preparing for natural disasters

Having a Disaster Plan Is Important When You Have Arthritis

Fires, floods, hurricanes, snowstorms, tornadoes – even just a power outage can result in a difficult, if not disastrous, situation if you aren’t prepared. In some cases, you can leave before it hits, but whether you stay or go, you should be ready, especially if your mobility is limited or you have special needs.

Having a plan also can reduce anxiety, which could trigger a flare if you have an autoimmune condition, like rheumatoid arthritis, leaving you vulnerable to injury and infection. “High stress levels make rheumatic conditions worse; having an established emergency plan can only reduce stress,” says Jennifer Hootman, PhD, an epidemiologist in the Arthritis Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The aftermath of a disaster also can be particularly dangerous for people who have arthritis, says registered nurse Victoria Ruffing, director of nursing and patient education at the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, in Baltimore.

“Contaminated water, debris and other post-[disaster] conditions mean environments are ripe for infection and injury,” she says. “If [people] pick up a bacterial or viral infection or have a wound that’s not healing well, they should seek medical care as soon as possible. This will probably mean going to an emergency department, but they should not put off seeking care – in disaster conditions medical problems can get worse very quickly.”

Take These Steps in Advance

If you have time to prepare, as with a hurricane, do so well in advance. Even if you don’t have much time to react, many of these steps can help you get through a disaster safely.

  • Let family and friends know your plan – including your likely route and destination if you evacuate.
  • Make sure someone who knows your medical needs has an extra key to your home and knows where your emergency supplies are.
  • Wear your medical alert tag or bracelet.
  • Get prescriptions refilled and ask your doctor or pharmacist how you can get care and meds if you can’t reach them.
  • Turn your refrigerator and freezer on the coldest settings possible without freezing your medications, so they and food will stay cold longer.
  • Prepare a waterproof cooler or insulated bag for medications that need refrigeration. Keep autoinjectors and medication syringes that don’t need refrigeration away from direct light and intense heat.
  • If your refrigerated medication has been at room temperature for more than 24 hours, don’t use it. Exceptions are adalimumab (Humira) and etanercept (Enbrel); they are good up to 14 days without refrigeration as long as they have been at 77 degrees F or cooler.
  • If your mobility is limited or you have special needs, register with your local emergency management.

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