Archived Messages

Messages from State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris

Alabama Works to Improve Birth Outcomes During Infant Mortality Awareness Month

The month of September has been proclaimed Infant Mortality Awareness Month in Alabama. Infant mortality is defined as the number of infant deaths that occur for every 1,000 live births, and it is a sentinel measure of population health. Infant mortality reflects the underlying well-being of mothers and families, as well as the broader community and social environment that cultivates health and access to health-promoting resources.

Alabama’s infant mortality rate of 9.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016 was the highest since 2008. This rate represents the deaths of 537 infants who did not reach 1 year of age. Alabama’s infant mortality rate has consistently remained above the national average; and the infant mortality rate for black infants is nearly two times higher than infant mortality rate for white infants. The leading causes of infant death in Alabama are congenital malformations, premature birth, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Challenges include ensuring mothers have access to quality health care before, during, and after pregnancy, reducing premature births, stemming the opioid epidemic, and addressing persistent racial disparities.

We urge everyone to learn about the risk factors for infant mortality and take steps to help reduce infant deaths. The National Institutes of Health recommend the following:

  • Reduce birth defects. While birth defects can occur during any pregnancy, certain situations place pregnant women at high risk of having a child with a birth defect.
  • Address preterm birth, low birth weight, and their outcomes.
  • Get preconception and prenatal care.
  • Create a safe infant sleep environment.
  • Screen newborns to detect hidden genetic and congenital conditions.

Alabama is committed to improving the health and well-being of women, infants, and families by raising awareness about the importance of infant mortality prevention. Factors that contribute to healthy pregnancies include support at home, school, work, and in the community. We are joining with health care providers, communities and other partners to better understand the causes of infant mortality and to work to improve birth outcomes for all.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(September 2018)

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Discourage E-cigarette Use, Especially Among Young People

The use of e-cigarettes is a rapidly emerging trend that is especially popular with youth and young adults. E-cigarettes are devices that typically deliver nicotine, flavorings, and other additives through an inhaled aerosol. E-cigarettes are very popular and are flavored to taste like menthol, alcohol, candy, fruit, chocolate, or other sweets. More than 8 of every 10 youth ages 12-17 who use e-cigarettes said they use flavored e-cigarettes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many people erroneously believe that e-cigarettes are less harmful than other tobacco products. The sometimes sweet-smelling vapor smoke can seem appealing, but it contains harmful ingredients, including nicotine. E-cigarettes can also be used to deliver other drugs besides nicotine, such as marijuana.

Scientists are studying how e-cigarettes affect health. Nicotine exposure during adolescence can cause addiction and hinder brain development. The aerosol from e-cigarettes also contains harmful chemicals, ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, and other heavy metals. Flavoring such as diacetyl has been linked to lung disease. Furthermore, the battery packs in e-cigarettes have been known to start fires and explode, causing serious injury.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is especially concerned about a highly popular e-cigarette made by JUUL Labs Inc. A JUUL does not have the same appearance as other e-cigarettes. The small and sleek devices look much like a computer flash drive that is easy to hide in a fist or a pocket. They can even be plugged into a laptop’s USB slot to recharge. This is a special concern because the concentration of nicotine in JUUL is more than twice the amount found in other e-cigarettes.

According to the CDC, e-cigarettes are a $2.5 billion business in the U.S. As of 2014, the e-cigarette industry spent $125 million a year to advertise their products, and used many of the techniques that made traditional cigarettes popular such as sexual content and customer satisfaction. We know that marketing and advertising of conventional tobacco products like cigarettes can lead youth to use tobacco, and scientists are finding that youth who are exposed to e-cigarette advertisements are more likely to use the product than youth who are not exposed.

Because these products are so new, scientists do not know the long-term health effects of using them yet. Most tobacco use starts during adolescence, so it is important that parents, guardians, teachers, health care workers, and others who interact with young people discourage the use of e-cigarettes and talk to them about the risk of nicotine addiction that makes them more vulnerable to later cigarette use and other addictions.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(August 2018)

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Parents: Immunize Your Children Now to Avoid the Back-To-School Rush

Now is the time to make sure your children are up to date on their immunizations for continued protection from vaccine-preventable diseases and cancers before they head back to school.

One of the most important things parents can do to help protect their children’s health, the health of their classmates, and their community is to ensure their children receive all recommended vaccines on time. In addition, Alabama state law requires all children to present an up-to-date Certificate of Immunization (COI) upon entrance to childcare centers and school.

Parents are the key to ensure their children are vaccinated according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Schedule, endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Childhood vaccines protect against serious and potentially life-threatening diseases and cancers. For example in Alabama 226 pertussis or whooping cough cases were reported in 2017. Many of these cases could have been prevented had vaccines been given on schedule.

When children are not vaccinated, they are at risk of disease and can spread diseases to others in their classrooms and community. Communities with groups of unvaccinated people are vulnerable to preventable diseases. Vaccine protects the people who received the vaccine, as well as children too young to be vaccinated, persons with medical conditions preventing vaccination, and those who do not respond to the vaccine.

To see all recommended and required vaccines, which include influenza vaccine, for children aged 0-18 years of age, please check this website at

Getting every recommended dose of vaccines provides children the best protection against preventable diseases and cancers. Please check with your children’s health care provider or local health department to find out what vaccines they need this year.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(July 2018)

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Men: Be Attentive to Your Own Health

June is National Men’s Health Month, a month dedicated to promoting prevention, early detection, and treatment of disease and injury among men and boys by encouraging them to seek regular medical attention. Regrettably, men’s’ health is often overlooked and their symptoms are often ignored.

Heart disease, cancer, and accidents are the leading causes of death in Alabama men. Some diseases and conditions may not have symptoms, so getting regular checkups can help diagnose health issues before they become problems. Men should be alert to signs and symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, excessive thirst, and problems with urination. If you have these or other symptoms, be sure to see your doctor right away.

The following are some important ways for men (and also women) to improve and maintain their health:

  • Quit using tobacco.
  • Avoid excessive drinking. If you drink alcohol, have no more than two drinks per day.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Increase physical activity.
  • Eat healthy food.
  • Drink more water.
  • Tame stress.
  • Schedule regular checkups.
  • Keep track of your readings for blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol and follow your health care provider’s recommendations.
  • Get vaccinated.

Women outlive men by an average of five years, and a factor that may cause this gap in longevity is that women seek and receive medical care earlier and more often than men.

Healthier men lead happier lives, so step up to the challenge. Be a positive role model for your family and community by making lifestyle changes that can help lower your risk.

June is the perfect time to schedule your annual checkup, so contact your health care provider today. More information is available at

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(June 2018)

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World No Tobacco Day Focuses on Quitting Tobacco

Tobacco is bad for you. I know that, and you know that.

That is the reason I want to convince all tobacco users to quit for at least a day on Thursday, May 31, World No Tobacco Day. It is an annual event that is exactly what it sounds like – one day, no tobacco around the world every year. The idea is to raise awareness about the health risks associated with tobacco use. I hope that every user of tobacco will consider it, and give it a try by abstaining from all tobacco products on that day.

In the United States, cigarette smoking is declining. The use of other tobacco products, however, has remained unchanged or has increased in recent years, and there are disparities in tobacco use across population groups.

Tobacco use continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in Alabama, killing in excess of 8,600 smokers and costing the state more than $1.88 billion in direct medical expenses to treat smoking-related diseases each year.

The Alabama Department of Public Health Tobacco Prevention and Control Program works to help tobacco users quit, prevent youth and young adults from starting tobacco use, and protect people from exposure to secondhand smoke. We also have a great resource for those who need help quitting tobacco – the Alabama Tobacco Quitline. You can call toll-free at 1-800-QUIT-NOW ( 1-800-784-8669) or go online at

The Quitline helps callers develop an individualized quit plan, offers coaching, and provides up to eight weeks of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) patches if the user is medically eligible and enrolled in the coaching program. All Quitline services are free to Alabama residents.

If the caller is eligible for NRT, it is mailed directly to the caller’s home. Medicaid callers are referred to Medicaid for their cessation medications. Quitline services are available every day from 6 a.m. to midnight, with calls placed after hours or on holidays returned the next business day. The Quitline schedules telephone coaching sessions at the caller’s convenience.

Thousands of Alabamians have already called and are now living tobacco free. You can quit too. Start with one day and go from there as the first step toward a healthier, longer, tobacco-free life. There is no downside to quitting tobacco, and the benefits are priceless.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(May 2018)

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Page last updated: October 1, 2018