Flu Facts: Protect Yourself this Flu Season

It’s all over the news: this year’s flu season is a big one, the most aggressive in more than 13 years.  Dr. Dan Jernigan, Director of the Influenza Division in the CDC’s national center, shared, “It has been a tough flu season so far this year. And while flu activity is beginning to go down in parts of the country, it remains high for most the U.S., with some areas still rising.”   Therefore, it is still very important to stay vigilant and take precautions to protect yourself and your family from catching the flu.

Most people who get the flu, will experience a variety of symptoms including fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches, and fatigue.  Most people will recover following only a brief period of discomfort, however the very young, the elderly and the immune compromised are at high risk for more severe symptoms including death.  Interestingly, this year’s flu is also affecting the baby boomer crowd particularly hard, ages 50-65.

How Does Flu Spread?

The CDC website states, “People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.”   If you are sick, it is best to stay home to avoid spreading the flu to others.

The flu virus is not a very strong virus outside of the body and does not live on surfaces for very long.  It does live longest on hard surfaces, up to 24 hours.  WebMD, states that the flu virus lives only minutes on soft surfaces such as towels and pillow cases, but it is still best not to share.  Cleaning products that contain bleach, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and detergents (soap) can kill the flu virus.  Periodic wiping of hard surfaces can help reduce spread from surface contact, however the CDC shares that flu spread from hard surfaces is less common than airborne, droplet spread.

How Long Am I Contagious?

You may be contagious even before you know you are sick.  According to the CDC, “You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.”

Stay home if your symptoms are severe or you have a fever as you are likely still contagious.  The CDC recommends being fever free for 24 hours before returning to work or school.   Avoid exposing high risk people to the flu and stop the spread by observing these guidelines.

How I Can I Avoid the Flu?

  1.  Get a Flu Shot.  This years flu strain is one of the toughest (H3N2).  “When flu vaccines are well matched to circulating viruses, effectiveness is, at best, about 60 percent,” states the Washington Post.  This years vaccine is not well matched and the flu shot doesn’t work as well against the current strain dominating the US with only about a 10% effectiveness rate.  That being said, there is still an upside to getting the shot, with a reduced risk of getting the flu from other circulating strains. It is also not too late to get a shot as there are several weeks to go before this flu season ends.
  2. Avoid Sick People (Crowds).  You can’t get the flu if you are not exposed to the virus.  Do your best to avoid people who are showing cold or flu symptoms.  Crowds, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and schools offer increased opportunities for exposure.  If you are sick, do everyone a favor and stay home!
  3. Wash Your Hands…A Lot.  Wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.  Alcohol based hand sanitizers are also effective and great to put in your child’s back pack!
  4. Keep Your Hands Away From Your Face!  Your nose, eyes and mouth are the gateways for the flu to enter your body.
  5. Wear a Mask.  A surgical mask can reduce the exposure to droplet spread.
  6.  Wipe Down Hard Surfaces.  Although not a primary infection route, touching hard surfaces contaminated with flu virus and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes, can be a way to catch the flu.  Periodic wiping of commonly touched, shared surfaces, like door knobs, light switches, stair railings, faucets, etc. may help reduce your risk.
  7.  Stock Up on Hand Sanitzer.  In classrooms, offices, at home and elsewhere, easy access to alcohol based hand sanitizer can help control the spread of the flu.  There are even fun versions of this product available with glitter, perfume and color!  Kids might be more apt to use hand sanitizer if it is fun.  Check out Bath and Body Works to see their wide selection of minis.

What do I do if I Get the Flu?

Prompt treatment (within two days) with antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu are used to treat confirmed cases of the flu, particularly those at highest risk.   They can reduce symptom severity and decrease the amount of time the flu lasts.  These are prescription medicines that are different than antibiotics (which treat bacterial infections). Even if you have been vaccinated, if you develop severe flu symptoms or in a high risk group, you should see your doctor.

Taking care of yourself by staying hydrated and eating a well balanced diet can also help reduce the severity of symptoms.    Over the counter medications to treat your symptoms can help keep you more comfortable.  Consult your pharmacist or doctor for recommendations.

Mold Experts: Certified Mold Remediation Firm

Not all mold remediation companies are the same.  Helpers is an IICRC certified firm (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification).   The IICRC is responsible for setting international quality standards for restoration activities from carpet cleaning and water damage restoration to professional mold remediation.  These standards are based upon industry accepted best practices.

Helpers achieved certification by meeting rigorous requirements set by the IICRC.  Our technicians participate in ongoing, specialized training.  We are committed to provide our customers with exceptional services that meet the highest consumer protection standards set by the IICRC.   We don’t cut corners.

You can be confident that Helpers will restore your home or property to healthful living standards.  Look for the IICRC logo when selecting a disaster restoration company to insure you are getting the very best service and care for your property.   Only certified remediation firms can use the Clean Trust Certified logo.

The following is taken from the IICRC website and lists the requirements that Helpers is committed to:

IICRC Certified Firms have earned the right to display the IICRC logo as a symbol of quality. In order to achieve IICRC-certified status, firms must meet a rigorous list of standards in business ethics and expertise. All IICRC Certified Firms must:

  • Present accurate information to consumers and conduct business with honesty and integrity.
  • Require a technician on all jobs who has been formally trained and passed all required tests.
  • Require a continuing education program to keep technicians up-to-date on the latest changes in the industry.
  • Maintain liability insurance to protect all parties in the event of an accident.
  • Maintain a written complaint policy and agree to Better Business Bureau or similar arbitration to resolve disputes, and accept the conclusions and recommendations of arbitration.

Mold in Your Washing Machine? 5 Tips to Keep it Clean

Despite constantly being used for cleaning,  washing machines have all the necessary conditions for mold and bacteria growth: water and residue build up.  Have you noticed a musty smell in your washing machine or mold and mildew growing in your detergent dispensers?  You are not alone.

Follow these 5 prevention and maintenance tips to keep your washing machine and your laundry clean and healthy:

  1.  Washing With Hot Water.  Energy conscious homeowners are using more cold water to wash their laundry.  Mirroring this change in laundry habits, detergents are designed to be effective with cold water washing.   Using hot water can help kill bacteria and keep your washer from smelling musty.   Hot water use on highly bacteria prone items like musty towels, stinky socks or other odor laden materials can prevent bacteria from growing on the clothes and in your washer.  Hot water washing reduces detergent and fabric softener build up, a common source of odor and bacteria.  Running your machine periodically without any laundry with hot water and either vinegar, bleach or baking soda is a great cleaning option.  For best results, let the water sit in the machine for several minutes before you complete the washing cycle.
  2.  Wash Mold From Detergent and Fabric Softener Dispensers.  Build up of detergents and trapped dirt or lint combined with a moist environment are perfect conditions for fowl smelling mold growth.  In some machines, these come out really easily and can be soaked and scrubbed with either a bleach based cleaning solution or vinegar.   If you can’t remove them, simply clean them in place.  Avoid using too much detergent.  High efficiency washing machines require a lot less detergent and most homeowners are actually putting in too much leading to build up and odors.  Follow with Tip 1 for best results.
  3. Clean the Rubber Seal.  Most washing machines have a rubber sealing rim around the wash basin.  Periodically wipe this with a bleach based cleaner or cleaning wipe to remove residue build up.
  4. Use Washing Machine Specific Cleaning Products.  Many companies make detergents or pods that are specifically designed for cleaning your washing machines, particularly front loaders.    Found in the laundry product section, these can be used to help remove odors and bacteria.
  5. Don’t Let Wet Loads Sit.  I am a big culprit in our house for starting a load of laundry and then forgetting about it…for days.  If your laundry is starting to smell, it is a good idea to re-wash everything in hot water to help kill any bacteria.  If the washing machine is not cleaned following a bad smelling load…the smell will linger and spread to the next load and so on.    Follow your preferred washing machine cleaning procedures to get rid of that smell.

Ridding Your Home of the “Smoke” Odor After a Fire: Five Steps Your Remediation Company Should Take

Fire DamageIf you have ever experienced a fire in your home or business you know that putting the fire out is only the beginning of the recovery process.  After the fire department leaves, your property will be drenched with water from the fire fighting efforts and the smell of smoke will be evident in just about all of your property contents and spaces.  With proper remediation steps, it is possible to recover your home and get rid of any lingering smoke odor.

Clay Buerger, Project Supervisor, and Helpers’ fire remediation specialist, put together a list of the top five things our remediation company will do to help restore your property to its former condition and make sure the evidence of smoke related smells are removed.

 

Five Important Smoke Odor Fixes

1. Charred and/or smoke damaged, porous materials will be removed, including any charred building or structural materials.  These will be replaced in the reconstruction process. Heavily damaged and charred materials will continue to off-gas for extended periods, expelling odor and as a result can keep the smokey smell around.

2. Ducting, HVAC, and furnaces are professionally cleaned as smoke can easily enter these hidden areas. Fire pressurizes the property interior, forcing microscopic smoke particles into ducting and furnaces that will continue to recontaminate the home with smoke odor if not properly cleaned.

3. The entire property is HEPA vacuumed.  HEPA filtration equipped vacuums will lift and capture the microscopic smoke particles that can coat every surface within your home or business following a fire. These particles must be physically removed and HEPA vacuuming is an effective way to accomplish that.

4.  All smoke and fire damaged, fibrous, structural materials will be encapsulated.  Materials continue to release odors for long periods of time.  Sealing the structure with a specialized shellac product contains odors.

5.  The entire space will be treated with thermal fogging.   This helps to further eliminate odor.  This process involves thermal fogging with both a Masking and Pairing agent.  These environmentally safe chemicals, fill the smallest spaces found in building materials.  The pairing agent, will chemically alter the odor molecules. The masking agent adds a desired odor to the home, helping overcome the smell many fire loss victims are challenged with.

Trust Our Experience

Helpers’ has experience with successful smoke and fire remediation.  Our team is always sensitive to your unique situation and the impact that such as event can have on you and your family.  We work with you to make sure the process is as easy and efficient as possible, supporting you from start to finish and navigating the complicated insurance claim process.  If you have any questions about Helpers Fire Remediation services, please contact Clay at clay@helpers.solutions.

The Risks of Being an Uninsured Renter: You Could Lose it All

Did youmud sink by dark day know that if you rent a home or commercial space every item that you moved into that space is at risk for losses from fire, theft or flood, unless you purchase renters’ insurance?   That’s right…no matter the origin of the damage, your personal property is not covered under the property owner’s insurance.

We have seen first hand renters’ lose all of their property following a home fire because they did not purchase renters’ insurance.   One of our clients had significant smoke damage to her personal property after badly burning a turkey in her oven.  She was unable to afford the cost of replacing and repairing her damaged furnishings, and without renters’ insurance, she had no options but to swallow the loss.

Another client experienced a flood in their basement level rental.  Even though the flood came from a damaged water main, his personal items were still a total loss because he did not have insurance.  His landlord did have insurance..but this only protected the landlord’s property.

Another benefit of renters’ insurance is that should you be forced to temporarily move out of your home because of a significant event, often your insurance will cover the costs of moving you out and housing you while your home is repaired.  Coverage will also usually pay to clean, repair or replace your damaged property.

Some landlords make it mandatory that their tenants purchase insurance.  For as little as $10.00 to $30.00 a month, you can protect yourself from a catastrophic loss.  Don’t leave your property and piece of mind at risk.  Talk to your insurance agent today to find out more about renter’s insurance.

Disclaimer: Depending upon your personal needs and the terms of the coverage purchased the amount of coverage you are eligible for may vary. Helpers has no affiliation with any insurance broker, agent or carrier and does not profit in any manner from the provision of this advice.  We strongly advise you to contact a licensed insurance broker to learn more about the coverage options that are best for you.

Mold Removal with Dry Ice Blasting: Faster and Cleaner

Check out our newest mold remediation technique: Dry Ice Blasting.  The benefits of Dry Ice Blasting include:

  • Reduced cleaning time
  • Reduced labor requirements
  • No secondary waste
  • Chemical-free process
  • 99% mold spore removal on wood when IAQA standards followed
  • An environmentally responsible clean

5 Point Winter Checklist: Water Emergency Prevention

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Brrrr.  The temperature is starting to drop outside, with the first official frost of the season on its’ way.  Are you ready?  More importantly, is your home ready?

It is no coincidence that winter time is Helpers’ busiest time of the year for indoor flood calls.   Plummeting temperatures, lack of preparation or deferred maintenance can put your property at risk.

Check out this 5 Point Checklist to run through to help prepare your home for the winter:

Maintain Outdoor Plumbing Fixtures:  Outdoor hose spigots are a significant source of home water damange in the winter.  If you have an indoor shut off control make sure you turn this off and follow any instructions to drain lines before freezing temperatures arrive.  If you cannot turn spigots off internally, you can replace them with freeze and frost proof spigots or cover them with foam faucet covers to prevent freezing. This includes outdoor showers or dog washes (if you are lucky enough to have them).

Insulate Piping:  Any plumbing that is located in an unheated area of your home such as an attic, basement  crawl space or garage, as well as pipes that are located close to an exterior wall, are at greater risk for freezing.  Installing foam pipe insulation can help reduce freezing risk.

Kitchen plumbing located on an exterior wall can be warmed on really cold nights by opening the cabinet doors and letting additional heat in.    If you live in an older home or have areas of your home that have poor insulation, you can add foam or fiberglass insulation to hold in the heat.  Caulking and spray foam can be used in smaller spaces to keep the cold out.

Protect Your Home When You Are Away:  Planning on escaping the cold for a warmer destination?   Make sure your home will be safe while you are away.  Houselogic recommends setting your thermostat no lower than 55 degrees and turning off your main water supply. They also suggest draining your water lines by running water and flushing toilets.  If you have a heating system that relies on water or a fire suppression sprinkler system, consult a plumber before you take this step.

Clean Your Eaves-troughs:  Your eaves-troughs can clog with leaves and other debris creating dams for water.  These dams can freeze and expand which can not only damage the troughs themselves, but can also cause water to back up into your home.  If you have a low sun exposure area, you can add heat tape the length of a drain pipe, eave or in an area of the roof line to prevent ice build up.

Close Crawl Space Vents:  During the summer, moisture build-up in crawls spaces is prevented by opening vents located around the perimeter of the space.  Because winter months tend to be dryer, starting around October, these vents can be closed in the winter to reduce cold air entering your home.  Be sure to open them back up in the spring before moisture can begin to build up in the space.  Also, DO NOT close off any venting that is installed to vent furnaces or appliances!

 

Homeowner’s Can Choose Their Disaster Service Provider

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One of our biggest frustrations as a professional disaster remediation company, is when homeowner’s are given misleading information.  One of the biggest  misconceptions we see is when an adjuster or insurer tells a homeowner that they have to use certain remediation companies for their home repair.  We think it is important to preserve homeowner choice, and in this matter, Colorado law agrees with us.(House Bill 13-1062).

As a public representative, an insurance adjuster is obligated to serve the interests of their customer above all others.   An adjuster cannot direct a homeowner to any company they have a financial interest in, whether direct or indirect.    Adjusters are prohibited from activity that looks like a conflict of interest, such as referring clients to their preferred mitigation company if there is no objectivity behind the decision.

Recently, we heard of a competing company, who had responded to a weekend emergency call, made by the homeowner, being removed from the job when the homeowner’s insurance adjuster told them they needed to use a specific company.  The responding company left the job site, and the adjuster’s specified company took over.  What the homeowner did not know, is that Colorado law, prohibits this action if it is not in their best interest.   Even more unethical, is that this adjuster may have an indirect financial benefit from recommending the specified company, as their spouse is reported to be an employee of one of the specified company’s franchises.

In addition, delaying the homeowner’s repairs, by replacing an emergency response team could conceivably have led to more extensive damage.  Clearly, this was not in the home owner’s best interest and the adjuster lacks the necessary good faith protection of the homeowner.   Not to mention that the company that responded, lost a job they had been called to complete.

In some cases, the adjuster may believe one remediation company is superior to another, and may make a recommendation based upon this opinion.  They are obligated however, to be objective in this assessment.  If your insurance adjuster recommends a specific company for your repairs, know that you are not required to comply.   You may always choose who works at your home.  In fact, it might be worthwhile to ask the adjuster why they are directing you towards one company over another to make certain your best interests are being protected.

Does Your Insurance Cover Water Damage in Your Home: 5 Things You Should Know

Photo by L Church
Photo by L Church

Indoor plumbing is a modern convenience that first appeared in homes in the late 1800’s.  When everything goes right, it brings you your hot shower and fresh drinking water.   However, when things go wrong, such as a ruptured water line, failed hot water tank or overflowing toilet, water can wreak havoc in you home.

These unexpected events are more common than you may think and can be very costly to clean up and repair.  Fortunately, the majority of home owner’s insurance policies have coverage for sudden, accidental water events.   There are instances however, such as neglected maintenance or failure to fix a leak the first time you have water damage that can lead to a loss of coverage.  Check out these five important tips to make sure your water loss is covered.

Keep Your Homeowner’s or Renter’s Insurance Current:   Your home and your possessions likely represent one of your most significant investments and are where a majority of your wealth lies.   More often than you might guess, homeowners and renters find themselves without insurance coverage following a damaging water event.  Missing payments and letting policies lapse are common causes of lost coverage.

Make sure you have a plan in place to monitor your insurance coverage (eg. when premiums are due, when your policy is due for renewal, what your coverage is).

Don’t Defer General Home Maintenance:   Besides just making good sense, preventative maintenance may be effective enough to eliminate water events altogether.  Checking pipes for leaks, making sure plumbing fixtures are installed properly and monitoring the condition of your roof can be small steps to prevent much larger repair and replacement steps down the road.

Knowing the most common as well as the less known areas of maintenance are important.  “Most homeowners and business owners may not realize that they are responsible for the maintenance and repair of their house or sewer lateral – the pipeline between the city sanitary sewer main, usually located under the street, and the building”, sources at The Insurance Institute report.

Insurance coverage may not pay for the repair of damage caused by leaks that have been ongoing and not repaired.  It is important to repair any water damage or leaks as soon as possible after they occur, rather than allow several events to happen before making the repair.  Otherwise, you may end up paying the bill.

Make Sure You Have Coverage for Septic or Sewage Back Up:  Many policies may not include damage related to sewer back up.  Often, this type of coverage is a add-on to your policy at a relatively low cost of $40-$50 per year according to several insurance websites.  Sewer back ups are one of the more common water events our company sees throughout the year.

Report Water Damage as Soon as Possible:  When you discover water damage in your home, you should call your insurance company as soon as possible.  They will initiate a claim on your behalf and will often provide a local insurance adjuster to review and approve your claim.  Timely reporting will give you the best opportunity for coverage as well as expedite the restoration of repair of the damage to your home.

Team up With Your Mitigation Company:   Dealing with insurance companies can be time consuming and challenging.  Your professional mitigation company  will work directly with your insurance adjuster, on and off-site, to make sure you receive the full coverage you are entitled to.

Experienced technicians speak “insurance language” and are knowledgeable regarding industry standards for water mitigation services and repair.  They can assist you in understanding the entire claim’s process.  We recommend not accepting any insurance settlement offer for your property damage without first consulting a professional mitigation company to make sure that you and your insurance adjuster, fully understand the extent of damage and the likely cost of repairing your home back to pre-event condition.

 

5 Facts About Asbestos

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(by guest blogger: Michelle Whitmer)  Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that’s been used to fireproof and strengthen commercial and industrial products since the 1800s.  It prevents fire and makes products safer to use around heat.  Controversy around the use of asbestos arose from the discovery that it is a carcinogen-it has been linked to cancer and other diseases. Mesothelioma

Asbestos exposure has no immediate effect. Asbestos-related diseases develop many years after exposure. For example, it takes at least 10 years for asbestosis to develop and several decades for cancer to develop.   As a result of the toxic effects of asbestos, strict regulatory controls have been implemented to protect the public from it’s harmful effects.
The following facts explain more about the risks of exposure, how to avoid asbestos products and what can be done for people who get sick.
Asbestos Not Banned in the US
The U.S. government passed regulations targeted at asbestos in the 1970s and 1980s.  The Clean Air Act of 1970 gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power to regulate asbestos. It also effectively banned one of the most dangerous products: Spray-applied asbestos. The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 allowed the EPA to further regulate asbestos. In 1986, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act forced the EPA to design protocols to manage asbestos in schools.
More than 50 countries have banned asbestos but the U.S. is not one of them. The EPA attempted to enact a ban in 1989, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned it in 1991.  Asbestos remains in products, including auto brake pads and clutches, gaskets, roofing materials and other construction products, fireproof clothing and friction materials.
Asbestos is Primarily Used as Insulation
Asbestos was most commonly used as an insulating material to protect products from heat damage and prevent fire. Different types of asbestos insulation include:

• Loose-fill or attic
• Wall
• Spray-applied
• Block
• Pipe
• Cement
• Valve jackets
• Textiles
• Paper products

It is impossible to identify whether a product contains asbestos through visual inspection alone. Laboratory testing is required to confirm presence of asbestos, which takes days to process. For safety, it is highly recommended to treat these insulation products as if they contain asbestos until testing demonstrates that it does not.
If you encounter insulating materials at home or on the job, make sure they’re in good condition and don’t do anything to damage or disturb them. If the insulation looks damaged or is deteriorating, call a licensed asbestos abatement company or a certified building inspector to assess the situation.
Asbestos Was Widely Used by US Military
Every branch of the U.S. military, including the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy, used asbestos-containing materials (ACM).   The Air Force used asbestos insulation on planes. The Army used asbestos parts in armored vehicles. The Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps used asbestos to make ships and shipyards fireproof.   All branches used asbestos insulation throughout their buildings, barracks and housing communities.
Because asbestos exposure was so prevalent in the military, around 30 percent of mesothelioma lawsuits are filed by veterans.
 Occupational Exposure Posed Greatest Health Risk
People who work with asbestos regularly on the job are the ones who face the greatest health risk.  It generally takes years of repeated exposure to become at risk for developing an asbestos-related disease. However, minimal exposure, such as a heavy one-time exposure or just a few months of exposure, has caused disease in some people.
About 20% of people who work with asbestos develop a related disease. The vast majority do not experience negative effects from exposure and it is speculated that those who do may have genetic predisposition.
There is Currently No Cure for Asbestos-Related Diseases
Unfortunately, there are no cures for asbestos-related diseases. Life Expectancy Only early-stage lung cancer and ovarian cancer have a chance of being cured with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.  Sadly, only a handful of mesothelioma cases have entered long-term remission, but most cases are incurable. If diagnosed early, aggressive treatment helps people outlive the 1-year average life expectancy. Some people are living more than three and five years with combined treatment using surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy.
Asbestosis is a progressive lung disease that is incurable, but treatments are available to ease symptoms. Oxygen therapy alleviates shortness of breath, medication thins lung secretions and reduce pain, and respiratory therapy helps to keep the lungs clear.

Asbestos exposures should be taking seriously.  Although most people exposed to asbestos do not get sick, those who do face serious illness. Avoiding asbestos materials throughout a lifetime is essential to reducing your risk of developing a related disease. Take necessary precautions and complete necessary testing if you encounter or suspect materials contain asbestos.
Author bio: Michelle Whitmer has been a medical writer and editor for The Mesothelioma Center since 2008. Focused on the benefits of integrative medicine for cancer patients, Michelle is a certified yoga instructor, member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine and graduated from Rollins College in Florida.  Edited by Julie Warren.