Friday, December 11, 2009

Jefferson County H1N1 School Located Clinics Open to General Public

After much discussion with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and after careful review of JCPH current vaccine distribution and availability, Jefferson County Public Health decided to open its school-located H1N1 clinics scheduled for Saturday December 12, 2009 and December 19, 2009 to the general public. To date, JCPH has received 114,800 doses of H1N1 vaccine and distributed 96,484 doses to its high priority populations via distribution to healthcare providers in the County, special priority group clinics and mass school-located clinics. Now that the majority of our high risk population has been vaccinated, we are making vaccine available to anyone who wants it.

JCPH has over 15,000 doses of vaccine available for the upcoming clinics. The clinics will be on a first-come, first-served basis. and both the injectable shots or nasal spray will be provided free of charge. Our goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible. Anyone who wants to protect themselves from H1N1 should attend the clinics.

For locations and dates, visit our web page at
You can also email us at and let us know which clinic you plan on attending. For those who have already notified us, thank you.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Emergency Preparedness and H1N1

H1N1, Swine Flu, its everywhere these days. What is good information and what is bad? Is the vaccine safe? Where can I get it? How can I tell if I have H1N1? What is the big concern now when seasonal flu impacts so many Americans each year?

These are all questions that we have received over the last few months as the H1N1 virus has picked up speed and is infecting millions of Americans. The truth is that right now no one is really looking for H1N1 specific flu unless you are hospitalized. Early studies and tests have shown that 99.9% of the flu circulating in the country right now is H1N1. Since it costs state laboratories so much to subtype for this specific virus, health authorities are assuming that if you have the flu, chances are, it’s H1N1. So while you will not know specifically if you have H1N1, you can make that assumption when it comes to caring for yourself and your family.

So what do you if you get sick with flu? Start with good hygiene such as washing hands well and often; stay home or keep your kids home if you have a fever or cough; be especially attentive to washing hands and disposing of tissues and staying away from others to prevent spread. Most people have not needed medical care and have been able to recover at home. There are some however, who are more likely to get flu complications and they should talk to a health care provider about whether they need to be examined if they get flu symptoms. This includes, pregnant women, children under the age of 2 and those with chronic medical conditions. Eating right, getting good rest and regular exercise will also help you stay healthy.

Although many people have strong opinions about vaccines, all data indicates that vaccines are a safe effective way to prevent disease. But why get a shot if this flu virus is no worse than the seasonal flu? First off this flu is targeting younger, healthier adults and children at an alarming rate, similar to the 1918 pandemic that killed millions. Second, the seasonal flu kills 36,000 people in the U.S each year; if we try to minimize H1N1 by comparing it to the seasonal flu we are minimizing the loss of 36,000 lives.

Jefferson County Public Health has distributed nearly 35,000 doses of vaccine to our high risk community members via special clinics and distribution to healthcare providers and emergency workers. Call your healthcare provider or check the Immunize Colorado Website for vaccine clinics in your county. Jefferson County residents are also asked to attend one of our school located clinics if they are unable to access vaccine through their provider. Please see:

The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus will impact your community in some way, especially since the spread of seasonal flu has not yet kicked up. Think seasonal flu times two, except now we are watching a different age group (children) being most affected. This virus spreads very easily and it is still possible that it will combine with another flu virus that have a much higher mortality rate creating more deaths and more illness. Working together we can slow the spread and reduce the chances of a stronger, deadlier flu strain appearing in the spring or next fall.

Stay healthy, stay informed, and visit our website for more information.

Jody Erwin, Emergency Response Coordinator

Monday, November 9, 2009

Quit for a Day…Quit for Life

If you’ve ever though about quitting tobacco, or know someone who is, now may be the time to make that change. The Great American Smokeout is Thursday, November 19th and Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) encourages all tobacco users, whether you smoke or use spit tobacco, to Quit for A Day or Quit for Life. This year the County is dubbing the day the “Great Smoke and Spit Out” to encourage those who using chew/spit tobacco to join the challenge to quit.

According to the American Cancer Society, people who have a plan for quitting DOUBLE the odds of staying quit forever. If you want to take the tobacco-free plunge – whether it’s for one day or for good, there are steps to take now that will help you prepare and significantly increase your chances for success.

JCPH, through the Tobacco Prevention team, is making information available to the community and employers about resources to help quit tobacco for the day or for life. We are also offering “Getting Ready to Quit” classes which are free, one-time, mini-workshops designed to help those thinking about quitting smoking or chewing tobacco to plan for success. There are 2 different sessions scheduled: one on Friday, November 13 from 6 – 8 pm at the Freedom Center (870 Kipling Street in Lakewood) and the other on Monday, November 16 from 6 – 8 pm at Exempla Lutheran Medical Center (8300 W. 38th Avenue, Conference Room F in Wheat Ridge.) To reserve a spot and for more information, call (303) 275-7565.

There are many other options to help support tobacco users who would like to quit. (Please see the list at the end for more information.) You may also visit the tobacco prevention page on the JCPH website, for the “9 Days to Prepare to Quit” plan, which provides information about the key steps to take to successfully quit for good. If you would like a free quit kit with educational materials to support the quitting process, call (303) 275-7509 or email

For a list of additional resources on quitting, check out our news release.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Prevent Animal-borne Disease - End of Season

The 2009 zoonoses season is winding down and pet and citizen encounters with insects and wildlife are starting to decrease. The summer started out cool and wet and it looked like we might have a very active season West Nile Virus (WNV) season. Our integrated mosquito management program started in early June and was prepared for a very busy season but the WNV activity started slow and remained that way throughout the 2009 season. Compared to past years this will be one of the slowest WNV seasons we have had since WNV first came to Colorado. At this time Jefferson County has had 5 cases of WNV and the State has 51. The total number of cases in the State will probably increase slightly but that number will still be lower than any of the past five years. Jefferson County cases have always been lower than other highly populated counties and that is the case this year, never having more than 10 cases during the WNV season the last five seasons.

The wet and cool weather did lead to more plague activity in prairie dog colonies than we have seen over the past few years. We had prairie dog die offs due to plague from infected fleas in the north and south ends of the county. Citizen use in those areas was restricted and JCPH monitored the flea activity in those areas and continued to find infected fleas weeks after the prairie dogs were gone. The health department is now waiting for the first frost of the year to eliminate any remaining fleas so the areas can be opened for public use.

The number of specimens submitted for rabies testing in 2009 has been about average this year with over 70 animals tested with 40 of those specimens being wild animals. Two bats tested positive for rabies this summer. Every year, several counties from around the State, including Jefferson County, have bats test positive for rabies. In 2007 skunk rabies was detected in several eastern Colorado Counties and this summer skunk rabies worked its way into El Paso County and eastern Arapahoe County. El Paso County is south of the Denver metro area and had several skunks test positive for rabies this past summer. It is only a matter of time before skunk rabies makes its way into the Denver Metro area and into Jefferson County. Now that there are two wild animals that could have rabies in Colorado (bats and skunks) it is very important that everyone always remember the following points.

Keep your pets (dogs, cats, and ferrets), horses and other high-value livestock up to date on their rabies vaccinations.
Stay away from an animal exhibiting bizarre behavior, such as a nocturnal animal like a skunk wandering about during the day or a bat on the ground.
Never feed or approach wild animals and everyone should stay away from wild animals.
If your pet is bitten or scratched by a wild animal consult your veterinarian immediately.
Contact your doctor immediately if you suspect you’ve been exposed to rabies.
If you must remove a dead animals from your property lift the carcass with a shovel or other tool and place the animal into a double-bag and throw it out in the trash.

As the summer comes to a close and everyone starts to enjoy winter time activities remember to add warm clothes, water proof shoes, and a winter time survival kit to your planned activities.

That’s it for me, now I will turn the reins over to Jody Erwin who is going to teach us all about Emergency Preparedness and H1N1.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

July was a busy month for the Jefferson County Public Health Zoonosis program because there was one of the largest prairie dog die offs due to plague that the county has ever seen. Two areas in the northern area of the county were closed while dealing with the issue, a recreational campground and large off leash dog park.

Plague is spread by the bite of an infected flea and the poor prairie dogs have no immunity. The prairie dog usually takes the blame for plague but they are actually the biggest victim. The plague will spread through the colony killing upwards of 100% of the population in as little as 10 days. The problem is the infected fleas, while they will die in due time because they have killed their host, they are very stout insects and can hang on for weeks or even months while they wait for an un-suspecting animal (wild or domestic) to use. The flea will jump onto their new host and begin their life cycle all over. Dogs are not very susceptible to the plague but they will bring the infected fleas home to humans and cats.

Because of possible interactions with infected fleas the two public areas were closed while the empty burrows were treated with an insecticide to kill the fleas. After the areas were treated the health department went back to look for fleas that may have lived through the treatment or burrows that might have been overlooked during the insecticide application. If fleas, or areas that were un-treated are found than those areas are re-treated. This process will go on until all the areas are treated and no fleas are found during follow-up inspections.

The campground area represents a very typical area that the health department deals with each summer. An area, such as this one, will be inspected, closed and the burrows treated. After treating with an insecticide, the area can be opened to the public with brochures and signs posted at all the entrances informing people of plague in the area. These postings also remind them to always keep their pets on leashes and have their veterinarian prescribe a flea treatment.

Plague is a treatable disease if detected early. That is why all the areas are posted to inform people that if they become ill shortly after visiting this park or any park in the state they should consult their physician and inform them of their possible exposure to plague.

The dog park area, located in Westminster, was a different story because it was a very large off leash park that covered hundreds of acres with many different trials running the entire length and width of the park. In order to open the park up for the public it was divided into two areas. The main area of the park near the parking lot which is the area where the majority of people come to let their dogs run and the second larger area that is west of the parking lot. The western area has hundreds of acres of wide open land with trails running all over. The main off leash area was treated twice with insecticide and after inspecting the burrows and not finding any fleas in this area it was allowed to re-open.

The western part of the park was so large that JCPH was finding fleas on every inspection and in burrows near to the trails. This area remains closed at this time and is being evaluated.

As with everything else in life the insecticide process can not guarantee that 100% of the fleas have been killed but the process is aimed at significantly reducing the risk of encountering an infected flea. If you are taking your pets into the woods, parks, or camping always work with your veterinarian to have a good flea treatment for your pet. Remember that there are always rodents and insects in the woods that can carry many different kind of parasites and possible diseases. Always use insect repellant according to label instructions every time you go camping and hiking. Conduct flea and tick inspections on yourself and your pets after every excursion into the wild. These simple precautions will go a long way to help you have another enjoyable and memorable summer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Preventing Animal-borne Disease...

Plague Confirmed in Jefferson County Prairie-Dog Population
Jefferson County Public Health received positive test results for plague today from a flea specimen collected from a prairie dog die-off at the Westminster Hills Open Space/Dog Park. The dog park is located at 105th Avenue and Simms Street. The area of concern includes the entire dog park and open space area from Simms Street west to Indiana Street.
Environmental Health Services submitted flea specimens to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for testing on Tuesday, July 14, 2009 and received results back this morning. The area is being closed to the public and posted with plague warnings signs today.
Dr. Jim Dale, DVM, MPH, Director of Environmental Health Services said, “There have been no reported human cases of plague in the area and if precautions are taken the disease is not considered to be a threat to humans.”

Health officials are advising visitors to the Westminster Hills Open Space/Dog Park, and all Jefferson County citizens, to take precautions. JCPH recommends that everyone living in or visiting the area in and around the Westminster Hills Open Space/Dog Park take the necessary precautions, listed below, to protect themselves and their pets from plague.

Plague is an infectious disease caused by Yersinia pestis, a bacterium. Prairie dogs are extremely susceptible to plague. Plague is transmitted via fleas that have bitten plague-infected wild rodents. Cats most commonly contract the disease from flea bites, a rodent scratch/bite, or ingestion of a rodent. Dogs are generally resistant to plague, however they may pick up and carry plague-infected fleas. Humans may be infected with plague through bites from infected fleas, by the cough from an infected animal, or by direct contact (i.e. through a bite) with blood or tissues of infected animals.

Residents are urged to talk with their veterinarian regarding effective flea control products -- always read and follow directions on flea product labels. People can protect themselves and their pets from plague by:

  • rodent-proofing their homes;

  • maintaining litter and trash-free environments;

  • storing food and garbage properly to prevent rodent access;

  • keeping domesticated animals indoors;

  • and when recreating, pet owners should:

  • use insect repellant;

  • keep their pets on leashes;

  • and use flea control products on pets.
If these reasonable precautions are taken, the probability of contracting plague is extremely low.
Symptoms of plague in humans occur within two to seven days after exposure. Infected persons may experience fever, headache, weakness and rapidly developing pneumonia with shortness of breath; chest pain; cough; and sometimes bloody or watery saliva. The pneumonia progresses for two-to-four days and may cause respiratory failure and shock. Plague is treated with antibiotics. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should consult a physician.

The Health Department will continue its plague surveillance of rodent populations in the County. Citizens are requested to report any unusual rodent die-offs to Jefferson County Public Health at 303-271-5700.
For more information, contact the Jefferson County Public Health Environmental Health Services at 303-271-5700 or
For more information on the dog park closing, go to

Monday, June 29, 2009

Preventing Animal-Borne Disease

Summer is here and with it comes increased risk of certain animal-borne diseases, like rabies for instance. Rabies is a disease casued by a virus that affects wild animals, domestic animals (like pets and livestock), and humans. Recently, rabies has been found in skunks in the state of Colorado and appears to be moving west towards the Denver metro area. This is something that concerns me and those of us in public health who spend their days monitoring, educating and reporting on animal-borne disease, or zoonosis. I’m David Volkel, environmental health specialist with Jefferson County Public Health’s Zoonosis Program. Throughout the summer, I’ll be sharing with you some of the reasons why I am so passionate about what I do and give you ways you can prevent animal-borne disease.

Animal control officers, veterinarians and pet owners are reminded to take all precautions when dealing with both domestic and wild animals. Since January, 2009 there have been 14 laboratory confirmed cases of skunk rabies in the following counties: Morgan (6), Yuma (4), Lincoln (1). Kiowa (1), Kit Carson (1) and El Paso (1). The most recent case of skunk rabies occurred in northeastern El Paso County. Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) has tested 22 animals for rabies so far in 2009 with three of those being bats. There have not been any positive tests for rabies yet but the possibility of rabies always exists.

These numbers mean there is an increased possibility that domestic pets may interact and become infected with rabies infected skunks or bats or other mammals. Every pet owner is urged to vaccinate their dogs, cats and ferrets against rabies.

Pet owners have an important role to play in preventing animal-borne diseases. Regular visits to the veternarian, staying up to date with vaccinations, keeping animals from roaming free are all important measures. Fortunately, the vaccination rate for dogs is fairly high because most muncipalities require a rabies vaccination for licenses, however cat vaccination rate has plenty of room for improvement. The lower vaccination rate for cats is because most muncipalities do not require cats to be licensed and there are many stray cats. Consider this, if a cat encounters a rabid bat or skunk and is not protected by a current rabies vaccination, the cat will be required to undergo a 180 day quarantine in a secure faclity (in an individual cage in a pet boarding faclity) or face euthanasia. If you feed a stray cat, by default, you are the cat owner and will be asked to make that decision. Getting your pets vaccinated, saves lives!

In addition to regular vaccination, keep you and your family safe from exposure to rabies and other diseases and parasites by not handling wild animals and instructing your children not to approach or touch wild animals. And, remember to keep bats out of your home by sealing all openings and keep screens (in good condition) on all doors and windows.

For more information on preventing animal-borne disease, please visit:

Friday, June 26, 2009

Getting to Know an Environmental Health Specialist

I have really enjoyed sharing food safety information with you all. I hope you liked it and found it informative. I am now going to turn over the blog to my friend Dave Volkel in the Zoonosis program. He's going to tell you all about preventing Animal-borne disease.


Carla Opp
Environmental Health Specialist

Friday, June 5, 2009

We are Not Our of the Woods Yet . . . Novel Influenza A (H1N1)

We are Not Out of the Woods Yet . . . Novel Influenza A (H1N1)

The novel influenza A (H1N1) virus took center stage in April of this year and within weeks had infected people in the United States and across the globe. Public Health officials around the world sounded the alarm, our media, government, and community partners responded accordingly and the general public had the opportunity to watch from their living rooms and computer screens a new and potentially deadly influenza virus emerge onto the world stage.

Fortunately, the severity of illness caused by H1N1 has been fairly mild and most are able to recover at home without complications, yet for some the illness has proved deadly and no one really knows how severe this virus really is. As community spread has occurred, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its State counterparts are focused on tracking more severe illness and case counts reflect only those hospitalized with confirmed illness in their Novel H1N1 Flu Situation Updates. Thus official case counts greatly underestimate actual spread through the community and the exact number of infected persons will never be known. What is known is that the virus is here, and public health professionals nationwide expect that illnesses and deaths may continue for some time. Since you, or people around you, may become ill with influenza it is important to know how to recognize the symptoms and take appropriate actions.
The symptoms of H1N1 flu virus are similar to the symptoms of seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some of those infected have also reported diarrhea and vomiting. If you get sick, stay home and take measures to prevent spreading illness to others. Be sure to contact a physician if symptoms do not resolve or if you have other chronic health conditions or if you are pregnant.
Jefferson County Public Health continues to be actively involved in responding to H1N1 influenza A. At this time, our response goals are to reduce the spread and severity of illness, and to provide information to help health care providers, government officials and the public address the challenges posed by this new public health threat. We are working with schools, community partners, hospitals, municipalities, volunteers and others to be sure Jefferson County is ready for the influenza season this fall and the potential for a reemergence of this novel virus. During the past weeks these activities have included frequent outreach with health care providers and dissemination of information to higher risk settings for spread, including nursing homes, hospitals, correctional facilities, child care centers and schools. Because the majority of mild illness is not detected by our current disease surveillance systems, we are working with our school district to track absenteeism-- related to fever and respiratory symptoms--at every school. This system will greatly help us to track the probable return of this and related flu strains in the fall.

It is important that we not let our guard down and pay close attention to messages about preventing the spread of disease in our communities,” says Dr. Gayle Miller, Jefferson County Public Health Senior Epidemiologist. Officials monitoring the H1N1 influenza are looking closely south of the equator where flu season is just beginning. How H1N1 spreads there, whether it exchanges genetic material with another virus could give us a good idea of what might happen next fall here in the United States. “We know from past pandemics that there is a possibility that this strain of H1N1, which happened to have emerged in the Spring at the tail end of seasonal influenza season, could come back with a vengeance in the Fall. We need to be prepared for that.” (Learn more information on the history of flu pandemics.)
Public health and its disease detectives are keeping a close eye on the novel H1N1 influenza A virus and will inform the public of necessary updates as they unfold. The public also has an important role in disease control, we urge you to do you part and pay close attention to preventing the spread of disease in our communities.
Protect Yourself, Your Family, and Community

  • Stay informed. Health officials will provide additional information as it becomes available. Visit the CDC H1N1 Flu website. Colorado HelpLine at 1-877-462-2911
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with a flu-like illness, stay home for 7 days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer. Keep away from other household members as much as possible. This is to keep you from infecting others and spreading the virus further.
  • Learn more about how to take care of someone who is ill in "Taking Care of a Sick Person in Your Home"
  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds, and other social distancing measures.
  • If you don’t have one yet, consider developing a family emergency plan as a precaution. This should include storing a supply of extra food, medicines, and other essential supplies. Further information can be found in the "Flu Planning Checklist "

For more information on Novel Influenza A (H1N1) and its warning signs, visit our website at

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Summer is right around the corner, even though it doesn’t feel like it at the moment with the rainy weather in Colorado. With summer, come outdoor events and festivals in Jefferson County.

Environmental Health Specialists will be out most weekends inspecting food vendors at these fun activities. Food preparation during outdoor events are of particular concern due to fluctuation in temperatures both with the weather and food storage and also because of the conditions in which vendors work.

One of the most important tools used in any food inspection, indoors or out, is a food thermometer. Whether you are preparing food at home, in a restaurant or in a park under a tent, making sure food is stored and served at the proper temperature is important.

Not only do inspectors use a thermometer, but it’s a must have for anyone preparing food. A food thermometer is the only way to make sure cooked food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature, consequently preventing foodborne illness. They also can be used to make sure food is keep cold or hot enough after it has been cooked.

Thermometers take the guesswork out of cooking and grilling. No more dried up chicken, or burned hamburgers.

If you are thinking of purchasing a food thermometer remember to look for an instant read, stem type thermometer that reads from 0° to 220° F so you can use it for cold or hot food.

If you see us out at your neighborhood festival or event, say hello, we’ll be the ones with a thermometer and a clip board.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Getting to Know and Envionmental Specialist...

Last week I attended a regional food safety conference here in Colorado. Many speakers gave updates on the latest foodborne illness news. Since the main purpose of inspecting food service operations is to reduce and control foodborne illnesses, keeping up on this news keeps us sharp.

I often get the question: Why are we hearing so much about people getting sick from food these days? Isn’t food supposed to be good for us? Seems it wasn’t like this 20-30 years ago. Truth is things have been changing.

Back in the day, food was produced close to where people lived. Many people shopped daily, and prepared and ate their food at home. Eating in restaurants was saved for special occasions.

There have also been major changes in how food is processed, where it comes from, better methods of finding bacteria and viruses in food, and improved regulations of the food industry.The majority of our food supply in the United States comes from all over the world, not just the local farmer down the road. Next time you shop, look at a label on a package of ground beef. It may come from not one but 3 different countries.

Better tests have been developed and faster detection methods have been developed
that help public health organizations, find new food pathogens.

Restaurant and other food industry regulations have been improved over the years as science has been better able to prove what causes foodborne illness and how to control and prevent it.

Every year, there are 76 million cases of foodborne illness reported in the United States with 5,000 deaths. This costs our country $7-8 billion dollars a year due to ill people, losses to food producers, and affects on the national economy. Much of this could be prevented with proper food handling and preparation techniques.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Getting to Know an Environmental Health Specialist...

Speaking of handwashing … we were weren’t we? Handwashing is one of the most important thing food handlers can do to prevent the spread of illness. Employees washing their hands, handwashing sinks and handwashing supplies are big items we inspectors look at during a restaurant inspection.

When you think about it, we touch almost everything with our hands. Just think about what your hands touch on your way to work for example; the dog, the back door, the stair railing, the car door handle, the steering wheel, the back door to the office and your keyboard. Who else has touched all those things?! Even if you left the house with clean hands, they aren’t clean any more.

Handwashing in a food service setting is important because some diseases are spread when disease-causing microorganisms enter the body and cause foodborne illness. Good handwashing with warm, soapy water prevents these organisms transferring from hands to food.

Our food safety classes teach good handwashing technique to food handlers in Jefferson County Colorado. To find out more about these food safety classes visit our web site.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Getting to Know an Environmental Health Specialist...

With all of the disease outbreaks from spinach to sprouts, how do we know if the food served in Jefferson County is safe? Seems like a big job, and, it is! Inspectors in Jefferson County conduct over 4,600 inspections of over 1800 food service establishments.

We inspect all kinds of food service establishments; from full service restaurants to school cafeterias, grocery stores, and even the hot dog cart at a neighborhood festival.

There is variety no doubt about that, no day is ever the same. As we walk into a restaurant unannounced, we become food detectives and our skills of observation and surveillance kick into gear. Each inspection is a “snap shot” in time. We have to learn a lot about a restaurant in just two or three visits a year.

So how you may ask do we know what goes on the other days of the year?

We look for clues about how food is handled when we’re not there. We ask how they prepare items on their menu, collect information like food temperatures and we ask a lot of questions. We watch how food handlers prepare and cook food, wash hands and dishes. And of course we document any areas that need correcting.

To do your own detective work, look up your favorite restaurant inspection by going to our web site at

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day... A note from Environmental Health

Hi, I’m Dr Jim Dale, Director of Environmental Health here at Jefferson County Public Health in Golden, Colorado. Today is Earth Day. The earth is like our body. We need to eat right and exercise – take care of our bodies. Likewise we need to respect and take care of the earth. American Indian Chief Seattle got it right, He noted, “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” Do a good deed for the earth today on Earth Day and everyday.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Getting to Know an Environmental Health Specialist...

Hi, my name is Carla Opp. I work in the Environmental Health Division of the Jefferson County Department of Health & Environment. I began my career here 14 years ago as what is commonly called a “restaurant inspector”.

Sometimes it’s difficult to describe what inspectors do in the Environmental Health Field. We’re known by so many different titles, such as Environmental Health Specialist, Health Inspector, Food Inspectors, Sanitarians and other names I won’t mention here.

Our primary job is to monitor the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink.
The purpose of monitoring these areas is to help prevent disease and control the spread of disease if it does occur. Some of the best known types of inspections are in restaurants, child care centers, swimming pools, on-site wastewater systems (better known as septic systems), and sources of possible air pollution - such as auto body shops and dry cleaners.

I am most familiar with the food industry. I can still remember my first job, washing dishes in my fathers’ cafĂ© in a small town in the panhandle of Texas. My Mom would make pies and my Dad would fry up a mean Hamburger Steak with piles of fries. Great times! A plate of french fries was 10 cents back then. Can you imagine?

I have always worked in the food business, either in a health care setting, a non-profit organization serving meals to senior citizens, or distributing food to the less fortunate. Who knew I would someday reverse roles and become a food inspector?

Food means a lot of things to different people. It can be fun, comforting, nutritious, wholesome and just plain delicious. What could possibly go wrong that we need to inspect it?

Over many years of research and scientific discovery, we in the food science world have discovered that food can be contaminated by biological, chemical and physical contaminates that can cause illness or injury.

Food inspections have changed over time as we learn more about how food becomes contaminated, and what organisms emerge as being harmful.

My goal in this blog is to write more about food inspections, serving safe food, and more about what Environmental Health Specialists do in the food inspection field.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Getting to Know a Public Health Nurse

I’ve enjoyed giving all of you a glimpse into what a Communicable Disease Control Nurse does on a daily basis. As you can probably tell, many people are involved in the day-to-day tasks that help keep our community safe and healthy. Some of the most important people with whom we collaborate include our department’s Environmental Health Specialists. Not only do they participate in certain types of disease investigations, but they have expertise in a wide range of environmental issues. It is now my pleasure to introduce to you to Carla Opp, Environmental Health Specialist.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Getting to Know a Public Health Nurse

By this time, I’m sure most of you have heard about the Salmonella outbreak related to products containing certain types of peanut butter. It still amazes me that epidemiologists are able to narrow down a source for a national outbreak affecting hundreds of people. One of the exciting parts of my job is that, often, I get to be involved in these investigations. With this outbreak, I had the chance to interview someone who had become sick with this particular type of Salmonella.
Certain illnesses are required to be reported to the state health department, and every day our team is notified of Jefferson County residents who have tested positive for a reportable condition. Salmonella is a “reportable” illnesses, and after receiving the original report, I started our standard investigation for Salmonella infection. After the first interview, I heard from the state health department that this individual “matched” an outbreak being tracked nationally. From there, we did more and more focused interviews. Initially, this individual thought the illness came from eating some undercooked chicken or cleaning out the cage of a pet snake. (Both legitimate ways of getting a Salmonella infection.) After further interviews, we discovered that peanut butter sandwich crackers were eaten 6 to 7 times each week, prior to the illness.
Though we regularly deal with diagnosed illnesses, at times we receive reports of illnesses in the community that have not yet been identified. School nurses may call to report a rash illness in their schools, or a nursing home may call for guidance with an outbreak of a diarrhea in their residents. This can start with a call to one of the communicable disease control nurses, and depending on the situation, different people within the county health department may become involved. For example, a person who calls with a complaint of getting sick after eating at a restaurant may need to speak with an Environmental Health Specialist. Other situations require intervention by our epidemiologists. Each person plays different roles at different times, but the overall goal is the same- to protect Jefferson County citizens from infectious diseases.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Getting to Know a Public Health Nurse

Recently, the health department’s International Travel Clinic received a card from a couple who spends most of their time traveling… something I wish I could do. They spent most of 2008 going from country to country, covering much of the world. The experiences and places they described were unbelievable, and included everything from exploring some of America’s typical tourist destinations, to visiting remote parts of India and Africa. Of course, they realize that seeing the world is not without risk, and talked about a particularly scary experience after getting a nasty infection while traveling through Asia.

Time and time again, the travel clinic nurses hear stories of dangerous situations, bizarre illnesses, and instances when our clients were less than careful. But without fail, these people want to see more of the world, and continue to do so. Part of what I love about the International Travel Clinic is giving our clients the opportunity to see how the rest of the world lives while giving them the tools to maintain their own health. Diseases such as yellow fever and malaria are not concerns for residents of the United States, but are a part of life for many people in other countries. Something as simple as drinking tap water may be dangerous to your health in some parts of the world. I admit that I often take for granted the fact that I have clean water to drink, fruits and veggies to eat, and adequate medical care should I need it. But I’m happy to say that the travel clinic nurses can help keep people healthy while they explore the world!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Getting to Know a Public Health Nurse

I’ve always been fascinated by viruses, bacteria, etc… now I get to discuss, educate, and read about them regularly. I have to admit, learning about all the scary and exotic diseases in the world does make me a bit paranoid at times, but it’s comforting to know that there are things we can do to prevent many of them. (Wash your hands! Get vaccinated!)

Being young myself, I had never heard of, much less seen or experienced, many of the diseases that were so familiar to my grandparents and older generations. It is because of vaccines that diseases like measles, polio, and mumps are much less common now than they were even thirty years ago. During immunization clinics, we frequently hear concerns from parents regarding vaccines, and unfortunately many are choosing not to immunize. Of course, any type of medical intervention has risk, and it is understandable to worry about your child; however, most young parents have never had to experience the physical and emotional pain caused by widespread diseases before vaccination was commonplace. I remember hearing a story about a work colleague of my parents’…. She had decided not to immunize her young son against Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) because it has become relatively rare since the introduction of the vaccine. While still a toddler, he developed Hib meningitis and nearly died. Fortunately, he recovered fully, but one hopes that it won’t take more illness or death before we all understand the importance of vaccines.

Working in the communicable disease control program has given me a new appreciation for the vaccines now available to us. Unfortunately, we still regularly hear about people with infections from vaccine-preventable diseases. Often, those people were never vaccinated, or are under-vaccinated for various reasons. Whooping cough, in particular, has been making a comeback in the last decade. This is proof positive that diseases can, and will, return with a vengeance if we are not vigilant about prevention and surveillance.