Cervical cancer screenings prevent cancer – every woman should be screened regularly

All women, especially those over the age of 30, are at risk for developing cervical cancer, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s also the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent. Regular screenings are the most effective way to find the disease early and treat it. Unfortunately, Idaho has the lowest rate for cervical screening in the United States. January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to learn more and get screened!

Who is most at risk?

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. HPV is so common that most people get it at some time in their lives. For most women, HPV will go away on its own; however, if it does not, there is a chance that over time it may cause cervical cancer. Other factors increasing the risk of cervical cancer are not getting screened, being HIV positive, and smoking. Smoking doubles a woman’s risk of getting cervical cancer.

What are the most common symptoms?

There are typically no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. That’s why regular screening is so important. Continue reading

2 out of 5 Idaho homes tested for radon show dangerous levels of the gas

Radon gas is an odorless, tasteless gas that is present in many homes in Idaho. It’s dangerous in high levels – it is the leading cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers. It’s a serious health issue in Idaho, and it causes more than 20,000 deaths a year in the United States. The only way to know it’s in your home is to test for it, and the testing is simple and inexpensive.

How does radon get into homes?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium. It seeps from soil into homes and buildings through crawl spaces and cracks and openings in foundations. It builds up the most in winter, when homes are closed against the cold and get less fresh air.

Why should we care about this in Idaho?

High levels of radon have been found in every county in the state. Since radon is found throughout Idaho, it’s important to have your home tested so you can remove it if levels are high. Continue reading

Idaho is seeing an increase in whooping cough cases. Are you immunized?

We are starting to see an increase in the number of whooping cough (also called pertussis) cases in Idaho, specifically in the southwest part of the state. So now is a good time to remind everyone to get immunized, especially if you will be meeting a newborn member of your family during your holiday gatherings.

I thought pertussis was dangerous for babies, but not so much for adults?

Adults get pertussis too! While many adults can shake it off, in some cases the cough can last for weeks or months, and it can land you in the hospital with pneumonia or other complications. Plus, babies can’t start getting vaccinated until they’re two months old, and they don’t have high levels of protection until they are 6 months old. If adults are vaccinated, there is less of a risk of passing the highly contagious disease to an infant.

Why is pertussis so dangerous for babies?

Babies are most at risk for getting very sick or dying. About half of infants younger than a year old who get the disease need to be hospitalized. About 1 in 4 infants hospitalized with pertussis get pneumonia, and about two-thirds will have slowed or stopped breathing. In a small number of cases, the disease can even be deadly. Infants are most often infected by family members or members of the same household. In fact, a person with pertussis will infect almost everyone in their household who isn’t immunized. Continue reading

Wash your hands, because it’s gross if you don’t! (And it might make you sick)

Given the news we recently heard that something like a quarter of all cooks don’t wash their hands, and the fact that we’re in the middle of flu season, it’s time for our annual plea and reminder about how important it is to frequently wash your hands. It’s truly one of the best things you can do (besides getting immunized) to avoid getting sick or spreading germs to others.

Let’s start with the basics. When should you wash your hands?

You should wash them after using the bathroom and when you are preparing food or are getting ready to eat. You should also wash up before and after caring for someone who is sick, after changing a diaper, after touching an animal, and after blowing your nose or coughing or sneezing into your hands.

Is there a right way to wash your hands?

Wash your hands

Wash your hands often with soap and water, but especially after going to the bathroom and before you eat.

This might seem like overkill, but to effectively kill germs and get clean, there are five steps to washing your hands: Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, and Dry. You should use soap and water and vigorously rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds, which also is the length of the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end, twice. Hum it while you scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails each time you wash to make sure you get rid the germs. Continue reading

Happy Season of Eating! Tips to avoid getting sick at your holiday gatherings

Thanksgiving starts what I like to think of as the season of eating — holiday parties with family, co-workers, and friends offer all kinds of treats! As we’re hosting and attending parties, however, it’s important to remember the basic food safety rules, both as a guest and as a host.

What is the most common cause of food poisoning?

There are more than 250 things that can cause foodborne disease, including viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins, and things in your food that isn’t supposed to be there. Norovirus is the most common virus to cause food poisoning, while Salmonella is the most common and deadliest bacterial cause. E. coli, campylobacter, shigella, and listeria are also common causes.

Are some people at higher risk of food poisoning?

Yes! Pregnant women should avoid raw cheese because it can contain Listeria. People with suppressed immune systems need to be especially careful to avoid undercooked meats. But nobody’s risk is zero, which is why proper food handling is so important. Continue reading

Today is the Great American Smokeout. Are you ready to make a plan to quit?

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The Great American Smokeout on Nov. 21, which is Thursday, is one day each year when smokers are encouraged to make a plan to quit. The journey may be difficult, but it’s worth it. Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. In Idaho, smoking kills more people than alcohol, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined. More than 1,800 Idahoans die from smoking-related diseases annually, which is an average of four people per day. Quitting tobacco is the best decision you can make for your immediate health and for the rest of your life.

Why is it important to quit smoking sooner rather than later?

The benefits of quitting start immediately after you stop. After 20 minutes of not smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. 12 hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. A year after quitting, the extra risk of a heart attack you’ve gained from smoking drops by half. And after 10-15 years of being cigarette-free, there is a substantial reduction in your risk for cancer or heart disease from smoking.

What are some of the best methods to help a person quit?

Traditional nicotine replacement therapy has been scientifically proven to be an effective intervention. NRT, as it is called, helps a person kick the habit in a gradual, controlled way. Continue reading

A Day in the Life of Kathy Anderson, Vital Records Services, Idaho Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics

Hidden away behind locked doors on the first floor of the PTC Building is the most interesting place. It’s full of information regarding births, deaths, marriages, and divorces in Idaho. The intimate details are fascinating, but they are also private and protected.

And that is a detail Kathy Anderson, a program manager with Idaho Vital Records, takes very seriously as she attempts to find solutions for customers and co-workers.

“Our Customer Service Unit processes all requests for copies of sensitive Idaho vital records, such as birth, death, stillbirth, miscarriage, marriage and divorce certificates,” she says. “The Legal Amendments Unit handles any changes that need to be made to those documents, which may be requested for a variety of circumstances, including inaccuracies or life changes.”

Kathy Anderson reviews a request for a vital record.

Kathy Anderson, left, reviews a request for a vital record.

She says that business is booming because of the number of people seeking certified copies so they can fulfill requirements for the new Star Card – Idaho’s REAL ID.  At the same time, someone interrupts her seeking help with a complicated birth certificate situation for a home birth. Usually, a doctor or hospital certifies a record of birth in Idaho, but this case poses unique challenges for the program’s Registration Unit in establishing a record of this birth and will require extra work in tracking down additional information.

The services provided by the Vital Records Services Program are a critical function of the state. In addition to the recent uptick in certificate orders and corrections because of the REAL ID Act, birth certificates are needed to enroll children in school, and death certificates are needed to help settle estates. Continue reading