- Are a Washington state resident.
- Are at least 18 years of age.
- Have been significantly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
- Are ineligible for the federal stimulus payment or for unemployment insurance benefits due to their immigration status.
- Have an income at or below 250% of the federal poverty level.
Prevention is at the heart of Unity Care NW’s approach to health care. Eating well, staying active, and self-care can make a big difference in your health and quality of life. The following online wellness classes are being offered this spring. Contact Megan Stephenson for information about any of the following at (360) 296-7185.
Diabetes Prevention Program: Day and Evening Classes – Begins April 13
YMCA’s Actively Changing Together – Designed for kids ages 8-14 , parents and/or guardians.
Dietitian Kitchen: With Unity Care NW Dietitian Nutritionist Antrim Caskey, RDN. – Begins April 13th.
Chronic Disease Self-Management Class: This class is open to all and begins on April 8th.
Spotlight on Syphilis
With COVID-19 vaccine distribution in full swing, we’re all excited to be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Businesses are beginning to re-open and people are emerging from a long dark winter of isolation to consider dating again; the timing couldn’t be better for Sexually Transmitted Infection Awareness Month.
This year, the nation’s health care providers are focusing on educating patients about syphilis. Once near elimination, syphilis was surging in the United States again just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In 2018, the United States experienced the highest number and rate of reported syphilis cases in 20 years. From 2014-2018, syphilis rates increased among both males and females, in every region, and among every race/ethnicity. Rates of syphilis went up 71% overall, 61% among men, and 172.7% among women. Men in general, and gay and bisexual men specifically, continue to face the highest levels of syphilis. In recent years, syphilis has also risen among women.
What is Syphilis Again?
Syphilis is an STD that can have very serious complications, thankfully it is often simple to cure. Diagnosing syphilis in the early stages makes treatment easier and reduces the likelihood that it will be spread to anyone else.
Syphilis is divided into four stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary), with different signs and symptoms associated with each stage. A person with primary syphilis generally has a sore or sores at the original site of infection. But calling them “sores” is a little misleading because they are typically painless, making them easy to miss. These sores, also called “chancres,” can usually be found on or around the genitals, around the anus or in the rectum, or in or around the mouth. Chancres are usually (but not always) firm, round, shiny and look like open wounds.
Symptoms of secondary syphilis include a body rash, swollen lymph nodes, and fever. The signs and symptoms of primary and secondary syphilis can be mild, and they might not even be noticed. During the latent stage, there are often no signs or symptoms. It could seem like you’re all better; making the final stage a big surprise for those who go undiagnosed. The final stage is Tertiary syphilis. Tertiary syphilis is associated with severe medical problems. It can affect the heart, brain, and other organs of the body. It can cause skeletal deformity, severe headaches, paralysis and dementia. Neurologic or ocular (eye) syphilis are very serious can occur at any stage. Having syphilis also makes it easier to get HIV.
How is syphilis spread?
You can get syphilis by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. YES oral sex too! You can find sores on or around the penis, vagina, or anus, or in the rectum, on the lips, or in the mouth. Syphilis can also spread from an infected mother to their unborn baby.
What You Can Do to Prevent Syphilis
If you are sexually active, here are some ways to lower your chances of getting syphilis:
- Use latex barriers or condoms for every act of vaginal, anal, and oral sex throughout the entire sex act (from start to finish). Condoms prevent the spread of syphilis by preventing contact with a syphilis chancre. Sometimes sores can occur in areas not covered by a condom, so you could still get syphilis from contact with these sores, even if you are wearing a condom.
- Check for sores, bumps, chancres; any apparent wound on your genitals and keep an eye out for anything that could be a chancre on your sex partner(s). If you see something: say something and delay sexual activity until you can both see a doctor.
- Get tested – it’s the only way to know if you have syphilis. CDC recommends all sexually active people be tested for specific STDs, including syphilis, at least once a year, and more frequently for those who have multiple or anonymous partners (i.e., at 3- to 6-month intervals).
- Talk about it! Silence helps to fuel the spread of STDs.
- Have an honest and open talk with your healthcare provider about your sexual history and ask whether you should be tested for syphilis or other STDs.
- Talk with your partner about sex and STDs BEFORE you have sex.
If you test positive, syphilis can be cured with the right medicine from your healthcare provider.
Kate Wojnicki, ARNP, Unity Care NW
I’m a Family Nurse Practitioner and HIV Specialist at Unity Care NW. I hold a Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and a Master of Science in Nursing/ Nurse Practitioner degree from Seattle Pacific University. After spending 6 years in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UW and volunteering in Uganda, it became my personal belief that access to high quality primary care was the answer to many of the problems we see in medicine. I later completed a Community Health Residency in Tacoma with a focus on caring for persons living with HIV. I joined Unity Care NW in 2014 as an opportunity to serve the community where I spent much of my childhood. I earned my HIV credential through the American Academy of HIV Medicine in 2016.
Content source: Centers for Disease Control Division of STD Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
There are more than 1 million people in the US with HIV but unfortunately, even now, many of them don’t know it. The only way to know if you’re HIV positive is to get tested. HIV testing and your options for preventing HIV as well as treating HIV are better than ever. Most tests can be performed with a finger prick, mouth swab or blood test and results can be processed in as fast as 20 minutes with confirmatory testing in a few days. You can work with your health care provider to find the right test for you.
I’m going to assume that, if you are sexually active, you’re aware that condoms are the simplest way to keep yourself safe from HIV infection. When used every time, condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV as well as other STI’s. However, in terms of HIV infection, medical science has come a long way at providing further measures to help protect you. Other options include Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), PEP (Post exposure Prophylaxis) or Treatment as Prevention (TAP).
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a pill to prevent HIV. Studies have shown that PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV if taken consistently for people of all genders. PrEP, “the other blue pill” comes in several forms and is a medication that can help protect you- Talk to your medical provider today to find out which one could be right for you!
PEP Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) means taking medication after potentially being exposed to HIV, to prevent getting it. PEP is for emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after possible exposure to HIV. If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, talk to your health care provider or emergency room provider ASAP.
HIV Treatment as Prevention, also often referred to as Undetectable = Untransmittable, is the concept that if someone living with HIV has an undetectable virus level in their blood, they cannot pass along the virus. If you or your partner(s) are living with HIV, encourage them to get and keep an undetectable viral load by getting and staying in care. Being undetectable is the best thing for their overall health, and it means there is no risk of transmitting HIV to you through sex. Being undetectable, does not, prevent other sexually transmitted infections or diseases, so make sure you and your partner(s) are staying up to date on their STI testing.
Do you know your HIV status? Have up-front conversations about the importance of knowing your status so you can make the best decision to keep you and your partner healthy.
- Get tested regularly! The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested, so make testing a part of your regular health care routine. Knowing your status empowers you to make the best decisions for your health.
- Yes, everyone aged 13-64 should get tested at least once. Some groups at ongoing risk for getting HIV should be tested more often; at least once per year.
- Communication is important, so be open and honest. Talk to your partner and your primary care provider about getting tested and figure out which prevention options are best for you.
Visit www.cdc.gov/doingit to find a testing location near you. You can also buy an at-home testing kit online or at most pharmacies.
Need Affordable Health Coverage?
Is lack of insurance keeping you from getting tested? If you need or have lost health care coverage or had a qualifying life like losing your job or getting divorced, you can call our office and speak to one of our health insurance navigators who can help you find a plan that works for you. President Biden recently opened a special enrollment period to help anyone who has lost or needs health benefits to be able to apply for insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Call (360) 788-2669 or go online at bit.ly/3bBx8qs to sign up for health insurance.
For more health information follow @UnityCareNW on Instagram and Facebook.
Content source: Mental Health America, mhanational.org
Kate Wojnicki, ARNP, Unity Care NW
I’m a Family Nurse Practitioner and HIV Specialist at Unity Care NW. I hold a Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and a Master of Science in Nursing/ Nurse Practitioner degree from Seattle Pacific University. After spending 6 years in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UW and volunteering in Uganda, I completed a Community Health Residency in Tacoma with a focus on caring for persons living with HIV. I joined Unity Care NW in 2014 as an opportunity to serve the community where I spent much of my childhood. I earned my HIV credential through the American Academy of HIV Medicine in 2016.
Every July, World Hepatitis Day provides an opportunity for infectious disease specialists like me to raise awareness of the problem of viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is actually a group of infectious diseases that affect 325 million people worldwide, causing both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) liver disease. Viral hepatitis causes more than one million deaths each year and while deaths from tuberculosis and HIV have been declining, deaths from hepatitis are increasing.
People who get hepatitis A may feel sick for a few weeks to several months but usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool and blood of people who are infected and can be spread when someone unknowingly ingests the virus — even in microscopic amounts — through close personal contact with an infected person or through eating contaminated food or drink. Symptoms of hepatitis A can last up to 2 months and include fatigue, nausea, stomach pain, and jaundice. Hepatitis A is very contagious, and people can even spread the virus before they get symptoms.
Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluids from a person infected with the virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact or sharing drug-injection equipment. Not all people newly infected with HBV have symptoms, but for those that do, symptoms can include fatigue, poor appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice. For many people, hepatitis B is a short-term illness. For others, it can become a long-term, chronic infection that can lead to serious, even life-threatening health issues like cirrhosis or liver cancer. Though, treatments are available that can delay or reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.
Both hepatitis A and B are preventable with vaccines. The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults who may be at risk, including travelers to certain international countries. The CDC recommends both vaccines for all people who are:
- Sexually active people who are not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship (for example, people with more than one sex partner in the past 6 months)
- Travelers to certain countries, particularly in Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa.
- Men who have sex with men
- People who use or inject drugs
- People who anticipate close personal contact with an international adoptee
- People experiencing homelessness
Hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment used to prepare and inject drugs. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but for more than half of people who become infected with the hepatitis C virus, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C can result in serious, even life-threatening health problems like cirrhosis and liver cancer. People with chronic hepatitis C can often have no symptoms and don’t feel sick. When symptoms appear, they often are a sign of advanced liver disease.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent infection is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs. Getting tested for hepatitis C is important, because treatments can cure most people with hepatitis C in 8 to 12 weeks.
Now That You Know
Millions of Americans living with viral hepatitis, yet many don’t know it. People can live without symptoms, but over time, chronic hepatitis B and C can cause serious health problems. Talk to your doctor about getting tested. It could save your life.
Kate Wojnicki, ARNP, Unity Care NW – I’m a Family Nurse Practitioner and HIV Specialist at Unity Care NW. I hold a Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and a Master of Science in Nursing/ Nurse Practitioner degree from Seattle Pacific University. After spending 6 years in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UW and volunteering in Uganda, I completed a Community Health Residency in Tacoma with a focus on caring for persons living with HIV. I joined Unity Care NW in 2014 as an opportunity to serve the community where I spent much of my childhood. I earned my HIV credential through the American Academy of HIV Medicine in 2016.
A community collaboration of healthcare providers, including Family Care Network, PeaceHealth, Sea Mar Community Health Centers, Unity Care NW and the Whatcom County Health Department will operate a large-scale collaborative COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Bellingham Technical College.
The goal is to vaccinate up to 5,000 people at this site per week, depending on the reliability of weekly vaccine shipments from the state. The group is working diligently to finalize operations, staffing, logistics and other details.
At a time when the community’s healthcare professionals are under considerable strain, the assistance offered by BTC provides much needed resources for this project. In addition to hosting the vaccination site, students in BTC and Whatcom Community College’s nursing programs will help administer vaccinations.
The community vaccination clinic will abide by the Washington State Department of Health’s phased guidelines for vaccine eligibility. All parties are hopeful vaccine shipments will increase in the coming weeks.
All partners are finalizing logistics and operations related to the site’s launch, including an appointment scheduling system. Community members are asked not to call BTC with questions about vaccination scheduling. Updates about the community vaccination site, including launch date, hours of operation and how to book appointments, will be available on the Whatcom County Health Department’s website soon. Community members can also use the Vaccine Location function for the latest news on vaccine providers who are accepting appointments.
Find full details of the Community Vaccination Center and make an appointment here.
View Unity Care NW’s class “Coping with COVID” here. Learn about resiliency, positive thinking, and other strategies for optimizing your mental health during the pandemic. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-296-7185 for more info.
The class resource packet is available here.
Additional resources for taking care of your mental health:
- The state of Washington has created a website which includes mental and emotional support resources for Washingtonians. The Washington Listens program will provide supportive counseling to anyone who needs it during this heightened time of stress. You can call as often and you want, and talk as long as you need. 1-833-681-0211.
Unity Care NW is supporting this year’s Point-in-Time count by hosting a survey station in front of our 220 Unity Street facility, now through February 5th. The Point-in-Time (PIT) count is a count of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness and represents a snapshot of persons experiencing homelessness in Whatcom County.
Participation in the survey helps our community advocate for funding from the federal government to support housing and homelessness programs right here in Whatcom County.
Patients with appointments who are experiencing homelessness can stop by to be included in this year’s count!
New virtual classes to help address your health goals in the new year!
- Freedom From Smoking is a 7-week on-line class to help you quit and stay tobacco free. We’ll talk about the science and emotion behind addiction, strategies for quitting, and focus on your own reasons for going tobacco free. Call Megan at 360-296-7185 for more info and to register. Class starts Jan. 19th, 2-4pm.
- Lose to Win is a sustainable nutrition and physical activity program led by a YMCA coach. The one-hour classes provide a supportive network to work on similar goals when the going gets tough and to celebrate successes along the way! Must be 18 or older. $35/YMCA members; $50 non-members; scholarships available. Register with Tara at email@example.com. Wednesdays Jan. 20 – April 7, 12:15-1:15 pm
- Better Bones & Balance is a program to help improve balance and strength to avoid falls and maintain independence. Class includes a short talk and learning and practicing specific exercise.
$35 program fee, scholarships available. Register online whatcomymca.org or at the Welcome Desk. Tuesdays and Thursdays, Jan. 19-28, 11am – noon.
- Diabetes Prevention Program is a year-long supportive class for adults at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Must be 18 or older, and qualify via risk assessment or diagnosis of pre-diabetes.
$420 year program fee; Unity Care NW patient discount available, email firstname.lastname@example.org to apply.
- LIVESTRONG is a physical activity and well-being program for adult cancer survivors to reclaim their total health. Must be 18 or older, in remission, and with medical clearance for participation.
Free to new survivors, $25/month for LIVESTRONG alumni; scholarships available. Register with Tammy at email@example.com or (360) 733-8630 Mondays and Wednesdays, Jan. 11-March 31 11am – noon.
Beginning Tuesday, December 1, Bellingham Food Bank will offer pre-packed food boxes at the updated drive-up locations.
How It Works
Folks may visit twice per week and may choose among all locations which they visit. They will join a car queue and when it’s their turn, volunteers will offer pre-packed food boxes without requiring person to person contact. There will be a bike and walk-up option as well. Each household represented in a vehicle may pick up for up to 2 families. Menstrual products, baby formula and diapers will be added to distributed items as availability allows.
Starting December 1
Tuesdays & Thursdays | 1-4 pm
Drive-Up Distribution, 1175 Jersey St
Wednesdays | 3-6 pm
Christ the King Church Parking Lot, 4173 Meridian St