Monday, September 28, 2015

World Rabies Day

Rabies is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when people think of public health issues. In the United States the threat of the disease has been greatly reduced over the years due to successful public health efforts. However, it is by no means eradicated. Each year about 40,000 Americans receive post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) shots because of possible rabies exposure, and one or two people will die from the disease. Altogether, the disease costs $300 million annually in this country. The good news is that it is entirely preventable and progress is being made each year. World Rabies Day was created in 2007 to draw attention both to the danger of rabies and the progress that has been made in bringing it under control in the United States and around the globe.

In 2013 there was a 4.8% decrease in rabies cases from the previous year and canine rabies has been almost entirely eradicated in the United States. Domestic animals now make up only eight percent of all cases nationwide. Cats are actually the greatest domestic animal threat, making up 53% of all domestic animal cases. Responsible pet owners can continue to help make that number drop by taking a few simple steps to keep their pets safe and healthy.

  • Bring your dog or cat to a veterinarian each year to be sure they are up-to-date on their rabies vaccination. Dogs and cats that have potentially been exposed to rabies and are not up-to-date on their vaccination will need to be quarantined for six months or put down, so please vaccinate your pet!
  • If your pet is not spayed or neutered, consider doing so. Spaying and neutering helps to reduce the number of stray dogs and cats, which are at high risk of contracting and spreading rabies.

Besides protecting your pets, take steps to protect yourself and your family too. If you have children, teach them to never handle wild or unfamiliar animals, even if the animal looks friendly. Keep food or water inside for your pets since the food and water kept outside could attract wild animals in your area. Always keep your garbage can securely covered as well. The best way to protect yourself might also be the most obvious – stay away from unfamiliar animals, including dogs and cats that you do not know, and do not attempt to feed, pet, or pick them up.

The vast majority of rabies cases involve wildlife, with raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes being the primary culprits. In Washington, bats have been the only wild animal to carry rabies since the 1920s. Bats are very beneficial to us because they eat many insects. But bats can be a hazard when they mistakenly end up in our homes. If you have a bat in your house, do your best to safely capture or contain it and call your local public health department; we may want to test the bat to make sure you or your family were not exposed to rabies.

Outside of Washington, bats and skunks are responsible for most rabies cases. Many different types of animals can be infected, however, and if you encounter any animal acting strangely or displaying any of the following signs of possible rabies infection, please contact animal control as soon as possible.

  • General sickly appearance
  • Significant saliva or drooling
  • Problems swallowing
  • Difficulty moving or paralysis
  • Biting at everything
  • Appearing more tame than you would expect

When traveling, especially internationally, take any animal bite very seriously and seek medical attention. Talk with your health care provider about travel-related vaccinations before you leave and see if rabies vaccine would be advised.

Together, public health professionals, veterinarians, and YOU can continue to take steps to reduce the threat of rabies and keep ourselves, our pets, and our families healthy and safe!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Be Septic Smart!

September 21, 2015 marked the beginning of the third annual Septic Smart Week. Septic Smart Week is a program created by the Environmental Protection Agency to educate septic system owners about the importance of proper septic system care and maintenance.

Did you know that approximately one-quarter of American households have septic systems, and nearly 60,000 of those are located right here in Thurston County? Septic systems come with homeowner responsibility - you don’t pay sewer fees, but need to save up for regular maintenance costs such as inspections and pumping. A poorly-maintained system may lower your property values and puts the health of our families and communities at risk. If you are unsure if your home is served by an on-site septic system, contact the Septic Helpline at (360) 867-2669 and ask for the septic system record drawings of your home.

If you have a septic system, take steps to prevent its failure. If you notice any of the following, contact a septic system professional immediately to prevent further damage to your system and pollution of the drinking water in your area.

  • A strong odor around the septic tank and/or drainfield
  • Pooling water and/or surfacing sewage in the area of your septic system
  • Bright green, spongy grass on the drainfield, especially during dry weather conditions
  • Wastewater backing up into drains in your home

The average cost of repairing or replacing a conventional home septic system can be $10,000 or more, while regular inspection and maintenance typically costs only $150 to $300 each year. Every system and situation is unique and is influenced by four things: size of your household, amount of water used by your household, type and size of septic tank, and soil conditions. Regular care and maintenance of your system protects not only your home’s property value, but your family, your community, and the environment, from exposure to dangerous bacteria and viruses if your system fails.

For more information about how to properly maintain your septic system, visit our website by clicking here, or call our Septic Helpline at (360) 867-2669.

Thurston County Environmental Health maintains a database of septic system professionals who are currently certified to perform services in the county. Click here to access our lists of qualified designers, professional engineers, installers, pumpers, and monitoring specialists. When hiring any contractor, be sure to get multiple estimates, check their references and certifications, and be clear about what services you are requesting.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Wash Away Those Back-to-School Germs

By Kateri Wimsett, Education and Outreach Specialist

September is here once again back to school time here in the South Sound. Kids and parents are adjusting to new schedules and new teachers. As kids go back to school they share close contact with other kids and teachers all day, five days a week. That means they are exposed to lots and lots of germs and can bring illnesses home with them. So right now is the perfect time to talk to your kids about effective handwashing. Handwashing has been called the single most effective way to keep from getting sick. This would depend on how well hands are actually washed.

As a mom of two, the main focus of my efforts is to cease the “rinse and run” my children are inclined to do. They often resort to “washing their hands” by running their soap-less hands quickly under water while running for the door. Because of this I’ve instituted the happy birthday song rule - after soaping they’ve got to sing “Happy Birthday” twice while scrubbing their hands. We’ve talked about how it’s the rubbing and scrubbing of your hands that actually is the most important step to get the germs off of your hands. I’m happy to report that as they’ve gotten older they appreciate the grossness of not washing their hands and are coming along in their efforts. 

A note about hand sanitizer, washing hands with soap and water really is better and advised.  If you are in a place where soap and water are not available and you have to use hand sanitizer use an alcohol based one with at least 60% alcohol (check the label).  Hand sanitizers do not eliminate all type of germs, nor do they remove the chemicals that may be on our hands .  They also are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. 

It sounds kind of silly, but learning when and how to properly wash hands and making it a habit is important.  Remind your kids to always wash their hands:
  • After they use the bathroom.
  • Before they eat.
  • After touching animals or animal poop.
  • When they come into contact with someone who is sick.
  • When they come in from being outside.
  • When their hands are dirty.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the “right way to wash your hands” includes:
  • Wetting your hands with clean running water and using soap. There is no need to use antibacterial soap. Regular bar or liquid soap works best.
  • Rub hands together, lathering or scrubbing for 20 seconds. Make sure to scrub between fingers, the backs of your hands, and under your nails. (As a side note it takes about 20 second for the scrubbing action to dislodge and remove germs.)
  • Rinse your hands under clean running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Interested in the science behind this? Check out the CDC's "Show Me the Science-- How to Wash your Hands" web page.