Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Winter Safety Tips

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “The winter season can present special challenges for your family’s health and safety, including fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, motor vehicle injuries and more.” The Amherst Health Department encourages residents to review a Winter Safety Tips list to help remind you of precautions that should be taken while experiencing a New England winter.

Winter Safety Tips
the batteries of your household smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Never use a gas range or oven to heat your living environment.
Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home.
Clear snow from exhaust vents of household dryers and Direct Vent Gas Furnace Systems.
Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space. If your vehicle is outside, clear the snow away from the exhaust pipe before running the engine.
Protect yourself by dressing appropriately: multiple light layers, hat and mittens, water resistant boots and outer layer.
Be careful of over-exertion and muscle strain when shoveling snow.
Be aware of safe, winter driving tips, and prepare a winter emergency supply kit to keep in your vehicle.

Additional Winter Safety Tips and Information
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention
Tips to Ensure Safe Winter Driving
Winter Fire Prevention Facts

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Proper Disposal of Expired Medications

Disposal of unused or expired medication is a problematic issue in many communities. Medications disposed of in the toilet enter the waste-water stream and can contaminate local water supplies. With the help of Susan Waite from the Amherst, DPW, we offer a list of "best practices" for medication disposal. If you have further questions, please call the Amherst DPW (259-3049) or Health Department (259-3077) for further assistance.

Best Practice: hazardous waste incineration

Option 1: Bring medications to an unwanted medicine collection event

The best option for unwanted medicine disposal is incineration. Unfortunately organizing a medicine collection event is expensive and complicated because the police and a pharmacist must be present. A few communities in the region have the funding to support such collections and may be willing to take material from Amherst. Call the Recycling Coordinator at 259-3049 to see if there is a collection opportunity in the near future.

Option 2: Bring medications to your pharmacy or physician

Some pharmacies and medical practice may or may not accept unwanted medicine for disposal, but it is always worth asking.

Option 3: Not best practice, but 10X better than drain or toilet disposal:

Carefully prepare the medicine for disposal in your regular household trash (which typically is sent to a landfill). Here is the recommended process:

1. Keep material in it's original container. Labels may contain safety info and caps are usually childproof, but scratch out identifying information about the patient.

2. Modify the contents to discourage consumption. Add a small amount of water to pills or capsules. To liquid medications, add table salt, flour, kitty litter, charcoal, or powdered spice like turmeric or mustard.

3. Seal & conceal. Close the container and seal with packing or duct tape and put it inside a non-transparent bag or container such as an empty yogurt or margarine container to ensure contents cannot be seen. If you use a recyclable container seal it with packing or duct tape and write “Do not open, Do not recycle” on the container.

4. Discard in your household garbage. Do not place in recycling bin. Do not conceal medicines in food products because they could be inadvertently consumed by wildlife scavengers.

Compiled from information from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, AARP, and the MA Dept of Environmental Protection.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

School Supplies Pose Toxic Threat to Children’s Health

New Guide to Help Parents Make Safer Choices for Back-to-School Shopping

Boston, MA – Massachusetts health advocates applaud the new Back to School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies from the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ).

The new guide gives parents specific recommendations for buying safer, PVC-free school supplies in over 20 product categories.

Just in time for back-to-school shopping, parents across the Commonwealth are stocking up on binders and lunchboxes. But while it’s easy to know the healthiest foods to pack in those lunchboxes, many parents are not aware of the toxic plastic used to make them. In fact, the average child’s character-themed backpack is filled with supplies and materials made from one of the most toxic plastics, polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl).

“Numerous studies have found that young children are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of chemicals released by PVC. Last year, the government banned phthalates commonly used in PVC from children’s toys. These known hazardous chemicals were banned from our children’s toys, but can still be found in school supplies marketed directly for young children,” said Elizabeth Saunders of Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, a broad coalition in Massachusetts working to pass laws and policies that prevent harm to our health from toxic chemicals. “Parents can easily protect their children by shopping PVC-free. There are many safer PVC-free products available and even being sold alongside the toxic PVC items at your local retailer. Read the labels, and give your child a healthy start to the new school year.”

“Shopping shouldn’t be a game of roulette, but too often it’s impossible to know what chemicals are in products we buy for our children,” said Representative Jay Kaufman of Lexington, a leading proponent of legislation mandating that safer alternatives to toxics be used in manufacturing. “This guide will give parents the power to make smarter decisions.”

Although this toxic plastic is found in many name-brand products, parents can find safer PVC-free products. CHEJ is releasing the expanded 2nd Annual Edition of their popular Back to School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies to help parents make informed shopping choices. Over twenty categories of school supplies, from backpacks to art supplies, are covered in the guide. As a companion piece to the full guide, a pocket guide with top-tips and at-a-glance advice is also available. A few of the top tips for avoiding toxic PVC school supplies are:

1. Avoid backpacks with shiny plastic designs as they often contain PVC and may contain lead.

2. Use cloth lunchboxes or metal lunchboxes. Many lunchboxes are made of PVC, or coated with PVC on the inside.

3. Used cardboard, fabric-covered, or polypropylene binders. Most 3-ring binders are made of PVC.

“This guide gives parents and teachers the guidance they need in a format that is easy to use and understand,” said Ellie Goldberg, Newton, Vice President of Legislation for the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association (PTA). “But parents want to know: Why are we allowing companies to sell toxic school supplies such as lunch boxes, backpacks and binders at all? We need legislation that puts children’s health and safety first, that requires companies to make safe products and to eliminate hazards from our homes and schools.”

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is unique among plastics because it contains dangerous chemical additives used to soften or stabilize it. These harmful chemicals include phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins, which can be toxic to a child’s health. Over 90% of all phthalates are used in PVC products such as school supplies. Federal law has banned the use of phthalates in children’s toys, but not children’s school supplies and other PVC products found in schools. Lunchboxes, binders, vinyl backpacks, and even art supplies are frequently made out of PVC.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful health effects of toxic chemicals used in PVC. Recent studies have linked PVC flooring in the home to increased rates of autism and asthma in children. Chemicals that evaporate or leech out of PVC products may contribute to developmental disorders and damage to the liver, central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems.

For a copy of the PVC-Free Back-to-School Guide, visit, or click here.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Public Health Emergency in Northwestern Montana

This article was recently submitted to the Amherst Health Department as a public service, and we are reproducing it here for our readers' edification and education.


The small mountain town of Libby, Montana was the world’s main supplier of vermiculite for about 70 years. Vermiculite is an ore that is mined for use in products like insulation, potting soil and packing material. The town of Libby was an ideal place for mining as it is home to the largest natural deposit of vermiculite in the world. Little did the residents of Libby know that the hazy smoke they had become so accustomed to seeing all over town was contaminated with toxic tremolite asbestos.

Exposure to tremolite asbestos has been identified as the main cause of a rare and deadly form of cancer known as malignant mesothelioma. This type of cancer is particularly difficult to treat because it has a latency period of about 20 to 50 years. By the time noticeable symptoms begin showing and a mesothelioma diagnosis is made, it is typically in advanced stages and treatment options are limited.

The mine was officially closed in 1990, but an increasing rate of asbestos-related illnesses in the town prompted an investigation by the EPA that began in 1999. However, it wasn’t until this year that an official public health emergency was declared in Libby and the neighboring town of Troy. Before she took office, new EPA administrator Lisa Jackson promised she would look into the situation in Libby if she was appointed.

“This is a tragic public health situation that has not received the recognition it deserves by the federal government for far too long. We’re making a long-delayed commitment to the people of Libby and Troy. Based on a rigorous re-evaluation of the situation on the ground, we will continue to move aggressively on the cleanup efforts and protect the health of the people,” said Jackson.

The government will spend more than $130 million on asbestos cleanup efforts and improve the health care system for those with asbestos-related illnesses. Approximately $125 million will come from the EPA over the next five years to clean up both Libby and Troy, a nearby town of about 1,000 people. An additional $6 million will be spent by the Health and Human Services Department (HSS) on medical assistance.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Salmonella and Salmonellosis

Salmonellosis, or salmonella, is one of the most common foodborne diseases. Overall, salmonella infections are decreasing in the United States, but some types are still increasing.

Salmonella may occur in small, contained outbreaks in the general population or in large outbreaks in hospitals, restaurants, or institutions housing children or the elderly. While the disease is found worldwide, health experts most often report cases in North America and Europe. Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) receives reports of 40,000 cases of salmonellosis in the United States.

Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis. The elderly, infants, and those with compromised immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness. People with AIDS are particularly vulnerable to salmonellosis, often suffering from recurring episodes.

Many types of Salmonella bacteria cause salmonellosis in animals and people. While the occurrence of different types of Salmonella varies from country to country, S. typhimurium and S. enteritidis are the two most commonly found in the United States.

An antibiotic-resistant strain of S. typhimurium, called Definitive Type 104 (DT104), was first found in the United Kingdom and then in the United States. It is the second most common strain (after S. enteritidis) of Salmonella found in humans. This strain poses a major threat because it is resistant to several antibiotics normally used to treat people with salmonella disease.

Salmonella bacteria can be found in food products such as raw poultry, eggs, and beef, and sometimes on unwashed fruit. Food prepared on surfaces that previously were in contact with raw meat or meat products can, in turn, become contaminated with the bacteria. This is called cross-contamination.

In recent years, Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of several cases of salmonella from eating raw alfalfa sprouts grown in contaminated soil. You also can get salmonella after handling pets, particularly reptiles like snakes, turtles, and lizards.

Salmonella can become a chronic infection even if you do not have symptoms. In addition, though you may have no symptoms, you can spread the disease by not washing your hands before preparing food for others. In fact, if you know you have salmonella, health care experts recommend you do not prepare food or pour water for others until laboratory tests show you no longer carry Salmonella bacteria.

The following symptoms usually begin from 12 hours to 3 days after you are infected.
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Headache
These symptoms, along with possible nausea, loss of appetite, and vomiting, usually last for 4 to 7 days. Symptoms are most severe in the elderly, infants, and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or HIV infection.

Your health care provider can use laboratory tests to identify Salmonella in your stool if you are infected.

If you are like most people with salmonella, the disease will clear up within 5 to 7 days and you won’t need to be treated. If you have severe diarrhea, however, you may need intravenous fluids. If the disease spreads from your intestines into your bloodstream, your health care provider can treat it with antibiotics such as ampicillin.


  • Don’t drink milk that is unpasteurized.
  • Don’t eat foods containing raw eggs, such as homemade caesar salad dressing, cookie dough, and hollandaise sauce, or drink homemade eggnog made with raw eggs.
  • Handle raw eggs carefully.
  • Keep eggs refrigerated.
  • Throw away cracked or dirty eggs.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly.
  • Cook poultry products to an internal temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit for breast meat and 180 degrees Fahrenheit for thigh meat.
  • Wash thoroughly with soap and hot water all food preparation surfaces and utensils that have come in contact with raw poultry or raw eggs.
  • Wash hands immediately after handling raw poultry or raw eggs.
  • Wash hands immediately after handling reptiles or having contact with pet feces.
Reiter’s Syndrome
While most people recover successfully from salmonella, a few may develop a chronic condition called Reiter’s syndrome. This syndrome can last for months or years and can lead to arthritis. Its symptoms are painful joints, irritated eyes, and painful urination. Unless treated properly, Salmonella bacteria can escape from the intestine and spread by blood to other organs, sometimes leading to death.

Typhoid Fever
S. typhi bacteria can cause typhoid fever, a more serious disease. This disease, which can be fatal if untreated, is not common in the United States. Typhoid fever frequently occurs in developing countries, when people become infected from contaminated water. It’s also a risk in areas where flooding or earthquakes cause sewer systems to overflow.

Appropriate antibiotics usually are effective for treating typhoid fever, although the number of cases of antibiotic-resistant S. typhi are increasing in some parts of the world.


This article is in the public domain and was reproduced from the website of the National Institutes of Health. The original article can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

NIAID Set to Launch Clinical Trials to Test 2009 H1N1 Influenza Vaccine Candidates

Scientists in a network of medical research institutions across the United States are set to begin a series of clinical trials to gather critical data about influenza vaccines, including two candidate H1N1 flu vaccines. The research will be under the direction of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.

"With the emergence of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, we have undertaken a collaborative and efficient process of vaccine development that is proceeding in stepwise fashion," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.

After the isolation and characterization of the virus, the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention generated and distributed a 2009 H1N1 seed virus to vaccine manufacturers for the development of vaccine pilot lots for testing in clinical trials.

"Now, NIAID will use our longstanding vaccine clinical trials infrastructure — the Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units — to help quickly evaluate these pilot lots to determine whether the vaccines are safe and to assess their ability to induce protective immune responses," says Dr. Fauci. "These data will be factored into the decision about how and if to implement a 2009 H1N1 flu immunization program this fall."

Initial studies will look at whether one or two 15 microgram doses of H1N1 vaccine are needed to induce a potentially protective immune response in healthy adult volunteers (aged 18 to 64 years old) and elderly people (aged 65 and older). Researchers also will assess whether one or two 30 microgram doses are needed. The doses will be given 21 days apart, testing two manufacturers’ vaccines (Sanofi Pasteur and CSL Biotherapies). If early information from those trials indicates that these vaccines are safe, similar trials in healthy children (aged 6 months to 17 years old) will begin.

A concurrent set of trials will look at the safety and immune response in healthy adult and elderly volunteers who are given the seasonal flu vaccine along with a 15 microgram dose of 2009 H1N1 vaccine. The H1N1 vaccine would be given to different sets of volunteers either before, after, or at the same time as the seasonal flu vaccine. If early information from those studies indicates that these vaccines are safe, similar trials in healthy children (aged 6 months to 17 years old) will start.

A panel of outside experts will conduct a close review of the safety data from these trials to spot any safety concerns in real time. Information from these studies in healthy people will help public health officials develop recommendations for immunization schedules, including the optimal dosage and number of doses for multiple age and groups, including adults, the elderly, and children. Data may also be used to support decisions about the best recommendations for people in high risk groups, including pregnant women and people whose immune systems are weakened or otherwise compromised.

The trials are being conducted in a compressed timeframe in a race against the possible autumn resurgence of 2009 H1N1 flu infections that may occur at the same time as seasonal influenza virus strains begin to circulate widely in the Northern Hemisphere.

Close collaboration among NIAID, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (a component of the Department of Health and Human Services) was key to launching the trials quickly while ensuring high standards. Following initial discussions between the agencies on trial design, NIAID prepared the protocols and submitted them to the FDA for review. FDA rapidly completed the necessary reviews and approved the trial protocols.

Since 1962, NIAID’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units (VTEUs) have been intensively involved in the successful development and clinical testing of vaccines and treatments against many pathogens that threaten the health of people in the United States and around the world. Among the vaccines tested have been those that prevent seasonal influenza, H5N1 avian influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia.

The VTEU network consists of eight university research hospitals and medical organizations across the United States that provide a ready resource for conducting clinical trials that evaluate vaccines and treatments for a wide array of infectious diseases.

An important strength of the VTEUs is their ability to rapidly enroll large numbers of volunteers into trials and to immunize the volunteers in a safe, effective and efficient manner. This rapid-response capability is especially important for testing vaccines designed to counteract emerging public health concerns. Results are expected to be available weeks after the trials begin.


For more information on H1N1 situation, please visit

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

FDA Approves Vaccine for 2009-2010 Seasonal Influenza

For immediate release: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced that it has approved a vaccine for 2009-2010 seasonal influenza in the United States.

The seasonal influenza vaccine will not protect against the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus that resulted in the declaration of a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on June 11, 2009. The FDA continues to work with manufacturers, international partners and other government agencies to facilitate the availability of a safe and effective vaccine against the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus.

Although this year’s seasonal vaccine is directed against other strains of influenza expected to be circulating and will not provide protection against the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, it is still important for those Americans for whom it is recommended to receive the seasonal influenza vaccine. No vaccine is 100 percent effective against preventing disease, but vaccination is the best protection against influenza and can prevent many illnesses and deaths.

“The approval of this year’s seasonal influenza vaccine is an example of the FDA’s important responsibility to assure timely availability of vaccine to help protect the health of the American public,” said Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., commissioner of food and drugs. “A new seasonal influenza vaccine each year is a critical tool in protecting public health.”

The six vaccine brand names and manufacturers are: Afluria, CSL Limited; Fluarix, GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals; FluLaval, ID Biomedical Corporation; Fluvirin, Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Limited; Fluzone, Sanofi Pasteur Inc.; and FluMist, MedImmune Vaccines Inc.
Each year, experts from the FDA, WHO, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other institutions study virus samples and patterns collected from around the world in an effort to identify strains that may cause the most illness in the upcoming season.

Based on those forecasts and on the recommendations of the FDA’s Vaccine and Related Products Advisory Committee, the FDA determines the three strains that manufacturers should include in their vaccines for the U.S. population. The closer the match between the circulating strains and the strains in the vaccine, the better the protection against the disease.

The vaccine for the 2009-2010 seasonal influenza contains:

  • an A/Brisbane/59/2007 (H1N1)-like virus
  • an A/Brisbane/10/2007 (H3N2)-like virus
  • a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus
There is always a possibility of a less than optimal match between the virus strains predicted to circulate and the virus strains that end up causing the most illness. Even if the vaccine and the circulating strains are not an exact match, the vaccine may reduce the severity of the illness or may help prevent influenza-related complications.

According to the CDC, between 5 percent and 20 percent of the U.S. population develops influenza each year. More than 200,000 are hospitalized from its complications and about 36,000 people die. Older people, young children, and people with chronic medical conditions are at higher risk for influenza-related complications. Vaccination of these groups is critical.

Additionally, influenza immunization of health care personnel is important in protecting them and others from influenza.

For more information:

FDA Web Page on Influenza Vaccine Safety & Availability

FDA List of Strains Included in the 2009-2010 Influenza Vaccine

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web Page on Seasonal Influenza Resources for Health Professionals

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web Page with Key Fact About Seasonal Flu Vaccine