Glossary of Terms Used by the Vermont Tracking Program
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Acute myocardial infarction (AMI) – Also called a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to part of the heart becomes blocked. Unless the flow of blood is restored quickly, the heart muscle is damaged from lack of oxygen and begins to die.
Age-adjusted rate – A rate that is statistically modified to eliminate the effect of different age distributions in the different populations. In other words, the rate accounts for the possibility that there may be many people in one age group and few people in another age group. A crude rate does not make this adjustment.
Age-specific rate – A rate limited to a particular age group. The numerator is the number of cases or events in that age group; the denominator is the total number of persons in that age group in the population of interest.
Air Quality Index – An index for reporting daily air quality. The index tells you how clean or polluted the air is in a particular location and what associated health effects might be a concern.
Alpha radiation – A type of energy released when certain radioactive elements decay or break down. Alpha radiation normally exists everywhere: in the soil, air and water. Because the earth’s bedrock contains varying amounts of radioactive elements, the amount of alpha radiation in water also varies.
Anencephaly – A birth defect that affects the closing of the neural tube during pregnancy. The neural tube is a narrow channel that folds and closes during the third and fourth weeks of pregnancy to form the brain and spinal cord. Anencephaly occurs when the portion of the neural tube that forms the brain does not close. This results in the baby lacking parts of the brain, skull, and scalp.
Arsenic – A toxic chemical element that is naturally found in the Earth’s crust in soil, rocks and minerals.
Artery – A vessel that carries blood high in oxygen content away from the heart to the farthest reaches of the body.
Asthma – A disease that affects the airways that carry oxygen in and out of the lungs. For people with asthma, the inside of the airways can become irritated and inflamed, and result in wheezing and coughing.
Atherosclerosis – The build-up of fatty deposits, known as plaques, in coronary arteries.
Atrazine – An herbicide that is widely used as a weed killer.
At-risk group – A group with certain characteristics that make it more likely to be exposed to a specific contaminant and or develop a specific disease.
Bacteria – A very large group of microorganisms comprising one of the three domains of living organisms.
Bias – Any trend in the collection, analysis, interpretation, publication or review of data that can lead to conclusions that are systematically different from the truth.
Birth cohort – A group of individuals born during the same period or year.
Birth count – Number of live births for a specified period of time and geographic area.
Birth defect – A problem that happens as a baby develops in the mother’s body. A birth defect may affect how the body looks, works, or both.
Birth rate – Number of live births per 1,000 county population.
Birth weight – An infant's weight at or shortly after birth.
Blood lead level – A measure of lead in the body. Blood lead level is traditionally reported as the number of micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL).
Cancer – A group of more than 100 different diseases in which abnormal cells in the body grow out of control.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – A colorless, odorless gas that occurs naturally in the Earth’s atmosphere. Significant quantities are also emitted into the air by burning fossil fuels.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) – An odorless, colorless gas that is given off whenever fossil fuels are burned. Carbon monoxide is a poison, even at low levels, while carbon dioxide is a normal part of the breathing process. Breathing high levels of CO can cause severe illness or death in a matter of minutes.
Carcinogen – A substance or agent that may cause or increase the risk of cancer.
Carcinogenic emissions – Chemicals known to cause or increase the risk of cancer that are released into the air from industrial sources or mobile sources, such as vehicles and equipment.
Census – The count of an entire population, usually with details being recorded on residence, age, sex, occupation, ethnic group, marital status, birth history and relationship to head of household.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting public health activities in the United States. The CDC funds the Vermont Tracking program as well as many other public health programs in Vermont.
Chelation therapy – The administration of compounds that can be used to remove heavy metals, such as lead, from the body.
Childbearing age – Women aged 15–44 years.
Chromosomes – Small “packages” of genes in the body. They determine how a baby’s body forms during pregnancy and how, as the baby grows in the womb and after birth, the body functions.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – One of the most common lung diseases. It makes it difficult to breathe. There are two main forms of COPD—chronic bronchitis, which involves a long-term cough with mucus, and emphysema, which involves destruction of the lungs over time.
Class – A description of a group where the group members share similar properties, common behaviors, common relationships or common semantics.
Cleft lip with cleft palate – An opening in the upper lip. The opening in the lip can be a small slit in the lip or a large opening that goes through the lip into the nose. A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth, called the palate. A cleft palate can occur when the two sides of the palate do not come together correctly.
Cleft lip without cleft palate – An opening in the upper lip. The opening in the lip can be a small slit in the lip or a large opening that goes through the lip into the nose.
Cleft palate without cleft lip – An opening in the roof of the mouth, called the palate. A cleft palate can occur when the two sides of the palate do not come together correctly.
Climate change – Climate change is a change in the average weather conditions of a particular location. In Vermont, warming trends and changes in rainfall patterns over the past 50 years are evidence of climate change.
Cohort – A group of individuals sharing a common characteristic and observed over time in the group.
Coliform bacteria – Commonly found in nature—in soil, plants and the intestinal tracts of humans and animals. The presence of these bacteria is used throughout the United States as an indication of potentially unsafe drinking water.
Community water system – A public water system which serves at least 15 service connections used by year-round residents or regularly serves at least 25 year-round residents.
Concentration – A measure for the amount of something that is mixed with another material. The amounts of ozone in the air, lead in the blood or arsenic in water are examples of concentrations.
Confidence interval – A range of values for a variable of interest. For example, a rate constructed so that this range has a specified probability of including the true value of the variable. The specified probability is called the confidence level, and the end points of the confidence interval are called the confidence limits. For example, the 95% confidence interval is an interval with a 95% probability of including the true rate.
Contaminant – A substance that is either present in an environment where it does not belong or present at levels that might cause harmful health effects.
Coronary artery disease – A condition in which fatty deposits, also called plaque, build up inside the coronary arteries.
County population – Census estimate of the number of people living in a particular county during a specified time period, typically one year or a five-year period.
Crude rate – The number of cases or events in an area during a specified time period per unit population of interest such as “per 10,000” or “per 100,000.”
Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) – The most commonly used of a group of related human-made chemicals called phthalates or phthalic acid esters. Greatest use is as a plasticizer (softener).
Dioxins – A class of chemical contaminants that are formed during combustion processes such as waste incineration, forest fires and backyard trash burning, as well as during some industrial processes such as paper pulp bleaching and herbicide manufacturing.
Disinfection byproducts (DBPs) – A family of chemicals formed when disinfectants, which are being used to kill viruses and bacteria in water, react with naturally occurring organic matter and other substances in the source water.
Down syndrome – Also called Trisomy 21. A condition in which a baby is born with an extra chromosome. This extra copy changes the body’s and brain’s normal development and causes developmental and physical problems for the baby.
Elevated blood lead level (for children) – Definition in Vermont Law: a blood lead level of at least five micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) of human blood, or a lower threshold as determined by the commissioner [of health]. Prior Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines defined an elevated blood lead level as a level greater than or equal to 10 µg/dL. The guidelines have been revised to reflect a new reference level of 5 µg/dL and Tracking programs are working to incorporate the new definition and update the data.
Fertility – Ability to conceive a child.
Fertility rate – Number of live births occurring in a population during a specified time period in relation to the number of women 15 – 44 years of age during the same time period.
Fetal death – The spontaneous intrauterine death of a fetus at any time during pregnancy. Fetal deaths later in pregnancy (for example, at 20 weeks of gestation or more, or 28 weeks or more) are also sometimes referred to as stillbirths.
Fine particles – Particulate matter that has particle sizes between 0.1 micrometers and 2.5 micrometers in diameter (abbreviated as PM2.5)
Fossil fuels – Fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas that result from the compression of ancient plant and animal life formed over millions of years.
Fungicide – A chemical substance that destroys or inhibits the growth of fungi. For example, mold, mildew or rust on plants.
Gastroschisis – A birth defect in which a portion of an infant's intestines protrude out of the body through a small hole in the body wall beside the umbilical cord. The body wall defect can be small or large, and other organs such as the liver can be involved.
Genetics – The science of heredity, dealing with resemblances and differences of related organisms resulting from the interaction of their genes and the environment.
Groundwater – The supply of fresh water found beneath the earth’s surface, usually in aquifers, which supplies wells and springs.
Haloacetic acids – A group of chemicals that are formed along with other disinfection byproducts when chlorine or other disinfectants used to control microbial contaminants in drinking water react with naturally occurring organic and inorganic matter in water.
Hantavirus – Hantavirus are a family of several viruses found in rodents.
Heart attack – Also called an Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI). A heart attack occurs when blood flow to part of the heart becomes blocked. Unless the flow of blood is restored quickly, the heart muscle is damaged from lack of oxygen and begins to die.
Herbicides – A chemical substance used to destroy or inhibit the growth of plants, especially weeds.
Hospitalizations – In Vermont Tracking data, hospitalizations are defined as de-identified inpatient admissions of Vermont residents to Vermont hospitals; duplicate records are excluded. It is important to note that these hospitalizations data omit persons who are treated in outpatient settings as well as those who die in emergency rooms, in nursing homes or at home without being admitted to the hospital.
Hypoplastic left heart syndrome – A condition that is present at birth, and often is called a congenital heart defect. It is a group of related defects that, together, mean that the left side of the heart is underdeveloped.
Hypospadias – A birth defect of males in which the opening of the urethra is located somewhere along the underside of the penis instead of at the tip. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. This defect occurs when the urethra does not complete its development during pregnancy.
Incidence – Number of new cases of illness occurring within a specific population over a period of time.
Incidence rate – The rate at which new events occur in a specific population, place and time.
Infant mortality – A death that occurs before 1 year of age.
Inorganic contaminants – Mineral-based compounds such as metals, nitrates and asbestos. These contaminants are naturally occurring in some water but can also get into water through farming, chemical manufacturing and other human activities. The Environmental Protection Agency has set legal limits on more than 15 inorganic contaminants in drinking water.
Intrauterine growth retardation – Refers to the poor growth of a baby while in the mother's womb during pregnancy. Specifically, it means the developing baby weights less than 90% of other babies at the same gestational age.
Lead – A metallic element found in the earth’s crust. Lead can be released into the environment during human activities such as mining, manufacturing, burning fossil fuels and disturbing lead paint by sanding or scraping.
Leukemia – General name for different types of cancers that involve the blood and the bone marrow.
Living in poverty – The Census Bureau defines a set of money income thresholds that vary by family size and age of family members to determine if a person is living in poverty. If a family’s total income is less than their corresponding threshold, then that family, and every individual in it, is living in poverty. The official poverty thresholds do not vary geographically, but they are updated annually for inflation using the Consumer Price Index.
Low birth weight – Less than 5.5 pounds, or 2500 grams.
Lower limb deficiency – Defects that occur when a part of or the entire leg (lower limb) of a fetus fails to form completely during pregnancy. The defect is referred to as a “limb reduction” because a limb is reduced from its normal size or is missing.
Lyme disease – An infection spread by the bite of an infected tick. It is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Ticks can get the bacteria by biting small animals that are infected.
Lymphomas – Group of cancers of the body’s immune system.
Mercury – A heavy, silver-white, highly toxic metallic element, the only one that is liquid at room temperature.
Metadata – "Data about data." Metadata describe the content, quality and context of a dataset and provide links to additional information such as quality assurance documents and data dictionaries.
Methane – An odorless, colorless, flammable gas that is the principal component of natural gas.
Miticides – An agent, usually a chemical, that kills mites, which are small creatures including species that are parasites on animals and plants.
Neonatal mortality – A death of an infant younger than 28 days.
Nitrate – A water-soluble molecule made of nitrogen and oxygen.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – A toxic, highly reactive oxidant, and corrosive gas often found in smog and automobile exhaust fumes. It can also be released from silage and the reaction of nitric acid with metals.
Organochlorides – Organic compounds that contain one or more chlorine atoms. Dioxin and DDT are examples of organochlorides.
Organophosphates – Any of several organic compounds containing phosphorus, some of which are used as fertilizers and pesticides.
Ozone – A compound containing three oxygen atoms, O3, occurring as a gas that you cannot see or smell. Ozone occurs naturally in the sky about 10 to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface. This ozone may be called “good ozone” because it forms a layer that protects life on earth from the sun’s harmful rays. On the other hand, ground-level or “bad” ozone can be harmful for your health and the environment. Ground-level ozone is a primary part of smog and is formed when pollutants from cars and trucks, power plants, factories and other sources come in contact with each other in heat and sunlight. Natural events, such as lightning strikes, can also produce ground-level ozone.
Particulate matter – Also called particle pollution. Consists of particles that are in the air including dust, dirt, soot and smoke, and little drops of liquid. Some particles, such as soot or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen. Other particles are so small that you cannot see them.
Perinatal mortality – A death after the 28th week of pregnancy, but before the 7th day of age.
Pesticides – Chemicals used to control insects, weeds, fungus, and other pests.
PM2.5 – Fine particulate matter that has particles between 0.1 micrometers and 2.5 micrometers in diameter
Pollutant – A substance introduced into the environment that negatively affects the health of humans.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – Chemicals made up of as many as 209 chlorinated compounds that do not occur naturally. These chemicals were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications including electrical, heat transfer and hydraulic equipment; as plasticizers in paints, plastics and rubber products; in pigments, dyes and carbonless copy paper; and many other industrial applications. PCBs are toxic and have been banned for use in the U.S. since 1979.
Postnatal mortality – A death of an infant who is at least 28 days old, but younger than 1 year.
Premature birth – An infant born before the 37th week of pregnancy.
Prematurity – Being born too early.
Prenatal – Occurring or existing before birth.
Prevalence – Number of cases (new and existing) of an illness occurring within a specific population over a period of time
Prevalence rate – The number of existing cases (old and new) of an illness in a defined population at a specified point in time, expressed as a proportion
Protozoa – Any of a large group of single-celled, usually microscopic, organisms.
Public community water system – A water system that serves at least 15 service connections used by year-round residents or serves at least 25 year-round residents.
P-value – Statistical calculation that indicates the probability that an observed difference did not occur due to chance.
Radium – A naturally occurring radioactive metal that occurs at low levels in many environmental samples such as rocks, soils and water.
Radon – A naturally occurring radioactive gas. Radon has no color, odor or taste and results from the decay of uranium, which is a radioactive element found naturally in the earth’s crust. Over billions of years, uranium decays into radium, and eventually into radon.
Rate – How often an event occurs in a defined population during a specified time period.
Risk – Potential or probability that an event will occur, such as danger or harm.
Risk factor – An aspect of personal behavior or lifestyle, an environmental exposure or a genetic characteristic that affects a person’s chance of getting a disease or other negative health effect.
Secondhand smoke – Cigarette, cigar or pipe smoke that is inhaled unintentionally by nonsmokers and is harmful to their health.
Sex ratio at birth – The ratio of male to female births. The expected sex ratio at birth (male to female) is 1.05.
Solvent – A liquid capable of dissolving or dispersing another substance (for example, water, acetone or mineral spirits).
Spina bifida – A type of neural tube defect. The neural tube is a narrow channel that folds and closes during the third and fourth weeks of pregnancy to form the brain and spinal cord. Spina bifida happens if the portion of the neural tube that forms the spinal cord does not close completely during the first month of pregnancy.
Sulfur dioxide – One of a group of highly reactive gases known as “oxides of sulfur.” Sulfur dioxide is formed naturally by volcanic activity and is a waste gas produced by burning coal and oil and by many industrial processes, such as smelting. It is also a hazardous air pollutant associated with negative respiratory effects and is a major contributor to acid rain.
Suppressed – To keep from being revealed, published, or circulated. Data that represent fewer than six cases are generally suppressed in the Vermont Tracking portal. With fewer than six cases, it is almost impossible to tell random changes from true changes in the data. Small numbers are also avoided to maintain the confidentiality of individuals.
Surface water – Bodies of water that form and remain above ground, such as lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, bays, and oceans.
Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) – A solvent used in the textile industry and as a component of aerosol dry-cleaning products.
Tetralogy of Fallot syndrome – A heart condition that is present at birth, and often is called a congenital heart defect. This defect changes the normal flow of blood through the heart and is a combination of four problems in the heart.
Transposition of great arteries – A heart condition that is present at birth, and often is called a congenital heart defect. Transposition of the great arteries occurs when the two main arteries going out of the heart—the pulmonary artery and the aorta—are switched in position, or “transposed.”
Trichloroethylene (TCE) – A solvent that is primarily used to remove grease from fabricated metal parts and also is used in the production of some textiles.
Trihalomethanes (THM) – A type of chemical compound in which three of the hydrogen atoms in a methane molecule have been replaced by halogen atoms, especially by chlorine in drinking water. Trihalomethanes are disinfection byproducts and are thought to be carcinogenic.
Trisomy 21 – Also called Down syndrome. A condition in which a baby is born with an extra chromosome. This extra copy changes the body’s and brain’s normal development and causes developmental and physical problems for the baby.
Total fertility rate – The sum of the age-specific birth rates of women in five-year age groups multiplied by five. This rate estimates the number of children a cohort of 1,000 women would bear if they all went through their childbearing years having the same age-specific birth rates in effect for a particular time. The age group of women used in Tracking for this calculation is 15 through 44 years
Toxin – A substance that is harmful to the body or environment.
Upper Limb Deficiencies – Defects that occur when a part of or the entire arm (upper limb) of a baby fails to form completely during pregnancy. The defect is referred to as a “limb reduction” because a limb is reduced from its normal size or is missing.
Uranium – A naturally occurring radioactive element that breaks down very slowly into other elements including radium and radon.
Vermont Birth Information Network (BIN) – Information about live births collected by the Vermont Department of Health under Vermont law. The information comes from birth certificates, newborn screening programs, hospitals, clinics and other places where health records are kept. The confidentiality of all personal health information entered in BIN is strictly protected by law.
Vermont Cancer Registry (VCR) – Vermont’s statewide population-based cancer surveillance system. The registry collects information about all cancers (except non-melanoma skin cancers and carcinoma in situ of the cervix) and all benign brain tumors diagnosed in Vermont. VCR is part of a statewide effort to reduce the impact of cancer on individuals, families and communities in Vermont.
Vermont Vital Records – A statewide registration system started in 1857 when the Vermont General Assembly passed legislation requiring towns to report all births, marriages and deaths to the Secretary of State. The Vermont Department of Health now has responsibility for collecting and maintaining these records and, as of 2000, the system includes nine types of events: births, deaths, marriages, divorces, civil unions, dissolutions, reciprocal beneficiaries, fetal deaths and abortions.
Very low birth weight – Less than 3.3 pounds, or 1500 grams.
Virus – Any of various simple submicroscopic parasites of plants, animals and bacteria that often cause disease. Unable to replicate without a host cell, viruses are typically not considered living organisms.
Vital statistics – Data derived from certificates and reports of birth, death, fetal death, induced termination of pregnancy, marriage and related reports.
Watershed – The land area from which water drains into a stream, river or reservoir.
West Nile virus – A disease caused by a mosquito-borne virus. West Nile virus first appeared in the United States in 1999.