An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and tons of cash, so it was encouraging to see two public health developments last week.
First, the state Department of Health’s new anti-flu campaign went viral when television and radio satirists picked up on the cheesy slogan, the retro jingle and the campy illustration. As of Friday afternoon, a YouTube posting of an ad had collected more than 38,000 visits since late December. The department’s website has seen increased traffic, and news reports on all of this have increased attention, too.
That’s a far brighter spotlight than a typical Department of Health campaign, so while folks are having fun with “WashYourHandsington,” the message is being spread far and wide: It’s flu season, and taking preventive measures is smart.
In fact, February and March is typically the peak of flu season in Washington state, and it is not too late for adults and children to get vaccinated. The Department of Health has gotten reports of four flu-related deaths statewide and 18 hospitalizations in Spokane. And don’t think that it’s just senior citizens who are in danger. The four people who died were between 50 and 64. Nationwide, thousands die annually from flu and hundreds of thousands land in hospitals.
The flu carries economic consequences, too. A national study based on the 2003 U.S. population put the direct and indirect costs at $87.1 billion annually. That total has surely risen with inflation and population gains.
Set against the human and economic tolls, the $300,000 the feds sent to the state for prevention efforts, including the ad campaign, is a reasonable expenditure. Nationwide, flu vaccination coverage for everyone 6 months and older was 41.2 percent last flu season. It was slightly higher in Washington state. It is wise to spend money in an effort to boost these figures.
The second public health development came when the Spokane County Board of Commissioners and the Spokane City Council both voted to ban the sale of so-called e-cigarettes to minors and set heavy fines for scofflaws. The Spokane Valley City Council voted to advance a measure that would do the same.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that vaporize nicotine for the user to ingest. They do not contain the carcinogens of regular cigarettes, but the nicotine itself is addictive. There is a valid fear that once addicted, young people could turn to cigarettes to satisfy the craving.
These definitive moves against e-cigarettes are the latest example of the powerful and healthy shift in cultural attitudes toward smoking. Two county commissioners noted that they grew up around clouds of smoke. These days many smokers head outside, even when at home. This is reinforced by laws that prohibit smoking inside bars and restaurants.
Public health efforts reflect a desire to head off larger costs. At times, the implementation might strike some people as funny, but the aim is deadly serious.