Health director briefs Danville Rotary on vaccinations, syringe exchange

Published 6:54 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2019


Danville Rotary

The Mission of the Boyle County Health Department is to work with community support to ensure the health and wellbeing its citizens. Brent Blevins is the director of the county’s public health department.  On Feb.15, he updated Rotary on his department’s activities, with emphasis on our personal health care responsibilities. 

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Blevins began by stating emphatically that everyone needed to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A. The vaccine is effective for at least 25 years in adults and at least 14 to 20 years in children. Two doses of the vaccine are needed for lasting protection and should be given at least six months apart. It’s one of the most preventable diseases, and if you are not vaccinated, you can pick up Hep A at any restaurant by just touching something that is contaminated.

In 2018, 80,000 people died from the flu in the U.S., and an estimated 48.8 million were made sick. Right now in the state of Kentucky, flu is at its worst. “This morning, our records showed about 50 cases, but that only covers official flu test results. The actual cases of flu are probably several hundred.” Unfortunately less than 40 percent of the population are usually vaccinated.

Brent Blevins, left, answers Fred Dearborn’s question during Friday’s Danville Rotary meeting. Photo by Dave Fairchild.

In his 2018 presentation, Blevins introduced Rotary to the syringe exchange program. Since then, that program has given out over 16,000 clean syringes and taken in over 8,000 dirty ones. Today, there are over 104 people using the program, which has resulted in over 600 visits to the health department.  “Kathy Miles worked on me for a year to get this program started. We’re definitely getting dirty needles off the street, which from a public health perspective is huge!” 

New in 2019 is a mobile syringe exchange program.  As a part of a grant obtained through Jessamine County’s efforts, a van will travel out of community centers to make exchanges available to people who will not come to the health department. “I have no clue if this is going to work in Boyle County, but we have to try. It’s probably more suited to larger metropolitan areas where there is less risk of participants being identified.” 

Blevins also focused on some facts about Kentucky’s public health ranking against U.S. averages. The percent of Kentuckians who are smoking is 26 percent, versus less than 18 percent nationwide. The heart disease death rate is 200 in Kentucky, versus 163.5 for the United States (out of every 100,000 in population). Drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people are 33.5 in Kentucky, versus 19.8 in the nation. “The public health service cannot fix these problems, but we can try to motivate individuals to take personal responsibility to improve our healthy living habits.”

He suggested starting by becoming familiar with a few common measures of health, like body mass index (BMI), recommended cholesterol levels, blood sugar ranges and healthy blood pressures, to get an idea of your overall health.

If you aren’t familiar with your recommended BMI, here is some help. If you are 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weigh 144 pounds, your BMI is 24 and you are at the limit of the healthy weight range. At 174 pounds, your BMI is 29 and you’re at the limit of the “overweight range.” If you weigh 180 or more you are “obese.” For someone 6 feet tall, the corresponding weight limits are 177, 213, and 221 pounds for “healthy”, “overweight” and “obese” ranges.

We can’t avoid some health issues, like cancer or heart disease, but we have some control of our general health.  Blevins’ recommends at least getting your basic BMI, blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked annually.  If needed, you should seek medical advice regarding the best corrective action, and follow through with that advice.

He finished his presentation by asking, “How many of you are familiar with 72-hour kits?” Then he explained that at the state and national levels, we should not expect personal access to service providers for the first 72 hours after an emergency. He suggested that we purchase (or create your own) “ready kit.” Ready kits should be kept in a backpack that is kept in your car trunk or in your home. The ready kit should contain an emergency blanket, a flashlight, some non-perishable food rations and lots of bottled water. With this advanced preparation, individuals can get by without help for at least 72 hours.