Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thinking about a holiday cruise? Read these tips on norovirus first for a healthy trip

Today’s guest blog post is by Janell Goodwin, a technical information specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

You may have heard the words “norovirus outbreak” and “cruise ships” in the same sentence more than a few times in the news. Norovirus is very common on cruise ships because of close living quarters. However, the majority of cases occur on land. The illness often gets brought on to cruise ships by passengers. So before you and your family pack up to go sailing the high seas, make sure you understand some of the basics of norovirus.

What is norovirus? Norovirus is a contagious virus that causes you to have stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and is often called “food poisoning” or “stomach flu.” Anyone can be infected with norovirus. In fact, it is the most common cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it causes between 19 million and 21 million illnesses annually. Norovirus illness can be very serious, especially for young children and older adults.

How do you get norovirus? You can get norovirus from contaminated food or water, by touching contaminated surfaces, or from an infected person. The virus spreads quickly and can even float through the air and settle on surfaces. Most outbreaks occur in food service settings, like restaurants or buffets, from people touching ready-to-eat foods with bare hands.

How can I prevent norovirus? You can help prevent the spread of illness by following these steps:

• Wash your hands often and carefully with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating or handling food and after using the restroom.
• Wash fruits and vegetables before preparing or eating them.
• Cook seafood thoroughly before eating.
• Clean and disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated using a chlorine bleach solution, at a ratio of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water.
• Throw out food that might be contaminated.

What should I do if I get sick? Fortunately, norovirus tends to leave as quickly as it came in, usually lasting about one to three days. However, it could last as long as six days in young children, seniors and people who are immunocompromised. If you start to feel the symptoms of norovirus, be considerate of other people’s health with the following steps:

• Don’t prepare food or care for others who are sick for at least three days after symptoms stop.
• Get plenty of rest to rebuild your immune system.
• Drink lots of water to prevent dehydration.
• Stay put! Stay home — or in your room if you are on vacation or a cruise — to avoid infecting others.
• Clean and disinfect any surfaces or laundry that may be contaminated.
• If you are on a cruise, report your illness to the crew.

For more tips on safe food handling and norovirus, see USDA’s website.

Photo courtesy Pexels/Pixabay

Friday, November 17, 2017

DYK? Hot water and antimicrobial soaps are not better for washing hands

We all know the drill. Before you eat, after you use the restroom, after handling garbage — and at many other times — wash your hands. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Get Ready, hand-washing is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.

However, there are a lot of factors that can go into hand-washing. How long should you lather with soap? How long should you rinse? How hot should the water be? Should you use antimicrobial soaps?

According to a recent study in the Journal of Food Protection, the temperature of the water used for hand-washing doesn’t help to kill bacteria. Only boiling water — ouch! — kills bacteria. Water temperature does, however, affect how comfortable you are, and that can affect how long you wash your hands, which does have an impact.

The study found that 20 seconds of lathering was significantly better than 5 seconds of lathering. There wasn’t much difference between washing for 10 and 20 seconds. CDC recommends singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice, which lasts roughly 20 seconds, while lathering and washing. Lathering for more than 30 seconds doesn’t necessarily mean your hands will be cleaner. In fact, some studies suggest that it may spread bacteria to other surfaces.

Antimicrobial soaps are also not recommended. Normal soaps clean just as effectively while “antibacterial ingredients can do more harm than good over the long term,” according to Janet Woodcock of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Why? The use of too many antimicrobials among consumers can lead to the creation of pan-resistant bacteria, or bacteria that can’t be treated medically. If you were to ever get infected by pan-resistant bacteria, there might not yet be a cure.

For more hand-washing tips, check out Get Ready’s hand-washing page. There are great fact sheets to share with loved ones or even tape to the mirror of your employee restroom. Remember to wash your hands, use normal soap and water, and lather and rinse for 20 seconds!

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Plague is not just in the past: Disease outbreak strikes Madagascar

Just when you thought plague was a thing of the past, the disease has made a comeback in Madagascar. 

According to the World Health Organization, the number of people infected by Madagascar’s plague outbreak jumped from 197 to 684 in October. Almost 100 deaths were reported. 

Most of the cases are pneumonic plague, which can easily be passed between humans through droplets in the air. That’s different from bubonic plague, which is spread by bites from infected fleas and small animals.

Although the overall threat of disease spread within Madagascar is high, the global risk is low, according to WHO. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared for a disease outbreak.

If you are in an area at risk for plague and notice fever, chills, head and body aches, and weakness, vomiting and nausea, seek medical assistance. If left untreated, plague can be deadly. Fortunately, it can be treated with the help of antibiotics if they are delivered early.

To prevent the spread of plague, avoid close contact with people who are coughing and reduce time spent in crowded areas with lots of germs. If you’re traveling to Madagascar, get advice on prevention, treatment and risks from your doctor before you go. 

For more on bubonic plague, including info on areas that are most at risk in the U.S., see our Get Ready blog post.

Friday, November 03, 2017

It’s time to set your clocks and check your stocks!

Daylight saving time is coming to an end this Sunday. When you reset your clocks — or when they reset themselves, as our gadgets tend to do these days — use it as a reminder to check your emergency stockpile. That way, when a disaster happens, you’ll have everything you need in one place.

Think about it: During an emergency, the last thing you want to find is that your batteries have corroded, or that all your flashlights have gone missing. An emergency is not the right time to be running out to the store. Our Get Ready: Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks campaign has everything you need to make sure your stockpile is good to go.

Take a few minutes to see that everything you need is in your stockpile and that nothing has gone bad or leaked, such as food and water. Everyone should have at least three days of food and water stored at all times, including one gallon of water per person per day.

Your stockpile should also have basic supplies such as flashlights, batteries, a radio and first-aid supplies. Other items, such as a battery-operated cellphone charger and lanterns, are also useful. Check out this Get Ready checklist to see what you need to add to your supplies. If you don't have time, room or money to get them all, these items are the most essential.