Rabies in Idaho: Teach your children to avoid bats

​​This is the time of year the department starts to receive reports about rabid bats, so it’s a good time to talk about rabies with your kids. They are out of school by now and playing outside more, so it’s a great time to teach them to avoid bats and to immediately tell an adult if they do find one.

Why is rabies so scary?

The virus is 100 percent fatal for people and animals who do not get timely medical attention. A couple of people in the United States die each year from a rabies infection, usually because they’ve been bitten or scratched by an animal and didn’t seek medical attention soon enough.

What animals in Idaho carry the rabies virus?

In Idaho, rabies is most often found in bats, but the virus also has been found in other animals. In other states, raccoons, skunks, and foxes are natural carriers of the virus, in addition to bats. Continue reading

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Rabid bat found in Bingham County

Southeastern Idaho Public Health (SIPH) has confirmed that a bat has tested positive for rabies in Bingham County.  This is the first bat to test positive for rabies in Idaho this year. Last year, 12 bats tested positive for rabies in Idaho.  While most bats are do not carry rabies, rabies is a virtually 100% fatal viral illness in humans and other animals. Continue reading

An update on Idaho’s flu season

Idaho’s flu season typically lasts from October through May, and the Department of Health and Welfare has received reports of 57 flu-related deaths this season. That makes it the third most severe flu season in a decade. Idaho typically sees an average of 22 flu-related deaths each season. Now that this season is winding down, I encourage all Idahoans to plan now to get an annual flu vaccine in the fall. We would love to see an increase in the percentage of Americans who get the flu vaccine each year because that means fewer people will require hospitalization from flu complications.

How does the seasonal flu vaccine, which is not 100 percent effective, help us avoid getting the flu?

The flu vaccine works! It reduces your risk of getting the flu, and even more critically, it reduces your risk of landing in the hospital with complications from the flu. This is especially important for people at high risk of getting very sick — for example, children with asthma, adults with heart disease, and elderly people. Just over 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized for flu-related complications every season, on average.

Do you have to get it every year?

Yes, because immunity decreases over time, and because the viruses in your community are always changing. Flu infects anywhere from 5-20 percent of the population every year. Continue reading

Protect your skin! Idahoans have a higher melanoma rate than the rest of the United States

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We’ll soon be spending lots of time in the sun, and many of us won’t properly protect ourselves from its damaging rays. As we get ready for the long Memorial Day weekend to kick off our summer, Friday is National Don’t Fry Day, and it’s a good time to make a promise to yourself to be more responsible in the sun this summer. Sunburns add up. Every time you get a sunburn, your risk for skin cancer increases.

Is it really necessary to take precautions if you’re not outside very long?  

The sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage skin – especially fair skin — in as little as 15 minutes, but it can take up to 12 hours for the full effect to show up. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with melanoma being the deadliest form. Idahoans have a higher rate of melanoma than the national average and one of the highest death rates in the nation. So it’s always important to take precautions in the sun.

Who is most at risk?

Those with fair skin or hair, freckles, and blue eyes are at the highest risk for developing skin cancer, but everyone who spends time outside increases their risk and should make sun safety part of their daily routine. While being sun safe is important, early detection is vital in treating skin cancers, so check your skin regularly and see a doctor if you find anything you’re not sure about. Continue reading

May is Mental Health Month: Will you help decrease stigma?

Millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition, which is challenging enough. Add to that the stigma associated with mental illness, and it can cause people to avoid help and treatment. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so it’s a great time to talk about it and help put an end to the stigma about mental health issues.

How many people really are dealing with a mental illness?

Generally, 1 in 5 adults have a diagnosable mental illness. That makes mental illness more common than cancer, diabetes, or even heart disease, and yet we hear much more about those diseases than we do about mental health. That’s why this month is so important. About half of the adults in the U.S. will develop a mental illness at some point in their lives. Mental illness is normal in our society. It’s also normal to live a life of recovery.

How do you know if someone needs help? What should we look for?

Symptoms for children and adults can vary, but they can include changes in behavior, feeling sad or depressed for a long time, drug or alcohol abuse, changes in eating or sleeping habits, suicidal thoughts, and excessive anger, hostility, or violence. Mental health conditions often appear for the first time during adolescence, but it can happen at any time in a person’s life. Continue reading

DHW learns client data may have been accessed without authorization

The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) has recently been informed that clients’ personal information contained in a contractor’s employee’s email account may have been accessed without authorization.

OS Inc. provides claims management services to the Department of Health and Welfare.  The access was obtained through an email phishing campaign. At this time, there is no evidence that personal information or financial account information was accessed because of this event. The 2,060 individuals potentially affected by this have been notified by OS with a notice sent by U.S. Postal Service.

“Protecting the personal health and financial information for the people we serve is critical for the Department of Health and Welfare,” said DHW Director Dave Jeppesen. “We are working closely with OS to make sure proper notifications have been sent and that those affected have access to monitoring and assistance to make sure their information is safe. We are also working with OS to make sure this doesn’t happen again. In addition, I’ve asked my staff to evaluate the lessons learned from this incident, so we can apply those to our overall cybersecurity efforts.” Continue reading

If you have plans to travel, please talk to your healthcare provider about measles

Even though health officials in Oregon and Washington have declared the measles outbreak in their states over, measles outbreaks are still happening both in the United States and in other countries. The number of measles cases in the U.S. in the first 4 months of the year is the highest it has been in over 20 years, with more than 700 cases. Measles is one of the most highly contagious diseases in the world, so if you have plans to travel anytime soon, make sure your measles vaccination is up to date.

Tell me how it spreads.

Measles is extremely contagious. Infected people can spread the virus to others beginning around four days before the rash appears, and up to four days after. The measles virus can live for up to two hours on a surface or in the air after an infected person has coughed or sneezed. If other people who are not immune breathe the contaminated air or touch the contaminated surface they can become infected – and about 90 percent of those who aren’t immune will become infected, which is not very good odds!

So vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones.

That’s right. Getting an MMR immunization, which protects you against measles, mumps, and rubella, is the best way to protect yourself and your family, as well as your friends and community. Continue reading