Foodborne illnesses, communicable diseases, and HIV are all public health issues Mecklenburg County is facing, according to a presentation by the county’s health director at a Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday night.
Dr. Raynard Washington presented on the county’s state of public health and discussed how residents can protect their health this fall.
Recently, Mecklenburg County has had several outbreaks of foodborne illness, Dr. Washington said.
Foodborne illness can result from dirty utensils and equipment, poor employee hygiene, and improper storing and cooking temperatures.
“Foodborne illness can occur wherever food is consumed,” Dr. Washington said. “It’s not just restaurants and hospitals and places that serve and sell food. Food issues also occur at personal and private events, as well as picnics and potlucks at [people’s homes].”
The most commonly reported foodborne illness in the county is Salmonella, E. coli., and Campylobacter.
Residents can view a restaurant’s latest health inspection or submit a service request through the county’s website.
As of Sept. 16, there have been 155 Influenza-like illness emergency department visits.
Washington expects an uptick in cases during November.
As flu season approaches, Dr. Washington recommends getting a flu vaccine in September or October while activity is low.
“Now is an excellent time for everybody to go and get your flu shot,” D. Washi said.
Young children who need several doses, pregnant people, older adults and those with underlying conditions are encouraged to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible.
Respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, is another illness residents should be aware of. It can be more common in infants and older adults, he said.
Last year, an outbreak of RSV, impacted Mecklenburg County.
As of Sept. 16, there were 47 RSV-related emergency department visits, up from 13 cases since July 15, 2023.
To prevent another outbreak, Dr. Washington encourages keeping sick children at home.
He also recommends those 60 and older, infants under the age of 8 months, and pregnant women between weeks 32 and 36 talk with their doctors about getting a vaccine against RSV.
After experiencing a summer surge in COVID-19 cases, Dr. Washington expects a cool-off period, followed by another rise around the holiday season.
COVID-19 booster shots, which he also recommends, are available at local drugstores.
“It is universally recommended for everybody that’s six months and older,” he said.
While not available through the Mecklenburg County Health Department yet, Washington expects the department to receive updated COVID-19 vaccines around the second week of October.
As of Sept. 16, Mecklenburg County had 54 COVID-like emergency department visits, compared to 106 similar visits the week of Sept. 6.
In 2023, there were 1,837 rabies reports assessed. That’s down from 2,603 cases in 2018 and 2,245 in 2022.
The most common animals with rabies found throughout the county are raccoons, bats and foxes.
Dr. Washington recommends avoiding any wild animals.
“It’s not a good idea — in fact, it’s against the law— to engage with wild animals,” he said. “We do want folks to be mindful of that, not pick them up, not touch them, particularly things like raccoons and foxes, and even feral cats and dogs.”
Residents are encouraged to call Animal Care and Control at 311 if they are concerned about an animal’s safety or well-being.
Mecklenburg County has also seen a recent rise in syphilis cases, much like the rest of the nation.
In 2022, the rate of early syphilis was 30.9 per every 100,000 residents in the county.
HIV cases have also risen recently.
Last year, the rate of infection was 65.1 per every 100,000 residents, up from 42 in 2019.
Dr. Washington said treatment is critical for managing HIV and preventing disease transmission.
Mecklenburg County offers free at-home STI test kits residents can order through the Let’s Get Checked program.