Friday, November 24, 2006

Community measures key in the event of a flu pandemic, experts say

Communities can play an important role in keeping their residents safe in the event of a flu pandemic, according to a panel of experts who spoke at APHA’s 134th Annual Meeting in November.

While many people are counting on vaccines or drug treatments to help protect their health in the event of a flu pandemic, such supplies may not be readily available, panel presenters said. During a flu pandemic, it could take up to six months for enough vaccines and medications to be available for every person, according to David Heyman, director and senior fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Homeland Security Program, which means it is important to know about other ways to work to protect communities.

Protecting community residents requires cooperation, preparation and communication, according to panel presenter Donna L. Richter, EdD, FAAHB, dean of the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. In the end, all emergencies are local, so it is the local response that matters the most, she said. For pandemic planning to truly work, leaders must involve everyone, including individuals, families and communities.

Keeping the public up to date with information during an emergency can help reduce worry and encourage everyone to accept measures needed to control the flu, such as school closings or possible quarantines, said Robert J. Levine, MD, co-director of Interdisciplinary Bioethics Center at Yale University.

Education campaigns before and during an emergency are key, as they remind people to take simple measures, such as frequent handwashing or avoiding public places. Such measures will help people protect themselves and others, according to Heyman, who is the author of a 2005 report detailing ways to safeguard the public during disease outbreaks.

It is especially important to make sure that all people have equal access to services and help during a pandemic, Levine stressed. In addition to doctors and health workers, police, social workers and others can work together to help sick people stay at home so they don’t infect others. Helping people get the services they need, whether it be providing medical care or just going to get groceries, is also vital.

Communities must prepare now, as diseases that occur on the other side of the world can quickly make their way to the United States, Richter emphasized.

"For the flu, the world is one interconnected community that has no boundaries," Richter said.

Photo: Image of David Heyman speaking during a session at APHA's 134th Annual Meeting in Boston this November (photo credit: EZ Event Photography)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

CDC: It's not too late to get your seasonal flu shot

As you spend your post-Thanksgiving days recovering from turkey over-indulgence and shopping for bargains, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is hoping you will take time to consider something more serious: your annual flu shot.

To increase the number of Americans who receive their seasonal flu shot, CDC officials have declared Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 as "National Influenza Vaccination Week." ( The event will help spread the word that it's not too late to receive a seasonal flu shot and encourage health providers to schedule vaccine clinics, extend clinic hours and hold mass vaccinations at retail stores and other locations.

While most people think of October as the time to receive flu shots, people can receive their shots during November, December and early next year and still be protected from the flu, according to CDC.

"It is a good idea to check now with your provider or your health officials to determine where and when vaccine is expected in your community and get ready to step up to the plate and get vaccinated," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC's director. "We want you to go to your holiday gatherings with your good food and your gifts and your good cheer and not with the flu virus."

Despite some early distribution problems, CDC officials report that 77 million flu vaccine doses have been distributed this year and vaccine supply is expected to reach an all-time high. For the first time, CDC is recommending that children ages 24 months to 59 months be vaccinated, as they are considered at risk for flu complications. Each year, about 36,000 Americans die of the flu.

More information on flu and flu vaccine is online at To find a flu shot clinic in your area, use the American Lung Association's Flu Clinic Locator, online at

Friday, November 10, 2006

Advice on keeping kids safe from infections

The best way to keep kids safe from influenza or other infectious diseases is to make sure they are immunized, according to APHA member Jonathan Kotch, MD, MPH, FAAP, who discusses the issue in a new Q&A on APHA's Get Ready Web site.

Kids are at higher risk for infectious diseases both because of their young immune systems and their behaviors, such as their tendency to put things in their mouths, said Kotch, a professor of maternal and child health at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"I don't think we appreciate how prevalent seasonal flu is in very young children," Kotch said. "They do get it frequently but it's not often as serious in young children as it is in older kids and adults, and it is frequently misdiagnosed as something else, such as an upper respiratory infection or viral syndrome. For that reason, kids are a risk factor for adults getting it, which is why we want kids to be immunized against seasonal flu."

For more advice on keeping your kids safe from infection, visit APHA's Get Ready Web site.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

New Harvard Survey Finds One in Four Americans Say They May Lose Job or Business in Flu Pandemic

One in four Americans believe they or a household member would lose their job or business if they had to stay at home for seven to 10 days during a severe flu pandemic, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study released last week.

Although the survey found that more than three-fourths of Americans would cooperate if public health officials recommended that they stop some activities for one month, such as using public transportation and going to the mall, a substantial number of people surveyed also said they would have no one to care for them if they became ill. Many of the 1,697 adults surveyed also said they would face serious financial problems, such as loss of pay and health care, if they had to stay home from work for a week or more. More than four in 10 people living in one-adult households and about a third of low-income adults said they would not have anyone to take care of them if they were sick and had to remain at home for seven to 10 days.

When asked about their current employers plans for dealing with a flu pandemic, only 19 percent of respondents said they were aware of any preparedness plan at their workplace. Fifty percent of employed Americans believe that their workplace would stay open if public health officials recommended that some businesses in their community should shut down.
The full survey results may be found at