Thursday, February 19, 2015

Get Ready Mailbag: Get the facts on hand-washing

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 email to

Some senator said that restaurant employees shouldn’t have to wash their hands after using the bathroom. Isn’t that a bad idea?

Yes, definitely! Hand-washing is critical when preparing food, whether at home or at a restaurant.

Before we get into that, though, let’s talk about what that senator said. According to Talking Points Memo, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said businesses should be able to opt out of rules like employee hand-washing, using Starbucks as an example: “I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says ‘We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,’” the news site reported Tillis as saying Feb. 2. Tillis later backed down, telling The Hill that the statement was meant as a joke.
Historic 1930s era hand washing sign
CDC/ Minnesota Department of Health

But clean hands are no joking matter. Hand-washing helps prevent the spread of infection when preparing and serving food, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Food service workers who don’t wash their hands properly can make people sick. That’s why food workers are required by law to wash their hands, as you’ve probably noticed when you’ve seen those signs in restaurant bathrooms.

Hand-washing isn’t just important in restaurants, though. Everyone should follow these simple hand-washing steps before preparing food: Wet, lather, scrub, rinse and dry. Be sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, or about as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

Hand-washing is a great way to protect yourself from getting sick. It prevents the spread of infection to family, friends and your community. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes hand-washing as a “do-it-yourself” vaccine, because it’s the best way to prevent getting sick or spreading disease to others.

For more information and fact sheets to share on hand-washing, visit the Get Ready hand-washing page.

Friday, February 13, 2015

New Get Ready St. Valentine's Day e-cards!

Get Ready has created four new preparedness e-cards for 2015 to add to the 10 we produced last year. So forget spending 20 minutes in the card aisle, send them the gift of preparedness and health with just a few clicks!

Get Ready Valentine's Day eCards page

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Get Ready Mailbag: What do I need to know about the measles outbreak?

Welcome to another installment of the Get Ready Mailbag, when we take time to answer questions sent our way by readers like you. Check out these questions about the recent measles outbreak, which is linked to Disney theme parks in California.

I was planning to take my children to Disneyland this summer, but these measles cases have me worried. I don't want to endanger my kids. Should we stay home instead?
The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging parents to vaccinate their children to protect them against measles. However, if your children are too young to get vaccinated against the disease — the first round of vaccinations is recommended at 12 to 15 months of age — public health experts are recommending that you keep them away from people who are not vaccinated as well as places where there are large crowds, such as malls, theme parks and airports.

This has been on the news all the time where I live. Why is there so much talk about this measles outbreak?
Because it’s serious. Measles is not a disease to be taken lightly. Infected people can have severe complications, like pneumonia and encephalitis, which is a swelling of the brain. And some people even die from the measles. According to the World Health Organization, as recently as 1980, measles caused 2.6 million deaths each year. Measles is especially dangerous for infants or anyone with pre-existing health problems.

The good news is that the death rate from measles dropped by 75 percent from 2000 to 2013 as a result of worldwide vaccination programs. So we know that vaccinations work.

This outbreak also shows what happens when people are not protected. CDC is reporting that there are 102 cases of measles in 14 states as of January 30, 2015 most of which are related to the Disneyland outbreak.  The Disneyland outbreak has contributed to a record high number of U.S. measles cases since 2000, when the disease was eliminated from this country.

I know parents who don’t vaccinate their children, should I be concerned for my family to be around them?
Not vaccinating children against measles is a bad idea. Some places have high rates of people who aren’t vaccinated. This makes diseases spread faster and further, and puts unprotected children who live in those communities at greater risk. The best protection for your kids is to make sure they are vaccinated.

I’ve heard that some people who are vaccinated come down with measles anyway. So why should I bother?
True, there are reports of measles cases among people who may already been vaccinated. However, here are some points to remember:
  • Most people who have been vaccinated for measles and still become infected were vaccinated a long time ago — 30 years or more, so their protection may be lower. During an active outbreak, people who were vaccinated long ago should consider getting a booster dose.
  • No vaccination is a 100 percent sure thing. However, it is better to be protected.
  • By getting your vaccination, you are helping to protect those around you —especially those who cannot be vaccinated for some reason — and reduce the measles virus from circulating.
How can I tell if someone is spreading the measles?
Unfortunately, people with measles are contagious before they start to show symptoms. So the best way to protect your health and your children is to stay up–to-date on vaccination schedules. And don’t forget to check out APHA’s Get Ready fact sheets for more information about vaccines.

Have a question you want answered? Send an email to

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Guest blog: Treating a cold or the flu? Remember to double-check: Don’t double up on medicines with acetaminophen

Brett Snodgrass
The Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition educates people about the safe and effective use of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in many over-the-counter and prescription medicines used to treat cold and flu symptoms. Today’s guest blog comes from Brett Snodgrass, family nurse practitioner and member of American Association of Nurse Practitioners, a founding organization of the coalition. During the height of cold and flu season, Snodgrass reminds everyone to double check their medicine labels to avoid doubling up on medicines with acetaminophen when treating winter illnesses.

The American Public Health Association is an organizational partner of the Know Your Dose campaign.

Cold and flu season is in full swing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year Americans catch an estimated 1 billion colds, and as many as 20 percent will get the flu.

Among my patients, many are diligent about hand washing, getting a flu shot and taking other precautions to avoid getting sick. Yet each year several of my patients find themselves bedridden with a cold or the flu, missing work and holiday activities. To treat coughs, stuffy noses and the sniffles, seven in 10 people will reach for an over-the-counter medicine.

If you find yourself headed to the cold and flu aisle for symptom relief, you’ll quickly see there are countless medicines available to treat your symptoms. What you may not realize is that many of these medicines contain America’s most common drug ingredient: acetaminophen.

Acetaminophen is found in more than 600 different prescription and over-the-counter medicines, including pain relievers, fever reducers and sleep aids, as well as many medicines for coughs and colds. It is safe and effective when used as directed, but there is a limit to how much can be taken in one day: 4,000 milligrams for most adults. Taking more than directed is an overdose and can lead to liver damage. I always remind my patients to double check their medicine labels to avoid doubling up on medicines with acetaminophen, and follow four simple safe use steps:

Acetaminophen safe use tips.

Follow the campaign on Twitter, @KnowYourDose, and visit for a list of common medicines that contain acetaminophen, tips on reading over-the-counter and prescription labels, and more. This cold and flu season, remember: double check; don’t double up!