Is Yellow Fever Knocking At Our Door?

25 04 2017

The following article was passed along to me by David Olinger, the County’s Public Health Preparedness Coordinator.  It is an article that is written by Michaeleen Doucleff and published by Houston Public Media News 88.7

It is a good reminder that, even as we prepare for hazards that we know too well (like river flooding and hurricanes), everybody needs to be equally prepared for hazards that come from the public health realm.  Back in 2009, it was H1N1.  Then it was Ebola a couple of years later.  And then last year it was the Zika virus that still is hanging around causing problems.  As the author says—- is Yellow Fever the next infectious disease we will have to worry about in the Houston area?

 

 

 

Scientists love patterns.

It’s what makes science possible — and powerful — especially when it comes to infectious diseases.

Over the past 30 years, scientists have noticed a distinctive pattern of mosquito-borne diseases in the Western Hemisphere: Three viruses have cropped up, caused small outbreaks and then one day — poof! — they hit a city and spread like gangbusters.

All three viruses are carried by the same mosquito, called Aedes aegypti. All three have caused millions of cases in Latin America and the Caribbean. And all three have gotten a foothold in the U.S., causing small outbreaks.

Now there’s a fourth one lurking in the Brazilian rain forest, says Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. It’s familiar. And it’s deadly: yellow fever.

In a recent commentary for the New England Journal of Medicine, Fauci and his colleague Dr. Catherine Paules explain the pattern seen across Latin America and how the historical information could help us intercept the next epidemic.

The waves of epidemics from the three other viruses started in the 1990s.

First dengue — a nasty virus that can cause hemorrhaging — re-emerged in parts of Latin America after it had been eliminated in 18 countries.

Next up came chikungunya. The virus first appeared in the Caribbean in 2013. It hopped around the islands for a few months and then finally hit the mainland of Central and South Americas, where it caused debilitating joint pain in thousands of people.

Then last year, Zika emerged as the first mosquito-borne virus that can cause birth defects. Still today, the U.S. is seeing about 30 to 40 Zika cases in pregnant women each week.

“Now all of a sudden you start to see this very interesting clustering of yellow fever cases in Brazil,” says Fauci.

The outbreak started in December and has swelled to about 600 confirmed cases and more than a thousand suspected cases, the Brazil Ministry of Health reports. Symptoms can include fever, nausea and muscle aches. In about 15 percent of cases, the disease progresses into a toxic phase, which can include jaundice, bleeding and organ failure. There have been about 200 deaths in Brazil.

“That’s a potential threat,” Fauci says.

So far, the disease is still isolated to a rural area, Fauci says. And it’s spreading only among mosquitoes that live in the forest and not in mosquitoes that thrive in cities, called Aedes aegypti.

But that scenario could change quickly, Fauci says, if Aedes aegypti picks up the virus from infected people.

“If Aedes aegypti mosquitoes start spreading yellow fever in Brazil, there’s a possibility that you might have an outbreak in very populous areas in Brazil, such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo,” Fauci says.

“Whether that’s going to happen, I don’t know. But if it does, we’re going to get a lot of travel-related cases in the U.S.,” he says, “which means physicians here have to be aware of it.”

And that’s why Fauci penned the commentary: To alert public health officials and doctors so they won’t miss cases.

“This is a wake-up call,” Fauci says. “Be careful. If someone comes in with an illness that’s compatible with the yellow fever, you might want to ask them, ‘Have you traveled to this part of Brazil?’ “

But there’s another reason to keep an eye on yellow fever in the Americas. Unlike Zika, chikungunya, and dengue, the world actually has an effective way to prepare for an outbreak. We have a vaccine that is 99 percent effective.

“That’s really an amazing asset,” says biologist Erin Mordecai, who studies infectious diseases at Stanford University.

“So this is a great example of a time that we could be proactive,” she says. “We have a good vaccine, and we need to make sure that there’s enough available in the case of a large outbreak.”

And right now, that’s a bit of a problem, Fauci says. The world’s supply of the yellow fever vaccine is low. There aren’t enough doses to protect Brazil’s population of 200 million, not to mention the rest of Latin America.

“We don’t have enough vaccine. Period,” he says. “We’re going to have to make more vaccine. And that will take time.”

In the meantime, predictions that Brazil’s outbreak would burn out quickly have turned out to be wrong. The outbreak continues to grow while health officials make deep cuts into the vaccine stockpile.





Emergency Preparation Supplies Sales Tax Holiday Scheduled for April 22-24, 2017

18 04 2017

Important information from Glenn Hegar, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts:

You can purchase certain emergency preparation supplies tax-free during the 2017 Emergency Preparation Supplies Sales Tax Holiday. There is no limit on the number of qualifying items you can purchase, and you do not need to issue an exemption certificate to claim the exemption.

This year’s holiday begins at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, April 22, and ends at midnight on Monday, April 24.

These emergency preparation supplies qualify for tax exemption if purchased for a sales price:

Less than $3000
Portable generators

Less than $300
Emergency ladders
Hurricane shutters

Less than $75
Axes
Batteries, single or multipack (AAA cell, AA cell, C cell, D cell, 6 volt or 9 volt)
Can openers – nonelectric
Carbon monoxide detectors
Coolers and ice chests for food storage – nonelectric
Fire extinguishers
First aid kits
Fuel containers
Ground anchor systems and tie-down kits
Hatchets
Ice products – reusable and artificial
Light sources – portable self-powered (including battery operated)
Examples of items include: candles, flashlights and lanterns
Mobile telephone batteries and mobile telephone chargers
Radios – portable self-powered (including battery operated) – includes two-way and weather band radios
Smoke detectors
Tarps and other plastic sheeting

These supplies do not qualify for tax exemption:

Batteries for automobiles, boats and other motorized vehicles
Camping supplies
Chainsaws
Plywood
Extension ladders
Stepladders
Tents
Repair or replacement parts for emergency preparation supplies
Services performed on, or related to, emergency preparation supplies

Additional Charges Affect Purchase Price

Delivery, shipping, handling and transportation charges are part of the sales price. If the emergency preparation supply being purchased is taxable, the delivery charge is also taxable. Consider these charges when determining whether an emergency preparation supply can be purchased tax free during the holiday.

For example, you purchase a rescue ladder for $299 with a $10 delivery charge, for a total sales price of $309. Because the total sales price of the ladder is more than $300, tax is due on the $309 sales price.

For more information, contact the State Comptroller’s Office at Tax Help, or call 1-800-252-5555.





This Day in Texas Disaster History – April 16th

16 04 2017

April 16, 1947 – Ammonium Nitrate Explosion, Texas City, TX

The Texas City disaster was an industrial accident that occurred April 16, 1947, in the Port of Texas City. It generally considered the worst industrial accident in U.S. history, and one of the largest non-nuclear explosions. Originating with a mid-morning fire on board the French-registered vessel SS Grandcamp (docked in the port), its cargo of approximately 2,300 tons (approximately 2,100 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate detonated, with the initial blast and subsequent chain-reaction of further fires and explosions in other ships and nearby oil-storage facilities killing at least 581 people, including all but one member of the Texas City fire department; 27 of the 28 members of Texas City’s volunteer fire department and 3 members of the Texas City Heights Volunteer Fire Department who were on the docks near the burning ship were killed.

One firefighter, Fred Dowdy, who had not responded to the initial call, coordinated other firefighters arriving from communities up to 60 miles (100 km) away. Eventually 200 firefighters arrived, from as far away as Los Angeles. Fires resulting from the cataclysmic events were still burning a week after the disaster, and the process of body recovery took nearly a month. All four fire engines of Texas City were twisted and burned hulks.  It is said that one positive result of the Texas City disaster was widespread disaster response planning to help organize plant, local, and regional responses to emergencies.

Hundreds of lawsuits were filed as a result of the disaster.  The disaster triggered the first ever class action lawsuit against the United States government, under the then-recently enacted Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), on behalf of 8,485 victims.

 





Early Forecast Says Below-Average Hurricane Season

8 04 2016

The 2016 Hurricane Season will soon be here.  Everybody should begin preparing for the annual season which begins on June 1st.  Fort Bend County’s Office of Emergency Management completes approximately 40 preparedness tasks during the Spring to get adequately prepared for the Hurricane Season.  Updating the County’s Traffic Management Plan is a priority.  The Traffic Management Plan guides evacuations through Fort Bend County when our neighbors in Galveston County and Brazoria County need to evacuate.  Even though Fort Bend County citizens do not generally need to evacuate because of a hurricane, but it is critical that our jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies have a plan to keep our evacuation routes open and clear during a large-scale exodus from counties near the coast.

I have copied a recent article from Emergency Management magazine (March 22, 2016).  The article was written by Kimberly Miller from The Palm Beach Post in Florida.  The crux of the article is that a well-known hurricane prediction expert is indicating that hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean may be lessened in 2016 because of cold water.  This is an early prediction; more predictions will be coming out from experts in the coming weeks.  But, don’t let the hint of a “timid” forecast make you procrastinate about taking preparedness actions.  In 1992, there were only seven named storms, but one of them was Hurricane Andrew which, at the time, was the most destructive hurricane to hit the United States.  Even a much smaller hurricane will severely disrupt the lives of our community; so please use this Spring to prepare for the 2016 Hurricane Season.

hurricane

Article from Kimberly Miller:

A below-average hurricane season this year? Floridians will take that, even if it is just an early prediction.

Phil Klotzbach, a leading hurricane expert, made that prediction Monday, based partly on the fact that frigid waters flowing out of the North Atlantic Ocean may limit activity as warm seas that feed energy to storms cool.

“The far north Atlantic is one of the few really cold areas on the globe right now, and those cold anomalies are bleeding down toward the west coast of Africa,” said Klotzbach, a researcher with Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science. “From there, they alter pressure patterns, winds and churn up the sea surface making the Atlantic not as conducive for a super active season.”

Klotzbach, who made his prediction Monday at the week-long National Hurricane Conference in Orlando, won’t deliver his official storm forecast until April.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is also weeks away from releasing its official 2016 hurricane forecast, but meteorologists have been buzzing about whether the end of El Nino will leave the U.S. more vulnerable to storms.

El Nino, a global weather phenomenon that begins with a periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean, is characterized by strong westerly winds that cut down Atlantic storms.

The 2015-2016 El Nino, one of the strongest on record, is expected to weaken by summer.

But like a pendulum, the mighty trade winds that take a backseat during El Nino, can roar back, awakening La Nina – a more accommodating hurricane host.

The most recent forecast by the Climate Prediction Center says there is a 50 percent chance La Nina will arrive by September. Hurricane season runs June through November.

“The higher the chances of La Nina, the higher the chances for a bigger than usual hurricane season,” said Bob Henson, a meteorologist and blogger for Weather Underground, in an interview earlier this month. “You have less wind shear and more favorable conditions for showers and thunderstorms to develop into hurricanes.”

But Klotzbach stressed Monday that the atmosphere doesn’t always react immediately to change, meaning an El Nino hangover may linger to help thwart storms. Also, other factors, such as an area of low pressure he says has been a predominant factor over the East Coast have acted against storms. Low pressure turns in a counter-clockwise direction, pushing hurricanes away from the U.S. coast and to the north.

“I think the best example of this was 2010 when there were 12 hurricanes in the Atlantic and not one hit the U.S.,” Klotzbach said. “We were extraordinarily lucky that year.”

In fact, while Klotzbach looks at decades worth of data to see what patterns produce weak or active hurricane seasons, he said sometimes a hurricane miss is just providence.

The U.S. has not been hit by a major hurricane – Category 3 or higher – in 10 years. Florida’s last hurricane was 2005’s Wilma.

“There has been a significant luck component,” he said. “There have been 27 major hurricanes in a row with none hitting the U.S. The odds of that are one in several thousand.”

Klotzbach is lead author on the annual hurricane forecasts by Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project. He took over the task in 2006 from noted hurricane researcher William Gray.

Last year, the duo’s April hurricane forecast said there would be seven named storms, three hurricanes and one major hurricane. The season ended in November with 11 named storms, four hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

“2016 will be a good test since we won’t have El Nino,” said Klotzbach, who believes the Atlantic may have entered a climatic pattern of fewer hurricanes. “It would definitely increase confidence that we are moving out of an active time for storms.”

Klotzbach is among dozens of weather and emergency management experts speaking at this year’s National Hurricane Conference. About 1,500 people are registered for the week-long event.





Unified Vision, Proactive Thinking Driving Fort Bend Prosperity

1 04 2016

The article below was published in The Katy Rancher on Tuesday, March 15, 2016.  The article was written by Landan Kuhlmann.

 

Fort Bend County SealFort Bend County has become a symbol of economic and demographic growth, not only in Texas but nationally, as the fourth-fastest growing county in the nation, with several factors contributing the boom.

Fort Bend Economic Development Council President and CEO Jeff Wiley believes that quality growth is the most important driver of economic prosperity available to a community. He credits the cooperation between Fort Bend and the entities within it as well as a unified vision for economic growth for enabling the county to not only achieve, but maintain, such growth.

“These common core beliefs, the continued public and private sector leadership and the results themselves instill trust by the community and cooperation by leaders to achieve more together than by themselves,” he said.

The old phrase “numbers don’t lie” certainly holds true in this aspect, as Fort Bend County has become a regional leader in virtually every aspect of demographic and economic excellence tracked at the highest level for several decades.

The Houston-Woodlands-Sugar Land region of the county is 11th fastest-growing metro area in the US, while Fort Bend County itself grew by more than 3.8 percent in 2013-2014 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown topped Forbes’ list of America’s fastest-growing cities.

Wiley did note that growth of any type brings its own set of potential obstacles. For example, he mentioned that residential and population growth means increased responsibilities–every type of service provided must expand in accordance with housing and population growth.

“In many cases, the cost of servicing this growth exceeds the service revenues and property taxes generated by the growth,” he said.

On the other hand, Wiley said growth of businesses in a community generates property taxes which exceed service costs, thereby helping support the costs of providing the aforementioned services and providing other benefits.

“Commercial growth also provides primary jobs to a community, allowing residents to find employment opportunities,” he said. “Keeping and growing jobs is the second vital component of a successful economic development formula,” he said.

Several Fort Bend cities appear on lists here too, with Sugar Land rated as the top place to find a job in 2014 according to Money Magazine and Katy garnering the distinction as the fourth-best city in Texas to start a business.

Setting the conditions which attract such business growth is equally important according to Wiley.

“Low taxes, low burdens of entry, quality schools, educated and skilled workforce, and in some cases, business incentives are all parts of the toolbox in efforts to draw businesses to a community,” he said. “This is not a secret, but delivery of these building blocks to success are often difficult to accomplish.”

Wiley also praised the county’s economic development leadership, whether it be housed in elected or appointed positions, city staff or public and private partnerships.

“We understand the critical nature of setting the conditions for growth and work to improve them every day,” he said.

Numerous highway projects such has the US 90, Highway 59 and Grand Parkway expansions have enabled the county to keep pace with its aforementioned booming growth. Wiley says transportation and mobility are important not only to connect Fort Bend to Houston, but to connect the communities within the county lines as well.

Another reason Fort Bend has maintained its quality economic growth according to Wiley is county officials’ forethought in attempts to head off or prepare for any potential crisis before it even arises.

“Whether transportation, education, water, or sewer drainage, Fort Bend works to develop infrastructure in advance of critical stages,” Wiley said. “To do anything different would compromise quality of life for the community.”

A full list of Fort Bend County’s economic and demographic recognitions can be found at fortbendcounty.com by clicking under the “News” tab and clicking “Accolades.”





Needville Fire Department Dedicates New Rescue Truck

25 03 2016

Recent article from the Fort Bend Herald, published on March 5, 2016:

 

Fire Chief Keith Thumann and members of the Needville Fire Department received the department’s newest fire rescue vehicle on Friday, March 4, during a dedication ceremony at the Fire Department’s Station No. 1 on Richmond Street.

The fire/rescue truck will replace several apparatus the department has phased out over the last three years with the proceeds of those sales helping to make it possible to purchase the new rescue truck. The new Rescue 71 will respond to emergencies in all areas of the NFD service area, approx. 172 square miles, as needed. The last time the volunteer department purchased a new fire truck was in 2007.

“In Needville, we are extremely fortunate to have such a dedicated group of firefighters who have taken the oath to enter harm’s way in order to keep our community safe,” said Chief Keith Thumann.

“It is only deserving then that these brave men and women who volunteer have access to the safest, most reliable, and most advanced fire fighting equipment that’s available. When an emergency strikes, it is essential that our firefighters can act with precision and this state of the art rescue truck is a tool to help with doing just that.”

“Our Needville firefighters do an excellent job in fighting fires but we are also recognized for providing medical response for our citizens,” said Assistant Chief Craig Radar.

Needville firefighters gather around their new rescue truck

Needville firefighters gather around their new rescue truck

“This new rescue truck will help them arrive with first responder tools to begin basic medical needs,” added Radar. Needville Fire Department was recently recognized by Fort Bend County Emergency Medical Services as a First Responder Organization.

Only organizations who have maintained current medical training with EMT level response qualify. The fire department is a non-profit organization whose board members worked for several years to save funds needed to buy a custom made apparatus to meet the diverse needs in the department’s service area.

“We want to thank our supporters for donating at various events, fundraisers, BBQ sales, and private donations to help make this day happen”, said Assistant Chief and Treasurer Michael Richter.

In recent weeks, the NFD service area (a major portion of southeast Fort Bend County) has experienced several residential and grass fires, and major motor vehicle accidents. The weather is still a major factor in both situations. The dryer conditions and high winds can make it easier for a simple brush fire to get out of control.
And with more traffic on the roads through the Needville service area slick road conditions and fog have played a contributing factor in the severity of the accidents the department has had to respond to., he said.

“The Needville Fire Department wants to once again remind residents to be vigilant this spring and summer season—a time that traditionally sees a spike in fire and medical calls to our department,” added Chief Thumann.

For additional details on the new fire truck contact Fire Chief Keith Thumann at 832-474-0143 or PIO Dwayne “Sparky” Anderson at 979-793-4262.





Katy Hire New Fire Chief

21 03 2016

Article by Dennis Spellman, published on March 16, 2016 in Covering Katy:

 

City of Katy LogoRussell Wilson was named City of Katy fire chief by the city council earlier this week. Wilson currently serves as an assistant fire chief with the City of Irving. He will start his new post on May 2.

Wilson holds a Master of Science in Fire and Emergency Management Administration and has been in the fire service industry for 27 years. He is certified through the Texas Commission on Fire Protection as a master firefighter, fire instructor master, hazardous materials response technician and field examiner. Wilson is also a graduate of the Fire Service Chief Executive Officer Program through the business school at Texas A&M University.

The hiring of Katy’s new fire chief concludes what was a 5 month selection process.

Wilson will take over for interim Fire Chief Rufus Summers, who has lead the department for more than two years. During his time at the helm he led the restructuring of the fire department.

The Katy Fire Department began with a group of volunteers in 1947. According to the City of Katy website, 14 men met in a schoolroom and established the city’s fire protection service. The department’s equipment consisted of an Army surplus crash truck purchased from Ellington Field with money donated by the residents of Katy. The Katy Volunteer Fire Department gradually increased in size as the city grew and developed.

Today, the department has grown from an all-volunteer department to a professional department with paid personnel. Still, the department encourages volunteerism, according to the city’s website.

In addition to providing fire and emergency medical services, the department also oversees the city’s Office of Emergency Management, which handles natural and manmade disasters.