Friday, May 28, 2010

How to protect yourself from infectious diseases in the workplace

Have you ever trudged off to work with chills, achy bones and a fever? If so, you’re not alone. Studies show that about half of U.S. workers reported to work ill in the past year. Oft-cited reasons for spreading germs at the workplace are fear of lost wages — many people have minimal or no paid sick leave — or guilt about missing work.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces like computer keyboards, desks, phones and fax machines. As icky as it sounds, the co-worker who’s coughing all over the conference room table or racing to the restroom because of a nasty stomach bug can turn your office into an incubator for all manner of infectious bugs.

To protect yourself and your co-workers from these and other germs:

* Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue every time you cough or sneeze, and throw the used tissue in a wastebasket. If you don't have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your sleeve, not your hands.

* Wash your hands often, especially after coughing, sneezing or using the restroom. Use soap and warm water and rub your hands together for about 20 seconds, making sure to scrub all the surfaces. Rinse your hands under clean, running water and dry them with a paper towel. No soap and water available? Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can inactivate most germs in a jiffy, so always keep some at your workstation.

* Get a flu shot (or the nasal vaccine if you don’t like needles). A yearly flu vaccination is the single best way to lower your chances of getting the flu. If you get the vaccine but still get sick, the vaccine can make the bug milder.

* Avoid close contact with co-workers who are obviously ill, and if you’re sick, stay home and keep your germs to yourself.

* Steer clear of the damp sponge that might be lurking in the sink in your office kitchen. Squishy sponges are breeding grounds for disease-causing bacteria.

* Use alcohol-based wipes or other approved sanitizers to disinfect your keyboard, telephone, desk and mouse.

Speaking of your computer mouse, don’t overlook the living, breathing variety that might come out at night to dance on your desk and keyboard. According to University of Arizona researchers, your office toilet is probably 400 times cleaner than your desk, but the latter is your preferred lunch venue. As unappetizing as it sounds, crumbs that lodge between the keys will encourage the growth of bacteria and could become tasty morsels for all manner of disease-carrying vermin. Dust is a problem too, because it will trap moisture that becomes a breeding ground for insects.

Even if you don’t eat at your desk, your fingers come in contact with all kinds of germs over the course of a work day, and the bugs end up on your phone and keyboard. Hitting the "delete" key won’t sweep these germs away. To stay healthy, keep your keyboard crumb-free, wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer often — especially before you eat — and clean your entire work area regularly with disinfectant wipes

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Cleaning up and staying safe after a flood

The heavy rains that brought widespread flooding and devastation in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi in early May have gone, but the muck left behind now has residents cleaning up and rebuilding their lives.

Even if the rains may not have affected you, floods can happen anywhere across the nation — even in your community. Storms, excessive rainfall, snowmelt and even a water-main break can cause a dangerous and destructive flood. Not only can flooding cause lots of water damage and interrupt day-to-day activities, but it can also be a source of health problems.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to prepare for the worst. The Get Ready campaign provides helpful tips (PDF) for what to do before, during and after a flood. And if your home was flooded, keep the following tips in mind as you clean up:

• Be safe while you clean up. Wear long pants to keep the bugs out and sturdy gloves and boots to protect hands and feet. Wear a mask when stirring up mold or lots of dust. Clean out wounds with soap and clean water as soon as they happen so they don’t get infected. And don’t use a gas-powered generator in a closed-off area.

• Keep your hands squeaky clean. Wash your hands often to avoid infection. If officials say the water isn’t safe, use bottled water or water that has come to a rolling boil for at least one minute. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer can also help if water is limited.

• Be mindful of electricity. Don’t use appliances that have gotten wet, including refrigerators, washing machines or driers, as water can damage electrical appliance motors. Have them and your small applicances checked out by a service person first. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that you have an electrician check your house wiring before you flip a switch or use an outlet after a flood.

• Beware of mold. Mold grows very quickly in wet, damp areas, so dry everything out, and throw away items that won’t dry fast, like rugs. Put fans in your windows and doorways and face them outward (make sure the fan is not flood damaged first!). To clean mold use one cup of bleach per gallon of water.

• Clean everything. Sanitize the places where you prepare and eat your food as well as your pots, dishware and utensils. Wash your kids’ toys, the linens and all clothing. Throw out pacifiers and stuffed animals.

• Say goodbye to your food supply. Throw away perishable foods and anything that may have come in contact with floodwater, including canned foods, jars, spices and any food kept in a box, paper, foil or cellophane.

Although flood cleanup is hard work, following these steps can help keep you safe from infections and injuries after the waters recede.

The American Red Cross is accepting donations to help victims of the recent U.S. flooding. To help, visit the organization’s website or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Photos by David Fine, courtesy Federal Emergency Management Agency. Top photo, Maggie Potter cleans household items in Bordeaux, Tenn., on May 8 following flooding there. Bottom, a neighborhood in Clarksville, Tenn., remains flooded May 12, more than a week after storms flooded many homes in the area.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Preparedness across the nation: Kansas and Idaho public health associations help residents get ready

With the help of free Get Ready campaign materials, it’s easy for state and local organizations to spread the word to their communities about being prepared. That’s the message of two recent Get Ready podcast interviews conducted with state public health association leaders.

The podcasts, focusing on work by the Kansas Public Health Association and Idaho Public Health Association, provide good examples of how organizations can use Get Ready materials in their communities.

“The Get Ready materials are all put together — all we have to do is access them,” said Elaine Schwartz, executive director of the Kansas Public Health Association , who details her organization’s recent work in the podcast.

In Kansas, the association is working with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce to get the word out to local businesses on the importance of workplace wellness and preparedness and uses Get Ready materials in its outreach.

“The only thing more important than hiring the right employee is the health of the employee,” Schwartz says in the podcast.

The Idaho Public Health Association has also had success with Get Ready materials. The association teamed up with a local grocery store chain last year to promote the Get Ready: Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks campaign.
The association set up an in-store booth, handed out materials and raffled off a giveaway of a family stockpile basket.

“Having ready information that people can use is really important,” says Mary Ann Reuter, executive director of the Idaho Public Health Association in the Get Ready podcast.

“If we can get to a more personal level with the message for schools and for the neighborhood groups, I think what we will see is this sort of acknowledgment of ‘oh gosh, so that’s what public health is!’ or ‘that is what the Idaho Public Health Association is about,” Reuter said. “It helps us gain some name recognition.”

Both of the podcasts can be listened to online via the Get Ready podcast page.

Have you used Get Ready materials to improve your community’s preparedness? Share your story with us. (

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Get Ready campaign offers more than 20 fact sheets, materials in Spanish

From earthquakes and power outages to H1N1 flu and handwashing, APHA’s Get Ready campaign offers a wealth of free fact sheets to help people become more prepared. And now, the ever-growing list of Get Ready materials includes 20 resources in Spanish.

In April, the Get Ready campaign debuted seven new Spanish-language translations of its preparedness materials on its website, including fact sheets on water stockpiling, (PDF) pet preparedness (PDF) and cold and flu supplies. (PDF) Also new are professionally translated Spanish versions of the Get Set activity kit, (PDF) which encourages high school students to become involved in preparedness, and the Get Ready Kids Guide to flu (PDF).

The new materials join a wealth of other resources that have long been available in Spanish through the campaign, including fact sheets on floods, (PDF) winter storms, (PFD) H1N1 flu (PDF) and emergency stockpiling. (PDF) Offering campaign materials in languages other than English helps spread the Get Ready preparedness message, according to campaign organizers, particularly with the growing number of Spanish-speaking U.S. residents.

As of 2000, about one in five U.S. residents — about 47 million people — spoke a language other than English at home according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Among those were 28.1 million Spanish speakers, just over half of whom reported speaking English "very well." And the number of Spanish speakers continues to grow.

So whether you are looking for materials for use at community, school or other events or to share with family and friends, the free bilingual Get Ready campaign resources are worth a look — and a download.

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Help the hungry and improve your community preparedness through national food drive on May 8

Did you know food banks play an important part in community preparedness? Here’s why: Because if there are 49.1 million people who already don't have enough to eat and a disaster such as a flood, tornado or flu outbreak strikes, the demand on food banks will increase. That's why it’s important to support our community food banks year-round. You can help improve preparedness in your community thanks to an upcoming national food drive, Stamp out Hunger.

Organized by the National Association of Letter Carriers, the U.S. Postal Service and other sponsors, Stamp Out Hunger is the nation’s largest single-day food drive. Since its inception in 1993, the food drive has collected nearly 1 billion pounds of food, including a record-setting 73.4 million pounds in 2009.

It’s easy to help Stamp Out Hunger this year. Just leave a sturdy bag containing non-perishable foods, such as canned vegetables, pasta, rice or cereal, next to your mailbox before your mail comes on Saturday, May 8. Food items should be in non-breakable containers, such as boxes and cans, and should not be expired.

The nation’s 230,000 letter carriers will be collecting the donations and delivering them to food banks and other hunger relief organizations in more than 10,000 local communities. If you’re not sure whether your postal carrier will be taking part Saturday, contact your local post office. For more on the food drive, visit the event website, Facebook page or Twitter.

Every little bit helps and moves your local food bank — and your community — one step closer to being prepared.

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