Health Briefs

Health Briefs

Flu Vaccines Recommended

As the flu season approaches, the Virginia Department of Health is advising everyone to get vaccinated, especially those people who are at risk of developing complications from influenza. Vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza, or the flu, and its potentially severe complications.

The vaccine is now available from most physicians, local health departments and many local pharmacies. Until Oct. 24, the department of health is asking vaccine providers to give the first available doses to people in high-risk groups and to health care providers who have contact with patients in those groups. Beginning Oct. 24, all Virginians will be eligible for vaccination. However, citizens should check with their local physician or local health department to gauge the status of vaccine supply and to determine which patients will be provided with vaccine. Providers will be receiving vaccine throughout the season and supplies may vary at times.

The flu can cause fever, cough, sore throat, headache, chills and muscle aches. Unlike the common cold, the flu causes severe illness and can be life threatening. Complications from the flu can lead to pneumonia and other serious illnesses, such as infections of the brain and heart. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza causes an average of 36,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States. More people die from complications from the flu than from any other vaccine-preventable disease.

The flu is caused by a highly contagious virus that is spread easily from person to person, primarily when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. The virus can be transmitted even before flu-like symptoms appear. Immunization provides the best protection against influenza.

Until Oct. 24, flu shots will be prioritized for people at increased risk, including:

* People 65 years of age or older;

* Children 6 to 23 months old;

* Residents of long-term care facilities;

* People with chronic cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, including asthma;

* People with chronic metabolic diseases such as diabetes, kidney dysfunction, blood disorders or immune system problems;

* Children and adolescents who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy;

* Women who will be pregnant during the flu season;

* Health care professionals and any household contacts or care providers of children under 6 months of age, to help prevent the spread of influenza to patients who may have existing health conditions and children who are too young to be vaccinated.

There are two types of flu vaccine available in the United States and their formulas are changed each year to attack the strains of the virus that are in circulation. This is why it is important to be vaccinated every year.

The best time to receive influenza vaccine is during October and November, however vaccination in December, or even later, can still prevent the flu. January and February are typically peak flu months in Virginia, but increased flu activity can last into March. Protection develops about two weeks after vaccination and may last up to a year.

For more information, visit . Additional resources, including a vaccine clinic locator, may be found on the American Lung Association's web page or by calling (800) LUNG-USA.

Tularemia Bacteria Found

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notified health officials in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia last week that an airborne form of Tularemia bacterium was detected by air sensors in the vicinity of the National Capital Mall during the weekend of Sept. 24. Since then, additional tests from these collectors have all been negative.

Subsequent laboratory tests performed on the Sept. 24 and Sept. 25 samples have supported the presence of low levels of the bacterium in the environment. Public health officials do not believe the finding of low levels of the bacterium near the National Mall indicate a public health threat.

Tularemia, which occurs naturally, is easily treated with common antibiotics. It cannot be transmitted from person to person. Tularemia is found naturally in the environment, and health officials are doing additional environmental sampling as well as reviewing other possible causes of the positive reading.

State health departments have alerted local health departments, acute care treatment facilities, health care providers and veterinarians to be on the alert for signs of respiratory infections related to Tularemia. Also as a precaution, CDC and public health officials have alerted the medical community to be on the lookout for possible cases of Tularemia.

As a precautionary measure, CDC and public health officials are recommending that anyone who visited areas around the National Mall between 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 24 and 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 25 should see a health care provider if they experience symptoms related to Tularemia. Symptoms include, sudden fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough, conjunctivitis and pneumonia.

People who do not have symptoms of Tularemia do not need to seek out medical attention.

The Centers for Disease Control is the lead agency investigating this incident. Information about Tularemia is available from the CDC at Similar information is available on the Virginia Department of Health Web site at

Backpacks for Children

Apple Federal Credit Union has joined in a collaborative effort between local communities and Books From The Heart to help gather supplies for children in the Gulf Coast region.

The effort, called Operation BuddyPack, will collect backpacks, new school supplies, toiletries, small toys and books for the tens of thousands of children affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Apple FCU has volunteered as a donation center for the cause and will immediately begin accepting backpacks filled with approved supplies until Oct. 18 at all Fairfax County branches — visit for a complete listing.

Apple FCU and its employees donated $6,984 to the relief effort via the American Red Cross in September. Internally, $3,492 was raised by employees which was later matched by the credit union.

Visit for a list of approved items to donate.

County Offers Free Seminars

The Fairfax Caregiver Seminar Consortium is sponsoring a series of seminars for caregivers of older adults on topics including determining when more care for the older adult is needed, financial pitfalls, legal and financial issues, medication use and abuse, dementia, residential care, balancing work and family and finding humor to survive care giving.

Seminars take place at various times and locations in Fairfax County, through November. For details, visit the Fairfax Area Agency on Aging section of the county Web site at, or call Fairfax Adult and Aging Intake at 703-324-7948; TTY 703-449-1186.

To register for one or more seminars, call 703-324-5205; TTY 703-449-1186. The consortium includes: Alzheimer's Association; Alzheimer's Family Day Center; Thomas West Financial Services; the Fairfax County Public Library; and the Fairfax County Departments of Community and Recreation Services, Family Services and Health.

County Offers Support Groups

Fairfax County Public Schools and the county’s Department of Family Services are offering support groups in both the north and south parts of the county for grandparents and other relatives raising grandchildren. The groups will run from October through January. Beginning sessions are scheduled to meet at the Reston Senior Clubhouse, 1850 Cameron Glen Dr., Reston, and at the Bryant Alternative High School, 2709 Popkins Lane, Alexandria.

Free child care is available to pre-registered participants. To register, call 703-277-2640 (TTY 711). More information is available on the county’s Web site at

Depression Screenings

Depression screenings in Spanish and English will be offered free of charge by licensed clinicians at two locations on Thursday, Oct. 6 in recognition of the 15th Annual National Depression Screening Day.

Participants will be screened for Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Post-Partum Disorders. These mental illnesses can be devastating to all areas of a person’s everyday life, including family relationships, friendships, work or school. Symptoms may include depressed mood, anger, loss of energy or interest in normally pleasurable activities, inability to work or attend school, restlessness, excessive worry, changes in sleep habits or appetite, or difficulty concentrating. It is a common belief that the emotional symptoms caused by depression and anxiety-related illnesses are “not real,” and can be “shaken off.” Inaccurate beliefs such as these may prevent people with depression from seeking or staying with treatment because of feelings of shame and stigma. Depression and anxiety disorders can affect people of all ages, and affect many teens and young adults in their middle, high school and college years. While these illnesses respond well to medical treatment, only about 20 percent of teens who are depressed are accurately diagnosed and treated. Undiagnosed depression is a leading cause of suicide, the most preventable form of death, according to the Surgeon General. In 2003, 63 people died by suicide in Fairfax County, or an average of more than one person per week. In a county-wide effort to help prevent suicide, these screenings are being offered as a partnership between the Fairfax Partnership for Youth, Youth Depression and Suicide Prevention Task force, CrisisLink, Fairfax Community Services Board, Fairfax County Community and Recreation Services, and Fairfax County Public Schools Student Services Division.

Screenings will be offered at the following locations:

* From 2 to 6 p.m.:

The Hideaway Teen Center

South County Government Center

8350 Richmond Highway, third floor


* From 6 to 8 p.m.

James Lee Community Center

2855-A Annandale Road

Falls Church

Participants will be given screening results, as well as resources for professional mental health follow-ups when recommended. Informational videos, mental health educational materials and treatment resource materials will be available to help families increase their knowledge and awareness of the signs and symptoms of depression and effective treatment options. Fairfax County Community and Recreation Services will provide food and games for attendees at both screening sites.

For more information contact Jennifer Heffron, co-chair of the Fairfax Partnership for Youth’s Community Task Force on Youth Suicide and Depression, at 703-440-9779, TTY 711 or

West Nile Found in Horse

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reported last week its first positive case of West Nile Virus in a horse for 2005.

The horse, a 12-year old gelding in Albermarle County, has recovered and its vaccination history is uncertain.

This case was reported late in the season compared to previous years.

In 2004 the department of agriculture and consumer services reported its first positive case of West Nile in a horse in May. That year there were 16 cases of West Nile Virus reported in horses — a large decrease from the 234 cases that were found in 2003.

Although the case was reported late, health officials are still urging horse owners to make sure their animals are vaccinated against the virus.

West Nile Virus usually lives in wild birds of many different species. Mosquitoes transmit it from bird to bird. Occasionally a mosquito that has bitten an infected bird will then bite a human, horse or other mammal and transmit the virus to them. Transmission between horses and humans is extremely unlikely. Continuous, effective mosquito control can minimize the risk of exposure of both horses and humans to West Nile Virus.

Currently no drugs exist to kill West Nile Virus in horses or humans. Treatment for an infected horse consists of supportive therapy to prevent the animal from injuring itself throughout the two to three weeks of the disease. A veterinarian can prescribe treatment tailored to the particular case.

In 2004, unlike other years, slightly more than half of the horses with confirmed West Nile Virus infections either died or were euthanized because of the severity of their condition. In prior years, the mortality rate was approximately 30 percent. Horses that live through the two to three weeks of illness caused by West Nile Virus generally recover fully with no long-term side effects.

West Nile Virus can cause a horse to go down and be unable to get up without help. Animal owners should consult their veterinarians if an animal exhibits any neurological symptoms such as a stumbling gait, facial paralysis, drooping, or disinterest in the surroundings. Currently there are live-animal tests for West Nile Virus in horses and chickens, but none for other animals, although testing can be done on any dead animal. Animal owners should consult their veterinarians or the nearest regional animal health laboratory for advice or information should an animal exhibit symptoms of West Nile Virus.

Department Finds Birth Certificates

After losing everything, a birth certificate can be the hardest thing to live without. Securing federal aid, enrolling in school, getting a new driver's license, all of these require proof of identity to move forward.

That is why the Virginia Department of Health Division of Vital Records is assisting Hurricane Katrina evacuees who have relocated to Virginia in obtaining a new birth record.

The department of health's Division of Vital Records has already helped 21 evacuees who were born in Virginia to begin reestablishing their birth records free of charge. Now, VDH is assisting the Louisiana Vital Records Office to serve those born in Louisiana who have sought refuge in Virginia from the storm damage.

Questions on how evacuees in Virginia can obtain Louisiana birth certificates can be directed to Janet Rainey or Linda Whitaker at 804-662-6200. For more information about obtaining birth, death or marriage certificates in Virginia, visit

Free Child Safety Seats

The Virginia Department of Health is offering free child safety seats for eligible children relocating to the state due to Hurricane Katrina.

The child safety seats are available to relocated children through Virginia's low income safety seat distribution and education program until February 2006.

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury and death in the United States, and Virginia law requires that all children under the age of six be properly secured in a child safety seat. The department of health's safety seat program distributes child safety seats to Virginia families who could otherwise not afford them. In light of the recent natural disaster, the department of health is expanding the program and waiving certain requirements for Gulf state residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Child safety seats are purchased using revenues from fines assessed to those who violate Virginia's child passenger safety seat law. Approximately 50,000 safety seats have been distributed to Virginia residents since 1996 at more than 130 distribution sites statewide, according to the department of health.

Katrina survivors are eligible for a free child safety seat if they meet the following qualifications:

* Applicant must be the parent, legal guardian or foster parent of the child;

* Applicant may apply no earlier than in the last trimester of pregnancy;

* The child must be three years old or younger and must be within safety seat manufacturer's weight/height guidelines;

* Applicant must attend a safety seat installation and use class and sign a waiver of liability.

Virginia residents applying for the program must additionally meet the following requirements:

* Must be a legal resident of Virginia;

* Must be Medicaid eligible or meet certain income requirements.

To learn how to apply for the low income safety seat distribution and education program and to find a local distribution site, visit or call 800-732-8333, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.