My Turn: Summer health in West Milford

| 11 Jul 2012 | 06:17

    With the good weather, summer is the time for outdoor enjoyment: swimming, hiking and barbecues. But summer also brings some health concerns to West Milford. In that context, Township Nurse Paula Edelstein compiled statistics for the Health Advisory Board on "Reportable Diseases" and their rates of occurrence in West Milford over the past few years. Those data indicate to us that education on the role of human behavior in disease prevention is important.

    The greatest number of disease-cases occurs for Lyme Disease. As public education has been provided by showing an informative film at Town Hall, "Under our Skin" attended by about 130 people, by inviting Dr. Lesley Fein to speak on Lyme Disease, and by publishing newspaper articles on Lyme, the West Milford Lyme-disease rates have decreased over the past few years.

    Residents have learned to cover up, to put on insecticides having high amounts of DEET, and to do body tick-inspections after engaging in outdoor activities. Residents who engage in outdoor activities should continue to remind each other about these three preventions, as appropriate human behavior is one of the best ways to stay healthy.

    The second largest number of disease-cases occurs for Hepatitis-C viruses (HCV). This is a class of liver diseases often caused by or exacerbated by alcohol, some drugs, and in blood from sharing dirty needles used for drug-injection, tattoos or body piercing. Sexual transmission also occurs but is relatively rare. Some problems are that HCV infection might not show symptoms for many years or even decades while the virus multiplies, and that a vaccine has not been developed because the viruses often mutate, thus changing the properties that a vaccine should have.

    Early nonspecific symptoms can include appetite-loss, nausea, fever, upper abdominal pain, flu-like symptoms or simply feeling lousy. About 75 percent of acute Hepatitis cases become chronic. As the disease progresses, liver cells can become fibrous or die. At present there are no treatment-cures, so treatment goals include combination therapies, perhaps for a year, to manage complications of the disease, including liver cancer. Ultimately liver transplant may be done, although HCV recurs in the transplanted tissue.

    Township Nurse Edelstein has been seeing a substantial number of Hepatitis cases in young adults from age 18 to 25. As HCV may not show symptoms for years or decades, it appears that the causes start in children of middle school and high school age. Although SRO police members have been providing some relevant education to the school children, that has not sufficed, as Hepatitis has a relatively high number of cases in the Highlands, including West Milford. Thus, additional disease prevention measures are needed, including increased education in biology and health courses.

    Prevention measures must include increased parent involvement in educating their teenage children on the factors that cause or exacerbate Hepatitis. With school vacation during the summer, disease-prevention should involve teens in healthy summer activities, including swimming and other sports. Also, important are ways that teens can earn some money such as cutting grass at their homes or their neighbors, various clean-up and spruce-up jobs such as painting lawn furniture, and planting and caring for flower and vegetable gardens.

    Teens may be able to land some more lucrative jobs at local businesses, as business often increases during the summer at garden-shops, restaurants and marinas.

    An important HCV prevention is teen-involvement in positive evening social activities, including township programs at Bubbling Springs, and teen dances or BBQs at one or another lake community. Hopefully, in the near future, the West Milford Teen Coffee House will again be providing activities on weekend evenings. The bottom line is that parents have the responsibility of talking to their teens and brain-storming with them on ways to stay healthy and enjoy the summer during the school vacation period.

    Doris Aaronson is the West Milford Health Advisory Board president.