World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is December 1 of every year.  On this day, we show support for people living with HIV and we remember those we lost in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  We also strengthen our resolve to end HIV.

Equity

The 2022 theme for World AIDS Day is “Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV.”  Many still experience inequalities when accessing basic health services.  Not everyone has the same opportunity for HIV testing, treatment, and even condoms.  This is even truer for newer technologies, such as HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).  PrEP for HIV is medicine given that prevents HIV.

We identified the first cases of HIV more than 40 years ago.  Yet, there are many who do not know basic facts about HIV.  Many do not know how to protect themselves and others from HIV.  Stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many living with HIV.

World AIDS Day is important because we must always remind each other that HIV has not gone away.  We must increase awareness, fight prejudice and stigma, and improve education.

What Can I Do?

There are many events occurring nationally for World AIDS Day.  If you are looking to register an event to the public or looking to attend an event, please visit www.worldaidsday.org/events/.

Additionally, the website includes a memorial space where you can create a tribute to a loved one: www.worldaidsday.org/memorials/.

Find and share resources from national campaigns on your social media:

Visit a local community-based organization and volunteer your services.  Wear a red ribbon proudly while helping them.  To find a local organization that provides HIV services, visit Resource Connections (https://bit.ly/vdhconnections), or call the Virginia Disease Prevention Hotline at (800) 533-4148.

What about the rest of the year?

World AIDS Day is just one day of the year.  The other 364 days of the year are as important in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

We must always combat inequalities and stigma.  Share information for awareness and educational purposes.  Volunteer at local agencies that may need help.  Continue to help in the fight against HIV so we can live in a world where HIV is a thing of the past.

Got Questions?

If you have questions or need help for yourself or a loved one, call the Virginia Disease Prevention Hotline.  You can reach a counselor toll free at (800) 533-4148.  The Hotline operates Monday through Friday from 8am until 5pm.  They are closed for Virginia state holidays.

Gather Around the Table this Thanksgiving and Discuss Your Family Health History

Vector illustration on the theme of National Family health history day observed each year on Thanksgiving day in November.

When you gather around the table this Thanksgiving Day to share turkey and dressing, be sure you also share some important family health history.

The U.S. Surgeon General in 2004 declared Thanksgiving National Family History Day to encourage families to talk about and write down their health histories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This history can help family members learn who may be at greater risk for heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and other illnesses

Once you have the information, discuss it with your healthcare provider. Your provider can help with testing, genetic counseling, and reducing your risk for developing disease.

Although it may not be easy to talk with your relatives about diseases that they or other relatives have had, it’s important for you and everyone in your family to start the conversation.

Don’t know where to start? Check out the Family Health History page to learn what questions to ask and the steps to take to lower your risk for certain diseases.

You can record your family’s health history and learn about your own risk for some conditions at My Family Health Portrait. You can print and save your information. The tool is free, and you can use it to share your information with your family and healthcare provider.

Learn more about ways to talk with your family members about their health history at the Let’s Talk, Sharing Info About Your Family Cancer Risk site.

Learning your family’s health history is an important way to protect your health.

Virginia Healthcare Community Offers Safety Tips Amid Surge in Flu, Respiratory Virus Cases and Hospitalizations

Patients are Already Flooding into Doctors’ Offices, Hospital Emergency Departments, and Pediatric ICUs During Early Days of Flu and Respiratory Illness Season; Taking Precautions such as Getting a Flu Shot, the COVID-19 Vaccine, and Practicing Basic Health and Safety Behaviors Helps Reduce the Risk of Illness

The Virginia healthcare community is encouraging Virginians who haven’t done so to get vaccinated against flu, get vaccinated or boosted against COVID-19, and to take personal prevention steps as we enter the flu and respiratory illness season. This year’s flu season is already showing early, concerning signs that it may be worse than in recent years. There are also increasing numbers of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) cases, which may cause serious illness and hospitalization in children and older adults. If these trends continue, this could strain healthcare systems in some communities. 

Some Virginia doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers are already seeing very high volumes of patients with respiratory illnesses seeking care, filling hospital beds, and in many cases requiring longer hospital stays. Emergency department and urgent care clinic visits involving patient diagnoses of RSV have quadrupled since early September and remain significantly elevated. Visits for flu-like illness are also rising – for the week ending November 5, such visits are at least four times as high than in the same week for each of the past four years. Virginia Immunization Information System data from July 1-November 9, 2022 indicates that flu vaccine uptake in children under 12 years old is lower this year as compared to the same time period during the previous three years.

These conditions are occurring even as COVID-19 remains a significant concern – Virginia hospitals continue to treat an average of 486 hospital inpatients each day. The continued presence of COVID-19 combined with the rapid spread of flu and other respiratory illness poses a heightened risk of developing medical complications from COVID-19 or the flu among older Virginians, individuals with weakened immune systems or other medical conditions, and younger children.

The holiday season is just around the corner. To protect yourself and your family against flu,  RSV, and other respiratory illnesses, the healthcare community recommends taking the following steps:

  • Make an appointment to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that “everyone 6 months and older, including pregnant women, should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exceptions.” Flu vaccines are available at many doctor’s offices, pharmacies, local health departments, and community health clinics, among other locations. Contact your healthcare provider, local health department or find out where you can get a flu vaccine in your community here.
  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19 if you have not done so already. Get boosted if you have been vaccinated but it has been at least 2 months since your last vaccine dose. Bivalent booster doses are available for vaccinated individuals five years and older. VDH advises parents to discuss this option with their child’s healthcare provider. Find out where you can get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster in your community by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or call (877) VAX-IN-VA or (877) 829-4682.
  • Parents of sick children are encouraged to keep them home from school and other activities to help limit the spread of infection. Parents with sick children are also advised to initially contact a pediatrician or family physician for medical guidance unless your child is in medical distress, in which case seeking hospital care may be warranted. Taking this approach helps ensure that hospital beds and emergency departments are open and available to patients with critical medical needs.
  • Adults who become ill are also encouraged to stay home to limit the risk of spreading illness and to contact their healthcare provider for evaluation, testing and/or guidance on the appropriate course of treatment depending on the severity of symptoms and other risk factors. There are some treatment options for both COVID19 and influenza; people are encouraged to seek care quickly and talk to their health care provider about the right treatment options for them. 
  • People are also encouraged to take simple but powerful prevention steps- wash their hands regularly,  avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands,  cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, and  limit the time children spend in large group settings with other contagious individuals when possible.
  • Individuals with symptoms, or those who test positive, are encouraged to contact their healthcare providers to determine the treatment option that is right for them. This is especially true for high-risk individuals. Because treatment is often most effective when taken within five days of the onset of symptoms, people are advised not to delay seeking medical advice and starting prescribed treatment. It is also important to remember that prescriptions such as antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections are typically not appropriate or indicated for treating viral infections like flu and RSV.

Increases in respiratory illnesses and related hospitalizations are a good reminder to Virginians to get vaccinated, take simple prevention steps, and seek appropriate medical care and guidance if you become sick. These actions can help you and your family stay safe and healthy this holiday season.

In addition to the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, the following organizations and institutions endorse this statement: Access Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics – Virginia Chapter, Ballad Health, Bon Secours Richmond and Hampton Roads, Carilion Clinic, Centra Health System, Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, HCA Virginia, LewisGale Hospital – Alleghany, LewisGale Medical Center, LewisGale Hospital – Montgomery, LewisGale Hospital – Pulaski, Mary Washington Healthcare, the Medical Society of Virginia, the Richmond Academy of Medicine, the Richmond Ambulance Authority, Riverside Health System, Sentara Healthcare, UVA Health, Valley Health System, the Virginia Academy of Physician Assistants, the Virginia Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, the Virginia Association of Community-Based Providers, the Virginia Association of Nurse Anesthetists, the Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians, the Virginia Council of Nurse Practitioners, VCU Health, the Virginia Health Care Association-Virginia Center for Assisted Living, the Virginia Health Care Foundation, VHC Health, the Virginia Network of Private Providers, the Virginia Nurses Association, the Virginia Orthopaedic Society, the Virginia Pharmacists Association, the Virginia Podiatric Medical Association, the Virginia Public Health Association, Virginia Rural Health Association, and the Virginia Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Cooler Weather Is Here, But Ticks Are Still Active. Protect Yourself And Help With The Virginia Tick Survey.

Cooler weather is here, bringing relief from many biting insects and other pests. While it’s the perfect time to enjoy outdoor activities, including hikes in the woods, don’t forget that ticks may still be active. Some ticks are active into the fall and late winter.

In Virginia, the blacklegged tick can carry Lyme Disease, Powassan Virus and several other illnesses that you may not have heard about. These diseases can cause severe illness and some could be fatal if they aren’t treated.

It’s important to take steps to keep ticks off your clothing when you are outside, especially if you go into a wooded area. Using tick-repellent, tucking your pant legs into boots or socks and tucking shirts into pants are a few ways to avoid ticks. It’s always a good idea to do a tick-check as well, and remove any ticks that you find on yourself as soon as possible.

Don’t forget to check your pets for ticks after they have been outdoors. Dogs can bring them inside and can get sick from the diseases they carry. Vaccines are not available for most of the diseases that dogs can get from ticks. Do keep up to date with your vet’s anti-tick, flea, and mosquito prescription to keep your animal healthy

There are several different types of ticks in Virginia that carry different diseases. The Virginia Department of Health has a tick activity dashboard and is asking citizens who find ticks on themselves to send them in to be identified as part of the Virginia Tick Survey.

Residents who find the ticks and want to send them in are also asked to fill out a brief survey. The information collected is being used to create maps that show which types of ticks are active around the state and their locations.

It also helps the VDH team learn more about the types of ticks that bite humans and keep everyone better informed.

2022 Governor’s EMS Award Recipients Announced at 42nd Annual Virginia EMS Symposium

On Saturday, November 12, the 2022 Governor’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Award recipients were announced during the 42nd Annual Virginia EMS Symposium and Governor’s EMS Awards ceremony in Norfolk, Virginia. These awards, given in Governor Glenn Youngkin’s name, recognize EMS providers and organizations from across the Commonwealth for their outstanding level of excellence and dedication to the EMS system.

Presented in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Office of Emergency Medical Services’ Annual EMS Symposium, the awards ceremony caps off the week-long training event. The symposium offers attendees the opportunity to earn up to 26 hours of continuing education credits for recertification as an EMS provider via more than 300 class sessions and various course tracks. 

“Each year, many talented and dedicated EMS providers and organizations are recognized for their exceptional contributions to Virginia’s EMS System,” said Gary Brown, director, Virginia Office of EMS. “It’s an incredible honor to be recognized at this level, and we greatly appreciate all of the nominees and award recipients for their hard work and dedication to responding to the call for help and providing the best prehospital emergency care in Virginia.”

“Virginia is blessed to have an outstanding network of highly-skilled EMS providers and organizations, who stand ready 24/7 to provide life-saving care within minutes of a 911 call,” said State Health Commissioner Colin M. Greene, MD, MPH. “My congratulations to the individuals and organizations being recognized this year, and a sincere thanks to those who strive every day to make emergency medical services in Virginia the example for others to follow.”

The 2022 Governor’s EMS Award winners are:

  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Excellence in EMS – Gary Samuels, Bon Secours, Rappahannock General and Mary Immaculate Hospitals
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding Contribution to Leadership in EMS (The Kent J. Weber Trophy) – Jon Henschel, Winchester Fire and Rescue Department
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Physician with Outstanding Contribution to EMS (The Frank M. Yeiser Trophy) – Michel Aboutanos, M.D., VCU Health
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Nurse with Outstanding Contribution to EMS – Lou Ann Miller, R.N., Riverside Regional Medical Center
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding EMS Prehospital Educator – Penny Kelly, Fairfax County Schools
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding EMS Prehospital Provider – Tyler Reid, York County Department of Fire and Life Safety
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding Contribution to EMS Health and Safety – Jennifer Collins, Lynchburg Fire Department
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding Contribution to EMS for Children – Peninsulas EMS Council Pediatric Care Committee
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding EMS Agency – Nightingale Regional Air Ambulance
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding Contribution to EMS Telecommunication – Adriane Heiden, Loudoun County Fire and Rescue
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding Contribution to EMS Emergency Preparedness and Response (The James A. Nogle, Jr. Trophy) – Kenneth Smith, CJW Medical Center
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Innovation Excellence in EMS – Old Dominion EMS Alliance

An additional award is presented at the ceremony to recognize the outstanding contributions to EMS by a high school senior. This is a scholarship award provided by the Virginia Office of EMS in conjunction with the State EMS Advisory Board.

  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding Contribution to EMS by a High School Senior (The Dr. Carol Gilbert $5,000 Scholarship) – Michael Lansing, Tuckahoe Volunteer Rescue Squad

Virginia Department Of Health Announces Novavax Covid-19 Booster Vaccines Are Now Available In The Commonwealth

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has announced the immediate availability of a free booster dose of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, following authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on October 19.

The booster dose is authorized for persons aged 18 years and older who, for medical or accessibility issues, cannot take one of the mRNA bivalent COVID-19 vaccines or who would not take a booster otherwise. The Novavax vaccine is based on a technology different from the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

The Novavax booster vaccine may only be used as a first booster, meaning that anyone who has already had one or multiple booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and/or Moderna vaccines may not receive the Novavax booster at this time. It is to be administered at least six months after a person has completed a primary COVID-19 vaccine series.

The Novavax monovalent booster targets the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that first appeared in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, while the bivalent boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna also target the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the Omicron variant that emerged in the United States in November 2021. Novavax has a bivalent booster in testing.

Free vaccination opportunities may be found at Vaccinate.Virginia.gov. Information about all the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for administration in the U.S. is available at the VDH COVID-19 vaccine website. The Vaccinate Virginia Call Center is an additional source of information; call (877) VAX-IN-VA – (877)-829-4682 – Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Information is available in English, Spanish and more than 100 other languages.

The Great American Smokeout is Coming

Are you ready to quit smoking?

The Great American Smokeout is coming soon and it is the perfect time to quit smoking. This year’s smokeout is November 17, giving you plenty of time to get a plan in place and to use the day as your target date to quit smoking for good.

The event, held for more than 40 years, offers a chance to learn more about the dangers of smoking and get help to quit.

More than 480,000 people in the United States die from smoking each year. About 41,000 of those are from secondhand smoke. In Virginia, smoking causes about 10,300 adults to die every year.

You have a better chance of quitting if you make a plan and get support, according to the American Cancer Society. Help from counselors and medications such as nicotine patches or gum can double or triple your chance of success.

Quitting tobacco starts with a call. The Virginia Department of Health offers help. Quit Now Virginia, is a program that helps support anyone age 13 or older who wants help quitting.

The program has a Quitline phone number that offers coaching and Nicotine Replacement Therapy, along with education for anyone who wants to learn more.

If you are thinking about quitting smoking, vaping, or using tobacco products,  Call 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669)  or visit Quit Now Virginia to connect with a Quit Coach. Call a Quit Coach today for help and make a plan to quit for good.

The coaches are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They are confidential, non-judgmental and available to help you design a personal plan. Help also is available to quit vaping, including information and tips for parents and teens.

Quit smoking and vaping with a plan that works for you.

State Health Officials Urge Virginians to Ready for Increase in Respiratory Illnesses through Vaccination and Practicing Preventive Healthy Habits

Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced that this year’s flu season is already showing concerning, early signs that it may be worse than in recent years. More people are seeking care in hospitals and urgent care centers for influenza-like illness than at this point in previous years, particularly young children aged 0-4 years. Virginia health officials encourage everyone aged six months and older to get a flu vaccine this fall, with rare exception.

“The best way to reduce the risk of flu and its potentially serious complications is to get vaccinated each year” said State Health Commissioner Colin M. Greene, MD, MPH. “This is why I am encouraging Virginians to receive their annual flu shot and practice preventive healthy habits. These include staying home when sick, using your elbow to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and frequently washing your hands. Parents should help their children learn healthy habits and discuss vaccination with their children’s pediatric caregiver.”

The 2022-2023 seasonal flu vaccine is designed to protect against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common. For most people, September and October are generally good times to be vaccinated against flu. However, even if you are not able to get vaccinated until November or later, vaccination is still valuable because flu most commonly peaks in February and significant activity can continue into May.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports it is safe to get both a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time, if you are eligible and the timing coincides. The updated COVID-19 bivalent boosters provide targeted protection against the original virus strain and the circulating Omicron sub variants (BA.4 and BA.5).

Another respiratory illness circulating in Virginia is the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Emergency department and urgent care visits with diagnosed RSV have quadrupled and have been rapidly increasing in Virginia’s syndromic surveillance system since early September. RSV is common and usually causes mild to moderate symptoms in most people but can be very dangerous for young infants or those who are immunocompromised. Practice preventive health habits to reduce chance of infection and call your healthcare provider if you or your child is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing worsening symptoms.

Both the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccines are widely available in Virginia at many different locations, including pharmacies and health departments. To learn more and to get help finding vaccines, contact the Call Center at 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages. Visit www.vaccinate.virginia.gov or www.vaccines.gov to find a vaccine near you.

Contact your healthcare provider or your local health department for additional information on how to prevent fluCOVID-19 and RSV. Weekly reports on influenza activity in Virginia are posted on the VDH influenza surveillance webpage.

VDH and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association Launch Community Health Data Portal

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) have launched a new portal that will dramatically improve access to health data for public health, health care providers, and community partners.

VDH and VHHA partnered with the Center for Applied Research and Engagement (CARES) to develop this portal. The Virginia Community Health Improvement Data Portal is a tool that provides users with comprehensive information on the health status of their communities.

“The key to obtaining meaningful results is starting with meaningful, measurable data,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Colin Greene. “The new portal allows access to a broad array of such information, spanning the spectrum of social determinants of health, along with crucial health outcomes. I look forward to the portal’s role in improving health outcomes and reducing disparities.”

The portal allows users to track health-related data and analyze specific areas of concern, such as infant mortality, chronic disease or injuries. Users can identify trends and analyze data at a granular level and can visualize data on maps that meet the specific needs of a project. The portal can be accessed at vdh.virginia.gov/data/ and phvi.wpengine.com/data-portal/.

“Improving health in Virginia begins with communities coming together to review health data and identifying concerning trends and disparities,” said Dr. Lilian Peake, Virginia’s state epidemiologist. “I am excited about this new resource that will make that exponentially easier. It will allow local health departments, hospitals and community partners to spend more of their time developing local interventions rather than data gathering.”

The Partnering for a Healthy Virginia (PHV) Initiative coordinates efforts between VHHA and its member hospitals and health systems, VDH, local health departments, local jurisdictions, the medical community, and other stakeholders to address community health improvement. VDH and VHHA worked together to develop a core set of indicators that can be readily accessed via the Virginia Community Health Improvement Data Portal. Additional data indicators will be added as the project continues.

“Our approach to strengthening public health and wellbeing in Virginia takes many forms, including the Partnering for a Healthy Virginia Initiative. On projects such as PHV, we work with our member hospitals and health systems along with other partners and stakeholders as part of our ongoing effort to make Virginia the healthiest state in the nation,” said VHHA President and CEO Sean T. Connaughton. “No matter the project, our efforts are informed by data and what the metrics tell us because that information helps us understand the scope of particular health challenges and identify optimal improvement strategies. This new Virginia Community Health Improvement Data Portal is a prime example of pursuing a data-informed approach to enhancing public health and we are delighted to partner with VDH on this worthwhile project.”

CARES is an affiliate of the University of Missouri, with more than 200 years of combined experience in geographic information systems, programming, and data analysis and visualization.

For more information about community health improvement in Virginia, visit virginiawellbeing.com/. For more information about the Partnering for a Health Virginia Initiative, visit phvi.wpengine.com/. For more information about CARES, visit careshq.org/about/.

Division of Water and Wastewater Services Helps Keep Virginia’s Water Safe

The Virginia Department of Health’s Division of Water and Wastewater Services helps make sure private wells are safe and that people don’t get sick from touching sewage. The division works with Environmental Health staff across VDHs 35 health districts. They put programs in place for marinas, private wells and onsite sewage programs to protect public health.

The employees of Water and Wastewater Services help enforce rules for marinas, private wells and onsite sewage systems. They work with contractors, engineers, environmental groups, manufacturers, real estate agents, homeowners, lawmakers, and others to keep people and the environment healthy.

Safe drinking water is critical to good health.  You can make sure your private well water is safe by looking over your well head and the area around it. Test the water for bacteria every year. Every few years, do tests that are on the EPA National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.

Safe septic systems are also critical to good health. More than a million homes in Virginia use septic systems and almost as many use private wells. When a septic system fails, wastewater can have a negative impact on  nearby waterways.

There are also ways to keep up your septic system:  

  • Avoid pouring fats, grease, solids and harsh chemicals down the drain.
  • Use water in the best way possible by not using several appliances that use water at the same time.
  • Reroute rain and surface water away from your drainfield. Avoid parking cars and planting trees on your drainfield.
  • Pump out your septic tank on a regular basis. A professional can help you decide how often to pump. 
  • A typical septic system should be checked every one to three years by a septic system professional.
  • If you use a well, test your drinking water on a regular basis to make sure it is safe.

Keeping your system in good shape, can keep you healthy and save you thousands of dollars in repairs.