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

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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

eWIC makes it easier for families to make healthy choices at grocery stores

Families in the Idaho Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program now have a more convenient way to shop for healthy, WIC-approved foods. The WIC program has rolled out a digital payment innovation, which involves switching from paper checks to an electronic benefits system. The new system is called eWIC, and it distributes benefits onto a card that is used like a debit card.

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eWIC rolled out in southern Idaho on Sept. 12 and expanded to the rest of the state in October.

The digital program gives families in the WIC program a more convenient and efficient way to shop for healthy, WIC-approved foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, juice, baby formula, and baby foods.

“We’ve received some really positive feedback from moms who have started using the card. And when it’s paired with the WICShopper app, it really streamlines the customer experience as they purchase healthy foods,” said Cristi Litzsinger, director of Idaho WIC. Continue reading

Don’t wait: Now is the time to get your yearly flu shot!

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The flu season in Idaho can last from October to May, and it typically peaks in January or February. Getting vaccinated now is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from what can be a serious illness, even for otherwise healthy people.

Let’s start with the basics: Who should get the vaccine?  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get the flu vaccine every year. But it’s especially important that people with chronic health conditions, pregnant women, young children, and people older than 65 get vaccinated because they are at higher risk of having serious flu-related complications. Anyone who lives with or cares for babies or other people who are at high risk for complications should also get vaccinated.

How long does protection from the flu vaccine last?

It takes about two weeks after you receive the vaccine to be fully protected, but it will last throughout the season if you get it now. It’s important to remember that the vaccine reduces your risk for influenza, but it doesn’t eliminate it. While your body is building immunity, you could still get sick if you are exposed to the virus. Continue reading

You might think you are safe from getting hepatitis A, but are you really?

Let’s take a moment to reflect on your day. How many times did you wash your hands today? Did you wash them before eating? How about after using the bathroom? What about the food you ate today? Did you prepare it yourself, or did someone else prepare it? Did that person wash their hands before preparing your food?

Depending on how you answered these questions you may have put your liver at risk for getting hepatitis A.

Idaho has seen a 950% increase of hepatitis A cases reported this year . . . 950%!  And Idaho is not alone in the increasing hepatitis A cases; 26 other states are also experiencing an outbreak with no signs of slowing down.

So, you might be asking yourself, “What’s the big deal? Is this really something I need to be worried about?” The answer is yes. Continue reading