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.