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  • The Zika Virus at the Rio Olympics and in the U.S.

    Zika is back in the news, with the Rio Olympics, new cases in Miami, and virus fears in Puerto Rico.


    Rio de Janeiro

    Zika was one of the greater concerns before the Rio Olympics. Golfers and tennis players dropped out, claiming Zika fears. U.S. soccer goaltender Hope Solo tweeted a photo of her surrounded by insect repellent.

    Once the games started, it wasn’t an issue. “No one here (at least in the beaches of Rio) is concerned about Zika in the least,” wrote Nate Scott, a journalist with For the Win, a subsidiary of USA Today. “And I’ve seen like two mosquitoes since I’ve been here.” Data from the Pan American Health Organization showed almost no cases of the virus in Brazil in late July, and doctors in one hospital in the Copacabana beach area couldn’t remember one mosquito-borne illness since June, according to an Associated Press story. In fact, there’s only been one Zika story: Brazilians have been chanting “Zika” to mock Solo and other U.S. athletes during competition.



    Zika Plane sprays Zika pesticides over Wynwood.

    A trendy area of Miami is dealing with the first cases of home-hatched Zika in the United States.  As of August 12, 2016, 28 people had been diagnosed with Zika.  All but one contracted it within a one-square-mile area around the city’s Wynwood arts district. In response, the city performed aerial spraying for mosquitoes, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory for pregnant women to avoid the Wynwood area. This was the first travel advisory the CDC has ever issued for the continental U.S. The continental U.S. already has seen at least 1,825 Zika cases, mostly related to travel abroad or sex with someone who traveled. A baby born in the Houston metro area died from complications from Zika. The baby’s mother caught the virus while traveling, according to a USA Today story


    Puerto Rico In Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, Zika has infected at least 10,690 people, including 1,035 pregnant women, according to a USA Today story. On August 12, the Obama administration declared a public health emergency, freeing money to help the territory fight the virus.  


    When it comes to mosquito-borne illnesses, Zika is not exactly the worst of the lot. Eighty percent of patients report no symptoms. It’s a public health concern because of its effects on unborn children. Still, compare Zika to malaria, which killed an estimated 438,000 people in 2015, according to the World Health Organization.

    Since there is not yet a vaccine for Zika, the steps to prevent the virus are the steps to prevent any mosquito-borne illness.

    Start by preventing mosquito bites, suggests the CDC. Spray an Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent on exposed skin and clothes. The CDC says EPA-registered repellents are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women when used as directed. Don’t use repellent containing lemon eucalyptus oil or para-methane-diol on children under three, and don’t use any insect repellent on babies younger than two months old.

    In schools inside the affected area of Miami, children may wear long sleeved pants and shirts that don’t match school uniforms, but must apply repellent at home, in case some students have allergies to repellent. The CDC recommends all family members wear clothes that cover arms and legs, even in the heat. Also, cover baby strollers and carriers with mosquito netting. In North Miami, residents complained because broken storm drains contained standing water that mosquitoes breed in.

    The CDC recommends people weekly empty, turn over, cover, or trash items that hold water, like bird baths, pools, tires and buckets. Also use screens on windows and doors and use air conditioning when possible.

    If you have any type of sexual contact with someone who has been to a Zika-exposed area, use a condom or other barrier. If your partner is pregnant and you’ve been exposed to Zika, the CDC recommends avoiding any sexual contact for the pregnancy’s duration.   Health Banner - Zika Katadyn Hiker Microfilter Giveaway

  • Is the California Drought Really Making Headway?

    California is known for its stunning beaches, beautiful parks, and blistering drought.

    California Drought Monitor Aug 4, 2015But things have been much worse for California’s drought. Just last year, the majority of the state was either in exceptional or extreme drought (as seen here as the two shades of red). There was only a small sliver down in the southeast of the state that was just abnormally dry (yellow). The rest of the state was in at least some form of drought, much of it severe or worse. Things certainly were bad back then. But has it improved, or has it become even worse? Let's look at the current drought monitor.

    California Drought Monitor Aug 2, 2016As of August 4, 2016, there’s a lot more yellow, which is a good sign. Yellow means it’s just abnormally dry, not technically in drought conditions. A fair portion of the reds have turned orange or beige, signaling the extreme and exceptional drought conditions are dwindling.

    Yes, there is still quite a bit of exceptional drought in California, but by the looks of things, it is slowly dispersing. That being said, it’s nothing to celebrate. At least, not yet.

    Since Californians have done an excellent job at conserving water – they cut back water usage by 27.5% in June 2015 as compared with the 2013 baseline – many municipalities are lifting water restrictions. An article in the East Bay Times showed concern from water program director at the Pacific Institute, Heather Cooley. She said that today’s number of saved water is strong. However, Cooley has other concerns.

    “I’m concerned about the next several months and years,” she said. “The water we save now is water we can use later if we don’t get rains next winter.” She warned that caution should be exercised.

    As the drought monitor from August 2, 2016 suggests, there is still a fair amount of drought afflicting the Golden State, and there will undoubtedly still be quite some time yet before the drought is gone.

    Whether lifting much of the water restrictions in California is a good idea or not remains to be seen. However, it does look like there is still room for precautions. Just because the disaster is becoming less severe doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to stop being cautious – and this goes for all disasters. Just because the threat is subsiding doesn’t mean the threat is gone entirely.

    But, perhaps local officials know better. Whatever their source of knowledge, you can still do your part to save water and ultimately be prepared.


    Drought  monitor

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  • How to Protect Children, Seniors, and Athletes During Hot Weather

    The heat dome has dissipated. That doesn’t mean hot weather has ended, however. It’s summer, and in most states in the continental U.S., temperatures will remain in the 80s and 90s during the day. For that matter, another heat wave could easily strike.

    Some people are more sensitive to prolonged heat than others. They include children under 4 years old, adults over 65, overweight people, and people who are ill or on some types of medication, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Even healthy people can get a heat-related illness if they work or exercise outside for a longer period.



    Three happy children hot weather

    Children are vulnerable for several reasons, according to the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS), a partnership of federal agencies to reduce heat-based illness and death. Young children’s bodies don’t get rid of heat as efficiently, and they have a higher metabolic rate than older children and adults. Children rely on others to keep them safe because they don’t yet have knowledge or resources of their own.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists three ways to protect children from heat-related illness.

    • Never leave children in a parked car, even for a short time and even if the windows are open. When the outside temperature is more than 72 degrees, the temperature inside a car increases by 19 degrees in 10 minutes and by 29 degrees in 20 minutes, according to a study published in Pediatrics in 2005. Keeping the windows cracked reduced the temperature rise by just 3 degrees. This year, so far, 26 children have died from heatstroke after being left in cars.
    • Dress infants and children in loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Remember hats and sunblock.
    • Seek medical care immediately if a child has symptoms of heat-related illness.


    Adults Over 65

    Senior couple in hot weather

    Just like young children, people over 65 years old can have more difficulty regulating body temperature, according to the NIHHIS. This can exacerbate many chronic illnesses. One study in New York City found that every degree Centigrade increase caused a 4.7 percent increase in hospital admissions for respiratory illness for older patients.

    The CDC has five recommendations for older adults to keep cool.

    • Drink cool – not extremely cold – nonalcoholic beverages. Talk to a doctor if you have a restricted fluid intake or if you’re on water pills.
    • Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
    • Seek an air-conditioned environment and stay indoors during the hottest part of the day. If you don't have air conditioning, visit an air-conditioned public place like a shopping mall or library.
    • Wear lightweight clothing.
    • Don’t engage in strenuous activity. Rest when possible.

    If you know an older adult, you can help them by checking on them frequently in hot weather, encouraging them to drink if medically permissible and taking them to an air-conditioned place if they have transportation trouble.



    high school football player training in hot weather

    Fall sports season is beginning. Football season! Student athletes are especially vulnerable to heat-related illness this time of year, according to the NIHHIS. The NIHIS said every year, about 9,000 high school athletes alone are treated for heat illness, like heat stroke or muscle cramps. Most are football players. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of deaths from heat stroke doubled among high school and college football players.

    The CDC makes several recommendations to protect athletes from heat-related illness.

    • Limit outdoor activity, especially midday when the sun is hottest. Schedule workouts early or late.
    • Wear sunscreen and loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
    • Start activities slow and pick up the pace gradually.
    • Drink more water than usual, even when you’re not thirsty. Muscle cramps may be an early sign of heat-related illness.
    • Monitor a teammate’s condition, and have someone do the same for you. Seek medical care immediately if you see symptoms of heat-related illness.


    It’s not too late for all homeowners to prepare for upcoming heat waves. Ready.gov has some tips. If the home has a window air conditioning unit, make sure it’s installed snugly, and insulate it if necessary. If it has central air conditioning, check ducts for cleanliness and insulation. Tune up both types of air conditioners yearly.

    Prepare windows and doors. Weather-strip doors and windowsills to help keep hot air out and cool air in. Use covers like drapes, blinds or awnings to keep out direct sunlight. Or, cover cardboard with aluminum foil or a foil emergency blanket and install it in a window to reflect heat from outside.




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