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Archived Messages

Messages from Acting State Health Officer Dr. Thomas M. Miller

Messages from former State Health Officer Dr. Donald E. Williamson

 

National Birth Defects Prevention Month

Birth defects affect one in every 33 infants born in the U.S. each year. This accounts for approximately 120,000 infants that require costly, long-term care annually. Additionally, birth defects are the leading cause of infant deaths in the U.S., accounting for 20 percent of all infant mortality. Each year, total hospital costs for U.S. children and adults with birth defects exceed $2.6 billion, not including costs for outpatient care or many provider charges. The Alabama Department of Public Health Center for Health Statistics for 2013 indicates that the leading causes of death in infants less than 1 year of age are associated with congenital anomalies and birth defects. One hundred sixty-five of the 500 infant deaths in 2013 were attributed to birth defects; affecting one out of every three infants that died before reaching their first birthday.

Birth defects are congenital medical disorders caused by complex factors, which include genetic makeup, health behaviors and lifestyles, and environmental exposures. Examples of birth defects may include heart defects, cleft lip/palate, Down syndrome, and spina bifida. Some births defects have minor life-altering effects, while others cause lifelong disabilities.

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month and the ADPH wants to make people aware of some steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of having a child born with birth defects. Making an effort to have a healthy lifestyle, visiting a health care provider before planning to get pregnant, planning your pregnancy, and taking a multivitamin every day can go a long way.

Not all birth defects can be prevented. But, women of childbearing age are encouraged to:

  • Consume 400 micrograms of folic acid at least three months before planning to become pregnant and continuing through the early months of pregnancy
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight before becoming pregnant
  • Talk to a health care provider about taking proper medications
  • Avoid alcohol, smoking, and illicit drugs
  • Discuss family history
  • See a health care provider early and regularly if you think you might be pregnant

Hispanic women are about 20 percent more likely to have a child with a neural tube defect than non-Hispanic white women. Although the reasons for the disparity are not well understood, Hispanic women have lower intake of folic acid overall, compared to white women, according to the National Birth Defects Prevention Network. In 1998, folic acid was added to the grain food supply, resulting in a 26 percent decrease of neural tube defects in the U.S. and an estimated cost savings of over $300 million per year.

Improving the ability to prevent birth defects is an important public health priority that requires commitment. The Alabama Newborn Screening program currently screens for 31 disorders of the newborn and conducts extensive follow-up on infants who have any abnormal results. Early intervention is vital to improving outcomes for these babies.

Please join ADPH as we spotlight National Birth Defects Prevention Month and ways to reduce risk factors associated with birth defects. Reducing the human and economic costs of birth defects is a vital part of improving the overall quality of life for all Alabama families.

Thomas M. Miller, M.D.
Acting State Health Officer

(January 2016)

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World AIDS Day Commemoration 2015 Strives to ‘Get to Zero’

Every year World AIDS Day events take place across the country to raise awareness and show support for people living with HIV. "Getting to Zero" is the theme selected by the World AIDS Campaign to commemorate this year’s World AIDS Day on December 1. The new theme echoes the United Nations’ AIDS vision of achieving "Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths."

Alabama continues to experience an HIV epidemic of moderate magnitude when compared with the experience of other states. More than 12,000 Alabama residents are known to be living with HIV infection, with at least 650 newly diagnosed cases reported each year.

Facts about HIV in Alabama

  • Although African Americans represent only 26 percent of the state’s population, they continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV, accounting for 68 percent of new cases and 65 percent of persons living with HIV.
  • Alabama is experiencing a downward shift in the age distribution of new infections, with adolescents and young adults (13-29 years) emerging as the most affected age group.
  • Male-to-male sexual activity continues to be the predominant mode of exposure for HIV transmission with young African American men who have sex with men between 15-29 years identified as a particularly high-risk target group.
  • An estimated one in six people living with HIV in Alabama (16 percent) are unaware of their infection and, thus, are not receiving medical care to manage their disease and achieve viral suppression.

Prevention education and testing remain two of the most important health activities to prevent new infections. The Alabama Department of Public Health, HIV/AIDS Division of Prevention and Care, convenes community network groups that meet, discuss local issues, and assist in deciding what issues should be prioritized in their community and the best solutions. Solutions can include HIV education awareness and testing activities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared “treatment as prevention” as the best way to prevent new infections. When people living with HIV receive appropriate medical care it can lead to suppressed viral loads, which means low levels of HIV in their system, creating a much healthier outcome. Persons with low viral loads also significantly decrease the chances of infecting others.

Many health care providers in the state treat people for HIV infection. Alabama also has 15 organizations and clinics, partners of ADPH, which are dedicated to providing treatment and support services for people living with HIV. Through the leadership of the HIV/AIDS Division of Prevention and Care, the health department continues to support the goal for all people in Alabama to know their HIV status, manage their health, and live their best life to "Know. Manage. Live."
For more information call 1-800-228-0469 or visit www.adph.org/aids.

Thomas M. Miller, M.D.
Acting State Health Officer

(December 2015)

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National Prematurity Awareness Month

An estimated 15 million babies around the world are born premature each year and more than 1 million of them do not survive their early birth. Although the U.S. has seen sustained improvement in its preterm birth rate, 1 in 10 babies is born too soon and prematurity continues to be the number one killer of these babies. The good news is that over the past six decades we have gained a better understanding of some of the factors affecting fetal health, and we can inform mothers on ways to reduce factors associated with having a premature birth. Mothers who quit smoking, avoid alcohol or drugs, obtain timely prenatal care, follow appropriate birth spacing, and manage chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity greatly reduce their chances of having a preterm delivery.

Preterm birth is the birth of an infant before 37 weeks of pregnancy. In 2013, preterm birth accounted for 16.4 percent of all infant deaths in Alabama. In 2013, Alabama’s infant mortality rate at 35 weeks gestation was 10.6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 2.4 infant deaths per 1,000 live births at 40 weeks gestation. Infants born too soon or too small cost society more than $26 billion a year and can take a high financial toll on families. Babies born just a few weeks early require longer hospital stays, have increased risk of long-term health problems, and lifelong learning and physical disabilities.

November is National Prematurity Awareness Month®. The Alabama Department of Public Health along with federal, state, and local partners is working to raise public awareness about prematurity and highlight work being conducted to reduce prematurity in Alabama. Ongoing collaboratives to reduce prematurity in Alabama include:

  • Getting preconception care so a woman is healthy both before she becomes pregnant and between pregnancies.
  • Eliminating non-medically indicated deliveries prior to 39 weeks gestation
  • Ensuring that mothers and infants deliver at the appropriate facility to meet specific medical needs of the mother and infant
  • Reducing unhealthy lifestyle choices and behaviors

Raising awareness about prematurity and reducing the number of preterm births are the first steps to defeating it. The Alabama Department of Public Health is dedicated to working with the March of Dimes and other partners to bring attention to this serious infant health problem with the goal of allowing every baby a healthy start in life. Join the effort and pledge purple for preemies in recognition of World Prematurity Day November 17, 2015.

To learn more about prematurity and to pledge your support, please visit the March of Dimes.

Additional Resources:

Thomas M. Miller, M.D.
Acting State Health Officer

(November 2015)

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Prevent Recreational Water Illnesses

Swimming is an enjoyable way to be physically active and keep cool during the hot days of summer, but it is important that you protect yourself and other swimmers by following practices to prevent the transmission of infectious disease in community swimming pools and other recreational water venues.

Recreational Water Illnesses, or RWIs, are caused by germs spread to people by swallowing, breathing in vapors of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, fountains, lakes, rivers, springs, ponds, or oceans. Germs on and in swimmers’ bodies end up in the water and can make other people sick.

Diarrhea is the most common RWI, and germs like Crypto (an abbreviation of Cryptosporidium), Giardia, norovirus, Shigella, and E. coli O157:H7 often cause it. Other common RWIs include skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. Children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk.

RWIs cause several types of health problems including gastrointestinal illness; eye infections and irritation; hepatitis; wound infections; skin infections; respiratory illness; ear infections and even neurologic infections.

Even healthy swimmers can get sick from RWIs, but young children, elderly people, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems are at special risk. Taking steps to keep germs out of the pool is best, so follow these recommendations to help prevent RWIs:

  • Never swim if you have diarrhea.
  • Shower with soap before and after swimming.
  • Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Take children on frequent bathroom breaks and check diapers often.
  • Check and change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area, not at poolside.
  • Do not swallow the water.

Past outbreaks have emphasized the importance of parents being alert to symptoms of illness after a child swims. If the child has nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal cramps, parents should seek medical attention for their child. Symptoms can appear up to 10 days after exposure. People with diarrhea caused by potential waterborne pathogens should not use swimming pools, water slides, and water parks for two weeks after symptoms resolve.

A recent national study found that more than half of pools tested had evidence of fecal contamination. It is important that pool operators keep pools clean with the use of chemicals to control the growth of pathogens and regulate the pH, and read and follow directions for pool chemical use and storage.

Knowing the basic RWI facts and observing healthy recreational water rules can make the difference between a fun-filled day at the pool, beach or water park, and having diarrhea, getting a rash, or even developing serious illnesses. Be smart, safe, and prevent RWIs.

(June 2015)

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Ebola - What You Need to Know

The 2014 Ebola outbreak is the largest Ebola outbreak in history, and is of great concern to many people. At this time, there are no confirmed cases of patients with Ebola in Alabama. Ebola is not spread through the air, by water, or in general, by food. While the likelihood of an outbreak occurring is very low, the Alabama Department of Public Health is working with other partners and is taking several steps to ensure that if a case occurs in our state we will be prepared to respond.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who are at highest risk of contracting Ebola include those who travel to countries with active Ebola outbreaks and are:

  • Healthcare workers
  • Family and friends of an Ebola patient that are in direct contact with the person who was infected with the virus.

If you are a health care provider and have a patient who has traveled to an Ebola affected area, and the patient is experiencing symptoms of fever (subjective or ≥ 100.4˚F), severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, lack of appetite, or unusual bleeding within three weeks of travel, please complete the Ebola Consultation Record and call the Epidemiology Division immediately at 1-800-338-8374.

For more information, please visit www.adph.org/ebola.

(October 2014)

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