Thursday, April 30, 2009
Pay attention, but don't panic! That's the the bottom line from Dr. Lee Harrison, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Right now, the average citizen doesn’t need to do anything except to pay attention to news on the developing pandemic and to keep away from others if flu symptoms strike. There is no call to action at this point, except follow basic flu etiquette — don't cough on people and wash your hands often. If you show symptoms of the flu — such as coughing or sneezing — don't go to work or school and spread your germs around, whether they're the swine kind or a garden-variety cold. If you have a fever or difficulty breathing, call your doctor.
Monday, April 27, 2009
- What is pandemic flu? Influenza viruses cause infections of the respiratory tract (breathing tubes and lungs). A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. A pandemic flu occurs when a new flu virus emerges in humans. This new human flu virus then begins to cause serious illness and the new flu virus spreads easily from person to person worldwide.
- What is the difference between pandemic flu and seasonal flu? Every year, there are seasonal flu viruses that are spread from person-to-person and most people have some natural resistance against those viruses. A pandemic flu is a new flu virus that the human population has never been infected with before. People would have little or no natural resistance to such a virus.
- How would a pandemic flu affect communities and businesses? Because most people would have little or no natural resistance against a new pandemic flu virus, many people could become sick and would not be able to go to work or school. Many people would also stay at home to care for sick family members. Schools and businesses might close to try to prevent disease spread. Large group gatherings might be canceled. Public transportation might be limited. These are examples of challenges that local communities, schools, civic organizations, and businesses will have to work together on a plan for response.
- What can be done to protect people from a pandemic flu outbreak? In the event of a pandemic, or any other disease outbreak situation, certain public health measures may be important to help contain or limit the spread of infection as effectively as possible. The following actions could include:
1. Isolating sick people in their homes, at hospitals or other facilities,
2. Identifying and quarantining exposed people,
3. Closing schools and workplaces as needed,
4. Canceling public events,
5. Restricting travel,
6. Treating sick and exposed people with vaccines or antiviral medication (if available)
In addition, you should protect yourself on a daily basis by:
- Coughing or sneezing into a tissue or into your upper arm or sleeve, click here for more information,
- Washing your hands with soap and water frequently,
- Using antibacterial hand sanitizer and wipes to disinfect your hands and common surfaces,
- Stay home if you are sick so you can recover and do not infect other people.
As new cases of swine flu emerge from around the globe, from Ohio to Nova Scotia to New Zealand, the declaration of a "public health emergency" in the United States has further stoked fears and confusion.
NBC Chief Science and Health Correspondent Robert Bazell answers questions on the outbreak:
- If this disease is like a mild flu, why is this being called a public health emergency? Why are officials in the United States concerned? It's about the potential. It's not about what's happening right now. None of the 40 cases so far in the United States have been very serious. But the virus here is genetically identical to the strain of the virus that is killing people in Mexico. This is a new virus, so there is no natural immunity. It has the potential to spread very widely. That's what raises worries about a possible pandemic.
- Don't thousands of people die from the regular flu? What's special this time around? Generally, people who die from influenza are older people or those who already have respiratory problems. They end up dying of pneumonia. But this time around, the people who died in Mexico are younger. They are apparently healthy people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. That's a big deal. When a virus seems to preferentially affect healthy people, it suggests its a new virus and is causing an overreaction of the immune response. That's what happened with the bird flu as well.
- If I have symptoms of the flu, but haven't recently been to Mexico, should I go to the doctor? You should go to the doctor if you have a fever or are really sick, for instance if you have difficulty breathing, even if you haven't been to Mexico. The cases in the U.S. are not just among people who have been to Mexico. And the cases in the U.S. are so geographically dispersed and with no obvious connection to each other, that it seems this virus has already spread widely in the United States. We shouldn't start overwhelming the E.R. or doctor's offices with every little sniffle or cough. If you had the flu bad enough to start endangering you, you would want to go to the doctor anyway. You should also follow flu etiquette. If you are sick, you should stay home from work or school and limit contact with others.
- Why is the disease so much more serious in Mexico than here? Probably because it started in Mexico. That's going to become a big issue over time. There's supposed to be a pandemic prevention plan to contain a new flu virus by giving people in surrounding areas Tamiflu. But it has obviously been spreading in Mexico for up to a month. The new strain of swine flu was discovered in California before the U.S. even knew about the cases in Mexico. The virus could also be mutating.
- Why is there so much uncertainty about what happens next? Every epidemic has its own behavior. There's really no way of predicting. This could really just fade out or it could become very serious. Right now we are in a period of great uncertainty. In public health, that's the hardest thing.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
OLYMPIA—As Washington residents have demonstrated throughout the storms and flooding of the past few years, they care not only for themselves, but for their neighbors, too. Now, concern for the welfare of their communities is leading individuals and faith-based and voluntary groups to work together in local Long-Term Disaster Recovery Organizations (LTROs).
The mission of an LTRO is to help those neighbors for whom federal and state disaster assistance will not be enough. An LTRO may serve as a clearinghouse and point of contact for volunteer efforts to repair damaged housing, mediating between homeowners in need and volunteer groups that come to do the repair work.
For example, in one county, an elderly, disabled man had extensive damage to his roof after the storms in January. He was able to receive help from FEMA for temporary housing, and he did have insurance to cover his expenses. But he needed help bringing it all together. While some volunteers from an LTRO agency helped the man complete his insurance claim forms and deal with the insurance company, other volunteers installed a tarp until a new roof could be built.
When applicants with disaster damage have exhausted all available FEMA/state assistance and still have serious unmet needs, they are referred by the state to an LTRO. The state will identify the agency with the appropriate resources to help, then will provide the applicant with the phone number of the county LTRO. The applicant then calls the LTRO.
"Recovering from natural disasters is the work of many hands, many agencies – government and private – and many dedicated individuals," said Federal Coordinating Officer Willie Nunn. "FEMA programs are part of the recovery process, but people still have long-term needs that go beyond the scope of government assistance. Fortunately, Washington’s Long-Term Recovery Organizations are working now to provide that help."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) brings to every major disaster a team of people who specialize in helping form LTROs. In Washington, FEMA's Voluntary Agency Liaison group is working with Washington Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (WA-VOAD) to assess needs, forge connections with outside agencies, meet with many local groups and organizations, and provide guidance as needed.
LTROs combine the resources of voluntary groups in the county. Typically, they are comprised of social voluntary and faith-based organizations. The organizations that participate in an LTRO expand their opportunities to assist residents affected by the disaster. By coordinating their efforts, they make the best use of each member’s services and resources, while allowing them to share information and thus avoid duplication of benefits.
"These committees facilitate a simultaneous access to agencies’ information, creating a joint forum to share viable solutions to issues and problems, including unmet needs cases in their community," said State Coordinating Officer Kurt Hardin.
Cowlitz County has started a Long Term Recovery Committee and is now beginning the process of reviewing cases. If you have received government assistance (FEMA or SBA aid) following the flood, but still have some unmet needs, please contact Jennifer at the Department of Emergency Management (577-3130) for more information.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
OLYMPIA—The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourages everyone to take simple steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses, and communities. Even kids!
Welcome to FEMA for Kids, a Web site that is all fun and games – sort of. Underneath all the fun is a lot of good information that helps kids and their families become better prepared in the event of a disaster. Play games, enjoy stories, do puzzles, go through mazes, and watch videos. You can even become a Disaster Action Kid and get your very own certificate to hang on the wall!
Go to www.fema.gov and click on Kids. Meet Herman the “spokescrab” and tag along on his search for a disaster-proof shell. You'll also meet Julia and Robbie, the Disaster Twins. Wherever these two go, trouble is sure to follow. Watch brother and sister get into – and out of – all sorts of close calls, learning along the way how to be better prepared, or how to avoid danger altogether. Another link takes you to www.sesamestreet.org/ready. On this site, Sesame Street characters talk about preparing for emergencies.
The FEMA site shows that disasters come in many shapes and sizes. Some are predictable – like a hurricane. Some, like a tornado, are not. Learning about the different kinds of disasters helps everyone become better prepared. Learn the best way to keep yourself, your family and your pets safe, as you do what you like to do best – have fun!
Find out about disaster kits and learn what you need before the danger happens. Discover what you might feel during and after such an incident. Read stories from other young people your age who have been through a disaster, or tell your own story. FEMA for Kids is a tool for recovery as well as preparedness. There are even resources for parents and teachers. They can get great curriculum or safety information that can be used in the classroom or at home.
Disasters aren't fun, but learning about them can be. Plus, there's that cool certificate to hang on your wall. Give it a try, kids. Mom and dad can try too. You're never too old to be a kid – a Disaster Action Kid!
Additional information on how anyone can be prepared for an emergency is available at www.ready.gov.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Are you ready? Governor Christine Gregoire has proclaimed April as Disaster Preparedness Month. This is a statewide coordinated effort held each April to encourage Washingtonians to take simple steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses and schools. Washington State is subject to a number of potential natural disasters such as fires, floods, severe winter storms, earthquakes, dam failures, volcanic eruptions and landslides. While we all hope that such an occurrence never happens, it has been shown time and time again that being prepared for disaster makes sense. The Cowlitz County Department of Emergency Management encourages you and your family to be prepared for disasters that may occur locally, nationally or globally. The following is a tip sheet to help families take the necessary steps to become more disaster resilient.
Make a Kit—Prepare a kit of emergency supplies that will allow you and your family to survive for at least 3 days following a major disaster. The kit should include basic items like water, food, battery-powered radio, flashlights and a first aid kit. For suggestions on making a kit, contact the Department of Emergency Management at (360) 577-3130 or go to www.co.cowlitz.wa.us/DEM.
Make a Plan—Plan in advance what you and your family will do in an emergency. Your plan should include a communications plan, a meeting point, and instructions on sheltering-in-place or evacuating. Go to http://www.ready.gov/ for more information and templates to get you started.
Be Informed—Learn more about the hazards that could affect your community and the appropriate responses to take. Check out our website to learn about local disasters. For up-to-the minute disaster information, visit the Department of Emergency Management’s blog at http://www.cowlitzcountydem.blogspot.com/. (Well, look at that, you're already here! Go you!)
Get Involved—After preparing yourself and your family, take the next step: get training in first aid, CPR and emergency response.