Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mental health and disasters: Coping with stress

When you think about getting ready for a disaster, physical preparations — such as creating an emergency stockpile or finding a safe place to stay — are probably the first things that come to mind. However, it’s important to be mentally prepared for a disaster as well.

Everyone reacts differently to stress, whether it’s caused by daily life or by a disaster. But like all preparedness activities, knowing what you’re in for can boost your resiliency and help you cope in healthy ways.

To put your mind at ease, create a stockpile kit before a disaster occurs. A few basics are needed for any emergency, including water, nonperishable foods, a first-aid kit, a battery-operated radio, batteries and a manual can opener. Make your kit portable in case of evacuation.

Identifying and preparing for disasters that are more likely to happen in your community and creating an emergency plan can also help you be mentally prepared.

After disasters, both children and adults can have lasting mental health effects. Common reactions may include difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping and mood swings. Parents should look out for signs of distress in their children, such as crying, risk-taking or behavior changes.

Our Get Ready fact sheet on mental health and disasters offers tips that can help you and your loved ones heal. They include:
  • Be patient: Mental healing can take time. Allow yourself time to grieve for what you have lost.
  • Avoid overexposure to disaster coverage by the media.
  • Take care of your physical health: Try your best to eat healthily, exercise, wash your hands regularly, get plenty of sleep and drink adequate water. Avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
If you need help with mental stress after a disaster, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s disaster distress helpline, 1-800-985-5990, offers support. Counselors can provide tips for healthy coping, help you recognize distress and refer you to follow-up care.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Guest blog: Preparing your pets for emergencies

William Courtney, DVM, MPH
Today’s guest blog is by Bill Courtney, a member of APHA’s Veterinary Special Primary Public Health Interest Group. Courtney practiced veterinary medicine and then spent more than two decades in the U.S. Air Force. He currently works at a center and shelter for victims of domestic violence that accommodates pets, and is on the board of directors of a local animal shelter.

Pets are people too! When planning for an emergency and evacuation, please include your pets. But keep in mind that they could pose a health risk to other pets and to people, too.

To minimize the risk, make sure your pets’ routine shots are all up to date. This would include the distemper and associated shot series for dogs, plus the kennel cough shot. Many kennels will not board dogs that are not current on these routine immunizations, and the same consideration should be made for shelters. Cats should likewise be current on their distemper series, and both must be current on rabies. This is to protect other pets as well as people. Similarly, all pets should be free of intestinal worms and fleas. A flea infestation would be a real nightmare for both people and pets in any emergency, and especially in a shelter situation.

Sanitation and waste disposal can be a real challenge during an emergency. Pack small bags, newspapers, cat litter or wood pellets, and sanitary wipes in addition to necessary food, water and medicines.

Finally, always make sure you have the proper restraints for all pets. This would include — but is not limited to — cages, collars and leashes, and also consider muzzles. Even the gentlest pet can react to your stress and get excited and display aggression. Also, please keep in mind that no matter how friendly your pets may be, there are many people that are just plain afraid of them, and it is your responsibility to relieve the fears of fellow safety seekers.

This is intended to highlight and prepare for the possible public health threats your pets may present in a emergency situation. For tips for getting all your family members ready, check out:

Read, download and share Get Ready’s fact sheet on emergency supplies for your pets and get tips for keeping your pets safe in our Get Ready Q&A and podcast.

Enter your pet in Ready, Pet, Go! APHA’s Get Ready Photo Contest. The contest is using animals — of any kind — to promote emergency preparedness. Deadline for entry is June 1.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons! Oh, my!

Storm surge, heavy rainfall, flooding and high winds. These hazards of hurricanes sound scary, and they are. But what causes hurricanes to begin with?

When tropical ocean water warms during the summer, it heats the air above it.  Meanwhile, water evaporates from the ocean and forms clouds. In simple terms, hot air rising, clouds forming and cooler air falling is a lot of movement and energy. The more energy there is in the system, the more powerful and destructive the storm can be.

Last year we had the warmest year on record , and 2015 is heading the same way. Given the warming trend and affects of climate change, experts say we should expect more high energy storms.

Weather forecasters tell storms apart based on where they’re from. If a tropical cyclone forms in the Atlantic Ocean, it’s called a hurricane. If it forms in the West Pacific Ocean, it’s called a typhoon. If it forms in the Indian Ocean or anywhere, really, it’s called a cyclone.

Confused already? That’s OK. You can read more about them.

What’s not OK is being caught in one of these storms without supplies or a plan. Here are some things to remember:

  • Stay tuned to weather updates until all danger is past.
  • Aside from flooding from the rainfall, winds may push water toward the shore in a storm surge after the storm has passed and cause even more flooding.
  • Depending on how strong the winds are, power lines, trees and roofs may be destroyed.
  • Be prepared to evacuate. Don’t try to shelter in place if you are advised to leave.
  • Even if evacuation orders are not issued, utilities may be out. Keep in mind you may lose power and water.
  • If you evacuate, bring along hard-to-replace documents such as passports and copies of birth certificates, insurance policies and your lease or mortgage. If you shelter in place keep those documents in a waterproof container. A double zip-locked bag will work in a pinch!
  • Don’t forget to take all prescriptions and medications for all family members, including pets.
  • Speaking of our animal companions, remember to include plans for their shelter and evacuation.

APHA’s Get Ready campaign offers terrific tips for getting supplies and preparing a plan. Another great resource for hurricane preparedness information is, which also has tips for getting kids involved in hurricane planning.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Working with minority communities to prepare for disasters

Nicole Lurie, M.D., M.S.P.H.
Photo: U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services
The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response was created shortly after Hurricane Katrina. The office, which is part of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, leads the nation in preventing, preparing for and responding to the health effects of public health emergencies. Among its charges is to make sure underserved communities are ready for disasters.

In our new Get Ready Report podcast, we spoke with Nicole Lurie, MD, MSPH, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, about why emergency preparedness is important for racial and ethnic minority populations. A report to Congress showed that Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had its greatest impact on communities where low-income minorities lived. People who are less educated, have low incomes and live in substandard housing often suffer more in disasters, “and those populations are, more often than not, likely to be racial and ethnic minority populations,” Lurie told the Get Ready campaign. Sometimes there are language or cultural barriers in a community, which can hinder preparedness and response.

“By the same token, minority populations are often more resilient than other populations,” Lurie said. “There are often very close social connections and ties in a community and those social connections are one of the most important things to promote community resilience and personal resilience.” Preparing and responding quickly to disasters can save lives and make the U.S. a healthier nation. Disasters such as the Joplin, Missouri, tornado of 2011 or Hurricane Sandy in 2012 showed the need to make sure communities are resilient, she said. That includes constructing buildings that won’t fall down and people can exercise in, giving people access to fresh food and making sure people can walk around their neighborhoods safely.

Listen to Get Ready’s podcast with Lurie to hear more about emergency preparedness or read the transcript.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

It’s National Infant Immunization Week: Protecting against disease starts when we’re young

The recent measles outbreak is a good reminder of the importance of vaccinations. More than 160 Americans have gotten sick this year from a preventable disease that can cause serious illness or even death — and most were not vaccinated.

While protecting ourselves from contagious disease is a lifelong practice, it starts when we’re young. That’s why people across the country are celebrating National Infant Immunization Week April 18-25.

The observance promotes immunizations for children ages 2 or younger. It also recognizes the important role of vaccines and the workers at state and local health departments and other health professionals who give vaccinations to help safeguard our communities from disease.

Their contributions are remarkable. In the United States, we protect children and infants under age 2 from 14 vaccine-preventable diseases through immunization, including chickenpox, mumps and polio. Vaccines have dramatically decreased infant death and disability caused by preventable diseases.

Vaccines not only help protect vaccinated individuals, but also help to protect entire communities. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that among children born during 1994-2013, vaccination will prevent an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths during their lifetimes.

While we celebrate this week in the United States, people across the globe are recognizing World Immunization Week, organized by the World Health Organization. Despite many successes in improving health, one in five children globally still misses out on life-saving vaccines.

Vaccines are safe and effective, and have saved countless lives. They are one of the greatest public health accomplishments. But we need to make sure we have an adequate supply to reach everyone. And, most important, you have to get immunized for them to work.