Archived Messages

Messages from Acting State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris

Be Antibiotics Aware in 2018

The Alabama Department of Public Health joins the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a campaign to encourage patients, families, and health care professionals to learn about safe antibiotic prescribing and use.

Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 die as a result. Antibiotic resistance, one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health, occurs when bacteria no longer respond to the drugs designed to kill them.

The Be Antibiotics Aware campaign provides educational resources to help health care professionals improve antibiotic prescribing. Be Antibiotics Aware also educates the public on what illnesses antibiotics treat, how to take antibiotics appropriately, and that antibiotics can have minor to very severe side effects.

Antibiotics are critical tools for treating common infections, such as pneumonia, and for life-threatening conditions including sepsis. Antibiotics are only needed for treating certain infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics will not help some common bacterial infections including most cases of bronchitis, many sinus infections, and some ear infections.

Any time antibiotics are used, they can cause side effects and lead to antibiotic resistance. When antibiotics are not needed, they will not help, and there can be harmful side effects. Common side effects range from rashes and yeast infections to severe health problems such as Clostridium difficile infection (also called C. difficile or C. diff), which causes diarrhea that can lead to severe colon damage and death.

Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed. Patients and families should talk with their health care professional if they have any questions about their antibiotics, or if they develop side effects, especially diarrhea, since that could be C. difficile, which needs to be treated.

Antibiotics are not effective in treating viruses, such as colds and flu, or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow, or green. Respiratory viruses usually go away in a week or two without treatment. Patients and families can ask their health care provider about the best way to feel better while their body fights off the virus.

Keep yourself and others healthy by practicing the following:

  • Cleaning your hands
  • Covering your coughs
  • Staying home when sick
  • Getting recommended vaccines--for example, for influenza

Antibiotics save lives. When a patient needs antibiotics, the benefits outweigh the risks of side effects and antibiotic resistance.

To learn more about Be Antibiotics Aware resources and antibiotic prescribing and use, visit Improving the way antibiotics are taken helps people stay healthy now, helps fight antibiotic resistance, and ensures that life-saving antibiotics will be available for future generations.

Scott Harris, M.D.
Acting State Health Officer

(January 2018)

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Keep Safety in Mind While on the Road During the Holidays

The holiday travel season is upon us, and with that comes added traffic and congestion on the roadways. Driving during the holidays can be stressful, so be sure to buckle up before you hit the road. Motor vehicle crashes are among the leading causes of death in the United States, and the simple act of buckling your seat belt could prevent needless injury or the loss of life.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that seat belt use prevented an estimated 64,000 deaths in the U.S. during the years 2011 to 2015. It also found that about 40 percent of Alabamians live in rural areas - and increasing growth in rural parts of the state is consistently shown to be associated with increased crash-related death rates and lower seat belt usage.

When traveling with children, be sure they are properly buckled up and are in child safety restraints appropriate for their age and weight. Infant seats, including boosters, are very effective in protecting children in crashes. According to the CDC, securing children correctly reduces serious and fatal injuries by more than half. A booster seat positions the adult-designed seat belt correctly and safely, and offers children greater comfort and visibility. Older children are also a priority, and those age 12 and under should always ride in the back seat. The vehicle’s manual and the safety seat instructions are excellent tools to use to install car seats correctly. Even better, have your seat installed and checked by a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.

Being properly secured is important, and there are other tips to remember. Regardless of your age, it is illegal to use a cell phone while driving to send or receive text messages, instant messages, or e-mails. While Alabama law does not restrict drivers from making phone calls while driving, the Alabama Department of Public Safety suggests you practice caution when doing so. Follow these recommendations if you must make or receive a call while driving:

  • Safely pull off the road.
  • Use hands-free devices.
  • Do not engage in emotionally heated conversations.

To ensure that good habits are learned and imitated, teen passengers and drivers should see their parents practicing safe driving techniques.

Whenever you get into your vehicle, remember to buckle up on every trip and ask others in your vehicle to do the same so we will have a safe and happy holiday season!

Scott Harris, M.D.
Acting State Health Officer

(December 2017)

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Learn Healthy Lifestyle Changes That Can Help Prevent Diabetes

November is National Diabetes Month. Do you know that you can delay or even prevent diabetes by learning your risk factors and making a few lifestyle changes?

Preventing diabetes has never been easier, and it starts by making a commitment to live a healthier lifestyle. Key actions that can prevent, delay, control, or manage diabetes include the following:

  • Eating nutritious food, including eating more fruits and vegetables
  • Engaging in regular physical activity, at least 30 minutes every day
  • Losing weight
  • Stopping smoking
  • Getting influenza and pneumococcal vaccines as recommended
  • Having regular foot exams, eye exams, and HbA1c tests from your healthcare provider.

These changes are important because uncontrolled diabetes contributes to high blood pressure, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, lower extremity amputations, depression, and other serious complications.

Taking care of yourself and your diabetes can help you feel better both today and in the future. When your blood sugar is close to normal, you will have more energy, be less thirsty, heal better, and have fewer skin or bladder infections.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, please talk with your doctor about being referred to a diabetes self-management education class, where you will learn to check blood sugar levels, make a diabetes meal plan, and get tips to include exercise as part of your daily routine. If you have borderline diabetes, there are diabetes prevention classes available. Even if you do not have diabetes yourself, there is a good chance that a family member or friend does.

A wealth of information about diabetes, ranging from general information to menus and recipes, is available at this website at, and a satellite conference and live webcast will be held November 14, World Diabetes Day.

Over half a million adults in Alabama have diabetes – so take steps to protect your health and live a longer, healthier life.

Scott Harris, M.D.
Acting State Health Officer

(November 2017)

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Discuss Your Prescriptions With Your Health Care Provider

More than 30,000 people died in the United States in 2015 from an opioid overdose. Ninety-one people die every day because of opioid misuse and abuse, including prescription medications and synthetic opioid overdoses. The number of overdose deaths in this country has quadrupled over the past 15 years.

More than 700 people in Alabama died from a drug overdose in 2015. Our state has the highest level of opioid prescriptions in the nation, with numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing 5.8 million prescriptions being written for opioids in Alabama in 2015. That equates to 121 prescriptions for every 100 people in the state. Opioids are effective in managing pain, but patients need to know about the risk of dependency and addiction from their use. The epidemic is everywhererural areas, the suburbs, and urban areas, affecting people in all walks of life. With the high number of deaths associated with opioids, we need to increase awareness that they can be habit forming and decrease the number of individuals who either overuse opioids, use them recreationally, or use someone else’s prescription.

Nearly half of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. An opioid overdose can occur if taken with other medications such as benzodiazepines, alcohol, or sleeping aids. Many people are not aware of which medications are opioids or the risks associated with taking them. Commonly prescribed opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, tramadol, fentanyl, hydromorphone, meperidine, methadone, and morphine. Misuse of prescription opioid pain relievers is a risk factor for heroin use. Among new heroin users, approximately three out of four report having misused prescription opioids before using heroin.

To ensure patients use prescription medications appropriately, the National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends the following:

  • Follow the directions as explained on the label or by the pharmacist.
  • Be aware of potential interactions with other drugs, and inform your health care provider about all other prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, and dietary or herbal supplements you are taking.
  • Never stop or change a dosing regimen without first discussing it with your health care provider.
  • Never use another person’s prescription, and never give your prescription medications to others.
  • Store prescription stimulants, sedatives, and opioids safely and out of children’s reach.
  • Properly discard unused or expired medications.

October is Talk About Prescriptions Month, and it is a great time to ask your health care provider about the potential risk of addiction—a major public health problem. For more information, visit

Scott Harris, M.D.
Acting State Health Officer

(October 2017)

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September is Childhood Cancer Awarenss Month

During September, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, I encourage the public to be aware of this condition that so deeply affects families across our state and nation. Cancer remains the leading cause of death from disease among children past infancy. According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 10,270 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed among children from birth to 14 years, and about 1,190 children are expected to die from the disease in the United States in 2017.

According to the American Childhood Cancer Association, approximately 40,000 children are on active cancer treatment at any given time, and the average age of diagnosis is 6 years old, compared to 66 years for adults' cancer diagnoses. Cancer in children can be difficult to recognize because early symptoms are often like those caused by much more common illnesses or injuries. Children frequently become sick or have bumps or bruises that can mask the early signs of cancer.

Parents should have their child examined by a doctor if he or she has unusual signs or symptoms that do not go away, such as the following:

  • Unusual lump or swelling
  • Unexplained paleness and loss of energy
  • Bruising easily
  • Ongoing pain in one area of the body
  • Limping
  • Unexplained fever or illness
  • Frequent headaches—often with vomiting
  • Sudden eye or vision changes
  • Sudden unexplained weight loss

While most of these symptoms are far more likely to have causes other than cancer, such as an injury or an infection, parents should contact their doctor at once so that a diagnosis can be made and their child can be treated if needed. Thanks to advances, there are hundreds of thousands of childhood cancer survivors.

The Alabama Department of Public Health is a member of the Alabama Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition. Its vision, mission, special programs, and information about joining the coalition are described on this website at If you are interested in reducing the impact and burden of cancer on Alabama, please consider joining.

Scott Harris, M.D.
Acting State Health Officer

(September 2017)

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Page last updated: January 31, 2018