Celebrating LGBTQIA+ Community & Services

June is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month! We want everyone to know: no matter who you are, you are welcome here.

Local Pride Events

This year, there are many events celebrating Pride month in Malheur County and Eastern Oregon. See the One Community All Spirits Stronger Together event flyer here and the EOCIL Pride program here. Follow our Events Calendar and contact us if you would like to add your community event.

Public Health & Pride

Public health supports Pride month and is active in LGBTQIA+ advocacy because creating an inclusive healthcare environment doesn’t just take care of the LGBTQIA+ patient population, it takes care of all of us. We all benefit when the people around us are healthier. (LGBTQIA+ is an abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and more.) People who are LGBTQIA+ have a variety of health needs and often experience health disparities, placing them at risk for negative health outcomes. Health disparities typically result from a lack of access to adequate healthcare. In public health, we care for everyone in our county, especially our most vulnerable.

The Malheur County Health Department (MCHD) provides compassionate, high quality care for all people in Malheur County, including LGBTQIA+ individuals of all ages. We want to address the disparities and improve health outcomes for all.

We are proud to offer many services, including:

  • Rapid HIV testing, referral, and connection to treatment
  • Sexually Transmitted Infection testing and treatment
  • Communicable disease testing and treatment, including tuberculosis and hepatitis
  • Wide range of birth control options
  • Immunizations, including HPV for all ages 9-26
  • Home Visiting programs for children under age 5 and pregnant people
  • Pregnancy testing and counseling
  • Tobacco prevention and education
  • Birth and death certificates, available within 6 months of event
  • WIC nutrition program for qualifying children under age 5 and pregnant people

We are a community of all sexual orientations and gender identities and have a variety of health needs. MCHD serves all people regardless of ability to pay, with a few low-cost exceptions. No one will be denied services based on immigration status, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, nationality, or religious affiliation. We also accepts Medicare, Medicaid, and most private health insurance. If you do not have insurance, we have staff who can help you sign up for the Oregon Health Plan or determine your eligibility for other assistance programs.

We provide confidential care at low or no cost for a variety of important services that are available to all in our county. Whether it’s testing for sexually transmitted infections, accessing birth control, or getting WIC services, we are here for you. We have a safe space and are grateful for the chance to serve you.

People who are LGBTQIA+ are members of every community, including ours. They are diverse, come from all walks of life, and include people of all races and ethnicities, all ages, all socioeconomic statuses, and from all parts of the country. The perspectives and needs of LGBTQIA+ people should be routinely considered in public health efforts to improve the overall health of every person and eliminate health disparities.

According to the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey, when compared to their heterosexual peers, LGBTQIA+ students are more likely to have been bullied at school, seriously considered suicide, felt sad or hopeless, used illicit drugs, been forced to have sex, and misused prescription opioids.

Find excellent resources for LGBTQIA+ Youth, Educators, and Family LGBTQ+ Youth Resources and more general resources for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health from the CDC. For healthcare providers, the American Academy of Family Physicians provides a highly-recommended LGBTQ Health Toolkit.

Mpox vaccines are free, abundant and available to anyone

It’s been almost a year since Oregon reported its first case of mpox (monkeypox). That number has since risen to 279, including two pediatric cases (under age 18). But new cases have been trickling in slowly, and the initial fears shared by health experts about potential spread and illness have shifted to cautious optimism.

“We feel pretty good about the progress we made over the past year in terms of preparedness,” said Dr. Tim Menza, OHA senior health advisor and OHA’s Office of Recovery and Resilience. “Due to the work of the queer and transgender community, local public health partners and health care providers throughout Oregon, the mpox outbreak has been relatively contained in Oregon. We now have the necessary tools to prevent a resurgence.”

Those tools include an ample supply of mpox vaccines, which wasn’t the case a year ago.

The Jynneos vaccine against mpox is available to anyone who wants it, of any age, for free. It is administered in two doses, received at least 28 days apart. If someone received only one dose a year ago, for example, they can still get the second dose now, without restarting the series.

The Malheur County Health Department has Mpox vaccine available. Call our clinic at 541-889-7279 to schedule an appointment.

“At this point, we encourage anyone who wants to be vaccinated against mpox to get vaccinated,” Menza said. “We also have better access to testing and treatment, stronger community partnerships for outreach, education and vaccine events, as well as very good data on mpox cases to guide Oregon’s outbreak response.”

Mpox causes often painful skin lesions that usually heal in two to four weeks without medical treatment, and it spreads primarily through prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact. While mpox most often spreads during sexual contact, sex is not required for mpox to spread. Out of more than 30,000 cases in the United States since the outbreak began, 42 people have died. The majority of deaths have occurred among people living with advanced or untreated HIV or other immunocompromising conditions. In Oregon, five people have been hospitalized with mpox to date, and none has died.

  • Global – 87,314 cases, including 129 deaths (as of May 9)
  • United States – 30,395 cases, including 42 deaths (as of May 10)
  • Oregon – 279 cases, including 5 hospitalizations; 0 deaths (as of May 11)

Globally, the World Health Organization has just declared the mpox outbreak no longer a global health emergency, recommending a shift to a “robust, proactive and sustainable mpox response and control program,” versus the emergency status.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not declared the mpox outbreak over, but things have slowed down dramatically.

Here in Oregon, the rate of new mpox cases peaked in August 2022 at about 10 per week. Now, the state has diagnosed five new cases in the past three months. The question is: do these sporadic new cases represent on-going, steady, low-level virus transmission that’s here to stay, or do they signal a possible future end to all mpox transmission?

Unfortunately, we’re not yet able to answer that question.

Menza is paying close attention to mpox resurgences happening in other places, specifically new clusters of cases in Chicago, France and South Korea.

“Those outbreaks raise our level of concern,” Menza said. “Moving toward summer travel and Pride events across Oregon and the U.S. over the next several months, we could see a similar situation with increased cases in Oregon.”

If you’re planning to travel this summer, especially to places reporting recent clusters of new cases, Menza advises the best way to protect yourself and prevent a resurgence back home in Oregon is to get vaccinated.

State lifts COVID-19 response measures as federal emergency ends

Lifting of COVID-19 vaccine requirement for education, health care workers among other changes taking effect in coming weeks

In alignment with the federal COVID-19 public health emergency ending May 11, state health officials today announced the lifting of health-protective measures that helped reduce COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths, and expanded access to services during the pandemic.

The changes affect a wide range of programs and services. Some changes are effective May 11, and others will take effect in the coming weeks. Other changes put in place during the COVID-19 emergency will continue after the end of the federal emergency.

“These changes are an acknowledgement of the progress we’ve made over the last three-plus years,” said Dean Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed., health officer and state epidemiologist at OHA. “However, we know COVID-19 will remain a part of our lives for years to come, so we need to continue taking steps that prevent its spread, such as staying up to date with vaccinations. My thoughts go out to those sick with COVID-19, mourning a loved one, or still suffering with symptoms following their acute infection.”

Highlights of the changes resulting from the ending of the federal public health emergency are as follows:

Vaccination requirements

Effective Thursday (May 11), workers in health care settings will no longer be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 under state rules, OHA announced today. A similar vaccination requirement for teachers and school staff in private and public education settings will lift June 17, the end of the last week of school, to support consistency in student instruction through this school year.

Exposure, isolation guidance

A five-day period of isolation for those infected with COVID-19 also will no longer be recommended for the general population, including people in K-12 education settings. Oregon public health officials believe widespread population immunity due to vaccination and repeated infections means many COVID-19 infections are now likely asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, and the five-day isolation period is doing little to reduce transmission.

Instead, officials say, the recommendation for the general population will be to stay home until fever free for 24 hours and symptoms are improving; avoid contact with individuals at increased risk for severe disease, including older adults and those with underlying medical conditions; and consider masking for 10 days.

School testing

Diagnostic testing resources for students and staff with symptoms or exposure to COVID-19 in schools will remain available through July 31, 2024. iHealth self-tests will remain available for K-12 schools to request and distribute to their school communities until current stock is depleted. Weekly opt-in “screening” testing for K-12 students and staff without COVID-19 symptoms will end July 31 as funding for the effort wraps up.

The endings of the vaccination, isolation and some testing measures are among a spate of impending changes over the coming weeks as Oregon, and the nation, continue the long, careful transition out of the pandemic. A number of “flexibilities” put in place during the pandemic will remain in effect.

The following are among the COVID-era activities and requirements that will continue after May 11:

  • An extension of a 90-day “reasonable opportunity period” for non-citizens to verify citizenship or immigration status to 180 days so they can enroll in Oregon Health Plan (OHP).
  • A requirement that OHP providers, including coordinated care organizations, continue to cover COVID-19 vaccinations and treatment without cost sharing, and that commercial health insurers cover vaccinations without cost sharing. In Oregon, vaccinations are covered no matter where someone gets a shot. Oregonians should contact their health care provider about where they can get vaccinated.
  • A requirement that Oregon health care providers be reimbursed for language interpreter services (spoken or signed) provided during an office visit.
  • A requirement that OHP providers offer access to telehealth services.
  • In addition, state officials are currently implementing previously announced changes in access to Medicaid coverage and other human services programs administered by the state and federal governments.

The following are among many other changes taking effect May 11:

COVID-19 reporting

  • A change in how OHA monitors COVID-19. Epidemiologists will transition to a more sustainable and effective model that focuses on measures that indicate transmission, and continue monitoring for severe outcomes, including hospitalizations and death. Case data, which is based on individual laboratory test reporting and is heavily biased, will be retired. The changes align with CDC recommendations and mirror how influenza is monitored.
  • A change in how OHA reports COVID-19 data. Epidemiologists will streamline data reporting to a smaller number of dashboards updated weekly. Data visualizations will include graphs showing statewide percent positivity, wastewater levels and trends, distribution of variants, hospitalization rates and capacity, death counts, emergency department visit and vaccination trends. Dashboards with case counts and county data will be archived.

Health coverage, supports

  • The end of extended health coverage, services and supports for people with disabilities and older adults, and extra food benefits that were provided during federal emergency. Continuous coverage for Medicaid also is ending. Oregon began a “redetermination” process April 1 to help people renew their OHP membership and other Medicaid benefits, and stay on the plan, and is encouraging members to keep mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses current to ensure they receive information about their benefits in the coming months. More information about the renewals process and options for updating contact information is at oregon.gov/oha/phe. Those with questions can reach out to the ONE Customer Service Center at 800-699-9075 (TTY 711) from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Pacific Time, Monday through Friday.

Syringe/Sharps Disposal Containers

We’ve had recent requests from other counties and community partners about our amazing sharps bins we’ve set up in Ontario, Nyssa, and Vale. Last year, we collected approximately 25,000 used syringes and 15,000 in 2021. These are safe ways to dispose of syringes left on the ground and from home. People can dispose used needles and syringes into sharps disposal drop boxes 24 hours a day, confidentially, and safely. We’re lucky to have a local business that has manufactured high-quality bins to fit the standard large, red sharps and biohazard waste containers.

The local business building these containers is Enterprise Sales. They can be contacted at 541-889-5541 or sharper@srvinet.com.

To learn more about the Malheur County Health Department syringe exchange and peer program, contact us at 541-889-7279.

Safety Tips

  • Avoid touching or handling needles or syringes found in public places. Parents and caregivers should remind children not to touch needles in parks and playgrounds.
  • If you are accidentally stuck by another person’s used needle or other sharp:
    • Wash the exposed area right away with water and soap or use a skin disinfectant (antiseptic) such as rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. 
    • Seek immediate medical attention by calling your provider right away or going to your local hospital emergency department. Providers will check your immunization status and may begin preventative treatment.

How do I safely dispose of a syringe?

Follow this step by step guide about how to safely pick up and dispose of syringes.

Step 1: Pick it up

To avoid health risk wear gloves like gardening or kitchen gloves. Some people use tongs, pliers, or a trash grabber. This is a good idea, especially for anyone who is going to pick up a lot of syringes or who is doing a community clean up. 

Step 2: Drop it in

  • Use a hard plastic container such as a sharps container or 20oz water or juice bottle with a lid.
  • Set the container on the ground
  • Drop the syringes in one at a time needle point down

Step 3: Seal it up

  • Close the container tight
  • Seal the top with a piece of tape
  • Label container “sharps do not recycle”

Step 4: Drop it off

Go to the nearest drop box and dispose of syringes one at a time to avoid potential harm.

Thank you for keeping our community safe. 

COVID-19 at-home tests & resources

The Malheur County Health Department has many free, at-home COVID-19 rapid tests available for pick up at our clinic during business hours. Call us at 541-889-7279 or walk in to 1108 SW 4th St, Ontario, Oregon. While you’re here, start Health is Wealth and get $100 to Albertsons once you complete the program!

The FDA has released new information this month on At-Home Over the Counter (OTC) COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests. At-home rapid COVID-19 tests are authorized for self-testing. This means you collect your own sample, perform the test, and read the result yourself without the need to send a sample to a lab.

To see if the expiration date for your at-home COVID-19 test has been extended, refer to this table, find the row that matches the manufacturer and test name shown on the box label of your test.  

  • If the Expiration Date column says that the shelf-life is “extended,” there is a link to “updated expiration dates” where you can find a list of the original expiration dates and the new expiration dates. Find the original expiration date on the box label of your test and then look for the new expiration date in the “updated expiration dates” table for your test.   
  • If the Expiration Date column does not say the shelf-life is extended, that means the expiration date on the box label of your test is still correct. The table will say “See box label” instead of having a link to updated expiration dates.  

Although case rates and serious illness have decreased in Malheur County and across the region, the virus is still in the area with cases identified each week. Thirteen cases were reported last week, with a test positivity of 13.2%. These tests are only those reported from healthcare providers and laboratories, who are testing people who may be sick or exposed. Find more about county case counts, deaths, and test positivity here.

Find the FDA table for the list of approved COVID-19 rapid home tests and their expiration extensions here.

If you test positive, it is not necessary for you to report your positive test result to the Malheur County Health Department or the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). Whether or not you have symptoms, stay home and separate from others for five days. Continue to isolate from others until you have been fever free for 24 hours and other symptoms are improving. Wear a mask around others for an additional five days. If you have questions or need help, Call 211 or 1-866-698-6155 or visit 211info.org. Learn more about what to do if you test positive from the OHA here.

Related Information:

Congenital Syphilis on the Rise & Treatment Available

Not only is congenital syphilis increasing in the United States, we have increasing syphilis and congenital syphilis cases in Oregon and Idaho. Congenital syphilis (CS) is a disease that occurs when a mother with syphilis passes the infection on to her baby during pregnancy. Learn more about syphilis.

You can have syphilis and not know it. Many people with syphilis do not have any symptoms. Also, syphilis symptoms may be very mild, or be similar to signs of other health problems. The only way to know for sure if you have syphilis is to get tested. Syphilis can be treated and cured with antibiotics. Call your healthcare provider or our clinic at 541-889-7279 to book an appointment for confidential testing.

The following two graphs show the increase in cases of syphilis and congenital syphilis in Oregon. Find these and other statistics on Oregon’s Weekly Communicable Disease Report.

If you are pregnant and have syphilis, you can give the infection to your unborn baby. Having syphilis can lead to a low-birth-weight-baby. It can make it more likely you will deliver your baby too early or stillborn (a baby born dead). To protect your baby, you should receive syphilis testing at least once during your pregnancy. Receive treatment right away if you test positive.  It is also important that your sex partner(s) receive treatment. Having syphilis once does not protect you from getting it again. Even after you’ve been successfully treated, you can still be reinfected. For this reason you must continue to take actions that will reduce your risk of getting a new infection.

At birth, a baby with a syphilis infection may not have signs or symptoms of disease. However, if the baby does not receive treatment right away, the baby may develop serious problems within a few weeks. These babies can have health problems, such as cataracts, deafness, or seizures, and can die.

Your baby will not get CS if you do not have syphilis. There are two important things you can do to protect your baby from getting CS and the health problems associated with the infection:

  • Get a syphilis test at your first prenatal visit.
  • Reduce your risk of getting syphilis before and during your pregnancy.

Talk with your doctor about your risk for syphilis. Have an open and honest conversation about your sexual history and STD testing. Your doctor can give you the best advice on any testing and treatment that you may need.

Prenatal care is essential to the overall health and wellness of you and your unborn child. The sooner you begin receiving medical care during pregnancy, the better the health outcomes will be for you and your unborn baby.

Remember that it’s possible to get syphilis and not know it, because sometimes the infection causes no symptoms, only very mild symptoms, or symptoms that mimic other illnesses.

Learn more from the CDC.

Spotlight on Communicable Disease

The Malheur County Health Department Communicable Disease program protects community health by responding to outbreaks and infectious diseases of public health concern. We work to prevent and control the spread of communicable diseases through investigation, providing immunizations, education, and treatment.

Preventing and controlling the spread of disease is at the heart of much public health work. Outbreaks of infectious diseases can have an serious impact on human health. Some diseases spread from one person to another while others can spread from animal to person. Some are spread through the air, by touch or through bodily fluids. Some diseases may produce mild symptoms; others can be lethal. Communicable Disease includes Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). Learn more about STDs from the CDC and the OHA.

Our vision is to ensure everyone in Malheur County is protected from communicable disease threats. Call us at 541-889-7279 to schedule testing for common communicable diseases, such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, HIV, and Hepatitis C. We have many vaccines to prevent communicable diseases, treatment for people who test positive or who are exposed, education, and referrals for more care and information when needed.

Communicable Disease (CD) versus Non-Reportable Disease

  • Communicable diseases, also known as infectious diseases or transmissible diseases, are spread from one person to another. Listed below are some of the diseases the Health Department investigates:
    • Rabies
    • Botulism
    • Measles
    • Syphilis
    • Gonorrhea
    • TB
    • HIV
    • Chlamydia
    • Hepatitis  

Oregon state law requires the tracking of communicable diseases in order to prevent and control disease outbreaks. To ensure the safety of the community, the law also requires Healthcare Providers and Labs to report all reportable diseases to MCHD. See Oregon Disease Reporting Posters and learn more on the OHA Rules and Reporting page.

  • Non-reportable communicable diseases may be transmittable, but are not investigated by the health department, such as:
    • Lice
    • Strep throat
    • Scabies
    • Parkinson’s
    • Heart disease
    • Stroke
    • Auto-immune disease
    • Cancer

Malheur County CD Goals

  • Prevent new sexually transmitted infections (STI) through increasing awareness and education.
  • Improve community health by reducing poor outcomes of STI & CD infections.

We do this by:

  1. Providing non-judgmental, confidential care
  2. Providing services at little to no cost
  3. Investigating infections
  4. Educating

Focus on Prevention

There are many ways to prevent the spread of disease. Vaccinations have helped eliminate or greatly reduced disease threats. Proper handwashing, especially before and after handling food and using the toilet, helps keep germs at bay. Other important ways to slow or stop disease transmission are by ensuring the food we eat and water we drink is safe, avoiding people who are sick and practicing safe sex.

Several Communicable Diseases were detected in Malheur County in the last year. See the chart below for the number of cases reported by month. Call us at 541-889-7279 to set up an appointment for testing.

Learning Lab April 5th

Join us Wednesday, April 5th at 1 p.m. at the Malheur County Health Department at 1108 SW 4th Street in Ontario for our monthly Learning Lab. This month we will be learning about our Communicable Disease program. We will have refreshments and time to build relationships with program staff and community partners. Learn more here, bring a friend, and we’ll see you soon!

World TB Day

March 24th is World TB Day, marking the day in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced the discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB). Dr. Koch’s discovery was the most important step taken toward the prevention and control of this deadly disease. Learn how new tests, shorter treatment regimens, and a focus on latent TB infection will help end TB in the U.S.

We do occasionally respond to active TB cases in Malheur County. More often we respond to reports of latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI). Our Communicable Disease staff work with patients and health care providers to follow treatment protocol for both active and latent TB infections. In the United States, up to 13 million people may have latent TB infection. Without treatment, on average 1 in 10 people with latent TB infection will get sick with TB disease in the future. The risk is higher for people with HIV, diabetes, or other conditions that affect the immune system.

World TB Day is an opportunity to recognize our achievements in TB prevention and control and renew our commitment to eliminating this devastating disease in the United States. Clinicians, health care agencies, and community organizations, especially those serving populations at risk, have a critical role in TB elimination. Learn more from the CDC.

March 4th is International HPV Awareness Day

Almost all of us will have HPV at some point and while for most of us it isn’t harmful, HPV is linked to several kinds of cancer. There is a vaccine that can prevent HPV infection and prevent most HPV related cancers. The Malheur County Health Department has the HPV vaccine and has many appointment times available throughout the week for immunizations. HPV vaccine is recommended for routine vaccination at age 11 or 12 years. (Vaccination can be started at age 9.)  CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) also recommends vaccination for everyone through age 26 years if not adequately vaccinated when younger.

The International HPV Awareness Campaign is a key initiative of the International Papillomavirus Society (IPVS) which aims to increase public awareness of the virus as part of their mission to improve understanding of HPV and the importance of prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment of papillomavirus-related diseases.

Educating ourselves and others about HPV and cancer is the first step to reducing our risk. Find out more about the public information resources available to help spread the word. Below are answers to frequently asked questions about HPV.

What is HPV?

HPV means “human papillomavirus”. It’s a very common virus. 8 out of 10 men and women will get it at some point. Lots of people have never heard of it, but HPVs are a very big family of viruses.

There are around 200 types of HPV. Some types of HPV are transmitted by sexual contact and infect the skin cells of the genital region and the mouth and throat. Most cause no harm. But some HPVs cause warts and some can cause cancers. Both men and women get cancer from HPV, and rates are accelerating fastest in men. These cancers include cervical cancer and cancer of the penis, anus, vagina, vulva, and throat.

How can I avoid getting HPV?

HPV is a common virus and avoiding it can be difficult. About 8 out of 10 sexually active people get at least one genital HPV infection at some point in their lives! But there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk:

  1. The best way to prevent HPV is to be vaccinated at the recommended age. Get vaccinated to prevent HPV infection if you are eligible for the vaccine, or if your health care provider thinks you might benefit from it. Vaccination can prevent 90% of cervical and anal cancers and most other cancers caused by HPV. The vaccine is most effective if given before you have any sexual contact. Talk to your healthcare provider or call our office at 541-889-7279 to schedule an appointment.
  2. Use condoms whenever you can. Consistent condom use can reduce (but not eliminate) the risk of getting HPV. This is because HPV is passed on by skin-to-skin contact. Condoms only partially protect the skin of the genital region. The more consistent the use of condoms, the higher the amount of protection. Condom use 100% of the time reduces the risk of spreading HPV by about 70%. Less consistent use means less protection.
  3. The fewer sexual partners you or your partner have, the lower your risk of getting HPV.

I’ve had the HPV vaccine – do I still need to be screened?

The vaccine reduces your risk of HPV-related cancers by about 90%. But even if you have had the HPV vaccine, you still need to have cervical screening. This is because the vaccine will not protect you against HPV types that you may have acquired before being vaccinated. In addition, you might still get infected after vaccination with the rarer HPV types that can cause cancer but which are not covered by the vaccine.

I’m a boy – do I need to know about HPV?

Yes—you are at risk for HPV and the cancers that it causes. HPV can cause genital warts as well as cancers of the anus, penis and mouth/throat in men. You can also spread HPV to your sexual partners. All of the currently available vaccines prevent infection with HPV types that cause most HPV-related cancers, and some vaccines also protect against the types that cause genital warts. The most important step you can take to prevent HPV is to get vaccinated before you have sex.

We CAN eliminate HPV and create one less worry for our world. Learn more here.