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Dept of Health Warns Public About Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever & Colorado Tick Fever

in News/Health care
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

After a more than a year of doing everything we could to protect ourselves against microscopic bugs, as summer rolls around, we need to start watching out for actual insects.

It is well known that ticks, mosquitoes and other insects common to Wyoming often carry diseases that are a threat to both people and animals in the summer.

But according to Kim Deti with the Wyoming State Health Department, one of the most common diseases associated with ticks, Lyme disease, isn’t too much of a threat here.

“You’ll hear a lot nationally about Lyme disease,” she says, “but we do not have the kind of ticks in Wyoming that carry Lyme disease.”

But Deti noted that other tick-borne illnesses are definitely something to watch for, such as tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) and Colorado tick fever (CTF). 

Tularemia symptoms include fever, swollen and painful lymph glands, inflamed eyes, sore throat, mouth sores, skin ulcers and diarrhea. 

If the bacteria are inhaled, symptoms can include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough and progressive weakness and pneumonia. 

Initial RMSF symptoms may include fever, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, lack of appetite and severe headache. Later signs and symptoms may include rash, abdominal pain, joint pain and diarrhea. 

And CTF usually causes fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and, occasionally, a rash.

But it’s not just tick bites that can spread those dangerous diseases.

“If a person handles an animal that’s infected with tularemia, like a rabbit or rodents, that can be a risk for the person for those tick-borne diseases,” Deti said.

One illness that made headlines for years has been on the decline in Wyoming recently, according to Deti.

“West Nile Virus has certainly been at a much lower level in Wyoming for the last several years,” she said, “but we do want people to prevent those mosquito bites.”

West Nile virus (WNV) is spread by mosquitoes when they feed on infected birds and then bite people, animals or other birds.

While most people infected with WNV don’t have symptoms, others can experience fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph nodes. 

A very small number develop West Nile neuroinvasive disease, with symptoms such as severe headache, fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions and paralysis.

But humans aren’t the only creatures who face danger from tiny threats. 

Jim Logan, the Wyoming State Veterinarian, said there are a number of insects that can transmit diseases to livestock and pets.

“In addition to mosquitoes and ticks, and certainly those are a big factor in disease transmission, there are also the deer flies and horse flies,” he said. “Those types of things can carry such diseases as vesicular stomatitis, which I hope we don’t see this year — but we’re entering the season when typically that is going to be a possibility.”

Logan says that particular disease is very similar to foot and mouth disease, which impacts the ability for animals to eat, walk or reproduce. 

“It’s indistinguishable from Foot and Mouth Disease, which always scares the state veterinarian because of the risks of the disease getting into this country and the effect that would have on the economy,” he points out. “And there is no vaccine for vesicular stomatitis.”

Logan added that Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, blue tongue and other diseases carried by tiny midges and other insects are a real danger to Wyoming livestock. 

“Insect control is really the major prevention,” he explained. “There are sprays, insecticides and repellants, but repellants need to be applied once or twice a day in order to be effective.”

Logan noted that while vaccines exist for mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile and Western Equine Encephalitis, the best defense is to reduce the risk of infection through prevention.

The same advice given by the Health Department to help humans keep safe from insect-borne illnesses can be followed to protect animals as well, Logan said.

The five “D’s” of insect prevention, for both people and animals, are:

1) DAWN and 2) DUSK – Mosquitos prefer to feed at dawn or dusk, so avoid spending time outside during these times.

3) DRESS – Wear shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt outdoors. Clothing should be light-colored and made of tightly woven materials.

4) DRAIN – Mosquitos breed in shallow, stagnant water. Reduce the amount of standing water by draining and/or removing.

5) DEET – Use an insect repellent containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide). When using DEET, be sure to read and follow label instructions. Picaridin (KBR 3023) or oil of lemon eucalyptus can also be effective.

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Niobrara County Tops in Wyoming For Smokers; Double National Average

in News/Health care
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The percentage of smokers in Wyoming’s smallest county is almost twice the state average and is more than double the national average, according to a state report.

The report “Wyoming and County Profiles,” prepared by the state’s Economic Analysis Division by compiling results of various state studies, found that 34.1% of Niobrara’s 2,422 residents reported that they had smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetimes and were currently smoking.

The percentage is the highest in the state and is far above Wyoming’s average of 18.4% residents who identify themselves as smokers.

However, Kim Deti, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said the figure may be skewed by Niobrara County’s low population.

“I wouldn’t be surprised that Niobrara County numbers are affected by their low population and likely low number of participants in the survey that was the source of that information,” she told Cowboy State Daily.

Wyoming itself ranks 14th in the nation for the percentage of its population that smokes, according to the United Health Foundation.

The percentage of people nationally who identify themselves as smokers is 14%.

Deti said while it may be difficult to say with certainty why Wyoming has a percentage of smokers, several factors may be playing into the number.

“Potential factors include social and cultural attitudes and low perception of harm, low tobacco taxes and no statewide smoke-free policies,” she said. “Some of these factors have been linked to lower smoking rates in other states.”

Following Niobrara County for the highest percentage of smokers, according to the report, is Hot Springs County at 24.5% and Weston County at 24.3%.

At the other end of the spectrum is Teton County at 10.1%.

However, Jodie Pond, Teton County’s health director, said the county has a high percentage of people who use “vapes” rather than cigarettes.

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Bill Giving Elected Officials Control Over Wyoming Health Orders Wins First House Nod

in News/Legislature
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would put elected officials in charge of public health orders that restrict the activities of healthy people won initial approval from Wyoming’s House on Monday.

House Bill 127 was drafted to give someone accountable to the state’s residents authority over how healthy people are treated when statewide orders are issued to prevent the spread of disease, said House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, the bill’s primary sponsor.

“We’re trying to keep people healthy and alive,” Barlow told the House. “If we start limiting healthy people’s activities, that’s where it becomes a little different, in my mind.”

During the year-long coronavirus pandemic, state Public Health Officer Alexia Harrist and Gov. Mark Gordon signed public health orders closing and restricting businesses and limiting public gatherings to slow the spread of the illness.

Under Barlow’s bill, the state public health officers and county health officers could continue to issue orders addressing the actions of people who are ill, such as quarantine orders.

Health officers could also issue orders limiting the activities of people who are not sick, but those orders would only be in effect for 10 days. After 10 days, local and state governing officials, such as county commissioners and the governor, would be responsible for approving any extensions of the orders.

Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne, a co-sponsor of the measure, said the bill would make elected officials responsible for actions affecting people who are not sick.

“One of the requests of the people was to have someone who was an elected person be ultimately responsible,” she said.

Rep. Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle, said such an arrangement could prevent unnecessary economic disruptions in the future.

“The way we currently address these problems has got to change,” he said. “The economic impact we have seen to our state and country over the past year based on the actions taken to address the problem have been astronomical, incalculable. Taking these steps is a huge step in the right direction to the elected officials and to common sense and sanity.”

The bill is one of several introduced during the Legislature’s session to limit the authority of public health officers to restrict businesses and actions in the wake of the business shutdowns prompted by the coronavirus.

The bill now moves to a second reading in the Senate. 

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Health officials: Vaping no safe alternative to smoking

in News/Health care
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By Cowboy State Daily

As the number of people with reported respiratory ailments linked to vaping rises, Wyoming’s health officials are warning residents that vaping is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.

“Vaping is not safe for adolescents, for young adults, for pregnant women or for anybody who is not a current smoker,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer and epidemiologist.

National reports indicate more than 1,100 people are suffering from lung illnesses related to vaping, with 23 deaths reported. In Wyoming, Harrist said two cases of vaping-related illnesses have been reported.

Officials are unsure what is causing people to become sick, Harrist said.

“What we’re seeing now is an outbreak of severe pulmonary disease related to vaping,” she said. “And we’re still trying to figure out what the specific substance or device is that is causing this illness.”

Most of the people reporting the illness appear to be young adults, Harrist said.

“This certainly does seem to be something new and something different,” she said. “Because these are young, healthy people being admitted to the hospital with respiratory problems and sometimes even respiratory failure.”

Cheyenne resident Kathleen Jaure said she began vaping last year to stop smoking cigarettes. She theorized that the rise in lung ailments may be related to the rise in use of the electronic smoking devices.

“Maybe the potency is going up, that makes it more problematic,” she said. “Also, more people are doing it and so you’re going to see problems. And usually with something, it doesn’t happen overnight that there’s a problem. So I think as it goes on, then we’re starting to recognize the effects of vaping.”

Health officials report that lung ailments related to vaping display symptoms similar to those seen with the flu or pneumonia.

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