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June 14
When active shooters invade safe spaces, having a plan matters

Planning considerations for health care settings

This week, we saw the deadliest mass shooting in the United States. When many people in the community talk about Pulse, the gay night club that was the scene of the attack, they say the same thing: “this was a safe place.”

The same can be said for hospitals:  we think of them as safe places. Yet according to a study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, there were 154 hospital-related shootings from 2000-2011.

The statistic is a tragic reminder of the need to be ready at all times.

At this time, there are no specific, credible threats to the U.S., including to the health care system. But this is a good time to think about ways that your hospital or health care facility can plan to protect patients and staff if an active shooter threatened your facility.

What would that response look like in your hospital? Your neonatal ICU? Your emergency department? Your infectious disease quarantine areas? How can you plan for a response that takes into account the special challenges throughout your hospital? And how can you make sure your staff knows what to do and is ready to act when seconds count?

Federal agencies and private sector partners have collaborated on planning guides to help you work through many of these issues.

2015 Healthcare and Public Health Sector Coordinating Council Guidance on Active Shooter Planning and Response in a Healthcare Setting contains specific guidance for healthcare providers. This guidance addresses many unique aspects of healthcare settings, including many of the issues outlined above.

Incorporating Active Shooter Incident Planning into Health Care Facility Emergency Operations Plans helps emergency planners, disaster committees, executive leadership, and others better prepare for an active shooter incident and integrate that planning into their emergency operations plans. Using this resource, your facility can work to improve information sharing, coordination with law enforcement, and implementation of psychological first aid strategies.

Both of these resources give you some great tools to get started. To learn more, check out the ASPR TRACIE topic collection on Explosives and Mass Shooting. ASPR TRACIE Technical Assistance Specialists can help you locate specific resources and connect you with subject matter experts.

If your health care facility is already planning for the effects of a mass casualty event, let us know. We want to highlight best practices and share them with the community so that we can all better protect health and save lives. 

The Healthcare and Public Health Critical Infrastructure Partnership Program connects public and private sector to enhance resilience of our health care system.  If you would like more information about the partnership, please visit the Critical Infrastructure Protection for the Healthcare and Public Health Sectors website.

June 07
Anticipating Threats, Investing in Solutions

Deadly new strain of bacteria? BARDA’s already working on it.

For the first time, the bacterial gene mcr-1, which confers resistance to the “antibiotic of last resort,” colistin, was found in a bacterium isolated from a patient in the United StatesExit Icon. The bacterium bearing the gene, a member of the E. coli strain, was recently found in the urine sample of a woman in Pennsylvania. While this particular strain of bacteria is still sensitive to other antibiotics, there is concern that its appearance in the U.S. may signal the dreaded arrival of readily-transferrable colistin-resistance to the American healthcare system.

Resistance to colistin, a member of the polymyxin-class of antibiotics, is especially troubling because colistin is widely considered the drug of last resort for treating patients with multidrug-resistant infections. Amongst multidrug-resistant bacterial strains, one particularly dangerous family of bacteria is the carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).

The medical community is particularly concerned about CRE given that nearly half of all hospital patients that contract CRE-based bloodstream infections do not survive.

Colistin, one of the few antibiotics left that still works against CRE, often serves as the last available treatment option for those fighting these deadly infections. Given the lack of alternatives, the rapid spread of resistance to this last line of defense is cause for alarm.

The mcr-1 gene is one that that confers colistin resistance to its bacterial carriers. While its appearance in the U.S. is certainly distressing, it is not altogether surprising. Scientists first identified the mcr-1 gene in China in 2015Exit Icon and since then have found it lurking in bacteria in other locations around the world. The gene itself is found on a small piece of DNA called a plasmid that is capable of moving from one bacterium to another.

As such, the mcr-1 containing plasmid can help spread of colistin resistance rapidly to other bacteria, including those already resistant to all other available antibiotics. As a result, a ‘post-antibiotic era’ of deadly bacterial strains that are not treatable with any available antibiotic is becoming a very real possibility – a potentially nightmarish scenario for healthcare providers.

Having recognized that drug-resistant bacteria are a serious health threat, and in particular, CRE strains that are resistant to the last remaining treatments (in other words, colistin), BARDA already has made investments to develop new antibiotics that will bolster the treatment options. One such candidate is plazomicin, a product under development in partnership with Achaogen, Inc.

Plazomicin is a novel member of the aminoglycoside class of antibiotics, a group that includes such well-known antibiotics as gentamicin and amikacin. However, unlike its predecessors, plazomicin has been engineered to overcome the resistance mechanisms that bacteria use to inactivate other aminoglycosides. Plazomicin is active against a broad spectrum of bacteria, including multidrug-resistant strains that are not susceptible to many other antibiotics.

Of note, plazomicin shows activity against bacterial isolates that exhibit both carbapenem- and colistin-resistance, making it a candidate for treating CRE infections or infections resulting from colistin-resistant strains. In one exciting set of preliminary laboratory tests, plazomicin demonstrated activity against colistin-resistant strains that use the same mechanism of resistance as that conferred by the mcr-1 gene.

Plazomicin currently is being tested in two Phase 3 clinical trials, one focusing on the treatment of patients with serious infections due to CRE, and the other focusing on the treatment of patients with complicated urinary tract infections (cUTI).

As a continuation of this project, BARDA recently awarded an option worth $20 million on its current contract with Achaogen to fund, in part, the cUTI Phase 3 clinical trial. This clinical trial is intended to support the FDA approval of plazomicin, thereby bringing it to the market for clinical use.

Other promising candidates are being developed through BARDA’s public-private partnership with GlaxoSmithKline, plc (GSK). This partnership enables BARDA and GSK to develop, jointly, a flexible collection of drug candidates identified from GSK’s own antibiotic portfolio.

One is gepotidacin (GSK2140944), the first in a new class of antibiotics that is currently in Phase 2 human clinical trials for the treatment of gonorrhea. Gepotidacin is a novel triazaacenapthylene antibacterial that selectively inhibits bacterial DNA gyrase and topoisomerase IV by a unique mechanism not utilized by any currently approved human therapeutic agent.

A second candidate is a compound called GSK3342830, a novel cephem antibiotic that is engineered to take advantage of bacterial iron-uptake pathways, thereby increasing its own uptake into (and therefore, activity against) otherwise drug-resistant bacteria.

Both candidates show broad-spectrum in vitro activity against a variety of multidrug resistant bacterial strains, including colistin-resistant E. coli strains specifically bearing the mcr-1 plasmid (limited set of data). Although more tests will be necessary to explore the potential of both drugs for treating colistin-resistant bacterial infections in the clinic, these preliminary results are very promising.

These three compounds – plazomicin, gepotidacin, and GSK3342830 – represent components of BARDA’s existing antibacterials portfolio that have the potential to address colistin-resistant strains, a critical gap in our current medical armamentarium.

As new forms of antibiotic resistance continue to spread globally, the possibility for nightmarish bacterial strains can no longer be ignored; the continued development of new options for treating drug-resistant bacteria will be essential to preserving our ability to effectively combat infections. BARDA and its industry partners will continue to lead the charge against these threats, both present and future.

May 27
Want a healthy, safe summer? Here are 3 tips to help you get started!

I love summer.  Love it! Every chance I get, I want to go outside, play with my daughter, hit the pool, and find lots of new ways to enjoy the sunshine.  There is so much to see, do – so much fun to experience – over the summer. To keep doing all of those things, you have to protect your health.  And you’ll probably want to help your friends, family and neighbors stay healthy this summer, too. 

Whether you love the sun or you can’t imagine why anybody would want to be outside when the temperature is above 70 degrees, here are three things that you can do to promote health and safety.

Tip 1:  Stay safe in extreme heat: 

What is extreme heat anyway? The answer depends on where you live, but in general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), extreme heat or heat waves occur when the combination of heat and humidity causes the air to become oppressive.  When that happens, take precautions.  You might want to just go inside to an air conditioned place – especially if you are an older adult, have a young child or suffer from a chronic medical condition

If you can’t get inside to an air conditioned spot or you just don’t want to, there are still some precautions you can and should take to stay healthy.  Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water – and avoiding sugary beverages.  Wear light-weight, light colored, loose fitting clothes.  Protect yourself from sunburn. Sunburn can significantly slow the skin’s ability to release excess heat.  If you are an athlete, limit your outdoor activity. If you are going to work out outside, do it during the coolest parts of the day.

Extreme heat can cause heat stroke or heat exhaustion.  Learn the signs of both and how to help.

Tip 2:  Protect Yourself from Zika and Other Mosquito-Borne Illnesses

By now, you’ve probably heard a lot about the Zika virus and how it can affect your health or – if you are pregnant – the health of your baby.  You can get Zika by being bitten by an infected mosquito or by having sex with someone who is infected with Zika.

So far, there have not been cases of Zika caused by mosquitos in the United States, though there have been cases of Zika among people who have traveled to countries where mosquitos carry the virus.  There have also been cases of local mosquito-borne transmission of Zika virus in some U.S. territories, including Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. 

If you are pregnant, don’t travel to areas where there is local transmission of Zika. If your partner has traveled to an area where Zika is being spread by mosquitoes, take steps to avoid sexual transmission by either using condoms or refraining from sex for the duration of the pregnancy.

Although there have not been any domestic cases of Zika, there have been domestic cases of other mosquito-borne diseases like dengue and chikungunya viruses. Take steps to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes by wearing long sleeves and long pants and using an EPA-registered insect repellent.

There’s a lot of information out there on Zika – and not all of it is accurate. As the situation on Zika evolves, learn about Zika from credible sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Tip 3:  Update Your Emergency Plans

Are you traveling this summer? Are your kids going to summer camp? Are you headed somewhere you don’t normally go? If so, be sure to update your emergency plan.

If you have children, as school lets out for the summer, think about your emergency communications plan to be sure you, your kids, and the people who can for them can get in touch with each other – whether that is a summer camp or just a family member babysitting. If disaster does strike, having a plan for reunification can reduce stress for the whole family.

If you are traveling, make sure that you know the common hazards of the places where you are going and how to stay safe. For example, if you’re headed to the beach, learn a little bit about hurricane preparedness and find the evacuation routes.   

Summer can be a great time to enjoy the outdoors, the sunshine and maybe even a bit of travel.  Make sure you include protecting your health and safety in your summer plans so that you can make the most of the season. 

Got other ideas on staying safe and healthy this summer? Share them in a comment on this blog!

May 20
Community Paramedicine and the Changing Face of Pre-Hospital Care

For decades, emergency medical services (EMS) have conjured an image of ambulances speeding to save a life. We’re all familiar with their customary and important roles: rapid response for those in medical crisis; stabilization at the scene when necessary; and transport to hospital emergency departments (EDs) for continued management. Activated by a national network of 911 call centers, EMS professionals are poised for deployment to almost any site in the country to intervene in an emergency.

Today, however, many EMS systems have evolved from responding to medical emergencies to providing a broad range of mobile health and clinical services. In this regard, EMS professionals are serving as the safety net for patients with chronic conditions who lack reliable, responsive primary care. The dataExit Icon seem to suggest that these efforts can address chronic health problems before they become emergencies. From transporting patients with less acute problems to an urgent care clinic or physician’s office as opposed to an ED to helping individuals more effectively manage their condition at home, the face of EMS is changing.

Related challenges and opportunities for the future of EMS are being addressed by innovative programs for enhancing paramedic services, including several interesting model tests supported through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Innovation Center’s Round One and Round Two Health Care Innovation Awards (HCIA-1, HCIA-2). For the last several years, awardees have tested a range of EMS interventions, such as:

  • basic primary care by nurse practitioners/paramedic teams who treat and release patients in their homes or in the field following a 911 call [City of Mesa Fire & Medical Department];
  • use of community paramedics to conduct home assessment for fall risk [Yale] and transition patients from an in-patient hospital stay to a successful recovery in the home [REMSA];
  • ambulance transport of patients with less urgent medical conditions to locations other than the ED (e.g., urgent care centers, detoxification centers, behavioral health facilities) [City of Mesa Fire & Medical Department, REMSA];
  • nurse triage and referral to health care and community services via a non-emergency nurse health line [REMSA] or a 911 call [City of Mesa Fire & Medical Department]; and,
  • treatment at home for patients who would otherwise be admitted to a hospital admission for selected conditions [Mount-Sinai].

These approaches to enhancing EMS were discussed at a recent roundtable hosted by the CMS Innovation Center on March 17, 2016. The roundtable was convened as part of a Population Health Summit Series, in which the CMS Innovation Center brings key payer and provider stakeholders from across the HCIA landscape to identify alternative payment strategies that combat big population health problems. Over the course of this recent full-day gathering, four HCIA awardee teams, relevant payers, and federal partners across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies explored barriers, opportunities, and solutions to sustainability. The primary aim was to assist awardees in continuing to provide better care in their communities. Ultimately, the dialogue served as a catalyst for awardees to strategize on ways to optimize EMS within their own markets and to model success for other markets across the U.S.

CMS has a vision for a high-quality health care system in which patients receive better care, our health care dollars are spent more wisely, and people are healthier. In some instances, federal awards, such as those delivered via the CMS Innovation Center’s HCIA portfolio inform this vision. In the context of EMS specifically, HCIA is providing a pathway for key players in the EMS system – whether fire departments, non-profit EMS providers, or academic medical centers – to test new ways to deliver and pay for the rapidly changing face of pre-hospital care. Independent evaluations of the HCIA projects are ongoing. In the meantime, a wealth of learning is happening in the EMS world as a result of these projects. As similar innovations emerge across the country, we encourage EMS organizations to collect meaningful data that can be used to drive performance improvement, reduce costs, and most importantly, improve the health of communities in need.

The following experts contributed to this article:  Mollie Howerton, PhD, MPH, Division of Health Innovation and Integration, Preventive and Population Health Care Models Group, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services & Nevin Laib, PhD, Division of Stakeholder Engagement & Policy, Policy & Programs Group, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services & Tiffany McNair, MD, MPH, Director, Division of Health Innovation and Integration, Preventive and Population Health Care Models Group, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services & Darshak Sanghavi, MD, Group Director, Preventive and Population Health Care Models Group, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
May 20
Low Literacy Populations and Disaster Communications: 5 Ways to Bridge the Educational Divide

Here’s something to think about before you send your next message to your community: about half of your audience may not be able to read it. According to the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), one of the world’s largest literacy studies, over half of U.S. adults read at basic levels or below.

As disaster health professionals of all kinds know, disaster health and safety information tends to be complicated with lots of caveats and can require people to run through a pretty challenging set of tasks. They need to synthesize information, draw complex conclusions and integrate information. According to the PIAAC study, only 13 percent of U.S. adults read well enough to do those things.

Consider the study’s findings in light of risk communications literature. Risk communications studies show that in high-concern high-stress situations, the ability to process information – including written material – plummets.

Low-literacy rates + a high-stress situation = a monumental communication challenge.

To protect health, especially in disasters and other public health emergencies, the audience has to understand what we are trying to say well enough to take action. To communicate effectively and connect people with low literacy skills to critical information, we need to remember the basics:

  1. Team up with community groups. Talk with community organizations already working with low literacy populations to understand literacy levels in your community. Enlist community groups as focus groups to be sure your materials will be understood by people in your community, particularly those with limited reading proficiency.
  2. Put your content to the test. Test materials using a reading level measurement tool. Free online tools, such as the SMOG Readability CalculatorExit Icon, can check the reading level and provide suggestions to change the reading level. Don’t waste a lot of space on background information; just explain why taking action matters. Consider the common instructions on an airplane: put the mask on yourself before helping your child. Why? You’ll pass out in seconds, and your toddler can’t put the mask on you.
  3. Use infographics. Simple infographics illustrate your point making the message easier to understand. Crafting great infographics may require training and graphic design software but, first, try leveraging the creativity and enthusiasm of students or instructors at the community college or a local arts society. Graphic design or art students, instructors or enthusiasts may be willing to volunteer their time to create infographics in exchange for the ‘by-line’ or work with you for a lower cost than you would pay for training and software. Plus, involving community members helps spread the word about the topic.
  4. Use video. Be sure to test the reading level of the script and visually demonstrate your point. If your agency or organization doesn’t have professional video production capability or the funds to hire a crew, fear not. Check out the Disaster Public Service Announcement Library developed by CDC and ASPR for simple videos on a variety of emergency topics. Smart phones also offer basic video capability, and that “reality TV” look can still be effective in emergencies. Or, again, reach out in advance to students, teachers and community organizations for help producing videos.
  5. Use word-of-mouth. While social media stands out as the go-to, modern form of word-of-mouth, don’t discount the old-school method. Community meetings, information fairs, door-to-door canvassing, and speak engagements at worship services are effective in high-concern situations, even when your target audience includes the most avid readers. Add a COIN to your communication plan: a Communication Outreach Information Network of trusted people in the community willing to carry important emergency health messaging to hard-to-reach populations.

The global literacy study shows that people literacy is a challenge in every country and every language surveyed. Which means in the United States, we need to consider more than just limited English proficiency; we need to use the same techniques in all the languages spoken – or read – in our communities.

May 18
Older Adults: Include Connectedness in your Hurricane Plan

Hurricane season is fast approaching and disaster preparedness should be something that everybody, including older Americans, is thinking about. It only takes one hurricane to change your life and your community. But that one hurricane can do some serious damage, especially if you aren’t ready for it.

Bouncing back after a storm isn’t just a matter of rebuilding your home, cleaning up or treating injuries. Preparing to take care of your behavioral health needs is an important part of being ready for a storm, especially for older adults.

After a disaster, it is common for families and individuals to feel stress and anxiety over their health and safety – and this affects people in different ways. In some cases, this leads to anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can disrupt daily routines, and make it harder for many people to remember things or solve problems. If such mental health issues arise, there is help available 24/7 through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s disaster Distress Helpline (Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746).

So how can older adults make it more likely that they will be able to bounce back? A recent study shows that maintaining meaningful relationships and connecting with your friends, family and community before a disaster strikes can help you weather the storm.

The study, which was funded by HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, examined 2,205 New Jersey residents between the ages of 54 and 80 who lived through Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Participants were asked about the severity of their exposure to the hurricane and how close-knit their community was, and what PTSD-type symptoms they suffered from eight to 33 months after the storm hit. The study found that the impact of the storm on PTSD symptoms was far less for people who had social support than those who did not. Essentially, having people in your life who will listen, give you advice, care, and be there for you if you need them matters.

These findings are particularly important for preparedness efforts because they suggest that those who feel more connected to friends, family and community are more likely to stay healthy or feel increased life satisfaction. As communities, our public health efforts need to focus on ways to increase support networks to promote disaster resilience. Participating in activities to foster civic engagement and social cohesion - both before and after a hurricane - are just a few ways that we can all take action and prevent post-traumatic stress in individuals.

As hurricane season approaches and you are getting ready, think about yourself, your friends and your family members, and consider the following questions: do you know your community members, do you know who needs the most help, do you think community members generally try to help each other out, and how attached are you to your community?

Also think about things that you can do to increase the level of mutual trust and support in the community. This month is also Older American’s month and this year’s theme is Blaze a Trail, which encourages activities, inclusion, and wellness for older Americans in your community. Consider blazing a trail toward civic engagement. Volunteering and community service are great ways older Americans can stay engaged in the community. In addition, sharing stories or participating in activities through local schools or special groups also can be good ways to stay active and involved in the community, and form new and lasting relationships.

If you are or know an older adult, use this month before hurricane season to make sure you are disaster-ready. Become more prepared and more connected to your friends, family, loved ones, and neighbors by sharing your evacuation plan, as well as any contingency plans for medications or medical devices that you may need in the event of an evacuation. Encourage your family and friends to check in regularly and know your routine. If you have older friends, plan together and be ready to check in on them as well. Participating in civic engagement and strengthening your ties to friends, family and community help you be better protected from physical or emotional harm.

If you are interested in learning more about social connectedness and resilience, please visit to find informative resources from HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.

May 17
EMS Week 2016: Honoring those who Help Protect Health and Keep our Health Care System Strong

This week, May 15-21, 2016, we celebrate our Emergency Medical Services (EMS) professionals. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) would like to take a moment to personally thank all EMS professionals for the essential role they play in protecting the health of our nation each and every day.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society, the seminal work regarded by many as the catalyst for the development of modern day emergency medical services in the United States. This year also marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the EMS Agenda for the Future, another milestone that charted a path for the continued evolution of EMS and guided many of the changes of the past two decades.

We have not solved all of the challenges identified in 1966—or even in 1996—and our society now faces new risks and hazards not contemplated all those years ago. However, we have made tremendous strides. We have seen extraordinary advances in the pre-hospital care of trauma patients, improvements in the care of the victims of sudden cardiac arrest, and have seen exciting demonstrations of how EMS can expand roles to improve the health of the population. These advances translate into better care and healthier communities.

This week, we celebrate not only the EMS practitioners who selflessly serve us today, but those pioneers who built the foundation upon which our current system sits, as well as those who dedicate their work to further advance the field of EMS. Your work is an essential component of the health care system and your continued dedication to the field strengthens the health of Americans each day.

So from all of us here at ASPR, Thank you for your caring, your compassion, and your commitment.

May 16
Updating the EMS Agenda for the Future: The Search for Data-Driven Approaches to Improvement

The emergency medical services (EMS) community is working to find collaborative solutions to some very tough questions so that they can better provide quality care during disasters and every day. For example, how can EMS professionals quickly access critical medical information on a patient with the current fragmented system of medical records? How can the system surge effectively and pull in people from other states in the face of interstate credentialing requirements? What are the opportunities for EMS to improve community health beyond emergency response?

These are just some of the issues that the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Agenda for the Future wants to address in its next iteration.

In 1996, key industry stakeholders from a broad multi-disciplinary spectrum developed the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Agenda for the Future. This agenda painted a vision of an EMS system focused on community-based health management that is fully integrated with the overall health care system. The agenda has offered guidance to EMS providers, healthcare organizations, policy makers, and governmental entities over the last two decades to help make that vision a reality.

This document has been a fundamental component of EMS initiatives across the federal government, and has led to many successes, including the creation of the National EMS Information System, EMS Core Content, EMS Scope of Practice Model, EMS Educational Standards, EMS Workforce for the 21st Century, a National EMS Research Agenda, and the publication of EMS Education Agenda for the Future.

But now it is time for us to get some new ideas on approaching the issues facing EMS, improving those services, and setting a course for the further evolution of EMS systems.

The Federal Interagency Committee on Emergency Medical Services (FICEMS) supports a major revision of the EMS Agenda for the Future. With the new revision, ASPR plans to work closely in partnership with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other federal partners, along with external EMS stakeholders to develop an agenda to guide the evolution of EMS systems over the next 30 years.

ASPR and HHS are committed to the integration of emergency medical services into a better, smarter, and healthier healthcare system. We are excited to strengthen EMS every day, and the role of EMS during disaster and public health emergency preparedness, response, and recovery.

Current healthcare reform efforts make this an opportune time to continue advancing EMS and working towards integration of the emergency care system into the broader healthcare system. EMS Week is a perfect time to reflect on how emergency medical services are an integral part of healthcare delivery system reform.

NHTSA, on behalf of FICEMS, is leading the charge to gain public comment on the announcement. NHTSA is looking for input on finding data-driven approaches to future improvements.

Do you have ideas on making the system better? Get details on the solicitation of comments and submit your ideas by June 30, 2016. As we take the time this week to recognize the work that EMS practitioners do every day to protect health and save lives, it is important to consider what future of EMS could entail.

May 12
Zika and Pregnancy:  6 Tips for Staying Healthy

Get the Facts. Take Precautions. Manage Stress. Be Well.

If you’re pregnant or you’re thinking about starting a family, then you probably know that stress during pregnancy is normal, but that too much stress is not healthy for your pregnancy. The emergence of Zika virus can be an additional unsettling consideration for those who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

Zika is serious and it can hurt your baby. Zika virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus and infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly as well as other severe brain defects. Right now, Zika is not being spread by mosquitoes in the United States, though local mosquito-borne transmission of Zika virus has been reported in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.

Take steps to get the facts about the disease, and how to prevent infection. Managing stress is important for promoting healthier pregnancies, healthier births, and better long-term health outcomes for families.

Here are 6 things that you can do to protect your health and your baby’s health:

  1. Get the Facts: There’s a lot of information out there on Zika – and not all of it is accurate. Learn about Zika from credible sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  2. Protect Your Pregnancy: Learn how to protect yourself from getting infected with Zika. Take steps to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes by wearing long-sleeved clothing and using an EPA-registered insect repellent. If you are pregnant, don’t travel to areas where there is local transmission of Zika. If your partner has traveled to an area where Zika is being spread by mosquitoes, take steps to avoid sexual transmission by either using condoms or refraining from sex for the duration of the pregnancy.

  3. Talk to Your Healthcare Provider: Keep up with your prenatal care appointments and talk with your doctor, midwife or other trusted healthcare provider about concerns, especially if you and/or your partner traveled to an area with Zika.

  4. Stay informed – selectively: Understanding Zika and getting the facts can help you make healthy choices to prevent Zika. But if you are overwhelmed with concerns about the Zika virus disease, take a break from news coverage.

  5. Take Care of Yourself: Make sure that you are taking care of yourself – in both mind and body. Take time to exercise, eat well, get plenty of sleep, and take time for things that you enjoy and that help reduce stress. Sometimes that can be as simple as taking a minute to just breathe.

  6. Talk to Someone: If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, reach out to friends and family for support. If your concerns about Zika and your health and wellbeing begin to interfere with your daily activities, disrupt your sleep, or cause you to feel overwhelmed, you might want to reach out to a counselor or a mental health professional for support. This fact sheet on how to cope with stress during infectious disease outbreaks may help you recognize signs of stress and when to ask for help.

If you know someone who is pregnant and worried about Zika, help them learn how they can best protect themselves against possible infection. Help them get the facts – you can start by sharing this blog.

Taking precautions to protect your pregnancy from Zika and managing stress are important ways to help promote a healthier pregnancy, healthier birth, and a better outcome for your family.

May 11
Puerto Rico MRC Unit Engages the Whole Community to Fight Zika

As the threat of Zika looms, how do we reach the people in our communities with accurate health information that motivates them to act? The Puerto Rico Medical Reserve Corps (PR MRC) starts with partnerships.

The PRMRC is focusing on community education to help people understand how Zika virus could impact their health. By creating and leveraging partnerships within their community, PRMRC members are finding ways to deliver important health information to the community through messengers that it already trusts.

These trusted messengers include the PR MRC volunteers themselves. As part of the response, PR MRC volunteers have gone door to door, starting conversations on Zika. The visits were part of a pilot project to educate pregnant women, their families and neighbors to understand their needs and behaviors regarding the Zika Virus.

PR MRC volunteers are medical professionals who have been working in the community for years and they make great messengers as trusted health professionals. This is not the PR MRC’s first response to a mosquito borne threat. They have helped promote health in their community during outbreaks of chikungunya and dengue.

PRMRC Volunteers working together PRMRC Volunteer Briefing PRMRC Volunteer

But the PR MRC unit knew that it couldn’t get the word out on their own, so they partnered with people throughout their communities – like leaders in faith-based communities and public housing projects; nurses; faculty from the local universities; and more.

In times of stress, people often turn to leaders in their communities, and PR MRC volunteers are working to make sure that community leaders have the facts and are prepared to spread accurate information. PR MRC is working to integrate skill from throughout the community into a more effective response.

Through these partnerships, they are teaching people how to avoid getting infected and they are helping the community learn about vector control to prevent the spread of the disease.

By partnering with the whole community, the PR MRC unit can engage more people, train them more effectively, and increase participation. All of their partners have special skills and they touch the community in different ways.

This response has given many PR MRC volunteers an opportunity to make people healthier as part of the overall response to Zika – and many volunteers are extremely proud of the work that they are doing.

“As a nurse I thought that I was going to spend my life in a clinic scenario, but as an MRC member the contributions that I do for the community are incredible. I am part of the response, and this is very important. I now look at myself differently,” said Ricardo de Jesús, a PR MRC volunteer.

If you are a health or emergency management professional that is planning for Zika, contact your local MRC. MRC volunteers not only make great partners in public health response, but they also can help promote better overall health in your community every day.

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