Wednesday, September 21, 2022

LDH sets sickle cell disease support, care and awareness goals in coming year


September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Sickle cell disease (SCD) affects the lives of at least 3,300 Louisianans — our families, neighbors and friends. Despite the prevalence of SCD, many people remain unaware of the complexities and risks associated with this inherited blood disorder.

That is why the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) plans to spotlight SCD not only this month, but throughout the coming year as part of our FY23 Business Plan. 

As you may know, SCD affects the shape of the red blood cells, which carry oxygen to every part of the body. These cells are typically round and flexible, allowing them to move through the body with relative ease. However, the sickle-shaped cells that give SCD its name can block blood flow and cause serious damage. Potential complications include damage to the lungs, brain and other vital organs, stroke and severe pain, among other health issues.


Severe pain episodes, also known as sickle cell crisis, often strike without warning, disrupting lives. In 2020 alone, over 1,400 Louisianans with SCD were hospitalized. On average, those hospitalized had 4 to 5 hospitalizations throughout the year, spending about 30 days total in the hospital. 


In the U.S., SCD most commonly affects people of African, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent. Data shows 1 in 13 Black or African-American babies is born with the sickle cell trait (meaning they carry the gene that causes SCD, but do not have SCD) and SCD occurs in 1 in 365 Black or African-American births.


Due to disparities, this condition has lacked the necessary attention, funding and resources. People living with SCD continue to experience barriers with access to and retention of specialized care.


The Department of Health wants to change that in Louisiana, providing families, friends, neighbors and colleagues effective care and support so they can live to the fullest, and so that Louisiana as a whole can function at its best.


To make substantive improvements, LDH needs a firm foundation of knowledge. The Department aims to begin developing a patient registry, needed to make the kind of data-driven decisions that will improve quality of life.


LDH also plans to develop and implement a statewide SCD public information campaign to further support those living with SCD. While there is information available on SCD, this campaign will provide a deeper understanding of SCD to teachers, medical staff and others who play key roles in the lives of those with SCD.


The Department also hopes this campaign will empower those living with SCD to advocate for their needs.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Vaccines represent one of the greatest advances in protecting people from diseases

By: Joseph Bocchini, MD

Throughout my career as a pediatrician, I have witnessed the number of vaccine preventable diseases disappear after the introduction of a vaccine. These discoveries have proven to be some of the most important public health advancements in both the 20th and 21st centuries, and have helped protect against many severe infections that cause significant illnesses and fatalities in both children and adults.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, many people fell behind on receiving their routine immunizations and now there is an increased need for both children and adults to catch up and, going forward, to vaccinate on schedule to protect our families as early as possible and prevent outbreaks.

This is important because many of the organisms responsible for vaccine preventable diseases continue to be present in our communities and being unvaccinated leaves a person susceptible to infection.

Some diseases are making a comeback

Recently, we have seen a rise in the number of measles related outbreaks among children and adults who were unvaccinated. Even more recently, there has been a reported polio case in an unvaccinated adult.

Immunizations throughout adolescence are important. Of vaccines recommended for 11–12-year-olds, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has the lowest percentage of doses administered. HPV causes almost all cervical cancers, most cancers of the genital area, and is responsible for 70% of throat cancers. Researchers expect the HPV vaccine to prevent up to 90% of the 40,000 new cancers associated with the Human Papillomavirus, which occur in the US each year.

It is important that everyone – especially parents – understand the importance of vaccines. I urge individuals of all ages to stay aware of their immunizations and continue to stay on schedule for their vaccinations.


About Dr. Joseph Bocchini – Pediatrician and Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist who has practiced medicine for more than 45 years. He currently serves as the Director of Children’s Health Services for the Willis-Knighton Health System in Shreveport, Louisiana. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Farewell and thank you to LDH's first Executive Internship Cohort

Pictured, from left to right are, Undersecretary Ruth Johnson, interns Sarah Lehman, Matthew Foster, Jekila Dockery, Anna Crifasi, Isabel Zebrick and Joseph Patterson, and Tonya Joiner with the Office of the Secretary.

The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) recently said farewell and thank you to its first Executive Internship Cohort.

“What we do here is so important as it touches everyone from our children to our grandchildren to our neighbors. We hope we imparted that to you and that your experiences will continue to increase your interest in public health,” said Tonya Joiner with the Office of the Secretary.

Beginning June 6, the 11 participants each joined a different department or program office where they learned what it means to be a public servant. Throughout their time at LDH, the interns learned about the inner workings of LDH, visited the Capitol and met with different legislators.

The program ended August 12.

“You all set the bar. You were our first cohort. Thank you for the time you spent with us. We hope you will come back and work with us in the future," said  
Undersecretary Ruth Johnson.

“I don’t have the words to explain how awesome the internship was. I learned a lot and I’m very grateful for this opportunity,” said intern Anna Crifasi.

We wish our 2022 Executive Internship Cohort all the best!

Central, Northwest Offices of Public Health help children get safe start to new school year

To celebrate students returning to school, the Louisiana Department of Health's (LDH) regional Offices of Public Health (OPH) have been participating in back-to-school events to help families become prepared and protected against COVID-19. 

OPH Region 6 (Central Louisiana)

OPH Region 6 staff, representatives from Punto de Conexion and Pafford recently worked together on a backpack giveaway in Alexandria.

Region 6 partnered with Pastor Juan-Jose Romero and the recently-founded Hispanic church Punto de Conexion in Alexandria to host a backpack giveaway at the Kent Plantation House. LDH gave the first 200 school-aged children free backpacks.

Children and parents receive free school supplies and resources during a backpack giveaway at Kent Plantation House in Alexandria.

LDH team members distributed free school supplies and provided fun crafts and activities to more than 450 children. Parents received informational materials and resources from various departments including WIC and Immunizations. Pafford, OPH’s regional contracted vaccination team, administered COVID-19 and routine back-to-school vaccines.

Region 6 also participated in a back-to-school event at the Alexandria Mall, handing out informational brochures and LDH swag materials. Families received text codes for a chance to win prizes and gift cards for school shopping. OPH Region 6 nurses and immunization staff administered both routine and COVID-19 vaccines.

OPH Region 7 (Northwest)

Region 7 participated in a Back to School Bash, hosted by Essentials 4 Families Diaper Bank, at Caddo Middle Career and Technology School in Shreveport. LDH team members handed out bags filled with COVID-19 informational brochures, home test kits, COVID-19 protection kits, coloring books, LDH promotional items and other COVID-19 informational papers. The COVID-19 protection kits included a N95 mask, a tissue packet, two pairs of gloves, two disposable thermometers, a bottle of hand sanitizer and some antimicrobial towelettes.

Community Health Worker Michelle Thompson, Health Disparities Strategist Ariel Washington and Communications Coordinator Ana VanEaton, from left to right, helped attendees learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Vax Matters podcast explores facts, myths, misconceptions around vaccines

Vax Matters, a new podcast series from the Louisiana Department of Health’s (LDH) Immunization Program, has released the first three episodes in a planned 36-podcast series over the coming year.

The podcast, with a new episode being released every two weeks, will take a deep dive and explore the history and future of vaccines, as well as address facts, misconceptions and myths on a variety of immunization topics.

In each episode, host Diane Deaton, a former TV personality and weathercaster for WAFB 9News in Baton Rouge, along with a guest host, will speak with medical and infectious disease experts from Louisiana, as well as across the country, to address that episode’s topic.

In a two-part episode just released, Deaton and guest host Deon Guillory speak with Dr. Frank Welch, a leading national expert on immunizations and former medical director for Emergency Preparedness at LDH, on the history of vaccines. During the episodes, Dr. Welch walks listeners through the origin of modern vaccines beginning with smallpox through the polio epidemic. Welch explains why some vaccines are grouped and how it is decided which flu strain will be used each year for the vaccine.

Dr. Welch also discusses how vaccines are developed today and the progress we have seen in the last few years and the medical research and tests that are conducted before a vaccine is ever approved.

“I think it's important in society that we recognize the difference between an opinion and scientific research and scientific fact,” Dr. Welch concluded.

In another of the episodes released, Deaton and Guillory speak with Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state health officer at LDH, to discuss the COVID vaccine and recount the past two years of living during the current pandemic. Dr. Kanter will take us behind the scenes as LDH and hospitals responded to the outbreak over the past two years, how the pandemic has impacted our lives and the role vaccines have played during that time.

“To have a vaccine developed from start to finish with full safety and efficacy testing in less than a year from the time that this virus entered this country is nothing short of miraculous,” Dr. Kanter said in Episode 1 of Vax Matters. “I think these companies deserve a lot of credit for helping save lives. We would (have) lost thousands and thousands of more lives in the second year of this pandemic if we had to deal with it without the tool of these vaccines.”

Dr. Kanter also talks about the importance of the vaccine and other FDA-approved tools that are available or will become available in the coming months to fight COVID.

Future topics will look at vaccine mistrust among minorities, vaccines and fertility, how outbreaks happen, and more detailed looks at our most common and well-known vaccines.

In the trailer for the Vax Matters podcast, Deaton introduces the podcast by saying, “For decades, vaccines were something most of us probably didn’t give much thought to. Then COVID happened and suddenly vaccines were all we thought about. Today, facts about vaccines matter more than ever.”

Vax Matters can be found and downloaded on all the top podcast platforms including Apple, Google Podcast, Spotify, Audible and Stitcher.