World AIDS Day 2020

World AIDS Day takes place December 1 of each year.  It is a time when people across the world can take the opportunity to unite in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and show support for those living with HIV, and remember those that have lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses.  Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.

You can read more about World AIDS Day on HIV.gov.

Show your support by wearing a red ribbon for World AIDS Day or sharing resources on social media from HIV.gov.  Get tested and update your HIV status.  Learn about advances in HIV prevention and care.  There are many ways to get involved.  The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has expanded the availability of our in-home HIV testing program during COVID-19 to meet the needs of Virginians.  If you are interested in receiving a test kit mailed directly to you visit our REDCap page.

Virginia’s Comprehensive Harm Reduction (CHR) program provides new syringes and needles, disposes of used syringes, refers participants to drug treatment and medical care, distributes Naloxone (to reverse overdoses), provides education and counseling, provides testing for HIV, hepatitis and other diseases, and provides referrals to social services and insurance.  The program has found previously-identified HIV-positive persons and re-engaged them into medical care.  For more information on the Virginia CHR program or to find locations, visit https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/disease-prevention/chr/.

For Virginia Medication Assistance Program clients:  remember that open enrollment for 2021 could be ending soon, depending on your health plan.  Visit www.myvamap.com and take action now.

The Virginia Disease Prevention Hotline is available Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  You can reach a counselor at (800) 533-4148.

Protect the Ones You Love – Get Your Flu Shot!

Protect the ones you love, get your flu shot

Flu season is underway, but it’s not too late to vaccinate! It is recommended that everyone 6 months of age or older receive a flu vaccination each year.

Getting a flu vaccine during 2020-2021 is more important than ever because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Flu vaccination is especially important for people who are at high risk for flu; many of whom are also at high risk for COVID-19 or serious outcomes.

This season, getting a flu vaccine has the added benefit of reducing the overall burden on the health care system and saving medical resources for care of COVID-19 patients.

The flu is a serious disease, especially for certain age groups and people with chronic health conditions, such as:

  • Children younger than five, but especially younger than two years old
  • Adults 65 years of age or older
  • Women who are pregnant or just had a baby
  • People with chronic health conditions

Learn more about people at high risk for flu complications.

The flu can cause mild or severe illness and can sometimes lead to death. The flu is different from a cold. Usually the flu starts suddenly. People with the flu sometimes feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever or feeling feverish / chills (not everyone has this symptom)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children than in adults.

Remember, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. Getting a flu shot is not only the single best way to protect yourself from getting sick, it’s also the best way to prevent the spread of flu to others. The best way to prevent flu is to get vaccinated every year. 

To find out where to get a flu shot in your area, contact your local health department or use the vaccine finder. For more information, visit Influenza in Virginia, Vaccinate Virginia and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Protect Your Health web pages.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Every Woman’s Life (EWL) helps low income, uninsured women between the ages of 18-64 get FREE breast cancer screening. If these tests lead to a cancer diagnosis, successful treatment can increase dramatically with early detection. Screening and early detection reduces death rates, improves treatment options and greatly increases survival.

Find out if you are eligible for EWL, and schedule your annual screening today. Learn more about Every Woman’s Life at: https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/every-womans-life/.

Rabies Awareness Week, Sept. 28 – Oct. 4

Spending time outdoors when the weather is warm can be a great way to enjoy time with your pets.  Since the warmer months can also be a time when wildlife are more active, remember to protect yourself and your pets from rabies exposures by following these simple steps:

  • Have your veterinarian vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and selected livestock. Remember to keep their vaccinations up-to-date.
  • Contact your local health department or animal control authorities if your pet is attacked or bitten by a wild animal.  Depending on the situation, keep in mind that your pet may need a rabies booster vaccination and be restricted to your property for a period of time after the wildlife exposure.
  • Wash animal bite wounds thoroughly and report the bite to your local health department.
  • Limit the possibility of exposure to rabies by keeping your animals on your property. Don’t let pets roam free.
  • Keep garbage or pet food inside. Leaving garbage or food outside may attract wild or stray animals.
  • Enjoy all wild animals from a distance, even if they seem friendly, and NEVER keep wild animals as pets. A rabid animal sometimes acts tame. If you see an animal acting strangely, especially if rabies exposures may have occurred, report it to your local animal control department and do not approach it.
  • Contact the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources to find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for guidance if you think a wild animal needs help. DO NOT take matters into your own hands.
  • Bring stray domestic animals, especially if they appear ill or injured, to the attention of local animal control authorities. If you think a stray animal needs help, contact your local animal control office for guidance.

For more information, visit: www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/animal-contact-human-health/?tab=3.

National Preparedness Month 2020

Are you Prepared?

Disasters and emergencies can come in many forms and at any time.  It’s important for you to be prepared for such events. September has been designated as National Preparedness Month. Take this month to do the following:

Prepare Your Health

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to maintain childhood immunization when possible. These vaccinations protect your children from vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccination throughout childhood is essential because it helps provide immunity to children who may be exposed to life-threatening diseases. Vaccination is the best protection. You have the power to protect yourself and your family against vaccine-preventable diseases.

For more information on vaccinations and immunizations visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/immunization/ and www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/index.html.

Prepare for Disasters

Limit the impacts that disasters have on you and your family.  Know the risk of disasters in your area and check your insurance coverage. Learn how to make your home stronger in the face of storms and other common hazards and act fast if you receive a local warning or alert.

  1. Take steps in your home to protect your family and your property from accidents and common hazards:
    • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, test them monthly, and replace them when they are 10 years old.
    • Protect your family by installing a carbon monoxide detector.
    • Have chimneys and vents cleaned and inspected by a qualified professional at least once a year to prevent home fires.
    • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet from your furnace, water heater, and other heat-generating equipment.
  1. Do you know how to turn off the gas in your home? Learn how to turn off utilities like natural gas in case you ever have a gas emergency in your home.
  2. Practice responding to various disasters – like earthquakes: drop onto your hands and knees. Cover your head and neck with your arms. Hold on to any sturdy covering until the shaking stops.
  3. Learn basic First Aid, CPR and Fire Safety skills. More information is available at ready.gov/safety-skills.
  4. Life-threatening emergencies can happen fast and emergency responders aren’t always nearby. You may be able to save a life by taking simple actions immediately. Learn more at https://community.fema.gov/until-help-arrives.

Teach Youth About Preparedness

Get Your Kids On Your Team!

Preparing for emergencies shouldn’t fall on your shoulders alone. Young children and teens alike need to be part of the process — for their own safety and sense of empowerment.

Helping Children Cope: Not all children deal with emergencies and disasters the same. See these additional resources to help your child navigate through the crisis of emergencies and disasters.

Disaster Preparedness Activity Book

Prepare with Pedro is a joint product of FEMA and the American Red Cross. The Prepare with Pedro: Disaster Preparedness Activity Book is designed to teach young children and their families about how to stay safe during disasters and emergencies. The book follows Pedro around the United States and offers safety advice through crosswords, coloring pages, matching games, and more.

National Immunization Awareness Month

Each year in August, National Immunization Awareness Month highlights the importance of getting recommended vaccines throughout your life. You have the power to protect yourself and your family against serious diseases, like whooping cough, cancers caused by HPV, and pneumonia, through on-time vaccination.

This year’s National Immunization Awareness Month theme focuses on a national effort, “Catch-Up to Get Ahead” to address the alarming declines in routine childhood immunization that have happened as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) supports families in the community to catch-up children on their recommended vaccines. During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers are taking extra precautions to keep you and your family safe. Don’t delay getting the recommended vaccines.

Remember, vaccines aren’t just for young children. The VDH encourages everyone to talk to their doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional to ensure that they and their loved ones of all ages are up to date on all recommended vaccines.

Specific immunizations are recommended for tweens and teens entering middle school and college, anyone who may be traveling abroad, those with certain underlying health conditions and adults aged 60 and over. Immunization schedules for all stages of life may be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website at: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/.

Extreme Heat Safety Tips

Summer temperatures in Virginia normally climb into the upper 90’s and even reach over 100 degrees at times. The hot temperatures and high heat indexes can cause ill health effects.

The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough. Prolonged exposure to heat can cause cramping, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and even death. It is important to stay hydrated and seek cool temperature environments until the heat subsides.

Here are some tips to avoid heat-related illness during the summer:

Drink water. When the temperature rises, it is important to drink plenty of water. Drinks that contain caffeine, large amounts of sugar or alcohol should be avoided because they can cause you to become dehydrated.

Keep cool indoors. On hot days, prevent illness by keeping cool indoors. If your home is not air conditioned, try to spend the hottest hours of the day in a cool public place such as a library, movie theater, or store.

Dress for the heat. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun’s energy. It is also a good idea to wear hats or to use an umbrella. Always apply sunscreen to exposed skin.

Limit physical activity. Avoid excessive physical exertion in hot temperatures, especially in the middle of the day. If you must work outdoors, stay hydrated by drinking 2-4 glasses of water each hour and take frequent breaks in a cool place. Even a few hours in an air-conditioned environment reduces the danger of heat-related illness.

Do not keep children or pets in cars. Temperatures inside a car with windows up can reach over 150 degrees quickly, resulting in heat stroke and death.

Check on your neighbors. Although anyone can suffer heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. People aged 65 or older are particularly susceptible to heat-related illnesses and complications that can result during periods of high temperatures and humidity.

Heat-Related Weather Terms:
Understanding heat-related weather terminology can help you and your family prepare for hot weather.

  • Heat Index: is a measure of how hot it feels when relative humidity is added to the air temperature.
  • Excessive Heat Outlooks: Issued when the potential exists for an excessive heat event in the next 3-7 days.
  • Excessive Heat Watches: Issued when conditions are favorable for an excessive heat in the next 24 to 72 hours.
  • Excessive Heat Warning/Advisories: Issued when an excessive heat is expected in the next 36 hours.

Signs & Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness:
Several heat-related health conditions can cause serious health problems. When temperatures are on the rise, watch for the following symptoms:

Dehydration— Dehydration is caused by the excessive loss of water and salts from the body due to illness or from prolonged exposure to heat. Severe dehydration can become a life-threatening condition if not treated.

Heat Cramps— Heat cramps are painful, involuntary muscle spasms that usually occur during heavy physical activity in hot environments. Muscles most often affected include those of your calves, arms, abdominal wall and back. If you are suffering from heat cramps, rest for several hours and drink clear juice or an electrolyte-containing sports drink.

Heat Exhaustion— Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses too much water and salt from sweating during hot temperatures. The elderly, people who work outside and people with high blood pressure are most at risk of heat exhaustion. Continued exposure may lead to heat stroke, which is life-threatening.

Heat Stroke— Heat stroke is caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures or by doing physical activity in hot weather. Sweating has usually stopped and your body temperature becomes too high; body temperatures can reach as high as 106 degrees in 15 minutes. Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition and you should seek immediate medical attention if you or someone you know is suffering from heat stroke.

For more information:

Preparing for Hurricane Season During the COVID-19 Pandemic

While we are all still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also time to prepare for the possibility of hurricanes affecting the Commonwealth. Hurricane season started June 1 and continues through the summer and fall until November 30. Planning for hurricane season may be different this year. To protect ourselves and our loved ones, we will need to pack some new items in our preparedness kits, including cloth face coverings (for everyone ages 2 and above), soap, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces. Visit the following sites to learn more:

Stay Safe and Healthy in Your Backyard Pool #swimhealthyva

girl in poolHappy Healthy and Safe Swimming Week May 18 – 24, 2020! Public and private pools around Virginia begin to open in late May, making this the ideal time to talk about ways to reduce the risk of recreational water-associated illness, drowning, and injury in our communities. Water is not only fun to play and cool off in, but just a few hours of water-based physical activity per week can offer low-impact health benefits for everyone!

At pools, spas, and waterparks:

  • Don’t swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea.
  • Don’t swallow the water.
  • Every hour take kids on bathroom breaks. Change diapers in the restroom, not poolside, to keep germs away from the pool.
  • Read and follow directions on pool chemical product labels.
  • Wear appropriate safety equipment (goggles, for example) when handling pool chemicals.
  • Secure pool chemicals to protect people, particularly children and animals, from accidental exposure.
  • NEVER add pool chemicals when the pool is in use, and only add them poolside when directed by the product label.

There is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through the water used in pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds. Proper operation and disinfection of pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds should kill the virus that causes COVID-19. Operators of aquatic venues should ensure that patrons can safely enjoy the facilities while maintaining social distancing practices. For CDC guidance for aquatic venues during COVID-19, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/parks-rec/aquatic-venues.html

It is also important to remember that drowning is the leading cause of injury and death for children ages 1-4 years. To keep swimmers safe in the water:

  • Make sure everyone knows how to swim.
  • Use life jackets and wear them appropriately.
  • Provide continuous attentive supervision near swimmers.
  • Learn CPR.
  • Install and maintain barriers like 4-sided fencing and weight-bearing pool covers.
  • Use locks or alarms for pool access points.

To learn more about staying safe in pools and natural waters, visit swimhealthyva.com.

Virginia’s natural streams, rivers, and lakes offer opportunities for fun exercise and fishing but also pose the risk for illness, injury and drowning. Follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Look for beach advisory signs along public access points or along the beach. Many public beaches in Virginia are monitored for bacteria levels. An advisory is posted if these levels are too high. If the beach is under advisory, stay out of the water.
  • All natural bodies of water contain bacteria, including salt water. Salty water will not disinfect wounds. If you have broken skin, stay out of the water.
  • Avoid swimming in natural waters for at least three days after heavy rain.
  • Don’t swim when you are sick. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
  • Avoid getting water up your nose. Use a nose clip or plug your nose before going under the water.
  • If you become sick after being in the water, report your water activities to your doctor.
  • Shower with soap and water before and after swimming.
  • Keep children and pets from swimming in scummy water. If you see mats of algae or discolored green, red, or brown water, an algae bloom may be present.
  • Report harmful algal blooms or dead animals in the water to the HAB Hotline at:

National Infant Immunization Week

The Virginia Department of Health observes National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW), April 25 – May 2, 2020. NIIW is a yearly observance that highlights the importance of protecting children two-years-old and younger from vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs). 

On-time vaccination throughout childhood is essential because it helps provide immunity before children are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases. Fortunately in Virginia, most children are routinely vaccinated on time. However, due to COVID-19, we are starting to see immunization services declining and parents opting to not take their child to the pediatrician to get vaccines they are due for. 

Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers across the state are working hard to ensure that children can still receive the well visits and immunizations they need. Some ways they are doing this include:

  • Scheduling well visits in the morning and sick visits in the afternoon.
  • Separating patients spatially, such as placing patients with sick visits in different areas of the clinic or another location from patients with well visits.
  • Collaborating with providers in the community to identify separate locations for holding well visits for children.
  • Parents, especially those with children under 2-years-old, should call ahead to check with their provider and determine if their child is due for any vaccinations.