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  • 6 Questions to Ask Yourself About Zika Virus

    On April 11, officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned about the threat posed from the Zika virus.

    "Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, a deputy director there.

    Yet Americans don’t know that much about it. A poll taken by the Associated Press found forty percent of Americans had heard little or nothing about the Zika virus.

    So, let’s learn about it.

    Below are some of the questions from the poll. Think about them, then read a little more about what the experts say.


    How much have you heard or read about the Zika virus?

    As of April 13 - via CDC Countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission as of April 13, 2016 - via CDC (click to enlarge)

    The Zika virus appeared for the first time in 1947 in Uganda. Until Recently, it was considered a localized, minor virus, especially when compared with other mosquito-borne diseases like malaria. Last year alone, 214 million people contracted malaria and 438,000 died. Until 2007, scientists knew of 14 human cases, though more unreported cases were likely. Zika appeared in Brazil in May 2015. It is spreading rapidly through the Americas, the Caribbean, and many Pacific islands. The World Health Organization declared the virus a Public Health Emergency on February 1, 2016.

    The illness itself is fairly mild. The Brazilian Health Ministry said 80% of people who catch it displayed no symptoms. According to the CDC, the most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint, and red eyes. people rarely get sick enough to go to the hospital and rarely die. What's the worry?


    How worried are you that...

    1. The U.S. will see a large number of cases of the Zika virus in the next 12 months?
    2. You or someone in your family will be infected by the Zika virus?
    3. You or someone in your family will need to change travel plans to avoid the Zika virus?

    The worry is threefold. First, the two mosquito species that transmit Zika have been found in 30 states. Therefore, localized outbreaks could occur in many U.S. states, according to the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. In U.S. states, 358 cases have been reported, but only in people who traveled abroad. The virus has taken hold in the U.S. territories, however. Puerto Rico may already have hundreds of thousands of Zika infections, a CDC director said.


    As far as you know, can a person become infected with Zika virus from each of the following, or not?

    1. The bite of a mosquito carrying the virus
    2. Having sex with someone who is infected
    3. Casual contact, like shaking hands, with someone who is infected


    Mosquito bites are not the only way to contract Zika, although they are the main way, according to the CDC. A pregnant woman can pass the virus to her unborn child. Men can pass the virus through sexual contact. The virus could also be transmitted through blood transfusion.


    To the best of your knowledge, is the Zika virus linked to birth defects in babies born to infected mothers, is it not linked with birth defects, or have you not heard enough to say?

    microcephaly-comparison - via CDC Microcephaly comparison - via CDC (click to enlarge)

    The second big concern about Zika is that it’s been shown to cause several severe disorders. It’s especially bad for pregnant women. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine said ultrasounds found major abnormalities in 29 percent of fetuses of 88 pregnant women in Brazil who tested positive for Zika. Fetuses in women without Zika showed no abnormalities. Zika has been linked to microcephaly, in which a baby’s skull and brain don’t properly develop.

    According to a story in USA Today, Zika has been associated with Guilaine-Barre syndrome, when the immune system attacks the nervous system. Last week, scientists announced it was also linked to acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, swelling in the brain and spinal cord that affects the coating around nerve fibers.


    To the best of your knowledge, is there…?

    1. An effective test to determine if an individual is currently infected with the Zika virus, is there not an effective test, or have you not heard enough to say?
    2. An effective medicine to treat people who have gotten sick with the Zika virus, is there not an effective medicine to treat people, or have you not heard enough to say?
    3. An effective vaccine to prevent people from becoming infected with the Zika virus, is there not an effective vaccine to prevent infections, or have you not heard enough to say?


    The third major concern is there’s no way to treat Zika. Scientists have developed a test to determine if someone is infected with Zika, but it’s not widely available.

    There are no vaccines or medicines to treat Zika.


    In response to reports of the Zika virus, have you or has someone in your household done any of the following or haven’t you done this?

    1. Zika Health Advisory Zika Health Advisory - via CDC (click to enlarge)

      Removed sources of standing water from your yard or household that provide mosquito-breeding sites, such as tires, buckets, toys, or trash containers

    2. Applied insect repellent when spending time outdoors
    3. Closed windows and used air conditioning or put screens in windows to keep mosquitoes outside
    4. Worn long-sleeved shirts and long pants to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes
    5. Changed past or future travel plans to areas affected by the Zika virus
    6. Avoided people you think may have recently visited areas affected by the Zika virus


    The best way to protect yourself from Zika is to protect yourself from mosquito bites.

    Wear long sleeves and long pants. Stay in places with air conditioning or use window and door screens. Use Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent. Also, get rid of mosquito breeding sites like containers with standing water.

    Use a condom correctly to keep from getting Zika though sex.

    Right now, experts don’t think Zika will be an epidemic in the U.S. because air conditioning and window and door screens are fairly widespread.

    However, they think pockets of the virus are likely to break out, in more places than they had originally anticipated. So take care of yourself this mosquito season.

    The original Associated Press survey results are here.


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  • What We Learned from the Kumamoto Earthquake

    Kumamoto Quake - Photo by Kyodo Kumamoto Earthquake - Photo by Kyodo

    On April 14, 2016, Japan was hit by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake. While not as strong as the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that happened back in 2011, there was still plenty of damage inflicted.

    This 6.4 earthquake struck Southern Japan, near Kumamoto, Kyushu around 9:26 at night local time. Sources report power outages occurred in areas near the epicenter. Water was also cut off in certain areas. Damages weren’t catastrophic, but included fallen bookshelves, vases, and other things not secured. Some areas, however, saw house walls collapse, possibly trapping people inside.

    There are nuclear power plants in the region, but they appear to be unaffected by the earthquake.

    Not only do earthquakes cause immediate damage, they also bring about more lasting effects. In this most recent earthquake, news sources reported power outages and cut off water supplies. While the damage wasn’t terrible, the ensuing absence of resources could create other problems.



    As seen in this latest Kumamoto earthquake, these rattlings can cut off your water supply, be it a broken water main or some other way.

    Broken Water Main Cleaning up after a broken water main caused by an earthquake - Photo by Beth Schlanker

    Without water, it will be much more difficult to remain healthy and strong. And during an emergency such as this, you’re going to need all the health and strength you can get. Hopefully you have water stored in barrels, jugs, or other containers to keep yourself hydrated until your water comes back on. If not, there are other ways to collect drinking water.

    Gather extra emergency water from ice cubes, toilet tanks (make sure there is no sanitizer or other chemicals in it), or even your water heater. Some sources of water may need to be filtered and treated (such as from the water heater), but at least in an emergency you will have a little extra water to keep you going.

    Aside from drinking, sewage lines may be damaged, so before flushing your toilet, be sure to make sure those lines aren’t damaged. Otherwise it could make a big mess. Likewise, if your water pipes are broken, you may need to turn off your water at the main valve. Failure to do this could result in a flooded home.



    Earthquakes have a nasty habit of knocking out power when they strike. If this happens during the day, that’s not so terrible. But when it happens at night, that’s when things can get scary.

    No power means no light, and when buildings collapse and bookshelves and other unsecured belongings crash to the ground, it becomes something of a minefield. Broken glass, bits of brick and stone and other small and large shrapnel on the ground can become hazards when trying to evacuate a building or otherwise navigate in and out of doors.

    Downed Power Lines - via News on 6 Photo via News on 6

    There may be downed power lines following the shaking. Steer clear of these, and do not try to move them. They could still be live and touching one could have deadly consequences.

    No power also means more difficulty in keeping your food fresh. Keep your refrigerator and freezer doors shut as much as possible to keep the cold air contained. Next, use your most perishable foods first. Doing this will help spread out your food usage longer than just eating what sounds good at the time.



    While not necessarily mentioned as something that was a problem after this Japan earthquake, it most certainly can become one. If you smell gas in your home, shut off your gas at your meter, open the windows, and leave. Only shut off your gas valve if there is a leak, because in order to get it turned back on, you’ll need someone from the gas company to come and do it for you.

    But whatever you do, don’t look for a gas leak with candles, matches, or any other open flame. Doing so could cause your house to explode.


    Safety First

    No matter how strong or weak an earthquake, always put the safety of you and others first. You never know what kind of damage a building has sustained, so practice caution in the wake of an earthquake. Aftershocks are also prone to happen hours, days, or even weeks after the initial quake, so it would be best not to stay in any building with compromised integrity.


    Earthquake Banner - Call to Action


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  • Tips for Improving Home Accessibility and Safety as We Age


    Accessible House - via Flickr by Living in Monrovia Image via Flickr by Living in Monrovia


    Tips for Improving Home Accessibility and Safety as We Age

    Research from AARP finds that 73% of people ages 45 and older want to remain in their current residence as long as possible, while 90% of older adults ages 65 and older wish to do so. For many seniors, this decision is motivated at least in part by finances. With the cost of senior living on the rise – from independent living communities to assisted living and nursing homes – staying in a private home can offer substantial savings over moving to an expensive senior housing complex.

    In order to age in place, however, it’s often necessary for seniors to make home modifications to ensure accessibility and safety as the activities of daily living become more challenging. Still, the cost of such modifications is often a more affordable approach than paying for care in a senior living community. These tips will help you improve home accessibility and safety:


    Keep Costs Down By Hiring a Trustworthy Contractor

    Some home safety improvements, such as eliminating clutter and ensuring clear walkways, can be achieved on your own. But for homes that require more extensive modifications, such as installing a bathroom on the first floor, you’ll need to hire a contractor.

    Finding a trustworthy, efficient contractor is one way to keep the costs of your home modifications as low as possible. Eldercare.gov provides advice on what to look for in a contractor. The site suggests finding a contractor that is “licensed, bonded, and insured” and checking with friends and family members to get recommendations.

    You might also check out consumer review pages to find quality contractors in your area. As the YP page for Massachusetts roofer, Duval Roofing, shows, it and similar sites offer an easy way to see what other customers have to say about area contractors.


    Embrace Technology

    Technology such as medical alert systems and remote monitoring tools can facilitate better communication between family, caregivers, and healthcare providers to keep aging adults safer in their homes.

    For older seniors, technology adoption may be initiated by a family member but is typically well-received. The Merrill Lynch-Age Wave survey found that 76% of retirees “are interested in technologies to monitor their health at home such as sensors, alerts or medication reminder apps,” and 64 percent expressed interest “in home technologies that connect them with family and friends, such as video chat and interactive devices.”


    Install Hand Rails and Grab Bars

    One in three older adults experiences a fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, one in five falls causes a serious injury, such as a broken bone or head injury, making falls a major risk to the health and safety of older adults who choose to age in place.

    Installing hand holds in key areas is a great way to protect against falls. Ensuring that existing hand rails are sturdy in stairways can help to prevent accidents on the stairs, and installing grab bars in other areas where older adults are prone to falls – such as in the bathroom – can help seniors safely enter and exit the bath tub or shower. Other modifications, such as the use of non-skid surfaces in the shower and installing carpeting on stairs, can also help to reduce the likelihood of trips and falls.


    Ensure Adequate Lighting

    Poor lighting is another issue that can increase the likelihood of slips and falls. But dim lighting can also lead to other accidents, such as turning the stove top temperature too high or taking the wrong medication. Check light bulbs throughout the home and use the maximum wattage safe for use with light fixtures. In some homes, particularly older homes without many built-in lighting options, adding light fixtures to areas that are generally dim can also improve visibility.

    The National Institutes of Health suggests that each room, entryways, and outdoor walkways should be well-lit, as well as stairways, ideally with light switches at both the top and bottom of the stairs. Nightlights should be placed in the bathroom, hallways, bedrooms, and kitchen. Make sure that lamps are easily accessible on either side of the bed, and store a flashlight in an easily accessible bedside area for quick access in an emergency or power outage.

    With more older adults choosing to remain in their own homes as long as possible, more resources are becoming available to facilitate safe aging in place. Advancements in technology allowing for remote monitoring and care-giving, innovative safety adaptions for the home, and financial assistance options for seniors who require more extensive home modifications are just a few of the options that today’s seniors can take advantage of to live safely and happily in their own homes long into their golden years.



    Angela Tollersons is a former business owner turned full-time mom. The mother of a son on the autism spectrum, she truly believes that every family is special in their own way. She started ForFamilyHealth.net with her husband to provide parents a resource for information, ideas, and inspiration on giving children of all abilities healthy and happy lives. Angela lives in the ’burbs of North Carolina and is an active member of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center and Parents Helping Parents.



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