Summer is Coming: Resources to Keep Your Community Safe

By Elizabeth Brasington, NACCHO Marketing/ Communications Intern

10734416 biking outdoorsSummer is almost here which means more fun in the sun. Whether it’s camping, hiking, swimming, or barbequing, your community will be spending time outside, and keeping them safe from extreme heat and vector-borne diseases is critical. NACCHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have a variety of tips and free resources for local health departments (LHDs) to make health and safety a priority this summer.

Staying Cool
Throughout the past three decades, nearly 9,000 Americans have suffered heat-related deaths and the number of deaths per year continues to rise. In 1995 there were 465 heat-related deaths compared to an average of 617 deaths a year between 1999 and 2010. In an effort to increase heat safety awareness, the CDC’s Climate Change and Extreme Heat Events provides guidance on how to communicate on extreme heat events. The guide outlines several best practices such as designating public cooling centers, creating clear criteria that define extreme heat events, and developing cancellation policies for outdoor events. Communicating these helpful tips and resources enables community members, especially vulnerable populations, to keep themselves safe during extreme heat.

  • Local Health Departments in Action: The CDC highlights the Kansas City Health Department in particular as a leader in addressing extreme heat in their community. In line with CDC’s recommendations, Kansas City coordinates heat-related messaging, communicates information on health impacts of extreme heat, and assists the National Weather Service in determining when to issue extreme heat notifications. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Excessive Heat Events Guidebook offers similar guidance, with case studies from Philadelphia, Toronto, and Phoenix.

Avoiding Bites
Tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease are an equally important concern in the summer months. The highest number of Lyme cases occurs between May and August, and the CDC reported over 20,000 cases in 2014. TickNET, CDC’s collaborative public health network, brings together partners to help state and local health departments engage in tick-borne disease surveillance, conduct studies on under reported tick-borne diseases, and evaluate the effectiveness of protective measures against ticks such as insect repellents and yard-based interventions.

  • Local Health Departments in Action: The Connecticut Department of Health’s How to Establish a Local Health Tick-borne Diseases Community Intervention Program outlines how LHDs can address tick-borne disease in their community through a collaborative, community-driven approach. The program focuses on increasing use of environmental and landscape measures to reduce ticks by residents and commercial lawn care and landscape business; providing information on how residents can prevent Lyme disease and tick-borne illness; and improving tick-control programs for recreational municipal properties.

As carriers of the West Nile virus, and more recently the Zika virus, mosquitoes are another disease vector of concern in the United States. Most West Nile Cases occur between June and September and 2,000 instances were reported in 2015. NACCHO has two policy statements on preventing mosquito and tick-borne diseases, both of which recommend developing policies that address climate change since it plays a role in the prevalence of vector-borne diseases.

  • NACCHO’s policy statement on surveillance and research on vector-borne disease provides examples of how LHDs can prevent, monitor, and control vector-borne diseases. Along with recommendations on training for LHDs on investigating outbreaks and collecting samples, the policy statement also indicates that expanding laboratory capacity to identify vector-borne pathogens, creating disease control plans to reduce outbreaks, and collaborating with multiple agencies are all critical in reducing vector-borne diseases.
  • NACCHO’s policy statement on mosquito control offers additional recommendations, including developing policies that address social injustice, addressing consumers’ behavior and practices related to mosquitoes, and supporting mosquito management programs.

Preparing for Zika
In terms of vector-borne diseases, the Zika virus is an emerging concern for all health departments. Also spread to humans by mosquitoes, primarily the Aedes species, the virus can cause birth defects and other serious health issues. Currently there are 618 travel-associated cases of Zika in the United States, as well as nearly 200 pregnant women exhibiting symptoms of possible Zika infection. The CDC’s Zika Planning Communication Guide for States outlines key messages health departments can use to effectively communicate with their community including fact sheets, infographics, and a risk communication framework. NACCHO also recently covered mapping out a plan for Zika surveillance and maintains a running list of resources on what local health departments should know about Zika.

  • Local Health Departments in Action: Currently monitoring 20 cases of individuals with Zika, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has a plan in place to reduce further infections. The department released a variety of useful resources featured on their Zika dedicated webpage, including the Virginia State Zika Response Plan, a Zika Fact Sheet, information on the Zika Virus and Pregnancy, and more. Also found on this website is their Zika Social Media Toolkit, including sample posts for Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as free shareable graphics. Additionally, the VDH is providing seminars and workshops to local governments, and actively using their social media profiles (@VDHgov and @VirginiaDepartmentofHealth) to inform community members and organization about the Virus and how to mitigate its risks.

For more information on how to stay safe this summer, visit the CDC’s pages on Camping Health and Safety Tips and Make Summer Safe for Kids.

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