Health Blog

Severe Weather Warning for NJ - Know How to Prevent Unintentional Poisoning

Friday, October 2, 2015

(Newark, NJ) October 2, 2015 As severe weather is expected for New Jersey, the NJ Poison Experts call your attention to the possible health risks that may develop during and after such conditions. During Super Storm Sandy we learned a great deal about the increased risk for unintentional poisoning/exposure.
“Families need to start thinking about their “emergency” plan in the event Joaquin becomes a reality for New Jersey,” said Steven Marcus, MD, executive and medical director of the NJ Poison Center. “Knowing what the risks are and having a plan in place makes all the difference.”
The NJ Poison Center strongly encourages all residents to program the Poison Help Line (800-222-1222) into all phones (home, cell, and office) in preparation for what may be to come in the next few days and for future events. Poison experts are available 24/7/365. Call 800-222-1222, chat, or text; the hearing impaired may also use their TTY and call 973-926-8008.

Keep cell phones charged as much as possible. If power is lost it may be lost for an extensive period of time and your cell phone may become your lifeline! You might want to be sure you have the appropriate charger to use in your car should you house’s power fail and you have access to a car.
Through education, the NJ Poison Experts hope to build awareness that although unintentional poisoning can cause serious injury and even death, they are preventable. Keep these key safety tips in mind while preparing for Hurricane Joaquin or any other weather-related event. What you learn today may potentially save your life or the life of a loved one.
·         Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by having your heating system checked in case temperatures drop and you need to turn on the heat. Have a professional ensure that the system is working properly and there are no leaks and the system is venting properly.
o   Never heat your living area by using grills, camp stoves, or other gasoline, kerosene, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement, garage, carport, camper, boat cabin, or tent – or even outside near an open window or door.
·         Check detectors (fire and carbon monoxide) to be sure they are working. Change batteries if needed. If you don’t have these, install them immediately.
o   If your CO detector sounds, leave immediately and call the fire department and/or utility company.
o   For advice or questions, call the NJ Poison Experts at 1-800-222-1222. Do not waste time looking up information on the Internet.
·         Buy fire extinguishers and make sure your family knows where they are and how to use them.
·         Prepare an emergency “go bag” for your family. Include items essential for survival such as non-perishable food, clean drinking water, extra clothing, first aid supplies, medications, pet supply items, personal hygiene products, infant supplies, blankets, radio, flashlight, batteries, etc.
o   Be sure to have an extra supply of prescription medications (at least a 7 day supply) for everyone in your family including pets.
§  Check expiration dates of medications just like you would check your fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors – every time you change the clock ahead or back for daylight savings time.
§  If you are pregnant, make sure to include your prenatal vitamins.
§  Always read medication labels before taking or giving mediations to family members including pets. Use flashlights during a power outage.
o   It’s best to have a battery operated radio and flashlights. Don’t forget to pack extra batteries for both.
·         Prepare a family and pet emergency plan including an evacuation route. Practice routinely with your family.
o   Keep important family, house, pet, and medical documents in water and fire-proof containers.
o   Show family members how to turn off water, gas and electricity at main switches in your home.
o   Put an emergency car kit in your trunk in case you are instructed to evacuate.
·         Learn about your community, workplace, and children’s school emergency plans, warning signals, and evacuation routes.
o   Enroll in their electronic emergency alert system to receive notifications.
o   Find out the location of emergency shelters. Inform local authorities about anyone with special needs/disability.
o   Staying informed. Check all types of media – websites, newspapers, radio, TV– for global, national and local information. It’s important to have not only updated information but reliable information.
·         With the threat of power outages, it is important to be careful about food stored in refrigerators and freezers. Food-borne illness, also known as food poisoning, results from the eating of food that is contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses or other foreign material. Contamination is caused by improper food handling and preparation practices. The symptoms of food-borne illness are flu-like and may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and fever.
o   Make the temperature colder than usual on both freezers and refrigerators. This will prolong the cold after a power outage.
o   Place a refrigerator thermometer in the center of the middle shelf and check the temperature. If it has risen to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, discard any potentially spoiled foods. Such foods include meat, poultry, fish, dairy and egg products, soft cheese, cooked beans, cooked rice, cooked potatoes, cooked pasta, potato salad, custard and pudding.
o   Fill freezers to capacity, but remember to leave room in refrigerators to allow the air to circulate.
o   Keep both refrigerator and freezer doors closed; open sparingly.
o   When power is restored, allow time for the refrigerator to reach below 40 degrees Fahrenheit before restocking.
o   If it looks funny, smells funny or if you are just unsure, "When in doubt, throw it out!"

·         Do not bring generators, pressure washers, or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement, garage, carport, camper, boat cabin, or tent – or even outside near an open window or door.
o   Only use generators outside, at least 25 feet from both your and your neighbor’s home, doors, or windows.
o   DO NOT idle a car in a closed garage. Once you pull in, immediately turn off the engine.
·         Floodwater can contain infectious organisms and toxins. Do not eat or drink anything that has been contaminated with floodwater.
o   Handwashing is an easy, effective way to prevent the spread of germs. Soap and clean water is all you need to reduce the number of germs on hands.
o   Do not drink well water until it is tested and found safe of contamination from germs or toxins. Wells may become contaminated during a flood.
o   Reduce the amount of water used by limiting toilet flushing, dishwashing, washing clothes, and showering.
·         Use clean (uncontaminated) water (bottled or boiled) to wash, prepare, or cook food, brush your teeth, wash dishes, prepare baby formula, make ice, wash hands, and bathe with.
o   Make sure to have an adequate supply of water available for washing and drinking.
o   Boil-water for at least 1 minute. Allow the water to cool before using.

Help is Just a Phone Call Away!

If someone is unconscious, not breathing, seizing/convulsing, bleeding profusely, difficult to arouse/wake up, etc., call 911 immediately, otherwise call the NJ Poison Experts at (1-800-222-1222).

Don’t waste valuable time looking up information on the Internet when every minute counts. Remember, you may not have Internet access during a power outage so it’s important to store our number now in your phones. Having a poison expert give you exact instructions for your specific situation can help significantly during those critical first few minutes,” said Marcus. 

We are social. Join us on Facebook ( and Twitter (@NJPoisonCenter) for breaking news, safety tips, trivia questions, etc. Stay tuned for more poison prevention week safety information.

Real People. Real Answers.

Steven Marcus, MD, Executive and Medical Director
Bruce Ruck, Pharm.D., Director, Drug Information and Professional Education
New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES)

Food Safety for Older Adults

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Food Safety for Older Adults

Baby Boomers and Food Safety
Adults 65 and older are at a higher risk for hospitalization and death from foodborne illness.  For example, older adults residing in nursing homes are ten times more likely to die from bacterial gastroenteritis than the general population.   As data shows, food safety is particularly important for adults 65 and older.
This increased risk of foodborne illness is because our organs and body systems go through changes as we age. These changes include:
  • The gastrointestinal tract holds on to food for a longer period of time, allowing bacteria to grow.
  • The liver and kidneys may not properly rid our bodies of foreign bacteria and toxins.
  • The stomach may not produce enough acid.  The acidity helps to reduce the number of bacteria in our intestinal tract.  Without proper amounts of acid, there is an increased risk of bacterial growth.
  • Underlying chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cancer, may also increase a person’s risk of foodborne illness.

What You Can Do

Learn about safety tips for those at increased risk of foodborne illness. Older adults should always follow the four steps:
Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often
Separate: Separate raw meat and poultry from ready-to-eat foods
Cook: Cook food to the right temperatures
Chill: Chill raw meat and poultry as well as cooked leftovers promptly (within 2 hours)
If you or someone you care for receives prepared meals, visit our home delivered meals page  for information on how to keep these safe.

More Information

Food Safety for Older Adults Brochure (FDA)
A need-to-know guide for those 65 years of age and older.
Seniors Need Wisdom on Food Safety (USDA)
Seniors become more at-risk for foodborne illness and, once ill, it can take them longer to recover.


Don't Wait, Communicate!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

According to FEMA National Personal Preparedness Survey, 53% of Americans receive preparedness information by talking with neighbors, friends, or, family. Are you one of them? Start talking to those around you about emergency preparedness today. Meet your neighbors, and talk about who will need and how you can provide aid during an emergency. Don't wait for an event to occur to introduce yourself.

When a disaster strikes, people are forced to communicate due to necessity. To build a stronger, more connected community, start reaching out and making those connections now. Start small. Meet your neighbors. Get involved in your community. Build that connection. You never know when you might need a helping hand or when you may find yourself in the role of a first responder.
Visit Be Ready

Beat the Heat This Summer

Friday, July 31, 2015

When you’re outdoors in hot weather, stay cool, stay hydrated and stay informed. Rest often in shady areas. Cut down on exercise and other hard tasks. Replenish yourself with plenty of cool, non-alcoholic fluids every hour. If you have a medical condition, be sure to check with your doctor about how much water to drink. Wear light clothing and protect yourself from the sun with a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.

Sunburn and Excessive Heat

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sunburn can slow the skin's ability to release excess heat. During this period of excessive heat, don't forget your sunscreen and avoid repeated sun exposure.

If you have a sunburn, apply cold compresses or immerse the sunburned area in cool water. You can also apply moisturizing lotion to affected areas. It is not recommended to use salve, butter, or ointment. You do not want to break any blisters that may form.

Keep your body temperature cool to avoid heat-related illness:
  •   Stay in air-conditions buildings as much as possible.
  •   Find an air-conditioned shelter or cooling station.
  •   Do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device.
  •   Avoid direct sunlight.
  •   Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  •   Take cool showers or baths.
  •   Check on older neighbors twice a day.
Because your body loses fluids through sweat, you can become dehydrated during times of extreme heat.
  •    Drink more water than usual.
  •    Don't wait until your are thirsty to drink more fluids.
  •    Drink from tow to four cups of water every hour wile working or exercising outside.
  •    Avoid alcohol or liquids containing high amounts of sugar.
  •    Remind others to drink enough water.

Learn the symptom of heat-related illnesses:

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015

Food Safety for Summer Grilling

Monday, July 13, 2015

Calling all grill masters! With summer in full swing, you’re probably looking forward to enjoying many   BBQs with friends and family.
But remember, grilling outdoors can sometimes lead to unwanted food poisoning.
This year, one in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning (also known as foodborne illness). Food poisoning can affect anyone who eats food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, or other substances. Some groups of people – such as older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems – have a higher risk of getting sick from contaminated food.  And if they do get sick, the effects of food poisoning are a lot more serious.
Join us this summer in practicing food safety by “Grilling Like A Pro” using a food thermometer. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is reminding us all that we can’t see bacteria on our burgers, hotdogs, and other meats and poultry; checking the internal temperature is the best way to ensure protection.
So what does it mean to grill like a PRO? Read on to learn three easy steps for safe summer sizzling:
P—Place the Thermometer!
Think your food is ready? Make sure by checking the internal temperature. Find the thickest part of the meat (usually about 1.5 to 2 inches deep), and insert the thermometer. If you’re cooking a thinner piece of meat, like chicken breasts or hamburger patties, insert the thermometer from the side.  Make sure that the probe reaches the center of the meat.
R—Read the Temperature!
Wait about 10 to 20 seconds for an accurate temperature reading.  Use the following safe internal temperature guidelines for your meat and poultry.
  • Beef, Pork, Lamb, & Veal (steaks, roasts, and chops): 145 °F with a 3-minute rest time
  • Ground meats: 160 °F
  • Whole poultry, poultry breasts, & ground poultry: 165 °F
O—Off the Grill!

Once the meat and poultry reach their safe minimum internal temperatures, take the food off the grill and place it on a clean platter.  Don’t put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry.  Also remember to clean your food thermometer probe with hot, soapy water or disposable wipes.

Caution: Portugese man-of-wars at the Jersey Shore

Monday, July 6, 2015

Portuguese man-of-wars at the Jersey Shore

Steven Marcus, MD, Executive and Medical Director,
Bruce Ruck, Pharm.D., Director, Drug Information and Professional Education
New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES)

(Newark, NJ) – July 1, 2015 —Recent sightings of Portuguese man of wars (a jellyfish like creature) on the beaches of the Jersey Shore has raised both interest and fear among beachgoers especially now as the summer season has begun. The good news…the NJ Poison Experts are prepared to help anyone who may have questions or has been injured by this creature. Poison center experts are encouraging the public to stay away from these creatures as much as possible. If you see any in the water, swim away from them and have a professional remove any found on the beach. 

“We encourage the public to report all exposures to us at the NJ Poison Center (800-222-222),” said Steven Marcus, MD, executive and medical director of the NJ Poison Center. “Our experts are available 24/7/365 to give advice on how to handle such exposures. Do not follow the suggestions given by friends, relatives or found on the internet. Call the poison center for help. Remember, we are just a phone call away!” 

What is a Portuguese man of war? The scientific name is physalia physali. Commonly referred to as a jellyfish, it is not quite that at all. This creature is really a group of animals working together as a colony to survive in the watery environment. These creatures can be found floating in warm waters around the world.  They often appear in large numbers at the same time, raising the risks of exposure for the swimmer and beachgoer alike.

Are they dangerous? Man-of-wars tend to float on the water’s surface making them a potential hazard to anyone in the water (swimmers, surfers, boogie boarders, children frolicking, pets, etc.), especially if they appear in large numbers. These jellyfish like creatures have extremely long tentacles attached to a balloon-like float. Located on their tentacles are mechanisms (nematocysts) that will deliver a painful sting if they should come in contact with human skin. Unfortunately, their tentacles tend to wrap around the victim’s body or extremities resulting in numerous “stings.”  Although man-of-war stings are very painful, they rarely fatal.

Where are they? There are reports of swarms of man-of-wars occurring in many regions, including along the Jersey Shore.  

What are the symptoms if stung?  Man-of-wars are known to deliver very painful stings, potentially making it difficult for a swimmer to swim back to shore. Deaths have been reported from drowning.

Stings often times leave dark, colored track marks along the skin where the tentacle made contact on the body.  The pain produced by the sting can become severe at times, lasting for several hours. Those injured may also experience itching, swelling, tingling and numbness, burning or prickling sensation, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever, loss of consciousness, muscle and joint problems, difficulty breathing, heart problems, weakness and dizziness, etc.  This experience is extremely painful, but rarely fatal.  There may be scarring left on the skin of the affected area. 

What to do if you encounter a Portuguese man-of-war? As with other stinging animals, the best way to stay safe is to avoid contact. Always be aware to the possible presence of these creatures in the water. If you should see any, stay as far away as you can or get out of the water.  Remember, only the balloon-like float is seen above the water level.  The stinging tentacles trail behind for a considerable distance, often over a yard or more. Since it may be difficult to tell which is the front or back, give these creatures their due respect and stay well away from them!

Keep in mind that no one should ever handle a “live” or “dead” specimen. There are many reports of stings occurring from contact with man-of-wars that have washed up onto the shoreline. Even after being on the beach for days, they retain their stinging capability. Their tentacles and the nematocysts may still release toxins even after several days of being out of the water.

If stung, wash the affected area with sea water (salt water) and then remove the tentacle(s) using a stick or other object. Do not use fresh water, vinegar, or urine since such efforts have been shown not to help and can potentially make things worse.  Do not touch the tentacle(s) with your bare skin (hand, finger, etc.).  If stinging occurs, it is probably best to seek medical care immediately. If the pain is severe and/or the tentacles cannot be seen/removed with ease, seek medical attention right away. 

If you or a loved one should be stung by a Portuguese man-of-war or any other kind of creature, it’s good to know help is just a phone call away. Program the Poison Help number (800-222-1222) into your cell phones and contact us immediately for help. Every minute counts in poisoning situations so do not take chances by either waiting until symptoms occur or waste valuable time looking up information on the Internet.  If someone is unconscious, not breathing, seizing/convulsing, bleeding profusely, difficult to arouse/wake up, etc. call 911 immediately, otherwise call us (NJ Poison Experts) at 800-222-1222.

Many of the calls the poison center gets are genuine emergencies. Having a poison expert give you exact instructions for your specific situation can help significantly during those critical first few minutes. A quick response by both the caller and the poison center expert can make a difference in preventing serious injury and saving lives

Help is Just a Phone Call Away!

We are social. Join us on Facebook ( and Twitter (@NJPoisonCenter) for breaking news, safety tips, trivia questions, etc. Stay tuned for more poison prevention week safety information.

Real People. Real Answers.

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