Issue 2 Volume 1, September 2009  
       
   
Staying Healthy during Flu Season

Flu season is here, and now is the time to go over precautions that will keep your family healthy. Each year, approximately 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized and about 36,000 people die because of seasonal flu. Health officials are anticipating a busier than usual season this year with the onset of the novel H1N1 influenza (Swine Flu).

Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is sometimes confused with the common cold, and understanding the difference between the two can help determine the proper treatment plan. The first symptoms of a cold are usually a scratchy, sore throat, followed by sneezing and a runny nose and possibly a mild cough. Flu symptoms develop fairly quickly and include a headache, fever, aches and pains, fatigue, dry cough, and chills. The flu spreads easily from one person to another.

The greatest defense against the flu is to get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available. There will be two different influenza vaccines offered this year: one for seasonal flu and another for the H1N1 influenza virus. Certain groups of people are considered at high risk for developing complications from seasonal flu. These groups include pregnant women; children six months to 19 years; adults 50 years and older; people – and those who take care of them – with chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, and immune suppression illnesses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has indicated that the vaccine for the H1N1 influenza virus will be available in mid-October. Initially, it is expected that this vaccine will be available in limited quantities. Since some of our family members and friends are considered to be at a higher risk of developing complications if they become infected with the H1N1 flu virus, public health officials recommend certain people receive the H1N1 vaccine before others. Those who are recommended to receive the vaccine first are pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, health care and emergency medical services personnel with direct patient contact, children 6 months through 4 years of age, and children 5 through 18 years of age who have chronic medical conditions. When the demand for these target groups has been met, programs and providers should begin vaccinating everyone from ages 25 through 64 years.

There  are many  precautions  that  can be taken to reduce the risk of  getting  the  flu.  Washing  your  hands is very important  to staying healthy.  Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available. A good way to help children wash for 20 seconds is to have them sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

Another precaution you should take to reduce the risk of spreading influenza to your family and friends is to always cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue or cough into your sleeve if you do not have a tissue. Remember to avoid close contact with people who are sick and call your healthcare provider if you experience flu-like symptoms.

The H1N1 influenza is a concern to public health officials and to the general public. Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services (HCPHES) has valuable information regarding H1N1 available on its website at www.hcphes.org.

HCPHES has developed a document to provide brief guidance to help decrease the spread of H1N1 among students and staff in schools with grades K-12. To view this document, click here.

HCPHES has also created similar guidance for businesses and employers. This document can be viewed by clicking here.

Taking the steps mentioned above in this article and on the HCPHES website will help keep your family well this flu season and will also keep you from spreading germs to others.

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Please Excuse Our Dust

The city block bounded by Franklin, Caroline, Congress, and San Jacinto Streets sits fronted on the north by the Harris County Criminal Justice Center and on the east by the new Civil Courthouse. Until just lately, it has served as a parking lot.

Construction began August 3 on the Harris County Jury Assembly Room and Transportation Plaza  project to turn the block into a green space with trees and walkways and, below ground level, four new jury assembly rooms, each with a seating capacity of approximately 250.

Upon completion of the project, jury assembly will be moved from the Congress Plaza building to the new site, which will be tunnel-connected to the courts as well as to the two county parking garages and the rest of the existing county tunnel system.

From a glass-enclosed entry pavilion above ground, which will also serve as a security check point, potential jurors will access a central area below before branching out to the new assembly rooms. Jurors will also be able to complete security screening at either of the county parking garages or at any of the courthouse buildings before entering the tunnels to the assembly rooms.

The park area will be available for approved activities, and the jury assembly rooms may be reserved for certain functions or meetings. According to PageSoutherlandPage, lead architect for the project, “The site also plays a key role in the greater urban design strategies of downtown Houston, linking historic green squares, bus routes, bike routes and the expanding green necklace of bayou park space.”

The Harris County Public Infrastructure Department anticipates construction will require 18 months. Money for the project includes transportation enhancement funding from the Texas Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, if you’ve lost your parking spot to the plaza project, the county garages are within one or two blocks of the plaza, with lower daily rates than those of the demolished parking lot.

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Harris County Citizen Corps Receives National Recognition

Harris County Citizen Corps recently received the National Citizen Corps Achievement Award for Volunteer Integration. The award recipients were announced during a ceremony at the 2009 National Conference on Community Preparedness (NCCP) in Arlington, Virginia.

The Volunteer Integration Award recognizes the Citizen Corps Council for effectively tapping into the services of dedicated community residents in supporting emergency services year round and that has integrated volunteers in preparedness and response efforts.

“Harris County Citizen Corps volunteers are essential partners and play a crucial role in disaster preparedness and recovery,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, director of the Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management. “Our volunteers have proven themselves through numerous emergencies, the latest being Hurricane Ike.”

Hurricane Ike volunteers distributed 1.1 million gallons of water, 10.5 million pounds of ice, and 2.8 million ready-to-eat meals. Medical Reserve Corps volunteers delivered 81,410 meals and conducted visual health screenings for homebound residents.

Harris County Emergency Management Coordinator and Citizen Corps Director Mark Sloan has been very pleased with the response from Citizen Corps members and Community Emergency Response Team members (CERT).

“We’re very fortunate to have over 200 CERT teams in our area,” Sloan said. “We have over 18,000 volunteers, giving us additional resources outside of government.”

CERT trains people in neighborhoods, the workplace, and schools in such basic disaster response skills, as fire suppression, urban search and rescue and medical operations. It helps them take a more active role in emergency preparedness.

National Citizen Corps Achievement Award recipients exemplify excellence in community emergency planning, foster successful public-private partnerships, prioritize collaboration, demonstrate creative and innovative local problem solving, and implement sound programs that can be modeled for use by other communities.

To become a member of the Harris County Citizen Corps or to register for CERT training in your area, click here or call 281—JOIN NOW (281-564-6669).

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Energy Efficiency in Harris County Buildings

In 1997, before compact fluorescent light bulbs could be readily and inexpensively found, and “green” had not yet become the ubiquitous branding term it is today, Harris County’s Facilities and Property Management (FPM) Division established an energy efficiency strategy for more than 100 county properties it manages.

Goals were established to exceed the requirements for existing energy codes and to use new technology  equipment  to reduce energy consumption,  utility costs, and  atmospheric pollution.

A combination of retrofits and facility upgrades produced cleaner air, more efficient equipment, a better working environment, and savings in the millions of dollars – and counting.

Building on this early success, FPM is evaluating its facilities to determine which are ready for “retro-commissioning,” a process that seeks to improve how building equipment and systems function together. Managers are reviewing qualifications of energy service companies, which offer to further reduce energy costs, without upfront expenditure, for a share of the future cost savings. FPM continues to develop construction and product standards for new and renovated facilities. And, key to any energy efficiency strategy, county employees themselves are being educated in ways they can practice energy conservation.

Harris County Commissioners Court approved an order In February requiring that all new county facilities be designed and constructed to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification standards established by the United States Green Building Council. These internationally recognized benchmarks “recognize performance in five key areas…: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality," according to the USGBC.

The Texas Legislature has mandated that political entities make goals for reducing energy consumption by five percent each year through 2013. Harris County’s FPM has helped Harris County meet or exceed that reduction for more than 10 years.

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