Public health workers keep food, water and people safe from harm

Guest Opinion

  • Wednesday, March 19, 2014 2:14pm
  • News

When you hear the term "public health," what do you think about? Ask 10 people what public health is and you may get 10 different answers.

Public health is defined as "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through organized efforts in a population-based strategy." The focus of public health is to prevent disease rather than treat it.

April 6-12 marked the 14th annual National Public Health Week. The Clallam County Department of Health and Human Services is your local public health department.

A group of dedicated individuals works to promote and protect the health of Clallam County citizens. You may not see us every day, but we are part of your daily lives.

_ Before you enter a restaurant, we have been there to make sure the food you are ordering is safe from illness.

_ Before the bathroom in your house can be used, we ensure the septic system works correctly.

_ Before your children and grandchildren can go to school, we provide the immunizations required for enrollment.

_ We also serve more than 1,300 pregnant women and children up to 5 years old each month with nutritious food vouchers for healthy childhood development.

_ We monitor and respond to communicable disease outbreaks in the county.

__We inspect your children’s car seats to ensure they are properly installed.

In the past century, Clallam County and the role of public health have changed dramatically. The impact of our local public health department helps increase life expectancy, reduces infant and child mortality rates and reduces the burden of communicable diseases.

By the numbers

How do we know if we make a difference? Annually, our public health sections provide case management services to more than 50 families who have children with special health care needs; immunize more than 4,000 people for diseases such as measles and meningitis; manage more than 250 positive notifiable condition reports and dispose of more than 50,000 used syringes.

Our human services section each year serves more than 1,200 people who receive substance abuse services. More than 100 people with developmental disabilities receive support with independent employment.

Our environmental health section inspects the county’s 420 restaurants and grocery stores; tests water samples for nitrates and bacteria for well owners and water systems; and trains more than 2,000 food workers each year – all while investigating about 150 complaints of food-borne illness, water and septic systems and illegal garbage dumping.

Help yourself stay healthy

What can local citizens do to support their own health? Focus on making changes, no matter how small, that have the largest effects on their overall health.

_ Physical activity in Clallam County is one of the easiest and most enjoyable activities anyone can change.

Physical activity does not have to be strenuous. Choose an activity that is fun and that you enjoy. Open the Sequim Gazette every week. The activities happening in our community daily are amazing. Take in fresh air and enjoy the beauty of this wonderful town.

If you are a smoker, become a nonsmoker. Tobacco use in all forms has been proved to damage your health. Tobacco use also may harm nonsmokers around you.

Ready to quit? Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

_ Get your immunizations. When we think in terms of immunizations, we think about our children. At birth, we begin making recommendations about what vaccinations to get and when to get them. State laws require children to be immunized for a variety of preventable diseases before entering school.

What many people don’t realize is that many of these same immunizations also are encouraged for adults. Vaccines are available for children to seniors.

The rates of vaccine-preventable disease in our communities have been reduced drastically and in some cases eliminated by widespread immunization.

Annual influenza vaccinations also are important. The cost of treating a person who gets a vaccine-preventable disease is 10 times greater than immunizing the person and preventing the disease in the first place.

_ Then there are diseases that are preventable that we are not able to vaccinate against. Chlamydia is one of the most commonly reported communicable diseases in Clallam County. The majority of those infections are in youths 15 to 24 years old. Fortunately, there is a very effective treatment for chlamydia.

Other diseases such as HIV and hepatitis are not treated so easily. Common infections we see in Clallam County are salmonella, campylobacter and giardia. These are primarily food- and water-borne illness. Simple preventive measures such as hand washing and cooking food thoroughly are very effective ways to stop transmission.

The role of public health in our local community will continue to evolve. All of Clallam County is the population your local public health department serves.

I think of public health in terms of preserving the environment and helping people learn how to stay healthy. We are such a large part of your everyday living.

So, the next time you wash hands, remember you are helping preserve the health of yourself and someone else.

Christina Hurst is the public health programs director for the Clallam County Department of Health and Human Services.

An editor’s note

Readers who long have sent news to the Sequim Gazette via should change their address books and send their announcements to news@sequim The change is part of an e-mail reorganization designed to get your information to the proper person as soon as possible.

Messages for Jim Casey, Gazette editor, should be sent to

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