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Wyoming Department of Health

Vomiting, Diarrhea (And Both Concurrently) Increasing In Wyoming; Caution Urged

in News/Health care
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By staff reports

If you are experiencing bouts of vomiting and diarrhea (or both concurrently), you aren’t alone. Stomach-related illnesses are on the increase in Wyoming, the Department of Health announced on Friday.

The Wyoming Department of Health put out a notice on Friday letting citizens know of the uptick but had no explanation for it.

The department did note that areas in the northern part of the state, including the town of Sheridan and Park County, and the southern part of the state including Laramie County, seemed to be hit the hardest.

If there’s any good news, there’s no mask mandate that comes with it, the words “explosive” or “projectile” are not included in the notice, and it’s relatively easy to prevent by the washing of hands.

But the department is recommending not attending graduation parties or weddings while vomiting or experiencing diarrhea.

In fact, if vomiting or experiencing diarrhea — or both for that matter concurrently — one should wait 48 hours before attending events.

That’s because it’s so easy to spread.

“We’re usually talking about extremely tiny amounts of poop or vomit we can’t see,” Department of Health surveillance epidemiologist Matt Peterson said.

Although it may be difficult to cancel a wedding or graduation ceremonies, it should be attempted rather than attending either and vomiting on other patrons — or worse.

The best way not to spread it or get sick yourself to wash your hands.

“Gastroenteritis illnesses can be prevented,” Peterson said. “It sounds too simple, but, truly, good hand washing is critical.”

However, if exposed it can take between 12 to 48 hours before experiencing sickness. Hopefully symptoms will alleviate quickly but vomiting and diarrhea — or both — could last for up to10 days.

Commonly described as “stomach flu” or “food poisoning,” gastroenteritis can spread easily when people eat or drink contaminated food and beverages, touch contaminated surfaces or through close contact with someone already sick.

 Recommended steps to help prevent illness include:

·         Frequently wash hands, especially after using the restroom or changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.

·         If ill, stay home from work and school, especially if employed in food-handling, healthcare or child care.

·         Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of vomiting or diarrhea with a solution of 1 cup household bleach per 1 gallon of water and letting the solution sit for one minute.  Always follow manufacturers’ safety precautions.

·         Immediately remove and wash contaminated clothing or linens after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap).

·         Flush or discard any vomit and/or poop in the toilet and keep the surrounding area clean.

·         Ill persons should take extra care to avoid spreading the virus by minimizing contact with other persons while ill and practicing good hygiene.

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Delta Variant Detected In Wyoming, ‘Of Concern’ To Wyoming Health Department

in News/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A more contagious variant of the coronavirus has been detected in Wyoming, the Wyoming Department of Health confirmed to Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.

According to National Public Radio, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said 20.6% of new cases in the U.S. are due to the new “Delta” variant. Other scientists tracking the variant say it is on track become the dominant virus variant in the nation.

Currently, Wyoming has detected 40 cases of the Delta variant in the state, 33 of which are in Laramie County.

“We’ve detected the most instances of the Delta variant in Laramie County, but have also seen cases in Albany County, Fremont County, Sweetwater County, and Natrona County,” Dr. Alexia Harrist told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “It is important to remember that not all samples are sequenced, so this is likely an underrepresentation of the number of Delta variant cases in Wyoming (something that is true for all variants).”

She noted that the variant was determined to be a “variant of concern” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because the data indicates it is more easily transmissible than other COVID strains.

The available COVID vaccines have been shown to be effective against the variant.

“The vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness even with variant infections,” Harris said. “The best way for people to protect themselves against infection and illness with this highly transmissible variant is to get vaccinated against COVID-19.”

There is concern across the U.S. that the variant might cause a moderate surge of COVID infections due to the number of people who are not yet vaccinated, according to NPR.

Projections indicate that infections could start to rise again as soon as July, especially if the vaccination campaign continues to stall.

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Wyo Health Department Data Breach Leads to Fraudulent Calls Across State

in News/Crime

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Department of Health is warning residents about fraudulent calls from people taking advantage of the department’s recent data breach in an effort to obtain personal information.

WDH recently announced a mistaken exposure of laboratory test result data involving more than 164,000 Wyoming residents and others including hundreds from Colorado. The incident involved coronavirus and influenza test result data and breath alcohol test result files mistakenly uploaded by an employee to private and public online storage locations on servers belonging to GitHub.com.

Jeri Hendricks, Office of Privacy, Security and Contracts administrator with WDH, said the department is hearing reports of Wyoming residents receiving fraudulent calls from people claiming to represent the department. The callers say they are calling about the breach, but then try to obtain personal information, Hendricks said.

“The callers falsely claim to represent us, say they are calling about the breach and then ask the individuals they’ve reached for insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or other financial information. In some instances, it seems they have been able to make it appear as if the calls are coming from state government phone numbers,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks emphasized the affected files did not contain Social Security numbers, or banking, financial, health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid information, but did include name or patient ID, address, date of birth, test results and dates of service.

“No one representing the department will ask you for insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or personal financial information. No one representing the department will call you about the breach unless they are returning a call you made to us first,” she said.

A special WDH information line dedicated to the breach has been established at 1-833-847-5916. The phone line is available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

WDH has advised Wyoming residents who received coronavirus or influenza tests anywhere in the United States between January 2020 and March 9, 2021 but who have not been alerted by a letter to a possible leak of their personal information to call the information line to learn if their information was involved.

In addition, anyone who received a breath alcohol test performed by law enforcement in Wyoming between April 19, 2012 and Jan. 27 who doesn’t receive a letter should also call.

A year of free IdentityForce protection has been offered by WDH to people affected by the breach. IdentityForce provides advanced credit and dark web monitoring, along with identity theft insurance and medical identity theft coverage. Affected individuals can call the WDH information line at 1(833) 847-5916 for an IdentityForce verification code to allow online enrollment for the service.

Scams related to the health information breach should be reported to the Consumer Protection Unit in the Wyoming Attorney General’s office by calling 307-777-6397, by emailing ag.consumer@wyo.gov or by submitting formal complaints online.

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Wyoming Department Of Health To Offer At-Home Do-It-Yourself COVID Tests

in News/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Department of Health will soon offer free, at-home saliva coronavirus tests, state public health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist announced during a news conference on Monday.

She said that the WDH recently signed a contract that would allow the department to offer the free tests for the general public, as well as permit the department to partner with businesses and organizations to offer workplace saliva tests.

“This unique testing service includes online supervision of the sample collection process,” she said. “It’s a new option that adds to the choices available for testing in Wyoming for our residents.”

Next, Harrist said that the state would receive 170,000 rapid coronavirus tests between now and December as part of the distribution of 150 million tests that will be given out across the country from the federal government.

Harrist didn’t give an exact date on when either the saliva or tests would be available, adding more information would be available soon.

Both Harrist and Gov. Gordon said the rapid growth in cases is putting a strain on the state’s hospitals. As of Monday, 36 coronavirus patients are in Wyoming hospitals, the highest number seen since the illness was first detected in Wyoming in mid-March.

“A big and very real worry is for the hospitals to be pushed beyond their limits,” Harrist said. “It is important to remember that many of Wyoming’s hospitals are small, with a limited number of beds for the most seriously ill patients.”

Harrist noted that no restrictions are in place for most activities in the state, now, but urged residents to take the proper precautions as they engage in activities.

“Everything is open in Wyoming right now,” she said. “There’s nothing you can’t do. The key is to be able to do them safely. Take those relatively simple precautions.”

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Budget Cuts Could Reduce Medicaid Providers, Wyoming Health Department Says

in News/Health care/Economy

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Reductions in the amount of state money paid health care providers through Medicaid made as a way to tackle the state’s budget shortfall could result in providers leaving the program, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

The department, in a report outlining the impacts of its $28 million reduction in benefits it pays for health care for some Wyoming residents, said the reductions will lead to limits on services in some cases.

“In some cases, some Medicaid providers may choose to leave the program entirely, which may create access issues in some more rural or frontier areas of the state,” the department said in a report on its recent budget cuts.

The Health Department was the hardest hit by budget cuts outlined by Gov. Mark Gordon recently to offset a $1.5 billion shortfall in revenues predicted to occur during the current two-year budget period.

Of almost $254.5 million in cuts in spending from the state’s “general fund,” its main bank account, the Department of Health saw the largest reduction, almost $89.1 million.

More than a quarter of that amount, almost $28.2 million, will come from cuts in reimbursements to health care providers from the state.

The cuts would be matched with a $28.2 million reduction in federal funds.

The Department of Health, in its report on the reduction, said the spending cuts would come from a 2.5% decrease in reimbursement rates for health care providers and through service reductions.

The cuts are likely to cause a decline in Medicaid involvement by health care providers, the department said.

“Various second-order effects are likely as well, including Wyoming Medicaid providers limiting services to Medicaid members or in some cases no longer accepting new Medicaid clients,” the report said.

Another spending reduction of almost $3.7 million will be seen in the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program or “CHIP,” a program that provides low-cost health care for eligible children.

The program had been managed by a private company, but the state received no bids to continue the program during the most recent renewal period.

As a result, the program will now be run through the state, with claims processed through the Medicaid Management Information System, the Health Department said, with lower Medicaid reimbursement rates for health care providers.

The change will save the state $3.7 million without reducing benefits to covered individuals, the department said, although some patients may have to find new health care providers.

“A small number of clients may need to change providers if (the Health Department) cannot convince the providers to enroll due to lower rates,” the report said.

Federal funds to the state to help pay for the program will also be reduced by about $6.8 million, the report said.

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Department of Health’s Budget Gets Slashed By $138 Million; Gov Calls it Devastating

in News/Coronavirus

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The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) is describing the agency’s planned budget reductions for the current two-year budget period as difficult and unfortunate.

“We wish we did not have to take these actions,” said Michael Ceballos, WDH director. “It’s tough to announce these budget reductions, but with the obvious decline in state revenues, the need to reduce our budget simply can’t be ignored.”

Wyoming’s governor asked all state agencies to prepare significant budget reductions for the 2021-22 biennium, which began July 1.

“These cuts that we have made are devastating, but necessary given the state’s fiscal picture,” Gordon said in a press conference Wednesday.

The reductions announced by the department represent just over $89 million in general fund dollars for the two-year budget period. The department will also forfeit an estimated $49 million in federal matching funds.

As a result, the total expected budget reduction is approximately $138 million.

However, due to one-time savings identified, the department will be able to take advantage of temporary increases in federal and other funds of approximately $21.5 million for the 2021-2022 biennium, making the realized total cut about $116.5 million during the same period.

The reductions associated with the one-time savings are not intended to continue past the current budget period.

“Many of our programs involve federal matching funds. We are unable to reduce the amount needed in state general fund spending without a corresponding loss of federal matching funds,” Ceballos said. 

The combined reductions represent about 9 percent of the state general funds included in the department’s two-year budget.

A summary of the planned WDH reductions can be found online at https://health.wyo.gov/admin/fiscal/.

“We know these reductions will cause difficulties for many of our current providers and clients. Reductions of this scale can’t be made without significant impacts in communities across the state,” Ceballos said. “It’s especially unfortunate when you realize most of our programs serve Wyoming’s more at risk citizens including our older residents, disabled individuals and those with very low incomes.”

Before making recommendations, WDH leadership carefully evaluated the department’s budget based on several key principles:

·         Avoid across-the-board reductions

·         Minimize impacts on vulnerable populations;

·         Minimize impacts on the behavioral health continuum, including the department’s two safety-net facilities – the Wyoming State Hospital and the Wyoming Life Resource Center

·         Reduce administrative and support service expenditures

·         Explore alternative options for current biennium cost savings

The department’s plan, which has been accepted by the governor, involves a combination of reductions in administrative costs, contracted services, program elimination and program reduction.

The new reductions follow departmental budget reductions made in 2016 of about $143 million (combined state and federal funds).

At the governor’s direction, WDH leadership is also preparing a plan for a potential additional round of budget reductions.

“If it remains necessary to go ahead with this next round of reductions, we will see significant program eliminations and larger changes to existing programs with even greater impact on our partners and those citizens we serve,” Ceballos said.

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Losing coal could cost Wyoming dearly, take decades to recalibrate labor force

in Energy/Jobs/News
coal industry labor force

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s coal market has suffered devastating layoffs and mine closures in recent years, and by all accounts, the industry is shrinking. 

But, what if it dried up overnight? 

“If you were to instantly remove the coal industry, it would immediately cause job losses across the state,” said Robert Godby, the University of Wyoming director for Energy Economics and Public Policies Center and college of business associate professor. “You’re looking at about 5,000 miners directly involved in the coal industry. If you were to lose that all at once, people would feel that.”

It’s not just the miners, either. Godby said a sizable chunk of Wyoming’s labor market is reliant on coal.

“Approximately, there’s about 10,000 jobs directly or indirectly related to the coal industry — mining, electricity generation, railroads, plus all the businesses reliant on those workers’ wages,” he explained. “As coal declines in the state, we’ll have to transition those workers to other industries. And, there will not be enough jobs to absorb those workers.”

The good news, Godby said, is coal won’t disappear that quickly, but it could taper off sooner than Wyoming is prepared for. 

“In 2015, there were almost 5,600 miners in Powder River Basin, now there’s 4,400,” he said. “There are 12 mines up there that produce about 40 percent of the country’s coal. We could be below half of what we were producing in 2009 by the mid-2020s.”

High-paying careers

Data from the Department of Wyoming Workforce Services indicates once these workers lose gainful employment, many leave the state to work in the field elsewhere.

But, across the nation, there are fewer jobs for coal workers and retraining for other careers can mean starting all over.

“Those jobs pay really well,” Godby said. “It’s not only difficult to absorb and replace all those jobs, but you won’t be able to find jobs that pay nearly as well.” 

The average income for a coal industry employee is about $80,000 a year, he said. 

“The people who stay, if those jobs were to disappear, may have to do something else,” Godby said. “Many of those workers may have to accept the fact that unless they go back to school, retrain or re-skill, they won’t find jobs that pay as well.”

When a layoff occurs in any industry, Workforce Services deploys a rapid response team, agency spokesperson Ty Stockton said.

“In Wyoming, we don’t have very many businesses that have 600 employees that could get laid off,” Stockton explained. “We don’t have a real threshold for deploying the team. When Laramie County Community College (LCCC) laid off 17 employees in 2016, they went in for that.”

A team was also sent out in 2016 when about 500 workers were laid off from the North Antelope Rochelle and Black Thunder mines in Campbell County. More recently, Workforce Services deployed a rapid response team to Gillette when Blackjewel, LLC, abruptly laid off about 600 workers at the Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines in Campbell County.

“Rapid response is about giving those folks options and information,” Stockton said. “If they don’t have information, there’s nothing they can do.”

Teams can include mental health counselors, Wyoming Department of Family Services staff to help families, Wyoming Department of Health staff to help with health insurance questions and Workforce Services employees to discuss unemployment options and help laid off workers start the search for their next job, he said.

‘Generation of pain’

But all of those are stop-gap measures designed to lessen the blow to recently out-of-work families. 

In the long term, Workforce Services also provides funding for a number of vocational rehabilitation programs. 

“We’re trying to keep (the workers) here and give them some options,” Stockton said. 

The agency has access to about $2 million for retraining coal workers through the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce Economic Revitalization Grant, aka the POWER Grant.

“The only people eligible for the POWER Grant are the primary industries associated with coal-fired power plants and the coal mines,” Stockton explained. “But we also have the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, and that covers everybody.” 

Additionally, Workforce Services helps fund some apprenticeship programs through grants. 

“Training an apprentice is expensive,” Stockton said. “The apprenticeship program was set up to help offset those costs, so if you need a few apprentices, you can apply for these grants and have their training paid for through the apprenticeship grant.”

About 80 trainees are currently enrolled in apprenticeship programs for electrical, plumbing and heating and cooling careers at LCCC and Northwest College, he said. 

Even with training programs already in place, Godby said recovery from the loss of an industry as big as coal would take years.

“To transition a labor force to work on anything else is going to take about at least about a decade,” he explained. “If we look at other industries like the furniture industry in the Southeast, soft wood lumber in the Pacific Northwest and the industrial decline in the Midwest, those transitions typically take a generation to overcome. That’s a generation — 20 to 30 years — of pain.”

Flu season open in Wyoming — get your shot!

in News/Health care

It’s fall in Wyoming and that means the Wyoming Health Department is issuing its annual reminder to residents to get their flu vaccine to protect themselves against the kind of severe flu season seen last year.

According to the Health Department, 23 people died from the flu during the 2018-19 flu season and hundreds were hospitalized.

Although the department isn’t predicting what kind of flu season may be in store for Wyoming in 2019-2020, it is urging everyone to get vaccinated.

“There are a lot of things about the flu we do know,” said Kim Deti, the department’s spokeswoman. “We know it’s coming every year. We know every year we’re going to see deaths, hospitalizations and illnesses. We want you to get that shot.”

Autumn is the best time of year to get a flu shot, Deti said, because it coincides with the beginning of the typical flu season, which generally runs from October through May.

“We don’t necessarily have a time frame,” she said. “But this is a great time of year to get it. We don’t want people to wait until folks around them are ill. That’s not going to help you very much.”

The vaccine takes about two weeks to become fully effective, Deti said, meaning if someone waits until people around them are ill, they may have waited too long.

“If you wait until people around you are sick, you may still get exposed,” she said.

In addition to preventing the flu, the vaccination can reduce the severity of influenza if someone who has received the shot gets sick anyway, Deti said.

“We’re not going to promise it’s 100 percent ironclad protection,” she said. “But it’s the best weapon we have to fight influenza.”

Being vaccinated also helps prevent the spread of flu to others, she added.

“You might be able to bounce back from the flu, but you don’t want to pass the disease on to someone else who is more vulnerable than you are,” she said. “It’s about protecting other people who have more struggles with the flu.”

The Health Department identifies people who may be particularly susceptible to the flu as young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions such as asthma or diabetes and those over the age of 65.

In addition to getting the vaccine, the Health Department urges people to take precautions against spreading the flu, such as washing their hands often.

“Hand washing is extremely important, particularly with the flu and how it’s spread,” Deti said.

Wyoming Officials Warn of Toxic Algae Bloom Danger to Dogs

in News

State officials are urging pet owners to keep their dogs away from water where a toxic algae may be found.

Harmful Cyanobacteria Blooms or HCBs have been blamed for the deaths of dogs in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina. In each case, the dogs jumped into ponds or lakes containing blooms, also known as “Blue Algae,” and died within hours.

Blue Algae has been spotted in ponds and lakes around Wyoming and officials with the state Department of Health, Department of Environmental Quality and Livestock Board are urging people to stay out of water with the blooms.

The danger the algae poses for dogs is very high, said Dr. Karl Musgrave of the Wyoming Department of Health, and there are no known antidotes.

“The main toxin in this … bacteria produces a nerve toxin that actually paralyzes the lungs, the respiratory system,” he said. “So it acts really fast, within hours, and often there’s not much that can be done. If people do run into that situation, just try to get your pet to the veterinarian as soon as you can.”

The algae blooms typically occur during late summer to early fall and are most often found in still or slow-moving water. The blooms are generally blue or green and may look like grass clippings, scum, floating mats or spilled paint.

People who find themselves near the algae are warned by state officials not to swallow any water from around the bloom. The toxins cannot be removed by boiling, filtration or any other treatment.

Fish caught in the area of blooms should be thoroughly rinsed with clean water before they are eaten and then, only the filet of the fish should be consumed.

Pets or livestock should not be allowed to drink water near a bloom, eat the algae or lick their fur after contact. Any animal or human coming in contact with a bloom should be rinsed as soon as possible with clean water.

Algae blooms seen in Sweetwater County reservoir

The Wyoming Department of Health has issued a recreational use advisory for Eden Reservoir in Sweetwater County due to a harmful bloom of cyanobacteria, commonly known as “Blue-Green Algae”. 

On Aug. 5, the Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN), a division of the Environmental Protection Agency, used satellite imagery to identify the HCB or Harmful Cyanobacterial Bloom, covering portions of the Eden Reservoir north of Farson.  

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality collected water samples on Aug. 8 and found bacteria densities exceeding the recreational use threshold prescribed by Wyoming’s HCB Action Plan.
Eden Reservoir remains open during the recreational advisory, but the DEQ advises members of the public to check for posted warning signs because algae bloom conditions change frequently. Also, visitors are advised to keep pets and children away from affected areas.

For information about health effects and recreational use advisories, contact Dr. Karl Musgrave, State Environmental Health Epidemiologist and Public Health Veterinarian at the Wyoming Department of Health, at karl.musgrave@wyo.gov or (307) 777-5825.

Information on cyanobacteria sampling can be obtained from Michael Thomas, Natural Resource Analyst, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, at michael.thomas@wyo.gov or (307) 777-2073, or by contacting Lindsay Patterson, Surface Water Quality Standards Coordinator, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, at lindsay.patterson@wyo.gov or (307) 777-7079.
More information on HCBs can be found at,
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN)

Wyoming measles-free, but officials urge preventive action

in News/Health care
Wyoming measles-free, but officials urge preventive action

By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily

CHEYENNE – Wyoming has not yet been affected by what has become the largest United States measles outbreak in 25 years. 

But local healthcare officials are echoing federal calls for parents to keep their children current on vaccinations and to trust the experts when they warn how serious – and how contagious – the disease can be.

While still common in the developing world, measles was declared effectively eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. The measles vaccine, licensed just 36 years earlier, was credited with bringing annual U.S. measles diagnoses down from more than 440,000 cases in the early 1960s to just 43 cases in 2007. 

But measles diagnoses have been jumping sharply in recent years, and so far in 2019 more than 700 cases of the disease have been reported in 22 states, with 500 of those cases contracted by unvaccinated patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s an alarming trend that healthcare specialists say is based in part on a long-discredited 1998 British research study that suggested the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was associated with higher rates of autism in patients who received the vaccine in childhood. 

The author was later banned from practicing medicine and the study was ultimately retracted from the prestigious medical journal that originally published it, but decades later, the seeds planted by that erroneous study are still bearing fruit, as this latest outbreak shows.

“I think social media has really aggravated it, and I just don’t think people know how to judge their sources.” said Dr. Robert Prentice, a pediatrician with Cheyenne Children’s Clinic. “There’s misinformation, there’s distrust, and for some people it’s almost like a religion. I think it’s an attempt to gain control over things that can’t be controlled.”

The reality, Prentice said, is that measles should not be dismissed as a harmless childhood disease one can bounce back from easily. The virus can remain contagious in airborne droplets for up to two hours after an infected person sneezes or coughs, and more than 90 percent of unvaccinated people who come into contact with the virus will contract it.

 “If you can prevent something, especially something like measles, which I had as a kid— my wife’s mother had it and thought she was going to die. It was a terrible disease,” Prentice said. “Yeah, most people survived it. But on the other hand lots of people died due to complications or the result of complications.”

He added that, in the past, isolated families were able to get by without vaccinating their children due to “herd immunity” – so many people were already immune to measles that it couldn’t spread to those who are not. But as more parents opt to skip the vaccine, herd immunity starts to break down, which poses problems not just for the unvaccinated children, but also for infants who are too young to safely receive the measles vaccine and adults whose immune systems may be compromised by other conditions.

“We can’t vaccinate children under a year of age; in an epidemic situation we can immunize after six months old, but at that point babies still have maternal blocking antibodies, so they don’t take viral vaccines very efficiently,” Prentice said. “Sometimes if kids are sick enough they have to be admitted to the hospital, and then I have to think about the other children there, the nurses there.”

Laramie County School District No. 1 Head Nurse Janet Farmer said all the district’s students must have documentation showing they’ve received two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine as recommended by the CDC and the Wyoming Department of Health. But there are ways some parents can get around that requirement by obtaining a medical or religious exemption.

She said it’s rare to see parents seeking a medical exemption from the measles vaccine, and even then they’re required to provide documentation explaining their why the exemption is medically necessary. 

“With the religious exemption, they just have to say they have a religious reason they don’t want the vaccine, and they don’t need to elaborate; and we’ve been told we cannot ask what their religion is or why they want it,” Farmer said. “(The exemption) still has to be approved by the Wyoming Department of Health, but they don’t have any recourse to say no.”

While such exemptions are still uncommon, Farmer agreed with Prentice’s impression that anti-vaccine sentiment is growing stronger lately, and the misinformation can be hard to correct.

“I don’t begrudge parents wanting to do what’s best for their child. But a lot of times people will believe what they read and see, and if they feel like the source is credible, they’ll believe it without doing research to see what’s behind that information,” she said. “So it’s hard to backtrack to convince people who’ve made up their minds.”

That said, Farmer noted that if a measles outbreak were to be confirmed within a district school, unvaccinated students would have to be sent home for safety’s sake.

Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti said that while Wyoming remains measles-free for now –the last confirmed case was reported in 2010 – the best way to keep that streak going will be for parents to trust that their pediatrician has their child’s best interest at heart.

“What we want people to do is follow the vaccine schedules as recommended,” Deti said. “That was the reason measles was eliminated before.”

Dangerous flu strain reported in Colorado could spread north

in News/Health care
Health Department warns flu

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A virulent strain of influenza sweeping through Colorado could jump into Wyoming before flu season is finished, a Wyoming Department of Health spokesperson.

While she did not refer specifically to the variation of flu diagnosed in Colorado, Kim Deti, the public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Health, said it is not unusual for different strains of flu to spread.

“Strains move around,” she said. “In flu season, sometimes you will see more than one strain be dominant. That’s not unusual.”

While Influenza A (H1N1) is currently the predominant strain in Wyoming, Influenza A (H3N2), is spreading quickly through Colorado’s population.

“Over the last three weeks, we’ve started to see H3N2 circulating in Colorado,” said Nisha Alden, Colorado Department of Health respiratory disease program manager. “It’s somewhat of a second peak in our flu season. First, we were seeing a lot of H1N1, but in the last two weeks, we’ve seen more H3N2 than H1N1.”

Alden said H3N2 can be resistant to the flu vaccine and tends to affect people older than 65 more severely than H1N1.

“We see more (H3N2) outbreaks in long-term care facilities,” she said. “We see a higher number of hospitalizations. And sometimes, we see a higher number of deaths as well.”

Flu season typically runs from October-May, and during the 2018-2019 season, Alden said several flu-related deaths were recorded, including two fatalities among children.

Deti said Wyoming has also experienced several flu-related deaths in the current season, but none in children.

“Flu season is definitely continuing,” she said. “That’s not necessarily surprising, considering the season can run until late spring. But, we are one of the 30 states that are seeing a higher number of cases in the nation.”

The H3N2 flu strain has not cropped in many places around Wyoming this season, Deti said. But both strains can be combatted with a few simple steps.

“We always recommend the people get the vaccine,” Deti said. “People need to know the vaccine takes two weeks to do any good, so if you wait until everyone around you is sick it might not prevent you from getting the flu for that go around.”

Flu vaccines aren’t perfect, and though H3N2 can be resistant, the vaccine is still the most effective preventative measure, she said.

“Also, frequently wash your hands,” Deti added. “It sounds so simple, but it’s very effective.”

Anyone can contract the flu, but infants, pregnant women, people older than 65 and people with chronic health conditions such as asthma could be at a higher risk for severe complications including death, she said.

“We know flu season is coming every year, but we can’t predict when it will peak, and we don’t always know which strains are going to be circulating,” Deti said. “One our biggest concerns is that because flu is so common, it’s not always taken as seriously as it should be.”

In 2018, 27 people died in Wyoming of flu-related illnesses. Go to www.health.wyo.gov/news for up-to-date information about influenza strains and other illnesses prevalent in Wyoming.

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