Friday, October 30, 2009

Use your extra hour this weekend to check your emergency stockpile

What would you do with an extra hour? With daylight saving time ending this weekend, you have a chance to find out. And APHA has the perfect solution with what to do with your extra hour: Take some time to get more prepared.

In conjunction with its Get Ready campaign, APHA is reminding you to “Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks” this Sunday, Nov. 1. That means in addition to checking the batteries in your smoke alarm, it’s also time to make sure you and your household are ready for emergencies.

APHA has these tips on how you can use that bonus hour to become prepared:

* Check your stockpile and make sure that your emergency supplies, such as food, water and batteries, are still good. If you don’t have a stockpile, take some time to create one.

* Re-familiarize yourself and your family with your community’s emergency preparedness plan, including evacuation routes, emergency shelters and the location of food banks.

* Update your family communication plan, which will spell out how you will get in touch with one another during an emergency.

* Gather extra supplies for your pets, which need their own stockpile of food and water.

* Collect your medications together in one place, and make sure you have enough supplies in case you or your family have to stay home with the flu for a few days.

The Get Ready: Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks Web site has a wealth of free information that can help you with your emergency supplies, including easy-to-understand fact sheets on what to put in your stockpile (PDF), budget stockpiling (PDF), stockpiling for pets (PDF), a stockpiling checklist (PDF) and the supplies you need to have on hand for a cold or the flu (PDF).

Still not convinced? Read what the University of Minnesota had to say about Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks on its Promising Practices: Pandemic Preparedness Tools Web site and see what the buzz is about.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Getting the H1N1 vaccine: The waiting is the hardest part

Today's guest blog entry is by Katie Dineley, a student at the University of Maryland. She was among the first to receive the H1N1 influenza vaccine in Montgomery County, Md., thanks to a flu-shot clinic organized by the health department there.

In mid-October, I went to a local government health facility here in Montgomery County, Md., to get the H1N1 flu vaccine. I thought it would be a 20-minute trip. Was I wrong! When I got there, I could have sworn a sports event or concert was going on. It was the first day the H1N1 vaccine was offered in the county, and police were everywhere telling people where to park. Cars were on the grass, all along the main road and on side streets. The line was intimidating too, wrapping around the building and extending all the way out to the main road. I didn’t want to mess with parking there, so I parked in a neighborhood a few blocks away and walked to the building.

It was about 9:45 in the morning when I got there, and already at least 200 people were in front of me. There were families with small kids, a good amount of pregnant women and some elderly people. Children were running and playing and rolling down the hill. I was surprised to see news cameras there too.

Most of the people in line waited patiently, but one middle-aged man behind me got fed up and rudely cut in line closer to the front. Everyone in line was worried that the vaccine would run out, but health workers were walking through the line reassuring us that there was plenty of vaccine to go around. They handed out fliers with information about who should or shouldn’t get the needle injection or the spray mist. The recommendations are based on age and lots of different health conditions. The intranasal vaccine, or mist — which is sprayed into both nostrils — is only recommended for certain groups. I was considered to be in a “priority group” because I’m younger than 25.

I wore my hooded sweatshirt that morning, thinking it would keep me warm, but boy was I wrong. After two hours, I was happy to get inside the building. It still took another 40 minutes to get to the front of the line, where a health worker administered the mist to me. It had a strange taste, both bitter and sweet, which hit me about five minutes later.

For the next two days, I had a minor headache and felt a little tired and achy, but they told us to expect some minor side effects if we got the intranasal vaccine. I also read in the paper to the next day that about 1,000 people went through the line that day.

I feel so much better now that I’ve been vaccinated against both H1N1 flu and the seasonal flu, which I had done a week earlier. I was worried about catching both. I’m a college student at the University of Maryland, and there are always illnesses being passed around. I can finally go to class worry free. And another good thing: The vaccine was free.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

The business of flu: What can employers do to prepare?

Flu season is officially here, and that means more coughing, sneezing and runny noses, both at home and in the workplace. (Germy keyboards and cash registers, anyone?) With both seasonal flu and H1N1 flu — also known as swine flu — causing people to get sick and miss work, it’s important for businesses to be ready for flu.

To keep businesses up and running during emergencies, such as when a lot of workers are out sick with the flu, employers need to create a business plan. As luck would have it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and have created materials to help you, the employer, prepare.

So where to start? CDC recommends you take a look at how many staff are out sick normally and watch for an increase in the number of workers who are taking sick days in the fall and winter. Have a back-up plan to keep things running in case a lot of employees are home sick. And be prepared if schools close because of an outbreak, as that means parents may need to leave early to pick kids up from school, stay home with sick children or take them to the doctor. The best plan? Think ahead and stay flexible, says CDC.

And even though running your business is vital, it’s important that sick employees stay home, say the helpful folks at CDC, especially if they have a fever. CDC recommends that people with H1N1 flu stay home until they are fever-free for 24 hours without medication. It’s up to you, the employer, to let staff know it’s okay to stay home and that they won’t get in trouble if they do so. Otherwise, your whole office, store or restaurant staff could end up out sick. And then who would run the place?

Businesses can also do their part by stopping the spread of the flu in the workplace. Providing a clean environment is a good step, as is offering alcohol-based hand sanitizers in public areas such as lobbies, kitchens, cashier lines and restrooms. A lot of sick employees? Consider having some of them work from home for awhile, if possible.

Another tip from CDC: Stay in touch with state and local public health partners so you can receive timely and accurate information about the flu. Consider offering free flu vaccinations at your workplace. Your employees will think you are the best boss ever. And who knows? The next case of flu you could prevent could even be your own. Has your employer developed a plan to deal with an outbreak of H1N1 flu? Tell us about it by offering a comment.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

“Extra! Extra! Come and get your H1N1 flu vaccine!” So will you or won’t you?

You’d think that after months of headlines, newscasts and health warnings, Americans would be more than eager to be first in line for the new H1N1 vaccine. But somewhat surprisingly, that may not be the case.

In a new survey released last week by the Harvard School of Public Health, just 40 percent of adults said they were “absolutely certain” they’ll get the H1N1 flu vaccine, and only 51 percent of parents were “absolutely certain” they’ll get their children immunized against H1N1, commonly known as swine flu. Among the top reasons for not getting vaccinated? Safety concerns. In fact, only a third of those surveyed thought the new vaccine was very safe “generally for most people to take.”

But people have no more reason to be concerned than they do for the regular seasonal flu vaccine, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to CDC, the H1N1 vaccine is being made the same way as seasonal flu vaccine — with the same methods, in the same production facilities and by the same companies. And it’s been tested on a wide range of people, from children to seniors, just like the seasonal flu vaccine is.

This week, CDC reported that H1N1 vaccinations have begun — starting with those most at risk, such as health workers and children — and that every U.S. state had ordered vaccine supplies. Such supplies are becoming available as soon as they come “off the production line,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden.

“My children will get it,” Frieden said during an Oct. 6 press briefing. “Other public health and societal leaders and experts will get it. It’s something that we have a high degree of confidence in.”

So, what about you? Ready to roll up your sleeve and get protected against H1N1 flu? Take the Get Ready poll on the front page of our blog and let us know. And while you are at it, leave us a comment or two.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Get Ready Mailbag: Staying home when sick

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. If I am sick with flu symptoms — such as sore throat, fever, runny nose, cough, etc. — how long should I stay home? I don’t want to spread the flu to others.

Good question, and kudos to you for thinking about the health of those around you! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people with the flu or flu-like symptoms stay at home and away from others until they’re fever-free — sans medication — for at least 24 hours. That holds true whether you’ve got seasonal flu or H1N1 flu, also known as swine flu, so curl up with a good book, a cozy blanket and settle in for some get-well time.

Staying home when you’re sick helps reduce the chance of others becoming infected, whether they’re your co-workers, fellow gym-goers and public transportation riders or friends at your book club. If you have a high temperature, it means you’re “shedding” the influenza virus and you’re highly contagious. Even if you are using an antiviral medication from your doctor, you should still stay home. There are virus strains that are resistant to antiviral medications, so the flu can still be contagious.

Remember to cover your cough and wash your hands both while you are sick and once you are back on your feet, and avoid contact with others who are at high-risk for getting the flu. If you need some tips on taking care of yourself when you’ve got the flu or caring for others who are sick in your home, check out CDC’s Web site for recommendations.

For more on staying healthy and flu-free, visit CDC’s seasonal flu Web site, H1N1 flu site, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ site.

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