Vaping is unregulated and unsafe — get the facts

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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

Idaho WIC begins transition this week to an electronic benefits system

The Idaho Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program is switching from paper checks to an electronic benefits system, called eWIC, which will distribute benefits onto a card that is used like a debit card.

eWIC will roll out in southern Idaho starting Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, and will expand to the rest of the state in October. eWIC will give families a more convenient and efficient way to shop for healthy, WIC-approved foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, juice, baby formula, and baby foods.

Current WIC participants will be transitioned from checks to an eWIC card during their regular monthly appointments using a phased approach. New participants will be issued an eWIC card at their first visit.

“We are excited to offer eWIC cards to Idaho families. Using the eWIC card in conjunction with the WIC shopper app will streamline the customer experience of purchasing healthy foods,” said Cristi Litzsinger, director of Idaho WIC.

Continue reading

A day in the life of Michael Campbell

Michael works as a psychiatric technician caring for those at Southwest Idaho Treatment Center

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Michael Campbell records medication as he hands it out to the residents of Southwest Idaho Treatment Center early one morning this summer.

When you meet Michael Campbell, your first impression might be of an avid outdoorsman, his skin tanned from hiking in the hot Idaho sun. His jeans and blue T-shirt (with a frog on it) would make you think he is more worried about comfort than fashion. His warm smile and easy-going manner will give you the feeling that he’s living an easy, comfortable life.

His actual daily routine is demanding, exhausting, and sometimes heartbreaking. It would be overwhelming to most of us.

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Chalk drawings decorate the patio of one of the residential units at SWITC.

Michael got his tan by spending many hours in the hot sun drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk with the people he calls his family. The frog on his T-shirt is intentional and helps to draw the attention of residents at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center (SWITC) as he hands out medications. “What’s this on my shirt? You think it’s a frog? You’re a smart guy. I’m so proud of you,” he says to a resident. His smile is because he loves what he does. His easy-going manner is what keeps him a favorite among staff and residents.

Michael has spent close to 40,000 hours or 19 years “on the floor” as he calls it. His job is tough, and it’s not for everyone. But his job as a psychiatric technician, or psych tech, is his passion. He spends his days making sure the current SWITC residents have a home away from home. He wants them to feel protected, loved, and honored. The residents may be autistic or have other developmental disabilities. They may sometimes harm themselves or others. Some are unable to communicate. Some need one-to-one care all day, every day. Michael simply wants to help them live their best life as they continue their journey to self-sufficiency.

The primary responsibility of a psych tech is to implement the person-centered plan for each resident. This plan includes skills training, medication administration, and behavioral training support. At SWITC, there are currently 45 psych tech positions. The psych techs do not have standard shifts, but they do have their own shift usually working 8 to 10 hours. Jamie Newton, SWITC administrator, said they discovered that not having groups of employees come in or leave at the same time lessened anxiety among the residents. Continue reading

If a disaster strikes, do you have a plan?

Living in Idaho, it’s easy to think that we don’t have to worry as much about big disasters as residents in other states do. But earthquakes, wildfires, and flooding are real possibilities here, and with September being National Preparedness Month, it’s a great time to think about putting together a go-kit, making a family emergency plan and making sure you’re informed when disaster strikes our state.

What might a disaster plan include?

Your family will probably not all be together when a disaster strikes, so you should create a plan for how you will contact each other and where you will meet if something happens. FEMA has a great template for a family emergency communication plan. And at ready.gov, you can find help with planning for emergency shelter, an agreed-upon evacuation route and understanding emergency alerts and warnings. Once you have your plan, practice it with your family to make sure everyone knows what to do in case of an emergency. Continue reading

Tips for safely canning your garden harvest at home

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Canning is a great way to preserve your garden bounty and share it with family and friends, but it must be done correctly so it’s not dangerous. If you plan to can your harvest, it’s important to be knowledgeable about proper techniques so you can make sure your home-canned vegetables aren’t contaminated by the germ that causes botulism. Home-canned vegetables are the most common cause of foodborne botulism outbreaks in the United States.

What is botulism?

Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by bacteria that produce powerful toxins that can lead to serious illness, paralysis, and even death. The bacteria produce hardy spores that can survive in soil. Fruits, meats, fish, and vegetables could be contaminated with the bacterial spores before they are canned. In oxygen-free environments, like those in vacuum-sealed jars used for canning when the canning process is not carried out correctly, the spores produce one of the most lethal toxins known. It can be deadly to take even a small taste of food that has been contaminated with these toxins.

What are the symptoms of botulism?

Symptoms may include double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty breathing or swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness with paralysis. Symptoms can start anywhere from 8 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food. Continue reading

Idaho Child Support Services: ‘Let’s do the right thing for the family’

IDHW Innovation

The new customer experience

It seems we all know someone who has been involved with child support in one way or another – a close friend, a neighbor, an acquaintance, a co-worker, or even ourselves. Most of us understand all too well that being involved in a child support case is a delicate situation to navigate. However, in years past, it has been challenging for customers to call in and get the information they need in a timely manner.

On the other side of the process, it has been challenging for Child Support Services (CSS) to provide our customers with the help they need the first time, without transferring them from person to person. So, to better support our customers, CSS employees have made big changes to the way we do our work. We have created a new customer experience to better serve all of our customers, and we are now equipped to provide families with the information they need, when they need it. Continue reading