Friday, January 30, 2009

For here, or to go?

Most of us know how to prepare for an emergency when we have to stay at home for several days. But what if the opposite happens? In emergency situations like hurricanes, floods or fires, you may have to leave your home at a moment's notice — which means you won't have time to pack.

In situations like these, it is important to have a "go-bag" ready. A go-bag — which can be a bag, a backpack or a box — is an emergency kit that you can quickly grab and go in case of evacuation. It should contain many of the same items as your stockpile, plus a few more items. The most important thing to pack is enough food and water for three days. Be sure to include any prescriptions that might be needed while you are away. A battery-operated radio, flashlight and first aid kit will help ensure you have a safe evacuation.

Since you may be away from home for awhile, pack at least one extra set of clothes and don't forget blankets and pillows. It's important to remember to make a go-bag for every member of your household. This includes Fido, Fluffy and Tweety, so be sure to pack some pet food and basic supplies your pet will need along the way.

Put your go-bag in an easy-to-access area close to the door, such as a front hall closet, and make sure it doesn't end up buried under spare coats or beach blankets (the last thing you want to be do during an emergency is digging for supplies). Check on the go-bag twice a year when you change your clocks for daylight saving time to make sure that nothing has expired or had been borrowed.

Now that you know, you are ready to go!

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Get Ready Mailbag: Can I catch the flu from my pets?

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 e-mail to

Q. I love animals. I count a dog and two cats among my family. If I get the flu this winter, can my animals catch it from me? How about vice versa?

A. In almost all situations, the answer is no. The virus that causes the flu in humans is species-specific, which means you can't spread it to your dog or cat, nor can you get it from them.

The only exception is avian influenza, also known as bird flu. The H5N1 "bird flu" virus is believed to have originated in wild birds and moved into domestic ducks and chickens in Asia. In the process, mutations occurred that allowed the virus to "jump" from birds to humans living in close proximity with their chickens and ducks. However there have been no reports of the bird flu being transmitted from dogs or cats to people and this is not a concern.

But thinking beyond the flu, there are diseases that we can catch from our pets and that they can catch from us. For more info, check out this Q&A on animal disease from an expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Note: The photo with this blog entry is an homage to LOLcats. (Not sure what that is? Visit the LOLcats site, or read about it on Wikipedia)

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Preparing for Inauguration Day crowds? Here are some safety tips

The 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, will take the oath of office this Tuesday in front of the U.S. Capitol and the watchful eyes of the world. Like millions of others, you may be planning to attend, which is great. Except for the MASSIVE CROWDS! (Cue scary music.)

Like any other crowded situation, Inauguration Day attendees may encounter a number of health threats, such as germs, dehydration and injury, or even violence. It makes Dorothy’s plight in the Wizard of Oz — “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” — read like a bedtime story. There’s nothing to fear, however. Just prepare, be safe, be ready —and you’ll be fine. Here’s how:

First, be prepared. At the swearing-in ceremony and other events, there will be high-profile security and many restrictions, so don’t plan to bring your favorite lawn chair and sandwiches in the cooler — or a cooler at all. Do your research first so you know what to expect. What are you allowed to bring? What time should you arrive? What should you wear? Helpful Web sites include those hosted by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies and the District of Columbia, home of the event.

Second, be safe. Concerned about terror threats? A large crowd doesn’t necessarily mean there will be violence, but be ready for potential emergencies anyway. View maps of the area and bring a copy with you. Locate exits when you are inside buildings and be familiar with evacuation routes.

Anxious about a stampede or being trampled by others? If you are really concerned, consider leaving before the end of the event. Crowds are bad enough, so imagine them moving! If you do stay until the end, be aware of your surroundings, move with the crowd and be patient.

What about getting sick? It’s almost impossible to avoid cold or flu viruses in large crowds, but there are some steps you can take. Protect yourself by getting vaccinated against the flu, especially if you are at high-risk. Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizers when soap and water is not around. Avoid touching door handles, and don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth once you’ve handled something.

Once you’ve prepared to be safe, you’re ready for this historic day — or any other crowded event.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

How prepared is your state?

Today's guest blog entry is by Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director of Trust for America's Health.

People often say events like Hurricane Katrina or the 2007 tuberculosis scare, in which a U.S. man suspected of having a highly infectious form of the disease traveled across the world, were "wake-up calls" for the country. But in the field of public health, we think of them more like snooze alarms. They get our attention and some changes are made, but then we end up drifting back into complacency.

The truth is, threats like these are still very real, and we think every American should know how well their tax dollars are being used to make them safer. That's why our organization, Trust for America's Health, joined with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to release the sixth annual "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's Health from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism" report in December.

To find out how your state scored, check out our Web site, Overall, we found that the country made significant progress over the last year to better protect Americans from disease outbreaks, but critical vulnerabilities still exist in areas like hospital capacity, rapid disease detection and — as the salmonella outbreak linked to jalapeño peppers reminded us last summer — food safety. That's not necessarily good news, considering the progress made is now at risk, due to budget cuts and the economic crisis.

The report assesses state-by-state health emergency preparedness capabilities with scores based on 10 key indicators. More than half of states and Washington, D.C., achieved a score of seven or less out of 10. Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin scored highest, with 10 out of 10. Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Montana,and Nebraska tied for the lowest score, with five out of 10.

Be sure to watch this video briefing to see leading experts discuss the risks associated with disease outbreaks, natural disasters and bioterrorism; how recent budget cuts are affecting preparedness, and what America can do about it.

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