Friday, December 14, 2018

Sensible eating tips for holiday feasts

The holiday season is full of family, friends and food. Whether it’s at work, a party or gathering with your loved ones, temptations grow exponentially this time of year. It may be easy to get off track and indulge, but with a little planning and encouragement, you can maintain your weight during the joyful season.

Plan ahead

You can anticipate a slew of tasty foods on holiday menus, so prepare in advance for good eating. You’ve got this!

Don’t skip meals before a holiday feast. Skipping meals may cause an increase in hunger, which may lead to overeating when mealtime does arrive. Also, skipping meals makes it harder for those who with diabetes to control their blood sugar. To prevent this, eat close to your usual times and have a small snack if the big meal is served later than you’re used to eating. The best snacks are high-fiber foods, lean protein and healthy fats – try apple slices with peanut butter or a slice of turkey with cheese on a whole-wheat pita.

An easy way to play by the rules is to bring a healthy dish along to a party. There’s bound to be lots of sweets and high-calorie dishes on the menu, so try serving vegetables, or opt for recipes that are light on butter, cream, lard, vegetable shortening and other ingredients full of saturated fats and cholesterol.

Remember the importance of sleep. A lack of good sleep makes it harder to control blood sugar, and sleep deprivation often leads to us craving foods high in fat and sugar. So get those Zzz’s.

Make smart choices

Thinking of all the delicious foods on a holiday table is enough to make your mouth water, but you know the old saying – your eyes are bigger than your stomach.
  • Choose a small plate of your favorite foods, including a healthy selection of fiber-rich foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains that will help you stay full longer.
  • Consider putting fewer carbohydrates, such as potatoes and bread, on your plate and plan for a single dessert at the end of the meal.
  • Fill a small plate, then walk away from the buffet table. Put some distance between yourself and additional temptation.
  • Finally, it’s time to eat! It takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to realize your stomach is full, so take your time and savor your food.
  • If you feel like going back for seconds, try drinking some water and waiting 10 minutes first to see if you really are still hungry.
  • Don’t put any foods on the naughty list – instead, try to choose ones you really love and aren’t able to get any old day, such as your aunt’s famous pumpkin pie. Have a small serving and enjoy it.
  • If you’re having an alcoholic drink, have it with food. People with diabetes should keep in mind that alcohol can lower blood sugar and interact with their diabetes medications. Remember to check your blood sugar more often during the holidays.

Move it

What’s a holiday meal without a nice nap after? Instead of an afternoon siesta, make some memories with your loved ones by incorporating some physical activity. Play a game of football in the backyard, go for a walk with family or take a bicycle ride around the neighborhood. Find more ways to get active at Well-Ahead Louisiana.

Physical activity doesn’t have to be saved for after meals, though. The holiday season is busier than usual for most people, so physical activity often gets shunted to the side. Make it easier by breaking your physical activity up into smaller chunks and fitting it into your schedule when possible, like a short walk several times a day.

For more healthy lifestyle advice, visit Well-Ahead Louisiana.

Here’s to a healthy and happy holiday season.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

What’s under the Christmas tree? No lottery tickets

Christmas is a time when the eyes of children are fixated firmly on what’s beneath the Christmas tree and in their stockings. While it may be tempting to gift them with something like a lottery ticket, the Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Behavioral Health recommends against such gifts.

It’s not too unusual for parents and relatives to gift children with lottery tickets, scratch-offs and other gambling games. Such gifts are given with good intentions – they provide a little hope and fun, as well as dreams of winning something amazing. However, the odds of winning are small, especially when compared to the odds of developing a gambling addiction.

The Office of Behavioral Health released a report titled “The Impact of Gambling in Louisiana: 2016 Study of Problem Gambling” that detailed 2014 gambling statistics among students in grades 6, 8 10 and 12. Students reported playing bingo for money and betting on sports, cards, dice and games of skill.

The highest incidences of gambling were 20.2 percent of sixth-graders playing bingo for money, 19.7 percent of eighth-graders betting on sports and 19.4 percent of eighth-graders playing bingo for money – or roughly 1 in 5 students gambling.

Studies of adults with gambling problems have shown that the earlier a person begins gambling, the more likely they are to develop a gambling problem, especially when scoring a big win at a young age. An article by Renee St-Pierre and Jeffrey Derevensky noted “disordered gambling among youths is frequently linked with … greater gambling expenditure, academic difficulties, poor or disrupted family relationships, both concurrent and later alcohol and substance abuse problems.”

“Giving a lottery ticket or scratch-off to a child may seem like a cheap, fun and harmless gift, but such gifts can increase risk factors for an addiction problem further down the road,” said Kenneth Saucier, program manager with the Office of Behavioral Health. “That’s why we discourage the giving of such presents to children.”

Louisiana provides problem gambling resources at no cost to residents. For more information on problem gambling or to set up an appointment to address a problem or concern, call the Louisiana Problem Gamblers Helpline at 1-877-770-STOP (7867). The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Help is also available at and

Friday, December 7, 2018

Consider safety when Christmas shopping

Christmas is swiftly approaching, which means the window for gift shopping is steadily closing. All the good little girls and boys will be eagerly anticipating what awaits them under the Christmas tree, but have you given any thought to the safety of the toys you’re purchasing?

Think about this: Hospital emergency rooms in the United States treated at least 240,000 toy-related injuries in 2016, the last year statistics from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission were available.

With that in mind, turn your thoughts toward safety as you go shopping for toys. Consider whether the toy you are buying is appropriate for the age, skills and abilities of the individual child who will receive it, especially for children ages 3 and younger.

Prevent Blindness America offers these guidelines for choosing safe toys for children of all ages.

  • Inspect all toys before purchasing. Avoid those that shoot or include parts that fly off. The toy should have no sharp edges or points and should be sturdy enough to withstand impact without breaking, being crushed or being pulled apart easily.
  • When purchasing toys for children with special needs, try to choose toys that may appeal to different senses such as sound, movement and texture; consider interactive toys to allow the child to play with others; and think about the size of the toy and the position a child would need to be in to play with it.
  • Be diligent about inspecting toys your child has received. Check them for age, skill level and developmental appropriateness before allowing them to be played with.
  • Look for labels that assure you the toys have passed a safety inspection – “ATSM” means the toy has met the American Society for Testing and Materials standards.
  • Gifts of sports equipment should always be accompanied by protective gear (give a helmet with the skateboard).
  • Keep kids safe from lead in toys by educating yourself about lead exposure from toys, symptoms of lead poisoning and what kinds of toys have been recalled; being aware that old toys may be more likely to contain lead in the paint; having your children wash their hands frequently and calling your doctor if you suspect your child has been exposed to lead. Read more about lead poisoning here.
  • Do NOT give toys with small parts (including magnets and “button” batteries which can cause serious injury or death if ingested) to young children as they tend to put things in their mouths, increasing the risk of choking. If the piece can fit inside a toilet paper roll, it is not appropriate for kids under age 3.
  • Do NOT give toys with ropes and cords or heating elements.
  • Do NOT give crayons and markers unless they are labeled nontoxic.

Nobody wants to spend their holiday in an emergency room – stay safe!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Clean hands can save lives

It’s the holiday season. It’s also flu season.

That makes proper hand washing doubly important.

Dec. 3-9 is National Hand Washing Awareness Week, making it the perfect time to go over the importance of clean hands.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Gobble up these Thanksgiving food safety guidelines

You’d be hard pressed to find a person who doesn’t love a good Thanksgiving dinner – turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, candied sweet potatoes, cranberries, the whole nine yards.
The last thing you want is to be the turkey who spoils Thanksgiving by making everyone sick because you didn’t handle their food safely. In fact, food handling errors and inadequate cooking are the most common problems behind poultry-associated foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And, when a holiday rolls around, the risk increases as people cook food in large quantities, creating an environment that is ripe for cross contamination as described later.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Message from Dr. Gee - new Medicaid eligibility and enrollment system

Effective this week, and after more than three years of planning, development, and testing the Louisiana Department of Health has launched a new automated system for Medicaid eligibility and enrollment. This updated IT infrastructure will improve customer service, boost efficiency, and increase the accuracy of Medicaid eligibility decisions.

After years of culling national best practices and iterative quality improvement, the new Medicaid eligibility and enrollment system uses modern technology to ensure recipients have a user-friendly experience and that Medicaid benefits only go to eligible recipients.

Our prior 20-year-old system could not readily access and use state and federal data available to verify eligibility. It was a labor-intensive, manual process for a Medicaid worker to gather from multiple databases the information needed to verify eligibility and the eligibility decision itself was also manual. The new system automatically collects information from these databases and verifies eligibility in real time. When someone is found ineligible, our new system provides timely, automated coverage terminations for non-compliance.

Recipients will benefit from a user-friendly design with faster response times. Applicants can now submit an online application and be notified of their eligibility within minutes – known as real-time eligibility verification. Previously recipients might wait weeks to find out whether they had much-needed health coverage.

When a recipient’s circumstances change, like a new job or new member of the family, they can use the self-service portal to update their information to maintain eligibility. The new system gives the  Department the infrastructure to better verify the information that recipients are reporting.

For instance, a recent audit from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor found that a sample of Medicaid recipients had wage data that exceeded the income limit for Medicaid eligibility at some point during their enrollment. According to the federally approved policy that LDH followed during the timeframe reviewed for this audit, no improper eligibility judgements or payments were made. The auditor’s point was that if we changed our policy to include more frequent checks on income we would have been able to find circumstances where some recipients may not have been eligible at some point during their enrollment.

The limitation was the outdated system wherein these checks were labor intensive and took additional, already-limited resources. Now that our new system is in place, the Department can and will implement quarterly wage checks with Louisiana Workforce Commission data. This is just one example of the many ways this new IT infrastructure will help to make sure that those who are eligible for Medicaid receive it, and those who aren’t eligible, don’t.

The entire Department of Health, and especially the Medicaid team who recently came off 24-hour shifts to stand up this system, are committed to the integrity of the Medicaid program. These are the foundational changes that are necessary to shoring up a program and department still feeling the bone-deep cuts of the prior administration. While it’s not flashy, this multiyear focus on the IT core of our program allows us to better focus on what matters – ensuring that every Medicaid dollar is benefiting recipients who utilize the program so they can access the right level of care at the right time. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Dr. Joseph Kanter: Reflections from the 2018 National Harm Reduction Conference

Author: Dr. Joseph Kanter, assistant state health officer and Region 1 regional medical director

Last month I had the pleasure of representing our department at the National Harm Reduction Conference in New Orleans.  The panel I hosted explored avenues for harm reduction practices in the emergency department.  We enjoyed a lively discussion and learned from true pioneers in the field but, far more substantive, were the organized listening sessions and informal hallway conversations throughout the event.  This is a markedly different type of public health conference.  Participants, many of whom have struggled with addiction, used injection drugs, or work closely with those who have, drove the conversation and were generous in sharing their own experiences.  Presenters did less talking and more listening.  The sabotaging effect stigmatization can have on one’s ability to enter and thrive in recovery was a common theme.  This created an atmosphere of commodore and collaboration—a gathering of 500+ professionals and individuals with lived experience, working together to improve the lives of people suffering with addiction.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Kick butts for the Great American Smokeout – and every day after

Thursday, November 15, is the Great American Smokeout – an annual event sponsored by the American Cancer Society when Americans are encouraged to quit tobacco smoking. During the Great American Smokeout, people are challenged to give up smoking for at least 24 hours, in the hopes that their quitting lasts longer than a day.

Friday, November 2, 2018

November is American Diabetes Month

It’s no secret that Louisiana is world famous for its food – crawfish, beignets, jambalaya and oh, so much more. You can’t shake a stick without hitting a po-boy shop, and when Mardi Gras season approaches you know you’ve already placed your orders for a king cake (or four).

Sadly, some of those foods we know and love may also contribute to one of Louisiana’s biggest health problems: diabetes.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Nine old-fashioned ways to prevent the flu that don't work

By BOB JOHANNESSEN | Communications Director, Louisiana Department of Health

During the annual flu season, the Louisiana Department of Health spends much time trying to prevent flu cases by encouraging people to get the flu vaccination. From the general public to campaigns that encourage healthcare facilities such as hospitals to make sure their team members get the shot, to making sure that nursing homes are vaccinating their residents to the flu and pneumonia, our efforts are relentless.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Sleep well (and safely), little one

When bringing their baby home for the first time, new parents have a lot of things to worry about.

Am I strapping my baby into the car seat correctly? Is my baby getting enough to eat? Why are diapers so expensive? Speaking of diapers, what’s that smell? Didn’t I just change this baby 10 minutes ago? Will I ever sleep again?

Friday, October 12, 2018

Take Care of Yourself: Don’t Skip That Mammogram

By DR. REBEKAH GEE | Secretary, Louisiana Department of Health
Breast cancer first touched my life at the age of 12, when my mother was diagnosed. Initially, her prospects looked promising, and treatment led to remission, buying us additional precious time together.

But three short years later, it re-emerged, and she passed away at the age of 46.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Louisiana Department of Health’s School Water Lead Testing Program Has Good News

By JIMMY GUIDRY, MD | Louisiana State Health Officer
Safe drinking water has been in the public eye since the crisis in Flint, Mich., where insufficient water treatment exposed more than 100,000 residents to lead. The lead had leached from pipes into the water supply after the city changed water sources and did not properly treat the drinking water.
Taking note of Flint’s water crisis, as well as a situation in St. Joseph, La., where the aging water system had lead problems, the 2018 Louisiana Legislature passed Act 632. This law requires sampling and testing of drinking water in selected elementary schools on an annual basis. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Flu Season is On Its Way: Are You Prepared?

Fall is a time for cooler temperatures, crisp leaves, pumpkin spice everything – and flu season.
The 2017-2018 flu season was an active one, with flu and pneumonia hitting Louisiana hard. Statistics from the Louisiana Department of Health, Office of Public Health show 1,600 deaths from flu illnesses, including five pediatric deaths, and more than 15,000 hospitalizations.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: Know the Signs and Symptoms

By MINDY FACIANE | Public Information Officer
September is recognized as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness of what’s often called a silent killer among women. It’s called a silent killer because its symptoms are often mistaken for other, more benign conditions. By the time it’s diagnosed, it’s often too advanced for treatment to be effective.
I was one of the lucky ones. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

When Planning for the Next Storm, Remember Your Health

Louisiana may have only had small brushes with tropical storms so far this hurricane season, but it’s not too late to take another look at your medical hurricane preparedness plan for the remainder of this hurricane season and those to come.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Addiction and Mental Illness: September is Recovery Month

Every September, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, promotes National Recovery Month. It’s a time to raise awareness and understanding of substance abuse and mental health disorders as well as celebrate people living in recovery.

Simultaneously with the national observance, Gov. John Bel Edwards has proclaimed September as Recovery Month in Louisiana. Read the proclamation here.

During Recovery Month, the Louisiana Department of Health wants the public to know that recovery is possible, to celebrate individual stories of success and to promote available resources to anyone who needs help coping with an addiction or mental illness.

This month, look for #AddictionRecoveryLA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, blogs, podcasts and more for information about Recovery Month. You’ll see messages from the Department of Health and its agencies along with national resources from SAMHSA.

Recovery is real
This year’s theme for Recovery Month is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Invest in Health, Home, Purpose and Community.” These four pillars are commonly cited among the fundamental keys to lasting recovery. 

Community, especially, is crucial for helping people find and stay on the road to recovery. Peers, friends and family providing healthy relationships form the framework for a safety net of support.

The odds can seem to be against you when you’re dealing with addiction or mental illness, but with health, home, purpose and community, there is hope.
Voices for Recovery
Sharing the inspiring stories of those living a life in recovery is a vital part of erasing the stigma surrounding addiction and mental illness.

If you have a personal story of recovery that you’d like to share, visit SAMHSA's Voices for Recovery page and create an account. You can also fax your story, written in 500 words or less, along with the authorization and release form to (240) 276-2710.

The opioid crisis

A topic of importance during Recovery Month is the opioid epidemic facing our communities. 
Opioids are a class of drugs historically used as prescription painkillers, including hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine, methadone and fentanyl, as well as the illegal drug heroin. While such prescription drugs are useful in pain management, they also carry the potential for misuse. Repeated use greatly increases the risks of developing an addiction.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths from opioids have quadrupled since 1999. More than six out of 10 overdose deaths involve opioids and an average of 115 Americans die daily from an overdose. In Louisiana alone, more than 1,000 people died from an opioid overdose in 2016.

Many people don’t know that an opioid overdose can be treated with a medication called naloxone. When administered in a timely manner, naloxone can prevent overdose-related death.

Naloxone is available to the public under a standing order from Dr. Rebekah Gee, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health. The order allows pharmacists to dispense the medication to caregivers, family and friends of an opioid user. Anyone receiving naloxone from a pharmacy will be educated on how to recognize an overdose, how to store and administer the medication and information on emergency follow-up procedures.

To download a free toolkit on opioid overdose, click here.
Recovery resources
If you or a loved one are coping with addiction or mental illness, there are plenty of resources for those in need of help. Here are a few to get you started.
  • SAMHSA National Helpline: free, confidential information 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • Louisiana Alcohol/Drug Helpline: available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-877-664-2248
  • Recovery Month:
  • SAMHSA Treatment: find treatment options and special services in your area at
For assistance in your district, contact your local government entity. Locate yours here.
  • Acadiana Area Human Services District: 302 Dulles Drive, Lafayette, LA 70506-3008 or (337) 262-4190
  • Capital Area Human Services District: 4615 Government Street, Building 2, Baton Rouge, LA 70806 or (225) 922-2700
  • Central Louisiana Human Services District: 401 Rainbow Drive, Unit 35, Pineville, LA 71360 or (318) 487-5191
  • Florida Parishes Human Services Authority: 835 Pride Drive, Suite B, Hammond, LA 70401 or (985) 543-4333
  • Imperial Calcasieu Human Services Authority: One Lakeshore Drive, Suite 2000, Lake Charles, LA 70629 or (337) 475-3100
  • Jefferson Parish Human Services Authority: 3616 South I-10 Service Road West, Metairie, LA 70001 or (504) 838-5215
  • Metropolitan Human Services District: 3100 General de Gaulle Drive, New Orleans, LA 70114 or (504) 568-3130
  • Northeast Delta Human Services Authority: 2513 Ferrand Street, Monroe, LA 71201 or (318) 362-3270
  • Northwest Louisiana Human Services District: 1310 North Hearne Avenue, Shreveport, LA 71107 or (318) 676-5111
  • South Central Louisiana Human Services Authority: 521 Legion Avenue, Houma, LA 70364 or (985) 858-2931
For more Recovery Month information, click here.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Has Your Preteen Been Vaccinated for HPV?

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows the number of Louisiana teens ages 13-17 up to date on the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is on the rise, and that’s good news.

Louisiana’s rate of 52.9 percent is an 11.1 percent increase since 2016 and is higher than the national average of 48.6 percent.
While those numbers are worth celebrating, there’s still more work to be done to vaccinate for HPV. It’s strongly recommended by the Louisiana Department of Health, Office of Public Health that youths receive the vaccine at ages 11-12 so they are protected before ever being exposed to the virus.
What is HPV?
HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses that cause nearly all cervical cancers and many cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, rectum and oropharynx. It’s transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact.
Louisiana currently has higher rates of oropharyngeal (mouth and pharynx) cancer in men and women and cervical cancer in women than the rest of the U.S., as well as the third-highest death rate from HPV-related cancers.
Nearly all men and women contract HPV at some point in their lives. It can be passed along despite a lack of signs or symptoms, which can develop years after being infected. Most men never develop symptoms and the infection clears up by itself. But if it doesn’t, it can cause genital warts or certain types of cancer.
HPV-related cancer usually displays no symptoms until it is advanced, very serious and hard to treat. That’s why women should be regularly screened for cervical cancer. Screening can find early signs of disease that can be treated early.
The HPV vaccine
The vaccine, Gardasil 9, is safe, effective and recommended by the CDC. It’s administered in a series of shots given over several months. The HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer, as well as the invasive testing and treatment for changes in cervical cells that can develop into cancer.
Side effects include pain, redness or swelling in the arm where the vaccine was given, fever, headache or tiredness, nausea and muscle/joint pain.
The most common side effects are usually mild and go away on their own. Fainting and related symptoms such as jerking movements are possible after any medical procedure and can be prevented by sitting or lying down during the vaccination, then remaining seated for 15 minutes after.
To schedule the vaccination, call your health care provider or parish health unit.
Financial help is available through the Vaccines for Children Program for children ages 18 and younger who are uninsured, Medicaid-eligible, Native American or Alaskan Native. Local information is available at the Louisiana Department of Health's Community and Preventive Health page.
For more information, refer to this HPV fact sheet.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Students Aren't Getting Enough Sleep on School Nights. Here's How to Change That

Author: Dr. Martha Whyte, Region 7 Medical Director

Another summer has come and gone, and with that school is back in session. Now, it's vital for kids to get in a routine of getting to bed early enough to get proper rest.

Adequate sleep contributes to a student’s health and well-being. Getting the proper amount of sleep at night is important. It helps students stay focused, improves concentration and improves academic performance.

Friday, August 17, 2018

There’s No Measles Outbreak in Louisiana

Despite what you may have read or heard recently from media outlets, there is no current danger of a measles outbreak in Louisiana – or in the U.S. 

Reports this week indicated 2018 is on track for the most cases of measles since 2014, when 667 cases were reported across the U.S. However, this was misinterpreted in the press.
The latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 107 people from 21 states have been diagnosed with measles from January 1 to July 14, 2018. Among those states, Louisiana has reported just two cases of measles this year. These numbers are in line with a typical year, and not at elevated levels as was reported. 
The measles cases that are being reported represent cases that come to the U.S. from other countries that have endemic cases. (Endemic means belonging exclusively or confined to a particular place.) 
Measles is not currently spreading from person to person in the U.S. or Louisiana.
Louisiana’s two cases are unrelated
Dr. Frank Welch, immunizations director for the Louisiana Department of Health, says the two Louisiana cases – which happened in early spring – stem from unvaccinated persons who traveled or lived outside the U.S.
The two cases are unrelated. The first report, in April, involved an unvaccinated man traveling from London to New Orleans for WrestleMania. The second report came in May and involved an unvaccinated school-age child who had traveled to a country where measles is endemic. 
Since the two cases occurred separately they do not meet the criteria for an outbreak, which is when a disease spreads rapidly from person to person.
Prevention is key
Even though there’s no measles outbreak, it’s important to be mindful of protection from the disease. The best prevention is two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, also known as MMR. Two doses are about 97 percent effective against measles. Check with your primary care provider if you’re unsure whether you have been vaccinated.
Good hygiene is also important to prevent the spread of measles. Practice good hand hygiene habits, such as washing thoroughly with soap and warm water. Avoid sharing food, drinks and utensils.
Protecting our children
Children, particularly babies and the very young, are especially vulnerable to measles. The disease can lead to pneumonia, lifelong brain damage, deafness and occasionally death.
Children are required to receive two MMR vaccinations – at 1 year to 15 months of age and again at age 4, before starting school – according to Louisiana law. It applies to children in public, private or charter schools and home-schooled children. Exemptions are allowed for religious, philosophical or medical reasons, such as allergies to components of the vaccine.
Among the concerns cited for not vaccinating children with MMR is a belief that the vaccine causes autism. No such link has been found among scientists in the U.S. and other countries who have carefully studied the vaccine.
Louisiana’s exemption rate for the MMR vaccine is less than 1 percent, according to Dr. Welch.
Spotting measles
Signs of measles include high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes, followed by a rash that typically spreads from the head to the rest of the body. Sometimes, tiny white spots appear in the mouth two to three days after symptoms develop.
Complications commonly found with measles are ear infections and diarrhea, seen in about 10 percent of patients.
Measles is highly contagious and becomes so four days before the appearance of rash and four days after the onset of rash. It is spread by coughing, sneezing or sometimes being in the same room as someone who is infected.
There is no cure for measles, so treatment is merely to alleviate the symptoms. The recommended treatment for measles includes rest, pain and fever reducers, fluids, vitamin A supplements and the use of a humidifier.
A person who has developed measles is considered immune to the disease after it has been contracted. Regardless, vaccination is still recommended to protect against mumps and rubella.

Friday, August 3, 2018

DEET and Long Sleeves: Combating West Nile

With the first cases of West Nile Virus this year being reported, it is more important now to protect yourself, your family and your loved ones from mosquito-borne illnesses.

West Nile virus and St. Louis Encephalitis virus, both from the same family of viruses called flaviviruses which cause similar diseases, are two of several mosquito-borne viruses common to Louisiana.

Friday, July 20, 2018

LDH Introduces New Plan to Replace 25-year-old Waiting List

Through years of research and collaboration with individuals with developmental disabilities, families, providers and community organizations, the Louisiana Department of Health has ended the 25-year-old waiting list for specialized home and community-based services.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Staying Safe in the Summer Heat

As summer approaches in Louisiana, with record high temperatures already being topped and heat indices cracking triple digits, it is important to protect yourself and your loved ones from heat-related illness.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Improving the health of Louisiana's mothers and babies

Understanding women’s experiences surrounding pregnancy and childbirth is a cornerstone of the Louisiana Department of Health’s (LDH) efforts to improve the health of Louisiana mothers and babies.

LDH’s Bureau of Family Health uses the Louisiana Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), an ongoing surveillance system administered in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as a primary source of quantitative and qualitative data around those experiences and maternal behaviors before, during, and immediately following pregnancy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Who gets Medicaid in Louisiana?

Although almost half of all Medicaid enrollees in Louisiana are children, they account for about a fourth (26.5 percent) of State's total Medicaid spending. Louisiana’s two most vulnerable populations, people with disabilities and those who are aging, make up less than 20 percent of the Medicaid population but account for more than half of the State's total Medicaid spending, 60.4 percent.

Friday, June 8, 2018

We all have a part to play in preventing suicide

Author: Danita LeBlanc, LCSW- BACS

Every 40 seconds, a life is lost to suicide. The 800,000 suicide deaths that occur worldwide are more than deaths caused by homicide and war combined.

Suicide is a major public health issue. In the United States, 44,995 lives were lost to suicide in 2016. Louisiana reported 677 suicide deaths that same year. In the state, it is the 11th leading cause of death, the second for children between ages 10 and 14 and third for those between 15 and 34. Addressing suicide on a public health level, including access to care, is made more difficult by the stigma that accompanies suicide.

Although it sounds conflicting, people who are thinking about suicide usually also want to live. They share signs about living that their friends, family and neighbors see, hear, feel and sense They also share signs about ending their life, those signs are not always recognized as being about suicide. When these signs about wanting to die are presented, it is important to be willing to talk about suicide and ask if someone is suicidal. Neither of these actions put the thought of suicide in someone’s head, and they help break down the stigma surrounding suicide.

It’s especially important to be willing to talk about suicide as impulsiveness plays a role in some suicide attempts. While a person may have been thinking about it for a while, the decision to act can be fast.

We all have a part to play in preventing suicide. Here are some things you can do to help.

Learn the warning signs of suicide so you can recognize them.
  • Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself.
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills or other means.
  • Talking, writing about death or dying, or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person.
  • Feeling hopeless.
  • Feeling rage, uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge.
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking.
  • Feeling trapped as if there is no way out.
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use.
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society.
  • Feeling anxious, agitated or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time.
  • Experiencing dramatic mood changes.
  •  Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life.
Reach out.
  • Reaching out involves active listening and engaging with a person in a non-judgmental and supportive way – these skills can be taught to anyone.
  • Reaching out to those who may be struggling or may have become disconnected from others and offering support can be a life-saving act.
  • Reaching out involves linking people to relevant professional resources to ensure appropriate care and follow up for the person at risk. One resource is:
o   National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
§  Veterans can dial “1” and be connected to a Veteran/Service personnel center; they also have the option to be called by the State VA Suicide Prevention Coordinators  within 24 hours
§  Spanish speaking callers can dial “2” and be connected to a call center with Spanish speakers
§  Chat option:
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Help make the environment safer if someone is thinking about suicide.
  • Remove things that someone can easily use to hurt or kill themselves from the home (ex. unneeded or large amounts of  medications, firearms) or make them more difficult to access (lock up firearms, separate bullets from firearm; lock up medications or keep only small quantities on hand).
  • Stay with them or help them find someone in their circle of support who can be with them until help can be obtained.
Reaching out to people bereaved by someone else’s suicide death gives them the opportunity to talk about their loss, in their own time and on their own terms, which can also be a lifeline (postvention or prevention).

The news media also has a role.

Reporters and other media professionals should take special care when reporting on suicide.
More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of the news coverage. When the suicide method is explicitly described, copycat suicides may occur.

However, covering suicide carefully can change public misconceptions and correct myths, which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.

A list of recommendations when covering suicide as a media professional can be found here.

Suicide is complex, and there are almost always multiple causes including psychiatric illnesses that may not have been recognized or treated but these illnesses are treatable and help is available.

If you need to talk to someone, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress and prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and offers best practices for professionals.

Additional Resources:

Friday, May 18, 2018

EDITORIAL: Being Prepared

Author: Dr. Rebekah Gee, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health

Recently, the attorney general and others have made statements and have published letters that suggest my agency was premature in alerting nursing home residents and others of the possible impact on their health care and lives should the legislature not properly fund health care services.

To that false allegation, I would ask, “when do you fill your car up with gas … when the tank starts to get low, or do you keep on driving it until it’s empty and it stalls?” Responsibility is not intentionally driving your car until it runs out of gas. Instead, we keep an eye on the indicator and take action before it is too late. Being prepared is being responsible, not only when driving a car, but in all situations.

It was this sole reason that we made the most difficult decision to send letters to nursing home residents and others alerting them there was a strong possibility that the funds necessary to pay for their care would be eliminated. It was important to us to give vulnerable Medicaid recipients enough early warning so they could be prepared.

Going back to the running on empty example … the tank became half-full when the Legislature refused to address the known budget shortfall in 2017 and during this year’s special session. Then, when the House approved a budget that cut health care by more than $1.8 billion a few weeks ago, the tank had run dry.

Although there were some promises that health care funds would be restored during a special session, history of inaction during past sessions left us with little confidence. Those letters were written to give full transparency to those who are at risk for a life and health upheaval, and we have been busy since they were mailed.

We have had numerous meetings with providers, advocates and families to keep them fully informed. We have researched every Medicaid rule and how it affects individual situations to see if there are alternative solutions, and my team has visited every nursing home in the state to meet with patients, families and nursing home staff.

I have also visited several nursing homes and have seen first-hand the heartbreak and anguish on the faces of those whose lives are at risk, and my staff and I have told them the hard truths. As another special session is set to begin, I hope and pray our elected leaders have the courage to take the actions to fully fund not only vital health care services but all of the services that the people of Louisiana rely upon to live their lives to the fullest. 

When a disease outbreak hits, who you gonna call? Disease Detectives

Author: Theresa Sokol, epidemiology manager

When a case of an infectious disease such as measles is confirmed in Louisiana, the epidemiologists in the Louisiana Department of Health’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program act as disease detectives to track the causes and consequences of these diseases.

The Program studies the spread of infectious diseases in the community and carries out or coordinates programs that prevent the spread of communicable diseases. With incidents such as the measles case in a traveler from the United Kingdom that was discovered in New Orleans in April 2018, an epidemiological investigation is done.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Don’t wait, vaccinate!

Author: Stacy Hall, Louisiana Department of Health Immunization Program Director

Despite many years of progress, Louisiana’s infant vaccination rates have declined slightly for each of the past three years, and now, over 30 percent of young children in Louisiana are not up-to-date on vaccines that prevent serious diseases.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Freeing Louisiana of racial and ethnic disparities in health

Author: Rudy Macklin, director, Bureau of Minority Health Access

The Bureau of Minority Health Access’s vision is a Louisiana free of racial and ethnic disparities in health and healthcare. Minority Health Month is just one of several programs produced by the Bureau that shines light on that goal.

Since deciding to take part in the federal Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Minority Health’s program in 1998, the Bureau has awarded mini-grants to deserving healthcare associations, churches, federally qualified health centers, historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), Hispanic groups, Native Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders to carry out minority health activities in their areas.

Many of our programs in Louisiana would never come to light without our community partners to assist with formulating policy, implementing new programs and promoting healthy living in the areas they serve.

Minority Health Month in 1998 was and still is designed to:
  •         promote healthy lifestyles;
  •         provide crucial information to allow individuals to practice disease prevention;
  •         showcase the resources for and providers of grassroots health care and information;
  •         highlight the resolution of the disparate health conditions between Louisiana's minority and non-minority populations; and
  •         gain additional support for the ongoing efforts to improve minority health year-round.

Health disparities are differences in the overall rate of disease incidence, prevalence, morbidity, mortality or survival rates between different groups. Disparities result not only in a lower overall quality of life among those impacted but of their families and communities as well.

Racial and ethnic differences in health perceptions and health behaviors are often unconventional when compared to modern medicine and can hinder the process of healing and promotion. This is especially the case when health care providers have not received training in cultural competence. The lack of knowledge about the cultural beliefs and health behaviors of a patient can be detrimental to the provision of care.

Although ethnic and cultural beliefs have a powerful influence on the health of minority populations, it is widely observed that socioeconomic status has a greater impact on health than does race and ethnicity.

Due to the overwhelming representation of minorities living below the poverty line in Louisiana, the socioeconomic factor becomes especially relevant to minority health. Level of income tends to dictate where groups live, and therefore what services are available to them. Geographic isolation from health care services is a great disadvantage to many minority populations.

The Impact of Poverty

Poor nutrition, inaccessibility to health care providers, and inability to pay for services are all factors which result from poverty and lead to poor health status. Poverty and poor health are also detrimental to education attainment, as accessibility and ability to afford are impacted by income levels, and poor health affects one's functioning in an academic environment.

For minorities in Louisiana, this means higher rates of diabetes, hypertension and being overweight or obese.

Since 2012, the push to eliminate health disparities has taken an entirely new narrative by minority health advocates. The big push today is about achieving health equity. It is said, “One must reduce health disparities in order to achieve health equity.” Health equity is the attainment of the highest level of health for all people. Health equity means efforts to ensure that all people have full and equal access to opportunities that enable them to lead healthy lives.

As for me personally, true equity lies in understanding not what is legal, but what is just. With new, bold leadership in Governor John Bel Edwards and a dynamic Secretary of Health in Dr. Rebekah Gee, I truly believe now we can get there.

For more information on Minority Health Access, click here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Medicaid Expansion created new jobs, boosted economy by $3.5 billion

Author: Dr. Rebekah Gee, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Health

When this administration took office, Gov. John Bel Edwards took the immediate step to sign an executive order to make Medicaid coverage available to low-income, working adults. The goal was to ensure that more people had coverage for primary and preventive health care, hospitalizations, mental health care services and substance abuse treatment. The goal was to take the first and most important step to make our residents healthier. It was the right thing to do.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Setting record straight on Medicaid fraud

Results from a recent federal audit of Louisiana’s Medicaid program emphasized the state is both compliant with all federal fraud reporting requirements and has the proper procedures in place to detect and report fraud. The federal audit sets a high bar for its anti-fraud efforts, making it notable that Louisiana was one of only four states to pass this audit since 2014.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The most effective way to kill mosquitoes

Author: Kyle Moppert, state entomologist

Are you guilty of saying, “those pesky mosquitos are making me sick!” If you are, then according to the World Health Organization, you’re 100 percent correct. Mosquito-borne diseases more than 300 million clinical cases each year are attributable to mosquito-borne illnesses, and despite great strides over the last 50 years, those illnesses continue to pose risks in the United States.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Problem gambling is a serious problem in Louisiana

Author: Quinetta Womack, Director of Problem Gambling Services

Problem gambling is a serious addiction that affects thousands of Louisianans. A state study on problem gambling revealed that as many as 275,000 people in Louisiana are involved in problem gambling activities, affecting the individual, their family, friends, co-workers and society as a whole.

A gambling disorder, is gambling behavior which causes disruptions in any major area of life whether that be psychological, physical, social or vocational. It’s characterized by increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, “chasing losses, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Food waste in America at staggering levels

March is National Nutrition Month and the theme this year is “Go Further with Food.”  There is a double meaning here since the message hopes to address better food choices for better nutrition and to call attention to our massive amount of food that is wasted.

Food waste in the U.S. has reached staggering proportions. It is estimated that 60 million tons of food (or 50 percent of all produce and worth about $160 billion) is discarded every year.

Most of this wasted food ends up in landfills where it represents the largest amount of discarded material. An American family of four throws away over $1,500 of produce annually. Worldwide, the waste is also about a third of all food, sometimes for different reasons such as harvesting and transport issues, but still at a cost of $3 trillion per year.

Why have we become such a wasteful society? There are various reasons, but one factor is the low-cost of food in the U.S. as compared with other countries, some of which is related to generous agricultural subsidies. There is also consumer demand, which favors perfect-looking produce and rejects anything that might be bruised, wilted or discolored, regardless of how the item will be prepared.  Supermarkets recognize this consumer demand for perfection and pre-emptively throwaway anything that looks deformed or blemished in any way.

Farmers also pre-emptively eliminate fruits and vegetables that lack consumer appeal in response to unrelenting consumer demands for the perfect looking product. Our Facebook photo culture aggravates the problem by compelling retailers and restaurants to make picture perfect dishes or risk the ire of hyper-sensitive consumers and foodies.

A move toward acceptance of local crops, diversity of products, and a shift in aesthetics can all help reduce waste. On a personal level, as a consumer, we can take a few useful steps: 
  1. Take an inventory of food in your home before going to buy more, 
  2. Buy only limited quantities of food that correspond to what can be eating or frozen for a few days only, 
  3. Prepare and serve reasonable portions that contain all food groups, but not in excessive quantities, 
  4. Buy limited quantities (not the “economy” pack) rather than being obliged to discard what you cannot reasonably consume, 
  5. Exercise adequately to burn off calories rather than accumulate them as fat, 
  6. Recycle through composting, 
  7. Donate unwanted food to food pantries and 
  8. Learn about the meaning of food labeling (i.e. “Use by,” “best by” and “sell by”). 
In Europe, the refrigerators are tiny by American standards. European housewives will often shop daily, not weekly, at a market or grocery store within walking distance. Produce in a market is usually locally grown and may not be picture perfect. Prices at such markets, however, are usually lower than in a supermarket and thus a sound consumer choice, not a privilege of the wealthy. France and Germany both require supermarkets to compost or donate unsold or expiring food.

Louisiana prides itself on its rich and varied food culture.  It does not have to wasteful or unhealthy since an abundance of local products remains available. 

Eat a healthy breakfast and remain active throughout the day.  Celebrate National Nutrition Month by eating right, exercising and reducing waste following the instructions above.  If you have specific issues and concerns, do not hesitate to consult a nutritionist who will be happy to explain your food choices and their consequences.  Bon appetit!

David J. Holcombe, MD, MSA

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Avoid folk remedies for the flu

Author: Brian Warren, food and drug/milk and dairy program administrator

Concerned about the lengthy and difficult 2017-2018 flu season? You should be—according to the latest information from the CDC1, there have been 97 children killed by influenza viruses during the 2017-18 season, and that number is expected to continue to rise.

In addition to getting the flu shot, over-the-counter cold medicines or seeking medical care are appropriate measures to take should you get sick.. Good nutrition and bed rest will often reduce the length and severity of your illness as well. However, there are two popular “alternative” medicines on store shelves in Louisiana that you should avoid because they are unproven and ineffective.

Elderberry is a flowering plant in the genus Sambucus. It is known as “fercido” in the River Parishes and the leaves are used in poultices as a folk remedy to treat conditions ranging from rashes to burns externally. A more widespread use of the plant is to distill the berries and create an extract or syrup, typically mixed with honey, maple syrup, and/or spices. Proponents claim that the product is effective as a prophylaxis and also to treat patients who are currently suffering from influenza. Note that there is insufficient evidence that any of these products are effective treatments for influenza or that they provide any relief from symptoms beyond what might be expected from a placebo. These items are considered dietary supplements by the Louisiana Department of Health, and the department does not regulate such items. At the federal level, FDA has labelling and good manufacturing practices regulations2 that manufacturers are supposed to adhere to, but, unlike actual pharmaceuticals, these products are not required to undergo testing for safety and efficacy as part of a pre-market approval process.

Please be aware that the leaves, berries and other parts of these plants typically contain secondary chemicals related to cyanide that can cause illness (though probably not death) if consumed raw, so avoid ingesting unprocessed elderberries or elderberry products.

Another popular remedy that is widely available at drug stores is Oscillococcinum®. This is a so-called homeopathic medicine. Homeopathy is a practice that dates back to the close of the 18th century and it has several key concepts but the most important one for the purposes of this discussion is that the “active” ingredients in homeopathic treatments are prepared using a large number of serial dilutions that serve to ensure that no molecule of that ingredient remains in the finished product. Homeopaths will readily concede this point but also state that the water of these dilutions “remembers” the ingredient. In the case of Oscillococcinum® in particular, the duck liver and brain that are supposed to contain the elusive bacteria that are the source of the product’s alleged curative properties are not to be found in the lactose-sucrose pill that is the end result of those many dilutions3. Thus, this homeopathic remedy is like all homeopathic remedies in that it is not going to provide the user with any relief beyond what might be expected from a placebo.

So what should you do about the flu?

·       Get your flu shot. Even if the shot you receive is not completely effective for the strains of the virus that are circulating in your area, it will nonetheless give your immune system a “leg up” on preparing for an infection and the partial immunity it provides will reduce the length and severity of your potential illness. Moreover, your immunization will contribute to “herd immunity.”4 Herd immunity refers to the immunity conferred upon individuals in a group once a certain threshold number of those group members have been immunized against a particular disease. In effect, it is a way for people who are able to be vaccinated (most healthy individuals) to protect those people who are unable to be vaccinated due to pre-existing medical conditions or severely-weakened immune systems. The benefits to those unimmunized individuals also have a secondary effect of reducing the overall severity of an outbreak by reducing the number of people who are susceptible to a disease at any given point in time.

The department is currently working through parish health units to provide no-cost vaccinations. Contact your local parish health unit for information on getting vaccinated.
·       Practice basic good hygiene. If you aren’t sick presently, wash your hands regularly with soap and water. Avoid close contact with those who are sick. If you are sick, do not go to work or school or church or any other gatherings where you may be exposing groups of people to your infection. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.

·       See your primary care doctor about any serious illness. If you experience severe symptoms such as a persistent high fever, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, and exhaustion or confusion, see your physician immediately. He or she may prescribe an antiviral agent such as Tamiflu. Any medicine that you are prescribed by a board-certified physician has undergone clinical trials to ensure its safety and efficacy, unlike the two treatments described in this article.


Oscillococcinum® is a registered trademark of Boiron USA, Inc.