Category Archives: Preparedness

May 24 2013
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Team Rubicon’s Veterans Respond to Oklahoma’s Tornado Devastation: Recommended Reading

file Team Rubicon responds to previous severe weather in St. Louis (April 2013)

The tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., on May 20 left at least 24 people dead and nearly 400 injured. More than a mile wide in places, the tornado left billions of dollars in damage in its wake. The people of Moore and the surrounding area are now burying the friends and family members lost that day and the slow process of rebuilding has begun.

Among the first to respond to the natural disaster was Team Rubicon, a collection of hundreds of U.S. military veterans who have been provided disaster relief around the world since the organization was founded in 2010. The name for the Moore effort is “Operation: Starting Gun”—both for their quick response to the tornado’s devastation and for the Sooners of the Oklahoma Land Rush. They expect as many as 250 volunteers, of which 90 percent are veterans.

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May 21 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: May 21

Devastation in Oklahoma, More Storms Possible
Following tornadoes in Oklahoma yesterday that killed and injured scores of people and leveled whole communities, the National Weather Service is warning that that severe weather could move eastward as far as the Gulf Coast and Northeast on Tuesday and Wednesday. “These are dangerous storms and we urge people to monitor the situation closely and be alert for severe weather warnings in their community,” said Trevor Riggen, vice president of Disaster Operations and Logistics for the Red Cross. The Red Cross has created a free tornado app, available in English or Spanish, whose features include a high-pitched siren tornado warning alert that signals when an alert from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) tornado warning has been issued. The app, found in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross, also includes an all-clear alert that lets users know when a tornado warning has expired or has been cancelled. The app also includes one-touch “I’m safe” messaging to alert family and friends through social media outlets. Read more on preparedness.

Cost, Other Factors May Keep African-Americans from Calling 911 when they have Stroke Symptoms
African-Americans often know the signs of stroke, but concerns about medical cost, ambulance response time and lack of familiarity with the need for prompt hospital care impacted whether they called 9-1-1 immediately, according to a new study of 77 African American community members in Flint, Michigan by researchers at the University of Michigan. The study was published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. To encourage 9-1-1 calls even if a stroke victim is concerned about cost, the study authors recommended highlighting the reduction in post-stroke disability if treatment is given quickly. Read more on access to health care.

Report: High SPF Sunscreens Not Any More Effective
Just in time for the Memorial Day Weekend, the Environmental Working Group has released its 7th annual Sunscreen Guide,  which rates the safety and efficacy of more than 1,400 sunscreens, lotions, lip products and makeups that advertise sun protection. EWG researchers found that only 25 percent of products on the market in 2013 offer strong and broad protection and pose few safety concerns. “The vast majority of sunscreens available to the consumer aren’t as good as most people think they are, but there are a handful of products that rise above the rest,” said Sonya Lunder, senior research analyst at EWG and lead author of the report. Lunder says that’s important because “despite an increasing awareness of the sun’s risks, rates of melanoma have tripled over the past 35 years, with an annual increase of 1.9 percent per year since 2000.” EWG says it thinks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should push companies to stop selling high-SPF sunscreens (above 50+), which account for 1 in 7 products on the market. The FDA has said that it cannot vouch for any sunscreen above 30. According to Lunder, as a result of misleading and confusing marketing claims, consumers frequently misuse sunscreens and spend more time in the sun than they should, putting them at greater risk. Read more on cancer.

May 13 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: May 13

One in Five Kids At Risk for Suicide Live in Homes with Guns
Nearly one in five children and teens found to be at risk for suicide report that there are guns in their homes and fifteen percent of those with guns in their home said they know how to access both the guns and the bullets, according to a study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

The study researchers recommend that emergency department doctors screen all children and teens for suicide risk. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 years in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly half of young people who die by suicide use a gun. Read more on injury prevention.

Teen Girls Who Exercise Are Less Likely to be Violent
A study from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health finds that high school girls who play sports or run have a lower risk of being in fights or in a gang. Researchers at the school reviewed results of a 2008 survey completed by 1,312 students at four inner-city high schools in New York to determine if there was an association between regular exercise and violence-related behaviors.

The survey results found that girls who had exercised more than 10 days in the last month had decreased odds of being in a gang, those who did more than 20 sit-ups in the past four weeks had decreased odds of carrying a weapon or being in a gang and those who reported running more than 20 minutes the last time they ran had lower odds of carrying a weapon. Girls who participated in team sports in the past year had decreased odds of carrying a weapon, being in a fight, or being in a gang.

Among boys, none of the exercise measures were linked to decrease in violence-related behaviors. But the researchers say that a connection may not have been found because a smaller percentage of boys than girls completed the survey and that more research is needed to see if exercise interventions can reduce youth violence. Read more on violence.

USDA Announces New Rules to Fund Broadband Service in Underserved Rural Communities
The USDA has announced new rules that simplify the proposals to request funds for internet broadband access in rural areas. USDA broadband funds have provided internet access for nearly 65,000 rural households, businesses, and community organizations such as libraries, schools and first responders. Read more on preparedness.

Apr 25 2013
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Public Health Role as Businesses, Residents Return to Boston

Immediately after the explosions at the Boston Marathon yesterday, both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) updated their crisis management resources and moved the information to the top of their home pages.

Yesterday, NPR reported that business owners near the blast site are beginning to return and reopen their doors.

"They fled in a panic last week and returned both eager and anxious," said NPR reporter Tovia Smith. The piece describes how business owners returned to find food left half-eaten and rotting, because so many left in such a hurry, and blood splattered in some spots from those who were injured.

To help make sure businesses get the help they need to reopen safely, public health inspectors played a role in visiting every building on every block. "They also stood ready with trauma counselors, pro-bono attorneys and clean-up crews," said Smith.

But the public health response to any disaster goes beyond helping to restore normalcy in the immediate aftermath. An earlier interview with John Lumpkin, director of the Health Care Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, about the sustained response to Hurricane Sandy also applies here:

We saw with Katrina and are seeing again now with Sandy, [public health officials] are not only concerned with food, air, and water during and immediately after an emergency, but also with ensuring that services related to health care delivery and mental health are provided when and where they’re needed. It’s an interesting statistic, for instance, that the demand for mental health services was higher five years after Hurricane Katrina than it was immediately after the hurricane hit.

The Boston Public Health Commission announced this week, for example, that the organization has opened a new drop-in center to continue to provide emotional support to anyone affected by the Boston Marathon attack.

"While the physical injuries and destruction that resulted from the bombings might be the most visible signs of trauma, many people experience serious emotional distress based on what they saw, heard, and felt during and after the attack. Sometimes these symptoms do not surface immediately," according to the Commission release. "Understanding the deep impacts of this emotional distress, city officials opened the drop-in center as a safe place for people to come together and talk about their experiences over the past week."

>>Read more about building community resilience to recover from disaster.

Apr 23 2013
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Post-Disaster Public Channel Could Speed, Expand Recovery Efforts: Recommended Reading

A Buzzfeed article posted in the days after the explosions at the Boston Marathon last week reported on hashtags and Google docs that emerged in the hours after the explosions, and pointed out the need for expanded “disaster and crisis coordination online, beyond hashtags.” The article notes a new San Francisco initiative in collaboration with the design firm IDEO—a social networking website and app to connect people who want to help with those who need it, which will let individuals preregister homes where people in need can find emergency shelter, supplies and useful skills such as First Aid certification. According to the post, “instead of scanning hashtags [in order to offer assistance], people will be able to simply log in to a preexisting community.”

There was a soft launch of the system in January and the organizations are now collecting user feedback.  

Jenine Harris, PhD, an assistant professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, reported on expanded use of social media by local health departments during the recent Keeneland Conference on public health services and systems research held in Lexington, Ky. Dr. Harris says of the San Francisco project that “the more active a social media channel, the more people follow it, so if these channels could be tweeting or retweeting regularly they would probably draw larger audiences.” Harris suggests that health departments could retweet information from their channels and increase visibility.

>>Read the Buzzfeed article.

Apr 16 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: April 16

CDC, SAMHSA and Red Cross Resources Help Individuals and Communities Cope with Disaster
Immediately after the explosions at the Boston Marathon yesterday, both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) updated their crisis management resources and moved the information to the top of their home pages. CDC’s “Tips for Self Care” includes advice on dealing with stress and suggestions for connecting socially after a traumatic event, avoiding drugs and alcohol, as well as links to SAMHSA’s disaster distress helpline  which can be accessed by phone, text, twitter and Facebook. SAMHSA’s site also includes resources for students, parents, teachers, caregivers, children, first responders and health professionals.

Following the explosions, families and friends found that cell phone and in some cases even texting communication was jammed, making it difficult for people to know whereabouts of those involved in the explosion. The American Red Cross offers a free service called the Safe and Well website which is a central site for people in disaster areas in the United States to register their current status, and for their loved ones to access that information. The Red Cross says the site helps provide displaced families with relief and comfort during a stressful time. The site is easy to use:

  • If you are currently being affected by a disaster somewhere in the United States, click List Myself as Safe and Well, enter your pre-disaster address and phone number, and select any of the standard message options.
  • If you are concerned about a loved one in the United States, click Search Registrants and enter the person’s name and pre-disaster phone number OR address. If they have registered, you will be able to view the messages they have posted.

The site is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is accessible in both English and Spanish. Read more on preparedness.

Mortality Rates Highest at Small Rural Hospitals
A new study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) finds that a failure to stay up to date in the treatments they provide may be a factor in climbing death rates at rural hospitals. The study appeared in the JAMA. The HSPH researchers reviewed data from small, rural hospitals that receive government reimbursements and are exempt from participation in national quality improvement programs. The researchers looked at data on 10 million Medicare patients who were admitted to these small rural hospitals or other hospitals with a heart attack, congestive heart failure, or pneumonia—and compared 30-day mortality rates for each of the three conditions over a nine-year period. While ten years ago, mortality rates for each of these conditions were about the same at hospitals, the researchers found that between 2002 and 2010, mortality rates at CAHs increased at a rate of 0.1% per year, while at non-CAHs they decreased 0.2% per year. By 2010, CAHs had higher overall mortality rates—13.3% versus 11.4% at non-CAHs. “Small rural hospitals are being left behind,” says Karen Joynt, MD, MPH, the lead author on the study. “By creating a separate category for these hospitals, we’ve really left them out of many of the advances in medical care over the past decade, and we need systems-level solutions to help improve healthcare in these rural areas.” Read more on health disparities.

High Resting Heart Rate Indicates Increased Risk of Early Death
Faster than normal heart rates—even in men who exercise—could indicate a higher risk of early death, according to a new study in the journal Heart. While previous studies have shown a connection between heart rate and life expectancy, this study looked specifically at whether that was also true for healthy people who got regular exercise; the results indicate that resting heart rate is a risk factor independent of other health markers. Each 10-beat-per-minute resting heart rate increase corresponded to a 16 percent increase in the likelihood of death. Gregg Fonarow, MD, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said there are ways to improve resting hear rate. "Increasing physical activity and decreasing periods of sitting can lower heart rate and lower cardiovascular risk," he said, adding that stopping smoking can also lower heart rate. Read more on heart health.

Mar 28 2013
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Coming Together in a Public Health Crisis: Stories from the Front Line

Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the Atlantic coastal region—particularly New Jersey, where public health and other agencies from across the state came together to prepare for and respond to the extreme weather event. Ocean County alone saw more than 250 public health department employees working day and night to help the county’s 576,000 residents.

As part of its coverage on the public health response to Hurricane Sandy, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created a series of videos featuring public health officials and those touched by the disaster.

>> Go here to read more about Hurricane Sandy and watched the RWJF video "Unwavering: Public Health's Dedication in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy."

In this video, Christopher Rinn, Assistant Commissioner of the Division of Public Health Infrastructure, Laboratories and Emergency Preparedness for the New Jersey Department of Health, describes how the public health department led the response to Hurricane Sandy by collaborating across acute care hospitals, EMS agencies, local health departments, home healthcare agencies, private sector partners and other sectors of the community.

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Mar 28 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: March 28

NOAA Report Helps U.S. Regions Prepare for Spring Droughts, Floods
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) new three-month U.S. Spring Outlook predicts above-average temperatures will strike areas already afflicted by drought—such as Texas, the Southwest and the Great Plains—while places such as North Dakota can expect significant river flooding. The report looks at the likelihood of flooding and predicts temperature, precipitation and drought across the country. "We produce this outlook to help communities prepare for what's likely to come in the next few months and minimize weather's impacts on lives and livelihoods,” said Laura Furgione, deputy director of NOAA's National Weather Service. “A Weather-Ready Nation hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst." Read more on preparedness.

CDC Ad Campaign to Continue to Share the Stories, Troubles of Former Smokers
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has re-launched last year's successful national ad campaign with a second series of ads telling the true stories of former smokers now living with the effects of their addiction—such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, severe adult asthma and heart disease. The campaign will run on television, radio, billboards and online, as well as in theaters, magazines and newspapers. "The Tips from Former Smokers campaign shows the painful effects of smoking through former smokers, in a way that numbers alone cannot," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. "These are the kinds of ads that smokers tell us help motivate them to quit, saving lives and money." The ads are funded by the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. Read more on the campaign.

Experts Expect More Severe, Lengthy Spring Allergies
Springtime means allergies for many across the United States, and higher pollen counts means the people who suffer from seasonal allergies can expect this year’s to be more severe and last longer, according to Kevin McGrath, MD, of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. That means more sneezing, itchiness and fatigue. "We've seen record pollen counts for trees and ragweed [the most common fall allergy trigger] for the past few years, and the seasons may be a bit longer—about six to seven more days in the Midwest and a few more days in the Northeast," said McGrath, according to HealthDay. David Lang, MD, section head of allergy and immunology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, recommends beginning medication early and avoiding the triggers as much as possible. Read more on environment.

Mar 27 2013
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RWJF’s John Lumpkin on Sustained Response to Public Health Emergencies: NewPublicHealth Q&A

At this month’s Public Health Preparedness Summit, John Lumpkin, MD, MPH, senior vice president and the director of the Health Care Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, presented about the National Health Security Preparedness Index. The Index, when completed, will be a single annual measure of health security and preparedness at the national and state levels. The Index will help inform decisions about how to prioritize investments and continual quality improvement of public health preparedness, and will also identify and highlight strengths and novel approaches. With input from many stakeholders, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is coordinating development of the Index.

Prior to joining the Foundation in 2003, Dr. Lumpkin served as director of the Illinois Department of Public Health for 12 years. In an interview at the Summit, Dr. Lumpkin described how the Index will help improve the quality of public health preparedness. He also shared his insights from his first-hand experience in coordinating a sustained response to public health emergencies that extends well beyond the initial response.

NPH: In the aftermath of a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, how can public health agencies balance their focus on immediate needs such as shelter, food and emergency services, with longer-term challenges such as mental health, housing solutions and resilience?

Dr. John Lumpkin: While the immediate impact of homes being destroyed, people being forced to relocate and lives being lost, is devastating—there is also an ongoing public health impact of a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, which is tremendous.

>>Watch a video on the ongoing public health response to Hurricane Sandy.

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Mar 27 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: March 27

Study: Most Intend to Comply With Mandatory Hurricane Evacuation
Most residents of areas most likely to be hit by hurricanes—no matter their income level—intend to comply with mandatory evacuation orders, according to a new study in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness. Researchers at The University of Texas School of Public Health did find variations with other demographic differences, such as age, ethnicity and education level. The findings indicate that disaster preparedness should focus more on how to best evacuate the most vulnerable residents, which could include targeted messaging and education. Read more on preparedness.

Breath Test May Identify People Prone to Obesity
A breath test that measures bacterial overgrowth in the stomach could be used to determine whether a person will become overweight, according to a new study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Researchers found that higher levels of methane and hydrogen from the bacteria Methanobrevibacter smithii were associated with higher BMIs and more body fat. Overgrowth of “bad” bacteria can also lead to bloating, constipation and diarrhea. While noting that obesity is “not a one-size-fits-all disease," study author Ruchi Mathur, MD, director of the outpatient diabetes treatment center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said this could help identify people who would respond best to particular weight loss methods. Read more on obesity.

Study Finds Most Major Restaurants Post Accurate Nutrition Info
A new study from Consumer Reports found that most major chain restaurants post accurate nutritional information about their food. Shoppers purchased and tested 17 menu items from restaurants and fast-food chains, comparing the results for each item to the same items purchased at other restaurants in the chain. They determined that only two items had higher fat or calorie content than advertised: Olive Garden’s Lasagna Primavera with Grilled Chicken and Outback Steakhouse’s Chicken on the Barbie. “We found that you can usually trust the figures you see,” said editor Leslie Ware. “On average, most of them were telling the truth.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is slated to release new regulations regarding nutrition labeling later this year. Read more on nutrition.