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Most Vulnerable Populations Must Prepare for Flu
and Other Emergencies

(Original news release April 30, 2009)

For more information about the novel HINI virus and seasonal flu, visit the Centers for Disease Control web site. Updates are also available for students and staff at the University of Kansas.

Seasonal flu causes about 36,000 deaths in the United States each year, yet it doesn’t make the headlines that swine flu is now generating. The silver lining to swine flu news coverage may be that people learn how to prevent and prepare for the flu, especially those who are most vulnerable.

Keeping people healthy through influenza outbreaks is an educational priority for the Research and Training Center on Independent Living at the University of Kansas. Cathy "Cat" Rooney Howland develops trainings on disaster preparedness for people with disabilities, which includes preparing for seasonal and pandemic flu as well as for natural and man-made disasters.

"Preparedness saves lives," said Howland. "It is especially important for people with disabilities or chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma, the elderly, and people with compromised health." In addition to any disability they may have, these people are at greater risk of danger during a public health threat or other emergencybecause:

  • "Survival of the fittest policies" leave many behind.
  • Systems designed in good faith to assist too often fail.
  • People have negative mindsets, such as, "It can never happen me" or "I can’t afford to get prepared."

In the case of the flu, good hygiene remains the best prevention for all people: frequent hand washing or use of an alcohol-based sanitizer; use of proper hand washing techniques; covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing; and getting an annual flu shot.

People with disabilities and chronic health conditions and their caregivers should take additional precautions during the flu season. Stockpiling food, water, medications and supplies that fit their specific needs can improve their quality of life, independence and chance of survival during any type of public health threat or emergency.

The American Red Cross recommends people have at least a three day supply, and preferably a seven to 14 day supply, of food, water and medications. For more information on stockpiling, refer to the American Public Health Association’s "Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks" campaign at http://www.getreadyforflu.org/clocksstocks/.

The Research and Training Center has also developed checklists to help individuals with disabilities prepare for disasters of all types. Steps include: assembling a "to go" kit that includes a week’s supply of medicine, checking out the accessibility of local shelters and hotels, and learning how to turn off gas and water. Visit www.nobodyleftbehind2.org for more information.

Howland is now creating a continuing education course on prevention and preparedness for seasonal and pandemic flu with an emphasis on people with disabilities. It will be available this fall free of charge on Kansas TRAIN (http://kstrain.org), an internet training network administered by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.  

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