6 Things You Need to Know About This Flu Season

Sick boy lying in bed having his temperature taken with a thermometer.

Seasonal flu activity has been intense this season.  As of February 16, 2018 most of the United States continues to experience intense and widespread flu activity, with record-breaking levels of influenza-like-illness and hospitalization rates recorded. While H3N2 viruses are still most common, there is an increasing number of influenza B viruses being detected. It’s not uncommon for second waves of B virus activity to occur during a flu season. It’s likely that flu activity will continue for several more weeks.

Here are some important things to know right now to protect yourself and your loved ones from flu:

1.  What are the symptoms of flu?

Flu viruses can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes onIf you have the emergency warning signs of flu sickness, you should go to the emergency room. These include: In children • Fast breathing or trouble breathing • Bluish skin color • Not drinking enough fluids • Not waking up or not interacting • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough • Fever with a rash; In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs: • Being unable to eat • Has trouble breathing • Has no tears when crying • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal; In adults • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen • Sudden dizziness • Confusion • Severe or persistent vomiting • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough. suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults

* It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

2.  What do I do if I get sick?

Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get flu symptoms, in most cases you should stay home and avoid contact with other people, except to get medical care.

CDC recommends that antiviral drugs be used early to treat people who are very sick with the flu (for example, people who are in the hospital) and people who are sick with the flu and are at high risk of serious flu complications, either because of their age or because they have a high risk medical condition.

3. Is it too late to get a flu shot?

No!  As long as flu viruses are still circulating, it is not too late to get a flu shot.  Flu vaccination is the best way to prevent flu illness and serious flu complications, including those that can result in hospitalization. Unfortunately, flu vaccines don’t work as well against H3N2 viruses, which means that some people who got vaccinated will still get sick; however, there are some data to suggest that flu vaccination may make illness milder. Flu vaccines usually work better against H1N1 viruses, which is another good reason to get vaccinated, since H1N1 is circulating too.

4.  Why should I get a flu shot?

In addition to protecting yourself, getting vaccinated also protects people around you, including people who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, pregnant women and people with certain chronic health conditions.

5.  Does the flu shot work?

Vaccine effectiveness data for this season are not available yet, but we know that flu vaccines do not work as well against H3N2 viruses, which are predominant so far this season.

6.  What else can I do to protect myself from flu?

Definitely try to avoid close contact with sick people.  If you do get sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing drugs (unless you need medical care or other necessities).

Other tips for stopping the spread of germs:

  • Make sure you cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way!
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

In Case You Missed It: Top 10 Posts From 2017

 

In honor of the New Year, we are rounding up the blogs that were most viewed by you, our readers, in 2017.

  1. America’s Hidden Health Crisis: Hope for Those Who Suffer from ME/CFS
    Public Health Matters recognized the 25th anniversary of International Awareness Day for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) and Fibromyalgia. Between 825,000 and 2.5 million Americans are estimated to have ME/CFS, yet this debilitating illness remains largely invisible to most Americans.


  2. John Snow: A Legacy of Disease Detectives
    In 1854, John Snow was the first to use maps and records to track the spread of a disease back to its source. Today, his ideas provide the foundation for how we find and stop disease all over the world. Public Health Matters highlighted the CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service in honor of the birthday of the father of epidemiology and the first true disease detective.


  3. Tips to Protect Yourself from Norovirus
    Every year, 19 to 21 million people get sick with diarrhea and vomiting caused by norovirus. Public Health Matters shared five steps you could take to help protect yourself and others from this virus that can lead to dehydration or more serious illness, especially in young children and older adults.


  4. Why Diarrhea & Swimming Don’t Mix
    While sunburn and drowning might be the health risks that first come to mind when you think about swimming, diarrhea is another culprit. Outbreaks of diarrheal illness linked to swimming are on the rise. Public Health Matters shared five important facts about diarrhea-causing germs at aquatic venues and how to protect yourself and loved ones during Healthy and Safe Swimming Week 2017.


  5. Keep your pets safe in an emergency: 5 things to know
    Many pet owners are unsure of what to do with their pets if they are faced with extreme weather or a natural disaster. June was National Pet Preparedness Month and Public Health Matters highlighted five things you can do to keep your pets safe during and after an emergency.


  6. Get a Flu Shot to Protect Your Heart and Your Health
    People with certain long-term medical conditions, such as heart disease, are at high risk of developing serious complications from flu. Public Health Matters discussed the complications of flu and the important steps you can take to protect yourself and those around you including getting a flu vaccine.


  7. Predicting Community Resilience and Recovery After a Disaster
    After a disaster, the number of people with psychological trauma exceeds the number of people with physical injury by as much as 40 to 1, but there is much more research and emergency response focus on the physical effects of a disaster rather than the psychosocial effects. Public Health Matters interviewed a professor from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health about their innovative model and index to measure resilience in the United States.


  8. Safety Tips Every Contact Lens Wearer Should Know
    Forty-five million people in the United States who wear contact lenses to correct your vision. Eye infections related to improper contact lens wear and care are serious and can lead to long-lasting damage, but they are often preventable. Public Health Matters discussed the science behind some of the important contact lens wear and care recommendations in observance of Contact Lens Health Week.


  9. Preparing for College Life: A Healthy Guide
    Public Health Matters invited our David J. Sencer CDC Museum Intern from the Walker School to guest write a post with tips for fellow graduating high school seniors to prepare to head off to college.


  10. Rural America in Crisis: The Changing Opioid Overdose Epidemic
    In America, 15 out of 100 people live in a rural area. The rate of drug overdose deaths in rural areas has surpassed rates in urban areas, and it is a huge public health concern. Public Health Matters explored how rural areas are different when it comes to drug use and drug overdose deaths, including opioids and CDC’s response to this epidemic.

 

We want to hear from you!

The New Year is not just about reflecting on the past, and as we look ahead to 2018 we want to know what topics you would like to see on Public Health Matters. Please feel free to leave a comment below or send us an email so we can make sure that we are sharing content that is useful and interesting to you.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter, follow @CDCemergency, or visit us on Facebook so you are the first to hear about new blogs.

Norovirus Illness is Messy – Clean Up Right Away

Hand in pink protective glove wiping tiles with rag in the bathroom.

When norovirus strikes in your own home, you can be prepared by having the supplies you need to immediately clean up after a loved one vomits or has diarrhea.

Norovirus is a tiny germ that spreads quickly and easily. It causes vomiting and diarrhea that come on suddenly. A very small amount of norovirus can make you sick. The number of virus particles that fit on the head of a pin is enough to infect over 1,000 people.

You can get norovirus if poop or vomit from an infected person gets into your mouth. You can get it by:

  • Caring for a person who is infected with norovirus and then touching your hands to your mouth
  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus
  • Touching surfaces or objects with norovirus on them and then putting your hands in your mouth

Clean up the splatter!

Vomiting and diarrhea are messy, especially with norovirus. If you get sick from norovirus, drops of vomit or poop might splatter for many feet in all directions.

It’s extremely important to clean up the entire area immediately after you or someone else vomits or has diarrhea. You must be very thorough so you don’t miss any drops of vomit or poop that you can’t see.

If you find yourself in this situation, follow these steps from start to finish to protect other people from getting sick with norovirus:

Step 1 – Put on disposable plastic gloves and a face maskNorovirus spreads when a person gets poop or vomit from an infected person in their mouth.

Step 2 – Wipe up vomit and poop with paper towels and throw them away

Step 3 – Clean all surfaces thoroughly with a bleach cleaner, or make your own solution (¾ cup of bleach plus 1 gallon of water)

Step 4 – Clean all surfaces again with hot water and soap

Step 5 – Remove your gloves, throw them away, and take out the trash

Step 6 – Wash all laundry that may have vomit or poop on them with hot water and soap

Step 7 – Wash your hands with soap and water

Thorough clean up helps prevent norovirus outbreaks

Cleaning-up immediately after someone with norovirus vomits or has diarrhea protects others from getting sick, and prevents norovirus outbreaks. It’s important for everyone to know the clean-up steps and other ways to prevent norovirus.

CDC and state and local health departments help to raise awareness among healthcare providers and the general public about norovirus and how to prevent it. Learn more about how health departments, CDC, and other agencies work to prevent and stop norovirus outbreaks.

To learn more about norovirus, see CDC’s norovirus website and infographics, videos, and other resources, and state and local health department websites.

Rural America in Crisis: The Changing Opioid Overdose Epidemic

The scenery aerial view of Poconos, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, USA.

In America, 15 out of 100 people live in a rural area.  I loved growing up in a rural community, where there were actually no stop lights, everyone knew their neighbors, and doors were always open. But, my years of working in public health has taught me rural areas are not that different from urban areas when it comes to the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic.

The rate of drug overdose deaths in rural areas has surpassed rates in urban areas, and it is a huge public health concern. Understanding how rural areas are different when it comes to drug use and drug overdose deaths, including opioids, can help public health professionals identify, monitor, and prioritize their response to this epidemic.

One Epidemic – Three Waves

Drug overdoses in the United States have now surpassed other leading causes of death like AIDS or motor vehicle crashes, even when they were at their peak.

The opioid overdose epidemic has come in three waves:Rural: Areas with low population, where there is a lot of space between residences. Urban: Refers to areas like cities, with high population and population density.

  1. Increases in deaths involving prescription opioids starting in 1999
  2. Increases in heroin-involved deaths starting in 2010
  3. Since 2013, we have seen more deaths involving synthetic opioids like illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

CDC is tracking how these waves of overdose deaths are affecting rural versus urban areas of the country to help states and public health departments identify, monitor, and prioritize customized prevention responses.

Rural Communities at Risk

Death rates for unintentional injuries like drug overdoses, falls, and motor vehicle crashes are around 50% higher in rural areas than in urban areas. In general, people who live in rural areas of the United States tend to be older, poorer, and sicker than those living in urban areas. Differences in socio-economic factors, health behaviors, and access to health care services contribute to these differences. From 1999 to 2015, the opioid death rates in rural areas have quadrupled among those 18-25 years old and tripled for females.

Preventing Overdose Deaths in Rural America

Overdose deaths can be prevented through improved public health programs. We can start addressing the opioid overdose epidemic and save lives by:

  • Understanding the differences in burden and context of drug use, drug use disorders, and fatal overdose, and identifying how to tailor prevention efforts to local situations between rural and urban areas.
  • Teaching healthcare providers about safer opioid prescribing practices and how to treat patients with opioid use disorder (addiction).
  • Considering non-opioid pain treatment options, like exercise and physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or more effective pain medicines (like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen). Some of these options may actually work better and have fewer risks and side effects than opioids.
  • Supporting training and access to naloxone, a medication that can quickly stop an opioid overdose, for high-risk individuals, families, emergency responders, and law enforcement.
  • Increasing access to treatment for opioid use disorder (addiction) through medication-assisted treatment or comprehensive services to reduce infections from injection drug use, like HIV or Hepatitis C.
  • Working with public safety to share data, scale up evidence-based strategies, and decrease the illicit drug supply.

The landscape of drug overdoses in America is changing and affects everyone, no matter where they live. As the epidemic continues to evolve and change, we must understand the circumstances that contribute to opioid deaths and remain vigilant to prevent overdoses in our communities. The more we understand about this drug epidemic, the better prepared we all will be to stop it in its tracks and save lives.

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ABCs of Viral Hepatitis

Children playing chess with grandparents

Viral hepatitis is the term that describes inflammation of the liver that is caused by a virus. There are actually five types of hepatitis viruses; each one is named after a letter in the alphabet: A, B, C, D and E.

The most common types of viral hepatitis are A, B and C. These three viruses affect millions of people worldwide, causing both short-term illness and long-term liver disease. The World Health Organization estimates 325 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B or chronic hepatitis C. In 2015, 1.34 million died from viral hepatitis, a number that is almost equal to the number of deaths caused by tuberculosis and HIV combined.Know The ABC’s of Viral Hepatitis More than 4 million people in the US are living with viral hepatitis. Most don’t know it! A: Hepatitis A can be prevented with a safe, effective vaccine. B: Many people got infected with hepatitis B before the vaccine was widely available. C: Treatments are available that can cure hepatitis C. Take the CDC Online Risk Assessment to see if you should be vaccinated or tested for viral hepatitis: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/riskassessment/

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are the most common types of viral hepatitis in the United States, and can cause serious health problems, including liver failure and liver cancer. In the U.S., an estimated 3.5 million people are living with hepatitis C in the US and an estimated 850,000 are living with Hepatitis B. Unfortunately, new liver cancer cases and deaths are on the rise in the United States. This increase is believed to be related to infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

Many people are unaware that they have been infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C, because many people do not have symptoms or feel sick. CDC developed an online Hepatitis Risk Assessment to help determine if you should get tested or vaccinated for viral hepatitis. The assessment takes only five minutes and will provide personalized testing and vaccination recommendations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a short-term disease caused by infection with the hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests the virus from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by solid waste from an infected person. Hepatitis A was once very common in the United States, but now less than 3,000 cases are estimated to occur every year. Hepatitis A does not lead to liver cancer and most people who get infected recover over time with no lasting effects. However, the disease can be fatal for people in poor health or with certain medical conditions.

Hepatitis A is easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine, which is believed to have caused the dramatic decline in new cases in recent years. The vaccine is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults who may be at risk, including people traveling to certain international countries.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a liver disease that results after infection with the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B is common in many parts of the world, including Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa. Like Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B is also preventable with a vaccine. The hepatitis B virus can be passed from an infected woman to her baby at birth, if her baby does not receive the hepatitis B vaccine. As a result, the hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth.

Unfortunately, many people got infected with hepatitis B before the vaccine was widely available. This is why CDC recommends anyone born in areas where hepatitis B is common, or who have parents who were born in these regions, get tested for hepatitis B. Treatments are available that can delay or reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. For reasons that are not entirely understood, people born from 1945 to 1965 are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other age groups. In the past, hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. However, widespread screening of the blood supply in the United States began in 1990.The hepatitis C virus was virtually eliminated from the blood supply by 1992. Today, most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment to inject drugs. In fact, rates of new infections have been on the rise since 2010 in young people who inject drugs.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Fortunately, new treatments offer a cure for most people. Once diagnosed, most people with hepatitis C can be cured in just 8 to 12 weeks, which reduces their risk for liver cancer.

Find out if you should get tested or vaccinated for viral hepatitis by taking CDC’s quick online Hepatitis Risk Assessment.

For more information visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.

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Everyone can be a flu vaccine advocate!

Little girl getting a bandaid.
Children, especially those younger than 5 years, are at higher risk for serious flu-related complications. The flu vaccine offers the best defense against getting the flu and spreading it to others.

With the holidays quickly approaching, there will be more opportunities to spend time with family and friends.  Now is the time to ensure that you and those around you are protected from flu. Now is the time to get your seasonal flu vaccine if you haven’t already gotten it. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body.—so it’s  important to get vaccinated now, before the flu begins circulating in your community.

Whether you are a doctor, school nurse, grandchild, best friend, or coworker, you can play a role in reminding and encouraging  other people to get their flu vaccine. Get your flu shot and talk to others about the importance of everyone 6 months and older getting a flu shot every year.

Talking to Friends and Family about Flu ShotsGet yourself and your family vaccinated.

Need some tips for talking about the importance of flu vaccine? CDC is a great source of information about the serious risk of flu illness and the benefits of flu vaccination, as well as information to correct myths about the flu vaccine. Below are several examples of the benefits of flu shots and corrections of common flu myths. Find out more about the benefits of getting your annual flu vaccine on CDC’s Vaccine Benefits webpage, here.

  • Flu can be a serious illness, even for otherwise healthy children and adults. While most people will recover from flu without complications, anyone can experience severe illness, hospitalization, or death. Therefore, getting vaccinated is a safer choice than risking serious illness for yourself or those around you.
  • The flu vaccine CANNOT give you the flu. Flu shots do NOT contain flu viruses that could infect you and cause flu illness. Flu shots either contain flu vaccines viruses that have been “inactivated” (or killed) and therefore are not infectious, or they do not contain any flu vaccine viruses at all (recombinant influenza vaccine).
  • Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick with flu. Flu vaccines can reduce your risk of illness, hospitalization.
  • Getting vaccinated yourself may also help protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions.

Making a Flu Vaccine Recommendation to Your Patients

Woman talking to her doctor
Talking to patients about vaccines can be difficult. CDC has resources to help you make a strong flu vaccine recommendation.

For health care providers, CDC suggests using the SHARE method to make a strong vaccine recommendation and to provide important information to help patients make informed decisions about vaccinations. Remind patients that it is not too late for them to get vaccinated, and follow the SHARE strategies below:

  • S- SHARE the reasons why the influenza vaccine is right for the patient given his or her age, health status, lifestyle, occupation, or other risk factors.
  • H- HIGHLIGHT positive experiences with influenza vaccines (personal or in your practice), as appropriate, to reinforce the benefits and strengthen confidence in flu vaccination.
  • A- ADDRESS patient questions and any concerns about the influenza vaccine, including side effects, safety, and vaccine effectiveness in plain and understandable language.
  • R- REMIND patients that influenza vaccines protect them and their loves ones from serious flu illness and flu-related complications.
  • E- EXPLAIN the potential costs of getting the flu, including serious health effects, time lost (such as missing work or family obligations), and financial costs.

Be an advocate for flu vaccination. Get your flu vaccine and remind those around you to do the same! Visit www.cdc.gov/flu for more information and tips on flu vaccination and prevention.

Interested in learning more about flu? Check out other CDC Flu Blog-a-thon post throughout the week for personal stories, advice, and tips on flu and flu prevention. You can see all the participating blogs here: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/toolkit/blog-a-thon.htm.

Get a Flu Shot to Protect Your Heart and Your Health

Doctor holding a heart

“When you have a chronic illness, you do everything you can to stay as healthy as you can, which includes getting a flu shot,” says Donnette Smith, president of the heart disease support network, Mended Hearts. Donnette leads Mended Hearts with a mission to inspire hope and improve the quality of life of heart patients, like herself, and their families.

Donnette Smith
Donnette Smith, President of Mended Hearts

“I was born with a heart disease called bicuspid aortic valve (BAV), in which the aortic valve that prevents the backflow of blood has two leaflets instead of three,” explained Donnette. However, it was not until she was 18-years-old that Donnette was diagnosed with a heart murmur during a physical screening. Later, in 1988, at the age of 41, she was diagnosed with BAV and had her valve replaced through heart catherization. “It has been a life-long journey, but I have learned a lot being with Mended Hearts.”

The Flu Can Be Dangerous

People with certain long-term medical conditions, such as heart disease, are at high risk of developing serious complications from flu. Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Donnette describes one time she was diagnosed with flu, “I experienced rapid heartbeat, had other symptoms, and was hospitalized with an IV. There was no room in the hospital, and I had to be placed in the chapel.” Donnette was able to recover from these flu complications, and today is vigilant in her flu prevention efforts—making sure to get her flu vaccine each year and encouraging others to do the same.

You Have the Power to Fight Flu

Donnette continues, “You look at the flu differently when you have an underlying health condition. I 1000% believe in the flu vaccine, and get my flu shot every year! I also make sure to wash my hands often, and avoid touching my face. If you have a congenital heart disease (CHD) or other chronic illness, you have to be more mindful of being around sick people. Furthermore, it is important you head to the doctor if you experience any signs of flu. [Taking these precautions] is like putting a protective barrier around your heart.”

Whether you have a congenital heart disease, like Donnette, other certain long-term medical conditions, or you have loved ones or care for someone with certain long-term medical conditions, it is very important to take steps to protect yourself and those around you.High risk medical conditions • Asthma • Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions • Chronic lung disease • Heart disease • Blood disorders • Endocrine disorders • Kidney disorders • Liver disorders • Metabolic disorders • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (HIV or AIDS, cancer or hose on chronic steroids) • People 6 months through 18 years old who are receiving aspirin- or salicylate-containing medications • People who are extremely obese (with a Body Mass Index [BMI] of 40 or greater).

  1. Get a flu vaccine. CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every year. Flu shots are approved for use in people with medical conditions. Flu vaccination has been associated with fewer flu-related hospitalizations and complications in high risk groups.
  2. Take everyday preventive actions to help slow the spread of flu. Everyday actions, such as avoiding close contact with people who are sick and staying home when you are sick, also help protect you and others from flu.
  3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them. If you are at high risk of serious flu complications and develop flu symptoms, consult a health care provider. Antiviral drugs can make your illness milder, and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from the flu. Treatment works best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start).

Take it from a Super Flu Fighter

Despite the challenges of CHD, and living through serious flu illness, Donnette Smith thrives. From leading Mended Hearts as President to volunteering at a local hospital, she stays busy. “I do as much as I can for as long as I can.” She will be celebrating a grandson’s 20th birthday in a few weeks, and celebrating her 70th birthday on Thanksgiving.

“Your health is up to you. Flu can be a dangerous illness, and it can take a toll on your body if you have certain chronic conditions. Know how to keep yourself healthy. Don’t be afraid to get a flu shot; it’s a great shield against flu.”

Preparing for College Life: A Healthy Guide

student studying outdoors.

Zoey Brown joined the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response during this past summer to help with a data analysis project. She saw a number of CDC programs and activities, and authored the following post to the Public Health Matters blog. The views expressed are her own, and do not necessarily represent those of CDC, HHS or other government entities. A number of the links included take those interested in these topics to both CDC and non-CDC sites for more information. The Office was pleased to have this talented young woman on staff for an internship experience.

Zoey BrownAs a rising high school senior, college looms large on my horizon. Everywhere I turn, there’s another form to fill out, essay to write, and decisions to make. And although I’ve had plenty of help during the application process, no one seems especially concerned with what happens after I choose a school. I’ve lived in the same town my whole life; how do I pick up my life and move it to a campus one thousand miles away?

For all the students out there like me, who aren’t quite sure how to prepare for college, I want to share some tips to help you prepare to start this school fall.

You are what you eat

Odds are, your parents have had some control over your food up until now. A lot of kids go to college without any sense of how to manage their diet; hence, the infamous Freshman 15. With that in mind, here’s some helpful tips on maintaining your nutrition on a meal plan.

  • Talk to your doctor. Before you go back to school make sure you understand what your body needs. Everyone has different nutritional needs based on a variety of factors, like age, sex, size, and level of activity.
  • Stay well stocked. Keep your dorm room stocked with healthy snack alternatives. My personal favorites are carrots, cashews, apples, granola bars, and popcorn.
  • Make the swap. Consider switching out some fried foods for grilled versions and soda for juice or water
  • Consistency matters. Develop a consistent meal schedule that complements your schedule. Don’t skip a meal to study or party.

Stay active

If you’re anything like me, finding the motivation to exercise can be tough. Sleeping in a few extra minutes or catching up on Netflix are more tempting than getting in that cardio workout. Without the high school sport or fitness-loving parent to which you’re accustomed, you’ll have to take your health into your own hands. So, what are the best ways to stay in shape on campus?

  • Hit the gym. College is a great place to take advantage of free access to gyms and fitness classes. This is probably one of the last times in your life that you’ll have a free gym membership, so you might as well use it!
  • Get in your steps. Just walking on campus can also be a great source of exercise. Or think about a bike for transportation around your new town.
  • Try out a new sport. If you enjoy playing sports but don’t want to commit to varsity athletics, consider joining an intramural team. There’s no pressure to be an intense athlete, and it’s a great way to let off a little steam.
  • Join the club. Most colleges also offer clubs that go hiking, biking, climbing, and more. These are great way to expand your social circle.

Be mindful

As someone who has struggled with mental health issues over the past few years, I must admit that I’m a little concerned about my transition to college. Luckily, there are a ton of tips out there for maintaining and improving mental health in a new environment.

  • Battle feeling homesick. One of the most common mental health issues new college students experience is homesickness. This can be especially tough if you’ll be attending a college far away from home, like me. There’s no perfect solution, but one of the best things you can do is immerse yourself in college life – join clubs and activities, try to make friends with the people living near you, and make your dorm room feel a little more like home.
  • Avoid anxiety. College is a completely new environment, so it’s understandable that over 40% of college students suffer from anxiety. To help keep anxiety to a minimum make sure you exercise regularly, try to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, drink less caffeine, and do something you enjoy every day. Of course, if feelings of intense anxiety persist, you should seek help through your school’s health services.
  • Watch your mood. It’s normal to feel down occasionally, but if these feelings persist, you may be suffering from depression. You should visit a counselor at your college’s health service if you experience any of the following for more than two weeks:
    • sleeping problems
    • lack of energy or inability to concentrate
    • eating issues
    • headaches or body aches that persist after appropriate treatment
    • You should also seek help if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts

Know about safe sex

I am fortunate to attend a school with a decent sex education program. However, many teenagers haven’t, so there are a few things that the average college student should know about safe sex.

  • Know it’s a choice. The choice to have sex is yours to make, and abstinence is a completely viable option.
  • Avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. If you do choose to have sex, you should take steps to protect yourself. Use condoms, male or female. Be sure to check that the condom is intact and has not expired before use.
  • Talk to your partner. Ask your partner about their sexual health first. If they refuse to answer, they probably don’t deserve to have sex with you.
  • Get tested. If you are already sexually active, you should consider going into your college’s health clinic to get tested.

Drink responsibly

Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal in the US, but that isn’t always the reality on college campuses. With this in mind, I wanted to lay out some of the dangers of drinking on college campuses so everyone can be informed.

  • Beware of binge drinking. One of the biggest concerns regarding drinking on college campuses is the high rate of binge drinking – 90% of underage drinking is binge drinking. Frequent binge drinking in young adults can lead to alcohol dependence, liver problems, brain damage, and heart troubles. Binge drinking can also lead to poor decision making, including driving under the influences.
  • Don’t get hurt. Underage drinking is also linked to unintentional injuries, violence, school performance problems, and other risky behaviors.

Best of luck to those of you heading off to college and thank you to the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response for the chance to experience public health in action at CDC!

Safety Tips Every Contact Lens Wearer Should Know

close up of a woman putting contact lens in her eye

Are you one of the 45 million people in the United States who wear contact lenses to correct your vision? Eye infections related to improper contact lens wear and care are serious and can lead to long-lasting damage, but they are often preventable.Six out of seven adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 who wear contact lenses report at least one habit that increases their chances of an eye infection, including: • Not visiting an eye doctor at least once a year • Sleeping or napping while wearing contact lenses • Swimming while wearing contact lenses Parents of adolescents can model and encourage healthy contact lens wear and care habits so their children can develop and maintain healthy behaviors as young adults and adults.

This year, in observance of Contact Lens Health Week, you can learn the science behind some of the important contact lens wear and care recommendations:

Replace your contact lens case regularly.

A significant number of people who wear contact lenses report not replacing their lens case regularly. Even when cleaned properly (by rubbing and rinsing the case with disinfecting solution), contact lens cases can become contaminated over time with germs that can cause infections when they come into contact with your eyes.

Don’t sleep or nap in your contact lenses.

Sleeping while wearing contact lenses increases the risk of eye infection by 68 times. Out of every 10,000 people who sleep in their contact lenses overnight, 1820 every year will get an infection of microbial keratitis. This disease causes inflammation of the cornea (the clear dome that covers the colored part of the eye), which, in the worse cases, can lead to permanent vision loss or blindness.

Whitney, Te’, and Ryan tell their personal stories about how their eye infections affected their lives, and how they changed the way they wear and care for contact lenses.
Whitney, Te’, and Ryan tell their personal stories about how their eye infections affected their lives, and how they changed the way they wear and care for contact lenses.

Don’t swim or shower in your contact lenses.

The germs found in water can stick to contact lenses and infect your eyes. Wearing contact lenses can put you at increased risk for Acanthamoeba keratitis, a severe type of eye infection caused by a free-living ameba commonly found in water. These infections can be difficult to treat and extremely painful, and in the worst cases they can cause blindness.

Wash your hands with soap and water before touching your contact lenses.

Germs from your hands can be transferred to your contact lenses and the lens case. Some germs that cause eye infections are found in the water, so it is particularly important that you dry your hands before touching your contact lenses. Wash your hands with soap and water and dry them every time you put in and remove your contact lenses.

Visit your eye doctor every year.

Don't overlook healthy contact lens wear and care.Wearing contact lenses increases your risk for eye infections and complications. Therefore, it is important for you to have a yearly eye exam if you wear contact lenses. Sometimes eye doctors may recommend that their patients have more frequent eye exams.

The week of August 21–25, 2017, marks the fourth annual Contact Lens Health Week. This year’s theme, “Healthy habits mean healthy eyes,” will promote healthy contact lens wear and care practices.

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 Dr. Jennifer Cope is a medical epidemiologist and infectious disease physician at the CDC in the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch. Dr. Cope oversees the free-living ameba program, and supports epidemiologic, laboratory, and communication activities related to free-living ameba infections. She also works with the CDC Healthy Contact Lens Program to raise awareness of contact-lens-related eye infections and the healthy habits that can reduce your chances of getting an eye infection.

Step it up outdoors

Mother and father swinging daughter outdoors

Physical activity can improve your health. People who are physically active tend to live longer and have lower risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers. Physical activity can also help with weight control, and may improve academic achievement in students. Walking is an easy way to start and maintain a physically active lifestyle, and parks are a great place to start.

Physical activity made easy

People of all abilities can benefit from safe and convenient places to walk, run, bike, skate, or use wheelchairs. The decision to walk is personal, but that decision is easier if community walkability is improved. It is important to connect places that people regularly use with sidewalks or paths that are safe and attractive, especially between schools, worksites, parks, recreational facilities that are within walkable distance of each other.

A walk in the parkThe community of West Wabasso, Florida, worked with the Indian River County Health Department and other government agencies to create safe public places for walking, exercise, and play. The project established bus routes, installed streetlights and sidewalks, and improved local parks. Residents filled out a survey about the changes to their community. Ninety-five percent of respondents said they spent more time exercising outside than they had 2 years earlier. They said the changes to their neighborhood, especially the streetlights and creation of safe places to exercise and walk outside, made a big difference.

Less than 40% of people in the United States live within one-half mile of a park boundary, and only 55% of youth have access to parks or playgrounds, recreation centers, and sidewalks in their neighborhoods. However, there is evidence that people with more access to green environments, like parks and recreation areas, tend to walk more than those with limited access. Well-designed parks and trails can promote physical activity and community interaction and provide mental health benefits, such as reduced stress.

Design matters

To help people be active, parks and recreation spaces can offer opportunities for various types of activity, such as walking, hiking and team sports. Programs can be designed to attract a wide range of visitors—age groups, cultures, and ability levels—throughout the year. Park programs can also help participants address barriers to physical activity, including physical limitations and safety concerns. Walking groups or buddy systems can help provide people with multiple opportunities to walk each week. Park entrances with universal access for multiple types of active transportation can promote biking and walking to and from the park.

In September 2015, the Office of the Surgeon General in the US Department of Health and Human Services released Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities (the Call to Action) to recognize walking as an important way to promote physical activity among most people. The Call to Action is intended to increase walking across the United States by calling for improved access to safe and convenient places to walk and wheelchair roll, as well as a culture that supports these activities for all ages and abilities.

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