Visit the New Healthy Boston Blog

The Boston Public Health Commission is excited to announce the launch of our newly redesigned website.  The site features a more modern look and feel, enhanced search functionality, and more user-friendly navigation for you, our visitors.

This new site will now be home to the Healthy Boston Blog, where we will continue to write about  issues that affect the health of Boston, profile our staff members and programs, and feature our ongoing outreach efforts.

Thanks for your comments, input, and engagement. Please continue to visit us often on the new Healthy Boston Blog to learn more about how we’re building a healthy city!


Boston Public Health Commission, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and Walgreens partner to launch first-ever “Vaccinate Boston Week” for influenza season

Media campaign will encourage residents to get vaccinated at free clinics around city

Boston – The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and Walgreens, is making a concerted push to vaccinate residents against influenza this month, a time when flu activity can peak in Boston. Supported by a donation from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, which in part will fund free vaccinations for children, and 2,500 vouchers for free vaccinations for adults from Walgreens, the effort will be underscored by a media campaign during the month of December.

BPHC has worked with all community health centers and teaching hospitals to arrange free walk-in clinics across Boston next week, December 8th-14th. Vaccinate Boston Week coincides with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Influenza Vaccination Week. A calendar of free flu clinics is available online at

“We want to remind people that this is the perfect time to get your flu vaccine and protect yourself and your loved ones over the holidays,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Executive Director of BPHC. “Thanks to the generous support of Blue Cross Blue Shield and Walgreens, we’re able to offer thousands of free vaccines to folks who might otherwise not be able to afford it. Flu season is unpredictable, and we saw how severe last year’s was. Getting vaccinated gives you the best chance of staying healthy this winter.”

Last January, Mayor Thomas M. Menino declared a public health emergency for a flu epidemic that saw nearly 1,600 residents become ill, compared to just 70 cases the previous season. In response, BPHC worked with community health centers to organize 24 free clinics that vaccinated over 7,500 people in just three days.

As of yesterday, there were 26 confirmed cases of influenza among Boston residents. This is similar to the number of cases seen at this time last year. Given how severe last flu season became, it is possible that cases could once again skyrocket over the coming weeks. Health officials hope that Vaccinate Boston Week will help to dampen the spread of illness by encouraging more people to get vaccinated.

The media campaign will be concentrated in areas of the city that traditionally experience higher than average rates of influenza like illness, such as Mattapan, Roxbury, and Dorchester. Posters advertising the importance and availability of flu vaccines will be visible on MBTA buses and bus stops, billboards, and at movie theaters throughout the city. BPHC is also coordinating with several city agencies, community-based organizations, and partners in the health care sector to raise awareness about the importance of getting a flu vaccine.

“Vaccinations are the best prevention we have for the flu, and getting one is an easy, safe and effective way for families and loved ones to stay healthy ” said Dr. Tom Hawkins, a Medical Director for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “ It’s never too late in the season to get immunized and prevent unnecessary illness this flu season.”

“Vaccinate Boston represents a true collaboration between public and private partners all working together to improve the immunization rates in the city of Boston,” said Steve Pashko R.Ph., Market Pharmacy Director for Walgreens. “We need to remind folks that it is not too late to get a flu shot next week.”

Residents seeking a flu shot voucher from Walgreens are encouraged to call the Mayor’s Health Line at 617-534-5050 for more information. While the Walgreens vouchers are only redeemable for adults over the age of 18, other clinics across Boston are offering free vaccines to people of all ages. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone six months of age and older.

Certain populations, including the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and people with underlying health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease, are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the flu. Others that might not be at risk for severe illness themselves can still transmit the infection to vulnerable people.

Health officials suggest the following tips to avoid getting sick or spreading germs:

    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after coughing or sneezing. If water is not nearby, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs can spread easily this way.
    • As much as possible, avoid close contact with people who are sick.
    • If you have a fever or feel ill, stay home.


NEWS Release: Boston Public Health Commission, Whittier Street Health Center pause to recognize World AIDS Day 2013

Boston – Today, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) will join the Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury and community members to recognize World AIDS Day 2013. The event is an opportunity to celebrate the memories of lives lost and the lives of those who are still fighting the disease. Partners from across the city working on HIV/AIDS issues will have a chance to learn about how organizaidsribbonations such as Whittier Street are “Getting to Zero,” the theme of World AIDS Day that aspires to eliminate HIV infections, discrimination, and AIDS-related deaths.

Event information:
TODAY! Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Whittier Street Health Center, 1290 Tremont Street, Boston

Thirty-two years since the first case of AIDS was reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization estimates that over 36 million people have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS. Despite significant advancements in treatment and prevention methods, over 5,500 people are currently living with HIV in Boston, and many more are still being infected.

The downward trend in the number of HIV cases diagnosed in Boston is an encouraging sign, however. In 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 196 diagnosed cases in the city, dramatically lower than the 372 cases diagnosed in 2000. While there has been some year-to-year fluctuation in the data, cases have decreased over the past decade.

“It’s undeniable that prevention and treatment have improved by leaps and bounds in the last generation, but HIV/AIDS still alters thousands of lives here in Boston,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Executive Director of BPHC. “We’re fortunate to have such a passionate network of partners that are working day in and day out to make the goal of getting to zero a reality. World AIDS Day offers us a chance to come together to highlight our successes, but more importantly to remind people of the important work that remains.”

People of color and men who have sex with men (who may or may not identify as gay or bisexual) are disproportionally affected. Of the 196 cases of HIV diagnosed in Boston in 2011, 68% were Black or Latino and 47% were men who have sex with men.

In honor of World AIDS Day, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) would like to recognize the health centers, hospitals, and other community-based organizations that are working on Getting to Zero. Since 2000, BPHC has allocated more than $20 million to organizations in Boston that provide community-based education and outreach about HIV/AIDS. In the past year alone, these organizations have provided life-saving harm reduction information to 40,000 Bostonians. Through individual or group interventions, street outreach, and community events, BPHC’s partner organizations distributed 17,000 pieces of educational material and 300,000 condoms in 2013.

The BPHC HIV/AIDS Services Division, with funding from the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act, received and allocated over $13 million this year to organizations in the Boston metropolitan area. These organizations are funded to develop and enhance access to high quality, community-based care for low-income individuals and families living with HIV. Reaching over 7,000 people living with HIV annually, 91% of clients served through the division are on antiretroviral therapy. This treatment results in reduced viral loads and decreased transmission, which allows people with HIV to live long, healthy lives.

To learn more about HIV/AIDS, visit



Health Insurance Updates from the Mayor’s Health Line

Commonwealth Care Extended until March 31, 2014

The state announced on November 14th that those Massachusetts residents who currently have Commonwealth Care  insurance will now have until March 31, 2014 to transition to ConnectorCare, the new lower-cost health coverage available under national health reform through the Massachusetts Health Connector website. Individuals who are now insured by Commonwealth Care and are eligible for MassHealth on December 31, 2013 will be automatically converted and will not be affected by this extension.

health insurance_MassLeagueTo ensure that Massachusetts residents are aware of the new Affordable Care Act and the need for action to continue coverage,  the Massachusetts Health Connector, the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) have sponsored a state and citywide campaign to alert citizens of health insurance changes and to direct them to the appropriate assistance.  In Boston, the Mayor’s Health Line is the best available resource, with trained Navigators to help answer questions and assist in the transition. On November 19 advertisements began appearing in local English- and Spanish-language newspapers, including the Dorchester Reporter, the Jamaica Plain Gazette and El Mundo, among others highlighting the Health Line. Starting in December advertisements will also appear on MBTA buses.

In addition to print advertising, BPHC is also using Twitter to spread the word about health insurance enrollment options and the Mayor’s Health Line. Check out BPHC’s Twitter page and look out for hash tags like #MHL, #GetCovered and #ACA for more information.

The Mayor’s Health Line has also planned 55 outreach events around Boston with partners like libraries and MHL_Twittercommunity health centers. At outreach events certified navigators are on hand to enroll individuals and families for health insurance. For public events, all Massachusetts residents are welcome – attendees do NOT need to be Boston residents.

Partners include:

  • Homeless Services
  • Addiction Services
  • Boston Public Housing
  • Boston Public Library
  • Faith-based Organizations

There are still a number of public outreach events left in December. Check the BPHC Twitter page for times and locations of all enrollment and educational events.

If you have questions about health insurance, and the new health insurance policy, call the Mayor’s Health Line at 617-534-5050 / Toll-Free: 1-800-847-0710. The Mayor’s Health Line offers services to help you understand, apply, and enroll in the expanded health coverage.

Having a Healthy and Happy Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving almost upon us, we begin to focus on the hearty food and quality time shared with family over the holiday season.  This time, couples with holiday gatherings at work and with friends often lead to weight gain that last throughout the year. Year after year, experts say most Americans gain 2-3 pounds between October and the New Year and most often, keep the extra weight permanently.

Thanksgiving does not have to derail your weight. With a little know-how, you can satisfy your desire for traditional favorites and still enjoy a guilt-free Thanksgiving feast. After all, being stuffed is not a good idea unless you are the turkey!

The first step to a healthy Thanksgiving is: No skipping meals. Always eat normally on the day the event of event or party. “People who skip meals such as breakfast to save up calories tend to overeat everything in sight once they get there,” says Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, author of Diet Simple.   Start with a nourishing breakfast, which includes protein and fiber, then a small snack or salad shortly before the occasion.  Including protein and fiber in your breakfast increases your feeling full throughout the day and allows you to be more discriminating in your food and beverage choices when you arrive to the Thanksgiving meal.

Save on calories by not drinking sugary drinks and drink water.   Tap water is calorie free and fills your stomach which can prevent overeating. For flavor, add fruit or vegetables, such as lemon, orange or cucumber to your water. If you’re looking for a little sparkle on your table, spritzers made with club soda or sparkling water are either no  or very low calorie content. Click here for a great recipe for pomegranate spritzer:  .  Remember, alcoholic and cream–based drinks are loaded with calories, especially holiday favorites like eggnog. ”Cut your calories in half by alternating water or seltzer between alcoholic and eggnog beverages” says Tallmadge.

Finally, whether you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner or bringing a few dishes to share, Lighten Up and make your recipes healthier with less fat, sugar, salt and calories.  There is more sugar, salt and fat in most recipes than needed, and your guests won’t notice the difference if you trimmed the recipe by using healthier ingredients. Here are a few simple tips:

  • Use fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy.
  • Reduce sugar by 1/3 or use granulated sugar substitute in place of sugar and/or use fruit purees instead of oil in baked goods.
  • Buy whole-grain bread for your stuffing; add wild rice and dried fruits to increase fiber.

Your Thanksgiving meal can be healthy yet still preserve your family’s traditions by planning ahead and incorporating small changes that support healthy habits for you and your quests.   To get more tips on healthy eating for the holidays, check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest Twitter chat on Friday, November 22 at 1 ET.

NEWS RELEASE: Health Advisory: Take Caution when Traveling Abroad for Cosmetic Surgery

Boston – The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) has recently investigated several reports of severe infections in patients following cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic. A number of people who traveled to the Dominican Republic in the summer for cosmetic surgery are having serious infections, and some of these have been confirmed to be caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium abscessus. This germ can be spread through contaminated medical equipment, medical supplies, or poor surgical techniques. Infection can cause severe pain and swelling, and often does not show up until several weeks after surgery.

“Medical tourism” has become a major industry in many Latin American countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 750,000 people from the United States travel abroad each year seeking low cost medical care. Although all surgeries have certain risks, appropriate training and safety procedures, including sterilization of all medical equipment and use of sterile medical supplies, can help ensure a healthy recovery.

Individuals planning to travel abroad for surgery should take several steps to help prevent potential life-threatening complications:

    • Talk with your primary care provider about your trip and planned surgery at least 4 to 6 weeks prior to traveling.
    • Ask the doctor and facility that you are using for surgery outside the United States about how many people have had infections following surgical procedures at their facility and how many have had serious problems (including death) after having surgery.
    • Obtain a written agreement, describing what treatment, supplies, and care are provided, with the doctor who will perform the surgery abroad. It is important that the doctor also informs you before you travel about ALL risks associated with the surgery. Ask the doctor performing the surgery about what measures are in place to provide care for you if you develop problems after the surgery. Ask if there is any additional cost associated with this care.
    • Get copies of all medical records related to your surgery and medical care provided abroad before returning home.

For questions about medical tourism, please contact the Boston Public Health Commission’s Communicable Disease Control Division at (617) 534-5611 or


Be A Quitter! Stop Smoking TODAY!

On the third Thursday of November, we mark the Great American Smokeout by highlighting available resources throughout Boston for those interested in quitting. Today, we also emphasize the importance  importance of tobacco control in our homes and places of work to limit the exposure to second hand smoke for non-smokers in hopes of creating a clean air environment in Boston.

Secondhand smoke is a dangerous house guest. It can creep in under doors and through vents. Tobacco and other smoke is a source of poor indoor air quality. Secondhand smoke can cause early death and disease in children and adults who do not smoke. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infection, ear problems and more severe asthma. Exposure of adults to secondhand smoke can also causes heart disease and lung cancer.

Going smoke-free makes your home or apartment healthier, safer and easier to maintain. Approximately 80% of Massachusetts residents have smoke-free policies in their own homes already and it is completely legal to make a rental property smoke-free. A written no smoking policy means that smoking is prohibited anywhere inside the building as well as outdoor areas where smoking may contaminate indoor air. Smoke free policies can include tobacco, e-cigarette and marijuana smoking or vaping.

The Boston Public Health Commission is working with tenants, landlords, property managers, health care institutions and others to increase the availability of smoke-free multifamily housing in Boston. Go to for information on the benefits of smoke free housing and guidance on transitioning to smoke free or to list your smoke free building on the Boston Smoke Free Homes Registry.

If you are currently a smoker, but would like to quit, there are resources available to help you succeed. Using Nicotine Replacement Therapy, such as the Patch, doubles the chance of success. Combine that with counseling and the odds of success triple. Free phone counseling is available from the nationwide Smokers Helpline by dialing 1 800 QUIT-NOW. This free hotline will help anyone plan out their quit attempt and access resources nationwide.

For more information on quitting smoking please call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) and for more information on services offered through the Boston Public health Commission, please visit us at

Damon Chaplin, MBA is the Coordinator for the Division of Healthy Homes.


[1] US Department of Health and Human Services. “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General-Executive Summary”2006.
[1]  Tobacco Use Supplement to the Current Population Survey (TUS CPS) 2006-2007


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