Category Archives: Food & Health

Families reclaim their homes and health thanks to Virginia Tech’s Urban Pest Management Program

Tomeika Ferrell in her home in Rocky Mount, North Carolina

Tomeika Ferrell, a resident of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, is now able to enjoy cooking and entertaining in her home thanks to Dini Miller’s work. Ferrell has not seen a cockroach in months.

Insect infestations in our homes – think thousands of cockroaches or bedbugs – can trigger a host of emotional responses.

In addition to embarrassment, those pests contaminating our living spaces can leave people feeling ashamed, defeated, and tainted.

The age-old clash between bugs and humans drives Dini Miller. The entomologist is impassioned about making life better for anyone tormented by pest infestations. Through her practical research and educational efforts, she is working hard to ensure that insects don’t make us feel like guests in our own homes.

Miller, urban pest management specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension and a professor of entomology in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is conducting a year-long experiment in two states that could all but eradicate German cockroach infestations in multi-unit housing communities and transform standard pest-management protocols.

“Much of my work through the Dodson Urban Pest Management Laboratory is focused on eliminating pest problems in underrepresented communities. I would like to change the way that pest control is handled in public housing. A lot of people are living with a lot of cockroaches, and they don’t need to be. This problem, we can solve,” said Miller.

Each month, she travels to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) communities in Richmond and Hopewell, Virginia, and Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where she is engaged in an assessment-based program to treat homes infested with large numbers of cockroaches.

In Rocky Mount, a sleepy southern town once known for its tobacco and textiles, just an hour east of Raleigh, Miller is working to make life better for residents in 31 test homes. Her success, less than 10 months into the experiment, has made her a champion to residents including Sharon Jones.

Jones resides in a one-story, ranch-style duplex in a Rocky Mount HUD community.

“Once the cockroaches showed up, they multiplied quickly,” said Jones, a retired grandmother who has lived in her home for 16 years. “One Thanksgiving, I was cooking and they were so bad I couldn’t leave the food on my stove for a moment. I had to put everything on a table in the middle of the living room to try to protect it.”

In the middle of the night, Jones would awaken to find hundreds of cockroaches swarming across her sink and washing machine. In the morning, she often discovered the pests in her breakfast cereal.

Jones’ neighbor and friend Tomeika Ferrell experienced such a severe infestation that she feared her lease would be terminated when the number of cockroaches prevented building managers from painting her apartment despite monthly insecticide treatments by a local HUD-contracted pest control company.

“The exterminators made me feel like I was a bad housekeeper, like I wasn’t cleaning,” said Ferrell, a mother of three, whose home is welcoming and lovingly decorated with artwork and textiles. “My daughter has bad asthma and was experiencing an allergic reaction. I cleaned so often that I almost took the paint off of the counters. Nothing helped. Then, when the exterminators sprayed, the problem seemed to get worse, and I worried about how the chemicals would impact my daughter.”

Prior to exterminations, residents are asked to clean their homes, wash dishes, remove trash, and vacuum. They are also expected to remove all of their belongings from closets, cupboards, and other areas targeted for insecticide, such as the top of refrigerators, stoves, and other large appliances.

“Residents have to go through this process routinely, often weeks before the pest control company visits since they don’t know the exact date,” said Miller. “They have nowhere to put their belongings. But, the worst part is that when conditions aren’t perfect, the residents are blamed for the pests. The excuse is always that they didn’t prepare properly for treatment. It’s unfair, and it’s putting the blame in the wrong place.”

Miller’s protocol requires no prior cleaning, no spray insecticides, and is ingenious in its practical simplicity. Best of all, residents are not required to change their living habits in any way.

The entomologist places sticky traps in each unit the day before treatment. The next day, she counts the number of cockroaches in order to quantify how much bait to place in each apartment. She and her team then place bait containing an insecticide throughout the units, focusing on areas where the insects congregate.

“We used this process to save time,” said Miller. “Wax paper squares worked best for massive bait distribution. You can put them into cracks and crevices without contaminating anything. We found that even when attractive foods, such as pizza, are left out in the apartments, the cockroaches still eat the bait.”

Miller’s assessment-based, decision-making methodology – quantifying the number of cockroaches prior to treatment and utilizing a food bait rather than pesticide spray to kill the cockroaches – is innovative. Best of all, it’s working. In Rocky Mount, cockroaches have been completely eliminated in the test units. Hopewell has had a 99.7 percent reduction in cockroaches, while Richmond populations have decreased by more than 98.9 percent.

Although her method requires more time and money at the outset, it offers a greater reward: fewer roaches and fewer treatments over time, not to mention happier residents. This is the message she wishes to impart to HUD officials, apartment managers, and pest control operators. Buoyed by her success, and by the relief of her residents, Miller is now working to develop a new set of standards and a check list for pest control contracts in HUD communities across the country.

“There are two issues: the practical side (baiting), and the political side (how contracts are written for pest management companies),” said Tim Kring, head of the Virginia Tech Department of Entomology. “Unless HUD requires its managers to adopt the new guidelines, this will be a slow process.

“As people are forced to change, they will change. It’s easy to see that Dr. Miller’s protocol is better. But, it costs more. And, under the current HUD guidelines, spraying is the most economical treatment – but, it has not controlled the problem,” said Kring.

In the meantime, Miller has made life better for residents, whose relief is palpable. Ferrell has not seen a roach in months. She also reported that her daughter’s asthma has improved.

“This process has eased my mind so much,” said Ferrell. “Now, I can have company over and cook without worrying that roaches will jump on them. It’s much happier around here. I finally feel comfortable in my own home.”

Ferrell is joined by a chorus of satisfied residents, including Sharon Jones; Lakeyshia Mayo, a mother of one; and Marcia Simms, a Jamaican-American mother of four – in addition to residents in Hopewell and Richmond, Virginia.

“The change has been dramatic, and I didn’t have to remove anything from my home,” said Simms. “I was skeptical at first when I didn’t see any spray or chemicals, but whatever Dr. Miller is doing is revolutionary. I’m so appreciative to have been on her list. If there’s a Grammy Award, she deserves it.”

Miller may not qualify for a Grammy, but something even better is in the works. This summer, the Urban Pest Management Program received an endowment that will help ensure that work of this caliber will continue for many years to come.

In June, Joe and Mary Wilson, of Fredericksburg, Virginia established the Joseph R. and Mary W. Wilson Endowed Urban Entomology Professorship. Wilson is the former owner of PermaTreat Pest Control, a leading pest control company located in Central and Northern Virginia. The endowment will support urban entomology research – research that promises to lead to the types of discoveries that underpin Miller’s work.

“This gift is truly transformational to our program at Virginia Tech,” said Kring. “There is a void in basic foundational research for urban pest management. We want to expand our program by adding a research component to our toolbox in order to pioneer next-step treatment options for indoor pests. No insecticide lasts forever. So, coming up with a new tool requires research.”

— Written by Amy Painter

VIDEO: Virginia Tech entomologist finds practical solution for cockroach infestations

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Virginia Cooperative Extension forms key partnerships to tackle the state’s opioid epidemic

Imagine awakening to the news that a jetliner has crashed, killing all 115 men, women, and children aboard.

As shocking as the magnitude of such loss would be, this is equivalent to the number of Americans who die from opioid overdose every day.

As if the deaths of approximately 42,000 people each year weren’t sobering enough, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion annually, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

“The rates of death as a result of opioid overdose are climbing, and they are over 50 percent greater in rural Southwest Virginia than for the state,” said Kathy Hosig, director for the Virginia Tech Center for Public Health Practice and Research and a specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension, the outreach program for the state’s two land-grant universities: Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. “There is a clear role for Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension to provide safety education and training at the community level to help stop the cycle of abuse.”

In June, Virginia Cooperative Extension was awarded a $1.28 million grant for collaborative opioid work through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The grant was one of only six conferred nationally for addressing community needs.

“By having Virginia Tech and Virginia State University partner on the project, we were able to double the funding,” said Crystal Tyler-Mackey, an Extension specialist in community viability, and co-project director, along with VSU’s Maurice Smith, a 4-H Extension specialist with the university.

Awarded by the USDA-NIFA Children, Youth, and Families At-Risk program, the five-year grant will support health education initiatives spearheaded by Extension aimed at preventing opioid abuse among vulnerable communities in Virginia. This work is a continuation of a $321,638 NIFA Rural Health and Safety Education grant awarded last fall to Virginia Cooperative Extension. Together, the efforts are reaching six counties: Grayson, Henry/Martinsville, Prince George, Orange, Sussex, and Henrico.

Maurice Smith, Crystal Tyler-Mackey, Bonita Williams, and Kathy Hosig

From left: Maurice Smith, Crystal Tyler-Mackey, Bonita Williams, and Kathy Hosig. Williams serves as national program leader with the NIFA division of youth and 4-H.

“Southwest Virginia is especially vulnerable. We have communities that are suffering. They are struggling to find homes for children whose parents are impacted,” said Tyler-Mackey. “And across Virginia, social service agencies and schools are overwhelmed. Employers are having trouble hiring people who can pass drug tests. We felt compelled to find a way as community-level educators to do something to address the issue.”

The grants will enable Extension to deliver educational programming to prevent the abuse and misuse of opioids and other illicit substances to those most at risk and to host meetings and events that bring together people and organizations concerned about opioid misuse for collaborative discussion, learning, and planning.

The NIFA funding will be targeted to two distinct audiences: adult hospital patients and their families in clinical settings, and middle-school adolescents through evidence-based educational programs.

The goal in targeting hospital patients is to make them aware of the dangers associated with use of opioid pain medications and to provide access to support should they or a family member experience problems related to opioid use. This intervention will take the form of one-on-one conversations with patients and their loved ones through the High Risk Patient Education Program.

“There are different risks with opioids than with over-the-counter medications because opioids are so highly addictive,” said Tyler-Mackey. “Patients do not always know that what they are taking for pain management is an opioid. So, many don’t know the risk associated with its use. The education of medical patients will be on proper use of the medications and red flags to look for, such as taking medication sooner, or more often than prescribed.”

Curriculum for this program is being developed by the Virginia Rural Health Association for delivery to patients as they are waiting to see health care providers in their offices and will also be available on the Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia Rural Health Association websites.

The second goal for the NIFA grants is to provide prevention education for adolescents at a vulnerable stage in their development – middle school – in order to provide children and their families with the skills and support required to make healthy decisions about drugs. This will take shape through a program called PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience (PROSPER), an evidence-based model developed by Iowa State and Pennsylvania State universities to prevent alcohol and drug abuse in youth.

Through this model, which connects university-based prevention researchers with Virginia Cooperative Extension and the public school system, community teams are convened to oversee the implementation of family and school-based interventions. The family-based intervention program is called Strengthening Families 10-14, and the program offered to youth in middle schools is called Botvin Life Skills Training.

All three PROSPER programs include classroom sessions addressing social and psychological factors leading to drug experimentation through the use of games, discussions, role-playing, worksheets, online content, posters, and videos. Endorsed by the Surgeon General in a 2016 report, the program has produced successful results. According to one randomized study, youth participating in PROSPER had 21 percent less prescription opioid misuse seven years after the program.

“PROSPER communities have wonderful outcomes for youth,” said Tyler-Mackey, who is working to educate a cadre of certified trainers throughout the state. “We have a longer-term strategy to start with a few communities and expand. Other states have had success with PROSPER, so we want to continue with that.”

“Given the importance of this effort and the need for partnerships to address the opioid epidemic at all levels, we’re also working to coordinate efforts across the state and region by building relationships with other universities, state agencies, hospitals, schools, and institutions who have a role to play in the opioid epidemic,” said Hosig.

In May, Hosig and other experts from Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Tech Center for Public Health Practice and Research, and the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance brought together 71 higher education representatives from 23 colleges and universities across the region, along with community representatives from health departments, community services boards, and law enforcement for a day of conversations on how to jointly combat the opioid epidemic. Suggested next steps from the workshop include developing a common research agenda, formulating a regional approach, and integrating information on opioid misuse and abuse into the curricula at institutions of higher learning.

The workshop and NIFA awards would not have been possible without Virginia Cooperative Extension leaders Ed Jones, director; Cathy Sutphin, associate director of youth, families, and health; Karen Vines, an Extension specialist and assistant professor; and, Hosig, as well as colleagues at Virginia Tech, VSU, and the Virginia Rural Health Association. Jones’ leadership was instrumental in helping to secure NIFA funding – funding that stands to help save many lives.

Virginia Cooperative Extension is also partnering with West Virginia Cooperative Extension to develop steps to address the epidemic.

“The good news is that the opioid crisis in this country is being attacked on all sides as people and agencies on federal, state, and local levels come together to fight this problem,” said Tyler-Mackey.

– Written by Amy Painter

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Wellness Display at Portsmouth City Hall creates increased health awareness for National Nutrition Month

2018 National Nutrition Month Display in Portsmouth City Hall

VCE-City of Portsmouth’s National Nutrition Month Nutrition and Wellness Display in Portsmouth’s City Hall

In 2015, the Virginia County Health Rankings (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), which measures the overall health of each county in all 50 states, ranked the City of Portsmouth at 118th for its health performance. The health ranking is one of the tools used to determine the need for educational and community-based health programs in an area.

In addition, the Healthy People 2020 Initiative (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotions) now encourages the development of programs and partnerships that can make a difference in communities’ health outcomes. Employee wellness programs were especially noted for gains in disease prevention and injury and improvement in health and quality of life.

According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Situation Analysis Survey, City of Portsmouth citizens reported that the most important issue regarding health and wellness is learning healthy eating habits and nutrition.

RESPONSE

Each year in March, Crystal Barber — the Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent and registered dietitian for the VCE–City of Portsmouth office — incorporates National Nutrition Month (NNM) campaign messages, along with research-based information provided by VCE to support individual and family health education needs.

The 2018 NNM event was held in the Portsmouth City Hall lobby, and 225 individuals visited the exhibit. To help promote the theme, “Go Further With Food,” free handouts on nutrition and wellness, upcoming programs, and incentives were provided. Assisting with this effort were Anthem Healthcare representative Lelani Lawrence and Portsmouth Public library staff member LuKendra Banks.

Healthy eating samples were set up to educate participants about making healthy food and drink choices. Cabot Cheese donated several varieties of portioned, sliced cheese, nutrition and wellness educational brochures, and recipes.

The Department of Parks and Recreation and Leisure Services Assistant Director Mark Palamarchuck helped with food storage and setup for cold items to ensure the safety of perishable healthy snacks. The Portsmouth Public Library provided a list of nutrition and wellness books by credible authors that addressed current nutrition trends. The Portsmouth Department of Marketing, Communications, and Tourism donated City of Portsmouth giveaways.

Master Food Volunteer Regina Jones and FCS Occasional Volunteer Regina Hines also assisted with the event.

RESULTS

Comments were submitted by 52 of the 225 participants:

  • 98 percent of participants stated that the display was very informative and well-organized;
  • 95 percent of participants stated that the program increased their knowledge about nutrition, wellness, and other VCE programs.

Comments received:

  • “Love the way the information was provided across the life span.”
  • “This event encourages people to keep a healthy lifestyle.”
  • “The free handouts on the tables were very informative. Some info I can share with my family.”
  • “The event has been beneficial for me. Every year, I learn something from the interaction and the handouts, and enjoy the healthy snacks. There have been some that I actually purchased while shopping for groceries, for example, hummus.”
  • “Love the setup. Really looking forward to speaking to the dietitian in-depth.”
  • “The presenters were knowledgeable and friendly, and I loved the healthy snacks and Portsmouth incentives.”
  • “This event has given me new motivation, and I plan to enroll in the VCE Diabetes Prevention Program.”
  • “Please continue to be seen at City Hall on a regular basis as a reminder to us that ‘We Are What We Eat.'”
  • “It was great to get so much valuable information on nutrition and wellness. I also got lots of info on the Master Gardeners.”
  • “This was a great opportunity for the employees of Portsmouth to learn about nutrition. The display is very informative, and the programs are wonderful.”

FOLLOW-UP

Mark Palamarchuck suggested that the Department of Parks and Recreation become more involved in the event. It was determined that a National Nutrition Month Wellness Display Planning Committee should be established for next year’s event. Current and new partners, including city employees and residents, are invited to become a part of this impactful effort geared towards improving the health of our city.

Please contact Crystal Barber at 757-393-5125 if you are interested in serving on this committee.

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Stop Diabetes Now – Know Your Risk

Being proactive with your health is easier than ever and starts with knowing your health risks. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that 84 million American adults (1 in 3 adults) have prediabetes, but that 90 percent of them don’t know that they have it.

Prediabetes is a condition in which a person’s blood sugar is high, but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. It is an important sign that a person is at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. The good news is that there are easy screening tests to tell if you have prediabetes, and the condition can often be reversed through simple changes in lifestyle.

Who is at risk for prediabetes? In general, people who are overweight or obese (check out your weight status on the chart below) and aren’t regularly physically active. People who have a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes are also at higher risk, as are men and people over 40 years old. In addition, women with a history of gestational diabetes are at greater risk for having prediabetes.

chart-prediabetes

You can find out if you are at risk for prediabetes by taking a simple online risk test at DoIHavePrediabetes.org. If after taking the test, you find that you are at increased risk, make an appointment to see your doctor, who will do a blood test to check your blood sugar. Diagnosis is the key. Once you know where you stand, you can take steps to reduce your risk.

The sooner people with prediabetes make healthy changes, the better their chance of reversing prediabetes. Now there is a proven program to help people do just that.

The National Diabetes Prevention Program helps people with prediabetes prevent or delay developing type 2 diabetes. A lifestyle coach works with participants over an extended period and uses tested methods to help them learn to manage their weight, establish a regular routine of physical activity, and develop a healthy eating pattern. A program will be offered on the Virginia Tech campus in spring 2018.

If you think you are at risk, take the following steps:

  1. Take the online screening test;
  2. If at risk, make an appointment with your doctor; and
  3. Inquire about the National Diabetes Prevention Program being offered in the spring.

Contact

Lynn Margheim
lynn85@vt.edu

Carlin Rafie
crafie@vt.edu

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Sign the Healthy Meetings Pledge

Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) is on the front lines of helping our communities be the healthiest they can be. Having a healthy eating pattern and being active is key to good mental and physical health and quality of life. Protecting the skin from sun damage when working and playing outdoors at all ages significantly reduces the risk of skin cancer.

As community health educators and representatives of VCE, we have the opportunity to set the example and to model a commitment to a healthy lifestyle. The Healthy Meetings Initiative invites you to join your colleagues in developing a culture of health within VCE and among the clients that we serve.

By signing the Healthy Meetings Pledge, you are agreeing to:

  1. Make your programs and meetings an example of healthy living;
  2. Document your healthy meetings on the Healthy Meetings Checklist (see VCE Publications);
  3. Share your successes with pictures on the VCE Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages, when possible;
  4. Use hashtage #VCEHealthyMeeting to spread the word;
  5. Let us know what you did by answering the end-of-the-year survey that will be distributed to all individuals and units that sign the pledge during the year.

Sign the pledge here, and join your VCE colleagues in creating communities of health!

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