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Board meeting notes, May 15, 2013

Jul 02, 2013

Weather played role in West Nile virus surge

Last year’s jump in West Nile virus activity took Ontario by surprise. The weather may have been responsible, says Brenda Armstrong, who was in charge of the vector borne diseases program with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit last summer. Last year was the most active season for the disease since 2002, with three human cases diagnosed in Simcoe and Muskoka.

Armstrong gave the board of health a brief lesson in mosquito biology this week. She explained that the mild winter likely allowed more mosquitoes to overwinter successfully. The early spring allowed mosquitoes to begin their reproduction cycles earlier. And the hot weather through the summer presented ideal conditions for the virus itself to replicate rapidly inside the bodies of mosquitoes that transmit the virus to humans. The result was the discovery of positive pools of mosquitoes two to three weeks earlier than normal.

Asked what level of activity might occur this year, Armstrong said the virus is unpredictable but more traditional winter conditions for this region seemed to point toward a decrease in West Nile virus activity.

West Nile virus does not cause illness in most people but in some cases it will cause fever, muscle weakness, headaches and confusion.

Health unit campaign for water pipe controls goes provincial

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is seeking support from all 36 public health units in Ontario in its call for a law to prohibit use of water pipes, or hookahs, in public establishments or workplaces.

The health unit has tabled the request as a resolution to be voted on at the annual meeting of the Association of Local Public Health Agencies (alPHa) on June 3. Whether the pipes are used for tobacco or other unregulated substances, they create secondhand smoke that is harmful. Since their mouthpieces are shared between individuals they also pose a risk for spreading infectious disease.

The resolution is one of five being brought to the alPHa conference. The board of health has also approved support for wider eligibility for free dental care programs, making baby-friendly designation mandatory in all hospitals with birthing units, and asking the province to refrain from expanding gambling opportunities to offset budget shortfalls.

Provincial strategy could unify some health unit efforts

Simcoe Muskoka District Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner was one of the co-authors of a new strategic plan for public health in Ontario. “Make No Little Plans, an Ontario Public Health Sector Strategic Plan” has identified key areas where province-wide initiative would be more efficient and cost-effective than having it done 36 different ways in all the province’s health units. In some issues, Dr. Gardner told the board of health this week, “it carries far more authority” for the province to bring a program forward than for it to emerge from individual health units.

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