Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Economic apocalypse?

Here’s the latest on preparing for a flu pandemic – an article published in the Marysville, UT newspaper (http://www.appeal-democrat.com/news/apocalypse_69329___article.html).

In Utah, and everywhere else, as the candidates say, the financial meltdown of Wall Street is moving to Main Street. And one way that people are reacting is to move into survivalist mode, stockpiling food, money, and other emergency supplies.

The article says that FEMA bought “an unprecedented number” of emergency food supplies prior to Hurricane Ike, including “13 truckloads of MREs” from one distributor of nuclear fallout preparedness supplies. The owner’s experience is that his sales spike when reports of bank failures spur fears.

Is that what it takes to get people to be prepared for a major public health emergency?

Another recent article (
http://www.mcgilltribune.com/home/index.cfm?event=displayArticlePrinterFriendly&uStory_id=b83f9220-ad9e-48e6-aaec-7d167c8a9aa0) says that “another barrier to preparation is the misconception that, while pandemics happened before, they won’t happen again.”

The article quotes an expert from the World Health Organization: “…despite advances in medicine since 1918, viral defenses have changed very little… People are far less self-sufficient and travel more, which also increases the vulnerability to infection.”

I thought that was an interesting way of explaining that when it comes to a virus gone wild, we are pretty much at its mercy for a while, just like in 1918.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Keeping you safe at night

I've been on the overnight shift all week, tonight in the Denver Joint Information Center. There are about 10 of us here, and each person has a different assignment.

Denver set up this room over the last couple of months. It is an old janitor's closet - really! It is truly in the bowels of the City and County Building. There are about 18 computers and phones lots of televisions, but only the reruns of the DNC speeches are on now.

Since we are working 12 hour shifts, parking was a problem - there aren't that many places downtown where you can park that long, and overlapping into two days. They set up parking for us in a nearby structure. That was great. I had to walk a couple blocks, and even though it was 9:30 in the evening, I never felt so safe - there were police officers all over the place. Maybe that was primarily because we are near the DPD headquarters, but I haven't been around town much this week. Sleeping during the day means that you miss a lot of what is going on.

Got a "tweet" today (a Twitter text message) from a co-worker that said that the DNC is hard on marriages. It really is hard to maintain relationships when you work at night and sleep during the day. My daughter had to go stay with her godmother for the week, so she could get to school each day and eat real food. I won't see her until Friday evening. I bet she is having a great time with her godmother, but I hope she keeps up with her homework.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

DNC and Public Health

A lot of people have been asking me why public health is involved in the DNC preparations. To some people, it seems odd that we will be standing by to help out at a moment's notice. What could happen that requires public health response?

Public health is always on board, but you rarely see us. When it works, we're invisible.

We make sure that the food you eat when you go to a restaurant is safe. When you turn on the faucet, remember that it's public health that regulates water treatment so the water we drink is pure. We watch the day care centers that serve food, we monitor the emissions that come out of your car's tailpipe, and we make sure that children get the tests they need right after birth.

So, what we call a foodborne illness is always possible - all the parties planned for hotels, restaurants, and historic buildings... young people gathered in parks to protest who might share food with each other, and in pretty hot weather.

We've heard that everyone who wants to enter the Pepsi Center and Invesco Field will go through security points. I am imagining long lines of people in the parking lots around Invesco all afternoon next Thursday, when the weather is looking like it will be 90+. What will happen if people start keeling over from the heat and dehydration? Planning for a situation like this is a public health role; so is making sure the medical system can deal with the consequences.

One of the things that concerns me the most is the number of people who will be coming to Denver from much lower elevations. The feelings that go along with altitude sickness are so similar to other illnesses - headache, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue. It won't be a problem for most people, but overexertion in the heat could make the symptoms more pronounced. If someone really got sick, might his or her symptoms be written off to altitude sickness?

You might know that public health is a player in anti-terrorism efforts. The DNC is designated as a high security event. We all hope that all the preparations

Friday, August 22, 2008

DNC, here we come....

That's right, as one of my coworkers put it, the crazies are here.

Today, more than four days before the DNC officially begins, there were at least two threatening incidents - a suspicious package in Capitol Hill and white powder and threatening mail at Senator McCain's campaign headquarters in Centennial.

Thankfully, both incidents were resolved quickly, with no real threat and no injuries.

So, what's in store for all of us in this next 8 days? We can only imagine. Stay tuned for more from the "front" of public health during the DNC.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Summer reading from the Glogger (Guest Blogger): How’s your Emergency Preparedness Reading List?

Have you been working on getting through your summer reading list?

I was recently checking out the “card catalog” at my local branch of the library. So I was curious about fiction that deals with Emergency Preparedness topics.

Using the subject index I found there are 10 novels in the category of Influenza Fiction, then 52 books listed as End of World Fiction, 20 as Epidemics Fiction, and 15 books termed Victims of Terrorism Fiction. There is even a special category of September 11 Terrorist Attacks 2001 Fiction with 37 novels.

Interestingly enough, not all of these are books for adults. Two of the Influenza Fiction books are for children – one is about how a young boy takes care of his animal friends in Farm Flu by Teresa Bateman. The other is based on the true story of Marven who was sent by his parents to a lumber camp to escape the flu raging in the city (Marven of the Great North Woods by Kathryn Lasky).

Will we give our children material for the Influenza Fiction of the future?

Another good reason to ask ourselves “What If? Colorado.”

Check out the Emergency Kit Calculator to figure out what supplies you need to complete your kit. In case you’re interested, my summer reading list included books in the categories of Antarctica Fiction, Jane Austen Fiction and Knitting Fiction. It’s been a good summer.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Public health steps up to the plate.

Colorado has more than 1200 registered public health and medical volunteers in the database known as the Colorado Volunteer Mobilizer.

The Colorado Volunteer Mobilizer serves as a tool to call upon needed volunteers anywhere in the state. The volunteer system allows communities throughout
Colorado to support each other with these essential resources.

These are people like you and me that want to be there when the stuff hits the fan. Most are medical professionals, such as nurses, doctors, and mid-level health care providers, plus respiratory therapists, dentists, pharmacists, EMTs and paramedics, and mental health counselors. Many are employed in public health, including epidemiologists.

But the Colorado Volunteer Mobilizer needs support volunteers, too. If you aren't a medical professional but you think you could help during a disaster, you could provide support with recordkeeping, communications, logistics, distribution of assets, or spiritual/faith-based counseling. Sign up online at https://covolunteers.state.co.us/.


Each volunteer is required to take Incident Command System 100 and 700. Both courses are free and available online at www.training.fema.gov.

Volunteers register themselves online and enter contact information, license renewals and certifications directly. Volunteers keep their own information up-to-date. Volunteers are screened and credentialed before they can be available for activation.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

You say potato, I say potahtoe...

The Guest Blogger strikes again...

I was reviewing some Emergency Preparedness plans and made a note that material was misspelled as materiel. I know I find it difficult to remember when to use an “e” and when it’s an “a.”

The document writer let me know that materiel is the correct spelling, in the Strategic National Stockpile and technical Emergency Preparedness field. What? So I looked it up. Materiel means all the apparatus, equipment, parts and supplies (as distinguished from the personnel), required in an operation, organization, or undertaking The term is used to refer to a military force but can be applied to other organizations. On the other hand, one of the definitions for material, is the tools or apparatus for the performance of a given task. Both words derive from the same French word of matériel.

So it looks like materiel is a more precise term – emphasizing required equipment and excluding personnel.

And remember, people are material.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It is so hot in Colorado....

The Los Angeles Fire Department is really progressive in its use of "new media" such as a blog and Twitter.

Their public information officer posted some great tips about coping with hot weather.

The best ways to remain protected from the ill effects of heat are to dress appropriately, stay indoors, refrain from strenuous work or exercise during the hottest part of the day, and stay hydrated.

Plan in advance to wear loose, lightweight and light-colored clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible, and a well-ventilated hat with a wide brim. Stay in the shade whenever possible.

Your body needs plenty of water to keep cool. Water is usually the best liquid to drink during hot weather. Drinks with alcohol or caffeine can make the heat's effects on your body worse.

Symptoms of dehydration and heat illness may not be easily recognized, but often include fatigue, nausea, headache and vomiting. Drink before you become thirsty and rest before you become tired. If you feel ill, tell someone immediately.

Many heat emergencies occur to people who are exercising, working or staying alone. We suggest you use a buddy system, and also check on elderly, disabled or at-risk neighbors on a regular basis.

If your home does not have air conditioning, consider a cool place to visit or stay during the hottest part of the day. Schools, libraries, theaters, shopping malls and community facilities may provide an air-conditioned refuge.

Pets, horses, and livestock are also susceptible to hot weather. See that the special needs of your animals are met, including copious shade and plenty of cool water.

Finally, from all of us at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Emergency Preparedness and Response Division, this is a good time to check your emergency water supply. Can you imagine not having drinking water in this heat!?

Stay cool.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thoughts from a guest blogger on who gets treatment

I recently heard from two different people that “the Health Department doesn’t care about old people. We’re just going to let them die if there is a flu epidemic.”

I was surprised to hear this since I know the Emergency Preparedness and Response Division has identifed older adults as a special or vulnerable population. They want to ensure that we reach that population with information on how to prepare for a pandemic.

Looking a little further, I realize these comments came from the recent media stories about developing a list of who will and who won’t get lifesaving care when resources are limited. At the top if the list appears “people older than 85.” What also stands out are those with "severe mental impairment" (like Alzheimer’s disease), and those with severe chronic disease. So that does sound like older adults.

This brings up the question of what are the rules for “playing God.”

Did anyone else have to read in high school the short story The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson? That story has haunted me ever since 10th grade.

Through the miracle of the web, you can read the story at http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/lotry.html.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but this group of citizens has their set of rules that works perfectly, as long as everyone agrees to the whole system.

Since I also work in Injury Prevention, this discussion got me thinking about how we can use this to motivate people to wear seatbelts.

What about this for a media message:
“Did you know that if a pandemic flu or other public health
emergency hits, the hospitals may decide not to treat patients with severe trauma? This could mean you, if you don’t wear your seatbelt. So buckle up!”


Likewise, we all need to stay as healthy as possible so we won’t be one of those with a severe chronic disease who is passed over in the hospital.

I know it’s better to be thinking about these things now, but I don’t envy those folks who are actually working on this task force.

What do you think?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Social networking for preparedness

Going places....

...or at least trying to.

Emergency preparedness is adopting new technologies as a means of communicating during a disaster.

There is a group at the University of Colorado that is using the term "crisis informatics" to explain new dimensions of the study of information and communications technology. It seems to be a marriage of IT and sociology to discuss how technology is used during a crisis and how it can be applied to improve emergency response.

To understand it better, I looked into the definition of "informatics" first. Here are two excerpts from the web:

  • Informatics: An emerging term that is used to cover information along with its management, particularly by computer. Usually the field involved is used along with ”informatics”, e.g., “medical informatics.”

  • Informatics: A field of study that focuses on the use of technology for improving access to and utilization of information. Health informatics is the systematic study of information in the healthcare delivery system—how it is captured, retrieved, and used in making decisions—as well as the tools and methods used to manage this information and support decisions.

The Colorado researchers are looking at the social meaning of communications technology in the context of emergency response. Some of the research involved text messaging and Facebook usage during the Virginia Tech killings in 2007.

(Reading about this made me think of Emily Keyes, who texted her parents before she was killed at Platte Canyon High School in September 2006. Her parents must treasure that text message.)

So what do you think? Do you think you would appreciate getting updates via text messaging during a crisis? What if it was a "group" text message, such as those disseminated through Twitter?

Here's your chance to weigh in.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Emergency preparedness and response is a Colorado PRIORITY

Governor Bill Ritter visited the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Friday, specifically to express his thanks to all the staff who helped Alamosa recover from its water emergency.

Governor Ritter was involved from the start, making a quick trip to Alamosa to help distributed bottled water as soon as the boil-water order came down. He is a very involved governor who really seems to enjoy meeting Coloradans of all ilks. He wanted the people in the Alamosa water district to know that the state was behind them, and we were all in it for the long haul.

OK, you say, status quo for a politician, right?

Wrong. Not around here.

The next day was Easter. Not knowing what support would be needed, the CDPHE Operations Center was staffed very early and ready to go when in strolls Governor Ritter, legendary cowboy boots and all, with coffee cup in hand. He sat down with us and asked questions, genuinely interested in how we were providing support to the local nursing service in Alamosa County.

When we told him we were sorry he had to interrupt his Easter family time, he said "no problem," that he had been to church in the evening. But with young children still at home, we knew he was making his own sacrifices for no other reason than to show his support for us.

There were no television cameras, no reporters, nobody but us. He didn't have to do it, but we really felt like he was behind us and it made it more rewarding to be there that Easter Sunday. (Full disclosure: this writer doesn't celebrate the holiday and was glad to help out when Christian colleagues wanted to be with their families.)

So fast-forward to last Friday, when all staff who helped with Alamosa were invited to a little reception during which our executive staff, led by director Jim Martin, wanted to take a moment to express their appreciation for the eager response from CDPHE employees. There were a lot of people, even many who never set foot in the Department Operations Center during that response effort. It just goes to show you what is involved in making everything click in a response. For every "subject-matter expert" who voices his or her expert opinion during a highly publicized conference call, there may be three other people at their desks doing research, outreach, and even photocopying to keep things going.

We were mingling and enjoying some lemonade when Governor Ritter strolled in. He had not gotten two steps into the room before staff starting noticing and approaching him - I don't know how many hands he shook that morning, but it was darn near everyone.

When he finally was able to make his way to the front of the room, he spoke briefly. And he had just the right words to make every person in that room feel understood and appreciated.

Now it is our turn to appreciate him. Thank you, Governor Ritter, for going out of your way to make us feel like what we did made a difference for the people of Alamosa.

Monday, June 2, 2008

It's the economy.....

Whew, it's been a while...

Public health agencies in Colorado have been busy. The water problem in Alamosa was a real activation for what we all have been practicing. The water agencies that helped to respond to the problems were incredibly helpful. The worst of the crisis was over within the week. Economic recovery is the next challenge for the Alamosa area, a small community of people with deep roots in the San Luis Valley.

If something like this would happen in your community, whether you live in Denver or in Wray, how would the financial stability of the area fare?

The Trust for America's Health estimates that Colorado's economy could take a hit of $11.7 billion during a flu pandemic, what many public health leaders consider the ultimate disaster. Planning for pandemic flu amounts to anticipating a worst-case scenario -- if we can manage a pandemic, we can handle anything.

And that places Colorado 38th in the state rankings (by percentage of projected gross domestic product GDP decline), so we aren't even one of the worst economic impacts. (The worst state is Nevada, followed by Hawaii.) Sources indicate that the US gross domestic product index could fall by 4 to 6 percent, throwing the economy into a recession.

What is your business, or the businesses you rely on, doing to minimize the economic impact of a disaster? Continuity of operations (COOP) plans are important for the small business that sells gifts or pet food, to the large multi-national corporations that manage data systems.

And what is your personal financial forecast during a pandemic? Could you weather out the storm of a pandemic with no pay check? With no gasoline? How about groceries? (Food for thought...)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Very interesting..... bird flu, human-to-human transmission, and musings from others around "Flubogia"

There is an interesting thread posted on a pandemic flu-watching blog that I follow:


First interesting point: It refers to the recent release of information about human-to-human transmission of bird flu in China, just published in the British medical journal The Lancet. The case reported, which actually occurred in December, was a transmission from son to father.

So far, all of the human-to-human (H2H) transmission has been between family members, mostly family members with a genetic relationship rather than marital relationship (second interesting point!). That is leading some of the scientists to believe that there could be a genetic predisposition to infection with this H5N1 virus.

Another interesting aspect of this report was how the father was treated. He was vaccinated by transfusing him with blood from someone who had been vaccinated with a trial H5N1 vaccine. Wow. However, a noted health reporter, Helen Branswell (The Canadian Press), emphasizes that there is no way to be sure that the transfusion is what led to the father's recovery.

The follow-up postings meander from the report to Chinese motives, to authenticity of the information, to the pan flu threat (more "interesting points").

There are some conversations about being too melodramatic about pandemic flu. One person feels that all this pandemic flu stuff is another Y2K - nothing to worry about.

He says, "H5N1 is going nowhere fast, much to the chagrin of the fear mongering crowd. The situation has remained unchanged over the past 4 years and there is ZERO evidence that it's evolving into a human pandemic virus."

And, finally, a highly respected writer, Jody Lanard, reminds us how a message of "don't panic" is interpreted. From Dr. Lanard:

On telling people to stay calm:
Here is an excerpt from Appendix 5, "The Problem with Saying 'Don't Panic'," which I wrote as part of the draft background document for WHO's Outbreak Communication Guidelines in 2004:
Officials clearly have the fear or belief -- the mental model -- that panic is imminent. Instead of diagnosing, validating, and addressing the public's actual level of anxiety, officials repeatedly warn them not to panic.
To the public, "There is no need to panic" implies at least four things:
1. "The officials think or know that people are close to panicking. Things must be pretty bad." This increases public alarm.
2. "The officials think we're about to panic. How insulting." This decreases respect for officials.
3. "The officials are close to panicking themselves." This increases public alarm.
4. "Sometimes there must indeed be a need to panic."
Very hard lessons to teach officials.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

An amazing response and recovery

If you've been following the news from Alamosa, Colorado, they are making significant progress on cleaning the water system. Somehow - and we may never know exactly how - the water distribution in this San Luis Valley town was contaminated with salmonella.

The water emergency has had an enormous impact on this small community. Nearly 10,000 people are served by the municipal water system in and around Alamosa. As a result of the response needs, the city welcomed 749 volunteers from all over the state, and many from out of state as well.

Some of the volunteers trudged through town, door to door, talking to people about how to stay safe or leaving notices on doors. Others from far more complex water districts around Colorado used their expertise to flush the water system with a very strong concentration of chlorine. And still more made sure that everyone could understand the safety instructions - no matter what language worked best.

The people who live in Alamosa have not been able to turn on the water without thinking about their health for two weeks now. It has been a huge inconvenience to buy or pick up drinking water, and many even visited a very gracious hotel on its own water system to take a shower for a few days. Through it all, the residents have been optimistic and patient.

If you have ever thought about helping out in an emergency such as this, consider the public health and medical volunteer system today. It includes Medical Reserve Corps units all over the state, staffed by medical volunteers who are willing to step up during an emergency. But your skills might be useful even if you aren't a health professional. The Colorado Volunteer Mobilizer (CVM) is a way to register as a volunteer before something urgent occurs, and to get the training you might need before helping out.

Visit http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/epr/volunteer.html today for more information about the Colorado Volunteer Mobilizer.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The "new" gold

I know that they tell you to have some cash in your emergency kit "just in case," but I think Westerners know what is even more important - water.

You couldn't go anywhere a couple of summers ago when drought was all over the news here in Colorado.

This time, there is a salmonella outbreak in the San Luis Valley city of Alamosa. Best evidence so far shows a problem with a municipal water system.

Everyone is scrambling to get bottled water to them. The traffic on those two-lane roads is sure to be heavy with many semis pulling in to town.

When they get enough bottled water, city officials will shut down the water system completely by flushing it out and using chemicals, which generally isn't needed in that part of the state.

When the clean-out begins, the advisory will be, "Do not use tap water for any purpose except flushing the toilet."

Think about that - the logistics of feeding and caring for a family seem overwhelming in this situation. People are being advised to use paper plates and disposable utensils. They have to buy ice. Some restaurants are closing, just to be sure. Others may close, when they discover how impossible it will be to operate safely under these conditions.

So if this doesn't make you go out and buy some more water "just in case," nothing will.

There's more information online at www.cdphe.state.co.us/epr/alamosa.html.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The coming pandemic and antivirals (again)

The anti-viral controversy has raised its head yet again.

Today, the Rocky Mountain News published an opinion piece from two members of an organization called the Colorado Coalition for Pandemic Preparedness. Read it for yourself at http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/mar/10/speakout-is-colorado-prepared-for-a-flu-pandemic/.

The writers think that Colorado has "been slow to react to the Health and Human Services request to secure our own antiviral stockpile that we can immediately access in a flu pandemic."

While I appreciate the efforts to bring pandemic flu and public health preparedness back to our consciousness, on this point, they are just plain wrong.

As soon as the feds made their "generous" offer to the states to pay one-quarter of the cost of a state stockpile of Tamiflu, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment gathered its resident experts to consider the options. Then, as now, there were two possibilities:

1. Colorado could buy extra antivirals at a cost of about $7 million. We also would have to figure out how to store them properly, an additional ongoing cost for refrigerated storage. It would mean eliminating staff and several programs devoted to public health preparedness for all-hazards situations -- whether flu, blizzard, tornado, plane crash, bioterrorism or explosion. And it would mean a reduction in funding to local public health departments all over the state. And, since the feds won't extend the shelf life for the state stockpiles (only their own), we'd have to throw it out and buy more in five years.

2. Colorado could focus its efforts on the "other tools in our toolbox" to combat a pandemic, since we have no idea whether a pandemic virus would respond to Tamiflu or other available antivirals.

When we last visited this topic (see December 19, at http://breadybhealthybinformed.blogspot.com/2007/12/to-tamiflu-or-not-to-tamiflu.html), I posted 10 reasons for Colorado to abstain from purchasing extra antiviral medication. And I still stand by those 10 reasons... and we could keep adding to the list.

No one can just dismiss the writers' concerns for themselves and other first responders and medical professionals. They are our heroes time and time again.

But Colorado is providing for the people on the front lines of pandemic flu. In fact, the Governor's Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee heard from a medical ethics expert before taking pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards) and creating a list of priorities for medication and vaccinations in an epidemic. And with our allocation from the Department of Health and Human Services, Colorado would have plenty of meds for firefighters and nurses called to those front lines.

So, what do you think? Have you changed your mind as a result of this opinion column? Do you think Colorado is on the right track for public health preparedness?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ready or not?

See Channel 7 here in Denver for information on the campaign resulting from a partnership between the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Wal-Mart/Sam's Club stores beginning next week.

In this editorial, our director of public health preparedness and response issues a challenge to everyone.

It's not so much a "be prepared or be scared" warning, but he offers some useful info on being ready for anything.

Most relevant to me? How about:
"Spread out the cost by buying a few items each time you shop."
"Work... with neighbors or friends to develop and store items together."

How about you?

What is the best piece of advice you have received about preparing for any emergency? Let us know.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Public health and "unintended consequences?"

Social distancing. Community resiliency.

These are two phrases that are used a lot by experts who analyze the potential impacts of a pandemic - an unfamiliar disease that is causing serious illness around the world.

A commentary in the February 6 issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, brings the conflicts to the surface again (JAMA, vol. 299, no. 5, pp 566-568, subscription required).

The state epidemiologist from Florida writes of the American respect for diversity, based on shared goals and aspirations. But, he says, recommendations for "social distancing" are "based on limited current scientific evidence and could have serious adverse unintended consequences for the social fabric of society..."

Dr. John Middaugh is concerned. This public health leader believes that public health is changing its longstanding, science-based recommendations for flu that focus on protecting the most vulnerable people with either vaccinations or antiviral medications.

The new messages from public health, he says, tell us that we each have the power and responsibility to prevent exposure to a pandemic flu virus and it will be up to us to take action to reduce the effects of a pandemic on everyone.

Hmmm, I can see what Dr. Middaugh is saying.

When the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services visited Colorado, his main point seemed to be, "Don't count on us [the feds] for help."

Is that what all of public health is saying now?

That would really be a shame. It kind of takes the "public" out of "public health," doesn't it?

What do you think?
  • If we encourage social distancing, do we risk weakening our commitment to community? Does social distancing = social disorder during a crisis?

  • Will social distancing mean that we abandon those who would not survive a pandemic without the support of others -- the ill, the young, the old, the disabled?

Here's another take on the JAMA commentary:


Oh, and P.S.
Dr. Middaugh also talks about fear-mongering around seasonal flu and flu vaccination campaigns. Is he right that flu shot campaigns are really our government's approach to increasing the demand for vaccine so vaccine manufacturers will expand production? And, he says, "The campaign to increase use of influenza vaccination for seasonal influenza adds to the fear of this disease and fuels separation and isolation." Yikes. What does this mean for public health?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Did you know your neighbors at your precinct caucus?

Last night, in spite of the cold and my cold, I dragged myself out to the precinct caucus to help Colorado make history. For our very first Super Tuesday, there was quite a turn-out. There were thousands of people trying to get into a middle school and adjacent high school for I don't know how many precincts.

It occurred to me that I had never seen so many of my "neighbors" in one place. It was relatively orderly, but pretty confusing.

Two things came to mind. First, evacuations and shelters - what if we all had to go to those schools for shelter? How would we have coped with temporary communal living? Would I have been able to grab anything from our "go-kit" on the way out? My emergency supplies container is huge - and that's even without food and water. I resolved to make backpacks for each of us with our bare essentials for an evacuation on foot.

Second, my neighbors - there were three people there from my block that I knew by name and possibly a few more by sight. I wish that I had thought about this before the caucus, but wouldn't it have been nice to start a neighborhood registry? I think I will call my city council representative about having a neighborhood event to help people get to know each other.

Finally, I skimmed through a few blogs this morning and saw that our friends at READYColorado posted a piece about planning for our pets. When I thought about sheltering, I forgot about this - even though we have two dogs.

Check out that information about how to prepare for your pets during an emergency. It's great information. http://breadyblog.com/

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The scientist who cried "WOLF"?

What do you think, have they snowed us on pandemic flu?

The New York Times has an article today called "A Pandemic That Wasn't but Might Be." You can read the whole thing at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/22/science/22flu.html?ref=science .

There are some who are beginning to step back from the ominous predictions about the coming pandemic.

But, while 2007 saw a decline in the numbers infected with bird flu, it's still with us, and it's still deadly.

One doc has been saying that he doesn't think H5 viruses will cause a pandemic, but he quickly adds that another subtype of the influenza virus very well could set off an international outbreak of a lethal flu.

In other reports, scientists are arguing about the stability of the virus that causes bird flu.
  • If it is stable, it is less likely to change into a form that is more human-friendly.
  • If it is not stable, it could change into what many fear would be the scourge of the 21st century - a new virus causes serious illness and that is easily transmitted from person to person.
Denial seems to be part of the human condition. No one wants to believe that a pandemic could turn life as we know it upside down. I wonder what will be written in the history books someday.

What do you think?
Are conditions ripe for a pandemic?
Vote today above!

Someone you love needs this

Just read a good publication for people who have a disability that would make evacuation difficult. Read pp. 4-6 about 9/11, and you will see how important it could be to make plans for and practice rapid evacuation.


It was a good consciousness-raising experience for me, a non-disabled person (or, as some might say, temporarily able-bodied, or TAB).

The document encourages people to take responsibility for their own special needs, to the extent possible, yet also makes it clear that everyone needs to pitch in. And isn't that exactly what everyone has been saying about emergencies in general? No one agency, person, family, or jurisdiction can implement an effective response in a vacuum. Just as we hope that our federal, state, and local officials will work together, individuals will have to, also.

If you know someone who has a communication or mobility impairment in particular, show him or her that you care, and share this information today.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Seasonal flu, bird flu, pandemic flu…. What’s the difference?

Here's something from a Georgia health department that very clearly explains the types of flu that make the news these days:

Seasonal, avian (bird) flu, and pandemic flu have gotten a lot of attention, and understanding the differences can be difficult.

Seasonal flu happens every year. In the U.S., it hospitalizes 114,000 and kills 36,000 annually. Most people who get it feel awful for a while and recover. There are many flu viruses, and there is an annual vaccine which contains the three strains experts believe to be the biggest threat each year.

Avian flu affects mostly birds. There are several avian flu viruses. Wild birds carry avian flu, seldom get sick from it, and even more rarely die from it. However, domestic birds, such as chickens, do not have immunity against some avian flu viruses, so they can get sick and die.

The H5N1 virus is a deadly strain of avian flu. H5N1 has been found in birds in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Millions of chickens have been destroyed to try to control spread of the virus. Human cases have been identified in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. So far, it has not been identified in the western hemisphere. Since 2003, about 300 people worldwide have been known to get H5N1, and about half have died. Nearly everyone who has gotten ill has caught H5N1 from infected poultry.

Experts think the H5N1 virus could cause a worldwide outbreak of flu in people, called a pandemic. To do that, the virus must mutate to spread easily from person to person. No one knows when or if H5N1 (or another virus) will become capable of causing a pandemic. There is no pandemic flu anywhere now, but it makes sense to prepare for it.

The 20th century saw three significant flu pandemics. The 1918-1919 Spanish Flu was the biggest and many millions of people died, including 675,000 Americans, and millions more were ill. Milder pandemics happened in 1957-1958 (“Asian Flu”) and 1968-1969 (“Hong Kong Flu”).

If a flu pandemic like the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu were to happen today, it would be devastating. Lots of people would be sick, and millions could die. We can all do things now to prepare, which you will learn about through this series. In the meantime, visit http://www.pandemicflu.gov/ to learn more.

--Rhiannon Brewer is the public relations and information specialist for the Northeast Health District in Georgia and can be reached at rcbrewer@dhr.state.ga.us.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Should I clean the toilet or the doorknob?

Do you live with anyone else?

(The dogs don’t count.)

Everyone has at one point or another had to deal with someone else in the household having a cold.

Even if you don’t live with anyone now, when you were younger you did. Remember how the whole household suffered along with Mom’s cold?

Here is a challenge for you this winter: Stay well.

Kids get up to 12 colds a year. Ick. (I know someone who calls kids “little incubators” for germs.)

And, each year, five to 20 percent of the US population gets the flu and 36,000 people die. (Did you know that seasonal influenza is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable death in our country?)

Here is the simple truth: Respiratory illnesses are spread by coughing or sneezing and unclean hands.

It really is that simple – we probably would not get a cold or the flu this winter if we can avoid people who cough and/or sneeze, wash our hands frequently and avoid touching our faces. Getting a flu shot every year will help you boost your immunity to flu viruses, too.

If you have a cold or the flu, cover your mouth/nose when you cough/sneeze with a tissue – then throw it away immediately and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, cough/sneeze into your upper sleeve – not your hands. If you can’t wash, used an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Most importantly, stay home when you are sick.

Model these easy behavior changes with your coworkers and teach your children these simple steps to avoiding a cold or flu this winter and not only will you stay well, but the people around you will be well, too.

And, oh yeah, the answer to the question in the title? The doorknob.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

I-70 closing tests travelers

What a way to end the year -- I-70 closed late Sunday, December 30th, stranding people returning to the metro area after a day of skiing.

The hotels, already full with holiday travelers, accommodated as many people as possible, and emergency shelters kept most from spending a cold night in their cars. The Red Cross, which opened 11 shelter sites, reports that it housed 2,400 people that cold night. And the Salvation Army opened an additional two.

But what if peoples' cars had been stranded on the highway for the same 20 hours, due to heavy snow or avalanches? Would skiiers and vacationers have been able to wait out the storm?

And what would it take to spend a freezing cold Summit or Eagle County night in your car?

I asked an expert at the Colorado Division of Emergency Management this very question.

His suggestions: blankets, winter clothing (including hat, mittens, boots), water, portable radio, and at least some food, for comfort if not nutrition (most of us could live much longer than 20 hours without food!). And oh, yes, he added, "another warm body" is part of his planning!

I might add some basic car safety supplies, such as a shovel and flares.

What about you? Would you have had the basic supplies and equipment with you if you had planned a day trip? What would be most important to you?

Send in your comments today!