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.