Resolve to Get Ready

A calendar showing January 2022.

The New Year is the time many of us make resolutions for the coming year. Sometimes resolutions feel too big and long-drawn-out to accomplish. As a result, our motivation to see them through can peter out before the end of the year.

This year, instead of making one resolution for the year, make 12 micro-resolutions. Focusing on one thing each month can make it easier for you to reach your goal, whether it’s to quit smoking or prepare your health for emergencies.

Here are some example micro-resolutions you can make this year to improve your personal health preparedness.

January

January is Get Organized Month. Get organized by creating a checklist of your personal needs. Being organized can help you stay calm during an emergency. Ways to get organized include using checklists to help you collect emergency supplies and scanning important paperwork.

February

Just 35% of respondents to a recent Healthcare Ready survey said they could list all their prescription details if they had to evacuate their homes without their medicines or medical supplies.(1)

You don’t have to memorize the details of your prescriptions. Instead, make a list of your medicines, including information about your diagnosis, dosage, frequency, and medical supply needs. Make an annual appointment with your doctor to discuss your prescriptions and how you can create an emergency supply of them.

March

National Proofreading Day is observed in March. Organize, check, correct, and protect your important paperwork, such as medical records, insurance (e.g., flood and earthquake) documents, action plans, etc. Examples of common errors found in medical records include

  • Missing or outdated personal information.
  • Missing information about a new medication or allergy.
  • Missing or incorrect information about your health history or the date of your visit.
  • Mischarges for a test you didn’t have.(2)

April

Practice your emergency action plan with your entire family, including pets. Take the 10-minute evacuation challenge. Set a timer for 10 minutes. In those 10 minutes, see if everyone can:

  1. Put on long pants, a long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt, shoes, and a hat.
  2. Take emergency supplies and other important things to the car.
  3. Find your pets, put them in carriers if they have them, and take them to the car.
  4. Pack the car.
  5. Get in the car and buckle your seatbelt.

May

May is National Wildfire Awareness Month. Create defensible space if you live in an area prone to wildfires. Defensible space is a buffer you create between your home or another structure on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area around it.

June

The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and ends on November 30. Be prepared to evacuate in case you find yourself in the path of a storm:

Learn more ways to prepare for hurricanes and tropical storms.

July

Emergency supplies expire. Check your supplies regularly so you can be sure they’re safe to use when you need them. Remove, throw away or use, and replace any food and water, prescription medications, and supplies every six (6) months.

August

August 15 is National Check the Chip Day. Microchipping your pet(s) is one of the best ways to ensure that you and your pet are reunited if separated during an emergency. Remember to register the microchip with the manufacturer and to keep your contact information up to date.(3)

Also, keep a photo of your pet with your important paperwork to help with identification and as proof of ownership.

September

Get a flu shot. It’s best to be vaccinated before flu begins spreading in your community. September and October are generally good times to be vaccinated against flu. Ideally, everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October. Even if you are not able to get vaccinated until November or later, vaccination is still recommended because flu most commonly peaks in February and significant activity can continue into May.(4)

October

Participate in emergency drills and exercises like the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill for practice and the peace of mind of knowing how to respond to an earthquake. The Great ShakeOut is held annually on October 21. The drill is an opportunity for you to practice how to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” during an earthquake or aftershock.

November

Take action to protect yourself and others from carbon monoxide poisoning and house fires. Change the batteries in your carbon monoxide (CO) detectors and smoke alarms at the beginning and end of Daylight-Saving Time. If you own a generator, know how to operate it safely during a power outage.

December

There are ways to prepare for emergencies that have nothing to do with collecting supplies. Learning practical skills, like CPR and seizure first aid, is also important to your health preparedness. Many practical skills don’t require special certification or formal training to perform, but you do need education. Seek out local volunteer organizations that can help you learn these types of skills.

There are many ways you can improve your emergency preparedness without being overwhelmed. Doing one thing each month can help you be prepared for an emergency that can happen anytime. Make sure how you prepare aligns with your needs and those of your family.

References

  1. https://healthcareready.org/community-resilience/
  2. https://www.healthit.gov/how-to-get-your-health-record/check-it/
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/keeping-pets-and-people-healthy/emergencies.html
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccinations.htm

Resources

Get Involved with Your Neighbors During Hi Neighbor Month

A person pushing a doorbell button.

December is Hi Neighbor Month.

Social connections are important to your personal health preparedness. The relationships we build with others are ties that bind during an emergency. One of the more important social connections you can make is with your neighbors.

The Importance of Neighbors

Neighbors can be an important source of assistance in the days after an emergency. Because they live close—maybe even next door—neighbors might be your first and best option for help after a tornado or during something like a power outage.

Research shows that people who think they’re prepared for disasters often aren’t as prepared as they think. Forty-six percent of people surveyed by FEMA expect to rely heavily on their neighbors for help within the first 72 hours after an emergency.(1)

Yes, ask your neighbors for help if you need it, but—if possible—try to be the helper. The more prepared neighbors are to meet the basic and personal needs of their families on their own, the more resilient the community.

Be a Good Neighbor

There’s no science to being a good neighbor. But there are things you can do to create a feeling of community where you live. Here are some neighborly suggestions on how you can build trust with your neighbors.

  • Introduce yourself. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2018 found that most Americans (57%) knew only some of their neighbors.(2) Starting an initial introduction with neighbors you don’t know can help them and you feel more comfortable about asking for help.
  • Show kindness. Look for small ways you can be kind to your neighbors. For example, offer to watch their house, collect mail, put out trash cans, or water their yard while they are on vacation.(3)
  • Be a responsible pet owner. Use a leash in public and clean up after them properly. Cleaning up after your dog helps to keep the environment clean and reduces the risk of diseases spreading to people and other animals.(4)
  • Lead by example. Pick a regular time to take a walk around the neighborhood. Use your walk to meet new neighbors and model community-minded behaviors, such as picking up trash or litter.(3)

Other simple ways to build goodwill with neighbors include maintaining the exterior of the house and lawn, keeping the noise down, and respecting property lines and personal space.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

People who live in communities in which members are regularly involved in each other’s lives are more empowered to help one another after an emergency.(5) Here are some ways you can get involved in your community.

  • Offer to help your neighbors, especially older adults and people who live alone or with a disability or chronic disease or rely on electricity-dependent equipment, prepare for emergencies. You can offer to help them collect supplies, sign up for evacuation assistance, and collect and protect important paperwork.
  • Join neighborhood groups on social networking sites.
  • Volunteer with an organization active in disaster, such as your local Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) Unit or Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
  • Emergency plan with neighbors. Just 13% of respondents to FEMA’s 2021 National Household Survey said they plan with neighbors.(6) But involving trusted neighbors in your emergency action planning can help improve your resilience. At a minimum and if possible, exchange contact information so you can reach each other in an emergency.

Learn more ways to prepare your health for emergencies.

Resources

References

  1. https://www.ready.gov/neighbors
  2. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/05/22/how-urban-suburban-and-rural-residents-interact-with-their-neighbors/
  3. https://www.apachejunctionaz.gov/
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/dogs.html
  5. https://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/planning/abc/Pages/community-resilience.aspx
  6. https://fema-community-files.s3.amazonaws.com/2021-National-Household-Survey.pdf

 

Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

Rx Prep: National Prescription Drug Take Back Day

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is October 23

Many of us have a medicine cabinet in our homes. It may contain first-aid supplies, personal hygiene items, prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and other personal needs.

Keep tabs on your medicines to help you keep them out of the wrong hands. Each year in the United States, more than 1 million people visit emergency departments for an adverse drug event. An adverse drug events (ADE) is when someone is harmed by a medicine.(1)

Blood thinners, antibiotics, diabetes drugs, and opioid analgesics are the leading cause of emergency department visits for ADEs.(2)

Practicing safe storage and proper disposal of prescription medicines can help keep your family safe and healthy.

Up and Away

Toddlers can be harmed if they get into medicines when no adult is watching. Approximately 50,000 children younger than 5 years old go to emergency departments each year for an ADE.(3)

Emergency visits for kids and pets, too, are preventable if people put medicines up and away after every use. Here are some safe medicine storage practices:

  • Put medicine and vitamins up and away and out of children’s reach and sight.
  • Put medicine and vitamins away every time.
  • At home or away, keep medicines in their original, child-resistant containers.
  • Never leave loose pills or liquid medicine out on a counter, table, or child’s bedside.
  • Lock the safety cap.
  • Teach your children about medicine safety.
  • Ask guests to keep purses, bags, or coats that have medicine in them out of children’s reach and sight when they are in your home.
  • Prepare for an emergency. Create an Emergency Action Plan that includes important contact information, such as phone numbers for your physician, pharmacist, veterinarian, and the Poison Control Center: 800-222-1222.(4)

Learn more about safe medicine storage.

Drug disposal

It’s important that you safely dispose of expired, unwanted, or unused prescription medicines. There are several ways to do that.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is a semiannual event held in October and April. The campaign teaches people how to dispose of medicines and provides safe and secure locations where they can dispose of their medicines.(5)

The best way to dispose of most types of medicines is to drop them off at a drug take back location.(6) This may be your local pharmacy or police station.

There are other drug disposal options if you cannot get to a Take Back Day location. Flush medicines on the FDA flush list down the toilet. If a child, adult, or pet in your home ingests, touches, misuses, or abuses a medicine on the flush list, they could suffer serious consequences or die.(7)

Dispose of medicines that are not on the flush list in your home trash.

  1. Mix medicines (liquid or pills; do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unappealing substance such as dirt, cat litter, or coffee grounds.
  2. Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag.
  3. Throw away the container in your trash at home.
  4. Remove personal information from the label of empty medicine bottles and packaging. Throw away or recycle the bottle or packaging.(8)

Learn more about the safe disposal of medicines.

Resources

References

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/medicationsafety/basics.html
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/medicationsafety/program_focus_activities.html
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/medicationsafety/parents_childrenadversedrugevents.html
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/medicationsafety/protect/campaign.html
  5. https://takebackday.dea.gov/
  6. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/safe-disposal-medicines/disposal-unused-medicines-what-you-should-know
  7. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/disposal-unused-medicines-what-you-should-know/drug-disposal-fdas-flush-list-certain-medicines
  8. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/disposal-unused-medicines-what-you-should-know/drug-disposal-dispose-non-flush-list-medicine-trash

Healthy State of Mind to Cope with an Emergency

October 10 is World Mental Health Day

Mental health is as important as physical health to your overall well-being. Taking care of both your physical and mental health will help you protect yourself and your family for an emergency.

What is mental health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It can affect how we think, feel, relate to others, and plays a role in how we handle stress and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life.

Emergencies or natural disasters can disrupt our mental health. It’s important to learn how to manage traumatic events that happen during and after an emergency or natural disaster.

A traumatic event is an event, or series of events, that causes moderate to severe stress reactions. They include natural disasters, loss of a loved one, acts of violence (assault, abuse, terrorist attacks, and mass shootings), or car crashes and other types of accidents.

Experiences such as these can cause feelings of stress, fear, anxiety and depression, helplessness, sadness, anger, and other emotions and reactions. These emotions are normal to experience at the onset of a traumatic event, but if they last too long, it can be problematic.(1)

Preparing to deal with the stress and challenges of an emergency is part of personal health preparedness. Knowing how to cope with feelings in healthy ways can help you stay calm, think clearly, and respond quickly during emergencies.

Prep Your Mental Health for an Emergency

Traumatic events and most emergencies are beyond your control. You can lessen their impact on your health and safety by taking steps now to improve your preparedness, develop coping skills, and make social connections. These steps can help you respond to and recover from stressful situations, including emergencies.

Ways of preparing your mental health include:

  • Identifying trusted sources of information, including CDC and your state and local health departments, so you can stay informed during an emergency. When you feel that you are missing important information, you may become stressed or anxious.
  • Learning new and refreshing old practical skills can help you build confidence and better respond in a crisis.
  • Taking care of your body. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, get needed vaccinations (flu and COVID-19), and avoid alcohol, tobacco, and substance use.(2)
  • Taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.
  • Connecting with others. It’s important to have strong, healthy relationships. It is also good to have different types of connections.(3) Get involved in your community by helping a neighbor prepare for emergencies or volunteering with an organization active in disaster relief.
  • Making time to unwind. Try to do other activities that you enjoy.(2)

Know the Signs of Distress

It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during and after a disaster. Everyone copes differently to stressful situations and your feelings can change over time. Stress can cause the following(4):

  • Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration
  • Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
  • Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances

Stress reactions after a traumatic event are very common and may resolve after a few weeks. Know how and where to get professional help if these reactions last longer and interfere with your everyday life.

Care for yourself

Coping skills and self-care activities can help you remain calm in stressful situations.

Making time for self-care and practicing coping skills can help ground you before, during, or after an emergency and help you become more resilient in your everyday life. Taking care of yourself can also better equip you to take care of others.

The most effective self-care and coping skills are those you can practice anywhere at any time. Find a small way each day to care for yourself. Ways to do that include:

  • Practicing gratitude, which means being thankful for the good things in your life.(3) Practicing gratitude can help you keep things in perspective and appreciate moments of positive emotion.
  • Staying connected with friends and family. Talking with people you trust about your feelings and concerns can relieve stress.
  • Helping others. Caring for others in your community can also help you feel a sense of purpose, mindfulness, and gratitude.
  • Practicing relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing exercises. Relaxation techniques can help slow your breathing, lower blood pressure, and reduce muscle tension and stress.

The How Right Now campaign helps people cope with the effects of a natural disaster or emergency, such as COVID-19 . Visit the campaign website to find information and resources you can use to help yourself and others cope with stress, grief, and loss.

If you are struggling to cope, there are many ways to get help. Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities.(2)

If you are in crisis, get immediate help:

References

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/dealing-with-stress/index.html
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/stress-coping/cope-with-stress/index.html
  3. https://medlineplus.gov/howtoimprovementalhealth.html
  4. https://emergency.cdc.gov/coping/selfcare.asp

Resources

Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

 

Home Alone: Prepare Kids for Emergencies

Many children don’t have adult supervision 100% of the time. Parents and caregivers have jobs, errands, and other responsibilities that require them to leave their kids home alone some of the time.

Emergencies and no-notice disasters can happen during these gaps in supervision. Here are some practical skills you can teach, and conversations you can have, to prepare them to be home alone.

Talk About Emergencies

Emergencies can be scary for anybody, especially children. Parents and guardians must talk to kids about what they can anticipate during and after an emergency. Talking to kids about emergencies, involving them in preparedness activities, and teaching them what to do during an emergency can give them a sense of control if a real emergency happens.

Teach Kids to Use 911

One of the most important lessons a parent or guardian can teach a child—regardless of whether they spend time home alone—is how and when to call 911.

Kate Elkins is a 911 and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) specialist with the National 911 Program in the NHTSA Office of EMS. She has first-hand experience as a paramedic responding to calls from children.

“Kids can be incredibly powerful in a crisis,” she said. “They want to help themselves and their families. It’s important to talk to kids about how and when to call 911. And to let them know that 911 is a resource that can empower them.”

Here are some things you can do to help kids feel more comfortable about calling 911:

  • Explain the purpose of 911. They should dial 911 only for an emergency. An emergency is a serious situation when a police officer, firefighter, or paramedic is needed right away.(1)
  • Prepare kids to answer the 911 operator’s questions. Explain to them that the operator will ask several questions like, “What is your emergency? What is your address? What phone number can they call you back on?” And they will ask more detailed questions about who needs help, why they need help, and if it’s a medical emergency, they will ask a series of questions and may give directions on what to do to help.
  • Teach kids how to use the emergency call feature from a locked cell phone.
  • Give kids examples of when to call 911. For example, tell them to “Call 911 if someone is threatening or hurting someone else, if something is on fire (but you may need to call from a neighbor’s house if the fire is at your house), or someone is hurt, bleeding, or lying on the ground and not moving.”
  • Reassure kids that calling 911 is easy to do. Also, that operators want to help. Emphasize the importance of answering the operator’s questions honestly, following their directions, and staying on the phone until told to hang up.
  • Also, go over what to do if your child accidentally calls 911 and there is not an emergency. It is important to stay on the line and explain there is no emergency so that 911 does not send responders to investigate a hang-up call.

Deciding if a situation is an emergency can be difficult for a child. They might have to use their best judgment. Tell them it is better to call 911 if they are in doubt and there’s no time to ask a parent, guardian, or neighbor.

“Sometimes, you just need to give kids permission to call 911 if they’re scared,” said Elkins. “It’s ok. Public safety telecommunicators are trained to take these kinds of calls.”

Partner with Neighbors

Let children know that if an emergency happens, they should look for “the helpers” in their community. This could be a friendly neighbor, teacher, or adult relative.

Introduce your kids to trusted neighbors who might help in an emergency. If possible, share your contact information with them so that they will be able to reach you in an emergency. In return, offer to be an emergency contact for them and their kids.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practicing emergency scenarios with kids can help familiarize them with what they should do in an emergency and build up their confidence to respond.(2)

Role-play to help kids decide when and practice how to dial 911. Act out different scenarios, such as a tornado warning or a stranger coming to the door, when kids may need to take shelter, or call 911. Make cellphone passcode entry part of your 911 role play.

Elkins also recommends reaching out to your local EMS agency, fire department, and police department to arrange a visit. Ask them to talk to your kids about calling 911. Getting to know the people who answer the phone when they call 911 is another way to make kids feel more comfortable and confident about calling.

Learn more about how to prepare children for an emergency.

References

  1. https://www.911.gov/needtocallortext911.html
  2. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/homealone.pdf

Resources

Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

 

 

Learning from 2020: Preparing for a Second COVID-19 Hurricane Season

June 1, 2021, marked the beginning of the second Atlantic Hurricane Season during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has affected how we prepare for emergencies in a number of ways, including how we gather emergency supplies, what we include in our emergency supply kits, where we shelter, and how we seek care and preventive services.

These tasks can seem more daunting when dealing with multiple disasters or public health emergencies at the same time. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted two online surveys to assess people’s attitudes and behaviors about going to a disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic. Responses showed that people were concerned about the combined effects of these disasters, including concern about potentially being exposed to COVID-19 in a public shelter. With this information, CDC and its partners can better address specific concerns and make sure the public knows the steps that are being taken to protect them in disaster shelters, should they need to evacuate.

What we learned over the past year

Emergency managers often seek to understand communities so that when disaster strikes, they can protect those at greatest risk with effective messaging and instructions. In June 2020, CDC surveyed 500 adults from across the country. The survey asked respondents how the pandemic may affect their plans to shelter for disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires. The concern about the combined effect of these disasters was apparent in the responses: 52% of respondents said worries about getting a COVID-19 infection could keep them from going to a shelter during an extreme weather incident. And 64% said they would bring a mask in their shelter “go bag.”

CDC explored these concerns further with an online survey in October 2020. The agency surveyed 3,000 adults from 98 counties in 8 states along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast that have experienced recent hurricanes. About 28% of respondents said they had changed their emergency response plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. People listed fears about going to a shelter, such as other people not wearing masks, being unable safely distance from those outside their households, and concern about older family members getting COVID-19.

Respondents said they would be more likely to go to a shelter if, among other criteria, masks were required (42%), hotels were used as shelters (40%), distance was kept between different households at the shelter (38%), and medical care was available in the shelter (36%).

Adapting disaster sheltering for the pandemic

Anticipating questions about safe sheltering during the pandemic, CDC worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross in spring of 2020 to develop shelter guidelines that can protect people against COVID-19. These strategies, implemented in 2020, included the following:

  • Limit the use of congregate (group) facilities, such as gyms and convention centers, and instead use sheltering options like hotel and motel rooms.
  • Implement public health measures where the use of congregate shelter options may still be required, including
    • Keeping people with symptoms of COVID-19 in a separate area of the shelter, and referring them to medical care when needed;
    • Requiring the use of masks inside the shelter, and
    • Encouraging distancing, handwashing, and the use of hand sanitizer.

2020 was a record year for wildfire activity and for hurricanes, with 30 named storms.

The American Red Cross provided 1.2 million nights of shelter stays in 2020. About 90% of the evacuees stayed in hotel rooms.

While it’s difficult to determine if some occupants developed COVID-19 in a disaster shelter in 2020, the CDC and the Red Cross are not aware of any COVID-19 outbreaks in disaster shelters. In addition, the Louisiana Department of Health reported no COVID-19 spikes after either Hurricane Delta or Hurricane Laura.

Prepare and protect your health

CDC continues to work with FEMA, the American Red Cross, and other emergency partners to provide public health guidance to help protect shelter residents from COVID-19. CDC and partners continue to recommend that a range of disaster sheltering options be made available to individuals in line with guidance from appropriate state and local health officials, and that available options incorporate the use of COVID-19 protective measures, such as mask wearing and distancing, when group shelters must be used.

Additional information on FEMA assistance available to state, local, tribal and territorial partners during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found at Bringing Resources to State, Local, Tribal & Territorial Governments | FEMA.gov.

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can is one more step you can take to protect yourself and others when in a group setting. People can be better protected in shelters when most people around them have also been fully vaccinated.

However, CDC is not making a recommendation that shelters require proof of vaccination to shelter.

“Access to safe shelter from disasters is critical even during community spread of COVID-19,” said Captain Renee Funk, associate director for emergency management for CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “Therefore, shelters should accept all people seeking safety regardless of vaccination status.”

The end of hurricane season, on November 30, also overlaps with the start of the flu season in October. Since storms can form and make landfall late in the hurricane season, it is possible you may have to evacuate to a shelter in October or November. Getting vaccinated for the flu protects you and may also protect other evacuees, including those who are at risk for serious illness.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and your family from hurricanes.

 

Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

Food Preservation: Home Canning Safety

Many people discovered new hobbies during the pandemic.

Some learned to bake bread. Others took up knitting and crocheting. Still others found self-care in gardening and preserving the literal fruits—and vegetables—of their labors.

Food preservation is an excellent way to extend the shelf life of produce, meats, and seafood, and add to your emergency food supply. But it can be risky—or even deadly—if not done safely.

Why preserve food?

A lot of the foods we eat go bad quickly if not eaten right away. We can make these foods last longer when we properly preserve them.

You can preserve food in different ways. They include drying, curing, smoking, freezing, fermenting, pickling, and canning.

Learning how to preserve different types of food is a practical skill you can use to supplement your emergency food supply. Families should stock up on enough food and water to last everyone at least 3 days.

Home canning

Proper canning removes oxygen, destroys enzymes, and prevents the growth of undesirable bacteria, yeasts, and molds.(1) If you can foods incorrectly, you could create the perfect environment for deadly bacteria to grow and cause botulism.

Botulism is a rare but potentially deadly illness caused by a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum.(2)

Botulism is a medical emergency. If you or someone you know has symptoms of foodborne botulism, see your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately:(2)

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Double vision
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Blurry vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty moving the eyes

Many cases of foodborne botulism have happened after people ate home-canned, preserved, or fermented foods that were contaminated with the toxin. Foods can become contaminated if they were not canned using the correct techniques or tools.

USDA guidance suggests that beginners start with high-acid foods that can be safely canned in a boiling water bath, before trying pressure canning. Only use recipes from reputable sources. Contact your local cooperative extension service office with questions.

How to can safely

You can take steps to make sure your food is properly preserved. The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning has step-by-step directions to prevent botulism and includes specific guidance for different kinds of foods. Regardless of canning techniques and tools, always consider the acidity of the food you are trying to preserve.

Canning techniques

Low-acid foods—including most vegetables, some fruits, milk, and all meats, fish, and seafood—are the most common sources of botulism linked to home-canning.

Low-acid foods are foods that are not acidic enough to prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria. Pressure canning is the only recommended method for canning these foods.(2)

Pressure canning tools

Make sure to use the right equipment for the kind of foods you are canning, including the right-sized pressure canner.

The canner should be big enough to hold at least four one-quart jars sitting upright on the rack. It should also meet USDA recommendations for pressure canning when canning low-acid foods. Be sure the gauge of the pressure canner is accurate.

After using a pressure canner, check that your cans are properly sealed in one of these three ways:

  1. Press the middle of the lid with your finger or thumb to see that the lid does not spring up.
  2. Tap the lid with the bottom of a spoon to make sure it does not make a dull noise (it should make ringing sound).
  3. Hold the jar at eye level to see that the lid is curved down slightly in the center.(1)

If you have any doubt whether safe canning guidelines were followed, do not eat the food. When in doubt, throw it out!

Storage & maintenance of canned goods

Store your home canned goods properly to maximize their shelf life.

  • Label and date your jars.
  • Keep jars with other emergency food in a clean, cool, dark, dry place between 50 and 70°F. (1) If you store jars at temperatures outside this range, the food inside can spoil.
    • Stack jars no more than two high so you don’t damage the seals.
    • If storing jars where they can freeze, wrap them in newspapers and blankets.(1)
  • Remove, throw away or use, and replace any canned food and stored water before it expires.
    • Home-canned food usually needs to be thrown out after a year.
    • Remember that once a can is opened, the contents cannot be saved until later without proper refrigeration.
    • When storing safe water, it is best to use food-grade storage containers and to clean and sanitize the container before using it. Replace stored water every six months.

For more information on how to can safely, visit the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.

Resources

References

  1. https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/general/how_canning_preserves_foods.html
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/home-canning-and-botulism.html

Therapy Dogs Work from Home to Help Young Readers

This student-authored post is published by CPR in partnership with Medill News Service and the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views, policies, or positions of CPR or CDC.

Blake wears a hat to his online classes because he’s self-conscious about his hair. The second grader from Illinois is learning to read and write. Skills that are tough to learn without having to do it over videoconference. Blake practices writing by drawing letters on a tablet and reads aloud to his classmates over the computer.

To get him extra practice, Blake’s family signed him and his siblings up for a program called K9 Reading Buddies of the North Shore. The program, based in the Chicago suburbs, gives students practice reading to therapy dogs in a judgement-free environment.

This reading practice has had other benefits, too. Blake’s family noticed he doesn’t wear a hat when he reads to the dogs.

“It made me recognize that when he reads in front of the dog, he’s focused on the dog and the reading. He doesn’t have the anxiety,” said Blake’s mother, Heather. “It’s increased his confidence quite a bit.”

Sit. Stay. Roll over. Zoom?

Over 50,000 therapy dogs in the United States provide emotional support to people in hospitals, retirement homes, schools, and airports, reported National Geographic in 2018. During the COVID-19 pandemic, therapy dog programs across the country have reimagined their service models. Some bring their animals up to the windows of hospitals and retirement homes or parade their pets outside.

Some programs sent cardboard cutouts of their therapy animals to the places they visited before the pandemic. Others became pen pals with the people they used to see, said Billie Smith, executive director of The Alliance of Therapy Dogs. The organization certifies all the dogs involved in the K9 Reading Buddies group.

Typically, K9 Reading Buddies has 40 volunteers who visit schools and libraries, and about half of them have been doing virtual reading sessions. Students can now choose from among 22 dogs to schedule an online visit with.

“[The students] miss the physical touch. Being in the same room with a dog [can] lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety,” said Carole Yuster, executive director and founder of K9 Reading Buddies of the North Shore. “But you can tell they still get that reward. The kids are relaxed and want to read to the dog. And anytime that happens, that’s a plus.”

Sessions begin with the handler greeting the student and asking them their name and grade. The dogs wear red bandanas, a signal to them that they’re “at work” and need to stay calm. Then the child begins to read.

Children get excited to read to the dogs. It’s like they are a teacher and the dogs are their students. They hold picture books up to the webcam to show the animals and even withhold what they think are scary images “because they don’t want to upset the dog,” Yuster said.

The volunteers ask students to explain the story to the dog, which helps build reading comprehension skills.

Sessions usually end with the dogs performing a trick.

Online services were an adjustment, but they’ve allowed K9 Reading Buddies to connect with new students from across the country. And for dogs like Yuster’s puppy, Nala, who doesn’t travel well, virtual therapy gives them the flexibility to work from home.

“The reading programs took off fairly quickly with the virtual visits,” Smith said. “If this is something that was normal for them before the pandemic, then it is very helpful for them now.”

Soothing student stress

The pandemic has affected different students in different ways. Blake hasn’t been able to learn or socialize with other kids in a classroom like he’s used to. His older brother, Bennett, who entered middle school this school year, hasn’t had the chance to make new school friends.

“My initial fear was the academic loss during COVID-19,” Heather said. “But at the end of the day, the academic loss is secondary to the social-emotional wellness of these children.”

Social isolation is one of the things that can increase mental health struggles for children, according to the CDC. According to a recent report by CDC, the proportion of emergency department visits for children’s mental health concerns increased by 24% in 2020 for kids ages 5 to 11 and by 31% for ages 12 to 17.

Though interacting with a dog on-screen isn’t the same as playing with friends their age in real life, Heather said the K9 Reading Buddies virtual sessions have given her kids something to look forward to during the pandemic.

“It’s been a highlight of our week for a very long time,” she said.

Blake and his siblings weren’t involved with K9 Reading Buddies before COVID-19 but plan to attend in-person sessions, which are slowly starting up again. Heather said “there’s no doubt” the program has improved Blake’s reading.

“He was not willing to just sit down and read a book … Now, he will choose to read a book by himself,” Heather said. She’s quick to add, “He still loves to read to the dogs—that’s not over.”

Resources

Be Prepared for A Day at the Beach

Millions of people in the U.S. have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and are resuming normal activities like going to the beach without a mask.(1)

Be prepared for a day at the beach. Take steps to protect your skin and eyes from the sun, avoid heat-related illness, and stay healthy and safe during your visit.

Know Before You Go

A beachy keen day can turn into anything if you aren’t prepared. Here are some things you should know before you go to the beach.

How to Swim in the Ocean

Swimming in the ocean isn’t like swimming in a pool. Waves, currents, and winds can drain your energy and strength. Rough surf and rip currents are especially dangerous if you aren’t already a strong swimmer and don’t know how to escape them.

Also, consider wearing a life jacket. Properly fitted US Coast Guard-approved life jackets add an extra layer of protection, particularly if you’re not a strong swimmer.

Check the local beach forecast before you leave for the beach and talk to the lifeguard when you get there. If you choose to swim at a beach without a lifeguard, never swim alone. Go with a friend and take a cell phone so that you’re prepared to call 911 for help.(2)

What the Warning Flags Mean

Read the beach safety signs before stepping onto the beach. Once on the beach, look for beach warning flags. They are often posted on or near a lifeguard’s stand. A green flag tells you water conditions are good with a minimal level of risk. The other colors can mean different things depending on the beach.

Water Quality

Germs found in the water and sand (swim area) often come from human or animal feces (poop). Before you plan your visit, check online to find out if the swim area is currently monitored, is under advisory, or has been closed for health or safety reasons. Water contaminated with germs can make you sick if you swallow it. It can also cause an infection if you get into the water with an open cut or wound.(3)

Stay Out of Water with a Bloom

Algae and cyanobacteria (sometimes called blue-green algae) are simple, plant-like organisms that live in the water. Sometimes they rapidly grow out of control, or “These blooms can sometimes produce toxins (poisons) that can make people and animals sick. Blooms can look like foam, scum, paint, or mats on the surface of the water and can be different colors. The types of blooms can differ by location. For example, a common type in the Gulf of Mexico is called Karenja brevis red tide.

Before going to the beach learn tips to help you spot harmful algae and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).

Check for local and state swimming advisories and water quality notices online or near the water before visiting the beach or any other body of water. Follow advisories to reduce your chances of getting sick.

Practice Sun Safety

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. Take steps to protect your skin from sun damage and sunburn which can increase your risk for skin cancer.

Shade

You can reduce your risk of sun damage and skin cancer by staying in the shade under an umbrella, tree, or another shelter. Your best bet to protect your skin is to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you’re outside—even when you’re in the shade.

Clothing

When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts, which can provide protection from UV rays. If wearing this type of clothing isn’t practical, try to wear a T-shirt or a beach cover-up. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors.

Hat

For the most protection, wear a hat that has a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. If you wear a baseball cap, you should also protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing clothing that covers those areas, using sunscreen, or staying in the shade.

Sunglasses

Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.

Sunscreen

Put on broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher before you go outside.

Don’t forget to put a thick layer on all exposed skin. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back. And remember, sunscreen wears off. Put it on again if you stay out in the sun for more than 2 hours and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.

#PrepYourHealth for Tsunamis

The beach is a dangerous place to be during a tsunami. Tsunamis do not occur very often. And most that do occur are small and nondestructive. But it’s still a good idea to prepare and know the warnings signs.(8)

A tsunami can strike any U.S. coast, but the hazard is greatest for communities near geologic subduction zones, where large earthquakes can occur. Find out if your beach destination is in a tsunami hazard zone or evacuation zone, and what routes to take in the event of an evacuation.(9)

There are two types of tsunami warnings:

  • An official tsunami warning is broadcast through local radio and television, outdoor sirens, Wireless Emergency Alerts, weather radio, and NOAA websites.
  • Natural tsunami warnings include strong or long earthquakes, a roar (like a train or an airplane) from the ocean, and unusual ocean behavior, such as water receding (or moving away) from the coast. A natural warning may be the first, best, and only warning that a tsunami is on its way.(10)

You may not get both warnings. It’s important to know the differences and respond right away to whichever you get first. Seconds can make all the difference so act immediately.

Move to a safe place away from the water. Get to high ground and as far inland as you can. Follow instructions from local officials. Never go down to or stay on the beach to watch a tsunami.

Stay informed and stay put until local authorities tell you it’s safe.

Learn more ways to prepare for tsunamis.

Resources

References

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated.html
  2. https://www.weather.gov/safety/ripcurrent
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/oceans-lakes-rivers/visiting-oceans-lakes-rivers.html
  4. https://www.weather.gov/safety/tsunami
  5. https://nws.weather.gov/nthmp/ushazard.html
  6. https://www.weather.gov/jetstream/prep_you

 

Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

Get Involved: Donate Blood. Save Lives.

June 14 is World Blood Donor Day.

The nation’s blood supply needs your help. Donating blood is a simple, safe way to get involved and help save lives in your community.

Why donate?

Think of the nation’s blood supply like the gasoline in a car’s fuel tank. The supply of blood must be refilled regularly to keep up with the demand of hospitals and emergency treatment facilities. Every two seconds, a patient somewhere in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion.(1)

The American Red Cross is the gas station in this analogy. They are the largest single supplier of blood and blood products in the United States.

Rodney Wilson is a spokesperson at the American Red Cross. He says the nation’s need for blood donations is constant, “Each day, the Red Cross must collect nearly 13,000 blood donations for patients at about 2,500 hospitals nationwide. This need doesn’t stop for the season, weather, holiday, or a pandemic.”

However, due to the many safety protocols put in place during COVID-19, and many places being unable to host blood drives, it has been difficult to maintain an adequate blood supply. Wilson says that the pandemic’s effects on donations are ongoing. “The Red Cross continues to feel the effects of COVID-19. Each month, roughly 1,000 drives are canceled,” he said.

Summer months can be a challenging time to collect blood. Observances like World Blood Donor Day on June 14 are a time to thank donors and remind people of the importance of blood donation.

Donating blood is a simple, quick, and effective way for eligible individuals to get involved in their community. Most healthy adults can donate without experiencing any side effects.(2)

What to donate

You have more to offer than just blood. Here are the four types of donations you can make. Eligibility requirements differ for each type.

  • Whole blood: This is the most common and flexible type of donation where they simply take approximately one pint of your blood.
  • Red cells (Power Red): You give a concentrated donation of red blood cells which can have a greater impact on patients.
  • Platelets: You donate the tiny cells in your blood that form clots. These donations can only be done at Red Cross donation centers, not at blood drives.
  • Plasma: You donate the part of your blood used to treat patients in emergencies.

Right now, the Red Cross asks eligible individuals to give blood or platelets to help meet the everyday needs of hospitals and patients, including survivors of trauma, people with cancer, and people with sickle cell disease.

Where to donate

Blood donations can occur at a blood bank, blood donation center, mobile facility, or hospital. Contact the following organizations to find a local blood collection site and schedule an appointment:

The Red Cross Blood Donor app is another way to find a place to donate and get notified of blood drives in your area. The app also records an individual’s donation history, blood type, and notifies donors of the results of their blood screening.

Prepare to donate

Now that you’ve decided what and where to donate, here’s some information to help you prepare for your appointment.

Before your donation

  • Eat iron-rich foods such as meat, fish, poultry, spinach, iron-fortified cereals, or raisins.
  • Get a good night’s sleep and drink extra liquids to be sure that you’re well-hydrated.
  • If you’re going to donate platelets, do not take aspirin products for two days prior to your appointment. (3)
  • Learn more about Red Cross donation safety protocols.

During your donation

  • Bring a photo ID and a list of any prescription or over-the-counter medicines that you take.
  • If you received a COVID-19 vaccine, remember the name of the manufacturer, and inform the staff.
  • Wear a short-sleeve shirt or a shirt with sleeves that you can roll up to your elbows.
  • Let staff know of a preferred arm or a particular vein that has been successfully used to draw blood in the past.
  • Relax, listen to music, or meditate.

After your donation

  • Relax for a few minutes and have a snack. Many donation sites offer complimentary cookies and juice.
  • Drink an extra four (8 oz.) glasses of liquids and avoid alcohol for 24 hours.
  • Let others know that you donated.

Blood safety basics

CDC is one of the federal agencies responsible for assuring the safety of the U.S. blood supply through investigations and surveillance. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ensures the safety of blood donations and protects the health of donors. The National Institutes of Health carries out research on blood transfusion basic science, epidemiology, and clinical practices.

Learn more ways to prepare your health for emergencies.

References

  1. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-blood-donations
  2. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/blood-donation
  3. https://www.redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/how-to-donate/types-of-blood-donations/platelet-donation.html

Resources

 

Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.