Cumberland Times-News

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October 24, 2013

Flu shots need to be given earlier

CUMBERLAND — For the past few years, a pattern has developed for influenza cases in Allegany County, which points to the need for people to get vaccinations early, said Allegany County Health Department officials.

Over the past few years “we notice we actually peak around December,” said Fred Tola of the health department. The data used to make that determination was from emergency department visits for flu-like symptoms at the Western Maryland Regional Medical Center Emergency Department and student absenteeism numbers as collected by school nurses.

Emergency department visits peak in early winter, January and February, Tola said. An exception was October 2010, when the H1N1 pandemic hit, Tola said.

Admittedly, some student absences were likely more due to hunting season than the flu, Tola said.

Tola concluded that protection with seasonal flu vaccines should start before November, given that hospital visits peak in January and that reminders to the public about flu vaccines should begin in late summer and early fall.

“We should look at pushing vaccinations to the public in October and maybe September,” Tola said.

One component of the attack on flu is the school mist program in schools, Dr. Sue Raver, Allegany County health officer, said. “We do both the public and the private schools.”

The number of doses administered is moving toward 3,000 and Raver said there has been only a few unconfirmed flu cases. “The season is very early,” she said.

The department is planning regular flu clinics and further information is available on the department’s website.

A series of updates on the flu, lead poisoning statistics and fighting smoking by pregnant women were presented to Allegany County commissioners Tuesday, who sat as members of the county Board of Health during a quarterly meeting. Commissioners and Raver make up the county Board of Health. Other health department officials were also at the meeting.

Reducing the number of pregnant women smoking is another target of the department, said Chris Delaney, Substance Abuse Prevention and Cessation program director.

The department has been working with the Tri-State Women’s Health Center to offer smoking cessation programs to pregnant women identified as smokers.

“Our cessation coach now goes on site,” Delaney said. “That has increased the number of pregnant women who go into our program,” Delaney said.

Even if some participants don’t quit smoking, many cut back, which can benefit their baby’s health, Delaney said. Getting pregnant women to quit smoking is the No. 1 priority of the local health improvement plan, she added.

Carole Kenny updated the board on the fight against lead poisoning and elevated lead levels in children. Kenny is the director of physical health/nursing services at the department. Oct. 20-27 is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, Kenny said. The department offers a variety of information for people who may be concerned about lead in their homes, Kenny said.

 Many of the houses in Cumberland were built before the 1950s, so lead paint is an issue in the area. Allegany County peaked with 32 cases of elevated blood levels of lead in 2005 with 25 lead poisoning cases that year.

There has been a steady decline over the years, Kenny said. In 2011, there were nine elevated blood levels and five lead poisoning cases. In fiscal year 2013, there were no poisoning cases and only 12 cases of children with elevated blood levels, Kenny said.

Federal and state standards for what constitutes an elevated blood level may soon change, Kenny said, which could increase the number of cases monitored by the department. “We estimate it’s probably going to triple our case management program,” she said. Besides paint, other possible risks are from toys imported from China and old housing components, which might contain lead.

The health department’s website is at: http://www.alleganyhealthdept.com/.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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