Friday, July 31, 2009

Are you fully vaccinated? Immunize now to protect yourself and those you care about

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

Nearly 60,000 Americans contracted paralytic polio in 1952. Today, polio has been eradicated in the United States, thanks to a vaccine. Preventing polio and other serious or life-threatening infections is one of the greatest public health achievements of all time. The persistent use of vaccines also led to the eradication of smallpox, and has significantly reduced the presence of other life-threatening diseases such as measles and German measles. But vaccinations only work when we get them, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named August National Immunization Awareness Month — to educate people about the seriousness of vaccine-preventable diseases and the importance of keeping up-to-date on recommended vaccinations throughout life.

Vaccine-preventable diseases claim the lives of approximately 50,000 Americans each year — more than HIV/AIDS, breast cancer or traffic accidents. Seasonal influenza is currently the leading cause of vaccine-preventable death in the United States, claiming the lives of about 36,000 people each year and putting around 200,000 people in the hospital. Most of these deaths are in the elderly, but the hospitalization rate in children age 2 years or younger is the same as in the elderly. Influenza also causes nearly 100 deaths each year in American children younger than 5 years of age. Most of these children were previously healthy. It is tragic when any child dies, especially when that death is preventable.

With influenza season approaching, now is the time to start planning to protect yourself and your family by getting everyone in your household immunized. A number of resources are available for information about influenza and other vaccine-preventable diseases. The Web site of the Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition offers a Flu Risk Calculator to help people of all ages determine whether or not they should be vaccinated against influenza. To learn more about other vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases, visit CDC’s vaccination page. For information on infectious diseases and prevention specific to adults, visit the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases’ Adult Vaccination Web site.

Decide today to protect yourself against infectious diseases — after all, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure, and even one life lost because prevention was ignored is a tragedy.

Bookmark and Share

Protecting against H1N1 flu: Who will get vaccinated first?

Think you’ll be first in line to get the vaccine for H1N1, formerly known as swine flu, when it becomes available? Not so fast. There may be others ahead of you who are more at risk.

The experts who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended this week who should be the first to receive the new H1N1 flu vaccine when it becomes available. At the top of the list are:
* pregnant women,
* people living with or caring for babies younger than 6 months old,
* health care and emergency services workers,
* children and young adults ages 6 months to 24 years, and
* 25- to 64-year-olds with serious health problems.

Those five groups were chosen because they have a higher risk of being infected by H1N1, developing complications from the virus and passing it onto others.

Although CDC does not expect to run out of the vaccine, the potential spread of the H1N1 virus is hard to predict and the demand may be more than the supply. If there’s a vaccine shortage, priority should be given to pregnant women, infants younger than 6 months, some health care workers, children 6 months to 4 years old and children ages 5 to 18 with certain medical conditions, the advisors recommended.

Studies show that seniors ages 65 and up are less likely than younger age groups to be infected by H1N1, but the CDC advisors recommended that this group receive the H1N1 vaccine once it’s given to the higher-risk groups.

So the H1N1 vaccine means no seasonal flu shot, right? Wrong! The H1N1 vaccine won’t replace the seasonal flu vaccine. It will still be important for you to get your yearly flu shot. But both vaccinations can be given on the same day, so once the H1N1 vaccine is ready and it’s your turn, you may not even have to make two trips.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The ultimate in preparedness: Creating an advance directive

Let’s say you and your family have fully prepared for all public health threats, be they disasters, pandemic flu or something yet to come. You’re up-to-speed on threats and have an emergency preparedness kit, communications plan and evacuation plan — you’ve even planned for protecting your pets. (You go, you preparedness superstar, you!) But wait: Are you and your family prepared for the ultimate worst-case scenario?

Even with the best of preparations, there’s a chance for life-threatening injuries, illness or even death during a public health threat. (Yikes.) Although it’s a scary subject that many of us avoid thinking about, it’s an important part of your emergency preparations.

Our advice? The best way to prepare for a life-threatening situation is to create what’s known as an “advance directive.” In case you’ve been bonked on the head or otherwise incapacitated and can’t speak up for yourself, an advance directive spells out the way your medical decisions should be handled. Everyone 18 and older should have an advance directive — which includes you, our beloved uber-prepared Get Ready blog readers.

So what should be in your advance directive? Experts recommend that you have a living will that specifies whether you’d want life-prolonging measures such as feeding tubes and ventilators if incapacitated. It’s also good to have “medical power of attorney,” which is a fancy way of naming a person who can make medical decisions for you if you are out of it. Your wishes on resuscitation and organ donation should also be in your advance directive. (Make sure your donation registration is up-to-date!)

Other tips? Check your state laws to make sure your advance directive complies with regs, keep your directive current as your life changes, and share your directive with your doctors, attorney and family. Look online for forms that you can use for creating your directive and getting started.

After all, there is an end in sight for each and every one of us one day. Creating an advance directive now means that you can go out on your own terms: Think of it as the ultimate in preparedness.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hurricane preparedness: Lessons learned, or lesson lost?

Four years ago, Hurricane Katrina tore through the U.S. Gulf Coast with a fierceness that shocked the nation. It claimed the lives of 1,800 people, created about $81 billion in damage and forced thousands to evacuate the region. Katrina served as a rude awakening to the nation. We learned the hard way why it’s important to be prepared. Or did we?

Maybe not, according to a recent Mason-Dixon poll. The survey of residents of Atlantic and Gulf Coast states found that 66 percent do not have a hurricane survival kit. That’s surprising, especially considering that taking even small steps, such as throwing an emergency kit together, could make an enormous difference in time of need.

The poll also found that 83 percent of residents have not taken steps to make their homes stronger since last year’s active hurricane season, and 55 percent said they did not have a family disaster plan. Besides being unprepared, the poll found that many people are misinformed, as 62 percent said they do not feel vulnerable to a hurricane, related tornado or flooding — all of which are high risks for coastal residents.

These scary statistics show we have a ways to go to get people to become prepared for an emergency. As a Get Ready blog reader, you probably aren’t one of the unprepared. But for the rest of you out there who live in coastal areas, take our friendly advice: Put together an emergency kit and be ready to evacuate if needed.

Let’s hope we learn our lesson before another Katrina hits.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pandemic flu summit challenges Americans to get prepared, make a video

With the end of summer creeping up on us (already? boooo!), the annual seasonal flu season is also right around the corner. So what happens when seasonal flu meets the growing H1N1 flu pandemic (also know as swine flu)? Health officials have been giving this a lot of thought lately, and the White House organized the H1N1 Influenza Preparedness Summit last week at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., to discuss the situation. The most important message of the summit? Everyone, from the government and schools to families and individuals, must be prepared.

“We ask the American people to become actively engaged with their own preparation and prevention,” said Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. secretary of health and human services, said during the summit. “It’s a responsibility we all share.”

Federal, state and local officials will be doing their part to get ready for a possible increase of H1N1 flu cases in the fall, and as individuals, we can all respond to this call in many ways:
* Wash your hands frequently — it really does help! Don’t touch your hands to your eyes, nose or mouth unless your hands are squeaky clean.
* Keep your immune system strong by exercising and eating healthy foods.
* Cover your coughs and sneezes so that you don’t spread illness to others. Stay home from work, school or camp and avoid crowds when you’re feeling under the weather. If you’re feeling really sick, go to a doctor!
* Don’t get caught up in the media hype. Stick to trusted sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and for your information.

It’s also important that when a vaccine comes out that at-risk groups make sure and get vaccinated. A vaccine may be available by mid-October, and children, pregnant women, the elderly and health care workers will be among the first targets for the vaccine.

The flu summit also launched a new video contest on preventing H1N1 flu. Create a short public service announcement that encourages people to take steps to prevent the spread of the flu and you can win $2,500. The deadline for submissions is Aug. 17, so sharpen up those scripts and schedule your actors now to help fight the flu and get America prepared!

Bookmark and Share

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fire safety season

Stop, drop and roll. For many of us, these fire safety tips are nearly as familiar as our ABCs. But as important as these instructions are, it is even more important to prevent fires from occurring in the first place. Learning safe fire practices can help.

In parts of the western United States, July brings dry conditions and summer storms that provide perfect environments for dangerous fires that can rumble through forests, hillsides and homes. Whether you are camping in the woods or barbequing in your backyard you should build fires away from nearby trees or bushes and have a way to put out the fire quickly and completely if it looks as though it may be getting out of control. Also, try to avoid open burning and never leave a fire unattended.

Prepare your home as well. Install smoke alarms and test them once a month. Replace the batteries when needed and replace your smoke alarms at least every 10 years. Additional safety measures include creating a 30-foot safety zone in which you limit dry vegetation around your house. You can also use fire-resistant siding, remove flammable debris from under decks and porches and avoid flammable roofing materials like wood, shake and shingle.

Even with these preparations in place, it is still vital to prepare for the worst. If a fire does reach your home, having an escape plan could be the difference between life and death. Establish at least two ways to escape from every room of your home and select a location outside your house where everyone in your family will meet. Practice your escape plan at least twice a year.

Fire can ruin homes and devastate lives. However, with smart fire safety practices and good preparation, you can help reduce the chance these disasters will affect your loved one and property. After all, better to prepare for and prevent fire than having to stop, drop and roll.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Prepare for the Fourth of July and kiss your worries goodbye

Pop! Bang! Kaboom!

The sound of fireworks means Fourth of July and summer celebrations are upon us again with parades, festivals and other large outdoor events. That means lots of fun…and also lots of people.
For many, taking part in busy activities during summer heat can bring out anxieties about safety and health. If so, have no worries. You can still safely wade through the crowds and celebrate Independence Day. Just be prepared and be aware.

For large warm weather events, like Fourth of July parades and fireworks, learn about the event you will be attending and plan ahead. What items can you bring? Where is the event located? How long will it last? Answering these questions can help you prepare and guide how to act at such events.

It is also important to prepare for your day with summer weather in mind. Check the forecast. Pack umbrellas, fans, bottled water or any other items based on weather conditions. Be sure to drink plenty of water, and avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine, which can increase the risk of dehydration in the summer heat. Apply sunscreen and wear light breathable clothing to help stop harmful UV rays from reaching your skin.

At events, it’s also important to be aware of your surroundings. In case of an emergency, know where the closest exits are. If you feel you are in any sort of danger or unsafe environment, make sure to leave the location as quickly, yet calmly as possible.

Being aware of your own limitations is just as important as being aware of your surroundings. If you start to feel dehydrated, tired or overheated, stop and take time to care for yourself, even if it means cutting your celebrations short.

The Fourth of July is a day for fun, and with these tips, you can be sure your celebrations remain enjoyable.

Graphic courtesy Microsoft Clipart Gallery

Bookmark and Share