Member Blog

Guarding against viral misinformation this flu season

By Joseph P. Iser, MD, DrPH, MSc
Chief Health Officer
Southern Nevada Health District

Dr. Iser.jpeg

As a clinician and a public health professional, I see every day how technology can help providers give patients useful information, better care, and drive better outcomes. As doctors, we use online toolkits to help treat our patients, eReferrals to provide more efficient access to smoking cessation resources, and electronic health records can make everything more accessible for both providers and patients. In my role as the Chief Health Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, I’ve also come to see what a valuable public health tool technology and social media can be. In our agency, we use Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube throughout the year to educate and motivate our community on public health issues from violence, to STDs, and of course, the flu. We created a new video earlier this year about the importance of the flu vaccine and have a Twitter account dedicated to information about the flu.

The internet, social media platforms, and both mainstream and alternative news sites have made health and public health information readily available. These sources can provide a wealth of well-researched information and data from credible agencies, organizations, and credentialed individuals. Unfortunately, misinformation and rumors are sometimes as easily accessible on these same platforms and can be prominently featured and widely circulated.

Experts and published studies have stated some conflicting views about the degree to which social media platforms influence people’s opinions on everything from immunizations to the political landscape — but no one disagrees that they have an impact. What we do know is that the more people are exposed to information, even false information, the more it will be seen as credible. When using social media platforms, people’s preconceptions will drive their viewing choices, as well as the algorithms used by these mediums.

 This is relevant to us as local health officials because we play an important role in keeping our communities healthy by inoculating them against misinformation. Patients looking for an excuse not to get vaccinated can quickly find a reason, couched in scientific terms, on the internet or use the hashtag “#noflushot” on Instagram to view posts that support their position.

 There are persistent myths that exist about flu vaccine, and vaccines in general, that those of us in public health and health care should always be prepared to address. We never want to diminish or belittle these concerns. However, users should be informed if they have information that is inaccurate and may adversely affect their health, the health of their family, and of our entire jurisdiction.

 We can work together to dispel common myths that circulate every flu season by emphasizing a few simple key messages:

  • Getting the flu shot cannot give you the flu. The erroneous belief that the vaccine can make you sick is one of the most common and persistent myths my agency takes on. It’s also one of the main reasons cited by people for not getting vaccinated. Health care professionals can help to dispel this myth by asking all patients who can be vaccinated if they have received their flu shot this season, encouraging them to get vaccinated if they haven’t already done so, and providing them with accurate information about the safety of the vaccine and its potential side effects. It is important that patients understand the flu shot will not give them the flu. In very rare circumstances, the vaccine, and more likely FluMist, which is made from a weakened strain of the virus, may cause headache, low-grade fever, and muscle aches, but none of the flu vaccines will cause the flu.

  •  Flu shots are for everyone – not just the elderly, sick people, and children. The flu can impact anyone at any age. There are groups designated more at risk for complications from the flu; however, every year people in all age groups are adversely impacted by the flu. It is important that people of all ages, who are eligible, get vaccinated to decrease hospitalizations and to protect those around them.

  • The flu shot is effective. Some people believe they shouldn’t get the vaccine because it is not 100 percent effective, but getting vaccinated each year is the best protection from the flu and can reduce the risk of complications if a patient does become ill. During the 2016-2017 season, vaccination was estimated to prevent 85,000 flu-related hospitalizations. Every season the flu vaccine is developed based on projections about which influenza strains will be most prevalent during the upcoming season. The effectiveness of the vaccine varies each season and for each strain contained in the vaccine.

In addition to myths and misinformation, there are updates to the recommendations and information each year that public health organizations share with their communities. Over the past few seasons, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has made revisions to its recommendations regarding the use of live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) and for people with egg allergy of any severity. Current recommendations state any licensed, age-appropriate vaccine can be used, and this includes individuals with a history of egg allergy. The full ACIP recommendations can be found here.

Public health organizations are a trusted resource for their constituents. In today’s environment, ensuring everyone has the right tools to stay healthy also means helping to provide accurate information and access to the appropriate resources and tools to support their needs.

Ten lessons we learned about how to deploy teams into post-hurricane settings

By Mitch Stripling, MPA, Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Agency Preparedness and Response; Colin Stimmler, MA, Senior Director for Agency Preparedness and Response at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Disasters like Hurricane Michael show how severe the public health impacts from a coastal storm can be.  When disasters like this strike, many local and state health workers are often willing to help in another jurisdiction, but they aren’t quite sure how.  

Minneapolis Health Department Supports a Young Food Entrepreneur

By Dan Huff, Director of Environmental Health, and Gretchen Musicant, Commissioner of Health, Minneapolis Health Department

This blog originally appeared here on The National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO) Essential Elements Blog.

Jaequan Faulkner, 13, started selling hot dogs in front of his Minneapolis home in 2016, calling his establishment “Mr. Faulkner’s Old Fashioned Hot Dogs.” His food stand came back this summer bigger and better than before, and it grew popular with customers in the neighborhood.

Recently, his business came to the attention of local officials when someone complained that he did not have official permits.

To make sure people are safe from food-borne illnesses, all events that serve food to the public in Minneapolis must be permitted, and violators are subject to an immediate shutdown.

Public Health and Medical Community Pledge to Decrease Gun Violence

By Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County

This blog originally appeared here in the Public Health - Seattle & King County blog Public Health Insider

Firearm-related injury and death, from suicide to accidental injury and homicide – is a major public health problem and a leading cause of premature death in King County and nationally. In 2016, 663 adults and 20 children died from a firearm injury in Washington state, including 144 adults and 7 children from King County.

Firearm-related injuries have very high personal and financial costs to individuals, families and society – and that’s why prevention is essential.  In 2015, the cost of firearm fatalities alone (not counting non-fatal injuries) in King County was almost $200 million from medical costs and lost productivity, and nationally the cost is in the hundreds of billions of dollars each year.


Supporting Older Adults in Houston: Ramps, Rails and Toilets

By Deborah A. Moore, Assistant Director, Human Services Division, Houston Health Department and Scott Packard, Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer, Houston Health Department

When you think of Older Americans Month, toilets probably aren’t the first thing to come to mind. But at the Houston Health Department, commodes are a major component of one of the Harris County Area Agency on Aging’s most gratifying programs.

Allow me to take a step back to explain.

Multnomah County’s Community Powered Change

By Rachael Banks, Public Health Director, Multnomah County Health Department

After years of unacceptable disparities data, we knew we had to do something different.  In the summer of 2015, Multnomah County Health Department (MCHD), set out to create a community health improvement plan (CHIP) centered on things that are largely outside of the control of the individual. In response, MCHD released a request for proposals (RFP) for the coordination of a CHIP that was created in partnership with communities of color. Oregon Health Equity Alliance (OHEA) was selected as the contractor to lead the development and implementation process for the CHIP.

Throughout 2016 OHEA, with the support of MCHD’s Health Equity Initiative (HEI), intensive community engagement and outreach (forums and interviews) were conducted to gather input from a variety of communities including: African-American, Asian, Immigrant/Refugee, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islanders, and youth and elders of color. The outreach and engagement was followed by a tremendous amount of planning, analyzing and prioritizing areas over the next year. Through these engagement efforts, a framework was developed outlining 23 goals and over 150 strategies.

On Earth Day: Local efforts are making a difference on climate change

The world-wide scientific consensus is clear: climate change is real, it is being driven by human causes, and we must act now to avoid its worst effects. However, it also clear that leadership in the fight against climate change will not come from Washington, D.C. anytime soon. The EPA is being targeted for huge budget cuts, and the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord. In a heartening trend, businesses, community organizations, non-profits, states, counties and cities are stepping up to fill this leadership vacuum. Within this growing coalition there is one player that is often overlooked: local Health Departments. We have a unique perspective and the community connections to play a significant role in helping our communities adapt to the effects of climate change while also fighting against its causes.

Making Public Health Visible

By Narintohn Luangrath, Special Assistant to the  Baltimore City Health Commissioner and
Dr. Leana S. Wen, MD, MSc, FAAEM, Baltimore City Health Commissioner

At a commencement ceremony several years ago, Dr. Linda Rae Murray, then-president of the American Public Health Association, recounted a famous saying: “When public health works, we’re invisible.” She followed that by urging the graduates to “refuse to be invisible, because […] we need to lend our strength and our science to broad social movements whose goal is to make things better.”

When public health is invisible, we only end up talking about it when things go wrong; people tend to think about public health agencies as entities that respond to infectious disease outbreaks or shut down a restaurant due to health code violations. We frequently think about health as healthcare, but what determines how long and how well we live is less about what happens in the doctor’s office and more about where we live, the air we breathe, and the availability of other resources in our communities. At the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD), we believe that all issues – education, housing, employment, public safety, and beyond – can and should be tied back to health. We are committed to making the progress earned through public health visible, and to make the case for incorporating health-in-all policies across the City.

Wanted: Leaders for a TB-Free United States

By Joseph Iser, MD, DrPH, MSc, Chief Health Officer, Southern Nevada Health District

This blog originally appeared in County Line Magazine

 

Every year on March 24 the health care community commemorates World TB Day to bring attention to a preventable disease that still impacts many people in the United States and around the world. This year’s theme is “Wanted: Leaders for a TB-Free United States. We can make history. End TB.” It is a call for health care partners to work together on a local, national, and international scale to eliminate the disease.

Health care providers are instrumental in this process. For many patients, TB can present as a bad cold or respiratory infection that won’t go away. Physicians should always consider the possibility of TB when examining a patient with an ongoing respiratory infection, especially if it is accompanied by a persistent cough, night sweats, loss of appetite, and fatigue.

Seattle's Food Safety Rating System is One Year Old

In 2017, King County launched our new food safety rating system with the goal of making it the best rating system in the country. With a year under our belt, Public Health – Seattle & King County’s food safety team is proud to say that the new system has achieved measurable success.

  • Over 75 percent of all restaurants in King County now have easy to understand food safety rating signs in their front windows. This has greatly improved the ability for consumers to quickly assess the food safety practices at each restaurant.
  • Anecdotally, our food safety investigators report an increased interest from restaurant owners in improving their food safety practices, which means that the placards are motivating restaurants to do better. The number of perfect scores from all restaurants across King County increased 3 percent in 2017 from 52 percent to 55 percent.
  • The ratings provide a more complete picture of food safety than any other rating system across the country. Ratings reflect the trend of critical food safety practices over time in each restaurant and take inspector differences into account to make sure the playing field is level.
     

Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

By Dr. Rex Archer, Director of Health, Kansas City, Missouri Health Department

After the trauma of the events surrounding the Las Vegas mass shooting, stories of horror and heroism unfolded from that horrible act.  My compassion and prayers felt somewhat hollow.  I am in a position to move my compassion to actions that make a difference and to save many lives.  That is why I am in public health. Yet, the enormity of the challenge seems daunting.

Acts of Nature are Public Health Emergencies

By Meredith Li-Vollmer, Public Health - Seattle-King County

The news from Hurricane Harvey has been heart wrenching. Among the memorable images that emerged was one of nursing home residents sitting in wheelchairs, waist-deep in flood water as they waited for help to arrive. As reported by the New York Times, among the thousands of posts to volunteer rescue groups were common pleas such as “East Houston, 9:53 p.m.: Needs evacuation, one elderly person in a wheel chair” and “Northeast Houston5:36 a.m.: He’s on bottled oxygen now, and running out. Nausea from lack of oxygen has already started.” As some of the most vulnerable in the community struggled, news also covered the toll that the hurricane has taken on the world-class hospitals in the Houston area who were well prepared with back-up generators but hampered by the extremity of the weather and flooded roadways to evacuate patients and bring in emergency vehicles, food, and supplies. Hurricanes and floods aren’t just acts of nature. They are also public health emergencies.

“Back to School” Season: Backpacks, school supplies and cancer prevention

By Dr. Julie Morita, Commissioner of Health, Chicago Department of Public Health

Flipping my calendar from July to August, always yields a sense of melancholy as I can see the less structured, long, warm days of summer rapidly disappearing and the busy, regimented, new school year entering into sight. While many people overcome the sorrow of the summer ending with “Back to School” shopping for backpacks, new clothes and school supplies, since becoming a pediatrician almost 25 years ago, I have sought consolation in knowing that “Back to School” means that millions of school-aged children throughout the US will be receiving health examinations and vaccines, which prevent serious diseases including measles, mumps, whooping cough, and polio.

How the Senate's Obamacare repeal bill would wallop the urban poor, and especially those who rely on Medicaid and public hospitals

By Dr. Mary T. Bassett and Stanley Brezenoff

If there was any hope that Senate Republicans could bring some sanity into the national discussion around the future of our health care system, such hope completely vanished on Thursday. Like the House's health care bill, the Senate's proposal is nothing less than an all-out attack on public health and our public hospital system, and its consequences will be devastating for New York City and the country.

Showing up for LGBTQ communities

By Jesse Chipps, HIV Planning Council Administrator, Public Health - Seattle & King County

June is National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, and each year at this time hundreds of King County employees, department directors and public officials march together in Seattle’s Pride Parade. Rainbow tinsel laden vehicles, bubble machines, and matching t-shirts pull the group together as One King County.

Combining Disciplines, Reducing Stigma: How Long Beach Incorporates Mental Health into Public Health

By Kelly Colopy, MPP, Director, Long Beach Health Department

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which brings a heightened awareness and opportunity to support the mental and emotional health of those in our communities experiencing a mental illness.  As individuals and families, as well as communities and organizations, we are learning that we all know someone, often close to us, who has experienced some level of mental illness in their lifetime.  Nearly 1 in 5 adults (43 million) in the United States experiences a mental illness each year.  The impacts of mental illness diagnosis vary widely; some have serious impacts on the ability to perform major life activities.  Access to treatment has improved with the passage of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 and under the Affordable Care Act in 2010, yet more capacity for treatment is needed.  The conversations are increasing at the systems level as we work to grow healthy supportive environments and increase access to mental health resources in our community.  Yet, at an individual and community level, the conversations continue to be difficult.  The stigma, while lessened, still remains.

Health Equity and Minority Health in Bexar County and the City of San Antonio

By Vincent R. Nathan, PhD, MPH, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District

Bridging Health Equity Across Communities" is the theme of this April’s U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH) National Minority Health Month. Over the past month,  HHS OMH, with their partners, worked to raise awareness about efforts across health, education, justice, housing, transportation and employment sectors to address the factors known as the social determinants of health – environmental, social and economic conditions that impact health.  San Antonio, Texas joins DHHS in celebrating, and more importantly, recognizing the disparities in health among different groups.

Earth Day – A Celebration of Environmentalism and Environmental Justice for All

By Cynthia Harding, MPH, Robert Gilchick, MD, MPH and Angelo J. Bellomo, REHS, QEP, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

Earth Day, celebrated each year on April 22, commemorates the birth of the modern environmental protection movement.  Started in 1970 during an era when pollution was rampant in our country, Earth Day is credited with bringing the concept of environmental protection into the national political agenda.  The first Earth Day was marked by massive rallies and demonstrations advocating for a healthy and sustainable environment.  In 2017, Earth Day will be marked by a national call to action around science, with a march in Washington DC and other communities throughout the nation.

The Chief Health Strategist Role in Tarrant County, Texas: Building Walkable Streets and Greener Food Carts

By Vinny Taneja, MBBS, MPH, Director of Tarrant County Public Health

Fort Worth and Arlington are both located in Tarrant County, a fast growing community of approximately 2 million individuals living within 902 square miles. Like many large urban communities, neighborhoods vary significantly by culture, race/ethnic background, income, education, green space, housing, crime and many of other social determinants of health.

More than the ACA: We Can’t Stop Fighting Now

By Dr. Oxiris Barbot, First Deputy Commissioner, NYC Health Department

This op-ed originally appeared on huffingtonpost.com

Since the start of the new presidential administration, the onslaught of policies and executive orders have been met with outcries from communities, organizations and elected officials. In the medical community, there was an almost unprecedented bipartisan opposition to the White House’s proposed American Health Care Act. To some, the protection of the Affordable Care Act has given us a rare time to celebrate, rest and regroup.

Now is not that time.