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To get Sick or Not To Get Sick?

By: Jorge Palafox

August 05, 2011

Even though terrorists can release certain biological hazards that cause contagious disease emergencies, such an event is usually rare and difficult to accomplish.  Federal Public Safety Agencies, such as the FBI, are providing vigilant reconnaissance to prevent such catastrophic situations to occur.  Your public health departments at the local and state level also perform regular monitoring and surveillance to prevent routine epidemics of infectious disease.  In collaboration with federal public health agencies, ongoing surveillance occurs to note any anomalies in the animal and human populations, to include certain environmental changes.

You are more likely to confront the flu bug.  Sicknesses, such as the flu, can cause a contagious disease emergency that could affect many people.  It could cause mild illness, hospitalization and even in rare cases, death.  Remember again the most vulnerable are the very young and the elderly.  Also, in this case, people with medical conditions are also at greater risk, e.g., compromised immune systems.  Epidemics can become pandemics which can burden the healthcare delivery system and available medications for treatment.  A major increase in sick populations plus the lack of healthcare resources will compromise our ability to respond adequately and in a timely manner, therefore resulting in a catastrophic emergency.

In cases of contagious disease emergencies, local public health departments will provide up-to-date information and instructions to the community through media and public outreach sources.  To protect yourself, it is a good idea to learn more about contagious disease emergencies, a first step in your preparedness activities.  Your local health department should have a website to provide you with vital emergency information and steps you could take to minimize harm and injury.  In San Francisco, you could access for local and regional information.  Such websites are chock full of valuable information and other internet sites for more details to help you build your personal emergency plan. 

Your primary strategy is to try to keep yourself from becoming infected and, therefore, sick.  Protect yourself with healthy habits.  Healthy habits prevent germs and infectious diseases from spreading.  Engaging in “healthy habits” is the best way to keep yourself, your family & friends from falling victim to infection and disease.

Put into practice “healthy habits”, which consist of:

#1 Handle & Prepare Food Safely

Food can carry germs.  Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces often when preparing any food, especially raw meat. Always wash fruits and vegetables. Cook and keep foods at proper temperatures. Don’t leave food out - refrigerate promptly.

#2 Wash Hands Often

Soap is usually better than waterless soap or gels.  They can tend to dry out your skin.

#3 Clean & Disinfect Commonly Used Surfaces

Germs can live on surfaces. Cleaning with soap and water is usually enough. However, you should disinfect your bathroom and kitchen regularly. Disinfect other areas if someone in the house is ill. You can use an EPA certified disinfectant (look for the EPA registration number on the label), bleach solution, or rubbing alcohol.

#4 Cough & Sneeze Into Your Sleeve

Most of us are familiar with using our hands as cover.  If you do, wash your hands as soon as you can.  It is a good idea to have available a small bottle of waterless hand cleaner just in case water and soap are not readily available. 

#5 Don’t Share Personal Items

Avoid sharing personal items that can’t be disinfected, like toothbrushes and razors, or sharing towels between washes. Needles should never be shared, should only be used once, and then thrown away properly.

#6 Get Vaccinated

Vaccines can prevent many infectious diseases. You should get some vaccinations in childhood, some as an adult, and some for special situations like pregnancy and travel. Make sure you and your family are up-to-date on your vaccinations. If your regular doctor does not offer the vaccine you need, visit an Adult Immunization and Travel Clinic.

#7 Avoid Touching Wild Animals

You and your pets should avoid touching wild animals which can carry germs that cause infectious diseases. If you are bitten, talk to your doctor. Make sure that your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date.  Report any unusual activities:  Animals acting out of the ordinary or displaying unusual behavior; large number of deaths, such as hundreds of birds falling from the sky.

#8 Stay Home When Sick

Pay attention to any Public Service Announcements issued by local government and health officials.  The media is a good source to keep you alert to current events and a rise in certain infectious diseases, such as the flu.  They also provide you with timely information regarding vacinations, steps to take to reduce chances of infection, and any special instructions to take if a contagious disease emergency is imminent or has occurred, such as activation of clinics. 

Public health agencies will usually send out Health Alerts, Advisories, and Updates regarding communicable disease outbreaks, immunization updates, and emerging infectious diseases. An Alert conveys the highest level of importance regarding immediate action you should take.  An Advisory provides you with critical information specific to the emergency incident or situation that may or may not require immediate action. Updates are given to ensure you have the latest information or news regarding potential infectious diseases and what you should be doing to protect yourself, your family and the neighborhood; they usually don’t involve you taking any special or emergency actions.

The Center for Disease Control, also ,has an excellent website that can provide you with more valuable information on emergency preparedness and response to prevent exposure to infectious disease and what to do for specific hazards resulting from terrorist incidents.

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