Friday, December 28, 2007

Creating a healthy stockpile

You know that it is important to have an emergency stockpile of food in case an influenza pandemic or some other disaster hits your area. Hopefully, you've already created a stockpile, and if so, that's great. But what kinds of foods did you toss in? Are they healthy? Or are they high in sodium and sugar?

Many people mistakenly believe that good nutrition has to go out the window when an emergency situation arises and they're told to "shelter in place."

Not so, says Capt. Laura A. McNally, MPH, RD, FADA, a dietitian with the U.S. Public Health Service, who spoke with APHA's Get Ready campaign about healthy stockpiling recently.

Even when sheltering in place and dining by the glow of a battery-driven flashlight on foods that have been sitting in a plastic bin for several months, it's still possible to eat healthily, McNally says. All it takes is a little planning and some creativity.

When it comes to creating a healthy stockpile, lots of options are available today, says McNally. Ideas include low-sodium, low-fat canned soups and canned foods packed in their own juices, such as canned fruits, and low-sodium canned veggies. Don't forget healthy snack packs and plenty of water.

Check out the complete Q&A now for more great advice on healthy stockpiling.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Health officials keeping tabs on new virus strain

U.S. health officials are keeping their eyes on an emerging virus strain that has been linked to illnesses in four states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in November that a type of adenovirus, called adenovirus serotype 14 -- or Ad14 for short -- has been linked to severe and sometimes deadly cases of illness.

Adenoviruses have been around for awhile (there are more than 50 types) and they cause many common illnesses like colds, pinkeye and stomach flu. The new Ad14 strain, which news reports have linked to more than 1,000 cases this year, can develop into a serious respiratory infection or even death.

CDC says there is no cause for alarm, as Ad14 infections are not common and most cases aren’t serious, and says that the public “should not be concerned.” Just in case, scientists and health departments will be keeping a watch out for Ad14 to make sure there are no outbreaks.

If you want to ensure you don’t get sick from adenovirus or any other type of infection, practice healthy habits, including regular handwashing. And of course, if you develop a bad cold and your symptoms get worse, be sure and see your doctor.

Winter a wonderland for the flu

Why is it that so many of us get the flu in the winter? Is it because we spend more time indoors and pass the virus to one another? Or because we get less sunshine and vitamin D on those shorter winter days?

A study published in October finds one reason the flu virus spreads in the winter is that -- like Frosty and the Abominable Snowman -- it actually prefers the weather. Conducted by researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the study found that the flu virus is transmitted best when it is at an oh-so-chilly 41 degrees. In fact, the virus is more stable in colder weather and in low humidity, when it stays in the air longer, the October study found.

If you live in warm area, don’t think this means you are safe from the flu, however. Your best bet for protecting yourself no matter where you live or play is to follow simple precautions: Get your seasonal flu vaccination and practice healthy habits such as regular handwashing.

As of tomorrow, winter is officially here in the United States. So as you make plans to dig out your winter shovel, snowshoes or skis, check out our Get Ready Helping Handouts for more tips on how to stay healthy.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Why you don't need to worry about mercury in your flu shot

Since it's flu season, it's a good time to clear up concerns people might have about mercury. This topic comes up as some parents inquire about the safety of flu shots and, in particular, about thimerosal. This is a kind of mercury used in very small amounts as a preservative in most flu vaccines.

In the late 1990s, the U.S. Public Health Service, the American Academy of Pediatrics and vaccine makers agreed to eliminate or reduce using thimerosal in vaccines for kids as a precautionary measure. Today, almost all the childhood vaccines sold in the United States have no thimerosal or only trace amounts. The only exception is the flu vaccine.

But research shows there is no reason to worry about getting a flu shot with thimerosal. The known health risks from mercury mainly come from a type called methyl mercury. Thimerosal contains ethyl mercury, a different form of the chemical. Ethyl mercury is processed by the body differently and leaves the body faster.

The important thing to know is that "there is no convincing evidence of harm" caused by the small amount of thimerosal in flu shots, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most you need to worry about is a little swelling and redness at the injection site due to sensitivity to thimerosal. Drug companies make a small number of flu shots without thimerosal each year and plan to make more in the future.

So don't let worries about mercury stop you from making sure that both you and your kids get a flu shot this year. Still have questions? Learn more about flu vaccines and thimerosal from CDC.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Make your holidays flu free

Hoping to stay healthy for your holiday visit to Grandma's? While there's no foolproof plan to prevent you from getting sick during the coming weeks, there are simple steps you can take to greatly reduce the chances.

For those traveling, here are suggestions to help guard against germs and viruses:

*Drink lots of water before and during your flight.
*Try to catch some sleep on the way.
*Bring a scarf or a small blanket on the plane, train or bus to bundle up with in case you get cold.
*Turn up the air on a plane or bus. It can help push away the germs that might float into your space.
*Keep to your schedule. Try not to change your daily eating, exercising and sleeping habits.

And here are tips we all should follow:
*Wash your hands often. Viruses can survive on your hands for hours and washing your hands often decreases your chances of getting sick. Use warm water, wash with soap for at least 20 seconds and, if possible, use a towel to turn off the faucet. If you are not near soap and water, an alcohol-based gel will do.
*Get vaccinated. Get a flu shot to protect yourself and your family over the holidays. October and November are the best months to get vaccinated, but it's never too late.
*Use care when cooking. Use a meat thermometer to make sure your holiday bird is cooked all the way through. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish and their juices away from other items. Wash your cutting board, knife and countertops with hot, soapy water after cutting meat. And finally, sanitize cutting boards by using a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water.

By taking a few extra precautions, you can help prevent the spread of viruses and reduce your odds of catching the flu. Enjoy a happy, healthy and safe holiday season! What additional tips do you have for travelers to avoid getting sick during the holidays?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto