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!