Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Donating blood: A New Year’s resolution you can keep

Find a new job. Eat healthier. Get fit. Tired of making — and not keeping — the same old New Year's resolutions? Here's one to consider that will only take minutes of your time, helps protect others and you can see to the finish: Donate blood.

Blood is traditionally in short supply during the winter months, making our nation's blood supply dangerously low. To encourage donors to give or make a pledge to give blood this month, our nation's blood centers — AABB, America's Blood Centers and the American Red Cross — are celebrating National Blood Donor Month 2009.

If you are at least 17 years of age — some states permit younger people to donate with parental consent — weigh at least 110 pounds and meet other donor requirements, you may be eligible to donate blood. Check with your local blood bank to find out the specific requirements in your area.

If you want to promote blood donation in your office or through your organization, AABB — formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks — has National Blood Donor Month materials such as a fliers, posters, logos, fact sheets and newsletter templates available.

Celebrate National Blood Donor Month and the start of 2009 by donating blood and encouraging others to do the same. Make sure our blood banks are well supplied so they can help our families and loved ones in times of emergency. This is one New Year's resolution you can keep.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

High school students: Get set, get prepared and enter to win a $500 Get Ready Scholarship

It's pop quiz time again here at Get Ready headquarters, so take out those earbuds and listen up. Today's topic? U.S. teens.

Q: Which of these topics are of importance to today's high school students? a) a driver's license b) more sleep c) cell phones d) college applications e) preparedness.

The answer? All of the above. While answer "e," preparedness, may not seem like an obvious choice, it's as important for high schoolers to be as prepared for emergencies as everyone else. After all, during a disaster, everyone is at risk, regardless of age, SAT score or number of MySpace friends. And with about 17 million U.S. high school students, APHA's Get Ready campaign knows they are a serious force for change.

What can high schoolers do to support preparedness? Lots, actually: Host a preparedness video contest, hold a school food drive or set out a table with information at your local library or grocery store. Need some more ideas? Check out Get Set: An Emergency Preparedness Project Kit, an action kit for high school students that was released by the Get Ready campaign in October. More high school students than ever are taking on volunteer and community projects, and preparedness makes a great focus.

High school students can also help get engaged by spending some time writing about preparedness, whether on a blog, through the school newspaper or a letter to the editor. And thanks to our Get Ready campaign, writing about preparedness can pay off in a big way: The high school senior who sends us the best original essay on preparedness by April 6 can win a $500 Get Ready Scholarship to help with college costs. Get the full skivvy on the scholarship on our Web site, and pick up some preparedness tips while you are there.

We've thrown out the challenge, high school students, and know you are more than qualified to take it up. So now's the time to show us what you can do.

Know a high school student? Forward them this message, link to this blog entry or share our news release.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Googling for flu may be good for you

Haven't we all done it? Felt sick, typed in our symptoms and searched online, attempting to diagnose ourselves before seeing the doctor?

As you might expect, more people search on flu-like symptoms and treatments during flu season than during the rest of the year. In fact, the wizards over at Google found a correlation between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. They then developed a Web tool that uses information from searches to estimate how many people have a flu-like illness. At Google Flu Trends, you can find the latest estimates on flu activity across the country.

Why would Google offer a flu tracking site when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already surveys doctors and patients to track the flu? It turns out that traditional flu monitoring systems take up to two weeks to collect and release information to the public. On the other hand, Google search queries (though not as scientific) can be automatically counted very quickly. During the last flu season, Google was able to estimate flu levels up to two weeks faster than CDC. Daily flu estimates can provide an early-warning system for flu outbreaks and help us take the necessary steps to protect ourselves.

Right now, the tool only monitors the flu in the United States, but Google hopes to eventually use it to help track flu and other diseases all over the world. So if you don't feel well, go right ahead and search the Web for your symptoms. Your query may just motivate someone else to protect themselves against the flu.

Query: Have you ever used the web to diagnose your symptoms?

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Get Ready Mailbag: Staying prepared during winter

Welcome to another installment of the Get Ready Mailbag, when we take time to answer questions sent our way by readers like you. Have a question you want answered? Send an e-mail to

Q. Since this summer, my family and I have been learning more about ways to be prepared. We even created an emergency kit and an evacuation plan. Is there anything specific we should be doing to be prepared for winter?

A. It's wonderful to hear that your family is taking steps to be prepared! The more you do now, the better prepared you will be to cope with the unexpected if an emergency situation were to arise. An emergency kit and an evacuation plan are two important items that each family should have.

Regarding getting prepared for winter, the first thing you and your family should do is get a flu shot. This will help reduce your chances of getting the flu. It's also a good idea to talk to your family and make sure everyone knows to take simple steps to stay healthy: wash your hands with soap often, cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and cough, and avoid close contact with people who are sick from a respiratory illness.

Now is also a good time to check your emergency kit and ensure you're prepared for winter-specific needs. Make sure you have winter clothes and blankets in case you need to evacuate during cold weather, as well as batteries, flashlights and a radio in case you lose power during a winter storm.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Children’s Flu Vaccination Day is Tuesday, Dec. 9

Today's guest blog entry is by Carol J. Baker, MD, FAAP, FIDSA, moderator for the Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition; professor of pediatrics, molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine; and immediate past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

Have you protected your family against influenza this season?

Many Americans who receive annual influenza immunization do so at some point during October and November, with immunizations dropping off significantly around Thanksgiving. Many parents and health care professionals alike don't realize that it is beneficial to immunize against influenza in December, and even well into the New Year.

This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Families Fighting Flu declared Dec. 9 the second annual Children's Flu Vaccination Day. The day is part of the CDC's National Influenza Vaccination Week, and was established to remind parents about the need to immunize all children (6 months through 18 years of age) and their contacts against influenza.

Parents may not realize that many doctors' offices still have influenza vaccine available in the winter months. Influenza outbreaks typically peak in February and continue until around May. Since the influenza vaccine takes only about two weeks to provide protection, we still have time to protect our families against this serious and potentially deadly disease.

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases' Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition, of which the American Public Health Association is a member, applauds CDC and Families Fighting Flu for establishing this day. The coalition has a variety of educational materials about influenza and vaccination available at, including a short informational video. Spanish information is available at

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Got asthma? An extra reason to get your flu shot

Fever, aches and chills. Yuck! Flu season is upon us, and for many who come down with these symptoms, a few days in bed and plenty of fluid may be just what the doctor orders. But if you’re one of the more than 22 million Americans with asthma, the flu can lead to conditions that are much worse.

When you have asthma, your airways are already somewhat inflamed. They overreact to irritants and allergens, including viruses. Rather than fighting the virus, your lungs may secrete substances that promote inflammation. Making matters worse, viruses can replicate themselves more extensively in lungs affected by asthma than in healthy lungs.

Therefore, many health experts recommend that people with asthma get an annual flu shot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with asthma are at high risk of developing complications after contracting the flu virus, yet most adults with asthma don’t get their annual flu shot.

So if you have asthma, take steps to protect yourself from flu: Avoid people who are sick. Wash your hands regularly. And if you haven’t gotten your flu shot, get one today.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Join a team of heroes and help protect your community

Citizens of Metropolis face an uncertain threat. They are not prepared for an emergency. Potential disaster looms. Who do community leaders call? The Avengers? Justice League of America? The Fantastic Four?

No, they contact their Community Emergency Response Team. Response teams don’t possess superpowers, but they do rely on heroes in our communities — people like you and me — who are dedicated to preparing for an emergency.

In towns around the country, teams organize and train volunteers to safely help themselves and others in case of an emergency. Teams don't seek to replace emergency service providers, but they do help prepare average residents to take care of themselves and others if responders cannot immediately assist them.

Trainees in Community Emergency Response Team programs learn the basics of utility management, fire safety, search and rescue, incident planning and organization, and disaster medical operations so they can safely assist themselves and others. Teams also support their local emergency response providers by participating in preparedness drills and other community events that require extra help.

Response team members come from all walks of life — young, old, working, in school, stay-at-home or retired, it doesn't matter. If you want to be better prepared or help your community, you can join! Some members already have emergency response or public health experience, but many are just ordinary residents looking to better prepare themselves, their neighborhoods and their workplaces for minor and major emergencies.

Ready to help? Check out the Community Emergency Response Team Web site to locate a group in your area. Find out how you can join a team of heroes and help protect your community (superhero capes and tights not required).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Flu vaccine key for both mom and newborn-to-be

Pregnancy can be an exciting time: Baby names, baby showers and, oh, those cute little baby clothes. It's also a key time to focus on health, both for mom and her newborn-to-be.

Expectant moms know that it is important to eat nutritious food and get preventive health checkups while pregnant. But it's also important to get your flu shot. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that flu shots — which are "both safe and effective for pregnant women" — be a routine part of prenatal care.

And flu shots are also good for babies whose moms are vaccinated while pregnant, according to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Babies born to moms who were vaccinated while pregnant had 63 percent fewer cases of flu, the study found. Also a plus, respiratory illnesses among both moms and newborns decreased by 36 percent, meaning the flu shot protected them both. The finding is especially notable, the researchers said, because flu shots aren't licensed for infants under 6 months of age, who have the highest rates of hospitalization from influenza among U.S. children.

Unfortunately, while health professionals have been recommending the flu shot for pregnant women in the United States since 1997, fewer than 15 percent of pregnant women are vaccinated each year — meaning lots of moms and babies are missing out. So if you are pregnant, talk to your health care provider about getting a flu shot. And if you run into any other moms-to-be while you are out shopping for those baby buggies, bibs and so-adorable little shoes, spread the word about getting a flu shot. It will be worth it for both mom and baby when they are healthy and flu-free.

Graphic credit: Courtesy Microsoft ClipArt Gallery

Friday, November 07, 2008

Drop, cover and hold on

When the ground shakes, rattles and rolls — drop, cover and hold on. That’s the guidance from the organizers of next week’s Great Southern California ShakeOut, designed to help residents prepare for a big earthquake.

A major earthquake is an inevitable part of Southern California's future, earthquake experts say, though no one knows when the big one will hit. With 22 million people living and working in the region, such a natural disaster could result in catastrophe.

To help people prepare, millions of Southern Californians are expected to participate Nov. 13 in the largest earthquake drill in U.S. history. The drill centers on the ShakeOut Earthquake Scenario, which outlines a hypothetical 7.8 magnitude earthquake — similar to the 2008 one in China — and could devastate the region.

The key to minimizing damage from a massive earthquake is for people to be prepared. In addition to creating disaster plans and supply kits, Southern Californians are being asked to "drop, cover and hold on" during the drill. According to event organizers, the best thing to do during an earthquake is to drop to the ground, take cover under a sturdy desk or table and hold on until the shaking stops.

These are general guidelines, of course If you're in bed, driving or in other situations, you'll need to take other actions, the details of which are outlined on the Great Southern California ShakeOut Web site.

If you live in Southern California, pledge to take part in the drill this Thursday and register now online. You'll receive information on how to plan your drill, connect with other participants and talk with others about earthquake preparedness. There's also lots of earthquake preparedness information on the Great Southern California ShakeOut Web site. So if you live in a earthquake-risk area, here's your chance to get ready. Let's shake on it.

Have you ever been in an earthquake? Share your experience by commenting on this blog entry.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cast your vote, get your flu shot on Nov. 4

Any idea on what day — and in which place — 126 million Americans are planning to show up right near the beginning of flu season? Hint: It's been in the news a lot lately.

That's right. On Nov. 4, millions of Americans will be heading to their neighborhood polling places — which is exactly where some of us will be able to receive our seasonal flu shots.

Through Vote & Vax, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the nonprofit Sickness Prevention Achieved through Regional Collaboration, you could have the chance to receive your flu shot at your neighborhood polling place on Election Day 2008.

With the help of major health partners, including the American Public Health Association, planners hope that there will be more than 1,000 Vote & Vax clinics across the nation at the polls. With flu season now under way, the clinics are being held just in time. Each year, about 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized because of seasonal flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling on health officials to find new ways for getting vaccines into the arms of at-risk Americans, and this is a great strategy for doing just that. Of course Vote & Vax is not just for voters — it's for anyone who can benefit from a flu shot.

So if you haven't received your flu shot yet, Election Day is your chance. Check the Vote & Vax Web site to see if a clinic is scheduled in your area.

Get Ready Mailbag

Q. In the movies, people are always quarantined where there is an outbreak of a contagious disease. If there is a flu pandemic or disease outbreak, will communities be quarantined?

A. A modern-day quarantine would likely look very different than the Hollywood images of scientists in spacesuits and the military forcibly keeping people in their communities. If pandemic flu strikes, public health officials have a more realistic plan in mind.

Let's start with some definitions: "Quarantine" is when people who are not sick but have likely been exposed to a virus are separated from others. These people may be urged to not leave their homes or towns. A related term is "isolation." This is when a person who is already sick is separated from other people to reduce the chances that she or he will get others sick.

Because pandemic flu spreads quickly and you can catch it from others who are sick but don’t show any symptoms yet, quarantine and isolation will probably only play a small role in how communities respond to a disease outbreak. Also, scientists expect restrictive measures to be voluntary, like when a parent is asked to keep a child with chickenpox home from school.

During a flu pandemic, people will be encouraged to stay home from work or school to reduce their chances of getting sick. Schools will be closed and community events cancelled. Sick people will be separated from those who are not — both in health facilities and at home.

Check out this site to learn what items you should include in your preparedness kit in case you ever need to stay home from work or school because of a flu pandemic or anything else that comes your way.

Time to check your emergency supplies, says APHA

When's the last time you've checked your stash of spare batteries? How about your first aid kit?

APHA's Get Ready: Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks campaign is calling on people to refresh their emergency supplies long before a disaster happens — and to use the upcoming clock change as a handy-dandy reminder. When it's time to change your clocks back on Nov. 2, remember to check your preparedness kit to make sure your emergency stockpile isn't missing any items and that the food hasn't expired.

Haven't created a stockpile yet? Now is the perfect time! Every American should have at least a three-day supply of food and water in case of an emergency, including one gallon of water per person per day, according to preparedness advocates. Other supplies that should be on hand include a first aid kit, medicines, a can opener, flashlight, battery-operated radio and batteries.

To help people create and update their emergency stockpiles, the Get Ready: Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks campaign offers free materials on its Web page, online at Materials include a list of what should be in an emergency stockpile, information on rotating stored food and water and games for kids. For the first time, bilingual materials are available as well, with both a stockpiling information fact sheet and a supply checklist in Spanish.

Check out our materials, then scoot over to your closet or under the bed and look over your supplies. Chances are they are in need of updating. Checking your supplies twice a year with the clock change is a great way to make sure that your emergency supplies are there when you and your family need them. And thanks to APHA, you won't forget.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Hantavirus in rodents a growing threat to human health

Today's guest blog entry is by Trent Wakenight, MA, public relations consortium coordinator for the Global Nexus of Animal and Public Health Project at Michigan State University.

Climate change continues to change the way we live, this time being linked to human health and the spread of hantavirus, a disease linked to mice and other rodents.

Cases of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, an illness caused by hantaviruses, have increased in humans in typically cold places such as Russia and Eastern Europe. A probable cause is rodents infected with hantaviruses that are better able to survive milder winter conditions. By some estimates, one in three rodents carries the viruses.

There are five types of hantavirus, and it can be contracted through human contact with infected rodents or their urine and droppings. Infection occurs when humans inhale particles of dried materials or urine. Early symptoms include fever, chills, muscle pain and coughing. The infection can be fatal.

In 2007, cases of hantavirus infections in Russia topped 3,000 by mid-spring, following a mild winter. The increase was attributed to a rodent population that was 10 times higher than in previous years.

The virus has also been found in 10 states in the United States since its identification in 1993. An outbreak in Southwestern states that year affected 48 people with a mortality rate of 80 percent.

Wet, mild winters are thought to contribute to the disease spread, turning environmental issues into public health threats. Rodents are better able to survive, natural food supplies are more abundant and consequently the population is growing.

Humans at greatest risk are those involved in agricultural production, grain or feedlot operations, field biology or other places where rodent contact is likely. One study also found that 70 percent of those infected were exposed while cleaning homes or buildings where rodents had been living. Controlling for rodents in and around the home is the best strategy for preventing infection.

Get Ready Day puts focus on preparedness

From a school carnival to a city hall news conference, the second annual observance of Get Ready Day was a popular event last month.

Sponsored by APHA, Get Ready Day encourages all Americans to prepare themselves, their families and their communities for all public health threats, including disasters and pandemic flu. This year's Get Ready Day fell on Sept. 16, and health departments nationwide took advantage of the opportunity to promote preparedness to their residents.

Among the highlights, APHA organized a "fun fest" at a Washington, D.C., school, with preparedness games for kids and health information for parents. While the carnival offered fun activities such as bingo, bowling and face painting, it also provided a central message: Everyone needs to be prepared for a public health disaster, no matter what their age.

In eastern Kansas, health workers at the Johnson County Health Department used Get Ready Day to promote preparedness to residents by hosting displays and information tables at two of its county administrative buildings. In Burlington, Vt., health officials held a news conference at City Hall on Get Ready Day to call on residents to take the lead in preparing for emergencies such as pandemic flu. Burlington is one of nine municipalities serving as a pandemic influenza preparedness community as part of the national Take the Lead: Working Together to Prepare Now campaign.

Get Ready Day participants were encouraged to use free materials from APHA's Get Ready campaign as part of their events. Get Ready Day is observed each year on the third Tuesday of September, which is also National Preparedness Month.

How did you celebrate Get Ready Day? Let us know in our blog's comments section. And make sure and mark your calendar for next year's observance on Sept. 15, 2009.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Get smart before using antibiotics

True or false? Taking antibiotics can help cure the common cold, flu or bronchitis.

False. All of the above are caused by viruses, and antibiotics do not help fight viruses. In fact, taking antibiotics when you have a virus may do more harm than good.

How? Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses. Taking antibiotics when you don't need them or not as prescribed (which means taking all of your medicine even if you feel better) increases your risk of getting an infection later that resists antibiotic treatment. Yet, each year, health care providers in the United States prescribe tens of millions of antibiotics for viral infections.

To bring attention to this growing problem, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and partners like the American Public Health Association will be observing Get Smart About Antibiotics Week Oct. 6-10. The campaign will help educate the public about antibiotic resistance and the importance of appropriate antibiotic use.

As we enter cold and flu season, it's important to remember not to insist on antibiotics for treatment when seeing your doctor. If you have a cold or the flu, antibiotics won’t work. Rest and drink plenty of fluids.

And also remember the adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Try to avoid getting sick in the first place by washing your hands regularly, avoiding people who are sick and getting your flu shot.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Smoking and flu: Altogether worse for you

Hack, hack, wheeze...achoo? If you or someone you care about is a smoker, you may have noticed that flu season can be particularly trying on your health. But ever wonder why?

Researchers have long observed that smokers suffer much more from the flu and colds than nonsmokers. Symptoms that are mild in nonsmokers can make smokers very sick and even kill them. As if that wasn't scary enough, kids who breathe secondhand smoke also can become sicker when they have viral infections.

But until recently scientists didn't know why smokers have more exaggerated responses to viral infections. The most common idea was that smoking decreases a body’s ability to fight off the virus. However, it turns out the opposite might be true.

A recent study found that smokers don't get in trouble because they can't fight off the virus; they get in trouble because they overreact to it. Researchers from Yale University found that the immune systems of mice exposed to cigarette smoke (as little as two cigarettes a day for two weeks) overreacted when they were also exposed to a mimic of the flu virus. The immune systems of Mickey and his friends cleared the virus normally, but the overblown inflammation caused tissue damage, accelerated emphysema and airway scarring.

More research needs to be done to see if the same reaction is at work in humans. But until then, it's important to remember that we do know that smoking makes the symptoms of colds and flu worse. Along with all the other ways that smoking makes us sick, this is one more reason to squash that cigarette.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

Friday, September 19, 2008

Let history be our guide: Get ready

History reminds us that there are plenty of good reasons to prepare: smallpox, plague, yellow fever to name a few. The list is long and with new threats emerging, it continues to grow. But the past also reveals how people have identified those harmful things and prepared for and protected themselves against health threats.

Consider the ancient Greeks and Romans who recognized the need for improved sanitation and developed elaborate waterways and drains to safeguard their water supplies. Or the Council of Lyons that in 583 A.D. isolated disease-carrying lepers to keep the rest of the community healthy. Or, more recently, vaccine pioneers like Jonas Salk whose discovery protected generations from polio. All of these illustrate achievements we've made in identifying and getting ready for health threats.

And what about those "old" diseases like smallpox, leprosy, the plague and yellow fever? Well, the last natural case of someone getting smallpox was in Somalia in 1977. And as for the others, while not entirely gone from the planet, they no longer pose a threat like in the old days thanks to advances in vaccines and other disease control steps. Yellow fever can still rear its head in certain tropical regions of Africa and South America, but the last yellow fever epidemic in the United States took place in New Orleans in 1905. The last U.S. plague epidemic occurred in Los Angeles in 1924-25. Since then, only about 10 to 15 people get the plague each year in the United States. Leprosy may conjure up images from the movie Ben-Hur, but the disease is on its way out. In Angola, Brazil, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal and Tanzania, where epidemics can still happen, the governments are committed to eliminating the disease .

As you can see, we've made lots of progress through the ages, but there's still a long way to go. New threats pop into the picture such as bioterrorism, bird flu, SARS and others. So let's let history be our guide: It’s a good idea to be prepared.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thoughts on personal preparedness: Getting ready for the worst

Today is Get Ready Day, APHA's observance aimed at helping Americans prepare themselves, their families and their communities for all hazards or disasters. Get Ready Day is held in conjunction with National Preparedness Month. Today's guest blog entry is by William F. Raub, PhD, science advisor to the U.S. secretary of health and human services.

No person is an island, as a modern-day John Donne might put it. Our everyday routines find us dependent to varying degrees not only upon family, neighbors and friends but also upon a complex web of services and supply chains that provide the electric power, water, food stuffs and other things that we have come to regard as necessities. These services and supplies are ubiquitous and so generally reliable that we regularly take them for granted. They enable lifestyles that Donne and his contemporaries scarcely could have imagined.

But in the aftermath of a disaster, we may become islands, for the web of services and supplies is far from immutable. A disaster can rend the web quickly and severely and leave it functionally compromised for hours, days and even weeks at a time. This, in turn, can leave us isolated from the supporting infrastructure to which we are accustomed. And, when this happens, how well we fare depends in large measure upon how well we have prepared to fend for ourselves.

Excellent guidance for personal preparedness is readily available. The Department of Homeland Security, through its Web site, provides a wealth of suggestions that are applicable to many types of disasters. The Department of Health and Human Services, through its Web site, complements this with detailed advice as to what individuals and families can do to maintain some semblance of normality during a four-, six-week or longer period when a severe influenza is ravaging their community. In particular, a severe influenza outbreak is likely to result in significant absenteeism in all walks of life — which for any given community could translate to about 25 percent of the work force on any given day for the duration of the local epidemic. Thus, services and supply chains, although not completely disabled, probably will be functioning well below their normal levels. Those who do not prepare for this will feel the consequences the most.

Personal preparedness benefits not only the individuals and families who do it but also their community. Every person who is self-reliant during an emergency means one fewer person seeking help from community agencies. This secondary benefit is noteworthy in that few, if any, communities are equipped to provide emergency services to more than a small fraction of their population at any one time.

As individuals, we cannot avoid a significant dependency upon governments, utilities and private-sector suppliers of goods and services, and we would be foolish to try. But we can avoid being dependent upon public agencies for every need that a disaster might create. And those who prepare themselves to the extent that their resources allow will help bring about a level of community resiliency that we are not likely to achieve any other way.

For more tips on how you can be better prepared, visit APHA's Get Ready campaign Web site.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Celebrate Get Ready Day on Sept. 16!

How prepared are you and your community for an emergency or disaster? Sponsored by APHA, Get Ready Day, on Tuesday, Sept. 16, is raising awareness about community preparedness. No matter where you live, there is always a possibility of a public health emergency, from earthquakes and hurricanes to infectious disease or terrorism.

Bring the Get Ready message to your community during Get Ready Day by holding an event. You'll find plenty of helpful free preparedness planning materials on the Get Ready fact sheet page or via the Red Cross. September is also National Preparedness Month, so check out this great information from Uncle Sam as well. If you hold a Get Ready event, drop us a line and let us know. We'd love to hear what you did.

Thanks to your help and Get Ready events held around the country, we'll all be a bit more prepared for the worst!

States using tax breaks to convince residents to prepare for hurricanes

So what exactly would it take for you to be prepared for a disaster? How about a big fat tax break?

Two U.S. states are hoping that giving residents a pass on taxes for emergency supplies will convince residents to get ready for hurricanes. This May, Virginia and Louisiana — both states that have recently been in the paths of storms — each held sales tax holidays in anticipation of hurricane seasons.

Virginia's Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday, held from May 25-May 31, took place for the first time, but organizers are planning to hold it annually through 2012. As long as each hurricane preparedness article cost $60 or less, residents could fill their shopping carts with emergency supplies — such as batteries, flashlights, smoke detectors, bottled water, can openers and first aid kits — and not have to pay taxes on them. Portable generators and other power supplies were also tax-free if the sales price was $1,000 or less. Such supplies came in handy in September, as tropical storm Hanna drenched the state with rain and knocked out power in some regions.

Louisiana, still recovering from the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, also held its first Hurricane Preparedness Tax Holiday from May 24-25. Louisiana residents were allowed to purchase a long list of items tax-free as long as the total was less than $1,500. Supplies that qualified for the tax break were many of the same items on the shopping list in Virginia, but also included storm shutter devices, carbon monoxide detectors and more. With Gustav hitting the state this August, the state's tax-free holiday came none too soon.

Virginia’s and Louisiana's tax-free holidays were both held for the first time this year, but they weren't the first states to cut residents such a break: In the aftermath of the 2004 hurricane season, Florida paved the way by creating a hurricane preparedness sales tax holiday. Unfortunately, the state legislature did not renew the tax holiday for 2008.

Whether or not you live in a hurricane-prone region, it makes sense to be prepared and to have emergency supplies on hand. And if your state is giving you an incentive to do so, it's a great idea to take advantage of it.

Friday, September 05, 2008

September is National Preparedness Month

Mandatory evacuations. Flooding. Widespread power outages. If you're still hemming and hawing about creating an emergency kit or assembling a family emergency plan, the recent arrival of Hurricane Gustav should serve as a not-so-friendly reminder.

The good news is there's no time like the present to start planning. And what better time to begin than National Preparedness Month?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Ready Campaign is sponsoring the fifth annual National Preparedness Month to educate the public about the importance of preparing for a public health emergency.

National, regional, state and local organizations will organize activities throughout September to encourage all Americans to take steps to prepare for emergencies and ask themselves, "Am I ready?" Among those marking the month is APHA, which is holding its second annual Get Ready Day Sept. 16.

The Ready Campaign and Citizen Corps are suggesting everyone start by making an emergency kit and a family preparedness plan; learn more about possible emergency situations at home, at work, at school and in the community; and become more involved community preparedness activities.

For some ideas about how you can get started on your emergency kit and stockpile, visit APHA's Get Ready: Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks Web pages. For a complete list of events during National Preparedness Month, visit

Even though Gustav is on its way out, storms Hannah and Ike are on the horizon. Take the time now to prepare for all emergencies.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Celebrate Get Ready Day and spread the preparedness message

How prepared are you and your community for an emergency or disaster? Not very, if you are like most Americans.

That's why Tuesday, Sept. 16, is Get Ready Day. Sponsored by APHA, Get Ready Day is raising awareness about community preparedness.

No matter where you live, there is always a possibility of a public health emergency, from earthquakes and hurricanes to infectious disease or terrorism. Unfortunately, Americans just aren't prepared for a public health crisis, according to a 2007 poll from APHA.

A whopping 87 percent of Americans would not be prepared if a public health crisis such as an infectious disease outbreak or disaster struck their communities the next day, the poll found. While disasters such as Hurricane Katrina have made us all more aware of what could go wrong, only 14 percent of people said they had an adequate emergency supply of water, food and medication.

So what can you do? First, assess how prepared you and your family are (Do you have an emergency plan? A three-day supply of food and water? Where would your family meet during a disaster if they could not go home? How would you leave town if you had to evacuate?) Check out these planning tips and information on emergency stockpiling for help in getting yourself and your family prepared.

Once you are up to date, bring the Get Ready message to your community during Get Ready Day. Need ideas? Here's a few:

* Sponsor a preparedness talk at your local senior center or hold a community meeting. Invite someone from your local health department or American Red Cross to be a speaker.
* Insert preparedness planning materials into your church or religious organization’s bulletin, and post information at your library.
* Work with a local grocery store to promote preparedness and stockpiling to shoppers through displays or fliers. Pass out shopping lists of what people should have to be prepared.

You'll find plenty of helpful free preparedness planning materials on the Get Ready fact sheet page or via the Red Cross. September is also National Preparedness Month, so check out this great information from Uncle Sam as well.

Thanks to your help and Get Ready events held around the country, we'll all be a bit more prepared for the worst!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Get Ready Helping Handouts now available in Spanish

¿Hablas Español? If so, you may find a new set of materials from APHA's Get Ready campaign of interest.

In August, the Get Ready campaign debuted Spanish-language versions of its popular Helping Handouts series. The free handouts address preparedness issues such as handwashing, vaccinations, food safety, healthy travel and pandemic flu.

The colorful handouts -- which are also available in English -- are aimed at educating the public and are presented in a fun, easy-to-read style. They can be used at health fairs, passed out on campus, posted at work or handed out at health clinics -- it's up to you!

The new Spanish-language materials are just the latest offerings from APHA's Get Ready campaign, which works to help Americans prepare themselves, their families and their communities for all hazards, including pandemic flu, infectious diseases and other health emergencies.

Other free Get Ready materials include a stockpiling checklist, fact sheets on infectious disease, preparedness tips and games for kids. Many of the resources can be customized with your organization's logo, so be sure and check them out.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Web site encourages taking diversity into account when creating emergency plans

In an emergency, how ready are you to help the diverse groups that live in your community? To be in the know, check out the National Resource Center on Advancing Emergency Preparedness for Culturally Diverse Communities. It's the first Web site devoted to helping ensure that racially and ethnically diverse populations are prepared for a public health emergency.

The site is focused on collaboration and communication. It's full of great links to important policies, publications, training materials, translated documents and more - everything to help prepare diverse communities for emergencies.

"There's not a one-size-fits-all plan," says Jonathan Purtle, a health policy analyst with the Drexel University School of Public Health's Center for Health Equality, which developed the site with support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health. In an emergency, national organizations must rely on local expertise when planning a relief effort - which is where residents and community leaders come in.

Web visitors can access articles on emergency situations such as bioterrorism, natural disasters and disease outbreaks. Articles are posted in a range of languages - from Albanian to Laotian to Yupik.
To stay informed, sign up for the Diversity Preparedness E-Newsletter, which will be issued monthly.

The National Resource Center is a needed site and a great resource, Purtle told APHA's Get Ready campaign, but it's too early to know the benefits. The main goal is to ensure that everyone in our communities is accounted for in our emergency preparedness plans, including those created in our local communities and hometowns. So it's up to all of us to use these resources and work with leaders to make sure we're all prepared.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Get Ready Mailbag: Healthy commuting

Welcome to another installment of the Get Ready Mailbag, when we take time to answer questions from our readers. Have a question you want answered? Send us an e-mail!

Q. With gas prices at record highs, I'm thinking about taking public transportation to work. But I'm concerned about all the germs. What can I do to keep myself healthy?

A. First of all, good for you for considering public transportation. Not only will you save money and perhaps time on your commute, you'll also be getting some physical exercise while contributing to the fight against global warming. So don't let your fear of germs stop you. A few simple precautions will go a long way to help keep you healthy.

The most basic precaution is to do what you can to avoid coming into contact with germs. When possible (remember, your safety is most important!), avoid touching the handrails, poles, seats and other items that a lot of people touch on buses or trains. You can also choose to wear gloves. If you do touch something, don't put your hands in your pockets or touch your eyes, mouth or nose until they’ve been washed. You can also try to stagger your commute times so there are fewer people traveling at the same time. This might allow you to have enough room to stand out of range from someone coughing or sneezing on you.

However, since it's almost impossible not to come into contact with any germs, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water as soon as you arrive at your destination. You should also carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer to use when you can’t get to a restroom to wash up.

Follow these simple suggestions and you should be able to enjoy the benefits of public transportation without worrying about getting sick!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Vaccinations: They're not just for kids

Now that you are a grown up, you may think that tiny tots are the only ones that have to go to the doctor’s office and get regular vaccinations. Think again. Although kids need to get quite a few shots, people of all ages need to keep up on immunizations to protect themselves from threats to their health.

Today, Aug. 1, marks the beginning of National Immunization Awareness Month, during which health clinics and public health workers will be urging everyone in the nation to make sure their shots are up to date.

With students heading back to school soon, now is the perfect time to be thinking about vaccinations. While most parents are aware that infants and children need immunizations, don’t forget that college students need them as well, and some schools may prevent them from heading to class unless they are up to date.

Flu season is just around the corner, and pneumonia is a threat as well, so make sure you and your older family members are vaccinated. While you are meeting with your doctor, ask about other shots you may need, such as shingles vaccine for older adults. Gardeners may also want to make sure their tetanus shots are up to date, as it naturally occurs in soil, and is not just on rusty nails.

Not sure which vaccines you and your family need? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a great schedule that will tell you exactly what to get when, no matter what stage of life you are in.

Remember: By not getting vaccinated, you not only risk making yourself sick, but also your colleagues, friends and family. So plan on taking some time to update your vaccinations soon.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hurricane season is here: Do you have a plan?

Hello, Dolly! Hurricane season is here.

It's a long way from Broadway to the Gulf Coast, but Dolly knows how to perform for a crowd, no matter the location. Taking honors as the fourth named Atlantic storm of the 2008 season, Hurricane Dolly -- recently downgraded to a tropical depression -- made landfall this week in south Texas. Despite fame as a musical delight, Dolly reminded people this week that hurricanes are no laughing matter.

The U.S. hurricane season lasts from June 1 to Nov. 30, a full six months of havoc-wreaking potential. Most tropical storms develop during the peak of the season, August through October. In 2008, experts predict that there will be about 15 named storms and eight hurricanes, four of which have the potential of being major hurricanes — category 3 or greater.

With so many potential storms brewing, it's up to each of us to be ready and to protect ourselves, our families and friends. The top tip? Make a family disaster plan. As anyone who lives in a hurricane-prone area knows, residents are often required to evacuate on short notice. Know the local evacuation routes as well as area shelters and carry a list of emergency phone contacts. If you have seniors living near by, check on them and make sure they have a way to leave town, if necessary.

It's also key to create a disaster supply kit. You'll need a radio, first-aid kit, non-perishable food items, water, flashlights, batteries, clothing and a waterproof container with important documents. Put the kit in an easy-to-access area where you can grab it and go during an evacuation.

Hurricanes can be scary for kids, so help them get informed and prepared with these games. It's also a good idea to toss some toys or books for the kids in your disaster kit to help while the time away in a shelter or during a power outage.

More tips, including preparedness for pets and securing your home, are just a mouse click away.

Remember: While the curtain has closed on Dolly, the peak of the season is just around the corner- an ominous reminder to get ready and be prepared.

Photo courtesy Federal Emergency Management Agency. A Brownsville, Texas, resident pushes his stalled car through floodwaters on July 24 following Hurricane Dolly's landfall.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Clean your home, protect your health

Ever heard the old saying "cleanliness is next to saintliness?" As it turns out, cleanliness is also key to healthiness, especially when it comes to infectious diseases.

By following good hygiene practices, disinfecting our homes and safely disposing of waste, we can all help fight the spread of infectious disease, according to a new fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The fact sheet, "Control of Pandemic Flu Virus on Environmental Surfaces in Homes and Public Places," highlights everyday things you can do to prevent the spread of disease, such as using your sleeve to cover your sneeze instead of your hands. The suggestions focus on stopping the spread of germs early, which is when it counts the most. Some of the tips are obvious -- such as washing your hands before eating or disinfecting kitchen counters -- while others are less well-known.

Among the tips:
• Wash your hands before removing clothes from the washer or dryer, especially if you've sneezed or coughed.
• Take care not to fluff or shake sheets or linens when removing them from beds for cleaning.
• Wash common surfaces, such as doorknobs, door handles, remote controls, phones and microwave buttons.
• Don’t forget to sanitize surfaces in your car, such as the steering wheel, stick shift, radio or window controls.
• Carry alcohol-based hand wipes or sanitizing gels when you’re away from home in case you can’t find a place to wash your hands.
• Teach your kids to follow good hygiene while away from home, especially at school -- where diseases often spread.
• Wash your hands after emptying waste baskets.

Remember: Even though these tips are aimed at pandemic flu, many of them can also work against other infectious diseases. Our recommendation? Take a look at the fact sheet and find ways to build these practices into your everyday life now, as they are bound to pay off sooner rather than later.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Preparing for college means more than studying for the SATs

Congratulations, high school graduates! Your tassels have been turned and caps thrown in the air. For those going on to college, a new journey awaits. But before heading to campus with your laptop and books, consider packing a few more things in your bag.

University life can present many challenges, not the least of which are final exams. Outbreaks of infectious disease, natural disasters and other emergencies can force schools, including the dining hall, to shut down for a period of time. Surveys have indicated that most people have not created emergency preparedness plans and are unprepared for an emergency. Being at school and away from home and family presents additional challenges. Knowing what to do and having a plan can make all the difference in the time of an emergency.

To help plan ahead, talk with your resident advisor or student life office about your school's emergency preparedness plan. Check out your school's Web site for information concerning evacuation plans and drills. Familiarize yourself with the plans and keep important phone numbers in a safe place such as your emergency preparedness kit.

If you don't have a kit, make one. As you buy your twin sheet sets and shower shoes, pick up items for an emergency preparedness kit too. You'll need things like a flashlight, bottled water, batteries and canned food.

Supplies for the kit should last about three days, but if you're able and have room, pack in a little more in case of an extended emergency. If your dorm room is small and storage space is limited, check to see if your dorm has a central storage area.

You've worked hard to get here. A little more preparing can help keep you safe and healthy on "College Hill" no matter what threats you face.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Zoonotic diseases: Or why it’s best that your dog doesn’t lick your face

Ever wonder if it’s okay to let your best friend — the furry one who pads around your house on four legs — lick your face or share your spoon?

Probably not, says Lonnie King, DVM, senior veterinarian at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who spoke with APHA’s Get Ready campaign about zoonotic diseases recently. Which brings up another question: What in the world is a zoonotic disease? The word “zoo” sort of makes you think of the zoo — the place you go to see elephants and giraffes without having to go on a safari in South Africa. The word “zoonotic” has its roots in Greek and means animal diseases. Zoonotic diseases are naturally occurring diseases that can be transmitted from or through animals to people.

About 75 percent of recent emerging infectious diseases affecting humans are diseases of animal origin, says King, who is director of CDC’s director of CDC’s National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne and Enteric Diseases.

So when it comes to deciding whether or not it’s okay to let Fluffy or Fido get close, it’s best to use common sense, King says.

“We love our pets, and the benefits that we get from the human-animal bond…helps our psychological well being,” King says in an exclusive online Q&A with the Get Ready campaign.

But dogs, cats, birds and turtles, among other cute critters, can transmit diseases like toxoplasmosis, salmonella, roundworms and hookworms, to name a few.

“Don’t be so overly concerned that you miss out on the wonderful benefits of your pets as companions and the richness they add to your life,” King advises. “Just understand that they are a potential source of threats — not a high risk — but you need to use precautions.”

By the way, there are also some diseases that Fluffy and Fido can catch from you.

The full Q&A with King on zoonotic diseases is online now on the Get Ready Web site.

Friday, June 27, 2008

‘Pre-pandemic' H5N1 vaccine may help ward off disease

Officials in Europe approved a new vaccine recently that may offer some hope for preventing an influenza pandemic.

In May, the European Commission approved Prepandrix, a "pre-pandemic" vaccine, for marketing in the European Union. The GlaxoSmithKline vaccine is designed to be used in advance of a pandemic or just as it begins to prevent spread of the disease. Both Switzerland and the United States have ordered supplies of the vaccine, according to news reports.

"Pre-pandemic vaccination is an important strategy for addressing the current threat of a pandemic posed by H5N1," said Jean Stéphenne, president and general manager of GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals in a May news release.

The vaccine is based on the Vietnam flu strain, but reportedly produces an immune response against the H5N1 flu strain, which is of current global concern. If the H5N1 strain mutates or another strain becomes a pandemic, the vaccine may not be as protective, however.

As of June 18, the World Health Organization had reported 385 human cases of H5N1 infection from 15 countries, resulting in 243 deaths.

Get Ready Mailbag

Welcome to another installment of the Get Ready Mailbag, where we take time to answer questions sent our way by readers like you. Have a question you want answered? Send an e-mail to today!

Q. Can I get bird flu from eating chicken or eggs?

A. No, not as long as they are handled correctly.

Bird flu -- also referred to as avian flu or H5N1 -- is an important health issue. Although no immediate threat of a bird flu pandemic exists in the United States, it is definitely important to plan ahead so you and your family are prepared. However, eating chicken and eggs aren’t something to worry about.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that as long as poultry and eggs are properly handled and cooked, they're still safe to eat. You can't catch bird flu if your food is cooked at a high enough temperature. To make sure your chicken is cooked all the way through, use a meat thermometer and ensure that the inside of your chicken is at least 165° F throughout.

And although it may be tempting to lick the bowl while baking, never eat raw eggs or food with raw egg ingredients like cookie dough or cake batter. Instead, be sure to thoroughly cook all dishes with raw eggs in them before eating them.

If you follow these simple precautions, you can have your poultry and eggs and eat them too!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Preparing at home for pandemic flu: New guide shows the way

Today's guest blog entry is by Marty Fenstersheib, MD, MPH, health officer for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, in San Jose, Calif.

As a public health leader, a good part of my job involves planning and preparing for public health emergencies. I find myself asking hypothetical questions like the proverbial "what if?"

What if pandemic influenza comes to our community? What if health care and other essential workers can't come to work? What if we gave them information to be better prepared at home? Would that help?

While pandemic flu made the headlines a few years back, news coverage and a sense of the threat has fizzled. That's a problem because I believe the threat is just as real today. So what if pandemic flu started causing illness in people?

Public health officials worry about having enough healthy workers –- doctors, nurses, police and fire personnel and many others -- required to take care of our basic medical and societal needs. We know a shortage of these workers is likely in any large-scale emergency.

Did you know that in California all public employees can be called to serve as disaster service workers? It's true. But even with this state law behind us, I don’t think everyone will report for duty right away. Some will be sick –- doctors and nurses don't have any special immunity. Others will be taking care of sick family members, which is a natural, reasonable and caring response.

In an effort to increase the number of public employees who will be ready to serve, we undertook an innovative project: the Home Care Guide: Providing Care at Home During Pandemic Flu.* The guide has easy-to-follow sections such as preparing your home and providing good care at home. This hands-on tool is helping our public employees get their own homes ready and their families taken care of so that they are better able to fulfill their responsibility as disaster service workers.

While we are working to make sure our local community is better prepared, we also hope the guide will be helpful to health care professionals, emergency workers and necessary service workers in communities throughout the United States.

The information in the guide can help you prepare as well. Download a copy or link to our full version by visiting our Web site. Spanish and Vietnamese translated versions of the guide will also be available in August. Use the information in the guide to protect your health, and the health of people you love.

*The Home Care Guide: Providing Care at Home During Pandemic Flu was developed as part of Santa Clara County’s Advanced Practice Center Program. Designated as an Advanced Practice Center by the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department works to advance public health preparedness and develop “best practice” tools and resources to address preparedness challenges.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The perfect gift for Dad: An emergency preparedness kit

Father’s Day is just around the corner on Sunday, June 15. So what are you going to give dear old dad this year? Not a boring tie, surely. How about showing your thanks by giving him a personalized emergency preparedness kit? We all know dads love gadgets and duct tape, so this gift is perfect.

Disasters can strike at any time. Pandemic flu, infectious diseases or natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes can have devastating effects on both communities and families. However, the effects of disasters can be lessened if preparations are made ahead of time. That’s where an emergency kit comes in.

You may be asking yourself, “what do I include in this emergency kit for dad?” Luckily, emergency kits are full of things dads appreciate, such as flashlights and batteries, duct tape, scissors, whistle, battery-operated radio and a battery-operated or hand-cranked radio. Other key items include local maps, extra set of keys, medicine, fire extinguisher, paper and pencil, matches, medical kit, garbage bags, latex gloves, hand sanitizer and face masks. For more ideas of what to put in your kit, download a PDF of our emergency stockpile checklist.

Tell dad to put his kit in an easy-to-find place around the house so that it’s handy when the time comes that he needs it. While a hand-assembled kit created by you is extra special, you can also buy preassembled preparedness kits online or in local stores. Make this Father’s Day one he will remember: Say thanks for all those years Dad spent taking care of you by showing how prepared you’ve become.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Get Ready Mailbag

Welcome to another installment of the Get Ready Mailbag, when we take time to answer questions sent our way by readers like you. Got a question you want answered? Send an e-mail to today!

Q. I keep hearing about dengue fever and West Nile in the news. Since I live in an area with lots of mosquitoes, are these diseases that I need to be worried about?

A. When you live in an area with mosquitoes, you should always take precautions to keep yourself safe.

Right now, dengue fever is still found mostly in the tropics and subtropics. It isn't a major threat to the United States, although it has already become more common in areas along the U.S. – Mexico border. And there is concern that with our warming climate dengue will spread as mosquito populations grow and their range expands.

West Nile virus is an issue that we're already facing in the United States. Since the virus was first recognized in New York City in 1999, it has spread rapidly across the United States. Last year, human cases were reported in 43 states.

However, there are several things you can do to protect yourself from any mosquito-borne disease. Try to avoid being outdoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Wear long sleeves and pants whenever possible, and use insect repellent. You can also try to limit the number of mosquitoes around your home by making sure you don't have any standing water in which they can lay eggs and breed.

Check out our recent post to learn more about West Nile virus and preventing mosquito bites.

Taking these steps will go a long away to keeping you safe!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Don’t let a tick make you sick

Hiking. Gardening. Exploring nature. While enjoying the great outdoors this summer, savor the sunshine and s'mores, but be sure to guard against a little traveler looking for a free ride and a cheap meal: the tick.

May, June and July are prime months for tick bites. This eight-legged arachnid — not an insect, but a member of the scorpion, spider and mite family — is often found in or near wooded areas. It attaches itself to another animal or human by dropping from its perch or grabbing on when brushed up against in tall grass or shrubs and sucks the blood of its host. A tick bite may transmit one of a number of common diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. That’s why it’s important to be extra careful.

The best way to protect yourself from tick-related illness is to avoid tick bites, so here are a few tips when you suspect ticks are in the area:

*Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants.
*Pull your socks over your pant legs — apologies to the fashion conscious among you — to prevent them from climbing up your legs.
*Tuck your shirt into your pants.
*Apply bug spray with 20 percent DEET to your clothes and to any skin not protected by clothing, but do not spray skin underneath clothes.
*Wear light colors. It’s much easier to spot a tick that way.
*Walk in the middle of the trail to avoid woods, tall grass, bushes and piles of leaves.
*Check your clothes for ticks before going indoors. Wash clothes with hot water and dry them on high for one hour or more if you find a tick on you.
*Check your skin for ticks after being outside.

And what if you find a tick? Don’t panic. Here are some steps to follow:

*Remove the tick with very fine tweezers, grabbing the tick close to the skin.
*Wear gloves or use a tissue to protect yourself from tick juices.
*Slowly pull the tick straight up, checking to see that there's nothing left of the tick in the skin.
*Wash your hands thoroughly or use a hand sanitizer.
*Disinfect the tick bite area with an antiseptic.
*In the next few weeks, watch for fever, headache, fatigue or rash.
*If one of the above symptoms appears, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Last but not least, don't forget to check pets for ticks. Not only can ticks pose harm to your pets, but your pets can also carry ticks into your home. Learn more about ticks and how to prevent diseases spread by ticks on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site.

Enjoy your walk in the woods, but don't let a tick make you sick.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Summertime means West Nile virus prevention

Bzzzz…smack! Get the mosquito repellent! Yes, it's that time of year again, when mosquitoes make their annual pesky comeback.

Unfortunately, mosquito bites are not the only things making a return. Those skeeters may also be bringing West Nile virus along for the ride. The disease most often causes just a mild illness, but can sometimes cause fevers, encephalitis, meningitis or death.

West Nile virus was originally isolated in a woman in the West Nile district of Uganda in 1937, hence the name. Since that time, the disease has spread. The first U.S. cases were reported in 1999 in New York City. West Nile virus cases have been on the rise in the United States for the past eight years, increasing from an initial 62 cases to more than 3,500 in 2007. Last year, 121 people died from the disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of this week, CDC reports four human cases in 2008-- and summer is officially still a month away.

With global temperatures rising, the disease seems poised to stay, due to longer periods of favorable growth conditions for mosquitoes and the expansion of warmer climate areas. In the United States, the disease has had the greatest impact in Western states in recent years. Just this month, 13 birds were been found with the disease in Orange County, Calif., according to news reports.

The best offense against West Nile virus is a great defense, which means prevention is the best strategy. Health officials recommend using insect repellents, wearing long sleeves and pants or staying inside at dusk and dawn, when skeeters are most active. Keep your doors shut and have good window screens to keep mosquitoes from coming inside. Last but not least, be sure to remove puddles of water from around your home such as water collected in buckets, flower pots and water drains, as they can be breeding sites.

By taking these precautions, you can enjoy the great weather instead of worrying about the annoying, itchy and occasionally severe health effects that can come with mosquito bites.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Get Ready Mailbag

Welcome to the Get Ready Mailbag, a new feature on this blog. As we receive questions from our readers by e-mail and letters, we'll occasionally post our answers here. Got a question you want answered? Send an e-mail to today!

Q. I know that flu season is usually in the winter, but I'm feeling sick and think it might be the flu. Is it possible to get the flu in the summer?

A. That's a great question. The simple answer is that yes, it's possible to get the flu in the summer — but it isn't common. Explaining why is a little more complicated.

In the Northern Hemisphere, winter is the time for flu. In the United States, flu season can range from November to as late as May, encompassing parts of fall, winter and spring. But during summer, if you think you have the flu it is most likely another type of respiratory illness.

It's not impossible to catch flu in the summer, though, and travel is often the culprit. While the flu season is associated with the winter months, remember that in the Southern Hemisphere, winter is from April through September — and so is flu season! And in the tropics, you could be at risk of flu year round because there is no defined flu season. Travelers can also catch the flu in the summer if they are involved in group travel, like a cruise or a long flight, and someone brings on board the flu virus that they caught during a winter outbreak at home.
So if you plan to head south this summer, have a vacation planned in the tropics or will be taking a cruise — take precautions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting a flu shot if you didn't already this flu season. And don't forget to take simple steps to stay healthy: Wash your hands with soap often, cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and cough and avoid close contact with people who are sick from a respiratory illness. If you have a respiratory illness, keep this in mind to protect the people you live and work with from getting sick.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Getting ready for mom and baby means planning for pandemic

Today's guest blog entry is written by the Florida Maternal and Child Health Preparedness Team, a group of health professionals working to create an emergency preparedness toolkit for pregnant women and children. The team is part of APHA's Maternal and Child Health Community Leadership Institute, a program that helps public health professionals develop leadership approaches to address the health needs of women and children.

Caring for pregnant women and infants during a health threat has become a vital concern. During a pandemic flu outbreak, the number of mothers and babies going to hospitals may make it difficult to manage their needs. Some women and infants will not need urgent care, yet once they are sent out into the community their health status could change. Every hospital and its community should work with local maternal and child health groups to address childbirth and care of women and infants after delivery and create plans in case of an emergency.

The leaders of the American College of Nurse Midwives, Association of Maternal Child Health Programs, White Ribbon Alliance and the Florida Maternal and Child Health Preparedness Team are leading the way by creating guidelines. Guidelines reflect the need for prenatal care to continue and provision of skilled care during birth, as services may become hard to find or out of reach. They must address the care and feeding of newborns and children with special needs.

The need for clear instructions for women who must give birth during any type of crisis with little or no help can be introduced during prenatal visits and childbirth classes. Information should include how to stay healthy, how to gather supplies for a basic birth kit as well as basic birth instructions.

The main concern should also include preventing poor outcomes in both mother and baby. All health workers must be trained in how to protect the health of infants by helping promote breastfeeding. The basic message in infant care and feeding needs is that breastfeeding is the normal method of infant feeding. This will provide a protective effect when supplies are short and waves of flu are long.

Friday, May 02, 2008

National food drive is May 10: Help your community prepare

When you head to the store for your groceries this weekend, be sure and pick up some extra cereal, pasta and peanut butter to donate to those in need. You'll help improve preparedness in your community, and thanks to an upcoming national food drive, you only have to leave your contributions as far as your front door.

Next Saturday, May 10, is the annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, the nation's largest single-day food collection event. To participate, leave bags of nonperishable, nonexpired foods next to your mailbox and your letter carrier will pick them up and deliver them to local food banks. Making a difference doesn't get any easier than that!

This year's Stamp Out Hunger campaign, organized by the U.S. Postal Service, the National Association of Letter Carriers and the Campbell Soup Company, is particularly important as rising food prices increase the number of U.S. families who are facing food insecurity and hunger. There are 35 million Americans who are hungry or living on the brink of hunger. Many of these people depend on food banks to ensure that they have enough to eat.

Along with helping provide for those in need, food banks play an important part in community preparedness. If there are 35 million people who already don't have enough to eat, what will happen when a disaster such as a hurricane, tornado or pandemic flu strikes? Demand on food banks will increase. That's why it is important to support our community food banks year-round.

Join Americans all around the country by contributing whatever you can on May 10. Whether you buy extra groceries the next time you shop or donate extra nonexpired canned goods you have in your pantry, every little bit helps and moves your local food banks one step closer to being prepared. Just leave them by your mailbox. No stamp required.

If you are not sure whether your letter carrier is participating in Stamp Out Hunger or if live in an urban area, contact your local post office. Interested in other ways to help food banks? Read our tips and help your community prepare.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Influenza's 'round-the-world trip begins in Asia, study finds

For scientists, finding the birthplace of influenza has been like playing a long game of hide-and-go-seek. But the search seems to now be over, as a team of international researchers has shed new light on where flu originates.

A study in Science Magazine looked at influenza A H3N2 viruses, finding that since 2002, the viruses have migrated out of what the authors call the "east and southeast Asian circulation network" before making a one-way trip around the world and eventually dying off in South America. The study shows that the strains come from Asia and then arrive in Europe and North America six to nine months later. Researchers collected 13,000 samples of influenza A H3N2 virus across six continents.

So why Asia? The researchers concluded that different regions in eastern and southeastern Asia experience different rainy seasons throughout the year, which is when flu outbreaks crop up.

"There can be cities that are only 700 miles away from each other, such as Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, which have epidemics six months apart," said Derek Smith of the University of Cambridge, the corresponding author of the study. "There is a lot of variability like this in East and Southeast Asia, so lots of opportunity for an epidemic in one country to seed an epidemic to another nearby country, like a baton passed by runners in a relay race."

Tourists and trade visitors to Asia help spread the flu throughout the world. If the trend continues, eastern and southeastern Asia may become the new focus of surveillance — which could provide improvements to future vaccines and potentially help predict changes in flu viruses.

With hide-and-go-seek now over, what we've learned can help prevent the flu's spread. Anyone for a game of tag, you're it?