Naturally occurring disease epidemics are now rare. Should any threaten, your local health officials will publicize necessary information. The effects of a public health emergency can be less severe if you plan ahead. Get familiar with the language. Learn what infectious diseases are and what to do if you live in an area affected by an outbreak or a pandemic. Some of the possible public health emergencies are reviewed below. Visit websites and know where to get official information if an emergency should occur.
An influenza (flu) pandemic is a worldwide outbreak of disease that occurs when a new type of flu virus appears that people have not been exposed to before (or haven’t been exposed to in a long time.) A pandemic flu causes widespread illness because people do not have immunity to the new virus. Pandemics are different from the seasonal flu outbreaks that occur each year. Instead, pandemics may last longer and/or occur in waves of activity that last six to eight weeks separated by months.
Unlike the seasonal flu which does not usually cause complications in healthy adults, during a pandemic the entire population may be at risk for serious complications. Symptoms are similar to the common flu but may be more severe.
Here in the Mountain State, Avian flu (or the bird flu) is also a concern. Avian flu is a disease found among poultry. Chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl as well as a wide variety of other birds including water fowl can be infected.
Most cases of avian flu in humans have occurred when they had direct contact with infected poultry.
During a potential pandemic, monitor local news, internet, and other communications systems. Public health officials will release instructions on how to reduce your chances of acquiring the pandemic virus.
Thorough hand washing is the single most effective way to reduce your chances of getting both the common flu and a more serious flu virus. Fore more information about the pandemic flu visit Flu.gov or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
West Nile Virus
West Nile virus is a potentially serious illness spread most commonly by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. West Nile is not spread through casual contact. Approximately 80% of people infected with West Nile will not show any symptoms at all. About 20% will experience fever, headache and body aches, nausea, vomiting and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Only a very few people will experience severe symptoms from West Nile. These symptoms include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. Symptoms can last several weeks.
The best way to avoid getting infected with West Nile is to reduce the number of mosquito bites you get. Always wear insect repellent when you are outside. Avoid being outside between dusk and dawn, which are prime mosquito biting hours. Make sure your window and door screens are in good condition. Do an inspection of your yard and the area around your home. Mosquitoes breed in standing water. Empty any containers that are not being used, dump water out of flower pots, and change water in bird feeders regularly.
Anthrax is a disease caused by bacteria that create spores. When a person comes into contact with the spores, they may become ill. The spores can infect the skin, lungs, or digestive system. Antibiotics can be used to treat all three types of anthrax infections. Some forms of anthrax bacteria exist in nature and can cause disease. It can also be spread on purpose as a powder or through the air.
After contact with the anthrax spores, symptoms of anthrax may appear within seven days. First symptoms of inhaled anthrax are like the flu, which can develop into severe breathing problems. When anthrax infects a cut in the skin, symptoms include sores or blisters. Nausea, loss of appetite and diarrhea are symptoms of anthrax that is ingested with food or beverages. If you have been near an affected area and you think you might have been exposed, begin treatment as soon as possible. Call your doctor or local public health department. Describe your symptoms and explain that you think you might have been exposed to anthrax and what symptoms you have. Getting antibiotics or an anthrax vaccine is not recommended if you have not been exposed to anthrax.
You can protect yourself. If you see a strange package, envelope, or other container that you suspect may contain anthrax, do not open it. Leave the area and stop others from entering the area. Dial 911 or the local police for more instructions.
Botulism is caused by a toxin made by bacteria that occur naturally in soil. The toxin restricts a person’s movement and breathing by affecting the nervous system. About 110 cases occur each year in the U.S. Most cases are the result of consuming improperly preserved home canned foods. In some cases botulism can be deliberately spread through the air.
Symptoms of botulism include trouble seeing, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, slurred speech, and muscle weakness. They usually appear within 12-36 hours after exposure. If you think you have symptoms of botulism get medical attention as soon as possible to increase your chances of recovery. Botulism is treated with antitoxins. Antitoxins can prevent the symptoms from getting worse, but they cannot cure the illness. Recovery from botulism can take weeks or months. If the disease paralyzes muscles involved in breathing, a respirator can help the patient breath during recovery.
To avoid getting sick, make sure food is prepared according to safe food handling guidelines. Stay away from any area where officials believe the toxin has been released. Stay informed by turning to the radio, television or internet for updated health and safety announcements.