It was formed 100 years ago in response to the flu. Today, the Delaware General Health District is still helping residents with the flu.
The 1918 flu virus was the deadliest pandemic of the 20th century. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website states the bird-originated flu affected 500 million people (at the time one-third of the world’s population), resulting in 50 million deaths, including 675,000 deaths in the United States.
American military personnel returning from World War I in the spring of 1918 had the virus, and legislation was introduced to protect the populace and to promote and improve health.
“The Hughes Act and Griswold Act, both enacted in 1919, established the modern-day organization of local health departments, including the Delaware General Health District,” states a news release from the DGHD celebrating its centennial. The DGHD Board of Health first met on Jan. 30, 1920.
“We’re encouraged by the next 100 years, which promises the ever-growing presence and importance of public health in our everyday lives,” states Health Commissioner Shelia Hiddleson in the release. “From the continued emphasis on immunizations, maternal and child health, food safety and vector surveillance, there are new horizons including substance abuse, health equity, food deserts and cross-sector partnerships.”
The DGHD is growing, and it is seeking a new home for its staff and services. The agency may soon be moving from downtown and Winter Street further down Sandusky Street to the former Leroy Jenkins property at 470 S. Sandusky St.
Last year, the district opened a satellite office in the Kroger shopping Plaza at 137 state Route 3 in Sunbury. It has clinic services such as immunizations, health screenings, pregnancy and HIV testing; a sanitarian and plumbing inspector; and birth/death certificates.
For more information on the Sunbury location, visit https://delawarehealth.org/about/sunburylocation/ or call 740-965-2339.
Hiddleson spoke to the Sunbury Village Council at its meeting Feb 5. She said that since Sunbury is on the cusp of becoming a city, it has a choice when it comes to public health services — it can form its own health department, or it can continue to use the DGHD.
There was also discussion at the council meeting about the current flu strains in America and China. As Other Words columnist Jill Richardson writes, “In the 2018-2019 flu season, an estimated 35 million Americans got sick — and an estimated 34,000 died.” Additionally, there are more than 43,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide, with a 2% mortality rate.
In a Public Health Advisory notice on the coronavirus issued by the DGHD, prevention was urged with good hygiene: Washing hands with water and soap/sanitizer for at least 20 seconds; avoiding contact with sick people; and not touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.