., If you have concerns, especially regarding pregnancy, your primary provider can help you assess your risks, and we will be happy to work with them regarding testing suggestions. CDC Zika Guidelines
Washington State Department of Health in October released an advisory re: razor clams harvested from the Washington coast. Because low levels of domoic acid naturally occur and may be present in shellfish, the DOH recommends eating no more than 15 razor clams/month during a one year period. (Domoic acid occurs naturally, and at high levels wil trigger harvesting closure). Prolonged consumption of large quantities of razor clams even with low levels of domoic acid may cause memory impairment. This is especially important for pregnant women, nursing moms, children, the elderly, and people with impaired kidney function. A link for more shellfish safety information: DOH Shellfish Information
Who knew there were so many bats in Island County? Bats are benficial to our environment both as pollinators and excellent bug exterminators. Unfortunately, they are also the only reservoir of rabies in Washington State*. The most common reason for needing to test a bat is waking up in the morning to find a bat in your bedroom. If you think you have had an exposure to put you at risk, if at all possible, please capture the bat (safely, wearing thick gloves, put the bat in something like a tupperware container) and store in the refrigerator (not the freezer) and contact Island County Public Health, (360) 679-7350, for information about whether the bat needs to be brought in for testing. Their teeth are so tiny you may not feel a bite. Also if the bat is found in a room with an impaired/intoxicated/mentally incapacitated person or child, the bat may need to be tested. Please also make sure your pets are vaccinated (dogs, cats, ferrets) as they may be exposed, particularly if they are outside. If necessary, we will work with your physician to arrange for vaccination. (*Recently 2 cats have had rabies, but none in Island County.)
Several popular travel destinations in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the Big Island of Hawaii are currently experiencing outbreaks of mosquito-borne viral diseases. Dengue and
Chikungunya have made appearances in returning Washington state vacationers. SOOoooo, in addition to sunscreen, please consider insect repellent as well... and the same tips for West Nile Virus apply.
Hmmm… Doesn’t sound like something to mess with. Washington State just reported it’s first death this year from West Nile Virus in a 70 year old woman in Benton County, and a second elderly man is hospitalized, and both were likely exposed locally in Benton County. There are numerous animal detections in numerous counties throughout the state. Typically found in south-central Washington counties, here are some tips to reduce risk locally:
A few simple precautions can help reduce your chances of being bitten by a mosquito:
Just because it's a little cloudy doesn't mean you don't need sun block!
Here's a link to some good information from the Washington State Department of Health.
Puget Sound, if it were a state by itself, would rank fourth in the nation for skin cancer rates. That’s because of a misconception that cloudy weather means people don’t have to protect themselves from the sun.The state Department of Health advises that protecting you and your family from skin cancer is something that must be done all year, regardless of whether it’s sunny or cloudy. Ultra Violet (UV) light exposure, the most preventable cause of skin cancer, occurs even on cloudy days.Although children are rarely diagnosed with skin cancer, sunburns in childhood are associated with melanoma later in life.
So, it’s important to protect children from UV light and establish healthy behaviors early. Reducing exposure to UV at early ages is among the reasons for a new law that went into effect this month banning kids under 18 from using tanning beds without a written prescription from a doctor.UV-B rays penetrate the top layers of skin and are most responsible for sunburns; UV-A rays go through the deeper layers of the skin. Both types of UV rays/light are emitted by lamps in tanning beds.You can help prevent skin cancer by using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher; staying in the shade, especially during midday hours; covering skin with clothing that covers your arms and legs or a hat with a wide brim to shade your face, head, ears and neck.You can learn more important facts about skin cancer and how to prevent it on the
Washington Cares about Cancer partnership page and on the Department of Health website about
comprehensive cancer control.
Because of recent revelations of lead in some water supplies in Washington State, lead level testing was recently completed in the Oak Harbor School District. 62 samples were completed, 20 had levels that were measurable. The "action level" for lead is 0.015 mg/L. The single highest level was 0.011 and the next highest was 0.006mg/L with the remainder lower yet. They will continue to test on an regular basis.
In part because of the warm weather, there have been several shellfish collection/beach closures because of marine biotoxins. Washington State Department of Health has established an online map with up-to-date look at biotoxins, pollution, and bacterial levels at public beaches.
Here is a link to this excellent resource. You can also contact Island County Public Health for local beach information. Here is a link to general shellfish safety. Recreational harvesters should check for biotoxin closures by checking the
department’s Shellfish Safety Map or the biotoxin hotline at 1-800-562-5632. Harvesters should also look for and obey warning signs that have been posted at recreational beaches along the coast.
Again, there are some cases of both laboratory confirmed and clinically suspect cases of Pertussis in the community, and Washington state continues to have ongoing problems with whooping cough. This is especially important if you are around or care for infants or are pregnant! (Also grand-parents or others who may be care-givers.) Vaccination can help minimize the illness and early treatment with antibiotics may help at least reduce the rate of infecting others if not reduce your own illness. Here is a link to the CDC information about Pertussis. CDC Pertussis info Recent studies from the 2012 Washington State Pertussis outbreak shows that, unfortunately, the effectiveness of acellular pertussis vaccine (found in Tdap) wanes over time, to approximately 34% effectiveness after 2-4 years. Because of this, and the fact that infants are most at risk, the recommendations now include that
pregnant women should receive a Tdap booster in the third trimester of EACH pregnancy, to protect their newborn when it is at highest risk of this disease which can be deadly for infants.
Pertussis status statewide, current data
(Distinguish the sounds of various coughs) Pertussis Billboard (English) (En Español)
Surround Your Baby With Protection
is becoming increasingly a problem, especially for certain at risk populations, hospitalized patients, and patients with artificial joints. Here's a CDC site which discusses the "bad old days" before antibiotics, the magic era of antibiotics, and the unfortunate potential for a world of infection post antibiotic effectiveness. This is a problem that may be approached both from the doctor and the patient end of things.... not all respiratory infections will benefit from antibiotics, a good number of infections are viral for which antibiotics do nothing except expose the patient to potential drug reactions (which can be worse than the disease!) and may increase the chance of drug resistance among
The Centers for Disease Control has made available a smartphone "Can I Eat This?" app for travelers that may help prevent "Delhi Belly" or "Montezuma's Revenge". This website also has the "yellow book" which is the primary resource for traveler health issues.
Can I Eat This? app
Did your kid "get his/her bell's rung"? Now what to do?
Here's a link to downloadable apps for your android or apple device. There has been a lot of interest in this with lawsuits agains the NFL and a full on movie. If your child is involved in contact sports, consider talking with the coach to assess their awareness of the risks associated with head injuries.
If you've watched TV lately, you've likely seen ads for Hepatits C screening. Here's the background: It's estimated that 3.2 million people in the US have chronic Hepatitis C and
most of them do not know it. And it's not just folks traditionally considered to be at high risk. Prior to 1992 (when Hep C was discovered and preventive measures were put in place) baby-boomers (born 1945-65) were young adults and may have been exposed through blood transfusions, in health care settings, through drug use, or sexual activity.
WHAT HAS CHANGED? There is now a comfortable, effective, short course treatment available with oral medication, which allows treatment of the illness and previnting progressive liver disease and liver cancer. Best of all, since this screening has been recommended by governmental groups, there is a chance private health insurance may cover this as a no cost preventative program. It's estimated that if everyone was screened appropriately it could prevent 120,000 premature deaths! Here's a link to the CDC web site:
CDC Viral Hepatitis C Consider asking your health care provider if this is appropriate for you! However, because of the medication expense, there is significant debate about when (and possibly even IF) people should be treated... Your provider can help guide you in making these decisions.
Oak Harbor Police Department has a drug take back station which is open 24/7. There are often drug take back days throughout the year at facilities that may be closer to you. This is an excellent way to keep drugs, particularly narcotics or pain killers, anti-anxiety or other popular drugs of abuse from being used inappropriately and putting folks/kids at risk for accidental or intentional overdose.
Vaccinations help prevent illness! What is your status? A lot of adults forget about the benefits of keeping current with vaccines. Tdap, yearly influenza, Zoster "shingles" shot, if over age 60 are worth considering. There are also special situations where other vaccines may be of benefit. CDC.gov has an excellent travel page for vaccinations that may be recommended for travel outside the US, as well as other travel tips for staying healthy.
Health Tips for Travelers
For more information regarding all vaccines,
Do you know which vaccines you may need?
Read more about Communicable Disease
State-wide Data and Statistical Reports
Region 1 Communicable Disease Monthly Report
State Department of Health Newsroom
Pertussis status statewide, current data
County Health Ranking
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services maintains data on Island County Health Status Indicators. All said, we're doing fairly well, but regular exercise is the best medicine. Just do it!
Click here for Island County data.
Washington State County Health Rankings