Archived Messages

Messages from State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris

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.

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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

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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.

(May 2018)

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Distracted Driving: A Leading Cause of Crashes

Each day in the United States, approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 people are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.

Distracted driving is driving while doing any activity that takes one’s attention away from driving, increasing the chance of a crash. A driver’s eyes, ears, and complete attention are all required for safe driving. Distractions can include visually taking eyes off the road, manually taking hands off the steering wheel, and even cognitively taking one’s mind off driving.

During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. That creates an enormous potential for deaths and injuries. Hands-free phone use is also distracting because it takes the driver’s mind off the road.

Texting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes one’s eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that is similar to driving the length of an entire football field blindfolded. Alabama’s texting while driving law prohibits using a wireless device to write, send, or read a text message, instant message, or e-mail while operating a motor vehicle.1 Fines are imposed and a two-point violation will be placed on the offender’s driving record.

Other common distractions that are known to cause or contribute to driver injuries and deaths include the following:

  • Passengers - the likelihood of a crash goes up with each additional passenger in the vehicle
  • Using in-vehicle technologies, such as navigation systems
  • Eating or drinking
  • Adjusting the radio, CD player, or temperature controls
  • Listening to loud music or using headphones
  • Grooming or applying makeup
  • Lighting cigarettes – harmful in many ways

Teens are the least experienced drivers and were the largest age group reported as being distracted at the wheel at the time of fatal crashes. Distracted driving is one of the three primary contributing factors to teen driver deaths, along with the use of alcohol and not wearing a seatbelt, so it is important to talk to teen drivers about these dangers. Learn about other contributing factors in teen driver crashes, injuries, and fatalities, on the Teen Driving Facts and Figures page.

Driving is an important and potentially dangerous activity that requires attention and focus from the driver at all times. Everyone should give the responsibility of driving his or her full attention, because any non-driving activity is a potential distraction that increases crash risk.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(April 2018)

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Reduce Risk of Age-related Macular Degeneration and Related Vision Loss

Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is the leading cause of blindness in older Americans, affecting more than 2 million people age 50 and older. It causes damage to the macula, a small spot near the center of the retina and the part of the eye needed for sharp, central vision.

Symptoms include blurriness, dark areas in vision, and distortion. Over time, the blurred area may grow larger or the person may develop blank spots in central vision. Objects also may not appear to be as bright as before.

Researchers have found links between AMD and some lifestyle choices. There is currently no known cure for macular degeneration, but there are things one can do to reduce its risk and possibly slow its progression after diagnosis that include the following:

  • Avoid smoking
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight
  • Maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and fish
  • Have regular eye exams

Vision loss is ranked among the top 10 causes of disability in the U.S. AMD by itself does not lead to complete blindness; however, the loss of central vision in AMD can interfere with simple, everyday activities such as the ability to see familiar faces, drive, read, write, or do close work.

According to the National Eye Institute, age is a major risk factor for AMD. While the disease is most likely to occur after age 60, it can occur earlier. Other risk factors for AMD are as follows:

  • Smoking. Research shows that smoking doubles the risk of AMD.
  • Race/Ethnicity. AMD is more common among Caucasians than among African Americans or Hispanics/Latinos.
  • Family History/Genetics. People with a family history of AMD are at higher risk. At last count, researchers had identified nearly 20 genes that can affect the risk of developing AMD. Many more genetic risk factors are suspected. Because AMD is influenced by so many genes plus environmental factors such as smoking and nutrition, currently no genetic tests can diagnose AMD, or predict with certainty who will develop it.

On a positive note, new treatments over the past 10 years have dramatically changed the course of AMD. In addition, low vision aids such as magnifiers and telescopic glasses can make the most of remaining vision, helping make AMD more manageable than ever before.

Early and intermediate stages of AMD usually start without symptoms, so make an appointment with an ophthalmologist for a dilated eye exam today.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(March 2018)

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Page last updated: August 1, 2018