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Building Connected Communities in Observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month

It’s a topic that many times goes unheard—sexual assault. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and organizers are working to bring attention to what’s considered a public health issue. This year’s theme, Building Connected Communities, is designed to encourage people to work together to support healthy, safe, respectful behaviors and environment. The idea is to motivate people to work together, support those who have been sexually assaulted and be aware of ways to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the community where individuals live and work.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sexual assault is usually someone that the survivor knows, such as a friend, neighbor, or family member. Other statistics show that it’s common, with more than half of women and nearly 1 and 3 men reporting that they have been involved in some form of sexual assault.

Sexual assault has long term consequences that can lead to chronic illnesses, suicidal or depressive thoughts, and substance abuse. It’s impact not only hurts the survivor but the community.

The Virginia Department of Health has a list of resources and programs available to help survivors and individuals who want more information about sexual violence and sexual assault.

Virginia Joins Other States in Observing Black Maternal Health Week

Virginia will recognize Black Maternal Health Week from April 11-17. The General Assembly adopted the resolution during its recent session. Black Maternal Health Week is an annual observance designed to bring awareness to rising cases of adverse maternal and birth outcomes for people of African descent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2021, Black women living in the U.S. are three times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than White women. The report explains that 80 percent of pregnancy related deaths are preventable. Other statistics point to challenges with mental health, breastfeeding, and quality of care.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) recognizes the importance of Black Maternal Health Week and supports maternal health related work in a variety of ways. Through Virginia’s Title V funded programs, VDH offers support to community-based organizations with a focus on serving Black women and their families during pregnancy and after delivery. These organizations provide a variety of services such as training doulas, offering families doula care, providing support during the loss of a pregnancy, and connecting families to resources that assist in addressing other social health-related concerns that impact their ability to thrive.

VDH also supports the state’s Maternal Mortality Review Team (MMRT). The MMRT provides an avenue to review the differences in health outcomes for mothers in the Commonwealth and suggests strategies to address them. VDH uses this data to develop work dedicated to improving outcomes for pregnant and birthing families in Virginia, with a focus on reducing the number of deaths of Black mothers.

Black Maternal Health Week falls during National Minority Health Month which is observed every year in April. The month-long observance builds awareness about premature death and illness in racial and ethnic groups, as well as encourages education, early detection, and better control of diseases.

Save the date! Join VDH and the American Public Health Association in celebrating National Public Health Week.

Public health is crucial to our society. It counters threats to our individual and collective health and promotes practices that help every American live as long and as well as they can. That’s why VDH is excited to be a part of National Public Health Week 2024, celebrated April 1-7. This year, we’re joining the American Public Health Association in “Protecting, Connecting and Thriving: We Are All Public Health.”

So how can you get involved? Celebrate and reinforce gratitude and support for public health and advocate for services that support community and well-being for all. Look for ways to strengthen your community connections, locally and globally. There are countless ways to make your voice heard and become part of the movement for public health!

For more information, and to make connections, join VDH, APHA and NPHW across social media. Learn more about this year’s daily themes, and don’t forget to RSVP to events throughout the week. Let your voice be heard! You can also check out APHA’s toolkit for other ways you can keep the momentum going in your community.

Join us as we promote effective policy and practice and build a brighter, healthier future for all!

World TB Day

Can you name a disease that plagued Egyptian royals, was once associated with vampires, and that was the leading cause of death due to infectious disease until the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you guessed tuberculosis, you are correct!

Tuberculosis, often abbreviated “TB”, is a contagious illness that is caused by bacteria known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The disease mainly impacts the lungs, but it can infect any part of the body. TB spreads from person to person through tiny droplets in the air called “aerosols” that contain TB bacteria. When someone breathes in these droplets, they can settle in the lung where the TB bacteria multiply.

In most people infected with TB, the body can “wall off” the bacteria so they aren’t able to cause active disease. This is called latent tuberculosis infection, or LTBI. But in about 5-10% of people, the body is not able to contain the infection and they develop active TB, also known as TB disease. People with active TB often have symptoms such as a cough lasting three or more weeks (sometimes with blood), fevers, night sweats, and weight loss. Thankfully, it is possible to treat TB with a combination of antibiotic medications, although treatment often lasts for many months.

The best way to prevent TB disease is to know if you have risk factors for TB such as living in a high incidence country, close contact with an active TB case, or medical conditions that can increase your risk of active TB such as HIV infection, diabetes, or the use of medications that suppress the immune system. Screening people for risk factors and testing those at high risk for TB disease is one of the important ways to find people with latent TB and treat them before it becomes a more serious, active illness.

Each year on March 24, we observe World TB Day. This day marks the anniversary of when Dr. Robert Koch discovered the bacteria that causes TB. Before Dr. Koch’s discovery, people were not sure how TB was spread. Many people thought it had to do with germs that floated through the air, but some people thought it was caused by visits from relatives who died from TB and came back as vampires to infect their families. (See? We didn’t forget to elaborate on that interesting fact!)

World TB Day doesn’t just mark the anniversary of an important scientific discovery, but also sheds light on the all the work that has been done to eliminate TB over many centuries. In many countries like the United States, TB is far less common than it was even 50 years ago. But worldwide, TB is still very common and is the second leading cause of death due to infectious disease—second only to COVID-19.

It takes the dedicated medical professionals, public health workers, and community partners to detect, diagnose, and treat cases of TB and LTBI. This World TB Day, the Virginia Department of Health acknowledges and celebrates the hard work of all those working toward TB elimination. And we acknowledge and offer our support to those with TB/LTBI and TB survivors who have overcome one of the most impactful infectious diseases in history!

 

2024 County Health Rankings Report Areas of Improvement in Virginia

(RICHMOND, Va.) – Earlier this week, the 2024 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (CHR&R), a program of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, released data highlighting health factors and measures for counties in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) remains dedicated to its vision of Virginia becoming the healthiest state in the nation, as the data points towards areas of development and opportunities for improvement.

The CHR&R has been an essential source of data, evidence and guidance for over a decade, expanding the nation’s understanding of the multiple factors that shape health. This year’s CHR&R data release provides communities with an up-to-date, localized snapshot of the most recent health data available. Most notably, CHR&R has discontinued ranking counties by their health outcomes, opting instead to provide an indication of how a county fares in relation to other counties in the state and nation. This approach eliminates the idea that one county must outperform another to attain the “top spot,” and instead encourages a collective effort to improve health.

Virginia scores at or above the national average for a majority of the measures, including examples such as the percentage of workers who drive alone to work (71%), access to exercise opportunities (84%), and the unemployment rate among the working-age population in Virginia (2.9%). Health outcomes and metrics are varied from county to county.

“Understanding how a county fares in relation to other counties allows for sharing best practices and innovative initiatives to help address common health challenges and to celebrate successes,” said Chief Deputy Commissioner for Community Health Services Susan Fischer Davis, M.D. “This is an exciting and valuable change that will greatly benefit health districts and citizens across Virginia!”

This year’s CHR&R data release also enables communities in each state to identify opportunities for improvement. In Virginia, areas of improvement include reducing the percent of adults with obesity and reducing the number of drug overdose deaths.

With data on more than 80 measures relevant to health, the CHR&R data offers important context about the community conditions that support good health and advance health equity. In addition to state- and county-level data, the CHR&R program’s What Works for Health database offers more than 400 evidence-informed strategies to help communities improve health. Each strategy is rated for its effectiveness and likely impact on health disparities.

For more information on the 2024 County Health Rankings, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org. For more information on public health resources throughout Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/local-health-districts.

Celebrating World Water Day 2024

On March 22, people around the globe come together to celebrate World Water Day. This special day reminds us of the importance of water in our lives and the need to protect such a precious resource. 

Water is essential for our survival. It keeps us hydrated, helps us grow crops and supports our ecosystems. However, access to clean and safe water is not guaranteed for everyone. Many communities face challenges such as pollution and shortage, which can have serious health consequences. 

The Virginia Department of Health recognizes the significance of World Water Day and works to ensure that all Virginians have access to clean water. Through water quality monitoring, public education campaigns and other efforts, we strive to protect the health of our communities. Shout out to our Office of Drinking Water! Check out their Drinking Water Viewer, a data dashboard that provides public water system information. 

Simple actions like turning off the tap water while brushing teeth or fixing leaks can make a big difference in preserving this vital resource. 

Together, we can work toward a future where clean water is accessible to all. Happy World Water Day!

March is National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month. The Virginia Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program is observing the Month by spotlighting staff and healthy recipes on social media and in an electronic newsletter.

This year’s theme is “Beyond the Table.” The idea is to focus on nutritious food and the environment. The theme was adopted to encourage healthy eating as well as to bring attention to food waste.

First, let’s talk about the benefits of eating healthy food. Good nutrition can lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes, improve your digestive system, boost your immunity, and help manage your weight.

Second, and in keeping with the theme for this month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says eating healthy food can also help cut down on waste. Below are some tips to get you started.

  1. Start small. Try planting a few herbs and leafy greens. Foods that are easier to grow.
  2. If space is tight, try container gardening in a sunny window patio or balcony.
  3. Try making compost a natural fertilizer, from vegetable peelings, fruit cores, coffee grinds, or leftover food scraps that don’t contain meat, dairy or cooked foods.

 

For more information on composting and food waste, see the video from the USDA.

For other ways to celebrate NNM:  50 Ideas to Get Involved in National Nutrition Month®️ (eatright.org)

It’s National CACFP Week! (March 10-16, 2024)

The USDA’s Child and Adult Food Care Program, (CACFP), provides nutritious meals and snacks to children and adults living in a variety of settings. Children who live at home, who are in preschool, who attend childcare centers, who participate in after-school programs and who live in shelters, benefit from the program. CACFP also provides healthy food to homebound adults and those living in adult care facilities. 

Founded in 1968, as a special pilot program known as the Special Food Service Program for Children, CACFP now serves nearly 5 million adults and children across the nation every day. Centers and sponsoring organizations receive cash reimbursement for serving meals and snacks to participants whose incomes are below 185% of the poverty level.

CACFP Week is observed in March, which is a National Nutrition Month®, an annual observance to promote nutritious food choices and encourage people to develop healthful eating and physical activity habits. This year, CACFP Week will be observed March 10-16, 2024. This year’s theme is “Eating the Rainbow.”

In 1968, Congress amended the National School Lunch Act to reach children in childcare programs. Throughout the CACFP’s more than 50-year history, the program has continued to update its nutrition standards in conjunction with the USDA meal patterns and dietary guidelines.

In celebration of the impact CACFP operators make in their communities, the nutrition programs at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), with the support of community partners, are hosting a week full of virtual events specifically for program operators. These events, along with a social media campaign are intended to promote and recognize the integral role the CACFP plays in supporting the health and wellbeing of all Virginians. 

VDH and VDOE, along with their community partners will be posting to social media using #VACACFP, @CACFPVirginia and @VDOESNP. Follow VACACFP on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  

To find more information about CACFP Week activities, visit https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/child-and-adult-care-food-program/cacfp-week-coming-soon/.

For a list of participating CACFP organizations committed to providing nutritious meals or for more information, please visit Child and Adult Care Food Program.

World Birth Defects Day 2024

For some parents, the birth of a baby takes on a different emotion because their child is born with a birth defect. A birth defect is a health condition that happens before birth, and it can cause death or change how a baby lives and functions. According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), birth defects are common. In the United States approximately 120,000 pregnancies end with a child having a birth defect.

Sunday, March 3 has been set aside as World Birth Defects Day #WorldBDDay. The Virginia Department of Health wants to remind readers that the Virginia Congenital Reporting and Education System, also known as VaCARES surveys and reviews birth defects in children under the age of two. Hospitals are required to report cases of birth defects to the surveillance system in hopes that the work will lead to changes. The goals of the birth defects surveillance program are as follows:

  • Collect data to evaluate possible causes of birth defects.
  • Improve the diagnosis and treatment of birth defects.
  • Establish a mechanism for informing families of children with birth defects and their physicians about available health resources.

 

For more information on birth defects, resources for parents and the surveillance program visit the Virginia Department of Health.

Rare Disease Day 2024

As an organization committed to public health, Virginia Department of Health (VDH) recognizes the significance of Rare Disease Day. This day is observed on the last day of February every year. Rare Disease Day serves as a reminder of the challenges faced by individuals and families affected by rare diseases. It also highlights the importance of research, advocacy, and support for those living with these conditions.

Rare diseases collectively affect millions of individuals worldwide. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there are over 7,000 identified rare diseases. New ones are still being discovered. While each disease may only affect a small number of people, the total impact is immense. Millions of individuals are living with these conditions across the globe.

One of the biggest challenges associated with rare diseases is limited understanding and awareness. Because of their rarity, many rare diseases are overlooked or misdiagnosed. This can lead to delays in appropriate treatment and care. Plus, the small patient populations make it difficult to research and develop effective therapies.

Our goal is to ensure that all Virginians have access to the support and services they need to live healthy and fulfilling lives, regardless of medical condition. On Rare Disease Day, we stand in solidarity with those affected by rare diseases. Patients, caregivers, healthcare providers, and researchers all work tirelessly for the same goal. This is a day to celebrate the resilience and strength of individuals living with rare diseases. Learn more at the NIH Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center: https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/