Thursday, January 22, 2015

Five ways to get ready for flu season

Five ways to get ready for flu season

Written by: Michelle Fordice, Red Cross Volunteer

Do your kids seem sneezy? Has your coworker just admitted that they have felt awful all day, but they just couldn’t miss work? Sounds like it’s flu season! Flu season usually peaks in January or February, and reports of cases are already growing in the Washington D.C. metro area. So how do you keep yourself from becoming a miserable lump in bed? Read on!

Get the flu shot.
Get the flu shot every year to minimize illness. The CDC recommends “a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease,” and advises that it’s never too late in the season to get vaccinated. Not sure where to get the shot? offers a searchable directory for finding a provider near you here. Remember, the flu vaccine will only protect you for one flu season, so make sure you get it every year.

Practice good health habits.
There are many every day preventative actions you can take to reduce the chances of getting the flu. Eat a balanced diet, get plenty of rest, be physically active, manage your stress, and drink plenty of fluids. Moderate exercise on a near-daily basis can be a good immune booster. In addition to the direct benefits, regular exercise usually leads to better sleep and reduced stress. Combine flu prevention with your New Year’s Resolutions and pick one activity to do every day. For a complete list of moderate exercises, check out the CDC

Know what to look for.
Do you know what the signs of the flu are? The CDC lists commons signs of the flu as fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, and vomiting or diarrhea. And how do you differentiate the flu from a cold? The flu tends to come with a fever, body aches and sets in much faster than a cold. Remember, some people are more prone to getting the flu. For a list of people at high risk, visit the CDC.

Stop the spread of germs.
Help us all out and do your part to stop the spread of germs. Here are some tips:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Bring disinfecting wipes to work to help keep your desk clean.
  • Since commuters in the D.C. metro area are likely to use public transportation, consider picking up a travel pack of tissues and a small bottle of hand sanitizer to use after holding onto that Metro poll or escalator handrail.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze towards your elbow or upper sleeve, rather than your hands.  
  • People with flu can spread it to others up to six feet away, so minimize your contact with those who are sick. If you are an employer, adopt business practices and a company culture that encourages your staff to stay home when they are ill.
  • If someone in your home is ill, make sure you disinfect items that are regularly touched.
How to be prepared.
The flu is contagious. You can infect others a day before symptoms appear and up to a week after becoming sick. Stay home and protect those around you. The CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without the use of a fever-reducing medicine).
But before you get sick, consider preparing a “sick-day box.” Being sick is bad enough, but having to run to the grocery store when you’re feeling miserable is even worse (Plus, you’re exposing others to your germs). Consider keeping a bin in the closet that has all of the things you’ll want when you’re feeling icky. Some ideas:

  • Cans of soup
  • Easy to eat foods, like applesauce
  • Boxes of tea. Teas with ginger, lemon, peppermint, or chamomile are all good choices for sick days. Don’t forget the honey!
  • Cough drops
  • Disinfecting wipes and disposable gloves to make cleaning up easier
  • Tissues
  • Lip balm
  • Ginger ale or other calorie containing clear juices
  • Gatorade, or other electrolyte sports drinks. (If you’re short on space, you can get these in powder form.)
  • Heat packs. You can make these by filling a small bag (make sure it’s 100% cotton so that it can go in the microwave) with rice, deer corn, oatmeal, or beans. You can also add cloves, lavender, rosemary or other good smelling spices for some extra therapy. These bags can be spritzed with water and put in the microwave to create a reusable heat pack that’s great for aches and pains. 
  • Items for a bath. Have Epsom salts and an essential oil, like lavender, eucalyptus or peppermint on hand to create a relaxing bath.
  • Any medications you feel you may need. Check regularly to make sure they have not expired.
  • If you have children, you may want to set aside a few puzzles, games, and books that are special for sick days. A new set of pajamas or fuzzy socks to laze about in can also make a kid’s day brighter.

Good luck, germ fighters! 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

World Animal Day

By Michelle Fordice, Volunteer Contributor

Today is World Animal Day! Celebrated on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, this day celebrates all animals. Here at the Red Cross we especially want to recognize the animals that serve in times of disaster.

Animals serving during disasters

Dogs have helped the Red Cross since early in its history. Check out this footage of a training exercise for dogs searching for wounded soldiers during World War I. 

And these photos of Red Cross dogs searching for wounded soldiers just before and during WWI.

Dogs today still serve in search and rescue missions. Here is a group of local search and rescue dogs deploying to assist in mudslide recovery efforts in Washington state earlier this year.

Search and rescue dogs serve in all sorts of conditions, whether they are searching through the snow...

... jumping out of helicopters...

... or taking their noses on the water by boat.

Other dogs serve as therapy dogs immediately after a disaster or during stressful recovery. This group of golden retrievers from Lutheran Church Charities comforted Boston locals in April of 2013 after the Boston Marathon bombings.

Watch how Red Cross volunteers and their animal companions have helped at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

How you can get involved

Do you think your pet could make a good therapy animal? Check out the resources below to see how to get involved in our own community.

National Capital Therapy Dogs is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization that provides animal-assisted therapy to many people in health facilities, schools, and libraries in more than 30 facilities in the DC, Virginia, and Maryland area. They also accept cats and some other animals in their program.

People, Animals, Love sends out its 320 volunteers and their pets throughout the DC area. Their visit program accepts all sorts of animals, from birds, to dogs, to guinea pigs!

Some dogs have the right breeding and personality traits to be a search and rescue dogs. Learn more about search and rescue dog training in our area by visiting the Virginia Search and Rescue Dog Association.

And don't forget... everyone's pet is their own personal superhero, so make a disaster plan for your furry family members with information from the Red Cross and protect your pet by downloading our Pet First Aid App

Monday, September 29, 2014

September in a Nutshell

What is the EV-D68 Virus?

By Squiggy the Squirrel

You may have seen on the news or heard on the radio lately about the respiratory virus that has been spreading across our country. Enterovirus D68, also known as EV-D68, is a rare but not a new virus. It was first identified in California in the 1960s but there have been fewer than 100 reported cases since that time, until recently. 

From mid-August to mid-September, over 150 people from 40 states, including DC, Maryland, and Virginia, were confirmed to have respiratory illness caused by EV-D68. It's expected that more states will have confirmed cases in the upcoming weeks.

EV-D68 spreads from person-to-person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or touches contaminated surfaces. The virus causes mild to severe respiratory illness. Initial symptoms are similar to those for the common cold: runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever. As it progresses, symptoms that are more serious may occur, including difficulty breathing, dehydration, and potentially respiratory failure. Infants, children, and teenagers are most likely to become ill from the virus. Many of the children affected so far had asthma or a history of wheezing.

There's no specific treatment for EV-D68 and no vaccine, so the illness has to run its course. Most people recover completely and few need to be hospitalized.

What Should You Do?

Below are some tips to help prevent the spread of EV-D68:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Carry hand sanitizer with you; use it especially when on public transportation, in large groups, or public places
  • Use tissues
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unclean hands
  • Buy sanitizing wipes to frequently clean cell phones, computers, and toys
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick
  • If you're sick, stay home from work or school
  • Get your flu vaccine. While flu vaccinations don't prevent EV-D68, flu season is just around the corner and now's a good time to get your annual shot!
  • Take a course. The Red Cross Online Family First Aid and Pediatric CPR course includes lessons on how to respond to respiratory and cardiac emergencies. Go to for more information.

Share these tips with family and friends so we can all work together to prevent the spread of this virus! It's National Preparedness Month, after all - so let's prepare!


Thursday, September 25, 2014

6 Steps for Preparing Your Business for a Disaster

By Michelle Fordice, Volunteer Contributor

Is your business ready to respond to - and recover from - a natural disaster? According to the Insurance Information Institute, 40% of businesses fail after a natural or man-made disaster. Moreover, Americans spend about 20% of their time at work and we all want to be safe while we 're there. Here are six steps to help your business prepare for a disaster.

Commit to preparedness

Think about who you need to get involved to prepare your business for a potential disaster. Is your senior leadership committed? Who on staff needs to be a part of developing how the organization responds to emergencies? What resources are available? 

Conduct a hazard vulnerability assessment

Know your area. Consider what situations are most likely to arise. For example, when it comes to extreme weather, D.C. is most likely to suffer from tornadoes, snow, and floods. Are you ready for those situations?

Know your business. Are there any unique factors to your industry or the area that your office is located that make you more susceptible to a particular kind of emergency? 

Asses your staff and resources. Know the physical capacity, supplies, equipment and human resources of your organization. Have you spoken to your insurance carrier to see what situations are included in your coverage? Who on your staff has a cool head in tense situations? Who has been trained in basic first aid and CPR? 

Develop an emergency response plan

Create a team that develops and maintains an emergency response plan for the business. Prepare a written emergency response plan that addresses the hazards you have identified. Are staff members assigned to particular tasks within that plan?  What are escape routes? Do you need to make any considerations for the special needs of employees with disabilities and medical conditions?

Prepare a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP). Are you prepared to perform essential business functions under a broad range of circumstances? What would happen if you lost access to your records or your facility? Are your suppliers prepared for an emergency? After you know your staff is safe, how will you inform your customers that the service you provide may be interrupted?

Implement an emergency response plan

Train your employees on the new plan. Consider sponsoring a training session for employees in topics like first aid and CPR. (The Red Cross offers training programs for businesses.)  

Acquire safety equipment and supplies.

Provide employees with resources to be ready at home, on their commute, and at work. Make sure you have emergency contact information for each employee in a place where you could access it during an emergency. 

Test and improve your emergency response plan

Conduct drills. People are more likely to respond appropriately when they have had practice. Remember that you should repeat drills at least annually and that new hires will need to be trained.

Consider how everyone performed on the drill. What didn’t work and what items were you missing?

Make improvements. 

Help your community prepare

No business survives without the community it serves. Once you have prepared your business, help prepare your community. Consider hosting a blood drive or donating supplies or services to a local emergency effort. 

Think you’re ready? Try taking The Red Cross Ready Rating assessment. This is a free program that measures your organization‘s level of preparedness and provides tools for making improvements.

Additional Resources:

American Red Cross Ready Rating 123 Assessment
American Red Cross Ready Rating Resource Center
Small Business Association Emergency Preparedness Resources for business
University of Florida Disaster Handbook

Friday, August 29, 2014

August in a Nutshell

Ready, Writing, and Preparedness!

By Squiggy the Squirrel

It's officially that time of year - back to school - and everyone's favorite squirrel (yes, that's me!) prepared a list of items I need to buy for the new year:
  • Pencils
  • Pens
  • Notebooks
  • Crayons
  • Ruler
  • Glue
  • First Aid kit
  • Flashlight

You may be wondering why I added those two last items on my shopping list. Do they seem out of place to you? Wouldn't the school handle those items? The answer is most likely yes. But what about after school? Many kids come home after school and are alone for a few hours before their parents or guardians get home from work. If your child is too young, they shouldn't be left alone. Consider after-school child care, after-school programs or sports, or a babysitter. But if your child is old enough, you may believe they're responsible and able to be left alone after school until you come home from work. If this is the case, here is a list of things you should do in your home to make sure your child is prepared and safe. 

What parents/guardians should do in their homes:

Create an emergency contact list including 9-1-1, work and cell phone numbers of parents/guardians, and numbers for neighbors and extended family members. Put the list in a place that's easy to spot, like the refrigerator or near your landline phone. 

  • Have a stocked first aid kit and flashlight in an accessible place in the home. Make sure your child knows where they are, is familiar with the items in the kit, and knows how to use the flashlight.
  • Come up with an emergency plan with your child so they know what to do in case of a fire, injury, or other emergencies. Practice the plan.
  • Lock up or hide out of reach any dangerous items like guns, knives, power tools, razor blades, scissors, and other objects that could be harmful.
  • Make sure detergents, polishes, pesticides, car fluids, lighter fluids, and oils (potential poisons) are out of reach, hidden, or stored in locked cabinets.
  • Limit any cooking a young child can do. Make sure at least one working smoke alarm is installed on ea ch level of your home.
In addition, here are some other back to school safety tips:
  • Make sure your child knows his/her home phone number and address, parents/guardians' work phone numbers, and how to dial 9-1-1.
  • Remind your child not to talk to strangers or accept rides from someone they don't know.
  • Research your school's emergency plan and how you would be notified if an emergency happened at the school. Ask your child's teacher questions if you have any.
  • Remind your child that the best thing they can do if an emergency happens at school is to stay calm and listen to their teacher.
  • Make a copy of the emergency contact list discussed earlier and tape it to the inside of one of your child's notebooks.
I hope you find these tips helpful! Good luck with the new school year! Don't hesitate to leave a comment if you have any questions. 


Thursday, August 28, 2014

So You Started the School Year. Now What?

By Sarah Oldham, Volunteer Contributor

You've prepped for that first day back at school - from the outfit you wore to the friends you sat with at lunch. But you're school year's just starting and there's a lot of work ahead of you. Now what? 

Goal Setting

I've set myself several goals for this school year to make far-reaching and intelligent decisions. concentrate on studying, and have a healthy social life. As I look forward to the school's seasoned events, like Homecoming and the football games, my objective is to meet new people and stay safe. Additionally, it's not a bad idea to get to know my teachers and not hold back on getting extra help when needed. What personal goals will you set?


Being a 16-year-old teenager, driving has become a large priority. It's very common to come across teen drivers that aren't cautious. Since I'll begin to drive on my own starting in October, I'm making it a huge priority to drive with awareness and watch out for other teen drivers this school year. Whether it's driving safety or something else, it's important to set your priorities for the year ahead. 

Extracurricular Activities & Future Plans

As an upcoming junior, this year I'll be facing several challenges, such as test preparation and college level classes. To equip myself for this school year, in addition to volunteering with the Red Cross I've also become a member of the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), started SAT practice, and volunteer tutoring. It's vital to me that I experiment with various types of activities, like leadership clubs and Best Buddies. These activities are not only helpful for college admittance, but can also help guide you in deciding what you want to do in the future. Explore all the opportunities that are out there. You never know where they'll lead you!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Back to School Basics

How to Be Prepared for the First Bell

By Sofia Caballero, Volunteer Contributor

The Red Cross stresses preparedness not just for emergencies, but also in everyday life. Are you ready for your return to school? High schoolers, here are some tips for your transition into the new semester.

Before Your First Day

Make sure you know your schedule well before you walk in. When you know where you're going, it'll be easier to focus on the information you're getting from your teachers. Find a map of your school and plan out the routes from class-to-class ahead of time. If you're freshman, go to your orientation. It'll give you an edge if you know where all your classes are and it's a good idea to meet your teachers. 

When packing for your first day back, make a list of everything you need. If you know what supplies your teachers want, make sure you've bought them. Even if you don't know what you need, take some pens and a folder or binder. You'll get forms and syllabi, and it's wise to start organizing everything on day one. 

Unless you want a poor grade and a dirty look from your teacher, do not forget your summer assignments! It seems like a lot to remember, but all of this will help you start off your year on a good note.

The First Day of the Year

Now that you're prepared, actually going back will be easy. A good impression is not difficult to make, but can be important. Having a good relationship with your teachers may help you later on. To ensure you come across as a good student, get to class on time, introduce yourself, and turn in your homework. Taking simple steps like these can make a big difference by the end of the year. 

If there are student you don't yet know, talk to them. It's always better to have friends in your classes. The first day is a good way to ease back into routine. Don't stress about it and it will be easy.

After the First Day

You've only just started! Now, you've got a long year ahead of you. Two words of advice: DON'T PANIC. Maintain a routine schedule for getting homework done, playing sports, and spending free time. If this is difficult for you, take it in steps. Once you master getting homework done on time, add a sport or club. Check what extracurricular programs your school offers. Try to find clubs that can benefit you, but still pertain to your interests. 

Don't forget to make time for volunteer work (which can always be found at the Red Cross). Take advantage of all the programs you have access to. 

Finally, and most importantly, enjoy yourself! Don't worry so much about school that it overwhelms you. Take each day like you did the first and you'll be fine. After all, it's all about being prepared.