Monthly Archives: September 2017

National Sickle Cell Awareness Month

By Malerie Hartsell, MPH, CHES
Program Coordinator
Children with Special Health Care Needs

Did you know September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month?

Efforts to recognize Sickle Cell Month began in 1983 when the Congressional Black Caucus introduced the resolution to Congress.  President Reagan signed the resolution in August of 1983 making September National Sickle Cell Awareness Month.   Since then, organizations across the globe have increased public awareness surrounding this crippling illness.

By recognizing National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, more individuals are educated about the struggles that come along with daily management of this debilitating genetic disease. Increasing awareness is one way to debunk stereotypes and stigmas associated with persons who have sickle cell disease (SCD) and further highlights risk factors related to SCD, such as having the sickle cell trait (SCT).

What is SCD?  SCD is a blood disorder that causes sickling of the red blood cells, which diminishes the amount of oxygen the red blood cell can carry throughout the body.  sickle cellsPersons who have SCD suffer from crises — episodes of intense and excruciating pain that may be in one or multiple parts of the body when sickle-shaped red blood cells become stuck in a blood vessel and cause a disruption of blood flow in that particular area.  While people are most familiar with sickle cell anemia, other variations of sickle cell, or mutations, include sickle cell thalassemia, sickle beta thalassemia, and others.

Who is affected?  The actual number of persons living with SCD is unknown in the United States, but it is estimated that SCD affects approximately 100,000 people annually. Sickle cell disease also affects millions of people worldwide and it is more common among African-Americans.

What is SCT?  SCT is where a person inherits one sickle cell gene and one normal gene from either of their parents.  Persons with sickle cell trait  usually do not have any of the symptoms of SCD, but they can pass the trait on to their children.

How common is SCT? Sickle cell trait is an inherited blood disorder that affects 1 million to 3 million Americans and 8 to 10 percent of African-Americans. Sickle cell trait can also affect Hispanics, South Asians, Caucasians from southern Europe, and people from Middle Eastern countries. More than 100 million people worldwide have sickle cell trait. (Source:

SCD and SCT are inherited conditions, which means a person may be born with the illness or trait.   SCD or SCT cannot develop overtime nor is it contagious.  SCD is inherited when a child receives two sickle cell genes from both parents. For someone that has SCT, the likelihood of having a child that has SCD or SCT is different.  If both parents have SCT, there is a 50 percent chance the child will have SCT, a 25 percent chance that child may have SCD, and 25 percent chance the child will not have SCD or SCT.sickle-cell-flow-chart

 Care and Treatment

Early diagnosis and monitoring can make a difference in the quality of life and number of years lived for someone with SCD.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

  • Babies from birth to 1 year of age should see a doctor every two to three months.
  • Children from 1 to 2 years of age should see a doctor at least every three months.
  • Children and adults from 2 years of age or older should see a doctor at least once every year.

Persons with SCD should be referred to a hematologist or an experienced general pediatrician, internist, or family practitioner.

Currently, only hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) can cure SCD; however, this is very intensive treatment and not everyone qualifies or can afford this treatment.  To help prevent complications and medicate the acute or chronic pain episodes as they occur, hematologist will start children on daily doses of penicillin at birth up until at least 5 years of age.  Blood transfusions are utilized to help reduce the risk of stroke.  Additionally, hydroxyurea, a drug that increase the levels of fetal hemoglobin has helped reduce pain, hospitalizations, and lung damage.

Visit the CDC’s website to learn more about sickle cell. You also can find information on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute site.

DHEC in the News: Charleston flooding, Tropical Storm Irma damage, removable seawalls, West Nile

Here’s a look at health and environmental news from around South Carolina.

Downtown Charleston is flooding more, with or without hurricanes. Here’s why

CHARLESTON David and Claudia Cohen were busy raking debris from their yard and reflecting on Charleston’s third big flood in three years when a car whizzed down Gibbes Street near the Holy City’s historic Battery.

Driving the auto was a neighbor, who slowed just enough to yell sarcastically about Charleston’s watery troubles.

“I’m getting a couple of cyanide pills,’’ the neighbor wisecracked through the rolled-down window. …

Rising sea levels and major storms are swamping streets, neighborhoods and popular tourist attractions with a frequency and intensity that is hard for many people to ignore. The flooding is affecting millions of dollars worth of property in South Carolina’s oldest city, one of the state’s top vacation destinations.

How Tropical Storm Irma damaged South Carolina’s coastal communities

Even though the South Carolina coast was 200 miles or more from the eye of Tropical Storm Irma, the state’s beaches and barrier islands did not escape her wrath.

All of them saw some degree of damage from high winds and rising water. In some cases, beach sand was carried several blocks inland.

Most communities were still assessing their situations at the end of the week, a process that officials said could take months.

Studies at odds on removable seawalls as storm waves slam South Carolina beachfront homes

The surf from Tropical Storm Irma swamped past the pillars meant to prop up the experimental removable seawalls that advocates hoped would protect resort homes in the Wild Dunes and Harbor Island communities.

Whether the removed walls would have made a difference, however, remains in dispute as property owners, conservationists and the state wait on the courts to decide their future.

Meanwhile, the research done so far on their effectiveness is inconclusive.

Mayor Rhodes: “We have just one isolated case of West Nile. And we’re on top of it.”

Myrtle Beach, S.C. — In a Friday evening video message posted to the Myrtle Beach City Government’s Facebook page, Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes told residents there is a case of West Nile Virus in Myrtle Beach.

City officials said the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control confirmed the virus Friday.

What Are You Packing For National Healthy Lunch Day?

“What am I going to eat for lunch?”

It’s a question asked countless times each day. And, more often than not, the choice that is ultimately made isn’t a healthy one. Most of us struggle when it comes to making healthy lunch choices.

But we can learn to make better choices, and there’s no better time to start than National Healthy Lunch Day, which is September 19. DHEC encourages you to join in this effort by the American Diabetes Association aimed at raising awareness about the need to make healthy choices at lunchtime.

The intent is to spark dialogue about the importance of healthy eating and encourage people across America to develop healthier lunch habits, not just on September 19 but in the days, months and years to come.

So, instead of asking yourself, “What am I going to eat for lunch today?” consider instead: “What will my healthy lunch be today?”

Get started September 19 by preparing or purchasing a healthy, nutritious lunch. More than that, be ambitious and get your team at work — or your entire workplace — involved. Not only will it be fun, but it will be healthy.

Need some ideas for healthy lunches? Click here for some recipes.

DHEC in the News: Mosquitoes after Irma, Florida nursing home tragedy, swim warnings in parts of Congaree and Saluda rivers

Here’s a look at health and environmental news from around South Carolina.

Beaufort Co agencies monitor mosquito population after Irma

BEAUFORT, S.C. (WSAV) — Beaufort County Mosquito Control (BCMC) and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) will continue to conduct surveillance for mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases following Tropical Storm Irma.

BCMC anticipates an escalating and significant increase in the biting mosquito populations throughout the Lowcountry.

Florida tragedy highlights challenge for families seeking senior care

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Medicare records show a “below-average” rating for a Florida nursing home where an air conditioning outage led to the deaths of eight elderly clients.

The deaths are linked to heat conditions that developed at the Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood, Florida in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Hollywood police have launched a criminal investigation into the home’s operations.

A city spokeswoman says fire crews had been called to the facility 127 times over a one year period.

Warnings raised against swimming in Congaree, Saluda

COLUMBIA, SC People are being warning against swimming on parts of the Congaree and lower Saluda rivers after laboratory tests found elevated bacteria counts in the water.

Five spots on the rivers between Saluda Shoals Park and the Rosewood Drive boat landing were found to have bacteria levels above the safe swimming standard, according to a coalition of environmental groups and governments that are jointly checking water quality.

Benefits of vaccination outweigh any potential risks

By Linda Bell, M.D.
Director, Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control
State Epidemiologist

Thanks to vaccinations, diseases such as polio and diphtheria are becoming rare in the United States. Some physicians rarely — if ever — treat a case of measles.

That’s what makes vaccination one of the most successful public health accomplishments of the 20th century. It reduces the spread of disease and prevents complications and deaths.

But that success does not mean that the diseases vaccines help prevent are no longer a threat.

Although we have seen significant reductions in – even the elimination of – certain diseases, there were nearly 7,800 reports of vaccine-preventable diseases in South Carolina in 2016.  Of 238 disease outbreak investigations the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control conducted last year, 29 percent were influenza outbreaks.

Many of those flu cases occurred in schools and nursing homes, which serve people who often have complications from the flu.  The age groups with the highest rates of hospitalizations for flu included children ages 4 and younger and individuals older than 65. Unfortunately, 94 deaths from the flu have been reported in South Carolina during the 2016-17 flu season, which ends the end of September.

We also continue to see cases of whooping cough, bacterial meningitis, hepatitis A and B and other vaccine-preventable diseases, and they will increase unless we get more people vaccinated. The number of people receiving vaccines in South Carolina and the U.S. has declined in recent years.

Still, the fact remains that vaccines protect entire populations from multiple diseases. But questions remain.

Are vaccines effective? While no vaccine offers 100 percent protection, they are extremely effective.

How well a vaccine prevents illness varies based on the type of vaccine and the individual’s health status.  For example, the flu vaccine does not protect the elderly as well as it protects younger people. However, studies suggest that elderly people vaccinated against the flu have less severe disease, are less likely to be hospitalized and are less likely to die from the flu.

While there can be adverse effects from vaccines, severe adverse events are rare and occur far less often than complications from vaccine-preventable diseases. Although questions have been raised about whether there is a relationship between autism and vaccines, research does not show any such link.

Do vaccines have risks? Yes, vaccines — like all medications — have potential risks that must be weighed against the benefits. The risks are quite low and are comparable to those associated with prescription and over-the-counter medication.  The benefits are significant in protecting the public health and in cost-savings.  Ask your health care provider about what vaccines are best for you as well as potential risks based on your health factors.

In July the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics published a study showing that a 5 percent decrease in the number of children ages 2 to 11 vaccinated against the measles in the United States could triple the number of measles cases in that group and significantly increase the cost of controlling disease outbreaks. Of great concern is that the article reveals that several regions in the country are just above the level of vaccine coverage needed to prevent measles outbreaks.  If vaccination levels drop further, we could see a sharp rise in measles cases, one of the most highly contagious diseases known.

We continue to see preventable illness, hospitalizations and, unfortunately, deaths in South Carolina from influenza, whooping cough, meningitis, hepatitis B, and other vaccine-preventable diseases.  Every year U.S. travelers are infected after being exposed to diseases while abroad. Infected people can begin spreading a disease before they show symptoms. Numerous outbreaks have occurred in communities with low vaccination rates.

DHEC is working to increase vaccine coverage in South Carolina by enhancing partnerships with other vaccine providers, offering vaccines in schools and communities, improving technology that tracks vaccinations and simplifies access to immunization certificates, and — most importantly — educating people about the risk of diseases that can be prevented with vaccines.

While vaccines help prevent the spread of disease, their effectiveness relies on people being vaccinated. That’s where you can help. It is important that everyone – not just children – get immunized.

We have had great success combating diseases through vaccination. Let’s not lose ground now.