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!