Health News and Alerts

2/21/24 Do Not Use Smartwatches or Smart Rings to Measure Blood Glucose Levels: FDA Safety Communication

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers, patients, caregivers, and health care providers of risks related to using smartwatches or smart rings that claim to measure blood glucose levels (blood sugar) without piercing the skin. These devices are different than smartwatch applications that display data from FDA-authorized blood glucose measuring devices that pierce the skin, like continuous glucose monitoring devices (CGMs). The FDA has not authorized, cleared, or approved any smartwatch or smart ring that is intended to measure or estimate blood glucose values on its own.

For people with diabetes, inaccurate blood glucose measurements can lead to errors in diabetes management, including taking the wrong dose of insulin, sulfonylureas, or other medications that can rapidly lower blood glucose. Taking too much of these medications can quickly lead to dangerously low glucose, leading to mental confusion, coma, or death within hours of the error. READ MORE HERE.

2/15/24 Paxlovid Out of Pocket Cost Skyrockets: What this might mean for you, and how you can keep costs down. 

In October 2023, the federal government announced that starting in January, they would no longer be purchasing Paxlovid from it's manufacturer (Pfizer) and offering it for free to US residents.  The new out of pocket cost? Approximately $1,500. How you might fare cost-wise depends on the kind of insurance you have.  

-If you have Medicare or Medicaid  Paxlovid will continue to be free through 2024 through a U.S. government patient assistance program operated by the drug’s maker, Pfizer. Patients with a prescription for Paxlovid can enroll in the assistance program online at paxlovid.iassist.com or over the phone (1-877-219-7225). Pfizer estimates that the enrollment process takes about five minutes, and it can be done by the patient, a caregiver, a health care provider or a pharmacist at the point of care. After enrolling, the patient will receive an electronic voucher that can be exchanged for a free course of Paxlovid at participating pharmacies. As of Jan. 2, approximately 55,000 pharmacies are participating in the government-supported patient assistance program, and that number is expected to grow. This includes retail chains such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Kroger, Costco and several others. If there isn’t a participating pharmacy nearby or if the pharmacy is out of Paxlovid, overnight shipping to the patient’s home will be available. Patients who enroll in the program will remain enrolled through Dec. 31, 2024, and will be able to receive more than one prescribed treatment course of Paxlovid throughout the year.*

  -If you have Medicare Part D you can choose to use your prescription drug plans to acquire oral antiviral COVID-19 treatments. Out-of-pocket costs, if any, will vary by plan. If a Part D enrollee has trouble obtaining Paxlovid coverage, they should contact their plan or 1-800-MEDICARE for assistance.

Note that people who get health care through the Indian Health Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense will continue to be able to access Paxlovid for free a from the supply stockpiled by the federal government.

-If you have private insurance coverage (i.e Blue Cross, Harvard Pilgrim etc.) your costs will be dependent on the agreement between Pfizer and your insurer and your individual plan. Pfizer has stated they are working with insurers to secure health insurance arrangements that would come with low out-of-pocket costs to patients. 

*Information from the AARP article: "Are COVID Treatments Still Free? How to cover drug costs now that Uncle Sam is no longer footing the bill for everyone "


12/14 New Drug Xylazine and Narcan (from ASTHO, Dec 2023 )  

More than 109,000 fatal overdoses occurred in 2022, with the majority involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Adding to the overdose challenge is the emergence of xylazine, a non-opioid tranquilizer (i.e., sedative), that is being increasingly mixed with fentanyl in the illicit drug supply. As of November 2022, xylazine was found in the illicit drug supply in 48 of 50 states and Puerto Rico. Xylazine is currently associated with one in ten fatal fentanyl (11%) overdoses, a near-threefold increase from 2.9% in 2019. Toxicological testing for xylazine is not uniform and, as a result, its involvement in fatal overdoses may be underestimated. 

Xylazine, also known as “tranq” or “tranq dope,” is a central nervous system depressant causing drowsiness, slowed breathing, reduced heart rate, and hypotension, which can increase the risk of a fatal overdose. Xylazine is approved for veterinary use in the United States but is not FDA-approved for human medicine. Xylazine, can be added to substances that are ingested orally, snorted, sniffed, or—mostly commonly—injected intravenously, and has been added to or used to cut heroin and fentanyl to prolong their effects. People who use drugs may be unaware of xylazine’s presence, which can put them at a higher risk of fatal overdose. Xylazine use is associated with skin ulcers, lesions, abscesses that left untreated, can lead to amputation. People who develop a physical dependency on xylazine may develop severe withdrawal symptoms.

Although symptoms of xylazine use and opioid use are similar—making it difficult to differentiate whether someone has used one or both substances—overdose reversal agents (e.g., naloxone) do not counteract the effects of xylazine. Public health leaders still recommend that naloxone be administered for a suspected opioid overdose because xylazine has been detected in substances alongside fentanyl.

Learn more about Xylazine.

11/6/23 MetroWest Community Foundation 2023 Community Health Assessment Released


Metrowest CHA

The foundation recently released its 2023 Community Health Needs Assessment. The report provides updated health and demographic data that can be used to inform the work of local government and community health and social service programs within the 25- MetroWest communities served by the foundation. The report builds on similar assessments done in 2013, 2016, and 2019.

 With information gleaned from a community survey of over 1,000 residents, key informant interviews and focus groups, as well as an analysis of key health and demographic data for the region, the 2023 Community Health Needs Assessment identified five specific need areas:

 Mental Health - the need to improve access to outpatient mental health care as the demand for services has increased post-COVID, particularly for children and adolescents.

Substance Use - the need to address continued high use of vaping products by teens and alcohol and opioid use among adults.

Built & Natural Environment – the need for greater opportunities for recreation and socialization to combat isolation and loneliness, especially among older adults; and the need to address climate-related changes that further threaten health and social well-being.

Housing Insecurity & Homelessness – The need to address the high cost of housing which can make it difficult for families and individuals to balance housing, medical, and food expenses, and places more families and individuals at risk of being homeless.

Food Insecurity – The need to improve access to nutritious foods and information about food- related supports available to low-income individuals and families in the region.

 The report notes overarching challenges that impact the health of MetroWest communities including challenges to accessing primary care; chronic disease and illness; and the impact that COVID has had on the overall well-being of residents. The report also examines the health disparities that residents of certain age, race, or ethnic background face due to structural racism and discrimination that limit health and well- being.

 The full report is available for review and download from the foundation’s website: www.mwhealth.org


9/12/23 COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Update:  U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves updated COVID-19 vaccines formulated to more closely target currently circulating variants and to provide better protection against serious consequences of COVID-19.


o    Individuals 5 years of age and older regardless of previous vaccination are eligible to receive a single dose of an updated mRNA COVID-19 vaccine at least 2 months since the last dose of any COVID-19 vaccine. 

o    Individuals 6 months through 4 years of age who have previously been vaccinated against COVID-19 are eligible to receive one or two doses of an updated mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (timing and number of doses to administer depends on the previous COVID-19 vaccine received). 

o    Unvaccinated individuals 6 months through 4 years of age are eligible to receive three doses of the updated authorized Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine or two doses of the updated authorized Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine.

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: One Year Later


Formally launched in July, 2022, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is receiving almost 400,000 calls each day. Since then, workers with the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline have responded to roughly 5 million calls, chats and texts, which is up by more than 2 million from 2021 when the previous 7-digit number was in use.  Another major improvement? Lifeline callers now only wait about half a minute to connect with someone at more than 200 state and local call centers. 

In addition, new services have been added. The lifeline launched a Spanish text and chat service, and a call, chat and text service for LGBTQ+ people.  As for the future, the Lifeline plans to develop a direct 988 Lifeline video-phone option for deaf or hard-of-hearing American Sign Language users and a national awareness campaign to familiarize the public with what the lifeline is, what to expect when they reach out and when to use it.

Help is available if you or your loved ones are facing a crisis. Call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org. Spanish speakers can connect directly to Spanish-speaking crisis counselors by calling 988 and pressing option 2, texting AYUDA to 988, or chatting online at 988lineadevida.org or 988Lifeline.org.

Opioid Deaths in MA set record in 2022

Over 2,300 people died of opioid-related overdoses in 2022, the highest number of deaths on record for the Commonwealth. In an interview with the Boston Globe on 6/23/23, Dr. Robert Goldstein, State Commissioner of Public Health, attributed the increase to a “poisoned drug supply”, meaning almost all street drugs are now laced with fentanyl, a powerful and deadly opioid fifty times more potent than heroin.

Fentanyl is often found in Adderall, Xanax and Oxycontin that has been altered but closely resembles regular pills. Fentanyl is being pressed into these fake pills or cut into heroin, cocaine, and other street drugs to drive addiction. Often sold via social media, these fake pills are easy to find, including for most teens and young adults.  

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What can people do to prevent overdoses? For starters, having open and honest conversations with kids and young adults can help. Below are some talking points for parents and caregivers when discussing opioids:

  • Explain what fentanyl is and why it is so dangerous.
  • Stress not to take any pills that were not prescribed to you from a doctor.
  • No pill purchased on social media is safe.
  • Make sure they know fentanyl has been found in most illegal drugs.
  • Create an “exit plan” to help your child know what to do if they’re pressured to take a pill or use drugs.

As noted, fentanyl has been found in both prescription and street drugs including marijuana.  Some people may consider purchasing and carrying naloxone, known as Narcan, which can greatly reduce the potential for overdose and/or death by overdose. Narcan is available over the counter at most pharmacies and includes instructions for use. Fentanyl test strips, which are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in all different kinds of drugs, are currently illegal in MA, but several Bills are currently moving through the State Legislature to legalize their use and sale. 

Recovery from substance use disorders is possible—it’s okay to ask for help. You can find evidence-based treatment and service options near you by visiting findtreatment.gov. Ask for help if you’re ready to get treatment for your addiction. More info: https://www.wellesleyma.gov/204/Mental-Health-and-Well-Being-Resources


Ticks and Mosquitoes Increase in Spring and Summer

Warmer weather brings an increase in tick and mosquito activity. Both insects can be carriers of potentially serious diseases, but strong protection can reduce the potential for exposure and keep you and your family protected. 

One of the most common tick-borne diseases in the U.S. is Lyme disease. Ticks are found in wooded areas, high grass, or leaf litter. They are most active during the spring, summer and fall, but in warmer areas may be active all year round. Due to the mild winter, tick activity has already begun, and residents should take precautions when outdoors. Click here to learn more about avoiding ticks and what to do if you find a tick on your body. Don't forget to check animals for ticks after being outside! Below are three common ticks found in Massachusetts.  Only the black-legged tick (also known as a Deer Tick) carries Lyme. 

ticks


One of the most common diseases carried by mosquitoes in the U.S. is West Nile virus infection. Mosquitoes may be found near standing water, or in weedy or wooded areas. They are usually most active during dawn and dusk in the warmer months. Click here to learn about protecting yourself from mosquitoes. 

Sun Safety is The Key to Preventing Skin Cancer


In 2020, there were an estimated 1,413,976 people living with melanoma of the skin in the United States, and 8,214 people died of this cancer (primarily Melanoma). Yet, only 12.3% of men and 29.0% of women aged over18 years always used sunscreen when outside on a sunny day for longer than an hour.  

  • At least one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.3
  • More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.
  • Skin cancer CAN be preventable and treatable when caught early. 

What can YOU do to enjoy being outside safely? As we head into the warmer weather, our exposure to UV (Ultraviolet) rays increases. Since UV rays are the main cause of skin cancers, reducing exposure is key to preventing skin cancer year-round, but in summer becomes even more important. Limiting sun exposure to the morning and afternoon hours, using sunscreen every day (even cloudy days) with at least an SPF30, and keeping your skin covered when outside are the main ways to avoid harsh UV rays. 

Protect yourelf from harmful uv rays

Sources: U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. U.S. Cancer Statistics Data Visualizations Tool, based on 2022 submission data (1999-2020): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute; https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dataviz, released in June 2023.National National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm.  

Air Quality Alert! June 12, 2023

smokey skyMassachusetts may still see some air quality issues this week. The air should be fine for MOST people,  however sensitive groups may experience minor to moderate symptoms from long-term exposure. If you are at-risk, consider remaining indoors with windows closed until air quality improves, and wear an N-95 mask if you need to go out. You can get more information and updates about air quality HERE. Those with health issues can check daily to assess air quality and risk. The Health Department has n95 masks available by the rear entrance of the Warren Building, 90 Washington Street. 


"THE LAST OF US"-FACT OR FICTION? the last of us


The answer? 100% Fiction. Many of you probably watched the HBO series "The Last of Us", about a fungus that blooms when global temperatures drop and infect and takeover humans. And why not? Fungi are alive all around us. The truth is, fungi CAN cause illness in humans, but not to the extent in the show. Check out this short video from PBS featuring our newest Board of Health member Dr. Shira Doron to learn more!

The CDC has released a new set of guidelines for COVID vaccination. See below for a brief overview and visit the website for complete information.

 

The virus that causes COVID-19 has changed over time. The different versions of the virus that have developed over time are called variants.  The first COVID-19 vaccines are called “monovalent” because they were designed to protect against the original variant of virus that causes COVID-19.  However, two COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna, have developed updated COVID-19 vaccines.  The updated vaccines are called “bivalent” because they protect against both the original virus that causes COVID-19 and the current Omicron variant.  

Recommendation for Everyone Aged 6 Years and Older

  • Everyone 6 years and older should get 1 updated Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve received any original COVID-19 vaccines.

People Who May Get Additional Updated COVID-19 Boosters

Some people may get optional additional COVID-19 boosters:

  • People aged 65 years and older may get 1 additional updated COVID-19 booster dose 4 or more months after the 1st updated COVID-19 vaccine.
  • People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised may get 1 additional updated COVID-19 booster dose 2 or more months after the 1st updated COVID-19 vaccine. Talk to your healthcare provider about additional updated booster doses.

When Are You Up to Date?

 

1) Everyone aged 6 years and older

  • You are up to date when you get 1 updated Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

2) Children aged 6 months—5 years who got the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

You are up to date if you are:

  • Aged 6 Months—4 years and you get 3 COVID-19 vaccine doses, including at least 1 updated COVID-19 dose.
  • Aged 5 years and you get at least 1 updated COVID-19 vaccine dose.

3) Children aged 6 months—5 years who got the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine

  • You are up to date when you get 2 Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses, including at least 1 updated COVID-19 vaccine dose.

4) People who are unable or choose not to get a recommended mRNA vaccine

  • You are up to date when you get the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine doses approved for your age group.

CPR: Why you should get certified. 

 hamlin

CPR. We've seen it on TV or in the movies, and most of us have some idea of what CPR  looks like. But until recently, most people have never seen CPR used in real life. On January 2, 2023, millions of Americans watched Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin collapse mid-game after suffering a cardiac arrest. Thankfully, he had a quick thinking coach and a nearby AED, but CPR was also key to his survival that day.

Each year, 350,000 people experience cardiac arrest OUTSIDE the hospital and when that happens, when delivered immediately, CPR can double, or even triple, someone’s chances of survival. Although 65% of people in the United States say they’ve received CPR training at some point in their lives, only 18% of people are up to date on their training. And CPR has changed a LOT over the past few years. So why don’t more Americans learn how to do it? 

Most people say access, time and cost are the main barriers but if you can get certified, it’s worth it. You may never need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad you devoted just two hours of your time to learning. We’ve listed ways to access classes and how to find free or reduced cost classes below. 

WHAT IS CPR?

CPR stands for cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. When someone goes into cardiac arrest, they experience a sudden loss of heart activity due to an irregular heart rhythm. Breathing stops and oxygen is not reaching the brain. Cardiac arrest is an “ELECTRICAL” problem. Only an AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) can fix this by delivering an electrical shock to the heart, but CPR is the placeholder that helps blood circulate to the brain until an AED can be used. Cardiac arrest is NOT a heart attack. When someone is in cardiac arrest, they are unconscious and not breathing. 

CPR can be delivered two ways: either WITH or WITHOUT rescue breathing. Bystander CPR is delivered WITHOUT rescue breathing and is very easy to learn. Most people can get certified in under two hours! And, most bystander CPR classes include AED training. Using an AED is very easy and even children can learn how. Chances are, you have an AED located somewhere in your workplace or at a venue where your child plays sports. When CPR and an AED are used on someone in cardiac arrest before emergency help arrives, it greatly increases the chance for survival.  

WHERE TO GET CERTIFIED

Getting CPR certified is easier than ever, and can even be done virtually! 

Red Cross (Includes online only option)

American Heart Association

First Aid For Free (Includes online only option)

Link to find free CPR classes

Testing Wastewater for Norovirus, Otherwise Known as the “Stomach Bug”

 

Cambridge-based company Biobot Analytics has been testing wastewater to measure levels of COVID-19 in Massachusetts since 2020 and this data has been a valuable measuring tool used by Federal, State and Local health departments to assess risk and spread. This Spring, Biobot Analytics will also start testing for norovirus, otherwise known as the “stomach bug”. 

Norovirus is  the leading cause of foodborne illness. Although it has similar symptoms, norovirus is NOT “food poisoning “,  which is caused by eating food that contains certain types of bacteria or viruses. Norovirus is caused when infected people spread the virus to others through direct contact, such as by caring for them or sharing food or eating utensils with them.  Food, water, and surfaces contaminated with norovirus can also cause outbreaks.  Norovirus is highly contagious and hard to eliminate. Click here for more info on how to properly clean and disinfect to prevent infection.  

The most common symptoms of norovirus are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain.

Prevention is key, and monitoring for any increased levels in wastewater can help stop or slow down an outbreak. According to the CDC, annually norovirus causes:

  • 109,000 hospitalizations
  • 465,000 emergency department visits, mostly in young children
  • 2,270,000 outpatient clinic visits annually, mostly in young children
  • 19 to 21 million illnesses

In addition to letting residents know to be more cautious, a sudden spike could indicate the need for some detective work to identify a food related outbreak that needs to be addressed. 

Currently, Wellesley data are being collected as part of the southern grouping of the MWRA (Massachusetts Water Resource Agency).

For more information about norovirus, including how it’s spread, prevention and more, visit the CDC website.