Friday, May 29, 2009

Get Ready Mailbag: Being prepared while on summer vacation

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. This summer, my family and I will be going on vacation. Are there any steps I can take to make sure we're prepared while away from home?

Being prepared means making sure you are ready for potential health hazards — no matter where you are. And this includes while on vacation!

There are basic steps we can all take while on vacation to stay safe. These include packing a portable emergency preparedness kit and making sure everyone knows your family's emergency contact phone number.

However, it's also important to think about where you'll be vacationing to figure out how to get ready. For instance, the beach is a popular vacation destination for families during the summer months. If you're vacationing along the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean between June and November, make sure you're prepared for hurricanes. Along with having a portable emergency kit ready to go, this includes mapping out an evacuation route and staying alert for warnings.

If you are traveling overseas, you should find out what sorts of natural disasters occur in your destination and prepare accordingly. Also, for many locations outside of North America, you should take steps to protect yourself from infectious diseases that might not ordinarily be a concern.

Furthermore, along with the location of your destination, it's a good idea to think about where you'll be staying and factor that into your preparedness. For instance, if you're renting a vacation home, you'll want to make sure the smoke detectors work, locate a first aid kit and fire extinguisher, and make sure you are familiar with the layout of the house in case you have to evacuate quickly. If you're staying in a high-rise hotel, take note of the nearest exits and be sure your family knows not to take the elevator in an emergency.

So just as you pack sunblock to protect yourself against harmful rays, take a few extra steps to keep you and your family safe from other possible threats while on vacation.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Planning ahead is important for hurricane preparedness

If you could be any animal, wouldn't it be great to be a bird? You never have to wait in line for the restroom, you know the weather before it's on the news and if a storm approaches, it's pretty easy to evacuate. Unfortunately, as a human, preparing for a storm such as a hurricane requires more planning and information.

Hurricanes have the potential to cause flooding, destroy homes, spawn tornadoes, contaminate the water supply and cause other threats to health. During Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast in 2005, many people were left stranded without food and water and more than 1800 people died. So it is very important to stay abreast of information as a hurricane develops.

Before a hurricane hits, make sure you know where high-risk areas are in your community, where to evacuate to and what to do in the aftermath. The better you stay updated and informed during hurricane season — which is during the months of May to November — the better you will be able to prepare.

Have an out-of-town evacuation place predetermined, and make sure your gas tank is full. Develop a hurricane supply kit and "go-bag" for you and your family, including pets. Your supplies should include non-perishable food items, identification, important documents, money and necessary medications. Because of flooding, the water supply could be contaminated, so you should enough water stored to last for three to seven days — at least one gallon per person per day.

If the weather looks like it is turning bad or there is a hurricane warning in effect, keep the TV or radio on and stay up on what's happening so you'll be ready to make like a bird and leave quickly. Listen for warning sirens as well.

Hurricanes, like anything natural, can be unpredictable. But if you stay informed, you'll know what you need to do to prepare for any hurricane, despite its severity. And that's not birdbrained at all.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Play it safe outdoors this summer by being prepared

As the weather gets warmer and the days longer, we’re all drawn to the great outdoors. But exposure to the elements can lead to common injuries that may require first aid. Take some time this summer and get prepared so everyone stays happy and healthy in the warm weather.

If you are planning to be outside for a long time — whether it’s for a hike, fishing trip or family picnic — bring a first-aid kit stocked with gloves, bandages and other supplies. That way if something goes wrong, you’ll have the tools you need to provide basic medical attention, at least until the real experts arrive. You can assemble a kit yourself or purchase one at a store.

Greater time spent outside also increases the risk for exposure to threats such as poison ivy and insect bites. Learning to recognize dangerous plants (leaves of three, let it be!) can reduce the chance of skin contact and allergic reactions, but be prepared by sticking some calamine lotion in your kit. Bug repellant can prevent mosquito and tick bites. If you live in an area affected by Lyme disease, learn how to protect yourself and know the symptoms in case you get a tick bite. Most cases of Lyme disease can be cured, especially if detected and treated early.

Here are a few other tips:
* Brush up on first aid for common injuries
* Every so often, take a look at your first-aid kit to make sure you have everything you need, but remember that a well-stocked first-aid kit is no replacement for medical attention.
* Keep a list of emergency phone numbers with you at all times. Make sure to include a poison control center and the number of your family doctor. If the injury is severe, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Play it safe this summer by taking a few extra steps to prepare before setting foot outside.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Help the hungry, improve preparedness without leaving your doorstop on Stamp Out Hunger Day

On your way home from work today, take some time to stop at the grocery store and pick up a few extra items for 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.

Tomorrow — Saturday, May 9 — 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. How easy is that?

For the 15th year, the Stamp Out Hunger campaign, organized by the U.S. Postal Service, the National Association of Letter Carriers and the Campbell Soup Company, will help feed the nearly 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. In 2008, the event delivered over 73 million pounds of food.

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, a 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 9. 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're not sure whether your letter carrier is participating in Stamp Out Hunger or if you 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.

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Get Ready Mailbag: Swine flu

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. I read that CDC has decided that schools don't have to close anymore for swine flu. Why? And does that mean swine flu is over?

A. The recent change in guidance for schools from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a result of the latest information on the H1N1 flu outbreak, which has also been called "swine flu." When the virus first appeared in the United States, outbreaks were frequently starting in schools. Also, early information from Mexico was that the virus was affecting previously healthy young adults and often resulting in respiratory failure and death.

Based on this initial information, CDC recommended that schools close when a student was infected as a way to reduce spread of a potentially severe disease. However, there are now more than 1,000 cases in 44 states, making school closure less effective. Additionally, most U.S. cases have not been any more severe than seasonal influenza. As a result, CDC has stopped recommending school closure and instead focuses on early identification of ill students and staff, staying home when sick, and good cough and hand hygiene.

Although this is good news, it's too early to say with certainty that the worst is over. Flu viruses are notoriously unstable and can change at any time to become either more harmless or more lethal. There is also a concern that this current outbreak will subside with warmer weather, only to come back in the fall and winter. Health officials are taking precautions to keep people safe while they continue to learn more.

If you have more questions about H1N1 flu, check out these FAQs from APHA.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Don’t let your tots miss their shots: Online tracker a handy helper

If you're a parent, you're no doubt familiar with the seemingly endless trips to the doctor to have your child vaccinated. Even if you can rattle off the alphabet soup of names of the vaccines your child has received — MMR! DTaP! Hib! — there is a good chance you can't remember which one is next, and when.

While vaccines have been able to keep disease rates low in the United States, missing childhood vaccinations is a bad idea. According to info released as part of National Infant Immunization Week— held April 25-May 2 — more than 20 percent of the nation's 2-year-olds are not fully immunized against infectious diseases they are at risk for.

"The unnecessary death of even one child from a vaccine-preventable disease is tragic," according to Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

One of the most common reasons parents miss shots for their kids is the frequent schedule. By the age of 2, children receive as many as 26 shots guarding against 14 diseases, and keeping track of all these appointments on top of everything else going on in your life can be tricky.

So how to keep track of all those shots? Cue CDC's online vaccination tracker, a nifty tool that helps parents plan ahead. Just enter your child's birth date to see which vaccines your child should have already received, and which she or he should receive in the near future.

The CDC tracker will also tell you what all those shots are for. Print out the schedule and keep it handy so that you can look at it when you make appointments and bring it along to your doctor visits. If you use an online calendar such as Outlook or Google, transfer the dates and set your calendar reminders to pop up before the vaccination dates do.

Still need help on vaccines? Contact your local health provider or physician, or read this helpful parents' guide from CDC. Don't let your tots miss their shots!

Image courtesy of the CDC

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