Updated COVID-19 Boosters Approved

Updated COVID-19 boosters can both help restore protection that has decreased since previous vaccination, and provide broader protection against newer variants. The updated, or bivalent boosters, target the most recent Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, that are more contagious and more resistant than earlier strains of Omicron. The new updated COVID-19 boosters can be administered in Oregon now that the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup has recommended the vaccine, completing final step in the review and approval process following recommendations from the FDA and CDC.

The CDC is recommending updated COVID boosters, for people ages 12 and older. People are eligible if it’s been at least two months since they received their last COVID vaccine, either a booster or an initial dose.

The boosters can be administered regardless of which vaccine series a person received. Pfizer’s updated booster is available for anyone 12 and older. The Moderna booster is available for anyone 18 and older.

“If you are eligible, there is no bad time to get your COVID-19 booster and I strongly encourage you to receive it,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, in an interview with NPR.

The new boosters should be available in Malheur County this week. The Malheur County Health Department will have news out soon with increased availability for both boosters and first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. Call our office at 541-889-7279, your local healthcare provider, or pharmacy, to check availability and make an appointment, if available. Find local vaccine providers here.

Malheur County still lags behind every other county except Lake in Oregon for protection against COVID-19 and continues to be the only county in the High Community Level of risk due to recent outbreaks. The best way to prevent serious COVID-19 illness is to stay up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters.

More West Nile Virus Activity in Malheur County

West Nile virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, has been detected in mosquitoes at a testing site in Malheur County, Ore., according to Oregon Public Health officials.

The mosquitoes, found in a trap site located on Butte Dr. between Vale and Ontario.

Health officials are advising people in Malheur County to take precautions against mosquitoes to avoid the risk of infection, including preventing mosquito bites. West Nile virus is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Most infected people will show little or no signs of disease.

About one in five people who are infected develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Most people with febrile illness due to West Nile virus recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months. It is important that you contact your health care provider if you experience any of these symptoms.

The incubation period is usually two to 14 days. Rarely, infected individuals may develop neuro-invasive disease (infection of the brain or spinal cord) that can be severe or may cause death. This is especially of concern to people 50 and older, people with immune-compromising conditions, and people with diabetes or high blood pressure.

Communities and individuals living in or spending significant time outdoors, particularly near irrigated land, waterways, standing water, and used tires—including those working in agriculture, such as migrant and seasonal farm workers—may be at increased risk of mosquito bites and related diseases.

The number of mosquito pools—samples of about 50 mosquitoes—that test positive in any area may indicate the risk of human exposure and infection, said Emilio DeBess, D.V.M., public health veterinarian at the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division. He recommends people and animals be protected against mosquito bites.

“Although mosquitoes are an inevitable part of summer, mosquito bites don’t have to be—they are preventable,” DeBess says. “You can take simple steps to protect yourself and reduce the risk of contracting West Nile disease.”

DeBess offers these tips for protecting yourself against mosquitoes:

  • Eliminate sources of standing water that are a breeding ground for mosquitoes, including watering troughs, bird baths, ornamental ponds, buckets, wading and swimming pools not in use, and old tires.
  • When engaged in outdoor activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active, protect yourself by using mosquito repellants containing DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus or Picardin, and follow the directions on the container.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants in mosquito-infested areas.
  • Make sure screen doors and windows are in good repair and fit tightly.

While risk of West Nile disease is low, a handful of people get it each year in Oregon. The virus also affects wildlife and domesticated and farm animals.

In 2019, nine human cases of West Nile virus infection were reported in Oregon, with 85 mosquito pools and seven horses also found to be positive for the virus. In 2018, there were two human cases, with 57 mosquito pools and two horses testing positive. Last year was relatively mild for West Nile, with only three mosquito pools and one bird found to be positive for the virus.

People should consult their health care providers if they have these symptoms. Health care providers can contact the Malheur County Health Department for information on West Nile virus testing.

Additional information about West Nile virus:

Climate Effects on Health

Climate change impacts a wide-range of health outcomes. The infographic above illustrates the most significant climate change impacts (rising temperatures, more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and increasing carbon dioxide levels), their effect on exposures, and the subsequent health outcomes that can result from these changes in exposures.

The Oregon Climate and Health Program addresses the health effects of climate change by focusing on developing cross-sectoral partnerships and promoting systems and policy changes that build resilience across a broad range of climate impacts, including extreme heat, extreme cold, wildfire, air quality and respiratory illnesses, flooding, sea level rise, vectorborne diseases, water-borne disease, mental health, drought, harmful algal blooms, and extreme weather events, such and hurricanes and tornadoes. This work primarily serves local and tribal health departments, partner state agencies, community health workers, and other state public health programs, including emergency preparedness, chronic disease prevention, and acute and communicable disease. Some of the program’s activities include developing the public health workforce, informing statewide climate policy and planning, and supporting partners in building social resilience.

Climate change, together with other natural and human-made health stressors, influences human health and disease in numerous ways. Some existing health threats will intensify and new health threats will emerge. Not everyone is equally at risk. Important considerations include age, economic resources, and location.

In the U.S., public health can be affected by disruptions of physical, biological, and ecological systems, including disturbances originating here and elsewhere. The health effects of these disruptions include increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food- and water-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases, and threats to mental health.

For more on the effects of climate change on health in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, visit the CDC page on Regional Health Effects in the Northwest and the Oregon Health Authority links below.

Invest in Yourself with Health is Wealth Program

The Malheur County Health Department (MCHD) has a new incentive program, Health is Wealth, to increase recommended surveillance testing, immunization, and awareness of public health services. People can walk in or call MCHD at 541-889-7279 to schedule time for testing, vaccine, and short informative sessions with staff. Participants will receive a Health is Wealth card that will keep track of their progress through 10 core programs. Upon completion, the first 100 participants will receive a $100 gift card.  

The goal is for people to experience public health as an important part of their healthcare, get to know staff, and connect the people in their lives to available services.

Eligibility: Health is Wealth program participants must be 18 years old or older. Participants must be present to receive services, complete paperwork, and present the completed card to MCHD front desk to receive gift card. The Health is Wealth card must be started by June 30, 2023. One hundred gift cards are available and once that supply is exhausted, there is no guarantee a gift card will be provided.

Requirements: Participants must receive a stamp for each of the 10 programs, from MCHD employees on the Health is Wealth card, within 12 months of the start date on card. Immunizations must be up to date, as verified in the Oregon or Idaho immunization registries. Participants must receive testing for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis C, chlamydia and gonorrhea, or have record of tests within the last 12 months. Participants must schedule and complete short educational sessions with each program to receive a stamp.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends all adults get tested for hepatitis C and that everyone should be tested for HIV at least once in their life, regardless of risk factors. With climbing rates of communicable disease, more testing is needed to identify infections, many of show no symptoms. Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer, however, with treatment, hepatitis C infection is curable. Early detection can save your life. Cases of HIV, syphilis, and gonorrhea are also going up in Malheur County. Testing can give people peace of mind and more information about their overall health.

Along with increased testing, the Health is Wealth program aims to get more adults up to date on recommended vaccines. Immunizations are not just for children. Protection from some childhood vaccines can wear off over time. You may also be at risk for vaccine-preventable disease due to your age, job, lifestyle, travel, or health conditions. All adults need immunizations to help them prevent getting and spreading serious diseases that could result in poor health, missed work, medical bills, and not being able to care for family.

Public health promotes the wellbeing of the entire population of Malheur County and helps to ensure access to safe and quality care. Public health is for everyone! Visit malheurhealth.org or call 541-889-7279 for more information.

First Mosquitoes with West Nile Virus Found in Malheur County

West Nile virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, has been detected in mosquitoes at a testing site in Malheur County, Ore., according to Oregon Public Health officials.

The mosquitoes, found in Harper, are the first to test positive for the disease in Oregon in 2022.

Health officials are advising people in Malheur County to take precautions against mosquitoes to avoid the risk of infection, including preventing mosquito bites. West Nile virus is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Most infected people will show little or no signs of disease.

About one in five people who are infected develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Most people with febrile illness due to West Nile virus recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months. It is important that you contact your health care provider if you experience any of these symptoms.

The incubation period is usually two to 14 days. Rarely, infected individuals may develop neuro-invasive disease (infection of the brain or spinal cord) that can be severe or may cause death. This is especially of concern to people 50 and older, people with immune-compromising conditions, and people with diabetes or high blood pressure.

Communities and individuals living in or spending significant time outdoors, particularly near irrigated land, waterways, standing water, and used tires—including those working in agriculture, such as migrant and seasonal farm workers—may be at increased risk of mosquito bites and related diseases.

The number of mosquito pools—samples of about 50 mosquitoes—that test positive in any area may indicate the risk of human exposure and infection, said Emilio DeBess, D.V.M., public health veterinarian at the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division. He recommends people and animals be protected against mosquito bites.

“Although mosquitoes are an inevitable part of summer, mosquito bites don’t have to be—they are preventable,” DeBess says. “You can take simple steps to protect yourself and reduce the risk of contracting West Nile disease.”

DeBess offers these tips for protecting yourself against mosquitoes:

  • Eliminate sources of standing water that are a breeding ground for mosquitoes, including watering troughs, bird baths, ornamental ponds, buckets, wading and swimming pools not in use, and old tires.
  • When engaged in outdoor activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active, protect yourself by using mosquito repellants containing DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus or Picardin, and follow the directions on the container.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants in mosquito-infested areas.
  • Make sure screen doors and windows are in good repair and fit tightly.

While risk of West Nile disease is low, a handful of people get it each year in Oregon. The virus also affects wildlife and domesticated and farm animals.

In 2019, nine human cases of West Nile virus infection were reported in Oregon, with 85 mosquito pools and seven horses also found to be positive for the virus. In 2018, there were two human cases, with 57 mosquito pools and two horses testing positive. Last year was relatively mild for West Nile, with only three mosquito pools and one bird found to be positive for the virus.

People should consult their health care providers if they have these symptoms. Health care providers can contact the Malheur County for information on West Nile virus testing.

Additional information about West Nile virus:

Oregon Health Authority website: http://public.health.oregon.gov/DiseasesConditions/DiseasesAZ/WestNileVirus/Pages/survey.aspx

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/ index.htm

Health Threats from Extreme Heat

Heat-related deaths and illness are preventable, yet annually many people succumb to extreme heat. With another week of high temperatures, we want to share resources to help protect you and your family.

Infants and Young Children

Infants and young children are sensitive to the effects of extreme heat, and must rely on other people to keep them cool and hydrated.

  • Never leave infants or children in a parked car. (Nor should pets be left in parked cars—they can suffer heat-related illness too.)
  • Dress infants and children in loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Seek medical care immediately if your child has symptoms of symptoms of heat-related illness.

People with Chronic Medical Conditions

People with a chronic medical condition are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature. Also, they may be taking medications that can worsen the impact of extreme heat. People in this category need the following information.

  • Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
  • Check on a friend or neighbor, and have someone do the same for you.
  • Check the local news for health and safety updates regularly.
  • Don’t use the stove or oven to cook – it will make you and your house hotter.
  • Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Take cool showers or baths to cool down.
  • Seek medical care immediately if you or someone you know experiences symptoms of heat-related illness.

Athletes

People who exercise in extreme heat are more likely to become dehydrated and get heat-related illness. STOP all activity and get to a cool environment if you feel faint or weak.

  • Limit outdoor activity, especially midday when the sun is hottest.
  • Wear and reapply sunscreen as indicated on the package. 
  • Schedule workouts and practices earlier or later in the day when the temperature is cooler.
  • Pace activity. Start activities slow and pick up the pace gradually.
  • Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink more. Muscle cramping may be an early sign of heat-related illness.
  • Monitor a teammate’s condition, and have someone do the same for you.
  • Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Seek medical care immediately if you or a teammate has symptoms of heat-related illness.

Outdoor workers

People who work outdoors are more likely to become dehydrated and are more likely to get heat-related illness. STOP all activity and get to a cool environment if you feel faint or weak.

  • Drink from two to four cups of water every hour while working. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink.
  • Avoid alcohol or liquids containing large amounts of sugar.
  • Wear and reapply sunscreen as indicated on the package.
  • Ask if tasks can be scheduled for earlier or later in the day to avoid midday heat.
  • Wear a brimmed hat and loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Spend time in air-conditioned buildings during breaks and after work.
  • Encourage co-workers to take breaks to cool off and drink water.
  • Seek medical care immediately if you or a co-worker has symptoms of heat-related illness.
  • For more information, please visit: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress.

Heat and low income

  • If you have air conditioning, use it to keep your home cool.
  • If you can’t afford to use your air conditioning:
  • Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
  • Check on a friend or neighbor, and have someone do the same for you.
  • Seek medical care immediately if you have, or someone you know has, symptoms of heat-related illness.

Learn more from the Oregon Health Authority Preparedness program.

Food Safety at Home

Warmer weather can easily cause food to spoil. Cooking meats to a proper internal temperature and keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cool helps stop foodborne bacteria from growing.

Following these four simple steps can help keep you and your family safe from food poisoning at home.

CLEAN: Wash hands and surfaces often

washing hands in sink

Illness-causing bacteria and viruses can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your hands, utensils and cutting boards. Unless you wash your hands, utensils and surfaces the right way, you could spread these germs to your food and your family.

  • Wash hands the right way—for 20 seconds with soap and running water. Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Wash surfaces and utensils after each use. Rinsing utensils, countertops and cutting boards with water won’t do enough to stop bacteria from spreading. Clean utensils and small cutting boards with hot, soapy water. Clean surfaces and cutting boards with a bleach solution.
  • Wash fruits and veggies—but not meat, poultry, or eggs. Even if you plan to peel fruits and veggies, it’s important to wash them first because bacteria and viruses can spread from the outside to the inside as you cut or peel them.

SEPARATE: Don’t cross-contaminate

woman cutting meat on cutting board

Even after you’ve cleaned your hands and surfaces thoroughly, raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs can still spread illness-causing germs to ready-to-eat foods—unless you keep them separate.

COOK: Cook to the right temperature

raw chicken and meat thermometer

One of the basics of food safety is cooking food to its proper temperature. Foods are properly cooked when they are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria and viruses that cause foodborne illness.

While many people think they can tell when food is “done” simply by checking its color and texture, there’s no way to be sure it’s safe without following a few important but simple steps.

CHILL: Refrigerate promptly

separate containers in fridge

Illness-causing bacteria and viruses can grow in many foods within two hours unless you refrigerate them. During the summer heat, cut that time down to one hour.

To learn more, visit the Oregon Health Authority.

Willowcreek Fire in Malheur County

Sharing important information from the Bureau of Land Management:

Our firefighters worked through the night combating the Willowcreek Fire northeast of Vale, Oregon. Growing to 40,000 acres in its first day, it’s our first major wildfire of the summer.

Currently, it is at 0% containment.

Though it began on private land, the fire soon spread to BLM public lands. So far, we’ve had no injuries, no threatened structures, and no evacuations necessary.

Our fire teams are making strategic use of the cooler temperatures and light winds to help slow the burn.

“The winds calmed at about 3 a.m., which gave us a good chance to get around the hot spots on the fire,” said Justin Fenton, BLM Fire Duty Officer.

We were also able to provide aviation support yesterday.

Interstate 84 was closed between Ontario and Baker City for several hours last night due to smoke but has since been reopened.

We’re investigating the cause of the fire, which is currently unknown.

If you’re out recreating this weekend, please help us prevent wildfire by never using fireworks or exploding targets on public lands, properly extinguishing your campfire, and never parking on dry grass.

Stay safe out there!

🔥 Wildfire information:

Follow the BLM of Oregon & Washington on Facebook here.

Health Department promotes increased testing in light of outbreaks, positivity rate increase

The Malheur County Health Department will offer free drive-up COVID-19 testing this Friday, Feb. 5, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Vale High School. Everyone is eligible; no symptoms, exposure or documentation are required. The event is in response to an outbreak of positive COVID-19 cases in Malheur County, particularly at Vale High School.

Due to the drive-through nature of the event, test result forms will not be available; however, people who test positive will be notified. Additionally, all negative and positive student test results will be shared with Vale School District administration.

In addition to outbreaks affecting Malheur County schools and businesses, the state’s most recent county metrics report prompted a call for increased testing as the positivity rate is on an upward trend over the past four weeks.

“The report released by the Oregon Health Authority yesterday shows that our case count per 100,000 people has dropped from 499.5 to 415.2, which is great, but it also shows that our test positivity rate has jumped from 14.3% to 16.1%. That’s a significant increase,” MCHD Director Sarah Poe said. “We know that the way to get that positivity rate down is to do more testing. You can help slow the spread of COVID-19, reduce the positivity rate, and get the county open again by getting tested.”

TESTING AVAILABILITY IN MALHEUR COUNTY

Malheur County Health Department offers free COVID-19 testing by appointment four days a week at the MCHD office:

  • Tuesdays, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
  • Wednesdays-Fridays, 9 a.m.-12 p.m., 1-3 p.m. (except Feb. 5)

For an appointment or more information, call 541-889-7279.

Valley Family Health Care is offering COVID-19 testing every Monday in February, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Treasure Valley Community College baseball field in Ontario. Anyone requesting a test will be tested. There are no out-of-pocket costs, and test results are available in 15 minutes. Call VFHC at 208-452-6661 for more information.

Snake River Pediatrics Clinic, call for information, 541-216-6556.

Rite Aid, appointment required, CALL 541-889-3390.

More information is available at COVID Testing in Oregon.