Regarding Hookworm and other sanitation issues, Lowndes County Community Survey underway

Published 12:27 pm Friday, May 18, 2018

By Fred Guarino

The Lowndes Signal

A long-awaited survey to determine if there is a hookworm problem in Lowndes County is underway, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).

In a press release issued May 18, ADPH announced that representatives from ADPH and the local community would be conducting household surveys of residents in Lowndes County from Tuesday, May 22 –  through Thursday, May 24 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.

According to ADPH, surveyors are asking about general household water and sewage practices, household illnesses, and illness prevention practices.

“Is there a hookworm problem in Lowndes County? The reality is that we don’t know,” Dr. Mary G. McIntyre, said at a Congress in your Community Town Hall Meeting held by Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell and state health officials at the Lowndes County Water Authority building on Feb. 22.

McIntyre is acting State Epidemiologist and Assistant State Health Officer for Disease Control and Prevention at ADPH.

She said at that town hall meeting with Sewell that in order to get answers a community assessment will made using recognized tools, surveys with people going out into the community to houses. But she said collaboration is going to be required. “We can only go as far as you all let us.”

McIntyre said if the community will allow a study and testing can be done, the hookworm

question can be answered.

According to ADPH, the survey is a collaborative effort between it and local partners. And Dr. Burnestine Taylor, medical officer for disease control and prevention with ADPH, confirmed it is connected to the study referred to by McIntyre in February.

She said, “We reached out to CDC (the Center for Disease Control) and some other agencies to see what we could do to further investigate and actually formed a task force.”

She said, “It’s not just a survey… We are going to take the information and kind of decide what do we need to do to address the concerns.”

According to ADPH, Community assessments are typically conducted to assist public health and environmental health professionals, as well as government leaders, in determining the health status and basic needs of affected communities.  In this scenario, several teams consisting of two or three people are conducting the surveys in person at selected households.

Also, households are being selected randomly to participate in the survey. All surveyors will be wearing identification badges and a vest which will designate them as a member of the community assessment team.

The teams will be able to provide a phone number for identification verification. The survey should take between 10 and 15 minutes to complete. Participation in this survey is voluntary and the information collected will remain confidential.

Taylor said, “We have been working with local partners to better understand the needs in Lowndes County. This household survey will give us a unique opportunity to hear directly from residents so that we can better address any issues and concerns in the community.”

Sewell told those on hand for the Town Hall Meeting held last February, “There is not a week that goes by” that she doesn’t “get a call about hookworms in Lowndes County.”

Hookworms are defined as parasitic nematodes that inhabit the intestines of humans.

While Sewell said she wanted to understand if there is a hookworm problem, she said she knows the county has a sanitation problem and water/sewer issues that need to be addressed.

She stressed that toward that end, the Health Department is not going to arrest anyone nor fine people, but will be looking for answers.

Sewell said the reality is not everybody has septic tanks, not everybody has properly controlled sewer systems. And she said, “We also know that some septic tanks were not put in correctly.”

McIntyre said at the town hall meeting a Baylor study info that was all over the Internet and national media was based on a study that the Alabama Department of Public Health worked with Baylor to develop. But she said the instrument that was used was not Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved, but experimental.

Also, when submitted to the Center for Disease Control for testing, she said, “Not a single specimen came back positive that was positive based on the testing done by Baylor.”

She said even Baylor noted the results “did not meet statistical significance.”

But McIntyre said the take home from the media was “There’s endemic disease in Lowndes County.”

She went on at that meeting to describe a plan by ADPH to work with the Lowndes County Community.

She said, after going out in the county and looking at sanitation issues and systems, “We know that even if disease is not there now that the circumstances are at that point where they could be there.”

In addition, at the town hall meeting, Sherry Bradley, director of the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) Bureau of Environmental Services, said regarding Septic tanks issues in Lowndes County that everyone to call the local Health Department before a house is erected or a trailer is put on a piece of property.

She said that is because, “Not all land is usable.” However, she stressed, people will not be arrested because such violations are a “misdemeanor.”

For questions about the survey, please call the Alabama Department of Public Health at (334) 206-5100.