Friday, April 27, 2007

Infants and shots: A smart investment in a child’s life

Rv, Hib, DtaP. To most of us, these abbreviations are gibberish. But to health professionals and to parents and guardians of infants and toddlers, they spell protection.

By the time a child turns 2, she or he should have received a battery of immunizations, including the three listed — which represent vaccines for rotavirus (RV), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DtaP). On the list of recommended vaccines are those that protect against diseases you may have thought were eradicated, never heard of or assumed don’t cause kids to get sick. But if your child receives the full range of recommended immunizations, she or he will be protected against a wide range of potentially deadly conditions, including serious liver diseases, the flu, whooping cough and measles.

One reason people think some of these diseases aren't a threat anymore is the success of immunization campaigns. But as we have seen with mumps, when immunizations are skipped, diseases can reappear and affect entire communities.

As this is National Infant Immunization Week, now is the perfect time to learn more about protecting children from infectious disease. Visit the event's Web site for vaccination schedules, information resources and frequently asked questions.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Nation Approves First H5N1 Vaccine for People

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week approved the nation’s first vaccine for people against the potentially fatal H5N1, or avian flu, virus.

The vaccine may provide early limited protection to individuals during a flu pandemic until a vaccine tailored to the particular pandemic strain could be developed and produced, FDA officials said. A clinical study found that 45 percent of individuals who received two doses of the vaccine developed antibodies at a level that is expected to reduce the risk of getting avian flu.

The vaccine is intended to immunize people from 18 to 64 years old who could be at higher risk of exposure to the H5N1 flu virus contained in the vaccine. Unlike the mild to serious symptoms caused by seasonal flu, the symptoms of the H5N1 virus are far more severe and can quickly cause life-threatening complications such as pneumonia and the failure of organs.

Global pharmaceutical firm Sanofi-Aventis manufactured the vaccine, which the U.S. government is stockpiling for distribution by public health officials in the event of a pandemic. The vaccine will not be sold to the public.

"The threat of an influenza pandemic is, at present, one of the most significant public health issues our nation and world faces," said FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach, MD. "The approval of this vaccine is an important step forward in our protection against a pandemic."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is working on measures to spare vaccine doses to help produce more treatments for individuals, and the agency has developed rapid diagnostics tests for H5 strains that shorten testing times,said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. "We have the opportunity to be the first generation that prepares for a pandemic, and we are working to meet that challenge," Leavitt said,

You may find more resources to help you, your family and your community prepare for pandemic flu at You may find more information on government pandemic preparedness efforts at

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK: Would you take this vaccine? Us the comment feature below to let us know your thoughts?

See Related posts:
What does H5N1 mean?

Vaccine Against Avian Flu Just The Begining

Friday, April 13, 2007

Older adults need more than a flu shot

One of our staff members here at the American Public Health Association told us a story recently about her 72-year-old father and the flu. Last winter, after babysitting for his 8-year-old granddaughter, he noticed he feeling achy and congested. He'd received his flu shot, so he assumed that the symptoms would quickly disappear. But within a short period of time, his flu symptoms progressed to pneumonia and delirium set in. He spent the next two weeks in the hospital. Luckily, he recovered.

You may often hear older adults say they received a flu shot, but got the flu anyway. The fact is that while flu shots don't work as well at preventing flu in older adults compared to younger ages, the shots do reduce the likelihood of death or hospitalization from flu. Older adults are at an increased risk of complications when they get the flu. Older adults are also more likely to have chronic conditions, weaker immune systems and poor cough reflexes, making it more difficult for them to recover when infected with flu viruses.

To prevent complications from the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that older adults also get a pneumococcal vaccination at the same time they get a flu shot. While a nasal flu vaccine is available, it is not recommended for people older than age 49, as it contains a live virus.

In the case of our staff member's father there were a few things he could've done differently that might have kept him out of the hospital:

* He could have called his doctor within the first 48 hours of his flu symptoms. There are some treatments available that can reduce the severity of flu symptoms and speed recovery; however, treatment must begin within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms in order to be effective.

* He could have asked his granddaughter to wash her hands every time she came in the house after school. While children can be a delight for doting grandparents, they are also infection magnets, and can easily transmit the flu to older adults, even if kids are not sick themselves. Handwashing is an easy, highly effective way to keep grandparents safe from the unintentional infections of children.

* He could have been aware that his chronic condition might make recovery difficult. The man at the center of the story has Parkinson’s disease, making recovery from the flu more difficult. Knowing this, he could have gone to bed sooner to rest, increased his fluid intake (lack of fluids caused his delirium) and avoided alcohol. Had he taken these precautions, his recovery might not have been so difficult.

While precautions for flu such as handwashing and getting flu shots are the same for adults of any age, older adults need to be even more vigilant by contacting their doctor and taking extra care at the first sign of symptoms. While some older adults may not be able to avoid the flu completely, in many cases they can keep it from being deadly.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Health centers play a critical role in managing chronic diseases during disasters

Today's first guest blog entry is by Dan Hawkins, vice president for federal, state and public affairs with the National Association of Community Health Centers

The National Association of Community Health Centers is proud to sponsor National Public Health Week 2007. This year’s theme, "Take the First Step! Preparedness and Public Health Threats: Addressing the Unique Needs of the Nation’s Vulnerable Populations" is one of particular importance to America’s health centers and the 16 million people they serve.

Health centers have a long history of directing help where it is most needed. Because they are built from the bottom up, not the top down, and are run by patient-majority community boards, they are especially effective in targeting the immediate needs of vulnerable communities — even those challenged by disaster. A 2006 article in the journal Health Affairs noted that health centers "may well be situated in some communities to be a first line of response to public health emergencies." That's because they have the existing networks on the ground to facilitate outreach to diverse populations and cultures.

We may not know when the next disaster will strike, but what we do know is that it is often the poor and the most vulnerable who are disproportionately affected because they lack the resources, and even the transportation, to flee disaster zones. Nowhere was the divide between the haves and have-nots more evident than in New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Indeed, the lessons of Katrina have rewritten the conventional rules of disaster response for the future. The most startling lesson is that the most pressing and immediate needs of the evacuee population were not for emergency triage, but for primary health care services. In fact, a recent report, "Legacy of a Disaster: Health Centers and Hurricane Katrina," revealed that many of the evacuees required treatment for chronic diseases, such as diabetes or hypertension, that had worsened because the evacuees had fled their homes without their medications. Many people did not know where to get help and communications problems on the ground added to the challenge of providing help and treatment.

Community outreach in times of disaster is a critical step in a national disaster response plan. Health centers stand ready to help local public health and emergency preparedness leaders spread the word about the importance of disaster preparedness in every community.

Preparedness with Chronic Diseases

Today's second guest blog entry is by Sloane Frost, a student at Cornell University who is currently interning with the American Public Health Association

There are 20.8 million type 1 diabetics in America, according to the American Diabetes Association, and most of us are likely without a sound emergency plan.

I was diagnosed with diabetes a week before my 15th birthday. So like all other high school students, I didn’t want to deal with this extra burden. But after having gone through some close calls of my own, I know how important it is to have a back-up plan in case of an emergency.

That is one of the goals of this year’s National Public Health Week — to help people with chronic illnesses prepare for emergencies, either natural or manmade. The information I have read about the possible impact on chronically ill people such as myself is staggering, and it has motivated me to maintain an emergency kit of my own.

Before I left for college, my uncle gave me a backpack full of supplies to use in the case of an emergency. He packed it tight with all the necessities: a blanket, canned food, water, money, a heavy-duty whistle, flashlight, batteries and contact information for practically every federal agency that was relevant. I’ve added to that the basic supplies that I would need for my diabetes, such as test strips, alcohol wipes, extra lancets, reservoirs, syringes, test sticks and glucose tablets. It’s impossible to keep an insulin vial that will never go bad, so I replace it every month. That check is a good way to maintain the other supplies in my bag and ensure that I always know how to access it. All the materials on disaster preparedness say that you should at least maintain this kit as well as an emergency evacuation plan and other relevant preparations for your individual situation.

I would encourage everyone, regardless of whether or not you have a chronic illness, to make a similar kit. Not only is it tremendous insurance, but I personally know that I takes some of the stress out of my life knowing a safety net is there. Preparing for an emergency could have the same effect for you and your family.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

School Preparedness 101

Think back to elementary school: If you are like many of us, it's one of the last places you recall seeing preparedness in action. Growing up, elementary school meant fire drills, line leaders, safety monitors and lunch ingredients stockpiled for years to come. In truth, we can learn a lot from those lessons from so long ago.

When you hear the words "preparedness," "planning" and "school" in the same sentence, you might have flashbacks to pop quizzes and term papers. But for families with children, schools are often the community center of choice for people to turn to in the case of a natural disaster, terror attack or looming pandemic. Teachers and administrators have to think about the safety of hundreds of children and how they will contact parents or caregivers during an emergency. Then there are the children with special health care or educational needs, and mental health concerns during and after evacuations.

In February, the American Public Health Association conducted a nationwide preparedness poll that included school administrators. The poll found that in the wake of recent national emergencies, including the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, 94 percent of school districts have emergency response plans in place, but only 50 percent have a plan for an infectious disease epidemic.

Even before the APHA poll, a study published in Pediatrics in 2006 found "important deficiencies" in school emergency and disaster planning, with 30 percent of superintendents reporting that an evacuation drill had never been conducted at their schools. So maybe things aren't quite as safe as we remember from our youth.

Today's lesson is this (time to pull out your number 2 pencil, boys and girls): As much that schools do to keep prepared, there is a lot more that still can be done. To learn what you can do to make schools in your community a safer place, visit the National Public Health Week Web site.

Just as parents need to advocate for good teaching and safe schools they need to demand good emergency plans that have been practiced by staff and students.

If you have a child, has your school or day care informed you of its preparedness plans? Let us know by using the comment feature below.

View previous related blog entries on:
School Preparedness Needs:
Possible School Closures in the Case of a Pandemic:
School Closures Affect on Businesses:

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Workin’ 9 to 5: Preparedness a challenge for low wage, hourly workers

Public health emergencies and disasters can be a strain for anyone, but for those who are already struggling to make ends meet — such as people who earn low, hourly wages — those threats can be devastating.

Recently, a staff member from the American Public Health Association met with a group of such workers in Washington, D.C. The group, which included people who worked in fast food, maintenance and a cleaning service, were asked what they would do in the event of a public health emergency or disaster such as pandemic flu.

Their responses were eye-opening: If they had to stay home due to pandemic flu or other public health emergency, the workers said they would be unpaid, and in some cases fired, if they were out a week or more. Missing work means a smaller paycheck, causing a strain for people who may not have much in reserve. The workers said they were familiar with planning efforts such as stockpiling, but given their financial constraints, were unable to do so. Overall, the workers said they felt disconnected, but wanted to be informed.

Their recommendations? Community groups, employers and health officials need to take special steps to make sure that people who are most vulnerable aren't overlooked.

Specifically, the workers said that employers should share information on preparedness at work. Given the large amounts of time spent on the job, the workplace would be an ideal forum for hourly-wage workers to receive pandemic flu information, including fact sheets, planning checklists and a list of resources such as food services or assisted care.

Employers should additionally make sure that if employees can't come to work because of a disaster that they wouldn't lose their jobs, the workers recommended.

Also helpful, said the workers, would be easier access to information. Pandemic flu-related materials should be disseminated in popular meeting places such as churches, public transportation stations, supermarkets and food banks, and not just online.

Only by recognizing now who is most vulnerable and reaching out to them can we truly say that our communities are prepared for the worst.

Do you have any other ideas how to distribute information about pandemic flu to our nation’s most vulnerable? What do you think would work? Let us know by using the comment feature below.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Local food banks play a critical role during disasters:

Today's guest blog entry is by Dr. J. Lee Pearson, director of special projects for the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina

The effort to increase preparedness for public health threats is an essential and timely activity. We know that the unique circumstances of a public health emergency would test preparedness models in a myriad of ways, challenging individuals, families and communities alike to be even more self-reliant when such events occur. This challenge will be the greatest for the most vulnerable among us -- underscoring the need to highlight vulnerable groups as a focus of our overall preparedness efforts.

Many entities serve to alleviate the needs of vulnerable populations on a perpetual basis, but their challenges in doing so are immense. Local food banks, as a prime example of such entities, reflect the collective force of numerous charitable resources working together to reduce the burdens of hunger and food insecurity. The services they provide are an essential part of the community, but that essential nature will become even greater when disaster strikes. The need for continuity of operations for such facilities is of paramount importance, as are the logistical and structural components that form an operable environment.

Although we are all prone to think of supporting local food banks when times are good and food is plentiful, we must also think of them when times are challenging. It is then that the needs of local food banks and those they serve will be greatest. We must learn to support our community food banks on a consistent basis, so that they can better address the ongoing needs of vulnerable populations -- especially in times of disaster, such as if there were an influenza pandemic or outbreak of another emerging infectious disease.

As we dedicate time to the observance of National Public Health Week and its theme of preparing vulnerable populations, we must recognize the unique needs of local food banks and the populations they serve. So, I encourage you to take the first step and become involved in supporting your local food bank and, in turn, support the effort to protect vulnerable populations.

Community food banks: How to help

In 2005, more than 35 million Americans lived in households that did not have enough food, including 12.4 million children, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And that's even before a disaster such as pandemic influenza, hurricanes or flooding strikes. Once a disaster occurs, demand on food banks can increase. In 2001, for example, Washington, D.C.-area food banks experienced a shortage of supplies after hotels, restaurants and other businesses closed following Sept. 11, forcing many low-wage workers to turn to food banks for help.

So what can you do to help? Here are some tips:
* Locate a food bank in your community. Call your local city or county office and ask where the nearest food bank is located, or use Second Harvest's online directory.

* Volunteer your time. Many food banks depend on volunteers to keep things running. Offer to work in your food bank office or to bag groceries for distribution. Some food banks also need drivers to pick up donated food from area grocery stores.

* Organize a food drive at your office or school. Most food banks have a list of items that they regularly need, so check with them first.

* Donate money. If you don't have time to help out, food banks are always in need of donations that can be used to purchase food or keep their offices running.

* Advocate for policies and legislation at the national level that will help people who need food or other assistance, such as the proposed 2-1-1 Act (see related blog entry below).

Remember that food banks need help year-round, not just at holidays. So the next time you are looking for a way to help out, remember your local food bank. Your community will thank you.

Give your support to 2-1-1 and make it easier for people in need to find help in a crisis

Every day, millions of people in the United States are in need of food banks, community pantries and soup kitchens. They are an important source of nutritional food for many low-income individuals and families and serve as a lifeline in a time of crisis.

But faced with the web of government agencies and countless help lines, people often don't know where to turn. That's where "2-1-1" comes in. Now in 41 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, 2-1-1 is a three-digit phone dialing system similar to 4-1-1 or 9-1-1. But in this case, dialing the number connects people who are seeking services to community-based organizations and government agencies that can help, whether it is during a family crisis or influenza outbreak.

2-1-1 was created and launched by United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta in 1997 and has grown to serve over 196 million Americans -- more than 65 percent of the U.S. population.

The system has already paid off: In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Texas and Alabama called 2-1-1 looking for help with shelter, transportation, medical, food and water, construction materials and mental health. Because of its success, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has recognized the 2-1-1 system and has recommended expanding its reach nationwide. Under a bill currently before Congress, that could soon be come a reality.

The Calling for 2-1-1 Act, led by Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., and Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif, and Fred Upton, R-Mich., would authorize funding to expand 2-1-1 systems across the United States. States would develop plans for implementing and administering the 2-1-1 funds, including training, public education campaigns and coordination of non-profit community services.

Now it's your turn to help make nationwide 2-1-1 a reality, and all it takes is a few clicks of your mouse. Visit the APHA advocacy page and send a message to your members of Congress in support of the Calling for 2-1-1 Act. That way, by the time the next disaster or family crisis rolls around, we will all have the benefit of 2-1-1 to give us a helping hand.

Monday, April 02, 2007

What a mom can do:

Today's guest blog entry is by Hope C., who lives Fairfield, Conn. The writer is a mother of two boys, ages 2 and 1, (with another one on the way).

When I was a little girl, my mother drove around town in our station wagon while I stood in the back of her car with my arm draped over the top of the seat. It was 1972; car seats weren’t yet law and parents were blissfully unaware of the many things we now know can harm children. While we’re better for the information we have today to protect our kids, the amount of it can be overwhelming and confusing. So last week when my sister (who works at the American Public Health Association) asked me if I had any emergency supplies set aside for the family for a public health emergency, such as pandemic flu or a flood, I fought the urge to immediately strangle her. At this moment, I am eight months pregnant and spend most of my time chasing my two little boys, both of whom are under the age of 3. Most days I am just grateful if my boys don’t grab anything hot or heavy -– let alone think about what I would do to protect my family in the event of a public health disaster.

In spite of my irritation with my well-meaning sister’s question about the number of gallons of water in my basement, I now find myself thinking about what little things I could do to prepare. What would my children do if we didn’t have access to food or clean water? My eyes suddenly welled up with tears when I thought of the mothers at the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina, crying to the news cameras that their children were hungry.

I know there will be many things I can’t protect my children from. I know that no matter how hard I try, my sons will run at top speed in the park and occasionally skin their knees in the process. I know that no matter how hard I try to clean their little hands, some other mucous-filled child will come along and sneeze on my kid giving him a cold. I know that no matter how hard I try, life is a messy unpredictable thing that I have limited control over. But, I’m a mother -– and my job is to protect them from what I can when it’s within my power and good for my children. Which is why I went to the grocery store last night and bought 20 gallons of water to put in our basement. Hopefully, we’ll never need it.

Editors Note: What motivates you to prepare? Use the comment tool (below) to let us know.