Friday, December 31, 2010

Don’t drop the ball: Resolve to be ready in 2011

This year brought the Gulf oil spill, a pandemic flu outbreak, earthquakes, record-breaking winter storms and a halt to air travel in Europe because of volcanic ash. If anything, these events underscore that emergencies will happen. But you can help your family make a New Year’s resolution they can keep by resolving to be ready in 2011.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has tools and resources to help prepare your family, workplace, school and community for emergencies and disasters. Tools are available in both English and Spanish and include everything from online widgets and logos to printable toolkits.

The FEMA campaign focuses on three simple steps:
Get a kit. Whether it’s for your home, office or car, emergency kits are the best way to be prepared in case of emergencies or disasters. Visit FEMA’s website for an emergency supply kit checklist. APHA’s Get Ready campaign also offers a stockpile checklist in English (PDF) and Spanish (PDF).

Make a plan. Take some time this holiday season to talk with your family and loved ones about creating an emergency preparedness plan. Things to consider when creating your plan include emergency contact information, communication plan and meeting locations. Print out your own family emergency plan by visiting the Ad Council’s website.

Be informed. Learn more about the potential emergencies in your area and how to prepare for them. And remember, not all emergencies are due to weather: Protect your family and community from potential disease outbreaks by keeping up with your vaccinations.
Taking simple steps in your home, workplace and community can make a big difference in your safety in times of emergencies. Disasters can happen anytime, anywhere so this year, give the gift of preparedness and resolve to be ready!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Now’s a great time for a holiday food drive

With so many people in a generous mood at this time of year, the holidays are a popular time for food drives. So how about using some of your spare time this holiday season to hold your own drive? Not only will it help your neighbors in need, it will help your community food bank be more prepared in case of a disaster or emergency.
The free Get Ready Food Drive Toolkit (PDF)has everything you need to know to plan and hold your food drive, from picking a location to delivering the contributions. It’s also full of great ideas you can use to make your food drive a success. Among the ideas:

• Work with a grocery store: Get in touch with your local grocery store and ask if you can set up a donation site at the store. Pass out shopping lists of things your food bank needs to customers as they enter the store.

• Incentivize your food drive: Incentives can fuel your food drive. If the drive is at your place of business, talk to your human resources department to see if you can offer workers a casual dress day if they contribute to your food drive.

• Make it a competition: Competitions excite people, so make your food drive a
contest. If you’re holding the food drive at your school, make it a competition between grades or homerooms with the winner earning a pizza party or other recognition.

• Fill a bag with food: Encourage people to give more by asking them to fill a bag. Provide paper bags with instructions on what is needed and where and when to return filled bags.

• Stuff a truck: Some food drive organizers challenge givers to “stuff a truck.” Participants are encouraged to bring their donations to a specific location where a truck is parked, with the goal of providing a truckload to the food bank.

• Hold a raffle: Encourage people to give by offering them a chance at getting something in return through a raffle. The more food they donate, the more tickets they receive. Ask local businesses to donate prizes for the raffle, such as store gift cards.

• Start small: If you don’t have time to hold a community-wide food drive, do something small. If you’re having friends over for New Year’s Eve, ask them to bring a few canned goods for the food bank instead of wine. If you live in an apartment, ask the building manager if you can put a contribution box in the lobby with a sign.

Looking for more tips for a great food drive? Read our Q&A with Molly McGlinchy, food resources coordinator for the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., or listen to the interview as a podcast.

With a little bit of creativity and help from the Get Ready Food Drive Toolkit, your event will help deliver some of that famous holiday cheer to those who may need it most.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Good hand-washing habits help lead to good health

Today’s guest blog is by Brian Crowe, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Professionals. The American Public Health Association’s Get Ready campaign and the National Association of Child Care Professionals are raising awareness of the importance of hand-washing through a collaboration sponsored by the Colgate-Palmolive Company.

Making certain children are healthy throughout the year is a vigilant task for parents and child care providers alike. Toddlers, on average, will touch 300 surfaces within 30 minutes and can typically receive six to eight colds per year. Across the United States, there are approximately 22 million school days missed per year, which impacts not only children who attend school, but working parents who subsequently must provide care at home while they are ill.

Some of the best ways to avoid getting sick and achieve better health are through a good healthy diet, drinking lots of fluids, getting plenty of rest each night and making certain children receive their required inoculations. Perhaps the most effective means of preventing the spread of sickness is through teaching children good health through good habits.

The most practical habit is washing hands with warm water and soap, cleaning the tops, bottoms, in between fingers and under fingernails for a minimum of 20 seconds. This should be done several times per day to ensure cleanliness. The American Public Health Association, along with Softsoap and the National Association of Child Care Professionals, is helping to promote this message through a unique product developed by Softsoap. The product is a small timer that is affixed to the top of a liquid soap dispenser and activated as soap is pumped. The timer then plays music for 20 seconds. Children are encouraged to thoroughly wash their hands while the music plays, and once the music stops, they have effectively washed their hands.

Good health through good habits is something we can all enjoy. Join APHA, Softsoap and NACCP in their commitment to minimize sickness this cold and flu season. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

The National Association of Child Care Professionals,, is based in Austin, Texas. For more hand-washing tips, visit the Get Ready hand-washing website.

Friday, December 10, 2010

National Influenza Vaccination Week: It’s not too late to protect yourself from flu

Everybody loves a gift exchange at the holidays, but significantly fewer of us, if we had a choice, would be interested in a germ exchange. And yet, at this time of year, when we’re hugging long-lost family, convening at the punch bowl and smooching under the mistletoe, germs are along for the party.You might not be able to stop every germ, but there’s one you can take extra precaution against: the flu.

Every year, millions of Americans get the flu. The aches, the pains, the clogged-up head and the upset stomach — and that’s if you’re lucky. The flu can be deadly, even for relatively healthy people. And yet despite the fact that the vaccine offers a pretty good chance to avoid the flu, many people don’t get their vaccinations.

That can change this year. This week — Dec. 5-11 — was National Influenza Vaccination Week. Cities and municipalities around the country are holding vaccination clinics and promotional activities. Check to see if your town is on the list.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that the number of flu cases is beginning to climb, especially in states in the South and Northeast, including Georgia and New York.

The peak of the flu season varies from year to year — it can happen any time from November to March. It’s not too late to get a flu vaccination, so just go do it.
Flu vaccinations — whether administered via shot or inhaled nasally — are available at many large pharmacy chains and at doctor’s offices and some insurance plans will pick up all or part of the cost. Medicare Part B also covers the flu shot.
Sure, nobody likes a shot. But isn’t a little poke in the arm (or sniff up the nose) worth it to know that this holiday season you’ll be protected?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Money and disasters: What to know to be ready to go

If you had to run out the door right now with only what’s in your purse or wallet to keep you going for the next few weeks or months, how would you do? Would you have enough cash to get by if your ATM card or credit cards didn’t work? Would you be able to access your financial information online without your passwords or account numbers?

In the event of a disaster or emergency, it’s important to think about not only the safety of yourself, your family and your property, but also your ability to access financial information. Chances are, though, you may not have time to look for your checkbook (if you even have one) or make copies of your records. That’s why you should organize your financial information beforehand. Some of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself for an emergency are to gather these important items in a safe, secure place:

• Forms of identification: If you have to evacuate, make sure you have your driver's license, insurance card, Social Security card, passport and birth certificate. Such documents will be crucial if you or your family need to rebuild lost records or otherwise prove to a government agency, a bank or other business that you are who you claim to be.

• Cash: In times of disaster, ATMs and banks can be affected, and many times ATMs may not be functioning, especially if there is widespread power loss. So it’s important to have some cash stored away in a safe place.

• ATM cards, debit cards and credit cards: If ATMs and electronic payment systems are working during a disaster, these cards can give you access to cash and help you pay your bills — or buy food, gas and shelter. ATM and credit cards usually require personal identification numbers, so make sure you know those numbers even in times of high stress.

• Important account numbers: Also key to bring with you are important account numbers, including bank and brokerage account numbers, credit card numbers and homeowner's or renter's insurance policy numbers. It’s also a good idea to copy the front and back of your credit cards. If you have phone numbers for customer service on your accounts, make a copy of those as well.

After you've gathered your most important financial items and documents and made backup copies, put them in a safe, secure place that you can easily access in a hurry. Consider giving copies to trusted friends or family, or at least let them know where to find your records in an emergency.

Knowing what’s in your wallet — and ensuring access to important personal and financial information — could save you a bundle of worries should disaster strike.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving and vaccinations: Turkeys aren’t the only ones who should get injections

Another Thanksgiving dinner has come and gone. The bird’s been picked clean, the dishes washed and tummies are full. (Maybe too full!)

Chances are you and your family are now wondering what to do with all that empty togetherness time. Sure, you can whip out the board games and the Wii, or slog out to the mall and bargain-hunt, but we’ve got some other ideas, and they’re better for your health.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests that you use some of your holiday together time to talk with your relatives about your family health history. (As a matter of fact, Thanksgiving is officially National Family History Day.) That’s a great idea, and we here at the Get Ready campaign would like to expand on that to suggest you also take some time to talk about vaccinations. No matter their age, someone in your family probably needs a vaccination. Kids and teens need to stay up on their regular shots, adults need their boosters, and seniors especially need vaccinations for flu and pneumonia.

Take a second to think: Can you remember the last time you had a tetanus shot? They are only good for 10 years, so if you can’t recall, chances are you need one. What about pertussis, aka whooping cough? As recent outbreaks have shown, immunity can wane and your lack of protection can end up endangering those you care about. Come Monday, check with your doctor to see whether you are up to date on your vaccinations, and schedule an appointment if not.

And since you and your family are all together post-Thanksgiving anyway, how about taking a group trip to get your seasonal flu shots? The malls are going to be packed this weekend, but chances are the lines at the local pharmacy counter or in-store clinic will be wide open.

Everyone in your family — as long as they are older than 6 months of age — should get their flu shot this year, according to federal health officials. So give your drug or grocery store a call to see when they are giving flu vaccinations today. Then pile in the car and go do some good for your family health.

Since flu shots are an annual thing, use Thanksgiving as a reminder each year to double-check that everyone in your family is protected. (Who knows? It may even become a new tradition.) After all, it’s not just turkeys that benefit from injections.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Protecting yourself from flu, infectious diseases at work

Has a coworker recently called in sick? Have others at work come down with the sniffles? If so, your workplace is not alone. Each year, 15 million U.S. workers get the flu, and with cold and flu season upon us, more illness may be on its way.

How can you protect yourself and others from getting sick at work? APHA’s Get Ready campaign has some tips:

• Wash your hands often, especially after touching workplace objects like copy machines, phones, keyboards and cash registers. Don’t forget to wash after handling other shared things like books, magazines or information binders. (Ever seen anyone lick their fingers to turn pages? Could have happened right before you got there.) If you work in a health care setting, frequent hand-washing is especially important.

• Avoid touching frequently used objects with your hands, if possible. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases suggests using a tissue or your sleeve when touching door handles in offices, restrooms, cafeterias and other public places. Carry around your own pen or tools, and don’t lend them to others.

• Ask your employer to sponsor a workplace flu-vaccination campaign. Employer-sponsored flu vaccinations not only help protect employee health, but save businesses money. And getting vaccinated is your best protection from getting the flu.

• Stay home when sick. Rather than tough it out and go to work when you’re not feeling well, stay home. While many people feel pressured to go to work when sick, you may end up both annoying and infecting your coworkers — or your customers, if you work in a retail environment. Check with your manager or human resources department to find out what sick leave policies are now, before you get sick.

Play it safe and help keep your workplace healthy — and running smoothly — this flu season.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Smell gas? Leave the area, call for help

Remember that horrible gas pipeline explosion that happened back in September in California? Eight people were killed and 50 homes destroyed. It really opened the eyes of a lot of people around the country and made them wonder about their own risk.

Pipelines are used in communities all over the United States, whether for gas, gasoline or other energy products. Leaks or broken pipes can cause serious harm. Luckily, in most cases involving gas, the distinctive rotten egg-like smell can tip you off when there is a problem.

Here are a few tips on what to do if you smell gas:
• If you smell gas inside, don’t operate electrical equipment or turn light switches on or off, as it can cause a spark. Evacuate the area and call your utility department or gas company.
• If you smell gas outside, make sure the area is evacuated, then call for help. Don’t try to find the source of the smell — leave that up to the professionals. Never use a match or start your car if you smell gas, as those actions could cause a dangerous explosion.

If you own or rent a home, it’s a good idea to know where the underground pipes are located under your property. Never dig in your yard without locating your pipes first. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has an interactive map to allow you to locate areas with underground pipelines. The map is meant as a reference only, so before beginning any digging, call 811. Operators will be able to connect you to local officials who can tell you if it is safe. If a gas line is damaged when digging outside, call your utility company immediately, and don’t attempt to repair the pipe yourself.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks...and plan your next food drive: Daylight saving time ends Nov. 7

Daylight saving time ends Nov. 7, which means it’s time again to reset our clocks. It also means it’s time to check your emergency stockpile. For years, APHA’s Get Ready: Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks campaign has been asking Americans to check and replenish their emergency supplies when they change their clocks.

This year, the Get Ready campaign is asking Americans to take go a step further and help improve the preparedness of their communities — namely, their community food banks.

Every year, millions of Americans go hungry. In fact, in 2008, more than 49 million Americans lived in households that didn’t have enough food, including 16.7 million kids. Many of those people depend on community food banks to make sure they have enough to eat.

If so many people need food on a regular basis, what happens when a disaster strikes? Unfortunately, history has shown that demand on already-strapped food banks increases when the worst happens. That’s why it’s important that food banks have enough supplies on hand at all times — no one knows when a disaster may happen.

One of the best ways to support your local food bank (besides making a donation or volunteering your time) is to hold a food drive. And thanks to the Get Ready campaign, planning your food drive just got easier. Our new Food Drive Toolkit (PDF) will help you plan, promote, organize and conduct your community food drive. From ideas on when to hold your food drive to ways to make it more interesting (stuff a truck! fill a bag! vote by can!), we’ve got you covered. (And our Q&A with a food bank official has even more tips.)

Our advice? Set your clocks and check your stocks this weekend. Then take some time to download our toolkit and plan your next food drive. After all, being prepared is not just about individuals — it’s about your community too.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Creating an emergency plan: Knowing in advance what to do, where to go is key

In the event of an emergency, where would you go? Who would you call to let your family know you’re okay?

Thinking about these things in advance and developing an emergency action plan can help you and your family stay safe in the event of a natural disaster, a fire or a nationwide state of emergency. With a little bit of advance work, you can develop a plan you’re comfortable with and that you can execute quickly and efficiently.

Your emergency action plan should include:

Escape routes: Draw a floor plan of your home. Mark two escape routes from each room, and make sure everyone in your house understands the drawing. Establish a place outside the home to meet in the event of an emergency such as a fire.

• Family communications: In the event of an emergency – especially one that interrupts cell phones – would you know how to reach your family members? Complete a contact card for each family member and have family members keep them handy. Choose a friend or relative who lives out-of-state for household members to notify they are safe.

• Utility shut-off and safety: It’s important to know where the utility shut-off switches are located and how to shut off your electricity, gas, water, etc. in the event of an emergency. Make sure you are familiar with these utilities and how to handle them safely.

Caring for animals: Humans are the most visible victims of disasters, but pets are often affected, too. To plan for Fido and Fluffy, identify shelters in your area, gather pet supplies, ensure your pet has proper ID and up-to-date veterinary records, and keep a pet carrier or leash accessible.

This works as a general outline of an emergency plan, but it’s also important to cater your plan to your family’s needs. Many government agencies and websites have action plan kits you can print out and complete. Check out the FEMA and CDC websites.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Get Ready Day, Preparedness Month help people prepare for emergencies

A video launch, a preparedness pledge campaign, and games and giveaways at local events were hallmarks of a busy month for APHA’s Get Ready campaign, all to help people better prepare for emergencies.

APHA kicked off its participation in September’s National Preparedness Month by promoting the Get Ready Preparedness Pledge. The effort amassed thousands of pledges from people promising to get a flu shot, build a stockpile, create an evacuation plan or take other simple steps to be more prepared for a public health disaster. Pledge signers also shared Get Ready resources with others by posting information at their recreational center, doctor’s office or library.

APHA’s fourth annual Get Ready Day provided communities around the country an opportunity to spread the word about the importance of preparing for emergencies.
APHA promoted the Get Ready Event Guide (PDF) to help those interested in hosting their own Get Ready Day event, and released a new Get Ready viral video to help spread the preparedness word by giving a classic tale a new twist. Watch and share. Are you an ant or a grasshopper?
Closer to home, APHA's Get Ready team hosted a booth featuring games and giveaways at a preparedness festival for kids organized by the District of Columbia. The event drew 150 elementary and middle school students to learn about emergency planning and featured local emergency responders, including the departments of health and homeland security, police and fire units and the National Guard. APHA staff also took to the streets and set up a table in the plaza near the Association’s headquarters. During lunch hours, staff passed out information and freebies to remind local businesses and employees that emergency preparedness isn’t just for individuals and families; it’s also important to plan and practice for emergences in the workplace.
Visit our Flickr page to see some photos from the events. And mark your calendars because Sept. 19, 2011 — next year’s Get Ready Day — is right about the corner. Start planning today so you’re prepared for tomorrow!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Time to roll up your sleeves and soap up: It’s Global Hand-Washing Day!

Join hands — clean hands, that is — with people from around the world today and celebrate Global Hand-Washing Day.

Who knew that something as simple as washing your hands with water and soap can help prevent hundreds of diseases in your community? In fact, the United Nations says hand-washing is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrheal and respiratory infections that take the lives of millions of children around the world every year.

Yet despite that fact, far too few people wash their hands with soap and water regularly. But you can help.

This year’s global campaign focuses on the importance of hand-washing among children and the role schools play in teaching about hand-washing. It highlights five key facts everyone should know:

• Washing hands with water alone is not enough. Using soap works to break down grease and dirt that carry most germs.

• Hand-washing with soap can prevent diseases that kill millions of children every year.

• The critical moments for hand-washing with soap are after using the toilet or cleaning a child and before handling food.

• Hand-washing with soap is the single most cost-effective health intervention.

• Children can be agents of change.

Get involved and check out the many games, lesson plans (PDF), videos and resources available on the Global Hand-Washing Day website.

And don’t forget to check out APHA’s Get Ready hand-washing handouts, available in English and Spanish, and our new frequently asked questions about hand-washing.

Roll up your sleeves, break out the soap and help spread the word about proper hygiene. Happy hand-washing!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Sheltering in place: Know when to stay put and what to do

During an emergency or a disaster, officials may advise you and your family to "shelter in place." But if you were given that instruction, would you know what to do?

A recent Q&A and podcast from APHA’s Get Ready campaign has the info you need to safely shelter in place during emergencies.

Darryl J. Madden, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Ready Campaign, spoke to the Get Ready staff and has the inside scoop. According to Madden, sheltering in place means "finding a very safe place to basically be in a stable environment while a particular emergency or event takes place." So it’s a good idea to have a location at home, work and school picked out ahead of time.

You may need to shelter in place for awhile, so Madden recommends you have a three-day supply of non-perishable food and water for each person and pet. If you are in a car and near home when the call to shelter in place is made, go home, Madden says. If that’s not an option, go to a public building or a store.

Other great shelter-in-place tips from Madden?
• Always stay informed. Pay attention to alerts from emergency officials and take action as advised.
• Be prepared early. Start assembling your basic emergency supply kit now.
• Find safe place. The best room for sheltering in place would generally be one that has no windows and is in the center of the building.
• Don’t forget to turn off the air handler and associated AC or heating units that use outside air, because they can bring contaminated air inside.

Want to know more? Read the full Q&A with Madden online or listen to the interview as a podcast.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

Whooping cough outbreak reminds us about importance of getting vaccinated, keeping up with boosters

In California this year, an outbreak of pertussis — also known as whooping cough — has led to the deaths of nine infants. More than 4,000 cases have been reported so far. Officials say it’s the worst outbreak in the state in 55 years.

The disease is characterized by coughing spells that end with a ‘whooping’ sound when someone who is sick breathes in. It’s easily spread, can be very serious and sounds like this.

The good news is that whooping cough is preventable. A simple vaccine — called DTap for children and Tdap for adults — can prevent it, and it’s the best defense. In fact, you can get protected against pertussis when getting your next tetanus and diphtheria booster shot. The Tdap vaccine will protect you from all three diseases. Consult your health care provider to learn what’s best for you.

And remember, even though you may have received your childhood vaccination against whooping cough, it doesn’t mean you are off the hook. Protection can fade over time, so check out the immunization schedule for children, teens and adults and make sure you and loved ones are safe. Booster shots are especially important for parents and caregivers, as they can unknowingly spread the infection to infants and children.

In addition to getting the vaccine, there are other steps to help protect yourself from whooping cough: wash your hands with soap and water — or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if hand-washing is not possible — and cover your nose and mouth when sneezing. These are tips that we should all practice daily to not only help prevent the spread of whooping cough, but to stay safe from other illnesses as well.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Will you be my preparedness buddy? When two heads are better than one

For a lot of people, coming up with an emergency preparedness plan can be overwhelming. (What do I need? What should I prepare for? Where would I go?) That’s why, when it comes to preparedness, two heads are often better than one.

With disasters ranging from floods to thunderstorms to fires, it can help to have a preparedness buddy. If you find a friend, family member or neighbor to join forces to prepare, it can make it easier to buy supplies, develop an emergency plan and come up with a communication plan. If you are disabled, elderly or have other special needs, having a preparedness buddy is vital.

Here are some ideas on how you and your preparedness buddy can work together:

1) Shop together and share: When shopping for emergency supplies, save money by buying in bulk, then share the supplies with your buddy. Split up the shopping list so no one person has to buy everything. Then assemble your disaster supply kits together. Your kits should include first aid supplies, non-perishable food, water, batteries, flashlights and other emergency items.

2) Lighten the research load: Ask your buddy to make a list of evacuation routes and hotels while you look up emergency shelters and emergency contact numbers. Make a checklist of other necessary emergency information you’ll need and split the research load with your buddy. Print and share your results.

3) Share your contacts: Give your personal contact information and that of your emergency contacts (such as extended family or out-of-town friends) to your buddy — and vice versa — so that you can check up on each other before, during or after a disaster.

4) Find a responsible adult: Parents should designate a trusted preparedness buddy that their kids can contact if they’re unreachable. That way, if your children need help during a disaster and you’re stuck trying to get home or your cell phone signal won’t get through, your buddy can serve as a back-up.

Knowing you have someone else on your side can make preparing easier! (Have any other ideas on how a preparedness buddy can help? Share them in our comments.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Celebrate Get Ready Day today!

Hooray! Today is Get Ready Day, APHA’s fourth annual observance designed to remind Americans about the importance of emergency preparedness — which is a critical component to building stronger, healthier, more resilient communities.

Health disasters can pose a real and present danger to not only a community but an entire nation. Last year’s H1N1 flu outbreak should be a wake-up call to all of us to take basic steps toward protecting ourselves, family and friends from a health emergency.

In recognition of Get Ready Day, we encourage everyone to reflect on how truly prepared they and their family are if a hurricane, tornado or even flu pandemic were to strike. Then, take action toward becoming safeguarded from a disaster by getting a flu shot, establishing an emergency evacuation plan and building a stockpile.

You can also help spread the preparedness message by sharing Get Ready fact sheets with your local community. Ask if you can post the materials in the lobby of your local library, community health center or doctor’s office. And be sure to watch our first-ever Get Ready Video and then share it with family and friends.

How are you celebrating Get Ready Day? Tell us!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Why do kids pick up so many infectious diseases?

Doesn’t it always seem like when there is one sick kid, within a week or so, every other child around has come down with the same sickness? Or that when there is something going around, kids are the ones who are most likely to get sick?

It’s not just in your head. Kids are most likely to get infections because they have not had the chance to build up a strong immunity yet. Also, bacteria and viruses are everywhere. When children are crawling, running and exploring the world around them (and sticking icky things in their mouths), there’s a greater chance they’ll pick up germs.

Kids usually pick up infections in three ways:

• 3-2-1 contact! As all parents know, kids are little bundles of energy. Their hands tend to pick up germs while they are moving around and touching things and each other. This can lead to infections like diarrhea, pink eye and hand, foot and mouth disease.

• Drip, drop, dribble: A lot of times, kids don’t cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, shooting spittle and other droplets out into the air and onto surfaces. Infections like flu, pneumonia and the common cold are sometimes spread this way.

• Oops! It’s poop: Children are very curious, which means they get their hands into a whole lot of things they shouldn’t be touching, including some things that (a-hem) are best left in the bathroom. Infected poop that’s spread around can find its way onto someone’s mouth or face. Some illnesses spread this way are pinworms and hepatitis A.

To protect kids from infections, teach them how and when to wash their hands. It’s important for children to learn how to wash their hands when they’re young, as it’s a lesson that will stick with them as they get older. Parents and caretakers can help prevent infections by regularly cleaning toys and other things kids put in their mouths.

Children are always going to explore, touch and taste the world around them. But with a few steps, we can help make sure childhood is a time for learning and fun, not sickness.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Staying safe on campus: Protect yourself from infectious disease

For a young adult, college can be one of the most exciting times in your life: living on your own, making new friends, learning new things. But this newfound independence also comes with responsibility. (Yes, your parents were right!)

It’s important to stay healthy while away at school and to protect yourself from infectious disease, not only for you but for your fellow classmates. It’s particularly important on campus where students live close together in dorms and share study space, classrooms and meals.

And it’s not just the common cold we’re talking about. In the last few years, there have been reports of outbreaks of mumps on some Midwest college campuses, meningitis at New York schools and H1N1 flu at Washington State University and at many other colleges. And these are just a few examples. The threat is real, and students should know how to protect themselves.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, illnesses like colds and flu are mainly spread from person to person in cough and sneeze droplets. Some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs and desks. In college, everyone shares computers and other workspaces, so keep this in mind when in large common areas.

Follow these tips to help protect yourself from infectious diseases:

Wash your hands.
• Carry hand sanitizer in your backpack for when soap and water are not available.
Cover your cough. Cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away. Cover your cough or sneeze into your elbow if you don’t have a tissue.
• Make a daily effort to sanitize your room and workspaces, especially if you have a roommate.
• Keep your distance from other students if they’re sick or if you feel sick.
• If you don’t feel well, stay in. Don’t go to class or spend time in large common areas. Most colleges have exceptions for those who are sick. Check to see what your school says about making up class work if you’re absent due to illness.
• Wash your clothes and sheets regularly to remove germs or bacteria.
Get vaccinated. Vaccinations help prevent diseases and save lives. Most college campuses offer free vaccines for the flu or other viruses.

Since last year’s flu pandemic, many colleges came up with preparedness plans and tips on how to stay healthy during flu season. Check with your campus officials or health center to see what suggestions they offer for preventing the spread of disease.
So before you get sick and call mom and dad for some chicken noodle soup, follow these tips to help you stay healthy.

Photo is courtesy iStockphoto

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Friday, September 03, 2010

It’s hurricane season. Are you ready?

Batten down the hatches! The Atlantic hurricane season is in full churn. As of this writing, Hurricane Earl threatens the East Coast. And Tropical Storm Fiona and Tropical Depression Gaston are on its heels.

If your community was under a hurricane watch, would you know what to do? How about your neighbors? Now you can make sure you’re ready and help those around you prepare, thanks to AARP’s Operation Hurricane Prepare. The program offers tips on helping you and others get ready. (You’ll need to register to get full access, but it’s free and easy.)

You can use the Operation Hurricane Prepare program to focus on your own hurricane preparedness, or help a whole group prepare. The program has tips on spreading the word, leading a preparedness get-together and assembling emergency kits. It even provides checklists and a basic tips sheet for handy reference.

AARP calls for three main ways to prepare for a hurricane:
• make an emergency supply kit with a three-day supply of essentials;
• map an evacuation plan; and
• create copies of your vital documents and store them so that they can endure the winds, rains and floods of a hurricane.

For more advice, consult the National Hurricane Center. It suggests that a disaster prevention plan include the following steps:
make a family plan;

create a disaster supply kit;

have a place to go;

secure your home; and

have a plan for your pets.

Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina took many lives and destroyed numerous homes. Before a storm threatens your community, make sure you’re prepared and help neighbors get ready as well.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Celebrate Get Ready Day on Sept. 21 and spread the preparedness message

Help your community become more prepared for pandemic flu, disasters and other public health threats by taking part in this year’s Get Ready Day on Tuesday, Sept. 21.

Held annually on the third Tuesday in September, Get Ready Day is timed to coincide with National Preparedness Month, which urges all Americans to prepare, plan and stay informed. Get Ready Day is part of APHA’s Get Ready campaign, which is helping Americans prepare themselves, their families and their communities for all hazards they may face, including pandemic flu, infectious diseases, disasters and other public health threats.

So how can you get involved in Get Ready Day? Set up a booth on campus, pass out materials at a health department, sponsor a preparedness talk at a community center or work with a local grocery store to promote preparedness and stockpiling to shoppers. Our Get Ready Event Guide (PDF) has even more ideas, an event checklist and a sample news release. Also available online from APHA is the Get Ready Games Guide, with do-it-yourself preparedness games that can be used at a Get Ready Day event for kids. No time to hold an event? Add the Get Ready logo and link to your website or blog.

This year, the campaign launched the Get Ready Pledge. Pledge to help make your community better prepared and spread the word! Also new to Get Ready is the Get Ready Video, which tells the story of preparedness through a fun, animated story of an ant and a grasshopper. The video can be downloaded to share with friends and family.

You can help spread the word about your Get Ready Day event by posting your activity to our free online Get Ready Calendar of Events. We’d love to hear about how you celebrate Get Ready Day, so drop us a line or send us a photo of your activities. Thanks for helping spread the preparedness message!

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Watch our new Get Ready Video!

Preparedness advocates who want to spread the word about the importance of being ready for disasters have a new tool at their disposal: A free video from APHA’s Get Ready campaign.

Unveiled today, the two-minute Get Ready Video emphasizes that preparedness pays off when an unexpected disaster occurs and provides tips to get ready. The lesson is couched in an entertaining tale of an ant that is always prepared and a grasshopper that is not, and how the grasshopper learns the lesson. Presented in a colorful, animated style, the video is aimed at viewers of all ages.

The video can be downloaded and shared for free. Supporters are encouraged to show the video at their workplace, in schools, at community events or other venues. The video is also suitable for airing at health departments, office lobbies or doctors’ waiting rooms.

Watch, share and download the Get Ready Video now.
With both Get Ready Day and National Preparedness Month just around the corner, now is the perfect time to educate your community about being ready for disasters.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

You are what you eat: How not to get sick during a food-borne disease outbreak

When it comes to the food you eat, there could be more than meets the eye. Did you know that foods — from lettuce to peanut butter to breakfast cereal — can contain things that make you sick? Bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter could be lurking in all types of foods and you wouldn’t even know it.

Hundreds of people learned that lesson first-hand recently, when they were sickened by salmonella-contaminated eggs. Almost 300 million eggs have been recalled, which unfortunately is not that uncommon. In fact, more than 1,000 food-borne disease outbreaks are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention every year, involving everything from beef and poultry to fruits and vegetables. If you aren’t aware of the latest outbreak or don’t know if your food is infected, you and your community could be at risk of a serious food-borne illness.

Luckily, there are ways to be prepared. The key is knowing when food-borne disease outbreaks are out there so you know what foods to avoid. The most common foods linked to food-borne illness include poultry, beef and leafy vegetables. The best way to stay informed is to stay up on recalls. The Food and Drug Administration recall Web page lists the latest info, which you can sign up to receive via e-mail. You can also subscribe to an RSS feed for recalls or follow FDA recalls on Twitter. This way, you’ll be the first to know when an outbreak occurs.

If you think you’ve consumed contaminated food, you should follow these guidelines:
• If serious symptoms occur, call your doctor.
• Identify the food product, report the time and date it was consumed and track when symptoms began.
• Inform your local health department if the food was served to a large group of people.

For more information, FDA has dished out some important food handling tips to protect you from food-borne illness. And be sure to check out these podcasts on food safety from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Photo credit: Photo by Julija Sapic, courtesy iStockphoto

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Don’t let disease cramp your summertime fun

Whether you’re camping, staying hydrated or going for a swim, water is a huge part of summer fun. However, the water that we swim in and drink can sometimes contain disease-causing bacteria or viruses (which can seriously cut into that summertime fun).

To keep yourself from getting sick from contaminated water, follow these tips from APHA’s Get Ready campaign:

• Before you go to the beach, check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s online Beach Advisory and Closing Online Notification system to see if there are any warnings of water contamination or closings at beaches near you. If possible, avoid swimming the day after a heavy rainstorm, when contamination is often highest. That way you can avoid taking a dip in run-off that’s spread into the water from streets or overflowing drains.

• Headed to the pool? Believe it or not, germs can spread even in chlorinated water. To prevent the spread of bacteria and lessen your chance of getting sick, practice healthy swimming behavior. That means no swallowing the pool water. Shower with soap before and after swimming, and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Also, please be kind to your fellow pool-goers: No swimming when you have diarrhea.

• If you’re traveling in an area where tap water is not chlorinated or sanitation is poor, be sure to have lots of bottled water on hand. Also, there are several methods for ensuring water is safe to drink, including boiling, disinfecting or filtering the water. Remember: If the tap water is not safe to drink in the area you are visiting, don’t use it to reconstitute juice or to rinse fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, avoid ice made from tap water, otherwise you may end up regretting it later.

Following these steps will help keep you and others healthy as you beat the heat with water this summer. Splash away!

Photo credit: Courtesy iStockphoto

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Friday, August 06, 2010

National Immunization Awareness Month: The value of vaccination

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, which means it’s the perfect time to make sure you and your family are up to date on vaccinations. It’s also a great time to recognize the many benefits of immunization, which is one of the most significant public health achievements of the 20th century.

Before vaccines were available, people could have expected diseases such as polio to have lifelong negative impacts on their lives. Today, however, diseases that can be prevented through vaccines are at record lows (PDF). However, the bacteria and viruses that cause these diseases still exist. So if people decide to stop getting vaccinated, the diseases can spread.

That’s a lesson that California residents have learned lately with a recent outbreak of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, which has killed at least seven infants and caused more than 2,000 cases of illness this year. Health officials in the state are reminding residents that both children and adults who come into contact with those who are sick need to keep up on their pertussis vaccinations, which is a message that should resonate with everyone.

"The pertussis epidemic is a sobering and tragic reminder that diseases long-thought controlled can return with a vengeance," said Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health.

With both school and the flu season just around the corner, August is a great time to remind family, friends and co-workers to catch up on vaccinations. To find out what vaccinations you and your family need, check out CDC’s immunization schedules for children and teens or for adults. Remember: Keeping a community healthy and safe from infectious disease involves everyone.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Stay connected and safe from disease while on the go with APHA manual

In our oh-so-connected world, keeping up with information is a regular pastime. Whether it’s deals at your favorite store, weather conditions or news from halfway around the world, thanks to technology, we can now keep up on-the-go with just about everything that’s important to us. Add now, through APHA, you can add disease information to that mobile checklist.

APHA’s Control of Communicable Diseases Manual — one of the most widely recognized reference books on infectious diseases — recently came out in mobile form. That means whether you are a parent, teacher, health care provider or traveler — or just someone who is really into weird-sounding diseases — you can quickly look up info on infectious disease wherever you are.

While the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual is aimed at health professionals, you don’t need an MD or MPH to be intrigued by its entries, which include diseases such as malaria, smallpox and hepatitis A. The manual shows how diseases travel in communities and provides information about their identification, reporting, control and prevention. (It also has a lot of really cool facts, like that malaria can be transmitted by organ transplants and that hepatitis A has been linked to outbreaks in lettuce and strawberries.)

If you’re a parent, having this information at your fingertips can provide peace of mind and help you and others stay healthy. Frequent travelers to other countries with infectious diseases not common in the United States will also find the manual especially useful.

And chances are, pretty much whatever smartphone or mobile device you’re using, Control of Communicable Diseases Manual for Mobile + Web will work for you, as it’s available for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Mobile and Palm devices. (Yeah, we’ve got it covered.)

Check out the manual online and browse the free sample chapters. You’ll soon be wondering how you were ever mobile without it.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Protecting yourself from dengue means avoiding mosquitoes

Since 1934, there hasn’t been an outbreak in Florida of dengue, which in the United States is usually associated with overseas travel to tropical locales.

Yet within the past year, there has been a surge of cases of the disease in the state among people who’ve caught it without leaving America: As of the end of June, 12 "locally acquired" cases of the disease have been reported in the Key West area, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this month. And that’s on top of the 27 cases linked back to Key West in 2009.

Because of the Florida cases and an outbreak in the Caribbean, dengue has been getting lots of attention in the news. But health experts say there is no reason for Americans to panic.

So, first off, the facts: Dengue is a viral disease that is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. You can’t catch it from someone else, and it’s not usually fatal. General symptoms include high fever, intense headache, muscle and joint pain and loss of appetite. If you catch dengue, CDC recommends you take acetaminophen, rest, drink plenty of fluids and consult a physician.

While there is no vaccine for dengue, the best way to fight the fever is to protect yourself from mosquitoes. Our recent Get Ready blog entry on mosquitoes has some great steps to follow to avoid being bit, and our new dengue fact sheet has even more information.

Wondering why this is happening now? Experts suggest that climate change may contribute to the spread of dengue, which may help explain the recent Florida cases. With increases in heat, rainfall and humidity, the United States and other nations in the Northern Hemisphere could see more such mosquito-borne tropical diseases within their borders. So whether you live in or are travelling to at-risk parts of the world, remember to take precautions against mosquitoes and listen to information from health officials.

Credit: Photo by Lydia Bilby, courtesy iStockphoto

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Friday, July 16, 2010

School’s out! How about some preparedness fun?

School’s wrapped up for the year, leaving your kids with more time on their hands and you scratching your head on how to keep them busy for the long stretch ahead.

For great ideas this summer, look to APHA’s Get Ready campaign. Our educational, fun and portable activities for kids are perfect for printing out and taking to the pool or park. For example, the Get Ready Kids Fun Pack includes brain teasers, connect-the-dots, a crossword puzzle and word scramble.

For more active fun, download the Get Ready Games Guide (PDF), which includes step-by-step instructions on how to make your own games, like Get Ready Bowling or the Pin the Tissue on Sneezy Sam. They can help you keep any child occupied and learning for hours.

Make the activities interactive by using our checklist of necessary items for any emergency, or take our quiz to see how well-prepared your family is.

Now that summer is here and school distractions are out of the way, it’s also a good time to use the Get Ready Kids Guide to flu and learn together what you and your family need in order to be prepared before flu season returns this fall.

Photo Credit: iStockphoto

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Friday, July 09, 2010

The heat is on: Surviving the summer sizzle

The warmest weather so far this year has arrived. As the mercury hits its heights, it’s important to know how to prepare for and survive summer temperatures. People can naturally cool their bodies by sweating, but excessive heat can be dangerous — even deadly — and should be taken very seriously.

Heat-related illnesses and injuries can be avoided by learning to take caution when participating in outdoor activities and recognizing the warning signs of too much sun exposure. Public health officials urge residents to follow these basic prevention measures to avoid heat-related illness:

• Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.

• Force the fluids. If you’re working or exercising outside, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends drinking up to 32 ounces of cool fluids every hour.

• Stay indoors if you can. Air conditioning is the best defense against the heat. If your home does not have air conditioning, find out if there are emergency cooling centers in your community, or spend some time at the mall or a museum.

• Know the warning signs of heat sickness. Symptoms vary, but typically include muscle cramp, fatigue, headache and nausea.

• Pay attention to the weather forecast. The National Weather Service issues heat-related alerts. Be aware of the weather forecast before you leave your home so you’re better prepared for the day ahead.

• Lend a hand. The elderly are more susceptible to the heat and sun’s wrath. If you know elderly people, offer to get groceries or accompany them on errands so they don’t have to withstand the heat alone. Check up on them periodically.

Even if you’re a fan of the hot weather, you’re still vulnerable to the summer sun. The American Cancer Society advises to stay mindful of UV rays and lather on sunscreen when spending time outdoors. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide to find out what protection is best for you.

APHA’s Get Ready campaign offers a fact sheet (PDF) in English and Spanish (PDF) on how you and your family can stay protected before and during a summer heat wave and what to do in case you show signs of symptoms.

Keep it cool!

Photo Credit:Photo by Gene Chutka, courtesy iStockphoto

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Friday, July 02, 2010

Shoo fly: Mosquito, don’t bother me!

Summer is here. While visiting the beach and tantalizing your taste buds at backyard barbeques, don’t forget about the little insects that can sneak up on you when least expected — mosquitoes. Mosquito bites can be irritating, but sometimes these pesky pests can carry much more than an itchy bite. Some may carry disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 32 people died in the United States in 2009 due to West Nile virus, and 720 people reported symptoms of the virus. West Nile virus, spread by infected mosquitoes, is a serious, yet preventable disease that everyone should be aware of in warmer months.

Another mosquito-borne disease causing renewed concern in the United States is dengue fever. It’s usually found in tropical regions, but has returned to the U.S. mainland. Infections have occurred in Florida, and it may spread as changes occur in climate and global travel increases.

So there’s more than one good reason to avoid mosquito bites. What to do? CDC offers a Fight the Bite Guide (PDF) that gives tips on protecting yourself from mosquitoes and avoiding infections. Here are a few things to get started:

• Repel ‘em: One effective way to keep the mosquitoes at bay is to apply repellent. Repellents with DEET and Picardin have longer lasting protection, according to CDC. Pay special attention when using repellents on children and read the labels before applying.

• Keep your home mosquito-free: That unassuming baby pool in your backyard with the three-day-old water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The mosquitoes love to lay their eggs there (yuck!) so eliminate any standing water in your area.

• Protect your community: Help keep your neighborhood safe by cleaning up places where mosquitoes live and lay eggs, and learn more about controlling mosquitoes and the spread of disease where you live.

While your chances of getting sick from just one bite are low, you should still be mindful that even one bite could pose a serious, even deadly, health risk. So protect yourself and your loved ones, and enjoy the summer.

Photo Credit: Photo by James Gathany, courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health Image Library

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Friday, June 25, 2010

The Gulf oil spill and advice for residents: Be aware and prepare

The ongoing underwater oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has created a host of well-publicized environmental problems, from oil-soaked birds to goo-saturated beaches. But officials are also warning of another potential hazard: The threat to the health of people who live in the region.

Like any disaster, there are steps that people can take to be prepared for an environmental crisis in their community — which can happen anytime, anywhere and without warning. Some good general advice? Always have an adequate supply of bottled water stored(PDF) in case tap water becomes contaminated. Pay close attention to the news and be mindful of warnings to evacuate or to stay inside your home. Actively seek out information from reliable sources, such as government officials and your local health department, and share their advice with your neighbors and others who you care about.

In the case of the Gulf oil disaster, health officials have released some specific tips for people who live in the region. Among the recommendations:

• Be aware of the air: People with respiratory problems or asthma should carry their inhalers or medication with them when near the shoreline, or anywhere they can smell chemicals in the air. Even though humans can smell gas from oil wells before it has the potential to cause harm, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that those with respiratory issues may be more sensitive to the strong smell of oil.

• Special tips for moms-to-be: Pregnant women should take special care when coming into contact with food, water or air that may be contaminated by the oil leak and avoid areas where there are reports of oil reaching the shore, according to CDC.

• Stay out of the water: Although drinking water is not "expected to be affected"by the disaster, swimming at beaches can result in skin rashes or other effects. Before making plans to head to Gulf coast beaches, do some quick research on their status.

• Pay attention to food warnings: Federal health officials are monitoring the oil leak’s impact on seafood and will issue warnings if anything is deemed unsafe. If you are unsure whether something is safe to eat, contact your local health department.

• Watch out for winds: If a hurricane hits in the Gulf region, strong rains and winds could spread around oil or contaminated debris, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns, so caution is advised when cleaning up after storms.

For more information, visit the CDC and FDA websites, as well as your state and local health departments’ websites.

Photo credit: A worker cleans up oil that washed ashore in Grand Terre, La., on June 3. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Third Class Ann Marie Gordon

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Get ready for summer activities in the heat

Today’s guest blog was prepared by the Recreation and Sports Subcommittee of the Injury Control and Emergency Services Committee of APHA and is by APHA member Sara B. Newman, MCP, DrPH, public risk management program director with the National Park Service and a commander in the U.S. Public Health Service.

Summer is officially here on Monday, and with it comes long days, lots of sun, hot weather and increased risk for activity-related heat injury. The kids are out of school and we’re all more active. Whether your favorite activity is walking in the neighborhood, hiking in the woods, running a marathon or fishing on the lake, a little advance planning can go a long way toward making your adventure safe and trouble-free.

1. Acclimatize gradually to the heat. Let your body adapt to warmer temperatures by gradually increasing activity. Kids involved in youth sports? Make sure coaches follow appropriate acclimatization guidelines such as those from the National Athletic Training Association.

2. Take a break! Adjust activity level and take frequent rest breaks during hot weather activities.

3. Hydrate early, often and after. Adequate hydration ensures your body’s ability to regulate temperature through sweating. Thirst is a poor indicator of adequate hydration, so be sure to stop for regular drinks whether or not you are thirsty.

4. Take precautions during high-intensity activities. You should drink only as much fluid as you lose due to sweating during a high-intensity sport — usually no more than 34 ounces — or about 1 liter — of water an hour during extended exercise, otherwise you risk losing too much salt in the body.

5. Consider drinking sports beverages during demanding activities. Ask your doctor about replacing water with sports beverages that contain electrolytes when participating in endurance events such as marathons, triathlons and other demanding activities.

6. Take the sunscreen! Sunburn can slow your ability to shed heat, is painful and can lead to serious illness in severe cases. The long-term effects of sunburn have also been linked to skin cancer. A little prevention goes a long way, so make sure to apply adequate amounts of sunscreen early and often. Also, cover especially susceptible areas with clothing and wear a hat to protect your face and sunglasses to protect your eyes.

7. Check out the weather forecast and be prepared. The National Weather Service’s Heat Index chart takes into account heat and humidity and can help you decide whether you should modify your outdoor activities to avoid heat-related injuries. Learn more about prevention during heat waves (PDF). Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s "Tips for Preventing Heat Illness."

8. Know the risk factors for heat-related injury. Children and the elderly are more susceptible to heat-related injury. Certain common medications, such as diuretics or amphetamines, may also increase the risk for heat injury. Other risk factors include obesity, pre-existing medical conditions and poor conditioning.

9. Learn the warning signs. Behavioral signs include irritability, inattention, stupor, lethargy and fatigue. Physical symptoms — from mild to severe — include thirst, headache, dizziness, profuse sweating, rapid heart rate, complete cessation of sweating, pallor, vomiting and loss of consciousness.

10. Severe heat injury is a medical emergency. Review first aid procedures for heat injuries before heading out in hot weather. Always start by getting the victim to a cooler place.

Photo Credit: Art courtesy of iStockphoto

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Friday, June 11, 2010

There’s no place like home: Encountering a tornado while away

Today’s guest blog is by Mighty Fine, MPH, a health analyst at APHA who works on the Association’s Get Ready campaign.

If emergency preparedness were a class, I’d ace it. I’m talking summa cum laude status. I have a stockpile, an emergency plan and I’ve even practiced living off of bottled water for two days. If a disaster were to occur while I was at home, I’d be prepared. The problem is I don’t always stay at home.

Like many people, I travel a great deal for work and play. I’m usually so focused on my reason for traveling that I don’t give emergency preparedness much thought. However the recent tornado activity in the U.S. Midwest forced me to think more about preparedness on the road. I had a trip planned there, and after watching the news coverage of the twisters roaring through these communities I was a little worried about my travel. It’s not like once I got there I could click my heels three times and return to the safe haven I call home. My best bet was to be as prepared as possible while at the hotel.

I usually pack light so I can carry my bag on the plane to avoid checked baggage fees, but this time was different. I packed a flashlight, a small radio and some extra batteries, which preparedness experts recommend to carry if you are a frequent traveler. My flight there was a little bumpy so I expected that a storm was on the horizon.

Upon checking into the hotel, I asked the clerk about the tornado warning procedure and evacuation expectations. I even took a tour of the shelter area. Once I got to my room, I checked out the emergency exit diagram on the back of the door and committed it to memory. Not long after I checked in, I could hear the rain pouring down on the roof above me. I watched the sky change from blue to gray within moments.

From my hotel room, I heard the hallway doors close automatically and moments later the tornado warning siren rang loudly, signaling that it was time to go to the shelter area. I hopped up with my radio and flashlight and exited my room. As I was familiar with the evacuation route, I knew where to go, and since I had my preparedness supplies, I was more at ease. I was able to help direct other people to shelter. Luckily, the tornado did not hit the hotel, and my fellow guests and I stayed safe.

My experience with sheltering from a tornado in an unfamiliar place could happen to anyone who travels. If you are traveling to a tornado-prone area, pack emergency supplies, and familiarize yourself with evacuation routes and shelter areas. Pay attention to the weather and listen to the radio. If the sky becomes threatening, head for shelter right away. Remember that it is important to be prepared, no matter where you are.

Photo credit: A tornado in Kansas, May 2008. Photo by Chris Foltz, courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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