Friday, March 29, 2019

Spring illnesses and allergies are in bloom

The sun is bright, the air is warm and the bees are buzzing … so why are so many people miserable?

While the spring warmth, rain showers and blooming plants may be a welcome change to many after the chill of winter, others are hounded by spring allergies and illnesses, including the common cold.

Let’s take a look at these unwelcome spring conditions.

Allergies and asthma

Seasonal allergies affect more than 50 million Americans, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to substances, or allergens, that typically don’t affect other people. They may cause sneezing, coughing and itching and may be mild to life-threatening.

More than 25 million Americans have asthma — a disease of the lungs that causes repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and nighttime or early morning coughing.
Both conditions are often triggered by soaring pollen counts encountered by people spending more time outdoors in the warm weather, as well as the growth of mold indoors and outdoors prompted by spring showers.

If you have seasonal allergies, it’s important to take your medication. If possible, start your medication two weeks before your symptoms typically show up or before your local newscast reports a streak of warm weather on the horizon. Also, check with your doctor to make sure you have the right kind of medication. People with asthma should keep their peak flow meters and rescue inhalers handy. You will also want to keep an eye on pollen counts if you already know what kind of pollen sets off your condition.

To find an allergy and asthma screening location in your area, click here.
The cause of roughly half of all common colds, rhinoviruses spread easily during spring, a peak time for these illnesses. Rhinoviruses are viral infections, as their name implies, and typically cause upper respiratory infections but sometimes affect the lower respiratory system as well. To avoid spreading or catching a rhinovirus, practice preventive measures like coughing or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue, washing your hands regularly and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth.
Just because winter is behind us doesn’t mean that the flu has also taken a hike. Flu activity in Louisiana has declined recently but is still elevated, and higher than our peak last season. This flu season, there have been about 7,000 hospitalizations and 700 deaths in Louisiana from flu and flu-related illnesses. Like rhinoviruses, preventive measures are key, including avoiding people who are sick and staying home from work or school if you have the flu. The best preventive measure is the flu shot, which can reduce the duration of illness, doctors’ visits and missed school and work, as well as flu-related hospitalizations. Learn more about how you can Fight the Flu.
Known more commonly as pink eye, conjunctivitis is common during the spring months and is often confused with allergy symptoms. It’s a highly contagious condition that is easily spread, particularly among young children. Keep conjunctivitis at bay with regular and frequent hand washing and avoiding touching the eyes. This condition can be bacterial, viral or allergic, and treatment varies depending on type. Viral is treated for symptoms only, bacterial requires antibiotics, and allergic can be treated with antihistamines taken by mouth and/or in the eye.
Norovirus and rotavirus
Norovirus and rotavirus come with stomach pain, cramping, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, and sometimes low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. These symptoms are very unpleasant and typically last one to two days, but norovirus and rotavirus can be spread for several days after the symptoms clear up. Again, wash your hands frequently and stay home from work or school if needed. You will also want to wash your bedding and disinfect any household items that you may have touched.
Lyme disease
Spring weather, with its warmth and rain showers, is the perfect breeding ground for deer ticks, which transmit Lyme disease. Fortunately, Lyme disease is relatively rare in Louisiana, with just a handful of cases every year. Protect yourself when spending time outdoors by avoiding walking in tall grasses and other vegetation and using tick repellant. Watch your skin for a bull’s-eye rash, which is a sign of Lyme disease. The disease can be treated with antibiotics.
Don't let spring allergies and illnesses get you down. Take preventive measures and talk to your doctor if you're sick or concerned that you may become sick. Enjoy these warm days before the heat and oppressive humidity of summer take over!

Friday, March 22, 2019

It's OK to talk about colorectal cancer

Some cancers are more difficult for people to talk about, due to the sensitive nature of their location and worries about embarrassment. Colorectal cancer, sometimes simply called colon cancer, is one of them.
Since March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, let’s talk about it and dispel the embarrassment. 
Colorectal cancer occurs in the colon, also called the large intestine or large bowel, or the rectum, the passageway linking the colon to the anus. Polyps, or abnormal growths, sometimes develop in the colon or rectum and may eventually become cancerous. 
Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include bloody stool; stomach pain, aches or cramps that don’t go away; and unexplained weight loss. Talk with your doctor or healthcare provider if you are having any of these symptoms, since they may be caused by something other than cancer. Your doctor may order diagnostic tests to discover the cause of your symptoms.

People with polyps or undiagnosed cancer may not always have symptoms, especially at first, which makes regular screening especially important. Several options are available, and each has its pros and cons:
  • STOOL TESTS: There are three kinds of tests, which check your stool for blood and test it for cancerous cells.
  • FLEXIBLE SIGMOIDOSCOPY: The doctor inserts a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum to look for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.
  • COLONOSCOPY: This test is nearly identical to flexible sigmoidoscopy, with the difference being that the doctor checks the rectum and the entire colon. Most polyps and some cancers can be removed during a colonoscopy. It can also be used as a follow-up test for any of the other screening tests.
  • CT COLONOGRAPHY: Also called virtual colonoscopy, it uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon. The images are displayed on a computer screen for the doctor to analyze.

Screening is recommended for anyone ages 50 to 75, since about 90 percent of new colorectal cancer cases are found in people ages 50 and older. It’s also recommended for people younger than 50 if they or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or cancer, if they have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, or if they have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).
Talk with your doctor to determine whether you need screening, what kind of screening is right for you and how often you should be screened. Your doctor will explain the procedure, any preparations you may need to make in advance of the test and potential risks.
Colon cancer statistics from the Healthy Louisiana dashboard show how many Louisianans have received colon cancer screening, diagnosis and polyps removed as a result of the 2016 Louisiana Medicaid expansion.

Tackling cancer in Louisiana
In Louisiana, colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death from 2010 to 2014. For those years, Louisiana also had the third highest incidence and death rates in the United States.
To address this and other cancers, Gov. John Bel Edwards and Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee launched the statewide Taking Aim at Cancer in Louisiana (TACL) initiative in May 2018. This collaborative effort brings together leaders from healthcare, business, government, community, advocacy, philanthropy and other sectors, all with one common goal: improving cancer outcomes in our state.
To improve cancer outcomes, TACL seeks to improve early detection, improve patient care and treatment, and ultimately improve patient outcomes. Statewide partners, including doctors who treat cancer patients, also are called upon through TACL to help coordinate policies, programs and practices related to cancer diagnoses and treatments.
TACL was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation in February, helping us tackle cancer in Louisiana one step at a time.
Learn more about TACL here. You can learn more about colorectal cancer here and here.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Vaccines rock — here's why

The New York Times recently produced this easy-to-understand video — inspired by the Schoolhouse Rock! format — that discusses the importance of vaccines. It takes on the beliefs held by many people who may not trust in vaccines and explains how those beliefs are misguided.
The video ends with statistics that show the decrease in illnesses such as measles and measles-related deaths from 2000 to 2017 because of vaccines, and the sudden increase in cases since then as more people choose not to vaccinate themselves or their families.
Just last week, a federal judge cited an “unprecedented measles outbreak” in New York’s suburban Rockland County when denying a request to let 44 unvaccinated children return to school. The children’s parents had sued the county health department, saying none of their kids had gotten the measles.

(UPDATE: Health officials in New York's Rockland County declared a state of emergency March 26 due to the measles outbreak. Unvaccinated children under the age of 18 are prohibited from going out in public spaces for 30 days or until they receive a vaccination, according to CBS News. The county has 153 confirmed cases of measles, mostly in unvaccinated children.)
Here in Louisiana, the vaccination rate among children entering kindergarten is over 96 percent — a very healthy number, but there’s always room for improvement. To see how we stack up against other states, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s School Vax View.
For information about vaccination in Louisiana, click here.

Friday, March 15, 2019

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

By JULIE FOSTER HAGAN | Assistant Secretary, LDH Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities

Every year, March is celebrated as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, a time to highlight those in our communities who may be affected by a developmental disability. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has even declared March 2019 as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in our state.

Louisiana’s legal definition of a developmental disability is a severe, chronic disability that is attributable to an intellectual or physical impairment or combination of intellectual and physical impairments that is manifested before age 22, is likely to continue indefinitely and results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following: self-care, receptive and expressive language, learning, mobility, self-direction, capacity for independent living and economic self-sufficiency.

About one in six children in the United States have one or more developmental disabilities or other developmental delays, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Stories of success

Lots of notable people have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities — here are just a few.

Stephen Hawking, the renowned English theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author, was diagnosed with ALS — more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — shortly after he turned 21 years old. This terminal illness affects and kills the neurons that control the brain and spinal cord, gradually leading to paralysis. Hawking was given two years to live at the time of his diagnosis, yet defied the odds and lived to the age of 76. Along the way, he made enormous contributions to science and disability outreach.

Stephen Hawking takes a zero-gravity flight in a reduced-gravity aircraft in 2007. 

Helen Keller fell ill at the age of 19 months with what is thought to be either scarlet fever or meningitis, which left her blind and deaf. She had limited communication until age 7, when teacher Anne Sullivan made a breakthrough by spelling the word “water” into one of Keller’s hands as water ran over the other hand. With the world of language at her fingertips, Keller grew up to become the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree, and an author, political activist and lecturer.

Helen Keller holds a magnolia circa 1920.

James Madison was 21 when he began having seizures that left him temporarily immobile. Doctors diagnosed him with epilepsy and, believing a change of climate beneficial, urged him to move to western Virginia. That’s where he discovered public service as his calling. His first office in public service was on the Committee of Safety in Orange County, Virginia. He went on to become an American statesman, one of the Founding Fathers and the fourth president of the United States.

This portrait of fourth president James Madison hangs in the White House.

Temple Grandin’s mother hypothesized her daughter’s symptoms were best explained by autism after coming across a checklist published by a renowned psychologist, though Grandin didn’t receive a formal diagnosis until her 40s. She is also an autistic savant who has become well known for her consultancy in the livestock industry, championing the humane treatment of livestock for slaughter, as well as her international activism for people with autism.

Temple Grandin at a book signing at Rochester Community and Technical College in Rochester, Minnesota.

Abbey Nicole Curran was born with cerebral palsy but never let her disability deter her from chasing her dreams. In 2004, at the age of 16, she founded the Miss You Can Do It Pageant with the goal of passing on positive feelings to other girls with disabilities. Four years later, she became Miss Iowa USA 2008 and the first person with a developmental disability to vie for the title of Miss USA. Curran has also found success as an author and motivational speaker.

Former Miss Iowa USA Abbey Nicole Curran started the Miss You Can Do It Pageant.

Discovering developmental disabilities

If you are concerned that your child is not meeting milestones or there may be a problem with your child’s development, talk to your child’s doctor or health care provider. Your child may be monitored for developmental delays or problems, and if any are detected, follow up with a developmental screening. This short test can determine whether your child is learning basic skills at the expected pace or if there are delays.

If screening finds your child has a developmental delay, get help as soon as possible. Early identification and intervention are key. The earlier a developmental delay is discovered, the less your child will have a chance to be significantly affected.

Contact your local human services authority or local government entity to find out if your child is eligible for services from the Louisiana Department of Health’s Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities. The Office also provides a variety of resources here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Louisiana facing a maternal health crisis

By DR. POOJA MEHTA | Medical Director, Louisiana Perinatal Quality Collaborative 

Louisiana’s mothers and their supporters may have felt disturbed or afraid after reading last week’s articles about birth care in New Orleans.

Hardworking providers — physicians, nurses, and midwives — may have felt misunderstood or painfully reminded of a case that went poorly.

Medical trainees, Louisiana’s future birth providers, may have felt deterred from their calling.

And undoubtedly all of us felt deep sorrow at stories of suffering and families changed forever, leaving us asking, “what can we do to stop this?”

No single institution or individual can change the reality of Louisiana’s worsening maternal health crisis. We rank 47th of 48 reporting states in maternal mortality. Black women are four times more likely to die of complications of pregnancy when compared to white women, due to lifetimes of differences in care, education, healthy environments, accumulated stress due to racism — or simply being less likely to be heard during a critical moment.

It does not have to be this way. Not every instance of severe maternal morbidity is avoidable, but harm from bleeding and high blood pressure, Louisiana’s leading causes of pregnancy-related death, is preventable. Solutions exist: doctors, nurses, patients, and leaders, working together to improve communication, preparedness, response time, teamwork, and escalation of care when needed.

Childbirth is typically normal. Our numbers reflect system failures in preparedness for rare events — not the choices of individual women or providers. Systems solutions have worked in other states, countries, and some hospitals here in Louisiana.

In fact, every New Orleans hospital named in last week’s article is already participating in the Louisiana Perinatal Quality Collaborative. This 31-hospital collaborative is using shared accountability and coaching from experts to make change. Our goal is to reduce severe maternal harm due to bleeding and blood pressure in Louisiana by 20 percent, and reduce differences between black and white women — in one year.

To do this, we need to translate frustration and concern into immediate action:

If you have experienced birth in a Louisiana hospital and have ideas for what could have gone better, we want to hear your ideas, and invite you to work directly with a collaborative team in your community.

If you are a provider at a Louisiana birth facility, find out if your facility is participating, and what you can do to help your team today.

If you are a hospital executive or legislator, ensure that your collaborative teams have the support they need to make change that matters to families. Demand that hospitals in your region partner with each other to take the best care of the sickest among us.

Let’s use our discomfort to achieve equitable, consistent care for every woman, every time. And let’s do it together, now.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Women's History Month 2019: Celebrating the Achievements of Women in Healthcare and Medicine

Women's History Month affords us the chance to reflect on and honor the ways in which women have helped shape, not only the United States but also the rest of the world.

This year, the Louisiana Department of Health will be highlighting women pioneers in medicine and healthcare who have not only advanced and advocated for the health of all Americans but also advanced the cause of women and gender equality around the world.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Collaborative efforts helping people to live in their communities

Good things are happening at the Louisiana Department of Health, and we’d like to share them with you.

In the coming months, we will be sharing stories from people receiving services from the Office for Citizens with Disabilities and the Office of Aging and Adult Services. Both Offices have been hard at work finding ways to help Louisianans continue to live in the communities they love while receiving the services they need to help them live independent, productive lives.

Our hope is that by sharing these stories of success, others may learn about programs and services that may be beneficial to them or to someone they love.

For instance, Medicaid recipient Franklin Wells, 61, suffered a stroke in 2011 that landed him in a New Orleans-area nursing facility. But through the coordinated efforts of the My Place Louisiana and Louisiana Permanent Supportive Housing programs, he has returned to living in his community.

Franklin Wells transitioned back into the community from a nursing facility thanks to coordinated efforts of the My Place Louisiana and Louisiana Permanent Supportive Housing programs.

You may be wondering: What are these programs?

My Place Louisiana is a program of the Department of Health, incorporating efforts between the Office of Aging and Adult Services (OAAS), Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities (OCDD) and Bureau of Health Services Financing (Medicaid).  The program helps Medicaid recipients transition from institutions and return to the communities in which they live. For OAAS, this means transitioning nursing home residents to live in their own home, an apartment, at home with family, or with roommates with the support of waiver services from OAAS.

Permanent Supportive Housing is a joint initiative of LDH and the Louisiana Housing Corporation, led within LDH by OAAS. It links affordable rental housing with voluntary, flexible and individualized services. This program has served more than 6,000 households since its creation, allowing people with disabilities to live in their communities.

To transition back into the community, Mr. Wells needed assistance with dialysis, affordable housing and daily tasks such as meal preparation. He qualified for the OAAS Community Choices Waiver, which provides him with services for assistance with meal preparation and other tasks. Staff with the Permanent Supportive Housing program helped him find an apartment in his old neighborhood that was made affordable through the partnership with the Louisiana Housing Corporation. Mr. Wells will receive dialysis close to home three days a week, with transportation provided by the dialysis center.

Franklin Wells, center, received transition assistance from Permanent Supportive Housing tenant service manager Travis Wain, left, and My Place Louisiana transition coordinator Andrea Cressionnie.

Now that he is back in his community, Mr. Wells is looking forward to spending time with friends and getting to know his city again.

Mr. Wells is just one of many people receiving the right care in the right place. His story also shows how addressing important social determinants of health, such as affordable housing with supports to assure successful tenancy, can contribute toward more cost-effective care and better outcomes for those LDH serves.

Continue to follow the LDH blog for more success stories.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Play it safe during March Madness

March is a month of madness — March Madness, to be exact. The annual NCAA basketball tournament draws millions of eyes as sports fans, as well as non-sports fans, place their bets on what they hope will be a winning team.

It’s no coincidence that March Madness takes place at the same time as Problem Gambling Awareness Month. Americans are expected to bet more than $10 billion during March Madness, with only 3 percent ($300) bet legally. Nevada is the only American state where it’s legal to place bets on a college basketball game, meaning most wagers are placed in situations like brackets, office pools or between friends. Such friendly wagers may seem harmless, but they can be an easy way for a person to get hooked on gambling. For those who already have a gambling addiction, it simply continues to feed the problem.

Problem gambling takes a toll on all ages, genders and races in Louisiana. Here are some findings from a 2016 study conducted by the Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Behavioral Health.

•  An estimated 5.4 percent of Louisiana’s adult population is at risk for addiction.
•  About 2.9 percent of Louisiana adults are pathological gamblers.
•  Calls to the toll-free Problem Gamblers Helpline show 56 percent of callers are men and 44 percent are women.
•  Most of the callers identified themselves as either Caucasian (49 percent) or African American (47 percent).
•  Financial problems overwhelmingly are the events that spark the helpline calls, followed by marital or family problems and mental health problems.

Signs of a gambling problem include:

•  Lying to loved ones about gambling activity
•  Deterioration of work performance
•  Trouble concentrating
•  Missing deadlines and important responsibilities
•  Worrying about mounting debts and inability to pay them

Problem gambling may even lead to trouble with the law. Just this week, a former postal worker admitted in court to stealing more than $630,000 worth of stamps from the U.S. Post Office in Kenner. He sold the stamps online to help pay for huge gambling losses he had racked up in recent years, including more than $667,000 at Harrah’s Casino in 2011 alone. He is now facing up to 10 years in prison.

Help is available

If you or someone you know is struggling with a gambling problem, multiple resources are available at no cost as long as you’re a Louisiana resident.

•  Office of Behavioral Health: (225) 342-2540 or
•  Local human services agencies:
•  Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling: (318) 227-0883 or; live chatting available
•  Louisiana Problem Gamblers Helpline: 1-877-770-STOP (7867); toll-free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week
•  Center of Recovery (CORE), Shreveport: 1-318-424-HELP (4357); residential treatment for problem and disordered gambling

There is hope

It can be difficult to turn your back on a gambling problem. Read this Breakup Letter to Gambling Addiction, shared by courtesy of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, and don’t lose hope. Gambling addiction is real, and we are here to help.