Friday, March 30, 2012

Flu Fridays: Could your job put you at risk for the flu?

It's Flu Friday, and we want to know: Are you sick of your job? Or is your job making you sick?

A new study looked at the jobs of people who were hospitalized with the flu during the 2009–2010 flu season. What researchers found was surprising: People who worked in some fields were more likely to get a very bad case of the flu than people who worked other types of jobs.

What kind of jobs were related to workers having a serious case of the flu? At the top of the list were health workers. This wasn't breaking news, because nurses, doctors and other health workers have to deal directly with sick people. But some other surprising jobs made the list:

  • Transportation and warehouse workers: 1.5 times more likely than the average worker to get serious flu.
  • Administrative support and waste management workers: 1.5 times more likely.
  • Hotel and restaurant workers: 1.3 times more likely.
  • Retail workers: 1.1 times more likely.

The study found that other jobs — such as teachers and construction workers —  were less likely than the average U.S. worker to get sent to the hospital from a serious case of the flu. (That may surprise any teacher who has had to deal with lots of sick students!)

But if this news makes you want to quit your job, not so fast!  First off, the study found that in general, people with jobs landed in the hospital a lot less often than people who didn't work at all. So having a job — and a regular paycheck — is generally a good thing for your health, according to the study.

Plus, the study found other things could have increased people's risk for getting very sick with the flu aside from their job. For example, researchers found that more than 30 percent of people who worked in the hotel and restaurant industry were smokers — and smoking can really increase your chances of having serious complications if you get the flu. Other things that made people more likely to get really sick from flu included having a chronic disease, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and not having a regular place to go for health care, such as a doctor or clinic that you go to every time you get sick.

So what does it all mean? No matter what kind of job you have (or want to have), this new study doesn't change the fact that you can do a lot of things to protect yourself from a bad case of the flu.

Our top tips:
  • Get a seasonal flu shot every year.
  • Wash your hands and practice good hygiene.
  • In general, keep yourself as healthy as possible to prevent things like diabetes and heart disease.
  • If you smoke, quit smoking.
  • If you get sick, see your doctor.
  • If you get the flu, stay home from work. You'll get better faster and you won't spread the flu to your coworkers!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Head to higher ground: It's National Tsunami Awareness Week!

Did you know that it’s National Tsunami Awareness Week? A tsunami is one of those natural disasters that can strike with very little warning, so it’s important to know the signs that a tsunami is coming so that you can quickly get to safety.

First, the basics: A tsunami is a very large wave that is created when something like an earthquake or volcano eruption causes a sudden change in the ocean water level. These events can happen close to the shore, creating a tsunami that reaches the coast within minutes, or they can happen far away and travel more than 600 miles an hour to beaches on the other side of the ocean.

For far-away earthquakes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has created a system of tsunami warnings, watches and alerts that can help warn people along coastlines around the world of an impending tsunami. However, tsunamis are very unpredictable, and when an earthquake happens close to the coast, a tsunami could happen without warning. For these reasons, it’s important that everyone knows the signs of a tsunami:
  1. Feeling an earthquake while on or near the beach, especially if it is so strong that it knocks people over.
  2. Seeing the ocean water level suddenly get very low or very high.
  3. Hearing a loud roaring noise, like an airplane or a train, coming from the ocean.
If you experience any of these warning signs, you must head to higher ground immediately. The best place to go is an area at least 100 feet above sea level, or up to two miles in from the coast. It’s best to travel by foot, as driving could mean that you get stuck in traffic or block the road for emergency vehicles that may need to come through. If you live near a coast, it’s important to think about tsunamis in your family emergency plan, and be sure to pick meeting places and evacuation routes that are outside of a tsunami hazard zone.

Tsunamis are not only a concern for people who live near coastlines — anyone who travels to a coastal city for vacation or work should also have a plan. To learn more about tsunami preparedness, check out our Get Ready tsunami fact sheets in English (PDF), y tambien en Español (PDF).

For more tips on preparing for a tsunami, watch this great video from NOAA’s TsunamiReady program:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Flu Fridays: 2012 flu, where are you?

Happy Flu Friday!

It’s March, and normally the winter flu season in the U.S. would be winding down. This year is different: Flu cases are still on the rise this year after a very late start.

Every year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announces the start of the flu season based on testing done around the country. When people go to their health provider complaining of a flu-like illness, they often get tested for the flu. When more than 10 percent of sick people test positive, that’s the official “start” of the U.S. flu season.

This year, the flu season didn’t officially start until February, which CDC calls “the latest start to a flu season in the past 29 years.” Since then, cases have been slowly rising. Last week, more than 23 percent of sick people around the country tested positive for the flu.

Why is the flu season off to such a slow start? Influenza is unpredictable, but there could be a few reasons. Abnormally warm weather around the country could have made it harder for the flu virus to survive. Also, the number of people getting seasonal flu shots increased in 2011, so that could help explain why less people have come down with the flu this year.

Public health officials aren’t sure if the 2011-2012 flu season will get worse in the coming weeks or if the season will end with a surprisingly low number of infections. The good news is that the viruses going around this year — H1N1, H3N2 and influenza B — are all covered in the seasonal flu shot. So no matter what happens, if you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, there’s still time!

You can visit the CDC Flu Activity page  to learn more about the current flu season. You can also help map the flu season this year even if you aren’t sick — check out our Flu Near You tool to report your symptoms and find out if there is flu in your neighborhood.
IMAGE: Map from Flu Near You of user-generated reports to the Flu Near You system.
Flu Near You screenshot courtesy Flu Near You

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Volunteering during a disaster: Stories from the American Red Cross

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to volunteer during an emergency? Perhaps a natural disaster has affected your community, and you didn’t know how to help. In honor of Red Cross Month, APHA’s Get Ready campaign recently talked with some American Red Cross volunteers to get the scoop on what it’s like to volunteer during an emergency.

The American Red Cross responds to more than 70,000 disasters and emergencies every year, including home fires, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes and other human-made or natural disasters. The organization provides shelter, food and health services to those affected by disasters.

Because they respond to so many disasters, Red Cross volunteers have the opportunity to help with relief efforts for many different kinds of emergencies. For example, Red Cross volunteer Chris McNeil, of Bel Air, Md., has helped with flood recovery efforts in Vermont and tornado cleanup in Maryland. He described working on a “mud-out crew” — removing water, mud and damaged possessions from flooded houses — after Lake Champlain flooded in Vermont in 2011.

Red Cross volunteer looks onto
a flooding home in Vicksburg, MS.
Photo: Talia Frenkel/American Red Cross 
“We arrived at a house with the absolute worst amount of damage we had seen all week,” McNeil told the Get Ready campaign. “When we finished, the basement had been completely emptied and sanitized. The husband asked us how we would be paid. When we told him we were all volunteers, he broke down in tears.”

McNeil is a retiree who made volunteering with the Red Cross one of his post-retirement goals. His story is a great example that you don’t need to have any special training in emergency response to be a volunteer.

“There will be a useful job for you, regardless of your abilities or age,” McNeil said. “You just have to be willing.”

People who have specialized skills are encouraged to volunteer as well. The Get Ready campaign also spoke with Elena Acs, a Red Cross volunteer from Clarksville, Md., who works with her local Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Team. Acs, a trained clinical social worker, said she is on hand immediately after a fire to “look out for anyone who seems to be having a harder time than can be expected and may need some intervention.” Acs recalled one house fire where a resident also lost the family pet.

“What made this memorable was to be able to give assistance and support immediately at the time of the death of the pet and give resources for further help,” Acs said.

Like McNeil, Acs encourages people of all backgrounds to consider volunteering with the Red Cross.

“It is important to have a range of types of team members from nursing to client caseworkers to mental health professionals so that we are able to respond to a wide range of needs that can occur in a disaster,” she said.

Red Cross volunteers may serve locally in their communities, like Acs, but volunteers who are able could also be asked to help with recovery efforts during large-scale disasters across the country. Rich Scanlan, a retiree from Towson, Md., said he began volunteering for the Red Cross in 2006 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Scanlan responded to an ad he heard on the radio seeking volunteers, received training and was sent to work in a shelter in Biloxi, Miss. At the shelter, Scanlan reported that he was somewhat surprised to find himself cleaning out urinals every morning. He did this and other basic tasks, knowing that they were “critical to the job that the Red Cross does.”

Despite the bathroom duty, Scanlan was hooked. He continued to volunteer with his local Red Cross Disaster Action Team and in the past six years he’s helped with hurricanes in Texas, wildfires in California, floods in Pennsylvania and many other disasters around the country. While still a volunteer, he’s been promoted to the manager level in the Red Cross, which means that he’s now called to oversee advanced disaster response efforts. Last summer, soon after he was promoted as a manager, he ran operations for 40 shelters for the Red Cross in the aftermath of the tornadoes in Alabama. Scanlan said the sometimes 12- to 24-hour workdays were “the hardest I ever worked in my life” but that he always feels better later.

The American Red Cross
responds to an EF4 tornado, the most
powerful rating with winds of 175 mph,
which destroyed virtually entire
neighborhoods in Henryville, Indiana.
Courtesy Daniel Cima/American Red Cross 
When asked if he has advice for anyone considering becoming a volunteer for the Red Cross or a similar organization, Scanlan says, “Get up off the couch and volunteer. We always need people.”

These are stories from just three of thousands of volunteers who respond to disasters every day with the American Red Cross. Volunteering is a great way to get ready for an emergency. The training you receive can help you prepare to help others — and yourself — should a disaster strike your community. As Scanlan told us, no matter what happens next, “I’m ready, I’ve got a bag packed.”

To volunteer for the Red Cross, visit the organization’s website.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Flu Fridays: Looking back at the 1918 flu pandemic

It’s Flu Friday, and today we’re going to do a little time travel.

Ninety-four years ago this week, in March of 1918, more than 100 cases of flu were reported among soldiers at Fort Riley, Kan. These would be the first American cases of a flu outbreak that became the most deadly epidemic in world history.

[Image: Street car conductor
in Seattle not allowing passengers
aboard without a mask, 1918.
Courtesy National Archives at College Park, MD.]
At the time it was known as “Spanish flu,” or “la Grippe,” but despite the nickname, this flu wasn’t just in Spain — it was global. By the time the pandemic ended in 1919, one-third of the world’s population had gotten sick, and 50 million to 100 million people died. In the U.S., one out of every four Americans got the flu, and at least 675,000 people were killed.

Why was this flu virus so deadly? At the time, doctors didn’t know what caused the flu.  But experts now believe that the 1918 flu pandemic was caused by a type of influenza A virus that had never infected humans before. Because it was a new strain of the flu, no one had resistance to the virus, which allowed it to spread very quickly.

The virus was also dangerous because it killed primarily healthy, young people: Most people who died from the 1918 flu pandemic were between the ages of 20-40. If you’re a viewer of the show “Downton Abbey,”  you’ll have seen this play out this season, when several characters became ill and at least one died during the pandemic.

What was it like in real life during the flu pandemic? In a word, hard. Life came to a standstill in many cities across the U.S. Public gatherings were canceled and people were told to avoid trains and trolleys to prevent the flu from spreading. Hospitals around the country were overcrowded as more people became sick with the flu.

[Image: Nurse wearing a mask
as protection against influenza. Sept. 13, 1918.
Courtesy National Archives at College Park, MD.]
As one doctor at a military hospital near Boston wrote in 1918, “We have lost an outrageous number of nurses and doctors…It takes special trains to carry away the dead. For several days, there were no coffins and the bodies piled up something fierce.”

At this point, you might be thinking to yourself: “The 1918 flu was serious back then, but why should we care now?” The answer is that it could happen again. If a new virus emerged that was as deadly and quick-spreading as the virus that caused the 1918 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated it “would likely kill more than 100 million people worldwide.”

[Image: Chicago theatre poster, 1918,
courtesy National Library of Medicine.]
The great news is that we’re now better equipped to detect new strains of the flu, both at the doctor’s office and even from your home computer, thanks to tools like Flu Near You. We’re also doing a better job at teaching people how to prevent the flu, making new vaccines and treating people who become sick. By looking back in history, we can learn from the past and make changes so that we’re prepared for the future.

And to be sure, one piece of advice from 1918 still remains the same: If you’re sick with the flu, “go home and go to bed until you are well.” (And call the doctor, if necessary.)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tips for creating a useful first-aid kit

Do you have a first-aid kit at home? If so, when’s the last time you checked on the contents and made sure you have what you need? If you’re not sure, you’ll want to listen to the latest episode of our Get Ready Report podcast series and find out what it takes to have a useful kit.

The episode features advice from Richard Bradley, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, on what should go in to a good first-aid kit — and why those items should be there. Bradley is a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and chair of their CPR Subcouncil. In other words, he’s an expert in getting ready for emergencies!

First, Bradley says everyone should have a first-aid kit in their home — and in their car, too. First-aid kits are important both for household emergencies that require quick response and treatment and in case of a disaster.

“The emergency medical services that we expect to be there in just a few minutes during normal conditions may take a lot longer or may not be able to come at all if there’s an injury after a disaster,” Bradley says.

Bradley says there are several items that should be in any first-aid kit: gloves and other personal protective equipment, an assortment of bandages and common medication to treat fever and pain, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Bradley also talks about items that don’t need to be in your first-aid kit, such as first-aid creams.

Whether you buy a pre-made first-aid kit or put together your own, it’s clear that having a kit is an important part of getting ready.

“I can tell you anyone who I see who comes into my emergency department never planned when they woke up that morning that they were going to have an emergency,” Bradley says. “So you will never know when the day will come when something will happen when you’ll need to respond.”

For more tips, listen to the podcast online now or check out the transcript. For handy reference, print and save this Healthy You tipsheet from The Nation’s Health, APHA’s newspaper.

Don’t miss an episode of Get Ready Report. Subscribe to our podcast series via iTunes.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Did you remember to set your clocks this morning?

Daylight savings time started this morning - did you remember to set your clocks? Chances are, you did.

Now for a more difficult question: Did you check your stocks?

Here at Get Ready, we believe that the time change is also a perfect time to make sure you're prepared for a disaster. If you have already created an emergency stockpile, today's the day to make sure that nothing is missing or expired. If you haven't created one, today's a great day to start! Head over to our Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks page to learn everything you need to know about creating and maintaining  an emergency stockpile - even on a budget (PDF)!

We've also created some fun ways to remind friends and family to check their stocks. Check out our new YouTube video:

You can also send one of our new Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks e-cards for free. (click through to see all of the designs!)

There you have it:  a whole host of resources to help you get - and stay - ready. Enjoy!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Flu Fridays: Swine flu, bird flu…Now bat flu?

Happy Flu Friday! You’ve probably heard of both swine flu and bird flu. But if you’ve been watching the news recently,  you may have heard of a new strain of the flu that was discovered in Guatemalan fruit bats.

Yes, we said bat flu! This newly discovered flu virus is a type of influenza A virus, with a scientific name of H17. Scientists discovered the influenza while testing the bats for other types of viruses; they believe that H17 is distantly related to the strains of influenza A that are prevalent in humans today.

The phlebotomist standing in the background of this image is holding a blood-filled, purple-tipped, vacutainer test tube with her extended right hand, upon which she was wearing a protective latex glove.
Image courtesy CDC/ Amanda Mills
If you saw the movie “Contagion,”  you might remember that the flu virus in the film started with a bat. But don’t start to panic just yet: Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  don’t believe that this newly discovered bat flu poses any risk to humans — at least, not right now. There is always a chance that the virus could combine with other strains of influenza to produce a new version of the flu that is easily spread in human populations. Scientists are now testing bats in other parts of the world to see if H17 is widespread.

Why test bats, you ask? Well, they’re the second-largest group of mammals on the planet, and they live almost everywhere on earth, except for the Arctic and Antarctic. They’re known to host other types of viruses, like Ebola and the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, also known as SARS. And because they live in groups and are capable of flying, they could potentially spread whatever viruses they carry — to other bats, other animals and perhaps to humans.

By studying bats and bat flu,  researchers can learn more about the influenza and how it’s spread — hopefully keeping us safer in the process!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Announcing the Get Ready Emergency Stockpile Recipe Contest

Imagine this: There’s been a natural disaster in your area. The utilities are out, and you’ve been informed that conditions outside are unsafe; you must shelter in place for 72 hours. When it’s time for your first meal, you break open your emergency stockpile of non-perishable foods, and you make… what?

In celebration of National Nutrition Month, we want to know how you would eat healthily, even in an emergency, so we’re holding our first Get Ready Emergency Stockpile Recipe Contest. Using non-perishable items that you have in your emergency stockpile or shelter-in-place kit, we want you to get creative in your kitchen and come up with a recipe that tastes good — and is good for you.

Sounds easy? Not so fast. Remember, the gas is off and the electricity is out, so you can’t use your oven, stove or microwave. In fact, no cooking or heating allowed at all – most grills and stoves are not safe for use indoors. You won’t be able to use any appliances that require electricity, so make sure you have that manual can opener handy. You’ll also want to conserve water, because you’re only limited to the bottled water you’ve already stockpiled (PDF). Finally, to keep it healthy, watch out for the high sodium content of many canned goods and prepackaged food, and keep in mind any dietary restrictions that you or your loved ones may have.

To learn more, read our fact sheets about sheltering in place and preparing for a power outage (PDFs). Then, find out all you need to know about preparing an emergency stockpile, including a basic shopping list and information about stockpiling on a budget. Once you understand the challenges you’re up against, it’s time to get creative. Read our official rules and find out how to submit a recipe on our Rules and Regulations page.

If you need more inspiration, take a look at some of the recipes we’ve already created (PDF) here at Get Ready headquarters.

We’ll accept recipes from now until March 28, and then the Get Ready team will recreate the recipes and pick our five favorites. We’ll judge the recipes on taste, creativity and ease of preparation. Winners will receive an emergency preparedness kit from the American Red Cross!

We’ll announce the winners and post the recipes here on the Get Ready Blog on April 2 — the first day of National Public Health Week.

Good luck!

Friday, March 02, 2012

Flu Fridays: What parents can do to protect kids from the flu

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the U.S. flu season has officially begun, making this the latest start to a flu season in 29 years.

While flu activity has been relatively low compared to other flu seasons, CDC did report some sad news: There have been three child deaths so far this year from influenza. In the U.S., an estimated 20,000 children younger than age 5 are hospitalized every year from complications with the flu, which is why CDC considers young children a high-risk group.

Thankfully, there are things that any parent can do to help protect their child from the flu.

Parents with children 6 months of age and older can take their child to get a flu shot. CDC recommends that all children 6 months of age and older be vaccinated against the flu. This is especially true for children with asthma or other chronic health problems, because they are at higher risk for complications if they get the flu.

[Image: Child receiving flu shot, courtesy CDC/ Judy Schmidt]

Parents and siblings of babies younger than 6 months should get the flu shot themselves. Although a baby may be too young for the flu shot, family members can get vaccinated to reduce the chance of contracting the flu and passing it on to the baby. And parents should make sure that anyone who takes care of their baby — family members, baby sitters, nannies — are up-to-date on all vaccines, including seasonal influenza. For more information about children and the flu, check out CDC’s website. You can also read our Get Ready fact sheet that tells why it’s important for kids to get vaccines.

Pregnant women are also considered a high-risk group for the flu, because the flu can cause more severe complications during pregnancy, putting both the woman and developing fetus at risk. The great news is that the flu shot is safe for pregnant women, and the shot will also protect her fetus as well! Because of the safety and benefits of vaccination for pregnant women, the popularity of the flu vaccine has been growing in recent years. At least half of pregnant women in the U.S. reported getting their seasonal flu shot last year.

Aside from vaccination, parents of young children can teach good hand-washing techniques and other hygiene habits, such as covering their mouth and nose when they sneeze. The Get Ready campaign has a great selection of fact sheets about hand-washing for children of all ages to help parents and teachers.

For more information about families whose lives have been touched by influenza, visit Faces of Influenza and Families Fighting Flu.

We hope that this information will help your family stay flu-free this season!