News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 5, 2014

Health department seeks expansion of vaccine program

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Last year, the Vigo County Health Department administered 1,362 childhood vaccinations to those who qualified for a federal program, Vaccines for Children, according to the 2013 Annual Report.

The program assists children who are uninsured, underinsured or qualify for Medicaid.

This year, the health department is taking steps so that it can also offer vaccinations to children covered by private insurance, which could greatly increase the numbers served. It will be able to bill private insurance.

The initiative is part of an effort to ensure children are up-to-date with their vaccinations, particularly by the time they start school.

The nursing division has worked hard to carry this out, said Joni Wise, health department administrator. “It will be amazing to see that hit the ground, actually come to fruition and go into effect by this June,” Wise said.

Vigo County ranks among the bottom 10 counties statewide for immunization completion rates for children ages 19 to 35 months, according to the state.

And, starting this fall, there are two new vaccination requirements for students:

• Children entering kindergarten must have two doses of Hepatitis A vaccine.

• High school seniors must have a meningococcal vaccine booster dose.

In some cases, family physicians are not providing vaccinations, said Carol Lucas, Vigo County School Corp. chairwoman of nursing services. When the health department is able to bill private insurance, “This will be another resource for families.”

Lucas chairs a community task force formed in Vigo County to educate parents about new student immunization requirements for 2014-15.

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The health department’s 2013 annual report, required by law, also shows health department clinic nurses investigated and reported 515 confirmed communicable disease cases. “Chronic hepatitis C continued to be the most prevalent communicable disease investigated by the VCHD in 2013,” the report says.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus, which is found in the blood of infected people. Some who get it never fully recover and may carry the virus the rest of their lives. Some people become very ill and some have liver failure.

Those who do testing for the disease in Vigo County often find that “individuals don’t want to seek help and treatment for it,” Wise said. The disease can lead to liver failure and death.

For the first nine months of 2013, the department investigated 83 cases.

Christina Keller, the department’s health educator, noted that a similar increase is occurring throughout the United States among baby boomers.

The disease can be spread through IV drug use, unprotected sex or even by getting tattoos through unlicensed artists.

The annual report contains other information and statistics for 2013:

• Last year, there were 2,320 births, 1,173 in wedlock and 1,147 out of wedlock.

• There were 16 stillbirths.

• The department reported 1,412 deaths.

• There were  4,559 client visits to the Health Department Clinic, which provides services to both children and adults for a nominal fee or free of charge.

• Also in 2013, the department managed fewer than five active tuberculosis cases, fewer than five suspect cases and 40 latent TB cases. It also provided 1,239 TB skin tests.

•The department collected 5,800 discarded tires, filling five semi-trailers from Terre Haute and Vigo County, much of it through a tire amnesty program.

The department responded to several public health complaints, including 24 surface sewage complaints, 13 trash and garbage complaints, 18 bed bug complaints and 17 mold complaints.

Childhood lead poisoning continues to be a public health concern in Vigo County, according to the report. The department, which does lead testing, followed up on 51 open cases out of 1,111 tested.

One of the challenges faced by the department is lack of funding, an issue shared by other health departments throughout Indiana, Keller said. “We could all use more of it.”

The department has three nurses to serve a county with a population of more than 100,000 people, Keller said.

A few years ago, the department had six full-time nurses and one part-time.

The community would benefit if the health department could devote a nurse full-time to doing lead case management on the clinical side, Wise said, ensuring children get proper medical care, nutrition and any other resources that might be needed.

She praised the efforts of the three nurses on staff.

 The annual report is available for public viewing online at www.vigocounty.in.gov, or in the Vigo County Health Department administrative office at 147 Oak Street, Terre Haute. Copies will be provided, free of charge.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.