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.

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.

American Diabetes Month

November marks American Diabetes Month and, this year, it’s happening along with an early onset of the flu season.

In Virginia, more than 740,000 people are at a higher risk of severe complications from the flu that can lead to hospitalization or sometimes death, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In recent flu seasons, about 30 percent of adults with flu in hospitals had diabetes.

People who have diabetes have a higher risk of heart disease, stroke or other problems such as kidney failure, blindness, and amputation of a toe, foot, or leg.

Diabetes Month also is an opportunity to learn more about the disease and the challenges of managing diabetes.

Virginia’s plan to help fight diabetes includes federal money to take part in the National Diabetes Prevention Program. It’s a partnership of public and private organizations working to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. The program helps make it easier for people at risk for type 2 diabetes to participate in programs that help them reduce their risk through healthy habits.

Those diagnosed with diabetes can get help through Diabetes Self Management Education and Support programs. The DSMES services help diabetics learn about taking medicines, planning healthy meals, and being active. Diabetes care and education specialists work with diabetics on a plan that works for them. To learn about the types of diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association’s website.

One in three Virginians has prediabetes, and most do not know it. To learn whether you are at risk for prediabetes, take the Prediabetes Risk Test. Prediabetes can be reversed before it becomes Type 2 Diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program is a year-long program, funded by private and public institutions (and free to you), that focuses on lifestyle change. For help finding a program, visit the Virginia Diabetes Council’s website. 

October is National Pharmacists Month! Learn a little more about the Pharmacists within VDH who serve the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Division of Pharmacy Services supports the Department of Health in its public health mission by providing vaccines, pharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical services, and biologicals to other divisions within the Department of Health and to the local health departments.

What does the VDH Division of Pharmacy Services (DPS) do?

  • DPS supports the local health departments by providing vaccines, medications, medical supplies, drug information services, and biologics for programs that include: 
    • Providing treatments for sexually transmitted or communicable diseases including tuberculosis and HIV
    • Providing vaccines for influenza, foreign travel, and for patients who are not eligible for the Vaccines for Children Program
    • Providing pharmaceuticals to support metabolic disorders and hemophilia
  • DPS provides naloxone and drug disposal bags to First Responders, Comprehensive Harm Reduction Sites, Community Services Boards, local health departments, the Department of Corrections, and public schools.
  • DPS also collaborates with the Department of Education to provide epinephrine, albuterol, and supplies to public and private schools across Virginia. 
  • They also respond to public health emergencies including pandemics, bioterrorism, and natural disasters.
  • They provide clinical support to healthcare providers and manage inventory of medications to treat communicable diseases and chronic diseases. 

To support all of these programs, the Pharmacy Shipper ships an average of 150 boxes of medications and supplies per day and receives at least 20 boxes a day!

What other roles do Pharmacists play in VDH?

  • Pharmacists can assist patients in learning to take care of their health, from managing their medications and implementing lifestyle changes.
  • Pharmacists often also counsel patients on how to take medications correctly.
  • Another role of the pharmacist is ensuring medications don’t interact with other medications the patient is taking.
  • They may also process bulk orders, manage inventory and supply, and provide training to other providers. 
  • Pharmacists provide important perspective, input and leadership for public health programs and response efforts such as monkeypox and COVID-19. 

The pharmacy services team includes pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, pharmacy interns, and other support services. VDH thanks the Division of Pharmacy Services and all of the Pharmacists throughout VDH for their dedication, effort, and work for all people of the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

Bird flu found across Virginia expected to increase, but poses low risk to humans

A bird flu virus – a Eurasian strain of H5N1 – that has been spreading across the country has a low risk of infecting people. The virus, also called avian flu, was first found in wild birds, commercial poultry and backyard flocks in January 2022. It has infected several million wild and domestic birds across the country (and the continent) and is still being found. The number of infections is expected to grow during the winter..   

Bird owners should review their biosecurity steps and stay aware to protect poultry and pet birds from this disease. Get more information from the USDA’s Defend the Flock Program.

Usually, the virus causes illness and death in birds, but doesn’t cause wildlife to get sick. In this outbreak, large wild birds such as vultures and Canada geese have died off across the country. Some mammals such as foxes and otters have been infected, but that hasn’t been seen often. 

People who need to dispose of dead birds should wear appropriate clothing and protective equipment (PPE), including eye protection, a well-fitting mask, gloves, and protective outer clothing (gown or coveralls). The level of PPE needed may depend on the situation. Workers who deal with a large number of sick or dead birds should wear PPE and follow instructions from their agency. A situation with a large number of dead wild birds can be reported to the Department of Wildlife Resources through their wildlife helpline: 1-855-571-9003. This helpline is staffed Monday-Friday during normal business hours.

People who have direct contact with infected animals that are dead or may be sick, including sick animals that might have eaten birds infected with avian flu, should watch for symptoms that include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing/shortness of breath, conjunctivitis (eye tearing, redness, irritation, or discharge from eyes), headaches, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, and diarrhea. You may not have a fever. Anyone who is sick  within 10 days of exposure to an animal that may be infected should call their local health department and get tested if needed.

So far, this virus has been detected in millions of birds. With close monitoring of people who have been in contact with infected birds, only one person has tested positive for this virus. This person had direct exposure to infected poultry, was mildly sick and has recovered. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to test for and watch this virus and other similar viruses. Right now, officials haven’t found any evidence that this virus could cause a pandemic.

More avian flu information and resources are available at the links below.

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.

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.

October is National Dental Hygiene Month

October is National Dental Hygiene Month, when the focus is on the important work of dental hygienists, and good oral health.

National Dental Hygiene month is observed every year in October, to celebrate the work dental hygienists do, and help raise awareness on the importance of good oral health. Vector illustrationThe Dental Health Program at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) supports good oral health for all Virginians. VDH dental hygienists work throughout the state to provide dental services and education. These dental hygienists work remotely 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.

Other VDH dental programs focus on adult oral health and chronic disease and people with special health care needs, both of which rely on dental hygienists to help adults get equitable access to dental care.

Oral disease at any age can cause infections that lead to problems with eating, speaking and learning. More than 40 percent of adults have reported feeling pain in their mouth within the last year and more than 80 percent will have had at least one cavity by age 34, according to the CDC.

Poor oral health can lead to severe gum disease and tooth loss and is associated with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Regular dental visits can help prevent cavities and gum disease and lead to the early detection of oral cancer.

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.

Pharmacy Month Featurette ~ Nancy Wade

October is National Pharmacy Month! This month, we will spotlight one of pharm-tastic pharmacy staff each week to tell you a little more about them and their role at VDH. 

This week’s pharm-tastic member of the team is Ms. Nancy Wade! Nancy retired in October 2022, but her positive impact on the pharmacy team at VDH will march on. Division of Pharmacy Services Director, Stephanie Wheawill, says, “Nancy is well known and appreciated for her expertise in public health. She is one pharmacist behind the scenes to many, but her retirement is going to be felt among our pharmacy staff and programs due to all of her knowledge and experience.”

Nancy began her career in public health at the Richmond City Health District 40 years ago and soon moved to VDH Division of Pharmacy Services where her work put her a little more behind the scenes but had no less impact. While working with Richmond City Health District in the wake of the Vietnam War, Nancy interacted directly with the public, filling prescriptions, administering vaccines, and working in general medical clinics. She noted that working in a structured environment with protocols for everything made it “feel like you could really help.” 

During her time at VDH, Nancy also worked as an HIV manager on the pharmacy team, providing leadership to inventory purchasing, managing grant funds, and establishing procedures to ensure the best use of funds, management of stock, and distribution of medications. According to Wheawill, “She managed over a $10 million dollar annual pharmaceutical inventory for the Ryan White Drugs Assistance Program” while also staffing the pharmacy, filling prescriptions, and assisting with the tuberculosis response and, later, the COVID-19 and monkeypox responses. 

When asked what she wanted the general public to know about those working in public health, Nancy’s first response was to stress “how hard everyone works, not just in pharmacy” and that public health workers are a “caring, dedicated group of people” who are just one part of a bigger picture. She says it gives you a “different perspective on humanity” and puts you in a place where you are always learning.

VDH would like to thank Nancy for her contribution and service. We asked what she would miss most about working at VDH, and Nancy said that she’d miss “interaction with [her] coworkers” and building “relationships with other people and being part of a team,” but she is looking forward to the opportunity to travel and spend more time with her family.