Diwali, Asia’s Most Colorful Time of Year

Girl Celebrating Diwali

 

Colors, happiness, joy, family that is what Diwali is all about! Every year in the Fall, India and other nations in the region of Southern Asia celebrate Diwali, a holiday that focuses on how light overcomes darkness and celebrates new beginnings. This year it falls on Oct. 23 and provides an amazingly fun opportunity to learn more about Hindu culture as well as about the other groups that participate in the festivities. This is especially true if you find yourself traveling to India or another country in the region.

In some ways Diwali is similar to Christmas. Many different sects and groups celebrate the holy day but almost everyone does it in their own special way. The largest groups among the Hindu sects celebrate Diwali as the return of Lord Rama (and his wife and brother) from exile as is told in the Ramayana. This story is explained in this video:

Diwali celebrations happen across Southern Asia from Suriname to Singapore and while many celebrate a wide variety of traditions they all have the general theme of new beginning and the arrival of a new light in our lives.

Celebrations vary in scope and scale as well. In many places it is not uncommon for there to be enormous fireworks displays or parades. Generally, festivities include: spring-cleaning, wearing new clothes, exchanging gifts (often candies and dried fruits), eating and sharing festive meals, decorating homes with fancy lights, making varying colored displays before doorways as well as the previously mentioned fireworks.

These factors combined create a beautiful festival that is a must see for anyone.

Since the early 2000’s Diwali has been slowly spreading around the world where large celebrations have happened in New York City, London and even Dallas, TX. If we’ve piqued your interest check online and see if there will be a Diwali celebration near your own home. But, we’d also like to hear from you! Share your Diwali experiences in our comment section and let everyone know your favorite part of the Festival of Light!

Passport Health, Vaccine Finder & Uber Partner to Deliver Flu Vaccinations On Demand in Select Cities

Get Your Flu Shot

 

Passport Health, HealthMap Vaccine Finder, and Uber are partnering today to deliver no-cost flu vaccinations and flu prevention packs to Uber users in Boston and Washington, D.C. The partnership is a one-day pilot project.

The flu impacts up to 20 percent of Americans each year, and finding innovative ways to deliver flu vaccines and a “Be FluFree” message is a priority not just for Passport Health, but for immunization advocates everywhere.

Today’s first-ever UberHEALTH project pairs Uber driver partners with Passport Health nurses to deliver no-cost flu vaccines and flu-prevention packs to UberHEALTH users in Boston and Washington, D.C. The project is in conjunction with HealthMap Vaccine Finder. Uber has also partnered with Pager to provide flu prevention packs and flu vaccines in New York City.

The CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months of age receives a flu vaccine each year. Still, less than 40 percent of Americans get the flu shot. Healthy People 2020, which provides a 10-year agenda for improving the nation’s health, has set a target vaccination rate of 70 percent for all Americans.

With fewer Americans seeking flu vaccines in a traditional setting, we know that making a 70 percent vaccination rate a reality will take innovation and partnership. That’s why Passport Health is excited to be working with UberHEALTH and HealthMap Vaccine Finder to bring flu prevention packs and flu vaccines directly to Uber users with a single touch of a button.

The service will be available at no cost today only from 10 am until 3 pm EST in Boston, Washington, D.C. and New York. Riders will have the option to select “UberHEALTH” in the Uber app, and once confirmed, a registered nurse will deliver a flu prevention pack and provide the option to receive a flu shot. For every shot given, Uber will donate $5 to the Red Cross to support vaccination efforts for children including its Measles & Rubella Initiative.

“We’re always looking at ways to improve flu vaccination rates,” said Melanie Kohr, Passport Health’s Vice President of Clinic Operations. “Pairing our nurses with Uber driver partners gives us the chance to really make an impact on people’s health this flu season, and for us that’s truly exciting.”

For over 20 years, Passport Health has provided its clients with protection against vaccine-preventable diseases, including the flu. This year, Passport Health launched FluFree.com, a web site designed to address the growing gap between the need for vaccination and the number of people who actually chose to get vaccinated.

“We all know the flu is miserable, but not everyone who has access to the flu vaccine gets one,” said Fran Lessans, RN, MS, Founder, President and CEO of Passport Health. “FluFree’s mission is to educate people on just how serious the flu is, and to promote awareness of and accessibility to the flu vaccine.”

Passport Health has taken on large-scale public health partnerships and initiatives in the past. Passport Health was a first responder to the Anthrax attacks in 2001, and our company has participated in numerous vaccine trials. Now, with its focus turned to influenza, Passport Health is excited to be working with UberHEALTH and HealthMap Vaccine Finder to help make Boston and Washington DC FluFree. To learn more about the UberHEALTH campaign, visit http://blog.uber.com/health.

For more information on influenza, flu vaccines and flu safety, visit passporthealthusa.com or contact a Passport Health immunization specialist at 1-844-FLU-FREE.

New, Fast and Accurate TB Test

Blood Testing for TB infection

 

A new blood test will soon provide a fast and accurate way of diagnosing tuberculosis (TB) in children, a new study reports. Published in Lancet Infectious Diseases, the study found that the new TAM-TB test is fast, specific and sensitive, making it the perfect diagnostic tool for areas in which TB is prevalent.

The test works by identifying the lack of a surface marker bacteria called CD27 in the blood. Results are available within 24-hours of sampling the patient’s blood.

First used in Tanzania, researchers are now ready to try it out in other regions with the hope of refining the test to optimize performance, especially in high risk populations.

“This rapid and reliable test has the great potential to significantly improve the diagnosis of active tuberculosis in children,” says Klaus Reither of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, one of the study coordinators.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-third of the world’s population is infected with the tuberculosis bacteria, and nearly nine million people were diagnosed with TB last year. 1.3 million deaths were reported world-wide from the disease.

While a test like TAM-TB can help curb infection rates, TB treatment can still be very difficult and costly.

For more information on tuberculosis, or if you have any questions about other diseases with global impact like pneumonia or malaria, a Passport Health vaccine specialist is here to help at 1-888-499-PASS (7277).

The Importance of Proper Vaccine Storage and Handling

Gray Vaccine Vials

 

Physicians, government agencies, school systems, child care centers and pharmacists all make recommendations and requirements to various groups of people for getting vaccinated. When you arrive at the clinic or office of a health care provider, you are expressing trust in them that they have handled the vaccines properly. Inadequate vaccine storage and handling can render the vaccine less effective or even useless, thereby putting you at risk of disease. Understanding the standards for proper vaccine management can help you choose your health services wisely.

Proper Vaccine Storage

Federal health authorities in the United States have developed protocols for proper vaccine storage. These protocols are in use throughout North America and the rest of the world. The vaccine storage guidelines include the following:

  • Refrigerated vaccines should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Frozen vaccines should be stored at a temperature range of -58 degrees Fahrenheit to 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Refrigerator and freezer temperatures should be recorded twice a day, in the morning and at night.
  • If the refrigerator or freezer temperature is ever out of range, local health authorities or the vaccine manufacturer should be contacted. They will need to know the duration of time the vaccine spent out of the ideal temperature range.

Vaccine Handling Standards

Once a vaccine is taken out of its storage area, it needs to be handled properly. This includes maintaining a cold chain as well as other factors, including:

  • Keeping portable vaccine containers shut as much as possible
  • Using gel packs or frozen water bottles when transporting vaccines off-site
  • Using motorized portable refrigerator units for vaccine storage when out in the field
  • Using a calibrated thermometer to check temperatures of vaccine when off-site
  • Rotating vaccine supplies to avoid expiration of expensive vaccines or accidental administration of expired vaccine
  • Properly reconstituting and distributing multi-dose vaccine vials
  • Transporting vaccines in the vehicle’s passenger cabin rather than the trunk
  • Avoiding the use of dry ice when transporting vaccine
  • Placing vaccine into a recommended storage unit as soon as possible after transportation

How to Make Sure the Vaccines You Receive Were Handled Properly

When you’re getting a vaccine, you have the right to know how it was stored and handled. You may want to ask to see the temperature logs or the expiration date of the product. You may also inquire about the calibration of the thermometer used to take the temperature in the storage unit. Other questions to ask include whether there is a backup power supply in case of loss of electricity, what is done with vaccines that experience a temperature excursion, and the maintenance record of the refrigerator or freezer where the vaccine was stored.

Getting Vaccinated

Before you embark on an international trip, travel vaccinations can help you develop immunity to infectious and contagious diseases endemic or in the process of an outbreak at your destination. Passport Health travel health clinics offer vaccinations to international travelers. The travel health specialists adhere to national guidelines for proper vaccine handling and storage, so you can rest assured knowing the vaccine you receive is effective and safe. Passport Health travel health specialists also offer guidance on packing first aid supplies, sunscreen, mosquito repellant, over-the-counter and prescription medications, and water purification kits to help you stay healthy during your travels.

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control: Vaccine Storage and Handling
American Academy of Pediatrics: Practice Management for Storage & Handling

Are You Ready for Travel Caching?

Travel Bags

 

Are you the type of traveler who finds yourself in New York, San Francisco, Chicago or other big cities on a regular basis? Consider doing some travel caching! Travel or urban caching is a unique (and rather zany) way to avoid taking anything other than a small carry on with you to destinations that you frequent, and you can save a lot of money in the process too.

The process is fairly simple: some hotels will store smaller items for you even when you are not staying there if you are a regular, returning customer. If your hotel will do this for you, then you are good to go! If not, there are some other options like MakeSpace or inexpensive self-storage locations.

Now, find a large enough box, sturdy bag, or crate to put items in. While some experienced travel cachers will keep a week’s worth of clothes in their bin, we suggest going a little bit smaller to start. Packing even two or three days’ worth of clothes and all of your toiletries in the crate will clear up a ton of space in your carry-on, or eliminate the need to take anything other than a small briefcase or purse on the plane with you.

You can store non-perishable breakfast or snack foods in the box as well. Essentially, by using your box and your hotel room, you are creating a mini-apartment. Why not save some extra money by throwing in some granola bars as well so that you don’t have to purchase breakfast at your hotel each day? Those little expenses add up, and you can save a lot of money.

Bag check fees add up too, so your costs of purchasing a crate/sturdy bag for the hotel to keep will easily be covered within three or four trips to this location.

Surely, travel caching is really only a good option for a frequent traveler to one location, but there are other ways to avoid the nightmare that checking a bag can turn into:

  • Always pack in an orderly fashion so your things are easily accessible when you arrive.
  • Keep expensive items out of direct sight so that they are not immediately visible if your bag is opened. Nobody likes losing an iPad to a pesky thief!
  • Packing cubes are also a great option.

Remember that in addition to being able to handle all of your travel health needs, Passport Health is always here for other helpful travel-related tips too (even packing advice!). If you have any questions about traveling safe, feel free to contact us via our website or by calling us at 1-888-499-PASS (7277).

The Flu Report: 10/17/14

Flu Near You Map - Week ending October 17th
Image courtesy of flunearyou.org. Click here to view the interactive map.

 

We finally have numbers from the first full week of October! What does this mean? That we are now officially in the flu season! It also means some of our CDC statistics have been reset. But, don’t worry! We’re here to help sort it all out.

Overview:

The first official week of flu season coverage shows that influenza infection rates are still down considerably around the nation. Region 4 (the American South) is showing the highest rate of flu infection according to both the CDC and FluNearYou.org with 64% of all flu cases located in this region. Flu near you shows about 1.6% of the national population with influenza while the CDC reports that 3.2% of the samples they have received have been positive (meaning 3.2% of samples from individuals that had visited their doctors). With flu still in it’s early stages there is still plenty of time to prepare by getting your flu vaccine.

By the Numbers:

In the United States, the CDC has reported:

  • Flu Cases (last three weeks) – 199
  • Flu-related Hospitalizations – No current data
  • Flu-related Deaths – 5.4% (0.6% under threshold)

NOTE: Flu cases, as referenced above, are confirmed cases in people who have gone to see medical professionals. Percentage estimates, referenced in the “Overview” section, include these documented cases from medical professionals but also a variety of other self-reported metrics.

As flu season progresses, more up to date information will become available.

Around the World:

Russia, Norway, Austria and Ukraine still have moderate flu activity according to Google Flu Trends. New Zealand has returned to being moderate while Mexico remains about ready to break the barrier into the moderate category. It would still appear that flu penetration is at lower levels globally.

Staying Healthy:

Our tip for this week: sleep well! A good night’s rest help’s the body reset itself and fight any infections that might be present. The less sleep that we get the more likely we are to contract a disease, especially something as commonplace as the flu. For each age group there is a different level of suggested sleep but eight hours per night is generally a good rule to go by. If you would like additional help, contact a Passport Health flu professional at 1-888-499-PASS (7277) and we’ll help you schedule your flu vaccination today.

The Flu Report is a weekly blog post designed to give updates on the spread of influenza throughout the year. It is posted every Friday and focuses on regional outbreaks, global spread and ways to avoid infection.

Why Am I So Tasty to Mosquitoes?

Mosquito on Skin

 

If you’ve ever wondered what makes you so tasty to mosquitoes compared to other friends and family members, you’re not alone. It’s not your imagination that some people are tastier to mosquitoes than others. While there are plenty of myths and urban legends about why some people get more mosquito bites than others, scientists have found real evidence about why you’re itchier than your pals.

Why Do Some People Get Lots of Mosquito Bites While Others Get None?

There are many myths about why and how mosquitoes choose their victims. The truth of the matter is that it’s not what you just ate, your blood type, the color of your shirt or your pregnant belly that’s making you so attractive to these buzzing insects. What’s more important are your size, smell and metabolism. Mosquitoes tend to choose larger targets, which means men more often than women and adults more often than children. Rapid breathing or higher metabolic rates also attract more mosquitoes. This is because higher metabolism and breathing mean a greater release of carbon dioxide, which mosquitoes are able to sense and hone in on. If you’ve recently been sweating or you’re wearing certain perfumes or colognes, these smells can also attract mosquitoes. Because personal scents and amount of sweating can be genetic, you may find that you and your brothers get bitten more than your friend and her sisters.

How Do Mosquitoes Find You?

Mosquitoes are able to detect carbon dioxide in the air. They fly toward the source, and in the outdoors during the summertime, humans are prolific generators of carbon dioxide with every breath. Once a mosquito finds you, it looks for bare skin with a minimum amount of hair such as around your ankles. Surprisingly, mosquitoes can even detect which clothes you’ve recently worn. They are particularly attracted to the stinkiest of clothes like the socks and sweaty shoes you wore all day and left by the front porch.

Are Mosquito Bites Dangerous?

Unfortunately, the same mosquitoes that bite you are the ones that carry potentially deadly diseases such as West Nile Virus, malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever and chikungunya. These diseases can be painful, debilitating and costly not only to your pocketbook but to healthcare systems and governments, especially in tropical areas with scant resources for prevention and medical treatment. In rare cases, intense scratching of itchy mosquito bites can lead to an infection in the skin even if the mosquito didn’t inject you with any virus, parasites or bacteria.

How to Protect Yourself Against Mosquito Bites

If you’re a frequent entree on the mosquito menu, you just need to take a few moments to protect yourself from bites. Even if you only occasionally get a mosquito bite, it’s best to prevent them, so you can reduce your risk of the deadly diseases that mosquitoes may be carrying. Passport Health travel health specialists recommend using a mosquito repellant that contains DEET. Wearing pants and shirts with long sleeves to keep as much of your skin covered as possible also helps to prevent mosquito bites. Limit the time you spend outside between dusk and dawn as these are the primary hours during which the mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus are active. Dump out standing water from flower pots and other containers around your property. Protect yourself with mosquito netting and medications if traveling overseas to areas with endemic malaria.

Are mosquitoes drawn to you? Tell us about it below!

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Prevent Mosquito Bites
CNN: 5 Mosquito Myths
Smithsonian: Why Do Mosquitoes Bite Some People More Than Others?
Phys.org: Scientists Describe How Mosquitoes Are Attracted to Humans

Missed Opportunities to Receive the HPV Vaccine Could Lead to Serious Health Problems

Healthy Teens

 

A recent study released by Pediatrics has shown that while vaccination against the human papilloma virus (HPV) is highly recommended many individuals are not receiving the necessary protection because many doctors were not making the needed recommendation. Of those surveyed, 44% said that their children had not been vaccinated because no physician had offered to do so.

“The most common reason for non-vaccination,” says the article, “was never being offered the vaccine (44%); many stated they would have accepted the vaccine if offered.” In some cases parents would opt to delay the vaccination due to their child’s age. However, Pediatrics notes that this generally led to no vaccination at all. “Most providers and parents who delayed vaccination at age 11 or 12 years did so with the intention that the child would receive the vaccine later. In many cases, however, vaccination never occurred.”

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and is so common that nearly all sexual active men and women get it at some point in their lives. The virus is spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex and can be passed when an infected person has no signs or symptoms. Anyone who is sexually active can contract the HPV and symptoms may not develop until years later making it difficult to know when one first became infected.

Usually, HPV goes away on its own but, in some cases, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer. Vaccination is highly recommended. However, according to the Pediatrics study, most doctors and parents felt the vaccine was unnecessary to even suggest due to age or lack of sexual activity. “HPV could lead to more serious health issues down the line,” says Vicki Sowards, Director of Nursing Resources for Passport Health, “Even if a person isn’t sexually active yet it is still recommended that they be vaccinated. Boys and girls, men and women, it’s important that everyone know the risks and takes the necessary precautions to prevent problems later in life.”

The HPV vaccination provides lifelong protection meaning that boys and girls 12-years and older should be vaccinated whether they are sexually active or not. The CDC estimates that about 79 million Americans are infected with HPV and that 14 million more are infected each year. About 21,000 HPV-related cancers could be prevented annually by simply vaccinating against the virus.

To find Passport Health locations as well as travel health information, please visit www.passporthealthusa.com, or call 1-877-499-PASS(7277).

Don’t Let a Gluten Allergy Derail Your Vacation!

Travelers eating fruit

 

For some people, a gluten-free diet isn’t just a fad, it’s a lifestyle. Celiac disease affects one in every one-hundred people and can suck the fun out of traveling to exotic destinations. But, you can’t just let a pesky wheat allergy get between you and a dream trip! Here are our Ten Tips for going gluten-free.

1) Pick the right room – Finding something to eat that is gluten-free can sometimes be dicey overseas. There may not be anywhere around where you can find something to eat that you can be sure is okay. Having a little kitchenette in your hotel room can help with this problem. You might spend a little more, but it will be well worth it in the long run.

2) Don’t go it alone – A gluten allergy can be a little embarrassing. Sometimes, people get offended if they offer you something and you refuse. Avoid this problem by letting everyone know that you have a problem. Don’t be afraid to tell friends, family and whoever else might be around that you have some dietary restrictions. It will make everyone’s trip much more enjoyable, especially yours!

3) Beware the snack attack! – Finding gluten-free snacks can be tough, especially if you are in a foreign country. One of the best options is to bring an extra suitcase with your favorite gluten-free foods to enjoy while you’re away. It will help you stay healthy, and, if you get a little homesick, it will help in that department too.

4) Call ahead – When it comes to restaurants, you never know what you might be getting into. This is why you should bring snacks and have a kitchen available. But, what can help even more is calling ahead and finding restaurants that can suit your needs. In countries where you don’t speak the language, this can be hard. Luckily, most restaurants have websites, and there is a little program called Google Translate to help you find a gluten-free option almost anywhere.

5) Don’t fear the waiter – If you end up going to a random restaurant, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Many celiac societies offer pre-printed allergy cards in the language of the country to which you will be traveling. For a nominal fee, you can cross that ever difficult divide and not leave your stomach lost in translation.

6) Go ethnic! – Local fare can be just as gluten-free as those snacks in your suitcase! Many places use much less wheat in their diets than we do in ours in North America. Feel free to try something new but…

7) Know where you’re going – A baguette might be new to you, but it still has wheat in it. Do your research before you travel to find out what you can and can’t eat. For example, in Peru, you should be fine having almost any cuisine, with the exception of aji de gallina which sometimes uses a wheat-based product in its sauce.

8) Ask around – Depending on where you are going, there may be a celiac support group in the area. If there is, go ahead and ask them where to eat and where not to eat. The hotel concierge can also help. Unless you’re going to the deep Amazon or a remote island in the Pacific, you probably aren’t the first gluten-free person to have a few questions.

9) Watch for contamination! – Just because that local snack looks good doesn’t mean that it is going to feel good in a few hours. Be sure to check labels and do everything you’d normally do when coming across a new food. Additionally, be careful of which restaurant you chose to go to. Cross-contamination can be just as much a problem as a Mexican wedding cookie.

10) Have fun! – We can’t stress this enough! – Just because you have an allergy doesn’t mean you should be the bubble boy or girl. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but always be safe! You’re going to be on vacation, so relax and enjoy. Just don’t forget to send us a postcard before you leave your happy place!

For more information and support for your unique travel health needs, feel free to visit our website at passporthealthusa.com or schedule an appointment by calling 1-888-499-PASS.

What challenges and solutions do you face with your gluten allergies or other food sensitivities? Tell us about them below!

The Flu Report: 10/10/2014

Flu Near You Map - Week ending October 10th
Image courtesy of flunearyou.org. Click here to view the interactive map.

 

While news on tuberculosis, Ebola and polio have been filling up newscasts this week, influenza has been having a growing impact around the US as well. Find out how much it has grown and what you can do to prevent the flu in this week’s Flu Report!

Overview:

Once again, we have a very light week in terms of reported flu activity. While no hospitalization data is yet available, note that flu-related deaths are trackable using the CDC’s pneumonia and influenza index which calculates the estimated percentage of deaths due to both diseases. The epidemic threshold is set at 6%, meaning that, for now, influenza is not considered to be an epidemic this season.

Across the country, flu cases are on a slight upward swing with about 30 more cases than last week being reported. The CDC’s estimated percentage of the population that has the flu still sits at 1.1%, meaning that the flu is not spreading nearly as much as it could be. Flu website FluNearYou.org, which works off self-reported data from site users, shows the Northwestern United States as being the hardest hit region with 3.9% of the population reporting illness. It is interesting to compare this to CDC data that shows this to be the least impacted region with only 0.3% of the population affected. The vast difference could be from over-reporting by users on the website or a lesser amount of people seeing medical professionals about their flu-like symptoms (CDC data comes from reported cases by medical professionals). Either way, it is an interesting statistic.

By the Numbers*:

In the United States, the CDC has reported:

  • Flu Cases – 96
  • Flu-related Hospitalizations – No current data
  • Flu-related Deaths** – 5.7%

*Flu cases, as referenced above, are confirmed cases in people who have gone to see medical professionals. Percentage estimates, referenced in the “Overview” section, include these documented cases from medical professionals but also a variety of other self-reported metrics.

**CDC does not know exactly how many people die from seasonal flu each year. CDC uses two categories of underlying cause of death information listed on death certificates: pneumonia and influenza (P&I) causes and respiratory and circulatory (R&C) causes. CDC uses statistical models with records from these two categories to make estimates of influenza-associated mortality. The CDC has set the epidemic threshold at 6%.

As flu season progresses, more up to date information will become available.

Around the World:

Russia remains the nation with the highest flu activity while Ukraine, Austria and Norway are the only nations listed as having moderate activity. Most of the northern hemisphere is experiencing rising activity with many nations sitting on the border between mild and moderate levels of flu activity.

Staying Healthy:

Our tip for this week: Don’t be afraid to see your doctor! Influenza can start simply enough, but it is a virus that can develop into a serious health problem as well. If you are not feeling well and don’t seem to be getting better, seeing a medical professional might be in your best interest. As always, vaccination is key in preventing the disease, but, if you do get sick, be sure to seek medical help if conditions do not improve. For additional help contact a Passport Health flu professional at 1-888-499-PASS (7277) and we’ll help you schedule your flu vaccination today.

The Flu Report is a weekly blog post designed to give updates on the spread of influenza throughout the year. It is posted every Friday and focuses on regional outbreaks, global spread and ways to avoid infection.