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.