Here’s a look at the most pressing Public Health Emerging Issues of 2019, in no particular order.

Stop the Spread

Mesa County Public Health (MCPH) responded to a gastrointestinal illness that impacted a significant portion of our community in 2019, and at a time when people were getting ready to gather for the Thanksgiving holiday. A norovirus-like illness sickened so many students, D51 was forced to close all school buildings and deep clean to stop the spread of illness. While these types of illnesses are very common. The rapid spread and large number of people impacted was unique with this outbreak.  

Viruses like this are around all the time. They typically peak in the winter months when we are all together indoors or other confined spaces. The highly contagious viruses can spread very quickly from person to person as we saw with this outbreak, and the sudden onset of vomiting with this virus made it more widespread than usual.

Our entire community responded to help Stop the Spread. Seeing how quickly this virus spread from one school building to the next, helped folks realize the importance of staying home from work or school when you’re sick. It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of illness. In addition, MCPH recommended disinfecting techniques for high touch surfaces.  Viruses like norovirus can live on surfaces for weeks, and not all cleaners are effective in killing this specific virus. We were all reading labels and washing our hands. Studies have shown that handwashing can prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related sicknesses. If soap and water are not readily available, you can use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. But whenever possible, wash your hands with soap and water. 

MCPH Emerging Issue: Public Health Response and Recommendations Related to Gastrointestinal Illness Outbreak 

Severe Lung Illness

In the late summer of 2019, a large number of severe lung illnesses began being reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tied the illnesses to the use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products. The CDC calls the investigation into the illnesses complex; there have been cases in nearly every state, with more than 2,500 patients and a wide variety of brands and substances of vaping products. Laboratory data supports findings that vitamin E acetate (an additive) is closely associated with many of the cases, but they caution other substances could be risky, too.

The CDC and FDA recommend people not use THC-containing e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly from informal sources like friends, family, or in-person or online sellers.  In addition, the CDC also recommends:

  • Vitamin E acetate should not be added to e-cigarette, or vaping, products. Additionally, people should not add any other substances not intended by the manufacturer to products, including products purchased through retail establishments.
  • While it appears that vitamin E acetate is associated with EVALI, there are many different substances and product sources that are being investigated, and there may be more than one cause. Therefore, the best way for people to ensure that they are not at risk while the investigation continues is to consider refraining from the use of all e-cigarette, or vaping, products.
  • Adults using e-cigarettes or vaping products as an alternative to cigarettes should not go back to smoking; they should weigh all available information and consider utilizing FDA-approved cessation medications.
  • They should contact their healthcare provider if they need help quitting tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
  • Adults who continue to use an e-cigarette, or vaping, product should carefully monitor themselves for symptoms and see a healthcare provider immediately if they develop symptoms like those reported in this outbreak.

MCPH Emerging Issue: CDC says to stop using e-cigarettes during investigation into severe lung illness

Vaccine-Preventable Measles Makes a Return

Measles is very contagious and can be serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) an unvaccinated child can get measles when traveling abroad or even in the U.S. 

From January 1 to December 5, 2019, 1,276 cases of measles have been confirmed in 31 states. According to the CDC, 

  • This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992. More than 75% of the cases this year are linked to recent outbreaks in New York. Measles is more likely to spread and cause outbreaks in U.S. communities where groups of people are unvaccinated.
  • The majority of cases are among people who were not vaccinated against measles.
  • Measles can cause serious complications. From January 1 – December 5, 2019, 124 of the people who got measles this year were hospitalized, and 61 reported having complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis.

Three unvaccinated children were hospitalized in Colorado with measles in 2019.  Public Health officials warned that travelers at the Denver International Airport and a metro hospital might have been exposed to the s a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus.

MCPH Emerging Issue: Possible Measles Exposure in Colorado 

Opioid Use

The Centers for Disease Control ad Prevention (CDC) Director Robert R. Redfield was quoted earlier this year saying, “The opioid epidemic is the public health issue of our time.” According to CDC data, more than 70,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2017. In Mesa County, a large portion (70%) of overdose deaths involve an opioid. 

The opioid crisis has exposed millions of people to other health risks, too. Overdose deaths, Redfield explained, could result from the American public’s lack of understanding of the “true risks” of prescription opioids Redfield said. He said the CDC has taken several steps to combat the issue, including developing prescription drug monitoring programs, drafting clinical guidelines for chronic and acute pain, educating the American public about the risks associated with opioids and creating rapid response teams.

Mesa County is working to combat the issue in our community through the Mesa County Opioid Response Group. You can learn more about the efforts underway in our community on the Healthy Mesa County website.

Learn More: MCPH Opioid Prevention Report

Suicide Prevention 

Suicide is a preventable public health issue that requires comprehensive community-driven strategies. There’s important suicide prevention work happening in our community focused on critical areas such as economic stability, lethal means safety, education and awareness, access to care, and postvention services. Mesa County Public Health (MCPH) collects and analyzes data to understand suicide in Mesa County, based on the data public health recommendations are:

  • Expand amount and variety of support services for attempt and loss survivors.
  • Strengthen economic supports to increase stability in food, housing, and employment.
  • Increase connectedness to enhance social capital.
  • Expand access to suicide care.
  • Maintain educational programming to generate community awareness and reduction of mental health stigma.

The Mesa County Suicide Prevention Council, created in the spring of 2017, is working to reduce suicide deaths and attempts by 20% in the next five years. You can learn more about local resources and the data-driven work being done here

Learn More: Suicide report highlights the need for continued community conversation, collaboration, and connectedness

If you’re struggling, or know someone who needs help,
call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
at 1-800-273-TALK or text CO to 741741.

Air Quality

Air quality impacts how you live and breathe.  It can change from day to day, even hour to hour.  Mesa County Public Health is constantly monitoring air quality and in 2019 updated the way we look at air quality to ensure residents in the Grand Valley can enjoy clean air.  We use forecast models, measurement tools and observation to determine if action is needed from our community to continue to enjoy our air and all the outdoor recreation our community desires and deserves. Our team utilizes this local data to inform and educate community members about current air quality conditions. This data, over time, helps shape local policies on clean air.

To monitor air quality we use a measurement system called AQI (air quality index) developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assign a numerical value to the air quality.  This system takes four major air pollutants into account, ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. The higher the AQI, the greater the level of air pollution.

You can monitor air quality conditions in real-time using a community-sourced tool called Purple Air.  Check it out here.