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

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

Vaping is unregulated and unsafe — get the facts

Description of what's in water vs. what's in a vape cloud.

We are in the midst of a national investigation of vape-associated lung disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), state and local health departments (including those in Idaho), and other clinical and public health partners are investigating a multistate outbreak of lung injury associated with e-cigarette product use. We all have a lot of questions about vaping, and I hope we can answer some of those today, but the bottom line is that vaping is unregulated and it’s not safe.

I hear a lot of people being skeptical of the outbreak and the messaging around whether vaping is safe. Many say they have vaped for years and aren’t sick. Can you explain why that might be?

That is what this public health investigation is trying to learn. We do not yet know the specific cause of the lung disease. The investigation has not identified any specific e-cigarette or vaping product or substance that is linked to all the cases. This investigation is how public health officials are gathering as much information as possible about each of the cases so they can figure out what it is about these cases that is different and causing disease.

How does an investigation like this work?

Essentially, when a sick person visits a clinic with symptoms that align with the case definition for this outbreak, the medical professional will notify the state health department and will give officials data and information about the patient. That report triggers a response from an epidemiologist, who will contact the patient and interview them about the products they have used, how often they use them, their health status, and anything else that might be relevant to the investigation. As information is gathered, public health officials can see what is similar in all of these cases and eventually be able to determine a cause. Continue reading

Suicide prevention in Idaho: Everyone has a role to play

Even though completed suicides are statistically rare, Idaho continues to have some of the highest rates in the United States. Death by suicide is the second leading cause of death for Idahoans ages 15-34 and for males up to age 54. That is very concerning, but it’s also important to know that most people who make an attempt don’t want to die, they want the pain to go away. Providing care and hope to someone having suicidal thoughts can help save a life. There are things you can do to help.

What are some of the warning signs that someone might be thinking about suicide?

Warning signs include:

  • Talking about wanting to die or completing suicide
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves by searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
  • Isolation and withdrawal
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or trapped
  • Feeling like a burden to others
  • Having consistent nightmares
  • Increasing use of drugs or alcohol
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Behaving recklessly
  • Increased aggression, anger, or irritability
  • Change in sleep habits – either too much sleep or too little
  • Extreme mood swings

Continue reading