Airplane Cabins and Your Health

30 08 2012

Do you remember SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)? It popped up in China in 2002 and spread to more than 25 countries before we could blink.

PKIDs landed a group of disease prevention educators in China just as the world became aware of this outbreak that would rapidly become an epidemic. It was coincidence, of course. The trip had been planned for months.

But, our proximity to the SARS outbreak was a reminder to us of how efficient air travel is at spreading germs.

In 2009, there were 2.5 billion airline passengers and that number is expected to increase to 3.3 billion by 2014. That’s a lot of sneezing, coughing, and just plain touching of armrests, overheads, and other surfaces going on in small spaces.

Dr. Alexandra Mangili and Dr. Mark Gendreau wrote a piece for the Lancet in 2005 that talks about the mechanics of disease transmission in an airplane. It’s very good, if you have a few minutes to read it.

They explain air flow patterns and how much air is recirculated (50% and that’s through filters). Turns out, air does not flow the length of the plane, but rather in sections or pockets along the width of the plane. Still an efficient method of disease transmission for airborne and large droplet transmission, but not the only way germs are spread onboard.

According to the article, the most common infections on aircraft have been via the fecal-oral route through contaminated food, although that has diminished in the last few years, possibly due to prepackaged food products and more care in the prepping and handling of food.

Mosquitos, a common vector for diseases such as dengue and malaria, often hitch rides on airplanes. Mangili and Gendreau point out that, “Many cases of malaria occurring in and around airports all over the world in people who had not travelled to endemic areas, known as airport malaria, is evidence that malaria-carrying mosquitoes can be imported on aircraft.”

The cabins of airplanes cannot be thoroughly disinfected between flights. Many times, a plane lands, passengers disembark, and more passengers are seated within 30 minutes. Think of all the droplets of goo left behind that the cleaning crew cannot remove, and the many surfaces that can’t be disinfected.

Keeping one’s hands clean throughout the flight will go a long way toward preventing transmission, and staying up-to-date on your vaccinations for your home country and your destination. As for masks, the authors say, “Although masks play a crucial part in infection control in health care settings, their use is unproven in disease control within the aircraft cabin.” But they do recommend masking and isolating someone suspected of having SARS.

The CDC has quite a bit more to say about air travel and travelers’ health in general, if you’re looking for more details.

How do you prevent infections during air travel? What do you do to protect yourself? We’d love to hear! Please share your tips in the comment section.

By Trish Parnell
Image courtesy of WHO





Germs (and kids) Go Back To School!

27 08 2012

Kids are headed back to school, and all their germs are going with them. This means that germ-swapping is about to take place. Are you ready? Is your child?

Share these three concepts with your kids and their school year is likely to be healthier than years past.

Clean your hands

Use soap and water if possible and if not, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Clean hands before leaving the house, after you get to school, before you eat, after using the restroom, and anytime your hands are dirty. Important: keep your hands off of your eyes, nose, and mouth, and don’t touch any scrapes or breaks on your skin unless your hands have just been cleaned.

Get immunized

Parents, this one is up to you. Most kids aren’t going to remind you that they need to be vaccinated, so please put it on your schedule to get it done. We don’t have vaccines against every disease, but in combination with clean hands and standard precautions, they’re effective shields against infections.

Practice standard precautions in daily living

Practicing standard precautions means assuming that every person’s blood or body fluid is infected with HIV, HBV, or other bloodborne germs, and then acting accordingly to prevent infection. Since most people who are infected are unaware of their infection status, it’s safest to assume everyone is infected with something and to keep barriers between yourself and another person’s blood or body fluid. This means that you never use your bare hands to touch someone’s blood (or body fluid). You get a towel, or put gloves on, or find something to put between you and the fluid. Kids should simply tell an adult if they see someone who is hurt and know not to touch anything leaking from another person.

If you repeat the messages often enough, the kids will adopt the habit of prevention.

By Trish Parnell
Image courtesy of Johnny Ancich





Orange Nose Day is 5 October 2012!

20 08 2012

Orange Nose Day is just around the corner!

One day a year (October 5th), health educators don an orange nose and start talking. And here’s why . . .
 
Most days of the year, educators get out there and talk the talk, saying the same things repeatedly: wash your hands, get immunized, floss, eat fruits and veggies, and so on.
 
When we hear these messages often enough, they become white noise.
 
But, somebody puts on an orange nose and turns to us with the same messages, we start smiling and we’re all ears. That’s the spark that created Orange Nose Day.
 
If you have a health message to share, visit www.orangenoseday.org, get an orange nose on your photo, and use that photo on your social media sites come 5 October. Also, join the collaborative by sending in your organization’s logo and become a partner on the website!
 
The Orange Nose Day collaborative identifies five steps to good health and encourages you to add your own. The day isn’t about any particular message, but about sharing whatever health message you want your patients or public to hear.
 
There are lots of downloadables, including posters, web banners, and stickers, that are available free of charge on the site.
 
Hey, there are plenty of reasons to not kid around when we’re talking about health, but occasionally bringing a little levity to the message is a good thing.
 
Come, join the fun.





Facebook Tips – Let’s Share

16 08 2012

Facebook is a free social media site where we can share health messages and communicate with our patients, our community, or our world.

But, useful as the site is, the powers-that-be keep changing bits and pieces of it. It’s annoying. And, it’s hard to keep up.

Therefore, every so often we sit down and put together some tips for the current version of Facebook (at least, current as of the day this is being written). We hope you’ll share your tips in the comments. It’s easier to keep up on all the changes if we do it together!

Facebook has an App Center now. There’s no obvious search function on the page, so you do a lot of scrolling through the menu, but if you like apps and have the time to poke around, why not?

We love the convenience of going into Hootsuite and setting up our posts, but Facebook doesn’t care for it. There’s this thing called EdgeRank that is a magical formula used by Facebook to determine which posts will show up in your newsfeed, or which of your posts will show up on your fans’ newsfeeds.

Posting your updates directly on your Facebook page rather than through a third-party utility such as Hootsuite increases your EdgeRank.

You can schedule your posts to run when you like, just click on the clock image at the bottom of the status update box. It will ask you what year, month, day, and time you want your post to run.

You may have 1,264 “likes” on your organization’s page, but not all of those people will receive your posts. Facebook steps in and decides which of your posts will show up on which individual’s newsfeed. The more your posts are liked or commented on or shared, the more often they will show up in newsfeeds.

You can also ask your fans to hover over the Like(d) button on your page and make sure the “Show in News Feed” option is checked.

Use your Timeline cover image to share your various messages, and change that image a couple of times a week. The image is 851 x 315 pixels. You can use Paint or any simple software to create as many covers as you like. We’re currently sharing one of CDC’s flu messages.

We all love pictures, and we need to take advantage of the space on our Facebook pages. See the tabs below? The ones that say Photos, Likes, Home, Move to the Beat? You can go to your tabs on your page and change any image on any tab so that you have branded tabs.

The images are 111 x 74 pixels. To change them out, click the arrow in the box to the right of the tabs (next to Move to the Beat). Hover over a tab and click on the little pencil, click Edit Settings, click Change next to Custom Tab image, then click Change again when the new box pops up. After that, you upload an image from your computer and boom, customized tab images.

There are many more ways to enhance your organization’s Facebook page. We blog about them occasionally and we’d like to hear what you do to make your page a go-to site for your target audience.

By Trish Parnell





H3N2v – Another Swine Flu

9 08 2012

Last summer, there were a dozen reported cases of an influenza A variant virus called H3N2v. This strain comes from pigs. As of today, the official CDC count is 145 cases reported, with a big surge seen in July 2012.

The CDC will report the number of confirmed cases every Friday and that number of 145 is expected to increase tomorrow, 10 August, as the CDC gets more reports from the states.

Because the states are now able to confirm cases without waiting for CDC’s confirmation, the states will always have the most current numbers.

This surge is thought primarily to be connected to agricultural fairs being held around the country.

Before 2007, there were one or two cases reported each year. After that time, and until 2010, there were maybe half a dozen cases reported each year due to improved diagnostics provided to the states.

CDC’s Dr. Joseph Bresee of the Influenza Division says that most of those infected have had direct or indirect exposure to infected pigs, although there have been limited numbers of human-to-human transmission.

Over 90 percent of the infected have been children. Children tend to be the ones that care for the pigs at the fairs, and it may be that while adults have had exposure to H3 viruses and that has given them some antibody protection, the children have no such antibodies.

The symptoms are typical of seasonal influenza and the cases so far have been mild, with a total of five individuals hospitalized since July 2011.

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills (not everyone has a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

There have been no deaths, and those hospitalized have been released and are well. More hospitalizations are expected for those with high risk conditions.

There is no evidence that there is sustained efficient human-to-human transmission, and it’s not a pandemic situation, but the CDC is monitoring the situation.

Large numbers of agricultural fairs are ongoing in the US, and pigs are the primary source of infection, so it’s recommend that those attending such fairs:

  • Wash hand frequently before and after exposure to animals
  • Don’t eat or drink around animals
  • Keep away from sick pigs
  • If one is at high risk of seasonal flu, avoid exposure to swine completely when going to fairs

If you have flu symptoms following direct exposure to swine, tell your doctor about that exposure so that antivirals may be considered.

The H3N2v strain is not in the seasonal flu vaccine, but get vaccinated to protect yourself against the other strains of influenza.

By Trish Parnell

Image courtesy of The Portland Press Herald





Those Rotten Mosquitos!

6 08 2012

West Nile virus is busy this year, with 241 cases and four deaths reported.

Mosquitos are the carriers of this disease, and we all know the mosquito population has exploded this summer. It is possible to transmit West Nile virus (WNV) in other ways, such as through blood transfusions, organ transplants, breastfeeding, or even during pregnancy from mother to baby, but the risk for those types of transmissions is small.

No one wants WNV, so the first thing to do is prevent mosquito bites.

Use insect repellent, and reapply it periodically – read the directions on the can.

Look around your property – if there’s any standing water, drain it. Mosquitos love to breed in still waters.

Mosquitos were getting in our house in the evenings. After a couple of hours of investigation, we discovered a gap in a screen where they were getting through. Check every door and window in your home for openings.

There is no vaccine for humans, but research is ongoing.

Most people who are infected with WNV experience no symptoms, but for some, infection can cause fever, headache, nausea, coma, paralysis and other serious problems.

There is no treatment specific to WNV. If you become infected, your symptoms will be treated.

Be aware that mosquitos carry more than WNV. They also carry and transmit dengue, various viral diseases that cause encephalitis, malaria, yellow fever, and Rift Valley fever.

Contact your city or county to find out what they’re doing to reduce the mosquito population. If they’re not doing enough, rally your neighbors to add their voices to yours in asking that action be taken.

By Trish Parnell

Image courtesy of LoloTahiti