September Health Beat

By Mary Jane Dittmar
Senior Associate Editor
Fire Engineering

Staying healthy takes as much vigilance and effort as staying safe on the fireground. Preparedness applies as much to health issues as firefighting strategies; both entail acquiring knowledge/skills and then applying them. The following information is presented to help promote/preserve your good health.

Tuberculosis, AIDS, and Hepatitis A
Tuberculosis, a contagious airborne lung infection, is a growing public health threat in the immigrant neighborhoods of Queens, New York. In 2001, some 37,000 patients were treated at one of just one the city’s tuberculosis clinics. In certain places, one New York Department of Health official said, case rates are much higher than they should be. Other cities in the United States with high immigration populations have also seen increases in the incidence of tuberculosis.

The United States and Europe reportedly are seeing a “worrying increase in HIV cases,” according to a Reuters Health report from London (Richard Woodman, May 6, 2002). According to the report, some 900,000 people are believed to be HIV positive in the United States and that number could double by the year 2010. The increase is attributed to young people’s complacency about contracting the disease; they, therefore, are not taking the recommended precautions.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes that 10 times more people in the United States may be infected with hepatitis A than is reported. Hepatitis A, a virus that infects the liver, is spread through contaminated food and water. (It is rarely fatal, often causes jaundice and flu-type symptoms that can linger for weeks. It does not cause a lingering infection.) The CDC says that a good number of those with the infection may be children under the age of 10. (Source: Reuters Health, Charnicia E. Huggins, May 6, 2002)

All of this reinforces why you should always follow all the infection-control protocols when responding to EMS and other emergency incidents.

Stress and heart attacks. According to a report that appeared in Circulation, the Journal of the American Heart Association, stress may be one explanation for why heart attacks sometimes follow stressful events-an issue of concern to the fire service since many line-of-duty deaths reported involve firefighters being stricken after they have returned to their stations or homes after a response. This study, conducted in Switzerland, showed that stress cut the ability of the lining of blood vessels to boost the blood supply to the heart in response to a stressful event by 50 percent for approximately 45 minutes. The researchers noted that in individuals who already have narrowed or blocked arteries, the stressful event may further restrict blood flow, triggering a heart attack or stroke. This is another reason firefighters should be periodically screened for signs of cardiovascular disease in many cases. The condition can be treated with medication or other therapies before a major emergency develops.

Comments or ideas? What is your department’s policy concerning infectious disease and other health problems? Has your department added to its medical screenings, recently instituted a physical fitness or wellness program, or taken any other steps to safeguard members’ health? Let us hear from you. Email Mary Jane Dittmar.

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