National Health Observances (NHOs) are special days, weeks, or months dedicated to raising awareness about important health topics. These designations are made by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This agency is part of the executive branch of the federal government. The mission of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans. That mission is fulfilled by providing for effective health and human services and fostering advances in medicine, public health, and social services. There is not a dentist currently serving in department leadership. The U.S. Surgeon General works under the Secretary of HHS. The Secretary of HHS is Alex M. Azar II, and he is a member of the President’s Cabinet.
There are 36 designations recognized by HHS related to health topics in the month of May. These designations for May range from Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month, National Physical Education and Sports Week to World No Tobacco Day. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion provides contact information for special interest groups related to each topic at www.healthfinder.gov/NHO. May has a few topics that relate to the practice of dentistry, so let’s identify them and talk about each one below.
May has been designated as Hepatitis Awareness Month. We all remember receiving the series of vaccines for Hepatitis B when entering dental school. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. While each can produce similar symptoms, each hepatitis virus affects the liver differently, has different routes of transmission, and has different populations that are commonly affected. The hepatitis virus can lead to chronic liver failure and death. Information is available from the Division of Viral Hepatitis, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hepawarenessabcs.htm.
May 5th has been designated as Hand Hygiene Day. Good hand hygiene remains one of the best preventive measures to combat the spread of disease in healthcare practice. The World Health Organization (WHO) urges you to focus on the fight against antibiotic resistance in the context of hand hygiene and infection prevention and control (IPC) programs. Hand hygiene is at the core of effective IPC to combat antibiotic resistance and the spread of disease. Awareness towards IPC best practices is the goal of Hand Hygiene Day. This year the campaign materials are all co-branded with “Antibiotics, handle with care” to demonstrate unity between antimicrobial resistance and IPC efforts. Information is available from the WHO at www.who.int/gpsc/5may/en.
May 18th has been recognized as HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) leads this observance. This day is a chance to thank the volunteers, community members, health professionals, and scientists working together to find a safe and effective preventive HIV vaccine. It is also a time to educate communities about the importance of preventive HIV vaccine research. We use universal precautions in the dental office to prevent the spread of the HIV virus and our germ killing disinfectants required by OSHA kill HIV on contact. HHS provides information at www.aids.gov/news-and-events/awareness-days/hiv-vaccine-awareness-day.
I have always wondered where these monthly health observances were established. Take a look at the National Health Observances website to become aware of what is going on in allied health care at www.healthfinder.gov/NHO and click on “calendar-at-a-glance.”
Ned L. Nix, DDS, MA, President, SCCDS