Flu Vaccine Myths and Misconceptions

By Karyn Johnson, Public Health Educator

Over the years I have heard many reasons why people choose to get vaccinated against the flu. Unfortunately, I have also heard a few reasons why people choose not to get a flu vaccine (injectable or nasal spray), many of those reasons are based on incorrect information.  Even though the flu vaccine is recommended for everyone over 6 months of age, there are still a number of myths and misconceptions regarding the vaccine that lead people to not be vaccinated.  Let’s take a look at a few of the most common myths:

  1. The flu vaccine will give you the flu. Injectable flu vaccines are either made with killed flu viruses or small parts of the viruses.  The flu nasal spray contains a weakened virus that cannot grow at a person’s normal body temperature. Both flu vaccine options cannot cause the flu. Some people may have redness where the shot is given and / or feel a little achy or feverish for 1- 2 days following the vaccine, this is normal and shows you that your immune system is responding to build up protection against the flu. If you do get the flu after getting the flu vaccine, most likely you were exposed before getting vaccinated or within the two weeks after vaccination before the flu vaccine becomes effective.  In some cases, you may have been exposed to a flu strain that was not included in the flu vaccine, or exposed to a different illness all together.
  2. The flu shot doesn’t work. The effectiveness of the vaccine varies, depending on how good a match the flu strains in the vaccine are to the circulating strains, and the health and age of the person receiving the vaccine. Although the protection from vaccination is not perfect, it is the best defense we have. Even during seasons when the vaccine is not a great match to circulating flu strains, the vaccine can reduce how severe a person’s illness is, and reduce the risk of hospitalization or death due to the flu.
  3. It is too late in the season to get a flu shot. In Central New York, we often do not see the highest numbers of flu cases until February or later. Although getting vaccinated earlier is encouraged, getting vaccinated in December and into the New Year can still offer protection during the time when the number of flu cases are at the highest levels.
  4. I have never had the flu, so I don’t need to get the vaccine. If you have never had the flu you can count yourself as lucky! However, this does not mean you are immune to getting the flu in the future. The flu is an unpredictable virus. Just because you are a generally healthy person does not mean the flu cannot be serious. Although many people who die from the flu are medically compromised, many are not.
  5. The flu is not that serious. The last flu season (2017-2018) was particularly severe, with an estimated number of 79,000 deaths due to influenza (CDC, Influenza Division program impact report 2017-2018). Some people, such as older people, young children, people with chronic health conditions, and pregnant women are at a higher risk for serious flu complications.

Don’t let flu myths keep you from staying healthy this winter! The Onondaga County Health Department Immunization Clinic has flu vaccines available for uninsured and underinsured Onondaga County residents 6 months of age and up.  The clinic is held every Wednesday from 9:00am – 12 Noon in the John H. Mulroy Civic Center, Room 30.  This is a walk-in clinic, no appointments are necessary.  For more information on the flu or where you can get a flu shot, ask your health care provider or call 315-435-2000.

End the Stigma: Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders

By Mariah Senecal-Reilly

In October both National Substance Abuse Prevention Month and Mental Illness Awareness Week are observed. During this time families, communities, and organizations come together to raise awareness about the importance of substance abuse prevention and to celebrate people living in recovery. According to SAMHSA, around 43.6 million (18.1%) Americans ages 18 and older and have experienced some form of mental illness. In the past year, there were 20.2 million adults (8.4%) with a substance use disorder. Of these, there were 7.9 million people with both a mental disorder and substance use disorder, which is known as having co-occurring disorders. Experiencing a substance use disorder or mental health condition is very challenging, but the isolation, blame, and secrecy created by stigma can make things much worse by creating barriers to reaching out, getting needed support and living well.

Why is this Important?
To understand why this is important, consider what stigma is and how it affects those who live with a mental health condition or substance use disorder. Stigma is defined as when someone views a person in a negative way just because of a particular circumstance, or quality that they possess. Some people describe stigma as a feeling of shame or judgment from someone else but stigma can also come from an internal place when a person confuses feeling bad with being bad.

What is it like to experience stigma?

Individuals Feeling “Apart From” Society
Having a substance use disorder or mental health condition often goes along with never feeling comfortable with who you are.  This could mean that a person feels that there is something that makes them feel less than, different or set-apart from “normal” people. Or perhaps they feel disappointed at things they have not accomplished. As a result, the ordinary facets of life that are happy and satisfying to most people do not feel that way to someone with a mental health condition or a substance use disorder.

Individuals are Less Likely to Seek Out Treatment
People who experience stigma regarding their substance use disorder or mental health condition are less likely to seek treatment due to the fear of being associated with something that is viewed negatively by society. This can result in economic, social, and medical costs.

Communities are Less Likely to Support Harm Reduction Strategies
Harm reduction refers to public health interventions such as needle exchanges; substitution therapies; safe drug consumption areas that are designed to decrease the risk associated with drug use (e.g., infected needles); and peer-led treatment options. Due to widespread stigma about people with mental health conditions or substance abuse disorders these interventions are not usually supported by the public and believed by some encourage drug use or normalize behavior they see as unusual.

Individuals Can Experience Low Self Esteem and Poor Mental Health
When a person experiences stigma it can cause serious harm to their social lives. The chronic stress of discrimination may affect the mental and social health of individuals who use drug or people with mental health conditions. They may lose touch with their community and family and experience loneliness and isolation. When a person does not have social ties or a person to talk to, they are less likely to reach out for healthcare or treatment

What Can be Done to Reduce Stigma?
Reducing stigma associated with having a substance use disorder or mental health condition increases the likelihood that people with these conditions will seek treatment and other recovery supports. There are many ways to reduce stigma, here are a few:

Inclusive Language Choices
Person first language (for example, reference to “a person with substance use disorder or a person with a mental health condition”) suggests that the person has a problem that can be addressed. By contrast, calling someone a “drug abuser or mental patient” implies that the person is the problem.

Language Matters

Increase Community Education About Stigmatized Conditions
Conducting educational campaigns and other educational anti-stigma interventions present factual information about the stigmatized condition with the goal of correcting misinformation or contradicting negative attitudes and beliefs. They counter inaccurate stereotypes or myths by replacing them with factual information. This also involves doing the same on a face to face basis when someone is spreading inaccurate information.

Increase Contact with People with Stigmatized Conditions
Across mental health conditions and substance use disorders, people without these conditions often have very little meaningful contact with those who have these conditions. Lack of contact fosters discomfort, distrust, and fear.  Learn about and engage in contact with people who have lived experience with mental health conditions and/or substance use disorder.

To find out if you are infected with stigma go to curestigma.org/ to take a quiz.

Cure Stigma






Breast Cancer: It’s Not Just One Disease

By Emily Young, Public Health Educator

Although often thought of as just one disease, there are many types of breast cancer. A woman’s treatment options and prognosis are dependent upon the type of breast cancer that’s diagnosed. In order to determine this, all tumors are tested for estrogen, progesterone, and HER2 receptors. Breast tumors that have estrogen and/or progesterone receptors can be treated with hormone therapy. Anti-HER2 targeted therapies are used to treat tumors that are positive for HER2 receptors.

In the U.S., about 15-20% of breast cancers are classified as being triple negative. ThisTriple-Negative Breast Cancer, CDC means that the breast tumor has very few or no receptors at all for estrogen, progesterone, and HER2. Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) has a tendency to be more aggressive than other breast cancer types and is more likely to have an earlier recurrence that usually spreads to other parts of the body. TNBC seems to occur more in younger women, African-American women, and women who have the BRCA1 gene mutation.

Breast cancer may not cause any symptoms in its early stages. With early detection breast cancer is usually easier to treat and often has better outcomes. A mammogram is the best test to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt a doctor during a clinical breast exam. Screening guidelines recommend that women between the ages of 50 and 74 have a mammogram every two years. Women between the ages of 40 and 49 should check with their healthcare provider to see if a mammogram is recommended for them.

Free mammograms are available through the Onondaga County Cancer Services Program (CSP) for women between the ages of 40 and 64 who do not have health insurance or experience other barriers to completing their screenings.  Services are available at many healthcare provider sites throughout the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County. Call 315-435-3653 or visit the CSP website at ongov.net/health/cancerscreening.html to register for your free mammogram.

Learn more about breast cancer and current federal screening guidelines at: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/risk_factors.htm


Shake, Shake, Shake?

By Roseanne Jones, MS, RDN, CDN

As a Registered Dietitian, I do like to “shake things up” while I am working but the past couple of months, I did a lot less shakin’!
Let me explain.

Recently, I have been working with Chef Bill Collins, a Culinary Specialist at Syracuse University, to gather chefs and cooks in our community for salt-reduction training. Chef Bill Collins FALK Health Department Flavor and Savor Training SCSD Nutrition and Food Service Staff 2018Reducing salt in our diet is important because it may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Too much sodium (salt) increases the risk of heart disease, which is the number one cause of death in the United States. Chef Collins demonstrated how to decrease salt in the foods we eat in four really easy ways:

  • buy foods that are low in sodium (salt)
  • dilute the sodium by increasing the volume by adding ingredients to prepared foods such as chopped vegetables, plain yogurt, fresh fruit, tofu… the list goes on!
  • add “flavor bursts”  to your food with herbs, spices, citrus, garlic, and onions
  • decrease the portion sizes of your food (instead of a 12-inch tortilla use an 8-inch tortilla).

Salt is hiding in foods. It’s true!

Chef Bill Collins FALK Health Department Flavor and Savor Training SCSD Nutrition and Food Service Staff 2018
It’s true that most of the salt we consume comes from the foods we buy pre-made from the grocery store and from restaurants…..not the salt shaker.  The problem with buying prepared foods is that you can’t take the salt out of the existing food.   So, it is a good idea to cook from scratch when you can because you can control the salt.  When that isn’t possible, buy items that are fresh and lower in sodium!

I have the answer for you!

Read your food labels so that you really know what is in the product, look for  “low-sodium “ products, cook at home more often, cook from scratch (because you can limit the salt), and eat plenty of vegetables and fruits. Learn more by checking out the training!

Check out the video below of the training with Chef Collins!

Film Students Team Up with the Health Department to Promote Safe Sleep for Infants

By Lisa GreenMills, Program Coordinator, Syracuse Healthy Start
and Kara Verbanic, Public Health Educator

Finding out you’re pregnant can be life-changing news, and along with all the congratulations and well wishes from family and friends, new parents also get bombarded with plenty of unsolicited advice! It can range from helpful, to mildly amusing, to outright absurd! One thing we all hear though is “get used to not sleeping!” It really is hard to understand the exhaustion you’ll feel as a new parent until you actually experience it firsthand. Those first few weeks and months can be so difficult.

During those initial sleepless nights, friends and family might give you even more advice on getting your baby to sleep. You might hear that babies sleep better snuggled up with their parents, lying on their bellies, or surrounded by cute stuffed animals and blankets. Maybe back when you were a child, you even slept in bed with your parents. Times have changed though, and now that we know better, we can do better to protect our new baby. We now know that sleeping with an infant is very dangerous, and many babies have accidentally suffocated under pillows, blankets, between couch cushions, or their own parents’ bodies.

The fact is, every year right here in Onondaga County, infants are dying in unsafe sleep environments. It’s sad to even think about, but it’s important for every family to understand the risk factors and learn what they can do to help keep their babies safe. That’s why staff at the Onondaga County Health Department’s Healthy Families Division recently partnered with a team of students from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University to develop a Public Service Announcement (PSA) urging new parents to practice the ABCs of Safe Sleep, and most of all, to stay strong when it comes to infant sleep! Even though it’s difficult, Safe Sleep is always the best option.

Check out the video the students created and take a minute to learn the ABCs of Safe Sleep:

  • Baby should sleep ALONE
  • Put Baby to sleep on their BACK
  • Put Baby to sleep in a CRIB.

Safe Sleep Tips:

  • Place your baby on his or her back every time your baby sleeps (including naps).
  • Use a crib with a firm mattress that fits tight, without any space between the mattress and the side of the crib.
  • Babies should never sleep on soft surfaces (such as adult beds, sofas, armchairs, or pillows). Not even for a nap.
  • Breastfeeding is recommended and is associated with a reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • Place your baby to sleep in the same room as you but not in the same bed, for at least the first 6 months, ideally for the first year.
  • Keep soft objects or loose bedding out of the crib. This includes pillows, blankets, and bumper pads. Bumper pads should not be used in cribs. Wedges and positioners should not be used.
  • Do not overheat the baby or bundle the baby with lots of blankets. Instead, dress the baby in a wearable blanket sleeper at bedtime.
  • Do not smoke during pregnancy or after the baby is born. And, do not let anyone else smoke around your baby.
  • Avoid alcohol and illicit drug use during pregnancy and after birth.
  • Offer a pacifier at nap time and bedtime. Offer pacifiers to breastfed infants only after breastfeeding is firmly established.
  • Car seats and other sitting devices are not recommended for routine sleep.
  • Remember to tell family, friends, and child care providers about infant safe sleep tips so that your baby sleeps safely every time.
  • Make sure your baby has a safe place to sleep when visiting or traveling.

Healthy Families, a program of the Onondaga County Health Department, offers services for infants, children, new moms, and dads. Free and confidential home visits are available at their home or another location that works for them. For more information, call 315.435.2000 or visit http://www.onhealthyfamilies.com.

Special thanks to the faculty and students of S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications for the production of this video:
Robert Emerson, Adjunct Professor ─Television, Radio, and Film
Students: Jillian Mitchell, Christopher Sechler, Marisa Torelli-Pedevska, Emily Campbell, and Cameron Hill

The Pink Shawl Initiative: A Story of Joining Together for Breast Cancer Screening

By Emily Young, Public Health Educator

For many years, the Cancer Services Program (CSP) has collaborated with the Onondaga Nation to screen local Native American women for breast cancer. This partnership has grown and evolved in many ways over the years. It is true that breast cancer rates do tend to be lower in American Indian/Alaska Native women when compared to other ethnic groups, but mammography screening rates among these women are also somewhat lower than rates among other non-Hispanic groups of women, including white, black, and Asian.

When the CSP first began working with the Onondaga Nation, we had access to a mobile mammography unit. The unit was transported directly to the Onondaga Nation Health Clinic and set up inside of the building, which allowed women access to Free Mammogramstheir mammograms at a location that was both convenient and familiar to them. Due to various factors, the use of the mobile mammography unit was eventually discontinued. As a result, the number of Native American women in Onondaga County who received breast cancer screenings through this program dropped dramatically over the next several years. These women no longer had a familiar and convenient location to have their mammograms and the sense of community that the mobile mammography program had offered to them was unique and difficult to replace.

Recognizing this, the CSP initiated contact with the Onondaga Nation’s clan mothers to discuss strategies to increase breast cancer screening rates among their Native women. Out of these discussions the “Onondaga Nation Pink Shawl Initiative” was created. This initiative is a collaborative effort between the CSP, the Onondaga Nation, and Wellspring Breast Care Center at Upstate University Hospital-Community Campus. It encompasses both education and the provision of breast cancer screening services to women of the Onondaga Nation. Promotional materials were designed with culturally appropriate artwork that was obtained from a well-known Native American artist. Now this artwork is easily identifiable among women within the Onondaga Nation community and has been extremely successful at bringing awareness to the availability of this mammogram program.

Through the “Pink Shawl Initiative”, three to four mammogram clinics are scheduled at Wellspring Breast Care Center each year. The clinics, held on Saturday mornings, are open only to Native American women.  We encourage women to schedule their mammogram appointments around the same time as other family members and friends who also need their mammograms so they can come together. This practice promotes a sense of community which is a very important part of the Native American culture. So far in 2017, approximately 60 Native American women have been screened for breast cancer through the “Onondaga Nation Pink Shawl Initiative”. The CSP looks forward to continued collaboration with our partners to provide these breast cancer screening clinics for our community’s Native American women.

Learn more about breast cancer and current federal screening guidelines at: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/risk_factors.htm




Carbon Monoxide Alarms Save Lives

By Erika Frye, Environmental Health Technician II             

In October of 2014, the Onondaga County Healthy Neighborhood Program (HNP) visited a family who lives on Garfield Avenue in Syracuse. The HNP is a program that provides health and safety related services to people who live in the City of Syracuse. At the visit on Garfield Avenue, the HNP completed an assessment and provided the family with a carbon monoxide detector. As part of the HNP’s collaboration with the Syracuse Green and Healthy Home Initiative (GHHI) the program visited the home again in December of 2016 and provided the family with another carbon monoxide alarm for another level of the home. In June of this year, the family discovered just how valuable these detectors are.

On June 11, homeowner Kimberly White said that the carbon monoxide detector in her kitchen began to beep. Kimberly said, “Around 9:00 our carbon monoxide detector went off in the kitchen and my husband said that it was probably the battery and I agreed. Twenty minutes later another alarm, one that was still in a bag in the hall closet, went off and I said now I am going to call the Fire Department.” The family evacuated their home and made the call.

The detectors that alarmed were the ones given to the family by the HNP. The family had not installed the second detector yet, but HNP staff always activates the detectors as they are given out so they are operable.

Kimberly continued, “The Fire Department came and picked up 45 ppm [of carbon monoxide] on their handheld detectors so we had to stay out. National Grid came and tagged the dryer and said it had been improperly vented.”

When I was speaking with Kimberly she was very thankful that the HNP took the time to visit her home and to educate her and her family about home health hazards, including carbon monoxide. Kimberly told me that she was “just glad we had detectors because they [the Syracuse Fire Department] said that at these levels, in 2 to 4 weeks we could have all died.”

Kimberly also wanted to thank our program for all that we do. She believes that the services provided by the HNP saved her family, but I explained that it was also because she listened and knew what to do. The HNP gave her the tools and she did the rest.

Kimberly White and her family stand in the kitchen where the carbon monoxide alarm went off.

The products that we provide improve the health and safety of the home, but I believe the education that we provide is just as valuable to our clients.

If you would like to learn more about the Healthy Neighborhood Program or the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative please call 315-435-5431.