Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chiku-what?! Florida resident is first to contract mosquito-borne disease within the US

U.S. health officials are on alert for a painful disease with an unusual name, after a new case was diagnosed in a Florida man in July.

Chikungunya, an infectious disease spread by mosquitoes, causes fever and severe joint pain. There’s no cure for the disease and treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. While the disease can’t be spread from person to person, it can be spread when a mosquito bites an infected person and then a healthy one.

Health officials have known about chikungunya for a long time — it was first described during an outbreak in Tanzania in 1952. As global temperatures have warmed and some types of mosquitoes have spread, the disease has spread to more than 40 countries. An ongoing outbreak in the Caribbean has been linked to thousands of cases.

Photo courtesy CDC Media Relations
In the U.S., cases of chikungunya are usually brought home by travelers who contract the disease in another country. In 2014, more than 240 cases have been imported by travelers.

But in the July Florida case, the man diagnosed with the disease had not traveled outside of the U.S. recently, meaning he caught chikungunya here. The case is the first to be confirmed in the U.S. as locally-acquired. That has put health officials on alert.

Health officials don’t know how much of a problem chikungunya will be in the United States. But as with West Nile virus, which was first reported in the U.S. in 1999 and causes annual cases across the country — with 2,469 cases and 119 deaths reported to CDC in 2013 — there is a chance that the disease will become a regular occurrence.

Photo courtesy CDC Media Relations
However, the good news is that chikungunya is not fatal and can easily be prevented. Here are some basic steps to protect you and your family from mosquitoes:
• Use insect repellent when outdoors.
• Wear clothing that covers your feet, legs and arms.
• Avoid going outside at dawn or dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.

Want to know more on how to protect yourself? Check out our Get Ready mosquitoes fact sheet. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer means sun, fun — and hurricanes

Photo courtesy iStockphoto
The summer months can bring both beautiful and dangerous weather. Hurricane Arthur’s recent trip up the East Coast, which caused flooding and canceled Fourth of July plans, shows the importance of being prepared for summer hurricanes.

In the U.S., people living and vacationing along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast are most likely to experience hurricanes. Hurricanes can cause high winds, flooding and even tornadoes.

Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to staying safe this hurricane season:
• Learn if you live in an area at risk for hurricanes. If you’re going on vacation, find out if the area you’re visiting is at risk for hurricanes.

• Be informed about your community’s warning system, evacuation routes and shelters. If you’re staying at a hotel in an area at risk for hurricanes, talk to the staff about evacuation plans for guests. Always comply with orders to evacuate.

• A hurricane warning means a hurricane is close. If a warning is given, cover doors and windows to keep them from breaking. Fill things like sinks and bathtubs with clean water in case water is not available. Finally, set your refrigerator on its coldest setting and fill your vehicles with gas.

• Know where to meet if someone gets separated or lost during a hurricane.

• Make sure your emergency kit is up to date and that supplies are ready to go in case you have to evacuate. Common supplies include three days of food and water, a first-aid kit, flashlights and lanterns, batteries and a battery-operated radio. For a detailed checklist, visit the Get Ready website

• If you are told to evacuate and have time, turn off gas, water and electricity. Lastly, make sure to help neighbors. 

To learn more about hurricane preparedness, read our Get Ready fact sheet.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Get Ready Mailbag: What’s the connection between climate change, health and disasters?

Welcome to another installment of the Get Ready Mailbag, when we take time to answer questions sent our way by readers like you. Have a question you want answered? Send an email to getready@apha.org.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how climate change will be bad for health and lead to more disasters. How could that happen?

Yes, you’ve heard right. In fact, climate change is already having an impact on health and weather-related disasters. Let’s take a look at some of the health effects that you may or may not realize are caused or made worse by climate change.

• Climate change causes greater extremes in temperatures:
Heat not only feels uncomfortable, it can make you very sick or kill you. You may already know about heat exhaustion or a more deadly version, known as heat stroke. However, did you know that heat can increase blood pressure, aggravate heart disease and cause premature labor? Extreme cold can also cause frostbite and hypothermia.

• Climate change causes the spread of diseases:
Warmer and wetter climate allows some diseases and the insects that carry them to thrive in more regions and countries. West Nile virus, dengue and Chikungunya are all spread by mosquitoes, and Lyme disease is spread by ticks. As the U.S. climate changes, these diseases will affect more and more people. 

• Climate change causes more drought, flooding and food and water shortages:
Hotter temperatures, as well as too much or too little rainfall, are causing food crops to fail. This could lead to increased prices for basic food items. Drought can pollute our drinking water by causing toxins in the water to become more concentrated. Floods cause bacteria and viruses that make us sick to enter our water supply.

You can help yourself, your family and your animal companions be prepared by visiting APHA’s Get Ready website, which has a lot of helpful information.You may also want to read the new National Climate Assessment, which has a whole chapter on climate and human health.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Summertime crowds means being prepared

Whether you took in fireworks from the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., or in your hometown, chances are your Fourth of July celebrations were memorable.

What also might be memorable were the crowds. From parades to baseball games to county fairs, big crowds are a given at summertime events.

Even when you’re having fun, it’s important to keep emergency preparedness in mind. Large crowds can pose dangers. Luckily, you can enjoy your summer events safely by taking a few steps ahead of time.

Before you head out, review these four “P’s” for crowd safety:

 Plan: If you are meeting friends and family, plan a meeting spot in case one of you gets lost. Have a designated point-of-contact who isn’t going to the event.

• Prepare: Learn more about the location and event you are going to. Check the surroundings for the nearest exits in case you need to leave quickly. Bring maps of the area in case you need to leave via an alternate route and phones are down.

• Protect: Guard yourself and your loved ones from the heat and dehydration, wear sunblock and remember to bring extra water. First-aid supplies and sanitization wipes are important as well.

• Patience: There will be long lines everywhere and it can be overwhelming. Staying calm will make it easier to stay safe.

Learn more about crowd safety with this fact sheet from APHA’s Get Ready campaign.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Why men should be prepared for disasters: Q&A with Integris Health’s Steve Petty


June is Men’s Health Month, a great time to remind American men and boys that they need to be prepared for emergencies. Steve Petty is director of community health improvement for Integris Health, Oklahoma’s largest hospital network, and administrative director of the network’s Men’s Health University, a health screening event for men. Check out what Petty, who is a member of APHA’s Men’s Health Caucus and the Men’s Health Network, recommends.

APHA recently partnered with March of Dimes to promote preparedness for pregnant mothers and families with infants. How can emergency readiness specifically improve men’s health?
Personal consideration and preparation for emergencies leads to a more confident and content state of mind. Having a plan for the critical actions during an emergency improves the chance that such individuals will escape harm. The entire family unit benefits from men who engage in emergency readiness planning.

You’ve spoken of the “silent health crisis” facing American men, who live on average five years fewer than women. One reason is because men take more risks. Does this put men at greater risk during public health disasters?
The life expectancy gap between men and women is, in many cases, due to our different biological makeup, but it is also the socialization and lifestyles which highly influence health outcomes. As young boys, many are taught that big boys don’t cry, leading to the "macho man” attitude where men are expected to ignore health concerns and push through the pain.

Also, studies that have been performed to date show some variations in mortality rates during disasters. Men are more likely to suffer severe consequences psychologically, like suicide, following a disaster.

They are less likely for the most part to seek care for emotional problems and often remain symptomatic for longer periods of time when compared to women. A few studies demonstrate that one response to stress — particularly following large-scale disasters — is that men increase the frequency of risk-taking behaviors.
It is thought that the increase in such risk taking behavior might be decreased if men were encouraged to participate in debriefing or defusing activities.

Fill in the blanks for APHA’s Get Ready Blog readers and your Oklahoma City communities: “I pledge to help men prepare for emergencies by ________”

I have so many recommendations here, including:
• considering how we can promote emergency preparedness among men in the community;
• identifying “at risk” men following community disasters and providing access to counseling and support activities;
• providing education and operational training for emergency health care providers, community members and other major stakeholders regarding emergency preparedness and men;
• promoting the importance of men taking charge of their health/wellness for themselves and for the sake of their families; and
• creating awareness of the importance of regular health checkups with a physician or health care provider.

It's also important for men — and women, for that matter — to have regular checkups, so that screening tests can detect health problems early, when they are easier to treat.

June is a great opportunity to set an appointment with your health care provider, or you can stop by one of the many health stations now found in retail settings. A great place to find the information you may need before and after that visit is the online Men's Health Online Resource Center.