Category Archives: Disasters

Oct 24 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 24

HHS: $8M in Research Grants to Support Hurricane Sandy Recovery
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded more than $8 million in research grants to support the long-term recovery of areas of the country damaged by Hurricane Sandy in late 2012. The grants, which are part of the Hurricane Sandy Recovery and Rebuilding Supplemental Appropriation Act of 2013, will go toward research on issues such as community resilience; risk communications and the use of social media; health system response and health care access; evacuation and policy decision making; and mental health. “We hope the grants provide a catalyst for the scientific community to put more emphasis on the study of recovery from disasters; much more research is needed to support decision making in the long-term recovery process and ultimately to improve resilience,” said Nicole Lurie, MD, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response. “We anticipate that the findings not only will help community leaders make evidence-based decisions about recovery plans and policies in affected areas but also that the knowledge gained can improve resilience across the entire country.” Read more on disasters.

NIH, CDC Launch National Registry on Sudden Deaths in the Young
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention have come together in the launch of the Sudden Death in the Young Registry. The registry will catalogue conditions such as heart disease and epilepsy in order to help researchers better understand the issues and establish future research priorities. According to the NIH, up until now there have not been agreed upon standards or definitions for reporting these deaths, which has impeded efforts to determine the best prevention efforts. "The sudden death of a child is tragic and the impact on families and society is incalculable," said Jonathan Kaltman, MD, chief of the Heart Development and Structural Diseases Branch within the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "This registry will collect comprehensive, population-based information on sudden unexpected death in youths up to age 24 in the United States. It is a critical first step toward figuring out how to best prevent these tragedies." Read more on research.

Mother’s Smoking During Pregnancy Increases Infant’s Risk of Infections, Death
Mothers who smoked during pregnancy are more likely to have children who are at increased risk for hospitalization and death during infancy, according to a new study in the journal Pediatric Infectious Diseases. The study analyzed hospital records and death certificates of approximately 50,000 Washington state infants born between 1987 and 2004. Researchers say a weakening of the child’s immune system may be responsible for the heightened risk. "We've known for a long time that babies born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy are at high risk for serious medical problems relating to low birth weight, premature delivery and poor lung development," said lead author Abigail Halperin, MD. "While respiratory infections have been recognized as a common cause of these sometimes life-threatening illnesses, this study shows that babies exposed to smoke in utero [in the womb] also have increased risk for hospitalization and death from a much broader range of infections—both respiratory and nonrespiratory—than we knew before.” Read more on tobacco.

Oct 4 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 4

Four U.S. Regions on Alert for Severe Weather this Weekend
Severe weather is expected to impact at least four regions of the United States this weekend. That includes a tropical storm—downgraded from a hurricane for now—in the Gulf Coast; a tornado threat in the Midwest; early snow in the West that, in part because trees still have leaves that can be weighed down by wet snow, could lead to power outages; and spreading fires in California fueled by dry weather. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has already recalled some furloughed staff to prepare for the storms expected on the Gulf Coast. Read more on preparedness.

Study: Unnecessary Antibiotic Prescriptions Remain High, Endanger Public Health
Despite ongoing efforts by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health organizations, doctors continue to overprescribe antibiotics for sore throats, increasing the risk of the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. “Our research shows that while only 10 percent of adults with sore throat have strep, the only common cause of sore throat requiring antibiotics, the national antibiotic prescribing rate for adults with sore throat has remained at 60 percent,” said senior author Jeffrey A. Linder, MD, MPH, a physician and researcher in the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “For acute bronchitis, the right antibiotic prescribing rate should be near zero percent and the national antibiotic prescribing rate was 73 percent.” The researchers said the findings demonstrate the need to study and implement new interventions to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. Read more on infectious disease.

Daily Walks Can Reduce Breast Cancer Risk for Older Women
Post-menopausal women can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer through physical activity as simple as a daily walk, according to a new study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. More intense exercise may have an even more profound impact. "The nice message here is, you don't have to go out and run a marathon to lower your breast cancer risk," said study researcher Alpa Patel, senior epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, which funded the study. "Go for a nice, leisurely walk an hour a day to lower risk.” However, the study authors noted that they found only a correlation, not a causation, so further study is needed. Experts believe the reason exercise reduces breast cancer risk is related to hormones; they also recommend maintaining a healthy body weight and minimizing the consumption of alcohol as ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Read more on cancer.

Oct 3 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 3

Tropical Storm Karen Could Hit U.S. Gulf Coast by Weekend
CNN is reporting that a hurricane watch is in effect for parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast after a tropical storm, named Karen, formed in the southeastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico. A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area; a watch is typically issued 48 hours before a storm is expected to hit, according to the National Hurricane Center website. Much of the National Weather Service operations are closed because of the federal shutdown, however, the National Hurricane Center website will be regularly updated, an exception to the shutdown because severe weather poses a risk to life and property. And while much of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is also shuttered, DisasterAssistance.gov remains fully operational, according to FEMA’s website, although “due to a lapse in federal funding, portions of some government websites linked to or from DisasterAssistance.gov may not be updated and some non-disaster assistance transactions submitted via those websites may not be processed or responded to until after funding is enacted.” Ready.gov, FEMA’s disaster preparedness website, was last updated on September 30, according to the agency, and will not be updated until after funding is enacted. A notice on the site says “information on Ready.gov may not be up to date.” Read more on disasters.

Study: Cesarean-section Delivery May Not Be Needed for Twin Births
Despite the common opinion, vaginal delivery may be just as safe as scheduled cesarean-section delivery for pregnant women with twins, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers looked at multiple subject groups, tracking the pregnancies and finding the no difference in the rate of serious adverse outcomes for either the babies or the mothers. "Studies have suggested that maybe cesarean delivery is the best way, but there's no evidence to support the swing to cesarean birth,” said lead author, Jon Barrett, MD, chief of maternal-fetal medicine at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, Canada. “Perhaps the perception is that it's better for the baby.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as recently as 2008 about one in three single births was performed by planned cesarean section, while about three in every four twin births was via planned cesarean section. Read more on infant and maternal health.

Study: Melanoma Patients End Up Back in the Sun in 2-3 Years
While they remain appropriately cautious for the first year or so, people who were diagnosed and treated for melanoma end up going back to their old habits within two to three years, spending as much time in the sun as people who were never diagnosed with the skin cancer, according to a new study in JAMA Dermatology. People who previously had melanoma are at increased risk of developing the dangerous cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 76,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year. Brenda Cartmel, from the Yale School of Public Health, said health professionals need to rethink exactly how they’re advocating the importance of staying out of the sun. "I don't think what we are going to advise people to do is going to be different," she said. "I just think somehow we need to get that message over maybe in a different way." Read more on cancer.

Sep 30 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: September 30

New NIH Study to Look at House-to-House HIV Testing, Other Measures, to Reduce HIV Burden in Africa
A study in South Africa and Zambia is assessing whether house-to-house voluntary HIV testing and prompt treatment of HIV infection, along with other proven HIV prevention measures, can substantially reduce the number of new HIV infections across communities. The trial is funded primarily by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), administered by the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator. “Through this new study, we aim to learn whether the treatment of HIV-infected individuals as a form of HIV prevention, an approach previously tested in roughly 1,800 heterosexual couples where one partner was infected, will be just as effective when implemented across an entire adult population,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, MD. “The study also will tell us whether this method of delivering population-wide HIV treatment as prevention is feasible and cost-effective.” The trial is being conducted in South Africa and Zambia because the HIV prevalence in those countries is among the highest in the world. An estimated 12.5 percent of adults in Zambia and 17.3 percent of adults in South Africa are infected. The study team will measure the impact of the two HIV prevention packages by determining the number of new HIV infections among a representative sample of 52,500 adults drawn from the 21 study communities and followed for three years. The study is expected to end in 2019. Read more on AIDS.

Study: Better Awareness Likely Reason for Increase in ER Visits for Youth Concussions
Improved awareness of the signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injuries (TMI)—such as concussions—is likely the cause of a noticeable increase in TMI-related emergency department visits by children, according to a new study from doctors at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. The study appeared in the journal pediatrics. Visits for these types of injuries climbed about 92 percent from 2002 to 2011, while the overall severity of the injuries decreased and the hospitalization rate remained at around 10 percent. "We are doing a better job at educating ourselves and educating the public about concussion," said Dr. Holly Hanson, lead study author and an emergency medicine fellow. "People and doctors are recognizing sports-related concussions more. People are recognizing the signs and symptoms. People are more aware of the complications. So people are coming in more." According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevent, each year TMI accounts for about 630,000 emergency department visits, 67,000 hospitalizations and 6,100 deaths in children and teens annually. Read more on injury prevention.

HHS Developing New Burn Treatments to Improve Disaster Response, Daily Care
Through its Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HUD) is working to develop five new types of burn treatments for disaster response and daily emergency medical care. The thermal burn medical countermeasures—which could take the form of drugs, vaccines or medical products—will be for chemical, radiological or nuclear incidents. Developing new measures is critical, because with only 127 burn centers in the country, a mass casualty event could quickly overwhelm the public health response. “Sustainability of these medical countermeasures for thermal burns is critical for their availability when they are needed most,” said BARDA Director Robin Robinson, PhD. “Our repurposing and multi-purpose strategy facilitates development, ensures availability, and reduces overall costs for thermal burn medical countermeasures.” Read more on disasters.

Sep 3 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: September 3

AAP: Children Should Be Immunized Against Influenza As Soon As Possible this Season
Parents and caregivers should have all children ages 6 months or older immunized against influenza as soon as possible, according to new updated recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Immunization options include the trivalent vaccine that protects against three influenza strains and the new quadrivalent vaccine that protects against four strains. “Parents should not delay vaccinating their children to obtain a specific vaccine,” said pediatrician Henry Bernstein, DO, FAAP, the lead author of the flu recommendations. “Influenza virus is unpredictable, and what’s most important is that people receive the vaccine soon, so that they will be protected when the virus begins circulating.” Other vulnerable groups that should definitely be vaccinated include children with chronic health conditions, children of American Indian or Alaskan Native heritage, health care workers, pregnant women, women who may become pregnant or are breastfeeding and people who have contact with children in high-risk populations. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 135 million and 139 million doses of vaccine will be manufactured for the 2013-14 influenza season. Read more on influenza.

HUD: $37M to Oklahoma for ‘Unmet Needs’ of Disaster Recovery
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has allocated approximately $37 million in disaster recovery funds for the state of Oklahoma and the City of Moore, Okla., which were severely damaged by extreme storms—including an EF5 tornado—on May 20. Dozens were killed and more than $1 billion in property damage was caused. The grants are part of HUD’s Community development Block Grant Program, which supports long-term disaster recovery efforts in places of “unmet need.” “The May storms cost the lives of dozens of Oklahomans and over $1 billion in property damage. “We are steadily rebuilding, but many families are still struggling to get back on their feet,” said Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin. “The disaster relief grants provided by HUD—along with continued work from state and local governments and non-profits—will make a big difference in the lives of those affected by this year’s tornadoes. They will be particularly helpful as we work to provide assistance to low income Oklahomans, many of whom are uninsured.” About $26.3 million of the funds will go toward Moore, with the rest going toward the state. Read more on disasters.

Boys Faced Higher Death Risk than Girls from Multiple Causes
Boys on average face a higher risk of death than girls—not just from traumatic events such as accidents, homicides and suicides, but also from cancers and diseases of the heart, lungs and nervous system. The study found that from 1999 to 2008 there were about 76,700 more deaths among boys than girls, and that boys from infancy to age 20 were 44 percent more likely to die. The findings appear in the latest edition of the journal Pediatrics. The findings are not entirely surprising, as past research has indicated that girls have a certain survival advantage and experts already knew that boys are at increased risk of developing certain chronic health conditions. Still, the question is why. "This could be a story of resilience and ability to overcome," said study author Chris Feudtner, MD, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "Maybe there's some robustness factor that males are missing." Feudtner said that learning why boys faced these higher risks—and for chronic diseases in particular—could help health care experts better understand and treat the conditions. Read more on mortality.

Aug 29 2013
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Recommended Reading: FEMA on Preparing Your Family for an Emergency

“I’ll pack the dead batteries.”

“I’ll only put what I don’t need into a duffle bag.”

“I’ll try to get the generator going without any gas.”

Not exactly smart moves in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency…but maybe not far from reality for many families. Six out of 10 Americans don't have a disaster plan and only 19 percent said they were very prepared for a disaster. A new PSA campaign from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Ad Council hopes to change that.

The campaign is designed to educate and empower families with children in the household to take steps to get everyone prepared for emergencies. That means giving everyone a role and ensuring everyone knows the plan. Unfortunately, because the subject matter is difficult and weighty, some parents hesitate to even bring it up.

By showing exactly how not to approach the discussion of preparedness—the above quotes are from family members sitting around a table—the new campaign encourages parents to have honest conversations with their kids about disaster preparedness, which can inspire a sense of confidence, control and calm when an actual emergency strikes.

“Humor is important because people get their guard down when they’re engaged in message,” said Priscilla Natkins, Ad Council’s executive vice president and director of client services. “They’re laughing, they’re smiling—yet they’re listening to the content. They’re listening to what these people are saying.”

>>Read More: Go to CNN.com to read the full story and watch a video on the new PSA campaign.

>>Bonus Link: Learn more about how families can prepare for disasters at Ready.gov/kids.

Aug 23 2013
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CDC’s Ali Khan: “By Every Measure Our Nation Is Dramatically Better Prepared for Public Health Threats”

New Orleans, flooded after Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy Ross Mayfield. New Orleans, flooded after Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy Ross Mayfield.

Today is the eighth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest and most expensive natural disasters in U.S. history. Close to 2,000 people died during the worst of the storm and in the flooding that followed.

Since then, local, state, national and private disaster preparedness efforts have been increasingly improved. States reeling from the impact of last year’s Super Storm Sandy on the East Coast, for example, were able to rely on some of those improvements. They included more and better trained disaster management assistance teams from other states, as well as both commercial and government social media tools that helped professionals communicate among themselves and with the public to share safety and recovery instructions.

“By every measure our nation is dramatically better prepared for public health threats than they were,” said Ali Khan, MD, MPH, Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at a Congressional briefing last week on the topic. It was hosted by the Alliance for Health Reform and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In a conversation with NewPublicHealth this week, Khan ticked off some recent advances in disaster preparedness:

Congressionally appropriated funds for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to allow all states to improve their public health and health care preparedness and response capabilities.

  • Response activities now coordinated through state-of-the-art emergency operations center at CDC and centers at almost all state public health departments.
  • Health departments use the National Incident Management System, allowing for structured collaboration across responding agencies.
  • More than 150 laboratories in the United States now belong to CDC’s Laboratory Response Network and can test for biological agents with the addition of regional chemical laboratories.
  • The National Disaster Medical System now includes 49 Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, ten Disaster Mortuary Response Teams and five National Veterinary Response Teams, as well as other specialized units to provide medical-response surge during disasters and emergencies through on-scene medical care, patient transport and definitive care in participating hospitals.
  • The Strategic National Stockpile was authorized and expanded, ensuring the availability of key medical supplies. All states have plans to receive, distribute and dispense these assets. Development of new medical countermeasures under the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) includes new drugs and diagnostics. BARDA has delivered nine new medical countermeasures to the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) in the last six years.

Read more

Aug 20 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: August 20

Three Cases of Dengue Fever Reported in Florida
The Florida Department of Health is reporting three confirmed cases of Dengue Fever in Central Florida. Dengue Fever is an infectious disease transmitted by mosquitoes. While common in Africa, it’s very rare in the United States. The health department has reported that the three patients have not traveled internationally recently, and that they likely contracted the disease from mosquitoes in their home state. The last case of Dengue Fever in Central Florida was in 2011. Symptoms of Dengue Fever, which is treated with supportive care and can in some cases lead to death, include high fever, headache, rash and joint pain.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a severe outbreak of Dengue Fever in Southeast Asia that has been especially harsh this year because of an early rainy season, higher than average temperatures and the fact that the virus has mutated in some cases into a more severe version of the disease. Travelers to the region who become infected risk carrying the virus to their home countries, where the virus can spread if an infected person is bitten by a mosquito that then bites other humans.

Guidelines issued by the Florida Department of Health for mosquito control are effective for other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, including West Nile Virus and some forms of encephalitis, which both have been seen this summer in the United States. The guidelines include:

  • Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots or any other containers where sprinkler or rain water has collected.
  • Discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren't being used.
  • Empty and clean birdbaths and pet's water bowls that are kept outside at least once or twice a week.
  • Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don’t accumulate water.

Read more on infectious disease.

Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force Releases Report, Recommendations
The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force yesterday released its Rebuilding Strategy designed to be a model on how communities can prepare for and respond to extreme weather events. It also includes recommendations on how to continue to help area rebuild from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. “This Rebuilding Strategy will protect families, small businesses and communities across the region, and the taxpayers’ investment in them, from the risks posed by sea level rise and more extreme weather events – risks that are made worse by the reality of a changing climate,” according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, who chairs the task force. The goals include aligning federal funding with local rebuilding visions; cutting red tape and getting assistance to families, businesses and communities efficiently and effectively; and coordinating the efforts of the federal, state and local governments, with a region-wide approach to rebuilding. Read more on Hurricane Sandy.

Survey: Hispanic Teens More Likely Than White, Black Teens to Abuse Drugs
Hispanic teens are more likely than their white and black counterparts to abuse both legal and illegal drugs, according to a new report, The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study 2012: Hispanic Teens and Hispanic Parents. A survey found that about 54 percent of Hispanic teens had used an illicit drug; 43 percent of white teens and 45 of black teens reported using an illicit drug in the same survey. At the heart of the issue could be that Hispanic teens on average view the drugs as less harmful, said Sean Clarkin, director of strategy and programs at The Partnership at Drugfree.org. "They see drug use among their peers and in their community, and the messages they are not getting from their parents—these all may be contributing to this feeling that drug use is normal," he said. The key to improving on these troubling rates is improved guidance an education on the dangers of drug abuse. Read more on substance abuse.

Jul 22 2013
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Electronic Health Information Access for Patients Displaced by Disasters

As part of an effort to help make sure their residents’ health information is available after a hurricane or other wide-spread disaster, four Gulf states have partnered with six states in the East and Midwest to help relocated patients and their temporary health care providers access critical health information.

State health information exchange (HIE) programs in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia worked with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to create the new system. All of the state HIE programs participating in the initiative have established at least one operational interstate connection and are working with other states including Arkansas and Mississippi. The initiative uses a tool called Direct, created through a collaboration that allows for the secure exchange of health information over the Internet.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently published a guide to help primary care clinicians connect their patients’ electronic health records to a local HIE hub and regional health information organizations.

Jul 9 2013
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Recovering from Disaster: NewPublicHealth Q&A with NJ Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd

file Mary O'Dowd, NJ State Health Commissioner

NewPublicHealth has been conducting a series of interviews with health directors impacted by weather disasters this year. Last month marked the official start of hurricane season in the Atlantic. We recently spoke with Mary O’Dowd, health commissioner of New Jersey, which is continuing its recovery and rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy last fall.

>>Read our interview with Oklahoma Health Commissioner Terry Cline on the tornadoes that struck Oklahoma this summer.

NewPublicHealth: How far along are you in the recovery process?

Mary O’Dowd: One of the things that we’ve learned is that recovery takes years not months when you’re dealing with a disaster of the proportion that Superstorm Sandy was for New Jersey. I would say that we’ve made significant progress. Some communities have very little signs of Sandy left, others are still working to rebuild a significant amount of their property and they’re still in the process of demolition of damaged buildings and properties. Great strides have been made, much progress has already occurred, but there still is a lot of work yet to be done.

NPH: What are some of the public health endeavors you’re still engaged in for the response?

Watch a video about the public health response to Hurricane Sandy featuringing Mary O'Dowd and other public health officials

Read more