Posted in epidemics, Meales, Vaccines

Measles Watch 2015

Measles Firedog 3A measles outbreak, which reportedly began at Disneyland, in Anaheim, California between December 16 and 20, 2014, has spread to individuals in several other states and Mexico, according to health officials. That’s a pretty hefty price to pay for visiting “the happiest place on earth!” The largest patient-cluster is currently located in California, with 45 confirmed cases, and at least six other infections identified in other parts of the United States and Mexico. Health officials have contacted people who may have come in contact with the virus, asking them to voluntarily stay in quarantine in their respective homes until the threat of potential infection has passed. Staying home if you may have been exposed to the measles makes a lot of sense to me. All of the confirmed cases, to date, were contracted by individuals who were never vaccinated for the virus. Although dogs can’t catch the measles, we can contract a related ailment, known as distemper. So make sure your canines are vaccinated.

Measles Firedog 1People who have the serious yet preventable ailment will experience symptoms including fever, dry cough, runny nose, watery eyes and a pervasive red rash. Spread through the air, usually via coughing, sneezing and/or other close contact, the measles could potentially rise to epidemic proportions because the illness is contagious for up to four days before the rash ever appears. So carriers can spread the virus without even being aware that they are infected. This is significant, as health officials note the outbreaks have begun to affect people beyond the original outbreak area.

CBS News reports, “Health officials report an increase in cases among people who did not visit the parks, indicating that the illness is now spreading to others exposed in their communities.” This is a serious concern, as it implies the illness will be far more difficult to contain than originally thought.

Measles Firedog 2To date, here are confirmed cases, according to the CDC:
• California: 45 confirmed cases
• Mexico: one case
• Utah: two cases
• Washington state: two cases
• Colorado: one case

At least partially to blame for the spread of the virus is the declination in parents agreeing to have their children vaccinated. Kindergarten measles vaccination rates have been falling almost every year since 2002 in California. A Los Angeles Times analysis published last fall reported that the rise in vaccine exemptions among kindergartners because of parents’ personal beliefs was most prominent in wealthy coastal and mountain communities, such as South Orange County and the Santa Monica and Malibu areas. I’ve never understood this phenomenon. My wife and I have JR vaccinated because we figure the benefits outweigh the risks.

Last year, in a report written for the Journal of the American Medical Association-Pediatrics, Dr. Mark Grabowsky, a health official with the United Nations, wrote: “The greatest threat to the U.S. vaccination program may now come from parents’ hesitancy to vaccinate their children. Although this so-called vaccine hesitancy has not become as widespread in the United States as it appears to have become in Europe, it is increasing. Many measles outbreaks can be traced to people refusing to be vaccinated; a recent large measles outbreak was attributable to a church advocating the refusal of measles vaccination.”

Measles Firedog 4While some hesitancy may be understandable, given alarming information available relative to potential, albeit very rare side effects of preserved booster shots, the risks must carefully be weighed against the benefits. Measles can lead to blindness and encephalitis, an infection of the brain. Also called rubeola, measles can be serious and even fatal for small children. While death rates have been falling worldwide as more children receive the measles vaccine, the disease still kills more than 100,000 people a year, most under the age of five. With their parents’ permission, children are typically immunized with a first dose of vaccine at 12 to 16 months and a second at 4- to 6-years-old.

We hope that this blog post will help you take steps to stay healthy. One convenient and affordable way to do so is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. Visit RJWestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

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Posted in BE SAFE, Disaster Preparedness, epidemics, How to stay healthy

#BeSafe from the Flu

flu 2015 Firedog 2According to reports from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), this year’s strain of Influenza (flu) has already hit epidemic proportions across the United States, with at least 15 associated deaths of children so far this season (most in Texas, Minnesota, Ohio, Florida and California.) The most common strain thus far, is known as Influenza A (H3N2). Sounds pretty scary. But I guess any illness with an official name and number is creepy.

A contagious respiratory illness, the flu can cause mild to severe illness, which can result in hospitalization or even death. Most at risk are the elderly, young children and other people with weaker-than-average immune systems. Most health professionals contend the best defense against catching the flu is to get vaccinated each year. Apparently, dogs can catch the flu, too. But we are susceptible to different strains than our human counterparts.

Carefully monitoring flu activity across the country, the CDC reports: “As of late December, all national key flu indicators are elevated and about half of the country is experiencing high flu activity. Flu activity is expected to continue into the coming weeks, with increases occurring especially in those states that have not yet had significant activity.

The United States experiences epidemics of seasonal flu each year, and right now all of CDC’s influenza surveillance systems are showing elevated activity. Influenza-like-illness (ILI) has been over baseline for the past several weeks, virological surveillance shows a lot of flu is circulating, and the hospitalization surveillance system shows increasing hospitalizations rates, especially in people 65 years and older. Also, the surveillance system that tracks mortality shows that the country is in the midst of this season’s flu epidemic. During influenza seasons, ILI increases first, and then hospitalizations increase, and then increases in deaths occur, so what is being observed is a typical pattern for the flu season.”

Flu 2015 FiredogAlthough this year’s flu season started a few weeks earlier than usual, pharmacists across the country don’t expect the virus to peak until early to mid-February, which means there is still time to get vaccinated, as the shot generally takes two weeks to reach full effectiveness. I don’t understand why some people are afraid of needles. Even my young son, JR, gets boosters without a whimper. As you weigh the pros and cons of vaccination, it might help you to consider the differences between symptoms of a common cold and the flu:

Common Cold

  • Often begins with a sore throat, which usually lasts for just one or two days
  • Nasal symptoms, runny nose, sneezing and congestion follow
  • A cough manifests by day four or five, typically due to sinus drainage and associated nasal congestion
  • Fever is uncommon in adults but slightly more common in children
  • Symptoms generally last for up to one week

Flu 2015 Firedog 3Influenza (Flu)

  • Persistent sore throat
  • Fever (100-102 degrees, which is typically higher than for a cold)
  • Severe headache
  • Severe muscle aches
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Chest discomfort
  • The Swine flu is also associated with vomiting and diarrhea.

Although many symptoms overlap, people who catch colds are more likely to suffer far less and rebound much more quickly than those who succumb to the flu. Also of note, while people who vomit often think they have the flu, stomach pain and diarrhea are far more likely to be the result of food-borne illness (food poisoning) than attributable to a case of the flu. I think this is interesting, because people are always saying they have the flu when they are probably suffering from bad Chinese food.

Five Ways to Avoid Catching the Flu

  1. Wash your hands – Even if you are exposed to the flu (by touching a germ-infested counter top at a doctor’s office, for example) if you clean your hands before you touch your face, there’s little chance the germs can reach your eyes, nose, or mouth, all of which are the usual ways they enter your system and start wreaking havoc.
  2. Try not to touch your faceLiveScience.com reports that the average person touches his or her face some 3.6 times per hour. Since cold and flu germs pass from infected surfaces to orifices such as the nose and mouth, the best way to guard yourself is to keep your hands in your lap. Also, try to avoid habits like biting your nails.
  3. Keep surfaces clean – From your home to your cubby a work, the importance of cleanliness cannot be overstated. Take time to disinfect your keyboard, telephone and desk. In fact, set up a reminder to thoroughly wipe down surfaces each time you eat. You might also want to use disinfectant spray or wipes. She always said it’s good to keep things clean. I guess Mother knows best.
  4. Moisturize Your AirWomen’s Health Magazine reports that very humid air might be toxic to flu viruses. Although scientists aren’t quite sure why, one possibility is that droplets that contain the virus shrink quickly in arid environments, allowing them to float around longer. In moist air those same droplets might remain heavy and fall to the floor faster.
  5. Stay home – Although we aren’t recommending you become a hermit, you will lessen your chances of getting sick if you stay away from large crowds. Also, if you are sick, stay home from work so you won’t infect your co-workers. If you’re sick, you probably won’t be at your best, anyway. So take care of yourself and go back to work when you are back in top form. Makes sense to me.

We hope that this blog post will help you take steps to stay healthy in 2015 and beyond. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services has been designed to help improve and save lives. Visit RJWestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted in epidemics, Health & Welfare

November is National Diabetes Month

Paper bag with the word diabetes filled with healthy foodsDiabetes mellitus refers to a group of diseases that affect how the body uses blood sugar (glucose). Vital to health because it is an important source of energy for the cells that make up muscles and tissues, glucose is the brain’s main source of fuel. I wonder if bacon has glucose? I am sure I could run on it. People who have diabetes suffer not only from the ill effects of the disease itself but are also at risk for many other serious associated conditions. To educate the general public about the disease and help increase fundraising efforts for prevention and treatment, the United States observes National Diabetes Month every November. On an unrelated note, I have heard that International Bacon Day is Sept. 5.

Although specific causes differ, any patient whose system has chronically elevated levels of glucose has some form of diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetic conditions include:

  • Type 1 Diabetes: usually diagnosed in children and young adults, this was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Only five percent of people with diabetes have this form of the disease. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, which is the hormone which converts sugar, starches and other food into energy. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children can learn to manage this condition and live long, healthy lives.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: once known as adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, this is a chronic condition that affects the way the body metabolizes glucose. With type 2 diabetes, the body either resists the effects of insulin or fails to produce adequate insulin to maintain normal glucose levels. Although type 2 diabetes is more common in adults than in kids, type 2 diabetes increasingly affects children as childhood obesity rates increase. Although there is no cure for type 2 diabetes, the condition can be managed by diet, exercise and healthy body weight. In some cases, diet and exercise are insufficient to manage blood sugar levels, so treatment includes medications or insulin therapy.
  • Gestational Diabetes : occurs during pregnancy but often resolves after the baby is delivered. According to the Mayo Clinic, gestational diabetes affects how a pregnant woman’s cells use glucose. One of the main concerns about gestational diabetes is that high blood sugar can negatively impact the health of both mother and child. The good news is that most expectant mothers can help control gestational diabetes by eating healthy foods, exercising and, if necessary, taking medication. In gestational diabetes, blood sugar usually returns to normal soon after delivery. Unfortunately, women who have had gestational diabetes are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Pre-Diabetes: a serious health condition that increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, pre-diabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to classify as full-blown diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 of every 3 U.S. Americcan adults have prediabetes. That is 79 million Americans, aged 20 years or older. The vast majority of people who are living with prediabetes do not know they have it. This is unfortunate, since (without lifestyle changes to improve health), 15% to 30% of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within five years.

canine diabetes

According to the CDC, 29.1 million people (9.3% of the U. S. population) have diabetes. What’s more, the CDC reports there are approximately 8.1 million people who have the disease but remain undiagnosed. Because that figure represents 27.8% of the affected group, education and intervention are critical.

Asses your risk:

  • Are you age 45 or older?
  • Are you overweight?
  • Does one or both of your parents have diabetes?
  • Has one or more of your siblings been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Is your family background African-American, Hispanic/Latino, American-Indian, Asian-American, or Pacific-Islander?
  • Did you have gestational diabetes or did you give birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more?
  • Are you physically active less than three times a week?
  • Is your diet made up of candy, cookies and cake? (That isn’t part of the official checklist. But it seems like a reasonable assessment question to me.)

Take action

Research shows that modest weight loss and regular physical activity can help prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by up to 58% in people who are prediabetic.

  • Modest weight loss means 5% to 7% of body weight, which is 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person.
  • Getting at least 150 minutes each week of physical activity, such as brisk walking, also is important.
  • A free lifestyle change program is available through the National Diabetes Prevention Program, Led by the CDC, the plan can help participants adopt healthy habits needed to prevent type 2 diabetes.
  • Lay off the sweets. (Again, not an official bullet point on the CDC’s list. But it couldn’t hurt.)

We hope that this blog post will help inform you about ways to #BESAFE by paying attention to your blood sugar levels and taking necessary steps to improve your health and safety. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to helping improve and save lives. Visit our website for ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, epidemics, Health & Welfare, Highly Infectious diseases, Measles, Rubella, Vaccinations

Reemerging Measles Epidemic Worries Health Officials

Boy with the measlesOn the heels of a record-setting flu season (278 deaths confirmed to date), health officials warn that another infectious virus has reemerged. Officials report that, already so far this year, 15 Californians have come down with a disease that was thought to have been eradicated by vaccine— Measles. Canine Distemper is similar to Measles, but dogs can’t catch the human variety.

Measles, also known as Rubeola, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that is a virus which causes a total-body skin rash and flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, cough, and runny nose. Though rare in the United States, 20 million cases occur worldwide every year.

Signs and Symptoms

While Measles is probably best known for the associated full-body rash, the first symptoms are typically a hacking cough, runny nose, high fever and red eyes. Characteristic markers of Measles are small red spots with bluish white centers that appear inside the mouth. The rash itself typically has a red or reddish brown blotchy appearance, and first usually shows up on the forehead, then spreads downward over the face, neck, and body, then down to the arms and feet. Measles doesn’t sound too attractive or comfortable.

measles firedog cdc

  • Measles is a leading cause of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.
  • In 2012, there were 122 000 measles deaths globally – about 330 deaths every day or 14 deaths every hour.
  • Measles vaccination resulted in a 78% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2012 worldwide.
  • In 2012, about 84% of the world’s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 72% in 2000.
  • Since 2000, more than 1 billion children in high risk countries were vaccinated against the disease through mass vaccination campaigns ― about 145 million of them in 2012.
  • Although bacon can’t cure Measles, I think bacon improves every situation. So my advice is if you get the Measles, eat a pound.

Unfortunately, Measles is highly contagious. In fact, 90% of people who have not been vaccinated will contract it if they live with an infected person. Measles is spread when someone comes in direct contact with infected droplets such as when someone sneezes or coughs. A person with Measles is contagious from 1 to 2 days before symptoms start until about 4 days after the rash appears.

The Los Angeles Times reports that epidemiologists say we’re off to “a bad year.” To wit, this same time last year, there had been only two Measles cases.

The California Department of Public Health reported illnesses in six counties:

  • Five in Los Angeles County
  • Three each in Orange and Riverside counties
  • Four combined in the Bay Area’s Alameda, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties.

Although none of the reported cases have been fatal, Measles can be deadly. Authorities remain concerned that more people than reported may have been exposed. In fact, fears have emerged that thousands of people might have been exposed when a Measles-infected UC Berkeley student traveled on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. That’s why I don’t take public transportation. I prefer walking…everywhere!

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Measles was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 — meaning that it no longer circulated. Nevertheless, people here can still contract the virus while traveling to locations where Measles is common, since it is airborne.

The two-part Measles immunization, which is given to kids at six months and four years old, is said to provide protection 99% of the time. According to Dr. Kathleen Harriman of the Public Health Department, said, “Fewer than 3% of California schoolchildren use the exemption.”

The reason some opt out of the vaccines, by citing exemption due to ‘personal beliefs,’ is largely due to a myth that the vaccine is dangerous. No one has died of Measles in California this year, but the illness can be deadly in cases with complications, officials said. The public health department urged people who have not had Measles or received two doses of the Measles vaccine to get immunized before traveling outside of the Americas, where the disease is under control.

Since Measles is easily eliminated with the vaccines, it only makes sense to agree to them. When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. The best way to prepare for the flu is to keep from catching it by having a vaccine. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training-related costs by 90% and saves you over 50% compared to conventional training! More importantly, IT SAVES LIVES.

Posted in BE SAFE, Disaster Preparedness, epidemics, Health & Welfare, Influenza, Vaccinations

What’s New About the Flu?

咳エチケットWith the incidences of reported flu cases across the country officially reaching epidemic proportions, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the influenza vaccine as the best means of defense. In the meantime, health officials are scrambling to cope with the outbreak. To date this year, 50 children have died from the flu, with hundreds of adult deaths reported across the country from the virus and associated complications. The illness has sickened more than 6,600, which is the number of lab-confirmed flu cases nationwide. Health officials estimate actual infection rates are much higher. Unfortunately, The University of Texas reports that this year’s strain can also affect pets.

Flu Facts.com describes influenza as: “a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses. The virus usually enters the body through mucus membranes in the mouth, nose, or eyes. When a person with the flu coughs or sneezes, the virus then becomes airborne and can be inhaled by anyone nearby. You can also get the flu if you’ve touched a contaminated surface like a telephone or a doorknob and then touch your nose or mouth. Of course, the risk of infection is greater in highly populated areas like schools, buses, crowded urban settings and kennels.

sick puppy

Here are Some More Facts about the Flu

  • Flu season typically peaks in the United States between October and March, with February historically its most active month. February is coincidently my favorite month to eat bacon, followed closely by January, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December.
  • Seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a number of flu viruses, including H1N1, which killed 284,000 people worldwide in 2009 and 2010.
  • A Wausau, Wisconsin man, aged 43, died just this week from H1N1, after being sent home with from his doctor’s office with instructions to drink plenty of fluids and rest.
  • Between 5 percent and 20 percent of people living in the U.S. get the flu each year.
  • Symptoms can be mild or severe and include fever, a cough, sore throat, weakness, headache and aches and pains in the joints and muscles around the eyes. You might not realize that the stomach flu is an entirely different virus than the one we’re talking about here.
  • Serious complications include (but are not limited to) bacterial pneumonia, ear or sinus infections, dehydration or worsening of chronic health conditions.
  • To date, since October 1, 2013, the CDC has documented 1,583 laboratory-confirmed cases.
  • Although there is currently no vaccine created specifically for the current strain of H1N1, getting an annual flu shot remains the first line of defense against the virus.
  • The virus is widespread in Oklahoma, Arkansas, New York, Texas, Connecticut and Kansas.
  • To be considered an epidemic, influenza and pneumonia must kill above 7.3 percent.

“We’re seeing pretty substantial increases in activity, but they’re not unexpected,” Dr. Michael Jhung, a medical officer in the flu division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We see pockets of high activity in several states and pockets of low activity in others, but we expect every state will get hit.”

Antiviral treatment is an after-the-fact recommendation for patients with confirmed or suspected influenza, who are:

  • Hospitalized
  • Have experienced complications
  • Have a progressive illness
  • Are at higher risk for complications
  • Are adversely affected to illness. I would qualify in this group.

The New York Times reports that scientists are reducing the uncertainty of flu outbreak prediction by using computer models. Last year, one team carried out flu forecasts in real time. Now, they are making predictions about the current outbreak. If you are curious about your geographic location, check out their predictions for yourself. Another helpful tool for finding outbreak locations is the site, FluNearYou.org

Hospitals and public health workers could someday use flu forecasting to prepare vaccine supplies and ready hospital beds. The advanced warning would be useful not only for the regular seasonal flu, but also for pandemics (new strain sweeping across the country and causing higher-than-normal rates of disease and death). I think the only thing that should sweep the nation is a broom!

How Flu Vaccines Work

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.

The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. In addition, this season, there are flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine as well as an additional B virus. That is all a mouthful. But the bottom line is that doctors are working to create a vaccine for the specific strain affecting folks today.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. The best way to prepare for the flu is to keep from catching it by having a vaccine. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training-related costs by 90% and saves you over 50% compared to conventional training! More importantly, IT SAVES LIVES.

Posted in BE SAFE, Disaster Preparedness, epidemics, Health & Welfare, Highly Infectious diseases, Pertussis, pertussis epidemic, tdap, Vaccinations

Get Your Kids a Whooping Cough Vaccine

咳・くしゃみをする子供Department of Health Services (DSHS) projections show the number of people who will get sick with Pertussis (Whooping Cough) this year could reach its highest level in more than 50 years. A bacterial infection that often starts with cold-like symptoms and a mild cough, Pertussis produces severe coughing that can last for several weeks. Coughing fits may be followed by vomiting or a “whooping” sound, which is why the disease is also called “whooping cough.” Dogs don’t get Pertussis. But they can get Kennel Cough, which is pretty serious.

What may seem like the start of a common cold could be the serious symptoms of whooping cough.At the start, typical symptoms of pertussis include runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and possibly mild cough or fever. But, after 1-2 weeks of these symptoms, severe coughing can begin and continue for weeks. Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing, which tends to produce a “whooping” sound between coughs, although this sound can be absent or minimal in infants. Sounds a little like woofing, to me.

Infectious Disease Medical Officer for the Texas Department of Health Services, Dr. Lisa Cornelius, said the situation is alarming. “Pertussis is highly infectious and can cause serious complications, especially in babies. So people should take it seriously.” One of the reasons the incidences of Whooping Cough have increased is because people are opting to keep their kids from getting the Tdap booster. This could be a costly mistake.

The reported incidence of infant pertussis in the United States has increased almost 17 times since 1979. More than 2,000 pertussis cases have been reported in the United States so far this year. Health officials predict the total number of cases will eventually surpass the previous high of 3,358 cases, reported in 2009.

To better protect babies, pregnant women should consider being vaccinated during every pregnancy—preferably between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. This helps protect the baby before he or she can start the vaccination series at 2 months old and helps keep the mother from getting sick and infecting the baby. Fathers, siblings, extended family members, medical providers and others who will be around newborns should also be vaccinated.

Many babies get whooping cough from adults or older brothers or sisters who don’t even know they have been infected with the disease. While symptoms are usually milder in teens and adults, pertussis can be life threatening for babies because of the risk of apnea, an interruption in breathing. Pertussis spreads easily through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. People with pertussis are most contagious while they have cold-like symptoms and during the first two weeks after they start coughing.

Anyone with an unexplained, prolonged cough or who has had close contact with a person with pertussis should contact their health care provider. Early diagnosis and treatment may reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten the contagious period. Doctors who suspect a pertussis infection are required to report it to their local health department within one working day. Patients who have pertussis should not go back to work or school until they’ve completed five days of antibiotic treatment.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training related workloads by 90% and saves you over 50% compared to conventional training! More importantly, IT SAVES LIVES.

Posted in BE SAFE, Disaster Preparedness, epidemics, Health & Welfare, Vaccinations

Southwest U.S. Sees Increase in Cases of Valley Fever

Valley Fever FiredogA fungal respiratory infection known as Valley Fever has dramatically increased in several southwestern states according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reports that the total number of confirmed cases in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah is 22,000. Sounds to me like something that could affect coyotes.

Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis) is caused by inhaling a fungus called Coccidioides, which lives in the soil in the southwestern United States. That sounds pretty gross. It makes me wonder if it’s a good idea to dig in the dirt. Although not everyone who is exposed to the fungus will get sick, those who do succumb typically experience flu-like symptoms that can linger for weeks or even months. And more than 40 percent of patients who get ill from Valley Fever may require hospitalization at some point, at an average cost of nearly $50,000 per hospital visit.

A CDC spokesman said that Valley Fever is causing significant health problems for many people living in the southwestern United States because fungus particles spread through the air. Although it is difficult to avoid exposure to Coccidioides, people who are at higher risk should try to avoid breathing in large amounts of dust if they are in endemic areas. The CDC is releasing information about the disease to alert individuals who live in or have traveled to the southwest United States. I live and travel in the United States. But I’m not sure how to avoid breathing outside air in the Southwest.

The recent increase in cases of Valley Fever could be related to changes in weather, which potentially impact where the fungus grows as well as how much of it circulates. More research is necessary in order to understand why the number of reported cases of Valley Fever has increased. Between 1998 and 2011, Arizona and California had average increases in Valley Fever incidence of 16 and 13 percent per year, respectively. The CDC has provided grants to these two states to study Valley Fever. I wish I could locate a grant for studying the effects of bacon on canines. I can’t find anyone to fund it.

During this time period:

  • Nearly 112,000 cases of Valley Fever were reported from 28 states and Washington, D.C.
  • Sixty-six percent of cases were in Arizona.
  • Thirty-one percent were in California.
  • One percent was recorded in Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.
  • Approximately one percent was made up of cases from all of other states combined.
  • None of the cases had to do with bacon.

“It’s difficult to say what’s causing the increase,” said Benjamin J. Park, M.D., chief epidemiologist with CDC’s Mycotic Diseases Branch. “This is a serious and costly disease and more research is needed to reduce its effects.”

The common symptoms of Valley Fever are very similar to those associated with the flu or pneumonia:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Rash on upper trunk or extremities
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain in the knees or ankles

Symptoms of advanced coccidioidomycosis include:

  • Skin lesions
  • Chronic pneumonia
  • Meningitis
  • Bone or joint infection

 

A lab test is the only way to determine whether or not any given illness is actually Valley Fever. Also of note…not everyone who gets Valley Fever needs treatment. For most people, in fact, the infection will go away on its own. That’s good news. More at risk are people who develop severe infections or chronic pneumonia. People at risk for the more severe forms of the disease are the young, old and infirm. For these groups, early diagnosis and treatment is important.

In many cases, treatment for coccidioidomycosis is not necessary, as symptoms can spontaneously resolve. Nevertheless, many healthcare providers prescribe antifungal medications, such as Fluconazole, to prevent a more severe infection from developing. It is especially important for people at risk for severe disease, such as those infected with HIV or who have weakened immune systems, to receive treatment as quickly as possible. If you suspect you may have Valley Fever, see your healthcare practitioner.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is an interactive, building-specific e-learning training system which motivates and rewards tenants instantly! It’s a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training related workloads by 90% and saves you over 50% compared to conventional training! More importantly, IT SAVES LIVES!

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, epidemics, Health & Welfare, Uncategorized, Vaccinations

Norovirus Jeopardizes Health of Children & the Elderly

Norovirus IllAccording to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis among children less than five year of age (who seek medical care) is an illness called Norovirus. The alert was announced following a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), which showed the illness is responsible for nearly one million documented pediatric medical care visits between 2009 and 2010 in the United States. All told, the illness costs hundreds of millions of dollars in treatment each year.

Dr. Daniel Payne, an epidemiologist in the Division of Viral Diseases at the CDC said, “Infants and young children are very susceptible to Norovirus infections, which often result in a high risk of getting dehydrated from the sudden onset of intense vomiting and severe diarrhea. Our study estimates that 1 in 278 U.S. children will be hospitalized for Norovirus illness by the time they turn 5 years of age. It is also estimated that about 1 in 14 children will visit an emergency room and 1 in 6 will receive outpatient care for Norovirus infections.” This Norovirus sounds like a horrible illness. I’m glad the folks at the CDC have a handle on it.

Originally called the Norwalk virus after the town of Norwalk, Ohio, the location of the first confirmed outbreak in 1972, Norovirus is defined by The Mayo Clinic as a virus which includes: nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and cramps, watery or loose stools, weight loss, malaise and low-grade fever. The incubation period is usually 24 to 48 hours after first exposure to the virus, and signs and symptoms usually last one to three days. However, it is worth noting that some people with the infection may show no signs or symptoms but will remain contagious and may unwittingly spread the virus to others. If you suspect you may have the virus, seek medical attention if you develop diarrhea that doesn’t abate within several days or if you experience severe vomiting, bloody stools, abdominal pain or dehydration.

NorovirusDisease

The NEJM study determined that Norovirus was:

  • Detected in 21 percent (278) of the 1,295 cases of acute gastroenteritis
  • Rotavirus was identified in only 12 percent (152) of the cases.
  • About 50 percent of the medical care visits due to Norovirus infections were among children aged 6 to 18 months.
  • Infants and 1-year-old children were more likely to be hospitalized than older children.
  • Overall rates of Norovirus in emergency rooms and outpatient offices were 20 to 40 times higher than hospitalization rates.
  • Nationally, the researchers estimated that in 2009 and 2010, there were 14,000 hospitalizations, 281,000 emergency room visits, and 627,000 outpatient visits due to Norovirus illness in children less than 5 years of age.
  • Together, hospital visits amounted to an estimated $273 million in treatment costs each year.

“Our study confirmed that medical visits for rotavirus illness have decreased,” said Dr. Payne. “Also, (it) reinforces the success of the U.S. rotavirus vaccination program and also emphasizes the value of specific interventions to protect against Norovirus illness.” There is currently no formal treatment protocol for Norovirus, other than bed rest and drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Most people recover between 24 hours to 48 hours. A Norovirus vaccine is reportedly in development.  I am not usually a proponent of injections. But, in this case, it seems like a good idea…maybe as important as my rabies booster.

Unfortunately, Norovirus does not target children alone. Senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems are more prone to contracting the highly contagious infection, with more than 21 million people in the US succumbing each year. This week alone, more than 100 residents at nursing facilities in Nevada showed symptoms, and seven tested positive for Norovirus over a 41-day period.

Approximately 800 people have died so far from the disease. The virus spreads primarily through close contact with infected people, such as caring for someone who is ill and it also spreads through contaminated food, water and hard surfaces. The best ways to reduce the risk of Norovirus infection are through proper hand washing, safe food handling, and good hygiene. Is it just me or are those the same instructions the CDC gives for most illnesses? It seems like frequently washing my paws is an all-around great idea. For more information about Norovirus, visit CDC website at www.cdc.gov/Norovirus.

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Posted in Disaster Preparedness, epidemics, Health & Welfare, Influenza, Vaccinations

Influenza 2013 Hits Epidemic Proportions

Sick kidMajor media outlets across the country, such as ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and VetStreet.com, are reporting that this year’s nationwide cases of influenza have made it a full-blown epidemic. The threshold set by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials for any outbreak to be ranked as an epidemic is when the associated death toll reaches above 7.2 percent.

“While we can’t say for certain how severe this season will be, we can say that a lot of people are getting sick with influenza and we are getting reports of severe illness and hospitalizations,” says Dr. Joseph Bresee, Chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in the CDC Influenza Division.

As of last week, deaths attributed to the flu and pneumonia hit 7.3 percent, with nine of the 10 United States’ regions experiencing elevated flu activity. These figures confirm that seasonal flu has spread across the country—reaching high levels five weeks earlier than normal. The remaining two U.S. regions (comprised of the Southwest and California) report “normal” flu activity. From what I’ve read, “normal flu activity” seems pretty rough. I’d hate to contract the abnormal version of it.

To date, higher than average flu outbreaks have been reported in at least 47 states, including the deaths of 20 children and two adults. Particularly alarming about this outbreak is that flu season generally begins more toward the end of January or beginning of February. So this year’s predominant strain of H3N2 (Influenza A) not only hit earlier but is much stronger than usual. And while vaccine shortages have been reported across the country, Influenza A is among the strains covered by this year’s vaccine.

To reduce your risk of illness and help prevent the spread of the flu in your home and place of work, follow these precautions:

According to the CDC, flu symptoms include the following: fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. If you contract the flu and have underlying medical problems, call your doctor immediately for possible prescription of an antiviral drug.

Antiviral treatment, started as early as possible after becoming ill, is recommended for any patients with confirmed or suspected influenza who are hospitalized, seriously ill, or ill and at high risk of serious influenza-related complications, including young children, people 65 and older, people with certain underlying medical conditions and pregnant women. Treatment should begin as soon as influenza is suspected, regardless of vaccination status or rapid test results and should not be delayed for confirmatory testing.

The CDC offers free print materials which feature flu recommendations, downloadable at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/freeresources/print.htm. When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, check out the RJWestmore Training System by Universal/Fire Life Safety Services. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system on the market.

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, epidemics, Health & Welfare, Highly Infectious diseases, Vaccinations

Resurgence of Spinal Meningitis in the U.S.

Meningitis is making an unwelcome comeback in the United States as several recent cases linked to steroid spinal injections have killed 14 people and sickened at least 170 others in 10 states. Officials with the CDC say that the infections were passed through steroid drug injections containing a fungus known as Aspergillus. So the infection is not believed to be transferred from person-to-person or canine-to-canine. The incubation period ranges from a few days to four weeks after injection.

The contaminated drug is said to have been shipped to 75 hospitals and clinics in 23 states, with cases reported so far in Tennessee (which, with 26, has the most cases), North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Virginia and Maryland. Infected patients had each received a treatment for back pain called a lumbar epidural steroid injection. Ouch. Sounds painful!

An infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, Dr. William Schaffner, had this to say about expectations about the infections this year: “I’m afraid we’re going to see many more cases spread across the country.”

Labeled Methylprednisolone Acetate, the solution was produced by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts. The lot numbers of the potentially contaminated drug include: 05212012@68,06292012@26, and 08102012@51.

Doctors urge anyone who has undergone spinal epidural injection treatment during the past few months to seek immediate medical attention if they suspect they are suffering any symptoms. Caused by a fungus normally found in leaf mold, Fungal Meningitis can cause mild stroke-like symptoms, including slurred speech and difficulty walking and urinating. Other symptoms include worsening and severe headache, nausea, dizziness and fever. And here I didn’t even know you had to scrub leaves as well as bathroom tile to keep mold at bay!

Treatment includes high-dose antifungal medications, usually administered intravenously in a hospital, with success tied closely to the speed of diagnosis and treatment. The outbreak has raised concerns about the safety of a method used by millions to offset severe back pain. Sterile drugs and equipment are essential for the procedure because epidural injections involve inserting a needle directly into a part of the body that is an avenue for efficient germ delivery directly to the brain. That doesn’t sound good.

The New York Times and Time Magazine and USA Today report:

  • One clinic in Tennessee, where most of that state’s patients in the outbreak so far were infected, had received 2,000 vials of the drug.
  • Also in Tennessee, some hospitalized patients are recovering and walking the halls, while others are severely ill and in intensive care units,
  • In reaction to one verified infection, the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy suspended one company’s business permits.
  • Although the New England Center has not yet responded to the story, information about the steroids previously available on their website no longer appears.
  • Fungal infections are notoriously stubborn and hard to treat, requiring powerful drugs that can produce harsh side effects. Cats are also notoriously stubborn, by the way.
  • Most patients will need six months to a year of treatment to eliminate the infection.

“Given the severity of illness,” said director of the FDA office of compliance, we believe precautionary measures are warranted to protect public health.”

Unless you have recently undergone spinal injection therapy for chronic acute back pain, you will likely easily avoid this particular outbreak of Fungal Meningitis. However, according to the Meningitis Foundation of America, there are essentially two distinct types of Meningitis: aseptic and bacterial. And, unfortunately, meningitis cases are not delivered exclusively by contaminated epidural injections. To avoid contracting meningitis of any kind, observe these safety precautions:
1. Practice good hygiene!

  • Don’t share food, glasses, water bottles, water bowls or eating utensils.
  • Don’t share tissues, handkerchiefs, towels or bones.
  • Don’t share lip balm, lip gloss, lipstick or jerky treats.
  • Wash your hands or paws often with soap and hot water.

2. Beef up your immune system.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet rich in lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise on a regular basis. I like taking long walks.
  • Get plenty of sleep. You don’t have to tell me twice!
  • Don’t smoke, drink or use drugs.

3. Seek medical advice about whether your children ages 11-12 are good candidates for vaccine. (Generally, vaccines are only necessary and effective if a teenager is exposed to meningitis during an outbreak, is traveling or living where a meningococcal disease is common, if the child is a military recruit, or if your son or daughter has an immune disorder or a damaged or missing spleen.)

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