VDH Announces New Syphilis Webpage

Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announces the unveiling of a new syphilis webpage, including a data dashboard tracking the number of reported syphilis cases, to help bring attention to the rising number of cases in Virginia.

Reported total early syphilis (TES) cases in Virginia increased 14% from 2018 to 2022. To date in 2023, syphilis case reports are 21% higher than for the equivalent period in 2022. Most TES cases are diagnosed among men (84% in 2022); however, cases among women are on the rise (70% increase from 2018-2022). Syphilis diagnoses among persons who misuse substances (such as opioids, methamphetamine, and cocaine) are also increasing. Cases of congenital syphilis, which occurs when a mother with syphilis passes the infection on to her baby during pregnancy, have similarly increased dramatically in the last decade. National data show comparable trends.

The new syphilis webpage summarizes important information about syphilis infections, including common symptoms, risk factors, testing and treatment recommendations. Virginians can use this information to better protect themselves and their communities from syphilis. Additional resources specifically for healthcare providers are also available. Provider resources are designed to assist with identifying, staging, treating, reporting, and preventing syphilis.

For more information on sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing, visit the VDH testing page.  For testing or other health services, consult your local health department.  For specific questions about STDs or testing locations, you may call the Virginia Disease Prevention Hotline at (800) 533-4148.

The syphilis data dashboard includes up-to-date information on annual and monthly TES case counts by patient residence and demographics.  Cases are reported by the local health district of the patient’s residence at diagnosis with standard VDH data suppression rules in place to protect patient privacy. Data on congenital syphilis diagnoses are also presented by year and health region. The dashboard data will be updated weekly on Tuesdays.

The public may learn more about syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases at the VDH website for STDs.

Make Thanksgiving Table-Talk Something to Chew On

In between, the good food, the football games and other activities that come along with Thanksgiving, consider spicing-up the holiday gathering with a conversation about health. In 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona declared Thanksgiving as National Family Health History Day. The idea behind the designation is to encourage those gathering for Thanksgiving dinner to talk about their family health history and document diseases and conditions that affect family members.

Start the conversation by asking about your close relatives’ health—people like your parents, grandparents, siblings or aunts and uncles. Knowing your family health history is important when it comes to you managing your health and your medical care. You might be asking why? Consider this–there are some common conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancers and stroke that are genetic, or run in families. When you’re equipped with this information, it can help you and your health care provider develop a plan to lower your risk of developing diseases that may be common in your family. So, this Thanksgiving, remember to add family health history to the menu.

The Great American Smokeout 2023

Are you a smoker, e-cigarette or tobacco user? This November 16th, join thousands of people across the U.S. in quitting for the day and take the first step toward a healthier, smoke-free life.

Benefits of Quitting

  • Reduces your risk of illness and disease
  • Reduces your financial burden
  • Improves your quality of life
  • Improves your health from day one, and into the future

Quitting isn’t easy, but there are tools and strategies that can help you make that important change.

  • Give yourself time. You don’t have to stop smoking in one day. It’s a journey.
  • Have a plan. Quit Now Virginia can help you make a plan. It’s free to all Virginians 13 and older.
  • Seek support. Share your story and your goals with friends and family. Look for local or online support groups.
  • Talk to your doctor. Prescription medications may be available to help you quit for good.

The American Cancer Society and the Virginia Department of Health can also help. Use these resources to increase your chance of quitting all tobacco products. Join us on the Great American Smokeout and take the first step on your journey to a healthier future. Your future is brighter without the lighter.

One Pill Can Kill

“I ordered my prescription online! It was super easy, and it’s so much cheaper. The pills look like my regular prescription. It’s safe, right?” Wrong! The only safe medications are those that come from trusted sources, like your doctor’s office or pharmacy.

Criminal drug networks are flooding the U.S. with fake pills, and just one pill could be deadly. Some of these fake pills are laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be lethal, even in small doses.

“But it was so easy to order! I could do it from my phone.” Exactly! That’s how the crisis is growing. Criminal drug networks want to make it easy to order their product, and hope they get you hooked on it. So, they use social media and other online platforms to trick you into ordering fake pills. 

“What can I do to help? I want to keep my friends and family safe!” For more information and ways you can help spread the word, visit DEA’s “One Pill Can Kill” webpage. The more you know, the less likely you are to fall victim to dangerous schemes like this one.

Take a Bite… But Do it Right

Happy smiling friends enjoying lunch together at home. Mature multiethnic people celebrating happy occasion while eating healthy food. Group of senior couple and African couple talking during meal.

We are just weeks away from Thanksgiving and the unofficial beginning of the holiday season. Not only do the holidays offer a time to reflect on being thankful, but it’s one of the best times of year to relax with family and indulge in some delicious foods. But before you take your first bite, consider a quick health check. Did you know that an uncontrolled diet and lack of physical activity can lead to diabetes?

November is Diabetes Awareness Month. And today, November 14th, is World Diabetes Day. In Virginia, more than 631,000 of our neighbors are living with diabetes. If you’re not one of the thousands, consider these numbers–more than 1 in 3 people have prediabetes and 9 out of 10 of our neighbors don’t know that they have it. You might be asking, why should I be concerned about these numbers? Well, diabetes is a risk factor for many serious complications including heart disease, stroke, amputations, blindness, and kidney disease. If we have your attention now, great because VDH is here to help!

VDH offers a 1-minute prediabetes risk test to help you know your status. If the test results suggest you should consult a healthcare professional to manage your health, contact your provider, or visit the VDH diabetes information map to learn about classes, services, and programs in your area. Prediabetes can be reversed. Decide to celebrate this holiday season with a great recipe for your health.  For more information and resources, visit the Virginia Department of Health.

Halloween Tips from VDH

Happy Halloween from VDH! We’ve got tips for kids, parents, teens, and adults who go out to celebrate.

The costumes are ready, the jack-o-lanterns are lit, and the treats are in the bowl. You’re ready for a fun Halloween night of trick-or-treating, right? Almost! As you head out with your friends and family, keep the following safety tips in mind.

  • Stay safe on the streets. Wear reflective clothing, carry a flashlight, and make sure your costume doesn’t block your ability to see or walk safely.
  • Stick to the sidewalks. Walk on the sidewalk whenever possible, but if there isn’t a sidewalk, stay on the far edge of the road, facing traffic.
  • Trick-or-treat in groups, with a responsible adult.
  • Only visit homes that have their porch light on, and never go inside a stranger’s house.
  • Have an adult check the candy haul. If you have any question about the safety of a treat, throw it away. Check for loose candy, open wrappers, and allergens.

If you’re too old for trick-or-treating, we’ve still got you on our minds! For teenagers and adults embracing the spirit of the season, it’s crucial to keep health and safety in mind, especially for those heading out to party. Here are some health tips to ensure a frightfully good time without any unexpected scares:

  • Costume Comfort: Your costume might be scary, but discomfort shouldn’t be part of the equation. Make sure your costume fits well, allows easy movement, and doesn’t pose any risks such as tripping or obstructing vision. Wear comfortable shoes and dress for the weather.
  • Stay Hydrated: Whether it’s the chilly weather or hours of dancing, staying hydrated is crucial. Alternate between water and festive beverages and ensure you’re consuming enough fluids throughout the evening.
  • Mindful Indulgence: Halloween treats and drinks are part of the fun, but moderation is key. Keep an eye on your alcohol intake and ensure you’re not overindulging in sugary snacks. And be mindful of food allergies.
  • Buddy System: Whether you’re a teenager or an adult, never wander off alone. Stick with a group of friends and designate a buddy system to ensure everyone stays together and safe. This is especially important when navigating through crowded streets or unfamiliar areas.
  • Transportation Safety: If you plan to enjoy Halloween festivities away from home, plan your transportation in advance. Designate a sober driver or use rideshare services or public transportation to ensure a safe journey back home.

Halloween festivities can be fun for all, so be safe and enjoy the holiday!

I Survived Five Strokes: A Virginia woman shares her life-changing story.

Sunday, October 29th is World Stroke Day. Strokes can occur to anybody and happen without warning. TIAs (transient ischemic attacks), sometimes called mini strokes, are when the symptoms of a stroke quickly resolve and are warning signs of an impending stroke. Learn the signs and symptoms of stroke with Stroke Smart Virginia. 

The following was written and shared by a Virginian who survived several strokes:

On Sunday, April 9, 2023, my life took a dramatic turn. I was a young 81-year-old, fiercely independent, in good health, actively planning vacations, living alone, and enjoying my family and friends. Then suddenly, without warning, I was struck down by a stroke. Having a stroke was a shock to me and those who know me well. 

Before the stroke, I remember having a strange headache. A few days later, I fell backward on the floor as I attempted to kill a bug. Unfortunately, the fall injured my back, and I landed in the hospital for four days. A week after my release, I was resting on my bed as part of my therapy for my back. Suddenly, my left arm, was warm and seemed unrecognizable. I even asked myself, referring to my arm, “What is that?” I touched my arm and used my right hand to try and lift it, and it flopped on the bed. I struggled to get out of bed but couldn’t move. 

Since I was in physical therapy because of my back, I decided to call my Physical Therapist. After I told her what I was experiencing, she said call 911. After calling the emergency number, I contacted my granddaughter, since her number was the first number that came up on my phone. My granddaughter, stayed on the phone with me until the paramedics arrived. Since I was unable to get out of bed, the paramedics smashed in my back door, removing the frame. 

Five men surrounded my bed, asking questions about my symptoms. I was slurring my words and unable to move my left side.  They helped me out of bed and then placed me on a gurney, taking me to a waiting emergency vehicle. They followed my directions to my preferred hospital. Once I arrived in the emergency room, patients were jammed from wall to wall. I overheard one of the paramedics explain my condition. Then, a paramedic rolled me to the waiting room and left me alone. Sitting in a robe without undies and bare feet, I began crying. Ten minutes later, my daughter arrived in the waiting room. “Mom, she said, ” what are you doing here in this waiting room?” She couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting care, especially since she noticed that the left side of my face was drooping.   

Since I couldn’t walk, she moved her car to the emergency entrance and tried to help me get into the car. Fortunately, a stranger walked by and helped my daughter put me into the vehicle. We raced home, where my daughter again called 911. She was concerned that I was having a stroke and wanted an EMS team to take me to another hospital, so I could get immediate care.  She requested a nearby volunteer squad that she was familiar with. I rode in the emergency squad to another hospital, where they immediately realized that I had a stroke. Since I arrived within four hours of the stroke, I was able to receive a life-saving blood clot buster medication. 

I remained in the hospital, including rehab, for a month. Currently, I receive outpatient rehabilitation. My left side remains weak, including my left eye. (I am blind in my right eye.)  

Since the stroke, in April, I’ve had four more strokes. I now walk with a cane for stability. My memory, focus, organizational skills and comprehension abilities have deteriorated. I also get tired quickly and have less stamina.  

It will take hard work, determination, and intensive therapy. I am slowly accepting this life-changing event. I am aware that instantaneous changes of the worst kind happen to people every day. 

I remain relatively independent and still live alone. The worst of all, I am prohibited from driving. As an octogenarian, I am in the final stages of my life. But I can enjoy my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I enjoy writing, and I still have much to say. I can take up my painting again, rearrange my furniture, change my decor, and enjoy visitors and lunch outings with friends.  

Above all, I am a miracle; how many people survive five strokes and are productive? 

– Sharon

National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day is October 15th

National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD) is October 15.  Each year on this day we promote HIV prevention and treatment.  We also raise awareness on the disproportionate impact that HIV has on the Latinx community and aim to combat stigma.

We’ve made great strides in HIV prevention and treatment.  We are closer than ever to ending HIV.  Join us in the fight against HIV.

Some facts about Latinx people and HIV include (from NLAAD.org):

  • In 2019, 10,502 Latinx people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the United States
    • That’s nearly 29 Latinx people per day
  • In 2019, Latinx people represented 18.4% of the U.S. population, but accounted for 28.5% of all new diagnoses and 22.8% of all people living with HIV
  • 1 in 6 Latinx people living with HIV are unaware that they have it
    • Latinx people who are unaware that they have HIV cannot take advantage of HIV treatment and may unknowingly transmit HIV to others
  • 53% of Latinx people have never been tested for HIV in their lifetime

Take the time this NLAAD to:

If you or a loved one has questions about HIV services, call the Virginia Disease Prevention Hotline.  Reach a hotline counselor toll free at (800) 533-4048.  Hotline hours are 8:00 am until 5pm, Monday through Friday.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Shelton, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney Join with Health Care Leaders to Encourage Public to Get Flu Shots

Millions of Americans Contract the Flu Each Year, Leading to Millions of Medical Visits and Serious Health Challenges for Many Individuals; Annual Flu Shots Help Reduce the Risk of Illness During Flu Season

Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Shelton, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, and other leaders gathered today at the Bon Secours Sarah Jones Garland Center for Healthy Living to encourage Virginians young and old to receive a seasonal flu shot if they have not already done so to protect themselves and others from illness.

“Flu vaccine is plentiful, and I urge everyone eligible to get vaccinated. I get a flu shot every year because it’s easy and effective protection during a time of year when respiratory viruses are circulating,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Shelton, MD. “Nobody wants to be sidelined with the flu, and while most healthy people get over the flu, people with underlying health issues are at greater risk for serious flu complications.”

Now is the time to get a flu shot as the colder months approach when people spend more time indoors, which is often associated with elevated rates of cold, flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19 infection. Dr. Shelton and Mayor Stoney were among the public officials who participated in an event today to promote the flu shot at the Bon Secours Sarah Garland Jones Center for Healthy Living on the campus of Bon Secours Richmond Community Hospital. During the event, flu shots were made available to participants. Dr. Shelton was among those who rolled up her sleeve to receive a vaccine dose. A video recording of the event can be viewed online here.

“Getting a flu shot makes sense for so many reasons,” added Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. “Not only does it offer personal protection against illness, it is also a way to be considerate of our communities and the people around us. That’s because a case of the flu for medically vulnerable people, seniors, young children, can be very serious and potentially even fatal. Annual flu shots are important for public health and they are readily available in pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and through community clinics.”

The annual flu season lasts from the fall through the spring, with the greatest intensity in illness often seen in the fall and winter. Influenza is a viral condition that can infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Its symptoms may include fever, chills, congestion, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, and body aches. Each year, tens of millions of Americans contract the flu, resulting in millions of doctor visits, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands of fatalities. During the 2022-2023 flu season, the flu shot rate was 57.4 percent among children ages 6 months to 17 (the 2020-2021 rate was 57.8 percent) while the adult flu vaccination rate was 46.9 percent (a 2.5 percent decrease from the 49.4 percent rate the previous year), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Bon Secours is committed to improving the health status of patients in our community,” said Mike Lutes, President, Bon Secours Richmond. “We encourage members of the community to talk with their primary care providers about protecting themselves against the flu, which hospitalizes thousands of people every year.”

“Getting an annual flu shot is a simple and effective way to protect yourself and your loved ones from serious illness” added Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association President and CEO Sean T. Connaughton. “Taking that precautionary step can help keep children healthy and in school and people going about their lives without interruption due to sickness. It can also help reduce burden on the health care delivery system during the winter months when flu, RSV, and COVID-19 cases tend to increase, leading to more visits to the doctor and hospital stays.”

The CDC recommends that most Americans 6 months and older receive an annual flu shot, which can reduce a person’s risk for becoming ill and can help reduce the severity of illness in people who contact the virus. This year, it is projected that vaccine manufacturers will supply as many as 170 million doses in the U.S. Flu shots are covered by many commercial insurance plans and Medicare and Medicaid. They are available at many medical practices and pharmacies. Anyone looking for a flu shot is encouraged to visit this website and enter their zip code to find a nearby flu shot location. The flu shot and COVID-19 booster can be received at the same time. People who need more information about COVID-19 boosters can visit this link.

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Dr. Karen Shelton gets her flu shot.
Photo by Tammie Smith

Dental Hygiene Month in October is a Good Time to Brush Up on Oral Health

When was the last time you saw your dental hygienist? 

October is National Dental Hygiene Month, a good time to review the ways to take good care of your teeth and recognize the important work of hygienists.

Seeing your dentist and hygienist at least once a year, brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing once a day, staying away from tobacco products and limiting alcohol are a few of the ways you can practice good oral health.

Regular visits to a dental office can help prevent cavities and gum disease and help find oral cancer early so that it can be treated.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has programs that support dental health. They include sealants for children’s teeth and oral health promotion for moms, babies, adolescents, adults and people who have special healthcare needs.

VDH dental hygienists work in many communities across Virginia to provide dental services and education. These dental hygienists work in schools, providing dental cleanings, sealants and education. They also work in WIC clinics providing fluoride varnish and education to young children and their families.

It’s important to remember that oral disease can lead to problems eating, speaking, and learning. Poor oral health can lead to severe gum disease and tooth loss and is linked to chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Learn more about dental hygiene on the VDH Oral Health page where you’ll find information about programs, help finding a dentist for people with special healthcare needs along with facts, figures and other resources.