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Public health alert issued for E coli risk in romaine lettuce from Salinas, Calif.

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On Friday, Nov. 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a public health alert due to illnesses caused by E. coli associated with romaine lettuce from the Salinas, Calif., growing region.

FSIS warns against consuming any wraps, sandwiches, prepackaged salad, salad kits or other product containing romaine lettuce harvested from the region.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration also advised consumers, retailers and restaurants not to eat or sell any romaine lettuce harvested from the Salinas, Calif., growing region.

Additionally, consumers should not eat any salad products identified in a Missa Bay, LLC, recall announced by FSIS Nov. 21, 2019.

At retail, most romaine lettuce products are labeled with a harvest location showing where they were grown. CDC and the FDA are advising that if this voluntary label indicates that the romaine lettuce was grown in “Salinas” (whether alone or with the name of another location) do not eat it. If the romaine does not have information about harvest region or does not indicate that it has been grown indoors (i.e. hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown), throw it away or return it to the place of purchase.

FSIS-regulated establishments are advised not to serve, ship or sell these products. This advice includes all types of romaine lettuce from the Salinas region, such as whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine and packages of pre-cut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad. If you do not know the source of your romaine lettuce, and if you cannot obtain that information from your supplier, you should not serve, ship or sell the product.

Anyone concerned about an illness should contact a healthcare provider. E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause dehydration, bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps two to eight days (three to four days, on average) after exposure to the organism.

While most people recover within a week, some develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. This condition can occur among persons of any age but is most common in children under 5-years old and older adults. It is marked by easy bruising, pallor and decreased urine output. Persons who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately.

Consumers with food safety questions can call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or live chat via Ask USDA from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. Consumers can also browse food safety messages at Ask USDA or send a question via email to [email protected]. For consumers that need to report a problem with a meat, poultry, or egg product, the online Electronic Consumer Complaint Monitoring System can be accessed 24 hours a day at https://foodcomplaint.fsis.usda.gov/eCCF/.

 

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Free helpline available for Medicare beneficiaries

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Leaders of Merit Health River Region recently announced the availability of a toll-free helpline designed to help Medicare beneficiaries select a health plan that fits their needs and budget.

The free helpline connects callers with licensed agents who can assist in comparing traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Supplement and Prescription plans, and then facilitate enrollment in the plan selected. Through this program it will be easier for Medicare beneficiaries to find a plan that is best for them during Medicare annual enrollment from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. Licensed insurance agents are available at no cost or obligation to help consumers find a Medicare plan that meets their health care needs.

Local consumers can access the helpline at 855-583-2003, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EDT, or online at www.medicarecompareusa.com.

“Consumers are bombarded with confusing messages from competing health plans and options — and this is especially true for those just turning 65 and becoming eligible for Medicare for the first time,” said Ben Richaud, chief executive officer of Merit Health River Region. “This helpline is a one-stop resource for insurance information, so individuals can be confident in the selections they make.”

MedicareCompareUSA is dedicated to helping consumers make this important insurance decision.

Not owned or managed by any Medicare insurance company, MedicareCompareUSA’s mission is to provide individuals the unbiased information they need while simplifying the enrollment process.

In addition to providing assistance throughout the plan application and enrollment process, agents of MedicareCompareUSA can provide an annual review of an enrollee’s Medicare coverage during Medicare’s enrollment period. This often includes assisting members affected by Medicare plan network changes that sometimes occur. Doing so assures that beneficiaries have the information they need to proactively select a plan that best meets their specific needs, preferences and budget.

Richaud points out that Merit Health is not in-network with all insurance options or health plans, and contractual relationships may change over time. If a patient enrolls with a health plan that does not include the hospital in the network, their care and relationships with their doctors could be affected.

“Members of our community have been entrusting us to be their health care partner for many years, and that’s a responsibility and honor we don’t take lightly,” Richaud said. “This helpline will help those on Medicare make an informed decision regarding their insurance options at this important time in their life. We urge all eligible consumers to take advantage of this free service.”

Traditional Medicare and the Medicare Advantage plans offered by Allwell, Cigna, Clover Health (new in 2021), Humana, Magnolia, Shared Health (new in 2021), United Healthcare and WellCare all allow consumers covered by these plans full access to in-network medical care and procedures at the Merit Health hospitals and employed physician clinics.

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MSDH Office of Tobacco Control receives two awards for smokefree efforts

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The Mississippi State Department of Health’s Office of Tobacco Control received two awards from the American Nonsmoker’s Rights Foundation: the Smokefree Air Challenge award and the Smokefree Air Challenge E-Cigarettes award.

The awards were presented at the ANR annual Smokefree Indoor Air Challenge and Voices for Smokefree Air awards ceremony.

The virtual awards ceremony was established by ANR to acknowledge and recognize states that excel in passing 100% smokefree provisions in workplaces, restaurants and bars. Mississippi has 171 smokefree cities with the passage of comprehensive smokefree air ordinances, 137 of which have ordinance that include restrictions on electronic cigarettes.

“The smokefree air policies implemented by these cities will protect all employees and customers in businesses and other public places from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke,” said Amy Winter, director of the Office of Tobacco Control at MSDH. “There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.”

In 2019, 14 Mississippi cities passed comprehensive smokefree air ordinances. At this time, 36% of Mississippi’s population is protected from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke and e-cigarettes.

“The adoption of these smokefree air ordinances by cities across Mississippi is an important step in improving our state’s overall health status,” Winter said. “We hope this activity at the local level demonstrates the widespread public desire for a comprehensive statewide policy.”

For information and resources about the dangers of e-cigarettes and tobacco products, visit www.healthyms.com/tobacco. For help with quitting visit www.quitlinems.com, or call the Mississippi Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

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MS Health Department emphasizes importance of flu vaccines

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(Photo by by LuAnn Hunt from Pixabay)

Seasonal influenza vaccinations are now available for children and qualifying adults at all Mississippi State Department of Health county health departments. Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months old and older as the best protection against the flu.

“We recommend that all Mississippians get their flu shots every year, but especially this year with COVID-19. We don’t want to risk overwhelming our hospitals,” said MSDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers in a statement.

Byers said flu season can occur as early as November and as late as March in Mississippi, but usually peaks anywhere from December through February.

Individual flu cases are not reported to MSDH, but the agency monitors flu activity through the ILI System, made up of health care providers in Mississippi who report the percentage of patients with flu-like symptoms to a statewide database. Providers participating in the system also submit respiratory samples for flu testing to the MSDH lab. State health officials use this information to determine the presence and spread of flu throughout the state.

“We recommend getting vaccinated now before we reach peak flu activity. Influenza vaccine is especially important for young children, pregnant women, those over 65 and those with underlying health problems,” Byers said. “Flu vaccination is the best way to protect both children and adults from serious complications such as hospitalization, and in many cases, death.”

Those 18 and under who are eligible for the Vaccines for Children program can receive a flu vaccination for $10. Insurance, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program is accepted for children’s flu shots. A list of all VFC providers can be found at www.HealthyMS.com/vfc.

Adults who are underinsured or uninsured and who meet certain high-risk criteria qualify for an adult flu vaccination at MSDH county health department clinics. Flu shots for insured adults are now widely available through private physicians, pharmacies and retail centers.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle and body aches and fatigue. Most people recover from the flu without complications, but nationwide there are up to 200,000 hospitalizations from flu each year.

While vaccination is the best protection, basic infection control measures can also reduce the spread of flu and should be taken whether individuals are vaccinated or not. These measures include covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing, staying at home when you or your children are sick and washing your hands frequently. Wearing a face covering in public places offers additional protection against the flu.

Please call your local county health department to make an appointment for your vaccination.

For Vicksburg and Warren County residents, the Warren County Health Department is located at 807 Monroe St. in Vicksburg, and it is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 601-636-4356 for more information.

To locate other county health department clinics or for more information on flu, visit the MSDH website.

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