Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Getting ready for a disaster when you’re living with a disability

Here at the Get Ready Blog, we spend a lot of time talking about emergency preparedness and providing general tips to help everyone get ready in case of a disaster. However, being prepared often requires extra planning if you are living with a disability. To learn more, we recently interviewed Danielle Bailey, MPH, a research assistant for the Oregon Office on Disability and Health for the latest episode of our Get Ready Report podcast series.

Bailey says that everyone should take basic steps to get ready for an emergency: identifying the disasters that could happen in your area, creating evacuation and communication plans and putting together an emergency kit. But achieving this level of preparedness, says Bailey, “varies greatly for a person with a disability because of the level of attention and planning required to address their specific needs.”

If you are living with a disability, Bailey says the best practice is to sit down with someone who knows you well — a spouse, friend, family member or caregiver — and decide together “what activities of living you are able to do for yourself and what help you may need before, during and after an emergency.”

Bailey also recommends being very specific when putting together emergency kits. For example, “individuals who can only drink out of a straw, include straws in your bag, or if you use a manual wheelchair you may want to think about having some type of hand protection, such as leather gloves.”
“Think about backup batteries for hearing aids, extra canes and, of course, you need to have a plan around your medication and ensure you have copies of current prescriptions,” Bailey says.

For a general checklist about preparing an emergency stockpile, read the Get Ready checklist (PDF) It’s a good starting place for everyone!

For more great information about getting ready for a disaster when you’re living with a disability, listen to the full episode of our newest Get Ready Report. You can also read the transcript of our interview with Bailey.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Flu Fridays: Top five flu myths

Welcome back! Our topic for this Flu Friday is a fun one — we’re going myth-busting.

There are tons of rumors and myths about the flu, and here at the Get Ready campaign, we’ve probably heard them all. The key to being prepared in any situation is accurate information, so to help you get ready to fight the flu, we want to set the facts straight.

1. Myth: Cold weather causes the flu.

Truth: This is an age-old myth, but the truth is that cold weather itself does not cause people to be sick.

However, it is true that more people get sick with the flu in the colder months. This is because viruses that cause the flu can live longer when the temperature is cooler. In the end, more viruses can mean more people getting sick — the flu virus doesn’t care if you’re wearing a scarf or not. We still think you should listen to your mother anyway — just make sure to get your flu shot, too!

2. Myth: The flu is just a bad cold.

Truth: Many people see the flu as no big deal, but flu can be a very serious illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that since 1976, an average of 25,500 people a year have died from the flu and its complications. Flu also sends hundreds of thousands of people to the hospital every year.

The flu is especially serious for the elderly, pregnant women, young children, smokers and for people with asthma, heart disease, diabetes and other conditions. CDC has more information about people at high risk for the flu.

3. Myth: Vitamin C can protect you from the flu.

Truth: Vitamin C, herbal supplements and other “folk” remedies won’t stop you from getting the flu.

Have you ever been told to drink lots of orange juice or take extra vitamins as soon as you start feeling sick? Unfortunately, there is very little proof that vitamin C or other herbal supplements will prevent you from getting sick or reduce the severity of your illness once you get the flu. What’s more, taking very high doses of vitamin C, over 2 grams per day, could cause diarrhea and increase your risk for kidney stones.

The most effective way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot every year. For more tips on staying healthy, check out our blog post on “Four things to do to prevent the spread of flu.”

4. Myth: Healthy people don’t need a flu shot.

[Image: Flu Vaccine,
courtesy CDC/Doug Jordan, M.A.]

Truth: CDC recommends that almost everyone in the U.S. who is 6 months of age and older get a flu shot every year.

Healthy people can and do become seriously ill if they get the flu. Getting your flu shot every year is important because it can prevent needless suffering. Why get sick and miss work or school when you can prevent the flu?

Even if you don’t fall into one of the high risk groups for the flu, chances are you know someone who does. Getting your flu shot will not only prevent you from getting sick, it will prevent your loved ones from getting the flu, too.

5. Myth: The flu shot can give you the flu.

Truth: The flu shot will not give you the flu!

We repeat: The flu shot will not give you the flu. The viruses contained in the flu shot are inactivated, aka killed, which means that they won’t give you the flu. The most common side effect from the seasonal flu shot is a sore arm.

There is also a nasal spray version of the flu vaccine that has live but weakened viruses. This vaccine will not cause the flu either, although some people report mild symptoms such as a runny nose or sore throat for a few days after they receive the vaccine.

It is possible that people can still get sick after getting a flu vaccine. There are a few reasons why this may occur: A person can still get sick from another type of virus, such as a rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, or they could be exposed to the flu before the vaccine has given their body full protection from influenza, which can take up to two weeks. Read more from CDC about flu vaccine misconceptions.

So, there you have it: We’ve busted the top five flu myths, and hopefully helped you get ready to fight the flu this season.

If you want to test your new flu knowledge, take CDC’s Flu IQ quiz, and tell us how you scored in the comments!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Norovirus in the news

If you’ve listened to the news lately, you may have noticed people talking about norovirus, a bug that has sickened cruise-goers and college students around the country in recent months. If you’ve found yourself wondering, “What is norovirus, exactly?” we’re here to clear things up.

norovirus virons
[Image: norovirus virons,
courtesy CDC/Charles D. Humphrey.]
“Norovirus” is actually a group of viruses that affect the stomach and large intestines. People sickened by noroviruses often experience vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. Sometimes the illness comes with other less-common symptoms, such as a low-grade fever, chills, muscle aches and tiredness. The symptoms usually begin suddenly and last for one to two days. It’s common for people to say that they have food poisoning or stomach flu, when really they’ve been sickened by a norovirus.

Noroviruses are spread through bodily fluids, such as vomit or feces of a sick person, or from surfaces that the sick person has touched. People living in close quarters — such as on a cruise ship or in a college dorm — are more likely to spread the illness, which is why we often hear about outbreaks on cruise ships and college campuses. Another way noroviruses are spread is through food that has been prepared by a sick person, which is why these infections are sometimes misnamed food poisoning.

Despite all the recent attention, noroviruses are not new. A recent study in the American Journal of Infection Control found that noroviruses are the leading cause of infectious disease outbreaks in hospitals, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 50 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. are caused by viruses in this family.

If you are worried about protecting yourself against noroviruses, never fear! Here’s a list of things you can do to prevent their spread:
  • Proper hand-washing is the best thing you can do to prevent illness caused by noroviruses. Wash your hands every time you use the restroom and always before eating food. CDC has found some evidence that alcohol-based hand sanitizers alone are not effective in killing noroviruses, so be sure to wash with soap and water as well. If you need a refresher on the best hand-washing techniques, read our Get Ready fact sheet (PDF).
  •  Avoid close contact with someone who is sick. If someone around you develops symptoms of norovirus infection, don’t share eating utensils or cups, and don’t let the sick person prepare food for others for at least three days after they recover. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands, and avoid shaking hands if there is an outbreak near you.
  •  Disinfect surfaces with a household cleaner that contains chlorine bleach, and be sure to machine-wash the sick person’s clothes, towels and sheets with hot water and dry on the highest heat setting.
If you want to find out if there’s a norovirus outbreak near you, there’s an app for that! HealthMap offers a website and an iPhone app that enable users to search for outbreaks of noroviruses (or any other illness!) by ZIP code. Check it out via the Outbreaks Near Me page.

Image of a map from a recent Outbreaks Near Me web search
[Image: Outbreaks Near Me screenshot courtesy HealthMap]

Friday, February 17, 2012

Flu Fridays: Learn about our new flu tracking tool, Flu Near You

Welcome back to Flu Fridays! Did you know that you can help track the flu this year, right from your computer? The Get Ready Report podcast team recently sat down with Michelle Holshue, RN, APHA’s Flu Near You fellow, to learn more about an online tracking tool called Flu Near You.

Launched in October, Flu Near You asks people to sign up to report their symptoms. Users get a weekly email asking, “How are you feeling?” They fill out a short survey about their recent symptoms — or lack of them — and then they can see a map of other reported flu symptoms in their area. The information on the map is anonymous, and the map is interactive, too.

“You can push ‘play’ on the map and watch the flu season unfold week by week, like a movie,” Holshue said.

Holshue believes that there are many reasons why the public should be interested monitoring the flu.

“A lot of people think that the flu is ‘no big deal,’ but in the U.S., thousands of people die every year from influenza and related complications,” she said during the podcast.

Holshue said she hopes that by using Flu Near You, everyday people can arm themselves with knowledge about flu activity in their area.
Image courtesy Flu Near You.
“By looking at the map every week, they’ll be able to know if flu cases are picking up in their area, and then hopefully they can take precautions to prevent themselves from getting sick, like getting the flu shot or practicing better hygiene,” she said.

Are you ready to learn more about Flu Near You? Listen to episode 23 (Part A) of our Get Ready Report online. iTunes users can download all of our Get Ready Report podcasts for free from the iTunes Store. You can also read the full transcript of the interview with Holshue.

If you’re an APHA member, you’ll also want to listen to Part B of episode 23, where we explain the special Flu Near You Challenge that we have developed just for members.

Find out more about Flu Near You or sign up to take part at

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Have you used our materials? Let us know what you think!

Since the start of APHA's Get Ready campaign, thousands of people have used Get Ready fact sheets and materials in their communities, on campus and at home.

If you're reading this, chances are good that you're one of them! 

From games for kids to emergency supply checklists, we've been providing free info on preparing for public health disasters and emergencies for more than six years.

Now's your chance to let us know what you think. 

Take our short survey  ( and tell us your thoughts. We'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This Valentine’s Day, love your family enough to have a plan

What’s the greatest gift you can give your family this Valentine’s Day?

We’ll give you a hint: It’s not covered in chocolate.

The best gift you can give to your loved ones is to be ready for an emergency. As the Federal Emergency Management Agency explains in its video, below, “Before a disaster turns your family’s world upside-down, it’s up to you to be ready.”

Here are some basic steps that you need to take to get ready for a disaster:

  • Think about the types of emergencies that could happen where you live. Do you live in an area prone to flooding? Are you often in the path of tornadoes or hurricanes? The Get Ready campaign has fact sheets available for many types of disasters to help guide your plans.
  • Have an emergency kit ready. Make sure you have adequate supplies of drinking water, food, essential medicines and emergency medical supplies, as well as tools such as flashlights, a radio and plenty of batteries. Take a look at our full checklist
  • Make a plan. If a disaster knocked out cellphone service, how would you communicate with your family? Where would you meet up with your loved ones in an emergency? What are the evacuation routes in your town? FEMA’s website has tools to help you put your emergency plan in writing.

To help you talk to your loved ones about getting ready for an emergency, we've made some free Valentine's Day e-cards. They're a fun way to share our message: "I love you enough to have a plan." Check out all of our cards on the Get Ready website!

Being prepared for emergencies doesn’t take a lot of time or money, but it does require that you sit down with the people you care about, make a plan and gather some supplies. A few hours of preparation now could save the lives of those you love in the future.

We think that’s a way better gift than a box of chocolates.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Flu Fridays: How to take care if you get the flu

Welcome back to Flu Fridays! So far, we’ve discussed what causes the flu and given you tips on how to avoid getting sick. We really want you to stay healthy this winter, but in case the flu strikes you or someone you care for, we want you to be ready.

Before you develop symptoms, you can get ready for cold and flu season by stocking up on basic supplies. We’ve put together a checklist of useful things to have in your home in case of a flu emergency (PDF).

If you do get sick, the most important thing you can do is stay home. The flu virus is highly contagious, and no one will admire you for coming into work or dragging yourself to school while you’re coughing and sneezing all over the place. If a loved one is sick, you should encourage them to stay in bed and rest until 24 hours after their fever is gone — that’s when the virus can no longer be spread.

While at home, you can do a number of things to make yourself (or the person you’re taking care of) feel more comfortable. Encourage the sick person to get plenty of rest, and have her or him drink clear fluids — water, broth or sports drinks will help prevent dehydration. Over-the-counter medications can help relieve symptoms like body aches, fever and coughing, but these will not make the person less contagious. has great information about treating the symptoms of the flu.

To prevent the spread of the flu when someone is sick at home, it’s best to have the sick person rest in an area separate from others in the family. Family members should wash their hands frequently with soap and water, especially after being around the sick person. (The person with the flu should wash their hands frequently as well!) People who are high risk for catching the flu, such as young children, pregnant women and the elderly, should avoid contact with the person who is sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers more information about caring for someone sick at home on its website.

The exception to the “stay home” rule is if you or your loved one needs to visit a health provider. And that brings us to our next point: Know when to seek medical attention. Flu symptoms can be severe, but if you or someone you’re taking care of develops any of the following symptoms, they need immediate medical attention. Be alert for:
  • difficulty breathing,
  • blue or purple discoloration in the lips,
  • sudden confusion or change in behavior,
  • sudden dizziness,
  • pain or pressure in the chest,
  • severe vomiting, or
  • seizures.
We hope the flu doesn’t come near you this season, but in case it does, you’ll be ready!

Monday, February 06, 2012

Get ready for an earthquake: It’s the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut!

Are you ready for an earthquake? If you live in the Central United States, tomorrow is a great opportunity to practice your preparedness skills, as millions of Americans in nine states will participate in the second annual Great Central U.S. ShakeOut.

Scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 7, the ShakeOut will give residents the chance to participate in simulations so that they know what to do when an earthquake hits. As the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut website reminds us, it’s important to participate in these drills because “to react quickly you must practice often. You may only have seconds to protect yourself in an earthquake, before strong shaking knocks you down — or drops something on you."

Drop, Cover, Hold On image courtesy
Earthquake drills are important because earthquakes can happen anywhere, any time — as millions of Americans learned on the East Coast in 2011. What’s more, people can be confused by conflicting information about the best thing to do in an earthquake. While some people believe that they should run outside or get into a door frame during an earthquake, these are no longer recommended as safe practices. According to experts, the best way to protect yourself is to drop, cover and hold on.

Here’s a great video about the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut, which includes a group of children practicing a drop, cover and hold on drill.

If you don’t live in the Central U.S., there are other ShakeOut drills planned later this year for other U.S. states and around the world. Of course, you don’t have to wait to organize your own earthquake preparedness drill. There are plenty of free resources available to help you get ready.

Check out our Get Ready earthquake preparedness fact sheet, available in English (PDF) or Spanish (PDF).

For resources to plan your own earthquake drill, visit the ShakeOut website. For a fun take on home earthquake preparedness, try your hand at this online game.

If you are participating in the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut, we’d love to hear how it goes. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Flu Fridays: Four things to do to stop the spread of flu

Welcome back! Now that we have a better understanding of what causes the flu, this week we’ll talk about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from this illness.

A little more background: The flu is spread when someone infected with the virus coughs, sneezes or talks. Droplets of saliva can carry the virus up to six feet away, as shown in the picture below. These droplets can land in the noses or mouths of people nearby, or they can land on surfaces, where people can unknowingly get the virus on their hands.

Sneeze image courtesy CDC/ Brian Judd.
Because we can’t see the virus, we have to take extra steps to prevent its spread. Here are four things you can do to protect yourself from the flu:

1. Get a flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is the best defense against the flu. Every year, scientists develop a new vaccine based on the type of flu viruses that are circulating. (Remember those fast-mutating strains we talked about last week?) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine. If you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, it’s not too late!

2. Practice good hygiene. If the picture above made you want to wash your hands, that’s good. Regular hand-washing can help prevent flu and other infectious agents from entering your body. Be sure to use soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. You can read a lot more about good hand-washing technique on our hand-washing resource page. Making sure that you eat well and get enough rest can also help you to stay healthy.

3. Don’t be “that guy.” (Or gal!) If you do get sick with a flu-like illness, do everyone a favor: Stay home! Most people agree that if someone is sick, they shouldn’t come to school or work. But many people (64 percent, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases) also admit to occasionally going about their daily activities despite being sick with the flu.

Still thinking about going into work, despite your sneezing and fever? Consider this: People with the flu can be contagious for 24 hours before they have any symptoms, and might still be contagious for 24 hours after their fever goes away. And if you’re sick and have to cough or sneeze, remember to cover your mouth!

4. See your doctor if you have flu symptoms. Common symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

If you experience these symptoms, and especially if they start suddenly, make sure you seek medical attention. If you have the flu, your health care provider may be able to prescribe anti-viral medications that could help you get better faster.

Not sure if it’s the cold or the flu? This fact sheet from APHA can help you tell the difference. And here’s another tip: Instead of running to the store when you get sick, how about stocking up on supplies beforehand? Here’s a list of what you’ll need.

Thanks for joining us for Flu Fridays. We hope that you learned something to help you stay flu-free this year!