When most people think of the Health Department, they think of flu shots and other immunizations. Yes, the Washington County Health Department is now in its flu shot season and is offering those to the public. As many of you know, our immunization clinics are on Wednesdays from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 6 p.m. and on Fridays from 9 to 11:30 and 1 to 4 p.m. Outside of these times, our nursing staff is out in the county giving shots at various locations. If you cannot make it to the Health Department at 342 Muskingum Drive on the scheduled immunization clinic days, please call us for times when we may be available in the community. You can reach the Washington County Health Department at (740) 374-2782.
But WCHD does more than just immunizations. During the next few months we would like to highlight some of the other activities of the department to let the public know exactly what all we do and how we serve the community. This month, this article will focus on infectious disease investigations as carried out by our staff.
A number of infectious diseases are required by law to be reported to the local health department for investigation. Physician offices, hospitals and medical laboratories do report these to us on a regular basis. The staff of the health department then follow through by contacting the physician and the patient to determine the extent of the illness, the treatment prescribed, and if others have been in contact with the patient and should also receive preventative treatment. Not all diseases are reportable, and some require reporting only under special circumstances such as an outbreak in a nursing or group home setting.
Although most case investigations are part of the normal routine of an infectious disease nurse employed by the health department, sometimes routine can lead to further studies and collaboration with state and national partners to determine the extent of the disease outbreak and prevention methods to control the spread of disease. During the past few years, several of these outbreaks have involved continued vigilance and monitoring by local health department staff even though the outbreaks began elsewhere. In 2009 and 2010, we saw an outbreak of H1N1 influenza that spread throughout the United States and into Ohio in May of 2009. We began slowly with monitoring reports of disease throughout Ohio and eventually in Washington County. When vaccine was made available in the fall, the Health Department was ready to respond and knew which of our residents were most susceptible to the disease and thus were immunized first in the county. Enough vaccine was eventually distributed to all who sought to be immunized against this flu strain.
The Health Department receives daily postings of product recalls that may be contaminated with specific bacteria that could cause disease. It is our responsibility to make sure that these products have been removed from shelves and to monitor and investigate should disease be associated with any of the recalled products. Washington County is fortunate that its merchants take recall notices seriously and do what they can to comply with keeping their customers safe. We all experienced that this summer with the storms that caused widespread power outages. Local restaurants reported that they lost a considerable amount of food that had to be discarded due to lack of refrigeration. The Health Department monitored that situation and assisted in helping merchants make decisions as to safely handling disposal of food.
We are currently working with state and local partners in following the fungal meningitis outbreak that has occurred nationally. Although we have had no reported cases in Washington County, the on-going investigation of the distribution of the products produced by NECC is continuing nationwide and we will continue to monitor its course to determine the involvement, if any, of local entities that may have received some of the products being recalled.
But we still need the help of the public in monitoring of infectious disease that could have public health significance. Please call WCHD with your concerns and help us eliminate possible spread of disease. And remember, now is the time for your flu shot, and help us prevent the spread of infectious disease through hand-washing and covering your cough!
Kathleen Meckstroth is Washington County health commissioner and executive director of the Washington County Health Department, 342 Muskingum Drive, Marietta.