Health Department advises Vermonters to get tested for HIV

medical-563427_640The Vermont Department of Health reminds Vermonters to get tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV infection can go unnoticed, with few obvious symptoms for about 11 years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 14 percent of people living with HIV in the U.S. don’t know it.

Testing is a first step on what the CDC calls the “The HIV Care Continuum,” a model that outlines steps that people with HIV go through from initial diagnosis, to engagement in medical care, to achieving a goal of viral suppression (a low level of HIV in the blood). Viral suppression is achievable when people with HIV stay in medical care and adhere to their treatment.

“Many people living with HIV who are engaged in care live long and healthy lives,” said Patsy Kelso, state epidemiologist for infectious disease. “When their viral levels are undetectable, they are less likely to pass HIV to their sexual or needle-sharing partners.”

Only about 40 percent of U.S. residents who know they have the infection are engaged in medical care.  The CDC is working with state health departments to increase the proportion of people living with HIV who are able to stay engaged in HIV medical care and adhere to their treatment so that they can achieve viral load suppression.

According to data released by the Health Department, 58 percent of Vermont residents known to be living with HIV have achieved viral suppression.

“For the subset of Vermonters with HIV who visited their doctor at least once in 2014, the outcomes are even better, with 75 percent showing evidence of viral suppression,” said Kelso. “They are reaping the benefits of HIV treatment because they first got tested and then stayed engaged in care.”

The Health Department encourages Vermonters to ask their medical provider for an HIV test. Individuals at high risk, who may not be comfortable asking their provider for a test, may choose to visit one of about 25 testing locations sponsored by the Health Department statewide. These sites provide free and anonymous testing services. The Health Department network sites offer oral fluid or finger-stick blood testing, HIV risk reduction counseling and links to support or care services as needed.

HIV is spread primarily through unprotected sex and sharing injection equipment. Consistent and correct use of condoms can greatly reduce the risk of sexual transmission. Never sharing syringes prevents transmission of the virus. A mother with HIV can pass the virus to her baby, although early diagnosis and medical care can greatly reduce this risk. The Health Department recommends that all pregnant women seek prenatal care and ask their medical provider for an HIV test.

For more information, go to or call the Health Department’s toll-free AIDS Hotline at 800-882-2437 weekdays  8  a.m. to 4 p.m.

— Staff report


Vermont Health Department warns against mosquito-borne diseases

West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis virus are infectious diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. Although the risk of getting infected is low, it’s not zero.

It’s important to take steps to reduce your risk of infection.

To prevent mosquito bites:

  • Limit the amount of time spent outdoors from dusk to dawn.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants outside when mosquitoes are active.
  • Use insect repellents that are labeled as being effective against mosquitoes. Effective ingredients are DEET, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. For more information about choosing a repellent see: and search for “insect repellent.”
  • Cover baby carriages or outdoor play spaces with mosquito netting.
  • Fix any holes in the screens in your house and make sure they are tightly attached to the doors and windows.
  • Reduce mosquitoes near your home. Remove standing water around your house. Dispose of, or regularly empty any water-holding containers (including trash cans) on your property. Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers that are left outdoors, so water can drain out. Clean clogged roof gutters of leaves and debris that prevent drainage of rainwater. Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use. Do not allow water to stagnate in birdbaths. Change it every three or four days. Keep swimming pools clean and properly chlorinated. Remove standing water from pool covers. Use landscaping to keep standing water from collecting on your property.

For more information on mosquito-borne diseases in Vermont:


Shallow water can be dangerous, too

With summer here, parents have been swimming up to ask me about something called shallow water blackout and how it might affect their children or themselves. Let me make some waves and explain this condition and ways to prevent it.

Shallow water blackout is a loss of consciousness due to lowering of carbon dioxide levels in the blood stream, which reduces your need or drive to take a breath. This can occur from breathing hard and fast, or what we call hyperventilating, before going swimming – either in or under water.

If a child takes big breaths before going into a pool or body of water, and then holds their breath as they swim underwater, they could forget to breathe due to low carbon dioxide levels until it’s too late. This means they could faint underwater, then open their mouth, swallow water and drown unless someone is there to rescue them.

Shallow water blackout usually occurs in water that is shallow (less than 16 feet deep) hence the name shallow water blackout. It may be responsible for over 50 percent of drownings. Just because your children can swim does not protect them from shallow water blackout. It can and does happen to the most experienced of swimmers in pools or open water.

So what can we do to prevent shallow water blackouts from occurring? First and foremost be aware that these events can and do happen. Once you are aware of this condition, the key to prevention is to not let your children or teens hyperventilate or take lots of deep breaths before they dive into a pool or body of water. Do not let them compete at holding their breath under water or seeing how far they can swim without taking a breath. Even playing tag or running around a pool area, which can make your child breathe fast before jumping into the pool, can be dangerous and predispose your child to being at risk for drowning due to this condition.

And, of course, never have your child go swimming without a buddy or adult who can be there to immediately help in case of an emergency like shallow water blackout.

Hopefully tips like this will allow you to breathe more easily and to educate your children about how to prevent an episode of shallow water blackout.


Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.