The hundreds of poster sessions available online for APHA 2021 attendees cover all aspects of public health, including how various populations have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many poster sessions also include a video of the researcher explaining their work. Here’s just a tiny sample of the new research being presented: 

Testing sewage to detect COVID-19 outbreaks
A Michigan study showed how wastewater-based epidemiology can be used to detect localized COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Wastewater epidemiology allows communities to assess disease burden in the face of barriers such as clinical testing, transportation, asymptomatic individuals and individual reporting, said presenter Alexis Porter, a technician at Grand Valley State University in Muskegon, Michigan, in her video poster presentation, “SARS-CoV-2 wastewater surveillance: An infectious epidemiological analysis of COVID-19.”

The Grand Valley State University lab tested 256 sewage samples twice a week in November and December 2020 for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The samples were taken from 22 wastewater sites in Michigan.

The N1 and N2 genes were most effective in identifying the virus because they don’t break down as much in in wastewater, researchers reported. The project showed the lab was able to both detect local COVID-19 outbreaks and evaluate level of disease prevalence. The ability to accurately predict COVID-19 varied based on the sample quality, collection time and sample type. 

Porter said wastewater testing can be used as a pre-screening tool for COVID-19 to better target clinical testing needs. 

“Wastewater testing can guide and support current public health intervention measures, lessen the burden of clinical testing and guide public health policy,” she said. 

Teaching mindfulness to reduce college students’ stress
Adopting a mindfulness practice decreased stress among college students, particularly those who did not exercise regularly, according to an APHA 2021 poster presentation on “The use of mindfulness-based stress reduction in college students.” 

Health and science undergraduate students at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana, took part in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program for eight weeks. The 42 students provided demographic information and exercise levels and participated in a baseline stress assessment.

The students participated in twice-weekly mindfulness-based stress reduction activities after class and were encouraged to do the exercises on their own, explained presenter Phrosini Samis-Smith, health science program director and assistant professor of health care leadership at Valparaiso University.

After eight weeks, the mean stress scale score for all participants decreased by a modest 1.59 points. The intervention appeared to be slightly more effective for men and most effective for juniors. Contrary to the original hypothesis, the activities were more effective for those who self-identified as “less than moderate” exercisers, rather than moderate or vigorous exercisers.

Stress has significantly increased among college students in recent years, even before the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual learning added to their burden, Samis-Smith said. She recommended more research on mindfulness-based stress reduction and exercise, as well as research on stress in college students. 

Family caregivers not involved in telehealth visits
Telemedicine was widely adopted in the U.S. after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the practice is likely to remain post-pandemic. It has been praised for improving access, rapport and safety during the pandemic, but how effective is telemedicine among older adults? 

A May 2020 online survey asked 90 Michigan adults about their telemedicine perspectives in relation to their caregiving responsibilities involving family members ages 60 and older. Results were presented during an APHA 2021 poster presentation on “Family caregiver participation in telemedicine visits during COVID-19: Insights from Michigan.” 

Almost half of the caregivers reported that their older relative had had a telemedicine visit during the pandemic. However, only 16 of the caregivers also participated in the visit. Respondents shared several barriers to their participation in these visits, including HIPAA limitations and power-of-attorney dynamics, such as not knowing if they were allowed to join or being asked to leave by the clinician, according to presenter Minakshi Raj, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

“The clinician would say to the relative, ‘please find a room in your home that is private, where no one else is around,’ and in those instances, caregivers would not be included, even though in an in-person visit they probably would have been sitting right next to their relative,” Raj said in her video presentation. 

She added that some caregivers worried about the appropriateness of a particular visit. “Family caregivers worried that their relative was using telehealth for visits that probably required an in-person visit,” she said. 

As telehealth evolves, the medical community needs to incorporate ways to keep caregivers involved, Raj said. “Family caregivers may be critical for facilitating their relative’s access to health care and therefore, their relative’s ability to age in place. Family caregivers need to be considered when we’re thinking about how to design and use telehealth.”

Programs needed to teach farmworkers about opioid misuse
A survey of mental health professionals attending a state conference showed that while 56% were interested in educating agricultural workers about opioid misuse, less than half (46%) actually had such initiatives, according to a poster presentation on “Perceptions of mental health professionals: A need for opioid misuse prevention education among agricultural communities.” 

Opioid misuse disproportionately affects rural communities, often due to work injuries that can lead to opioid prescriptions, as well as other social stressors. The poster highlighted national data that show three in four farmers and farmworkers are directly affected by opioid misuse. 

Employees in the Cooperative Extension Service — a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that educates, empowers and works directly with agricultural workers throughout the U.S. — administered a 15-item paper survey to assess mental health professionals’ knowledge of opioid misuse in rural and agricultural communities. Most, at 81%, reported confidence in their ability to provide opioid misuse education among agricultural workers.

However, the poster pointed out that there are not adequate opportunities for this work to happen. “[The Cooperative Extension Service] and their partners are well-positioned to work with agriculture communities and mental health and substance misuse prevention specialists to address these disparities,” the poster stated.