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Environmental Health

Last year's public health concerns are still topical

Last year's public health concerns are still topical

Aug. 19, 2020

By Mary Wade Burnside

It’s interesting to look back at the summer of 2019 and consider the big public health concerns at the time.

Two big topics were rabies and measles.

Much of the country was experiencing a measles outbreak, which, at least in part due to West Virginia’s strict vaccination laws, never made it to the Mountain State.

But rabies sure had. By this time last year, 14 rabid raccoons had been found in Monongalia County. Five of them had been discovered after interacting with pets and sometimes the pets’ families. The other nine were found through routine surveillance conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS). 

After urging from Monongalia County Health Department, the USDA agreed to move the border of its annual Oral Rabies Vaccine (ORV) baiting program to cover most of Monongalia County. The line had been moving west and only a tiny portion of the county was due to receive the ORV baits, which are dropped from airplanes. Raccoons and other wildlife that eat them are then inoculated against rabies.

The USDA’s bait dropping, along with hand baiting done by MCHD Environmental Health sanitarians in the Morgantown area, apparently did a good job in reducing rabies in our area. So far, there have been no cases of rabies reported in Monongalia County in 2020.

But this is not the time to be complacent. The ORV baiting must be continued in order for long-term protection. And even with the COVID-19 pandemic, measures need to be taken to keep the community safe from other diseases. 

That’s why the fact that the USDA has included Monongalia County again for its upcoming bait drop is great news. The bait drop began in West Virginia last Saturday and is scheduled to continue through Aug. 26.

And according to Jon Welch, program director of MCHD Environmental Services, the health department will be picking up ORV baits that will be hand-distributed around the Morgantown area soon, and baiting should take place by Aug. 26.

Anyone who comes across the baits should leave them alone unless they are in an area where pets or children play. They should not be ingested but won’t harm pets if they are.Unfortunately, when it comes to vaccine-preventable illnesses, such as measles, the news isn’t as good, even though West Virginia still hasn’t had any cases. However, the World Health Organization has expressed concern that the COVID-19 pandemic has kept some children from getting routine vaccinations.

At around the same time, the Centers for Disease and Prevention has noted a decrease in orders from the Vaccines for Children vaccines recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. One reason for the timing is because of back-to-school vaccines, which MCHD Clinical Services is administering via appointments now. Even though school plans might seem up in the air, the need to keep children up to date on vaccines is not.

The CDC has a handy guide for parents to help them navigate their children’s immunization needs from birth to 18 years of age.

Adults also want to make sure that they have been properly immunized against measles as well as other illnesses. Here is the link to CDC’s recommendations for adult vaccinations.
And just about everyone 6 months and older should plan to get an influenza vaccine this season. That includes pregnant women, who want to pass on protection to their unborn babies until they are old enough to be inoculated.

A flu vaccine is always important, but this year it’s vitally so. You want to keep your immune system as strong as possible to avoid COVID-19. And you don’t want to find yourself with symptoms such as body aches, chills and fatigue and wondering if it’s COVID-19 or flu. Flu vaccines will be available at the health department in about a month in order to make sure the vaccine’s potency lasts through the entire flu season, which can last well into spring.

To make an appointment for vaccines, call MCHD Clinical Services at 304-598-5119. 

Mary Wade Burnside is the public health officer at Monongalia County Health Department.

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