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April 6, 2017

Oswego County Health Department Celebrates Public Health Week April 3-9 -

Oswego County Health Department: Environmental Health

(Part 4 in a series of articles marking Public Health Week in Oswego County)

A strong public health system is essential to improving and protecting people's health. The role of public health may be most visible in the face of threats such as Zika or Ebola, but in reality, public health works to protect us every single day. Whether it's investigating food borne illness outbreaks, monitoring the quality of water, ensuring that all children have access to life-saving vaccines, or providing nursing care from infancy to end of life, public health protects the fundamental building blocks of healthy people and communities. That's why public health can't just suspend its everyday functions when an emergency such as Zika strikes. Public health must be able to maintain its core functions and support its ability to rapidly respond to serious disease threats and disasters. Today the Oswego County Health Department provides a look at Public Health Emergency Preparedness.

OSWEGO COUNTY - We all may have wondered at one time or another, how clean is the kitchen at my favorite restaurant? Is my drinking water safe to drink? Who do I call when my neighbor's septic system fails? Are the mosquitoes that can carry Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), West Nile Virus (WNV) or Zika virus here in my community? Why are dogs or cats vaccinated against rabies? Why are we no longer exposed to second-hand smoke in public places? Is the public swimming pool my family enjoys properly disinfected and are the lifeguards trained and certified? How do I know my child's summer camp is safe?

However, few of us may know that the guardians who protect the community from potential environmental health risks on a daily basis are the well-trained environmental health team members of the Environmental Health Division of the County Health Department.

"The environmental health team ensures that our county residents live in a sanitary and health-promoting environment," said Natalie Roy, principal public health sanitarian for the Oswego County Health Department. "An important part of their work involves educating individuals and business owners about safe and healthy environmental practices. The range of programs they oversee is extensive and diverse."

Charged with the prevention of human rabies, the environmental health staff investigates all reported animal bites and scratches for possible rabies exposure. Each year thousands of pets are vaccinated against rabies at the health department's free clinics. They also submit specimens to the NYS lab for rabies testing, and recommend and arrange post-exposure rabies treatment for people when necessary.

One of the most complex programs provided by the environmental health division is the protection of water supplies. Well water and municipal water supplies are monitored not just for bacteria, but for other contaminants such as lead and copper, arsenic, barium, and nitrate. Residents can have their well water tested for a minimal fee.

Many residents are familiar with food protection. The environmental health staff inspect restaurants and other public food service facilities for sanitary conditions and proper food handling practices. An essential part of the inspection process is educating food operators about how to prevent foodborne illness. If a suspected foodborne illness outbreak occurs, environmental health staff take immediate actions to interview, investigate, and identify the potential source of illness.

Smoke-free public places are the result of many years of public education and compliance efforts performed by the county environmental health staff who worked to remove the risk of exposure to second hand smoke to employees in the work place.

Public swimming pools and beaches are inspected to prevent illness and injury and to ensure that the water is safe for bathers. Environmental health staff also check to make sure that lifeguards and aquatic staff have required certifications and are performing their duties. During inspections, pool water is tested for disinfection, acidity and alkalinity. Beach samples may be collected and analyzed for bacteria and harmful algae.

Environmental health staff are also charged with ensuring that at all permitted children's camps, the camp staff, activities, medical staff, food and water are satisfactory. Detailed camp safety plans and staff background checks must be reviewed and approved by the environmental health division before the children's camp is issued a permit to operate.

Environmental health staff may be called upon to investigate areas where lead-poisoned children live or spend a great deal of time. Based on the risk assessment results, recommendations are made to eliminate all identified lead hazards to prevent further lead exposure to the child.

The staff also serve as members of the Public Health Preparedness and Response Team. They are trained to respond to natural and manmade disasters such as radiation, weather or disease outbreaks.

The environmental health staff also monitors mosquito populations for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, West Nile virus and other diseases. Staff also inspect recreational campgrounds, hotels, mobile home parks and migrant camps.

"Environmental factors have an impact on our lives each day," said Roy."Our local environmental health professionals dedicate and commit themselves to decreasing illness in our county and protecting us from environmental factors that could negatively affect human health."

For more information on Environmental Health Services visit http://www.oswegocounty.com/health/environmental.html or call 315-349-3557 weekdays.

A worker at the county health department's mosquito laboratory in West Monroe separates species of mosquitoes for testing. Samples of mosquitoes that could carry the Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus are sent to the state Department of Health laboratory every week during the summer, and tested to see if the EEE virus is present in Oswego County.


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