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Surgeon General Addresses E-Cigarettes and Ebola at Springfield Stop

Michele Skalicky

The United States’ surgeon general is meeting with local health officials in several U.S. cities, and he made a stop in Springfield recently as part of that cross-country listening tour.   KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has more.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said the purpose of the cross-country listening tour is to understand the challenges that communities are facing when it comes to health.

Some of the concerns brought up in Springfield include childhood obesity, managing chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, lack of immunization and prescription drug abuse.  Another concern discussed was smoking and, in particular, e-cigarettes.  Murthy said that’s an area in need of more scientific data.

"For example, we do not know fully the content of e-cigarettes right now.  We also don't know the health effects of e-cigarettes, and we don't know if e-cigarettes will ultimately be a gateway to traditional smoking," he said.

He said answers to those questions are needed since the rate of e-cigarette usage by young people is on the rise.  According to Murthy, the FDA is working on regulating the e-cigarette industry.  But he said cities need to know more about e-cigarettes when deciding whether or not to restrict their usage.

Murthy said he’s also concerned about the increase in vaccine-preventable illness in the U.S., particularly whooping cough and measles.

"I also recognize, though, that there are individuals who are concerned about vaccines.  Some of them have heard that there may be harmful effects of vaccines, that they may actually cause autism, and I recognize that the perspective that people bring to this  is one of wanting to protect their loved ones, and I think that's very understandable.  But I think the best way for us to protect our young ones is to make sure that they get vaccines that have been proven to be safe and have been proven to be effective," he said.

He says measles is a highly contagious condition, and making the choice against vaccinations can be harmful to those who don’t have a choice.

"For example, people who are immunocompromised, very young infants, elderly patients who may have gotten immunized but whose immunity may have waned over time.  All of these populations are susceptible to vaccine preventable illnesses  like measles, like mumps, like whooping cough, and they depend on the rest of us being immunized and being healthy to protect them," he said.

Dr. Murthy addressed another communicable disease.  He says he’s proud of the fact that there are no new cases of Ebola here in the U.S.

"You know, what we've been able to do here domestically is to train tens of thousands of healthcare workers so that they know how to identify and treat Ebola patients.  We've been able to identify 44 centers that are designated as treatment facilities that are close to designated airports, which have a high volume of international traffic.  We've been able to triple our lab capacity so that we can more quickly diagnose cases of Ebola," he said.

He praised the Public Health Service Commission Corps officers who are working to fight Ebola in West Africa.  According to Murthy, there are two teams of public health officers treating healthcare workers with Ebola in Monrovia.  He says the U.S. has learned from its experience along the way, and that knowledge will help with any future disease epidemics that come our way.

Murthy began his cross-country listening tour in Birmingham, Alabama in late January.  He says he chose Springfield as one of his stops because it represents much of what the rest of the country is facing.

"Springfield is a mix of urban and rural.  It's a place which is facing some of the great epidemics like obesity and smoking and chronic disease that other communities are seeing, but Springfield also has its own unique challenges," he said.

He says he wanted to learn what those challenges are and to see what creative ideas people are putting in place here to address those challenges.  He pointed to a woman who is being trained to help residents of her community identify and get treatment for high blood pressure.