Introducing Jenelle Merzon!


Please join us in welcoming Jenelle Merzon to the Go Folic! family.  Jenelle comes to us from Tuoro University, where she is earning her Masters in Public Health degree (MPH).  She will be interning with Go Folic! through January 2015, working on creating a multi-pronged SFDPH-wide event in conjunction with next year’s Folic Acid Awareness Week, scheduled for January 5, 2015 through January 11, 2015.  As Jenelle will also become a regular contributor to this blog, we promise to keep readers updated on our 2015 Folic Acid Awareness Week plans as they take shape.

In the meantime, here is Jenelle in her own words…

Jenelle MerzonI was born and raised on the central coast in San Luis Obispo, California.  I attended the University of California, Santa Barbara and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a minor in Exercise Physiology.  I have always had an interest in the human body and a passion for staying healthy through exercise and proper nutrition.  These passions led me to physical therapy.

The experience I gained while working in physical therapy set my foundation for pursuing a Masters of Public Health.  I will receive my MPH in December 2014, with an emphasis in Community Public Health, from Touro University, California.  I have volunteered and worked on many different community health projects, ranging from coordinating health promotion events to being a research assistant at Touro University.  While at Touro University I worked on studies that focused on improving MPH student’s health competencies and skills.  I am very excited for the opportunity to begin my internship with the GoFolic! Project within the Department of Public Health, San Francisco.

I am much more than just school and work!  You can commonly find me training for marathons, snowboarding, or attempting to train my dachshund puppies.  Most recently you’ll notice that I love being a newlywed with my husband, Andre.  I would probably be most known for being goofy, a vegetarian for 20+ years with no real reason why, and taking trips around the world.

 

 

Women’s Health News Round-Up: November 15, 2013


This week’s news round-up focuses on health events and new or revised health resources.  What’s included?  A New York Times article about the question of why Americans weigh more now than we did 40 years ago, Diabetes Awareness Month, lesbian/bi/queer women and STI risk, and the relative benefits of HPV vs. pap screening.

Gut bacteriaWhy do Americans Weigh More Now than We Did 40 Years Ago?
For many people it seems clear that the “obesity epidemic” (a phrase we don’t like) is due to bigger portion sizes and less physical activity, a view that is not supported by the research – you cannot tell how much someone eats or exercises just by looking at them.  However, a recent article in the New York Times explores one important factor with which few people are  familiar – changes in the gut bacteria that help us digest carbohydrates, provide vitamins, and regulate how much fat our body stores.  Click here to read the article.

National Diabetes Month 2013November is Diabetes Awareness Month!
Diabetes is a preconception health issue.  Uncontrolled, both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes raise the risk of problems for baby and mother. Diabetes affects nearly 26 million Americans and an estimated 79 million people are at risk for developing it. During November, the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) and its partners are working with individuals, families and communities to take action and encourage simple, but important lifestyle changes to improve their health – particularly if they have diabetes or are at risk for the disease.

Also during Diabetes Awareness Month, the American Diabetes Association, which sponsors the event, is focusing on raising awareness that diabetes is a condition that affects people who have it on a daily basis.  They are inviting people with diabetes to share their photos and stories of living with the disease on Facebook as part of their “Day in the Life of…” campaign.

What to cook if you have diabetes? You can download “Tasty Recipes for People with Diabetes and Their Families” by clicking here (PDF – 1 MB).

Lesbians in love - still from the Taiwanese film, Spider Lilies"Are women who have sex with women at risk for getting STIs?
The Womenshealth.gov website recently updated their website for lesbian and bisexual women.  They now provide a whole section on how STIs are transmitted during sex between women.  In addition to impairing fertility, untreated STIs – including some that are more likely to affect women who have sex with women and trans men,  can affect a developing fetus and raise the risk for preterm birth.  Access the health fact sheet here.

a doctor talks to her patientHPV Screening vs. Pap Smears
Finally, a new study published in the Lancet suggests that screening for the human papillomavirus (HPV) is more effective than Pap tests for protecting women against invasive cervical cancer.  This is life-saving news for the 12,340 who are diagnosed with the condition annually.  Get the full story here.


Halloween Preconception Health Tip! Love Your Teeth


Healthy Halloween Teeth?

Healthy Halloween Teeth?

October is National Dental Hygiene Month, which is sponsored by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA).  So it only seemed logical to focus on oral health for our last post of the month.  Yes, today’s post is partially inspired by the candy that is so tempting during and directly after Halloween, not to mention the beautiful sugar skulls that are part of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations.  But it’s also inspired by the importance of dental health for moms-to-be, both before and during pregnancy.

Sugar Skull

Click on the sugar skull for a traditional sugar skull recipe.Why is dental health important for women who might or want to get pregnant?

Brushing, flossing and regular cleaning is important for all women since problems with your teeth and gums can affect the health of your entire body. It’s even more important before and during pregnancy, including for these reasons:

  • Gum disease and other dental problems can affect the health of a pregnancy,  increasing the risk for both having a baby early (preterm) and giving birth to a baby that is too small (low birth weight).
  • The changing hormone levels that occur with pregnancy can actually make some dental problems worse.
  • If a woman’s mouth is healthy before and during pregnancy, it’s likely that her baby will be born with a healthy mouth too.  

Tips for Better Dental Health

Here are some dental health tips from Every Woman California.

  • Visit a dentist at least once a year, or as often as the dentist recommends, for cleaning, exam and protective treatments, such as fluoride and dental sealants.
  • Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste and a soft toothbrush at least two times every day, especially before bed.
  • Floss your teeth every day.
  • Limit foods and drinks containing sugar to mealtimes only. Don’t drink juice, soda or carbonated drinks, including diet soda, between meals. Juices and sodas contain sugar that can cause tooth decay (cavities). Even diet sodas contain acids that can weaken the outer surface of your teeth.
  • If you use chewing gum or candies, choose brands that are sugarless. Those containing xylitol are best and can help protect your teeth. Xylitol can actually help decrease the amount of harmful bacteria in your mouth that cause tooth decay.
  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco products.

What should you do if you don’t have dental insurance?

Despite the fact that a healthy mouth plays an important role in overall health, the Affordable Care Act doesn’t include dental coverage.  And dental care can be very expensive. Fortunately, if you live in San Francisco, there are many sources of free and low-cost dental care, and the San Francisco Health Plan (Healthy SF) does cover some services.  Click here for a recently updated list of low-cost dental providers from the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

How do you brush your teeth?

According to the ADHA, brushing and flossing regularly is the best thing that you can do to keep your mouth healthy.  Are you doing it correctly?  The video below provides a great “how to.” For more tips, click here to go to the ADHA website.

Weekly Health News Round-Up: October 25, 2013


In the news recently – Breast Cancer Awareness Month, youth and herpes immunity, a possible vaccine for those who already have the condition, and a new contraceptive method on the horizon.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Image from mammogram reminder e-card from healthfinder.govThis October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. About 1 out of every 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point during her life. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common kind of cancer in women. While breast cancer is more common in women over age 40, younger women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancers should also talk to their doctors. And men are not immune; over 2,000 are diagnosed each year.

The good news is that breast cancer is very survivable, especially if it’s found and treated early.  Here are some tips from healthfinder.gov:

  • Your risk increases if a close family member has had breast or ovarian cancer.
  • If you are age 40 to 49, talk with your doctor about mammography.
  • Women ages 50 to 74 need mammograms every 2 years.
  • If you are male, click here to learn more about breast cancer in men from the NIH National Cancer Institute.

Your doctor can help you decide when and how often to get mammograms. Here are a list of questions to guide that discussion.  Never had a mammogram? Nervous?  Click here for a short video about what to expect.  Want to share this information with a friend or family member?  Send an e-card to show you care.

Can eating peanut butter in adolescence reduce breast disease risk as an adult?

On the prevention front, a new study published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment suggests that eating peanut butter regularly during the preteen and teen years appears to decrease the risk of developing benign breast disease as an adult.  Click here to read more.

Growing Number of Youth Lack Herpes Simplex 1 Antibodies

holding handsAccording to a new CDC study, many U.S. teens may be more likely to get genital herpes because they didn’t get cold sores as kids.  Published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases and available online, the findings show that fewer of today’s teens have been exposed in their childhood to herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), a common cause of cold sores, than U.S. adolescents in previous years. Without these antibodies, today’s teens may be more susceptible – when they become sexually active – to genital infections also caused by the virus, particularly through oral sex. To learn more about herpes, check out TeenSource.org, as well as the San Francisco DPH City Clinic website.

Herpes Vaccines on the Horizon?

herpes virusAccording to the CDC, approximately 1 in 6 U.S. adults between the ages of 14 and 49 has been infected by Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2), usually associated with genital infections.  A much larger number of people are estimated to be infected by Herpes Simplex Virus 1, which can result in oral or genital outbreaks. While not usually a life-threatening disease, research shows that people with herpes are two to three times more likely to acquire HIV, and that herpes can also make HIV-infected individuals more likely to transmit HIV to others.

vaccinations by injectionHowever, two vaccines currently under investigation may help to slow the herpes epidemic.  According to a report presented at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Denver, Colorado on Sept. 12, 2013, a new vaccine may reduce transmission of the virus by reducing “viral shedding” via the skin among those who already have HSV-2.  A study published in New England Journal of Medicine in January 2012, found that another vaccine was partially effective at preventing the genital transmission of HSV-1 among women.  While it had no effect on HSV-2 transmission, those women who received the investigational vaccine had fewer than half (58%) the cases of genital herpes caused by HSV-1 compared with women who received the control vaccine.  Stay tuned for more updates!

Phase 3 Trial of 1-Year Contraceptive Vaginal Ring Shows Positive Results

Nestorone 1-year contraceptive vaginal ringThe Population Council announced at the 69th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine that its 1-year vaginal ring is as safe and effective as other birth control methods that contain both estrogen and progesterone.  The Stage 3 trial involved more than 1,100 healthy, normally ovulating women across 12 study sites in Australia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Women who participated in the study were highly satisfied with the ring, found it easy to use, and indicated that they would recommend it to other women. The ring was also well-accepted by their partners.

According to Ruth Merkatz, Ph.D., Director of Clinical Development for the Population Council’s Reproductive Health Program, “If approved by regulatory authorities, the ring will offer a unique contraceptive option: a contraceptive that is effective for one full year, is under the woman’s control, and does not require insertion by a health care professional.”  To learn more, go to http://www.popcouncil.org/projects/115_OneYearCombVagRing.asp

World Population Day – Supporting Young Women


world-pop-day-infographicDid you know that…

  • Young women who avoid unintended pregnancy are much more likely to stay in school & participate in the workforce?
  • Pregnancy and birth complications are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19 in low-& mid-income nations?
  • In developing countries, only 22% of girls aged 15-19 who are married or in a union use contraceptives?

Today is World Population Day. This year’s theme is ending teen pregnancy.  To learn more, go to USAID at http://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/global-health/worldpopday2013 or follow #wordpopday on Twitter https://twitter.com/search/realtime?q=%23worldpopday&src=typd.

 

Today is National HIV Testing Day, One Woman’s Story


Today is the 19th annual National HIV Testing Day. More than 1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, but 1 in 5 don’t know they are infected. This makes testing one of our best prevention tools. If everyone in the U.S. who had HIV knew their status, we’d be one step closer to a world without HIV/AIDS.

I started my career in public health as a health educator in the late 1980s.  One of the first projects I worked on was the Wedge Program, the first HIV education program for youth to make HIV+ speakers a focus of AIDS education.  I got to know and love many of the women and men who so bravely shared their stories at a time when HIV+ people were still being fired, denied health care, and ostracized by their families.

This was also a time when most people were diagnosed as HIV+ after they’d already progressed to AIDS and the only treatment available was AZT, which by itself wasn’t very effective.  I lost many of the people I loved to the disease at that time, watching them succumb to the cancers, pneumonia, or mental decline that seemed an almost inevitable part of an HIV diagnosis back then.

Times have changed a lot since then.

With current treatments, HIV is a chronic disease rather than a death sentence.  HIV+ people now have workplace protections and, specially in the Bay Area, are no longer stigmitized as they once were.   I celebrate that many of my HIV+ friends survived to see and benefit by this day. I still miss those who did not.

They key is for everyone to get tested for HIV at least once.

The key to living well with HIV is finding out one’s status early enough to stop the virus from progressing.  This is also one of the keys to a future world in which HIV no longer exists.  That is why health professionals now recommend that everyone aged 15 to 65 get tested for HIV infection at least once. And people with a higher risk for the infection should get tested at least annually.

Pregnant BellyGetting tested is especially important for women who are pregnant or men and women who are planning a pregnancy.  While in the early days of the epidemic, many babies born to HIV+ mothers also had HIV, that is no longer the case.  Medical experts now know how to help an HIV+ person safely conceive. Also, if an HIV+ woman gets proper treatment during pregnancy, she has a very excellent chance of giving birth to a baby born without HIV.  Click here to learn more.

My Testing Experience

I got tested for HIV in the mid-80s.  I’d just found out that a friend and former sexual partner had been diagnosed with AIDS.  At that time, you had to wait two weeks to get your results.  The two weeks of waiting were extremely difficult.  I was not in a relationship at the time, but was fearful not only of the diagnosis, but of how I would tell my family, as well as my ex-girlfriend that she might be at risk.

By the time I went to get my results, I had not slept for two nights and was feeling very anxious.  However, the my test counselor (I went to Castro-Mission Health Center) was wonderful and put me at ease before I got my results.  After telling me that they were negative (meaning I didn’t have HIV), she helped me to figure out: 1) how to make sure that I protected myself from then on; 2) how to use the emotions I experienced during the test process to become a better health educator.

Knowing your status is empowering!

I felt relieved and empowered when I got my results.  I am thankful that I got tested when I did because it helped me both personally and professionally.

We can all make mistakes, especially when it comes to love and lust. Which is one of the reasons it’s so important for everyone to get tested at least once.

If you find out that you are infected with HIV (if you test positive), you can seek medical care and live a longer, healtheir life. It will also lower your chance of passing HIV to others. If you find out that you don’t have HIV, you can take steps to stay that way.

Have you been tested?

If you live in San Francisco, follow the San Francisco AIDS Foundation mobile testing van on Twitter @testmeSF.  If you don’t live or work in San Francisco, or if you’d prefer getting tested at a clinic, you can find an HIV testing site near you by using the CDC’s STD and HIV testing site locater.

Shivaun Nestor, Go Folic! CoordinatorThis post is dedicated wtih love to my friend, Danny Keenan, who worked to establish one of the Nation’s first treatment programs for HIV+ youth, at Larking Street Youth Services.

~ Shivaun Nestor, Go Folic! Coordinator