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January 08 2021

Health Emergency Preparedness: What You Know Could Save Lives

Health emergencies can happen at any time. When responding to a health emergency, time is of the essence. But it is also crucial to have the proper knowledge to address the situation, either by providing treatment or preventing the problem from getting worse.
Despite the unpredictable nature of emergencies, it is possible to be prepared for them. Knowing what constitutes a health emergency, the different types, and what to do if one occurs can affect its outcome. For minor injuries or situations, they can be effectively treated or prevented from becoming worse. In major cases, knowledge and preparation can spell the difference between life and death.

What is a health emergency?

A health emergency is a sudden and unexpected medical condition with symptoms severe enough to put a person's life in danger or cause serious problems for bodily functions, organs, or specific body parts should they not be given immediate medical treatment. 
Different kinds of health emergencies require different types of responses. Below is a primer on common health emergencies, how to prepare for them, and the types of public health emergencies that can occur.



Kinds of Health Emergencies

While many possible health emergencies can occur, some are more common than others. Correctly identifying the kind of health emergency can help establish the first aid method and medical response needed to stabilize and treat the person injured.
  • Animal bites

Whether as pets or in the wild, animals will bite in response to aggression or if they feel threatened. Animal bites may not be very dangerous on their own, but the possibility of contracting rabies from the bite can make the situation worse.
Aside from treating the wound left by the bite, having a health professional diagnose the bite is key to avoiding rabies or other infections.
  • Bleeding

Bleeding is typically caused by cuts, wounds, and other lacerations in the skin. In the case of severe injury, internal bleeding can happen.
First aid treatment may be enough for minor injuries like light bleeding. However, emergency treatment is needed if the bleeding does not stop even after administering first aid, there is an object inside the wound, the wound looks deep, or bone or tissue is visible.
  • Breathing difficulties

There are several reasons why someone may experience breathing difficulties: physical activity, asthma attacks, allergic reactions, or the onset of cough or colds.
Symptoms include tightness in the chest or pain when taking breaths, feeling short of breath, breathing being shallower or faster than normal, and wheezing or gasping. Unexpected or sudden breathing difficulties can be a sign of a possible health emergency.
  • Burns

Burns happen when the skin is damaged due to exposure to scalding liquids or items, chemicals, electrical malfunctions, or even excessive exposure to the sun. Depending on the depth, size, and effect on the skin—ranging from redness to blisters and severe discoloration—burns can either be treated at home or require emergency medical treatment.
  • Cardiac arrest

Cardiac arrest occurs when there is an electrical malfunction due to an abnormal heart rhythm, causing it to stop beating unexpectedly. Possible cardiac arrest warning signs include chest pains, shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, chest discomfort, heart palpitations, and loss of consciousness.
If a person is experiencing some of these symptoms, it is critical to administer hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while waiting for emergency services to arrive for immediate medical treatment.
  • Fractures

Fractures occur when there is a break in the bone. Depending on the situation, this break may be internal or external and happen in multiple places on the bone.
When dealing with a suspected fracture, stabilize the area with a splint, elevate the extremity, and put a cold pack over the injury to reduce pain and swelling. Emergency services should be contacted, as the affected area will need to be X-rayed to assess the injury better.
  • Stroke

A stroke happens when the brain's blood supply is partially cut off, either due to a blood clot or bleeding on the brain. The critical time for detecting and treating a stroke is within 3 hours to 4.5 hours from the time of onset of first symptom, as early treatment can help mitigate lasting changes.
The main signs to watch out for are F-A-S-T or face, arms, speech, and time. Changes in the face (especially drooping), inability to keep both arms lifted, and slurred or changed speech patterns are all signs of someone suffering a stroke. Once any of these symptoms have been detected, emergency services should be contacted immediately.

Types of Public Health Emergencies

A public health emergency is an occurrence or a threat of an approaching event that may result in a large number of deaths, illnesses, or injuries in the affected community. It also covers events that may cause substantial harm to a large part of the population, both now and in the future. Examples of public health emergencies include:
  • Natural Disasters

Typhoons, floods, and earthquakes are natural disasters that can change the environment and living conditions of the affected population.
Typhoons and flooding not only pose the threat of drowning but can also contaminate the water supply and cut access to basic needs. Earthquakes are highly destructive, and falling debris can injure or kill people, as well as destroy homes and other essential establishments.
  • Biological Events

Biological events are caused by bacteria, viruses, or poisons that can spread through the air, by poisoning food and drinking water, or through person-to-person contact. Pandemics and outbreaks of diseases fall under biological events.
  • Man-made Disasters

Man-made disasters occur as a result of human actions, whether deliberate or accidental. Under this category are war, terrorist attacks using conventional or biochemical weapons, and nuclear accidents such as plant meltdowns.

How to Prepare for a Health Emergency

Emergency preparedness is essential for navigating a health emergency and avoiding or lessening its effects on one's life. The following are ways people can better prepare themselves for a health emergency:
  • Learn basic first aid

This is a valuable skill for responding to health emergencies. In severe cases, administering first aid can help stabilize the injured and keep them alive until they can receive medical treatment. There is a wealth of information both online and in books on first aid procedures. Local health and disaster preparedness organizations also hold seminars to teach basic first-aid practices.
  • Always have a first-aid kit available

A first-aid kit should have all the necessary supplies to provide basic first aid, including bandages and dressings, general medication like Ibuprofen and Paracetamol, antibacterial ointment, calamine lotion, hydrogen peroxide, and rubbing alcohol. It should also include equipment like scissors, safety pins, tweezers, thermometer, and gloves.
Having a first-aid manual in the kit makes it easier to administer the correct treatment to the injured, especially for those who are inexperienced. This first aid kit should be easily accessible and regularly inspected to replace any expired or used supplies.
  • Prepare an emergency overnight pack or go-bag for natural disasters

Natural disasters, especially typhoons, are unavoidable in the Philippines. An emergency overnight pack contains all the essentials necessary for evacuees to survive harsh conditions or the aftermath.
The pack should include clean water and non-perishable food, battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlight, first-aid kit, face mask, plastic bags, moist towelettes or wet wipes, and whistle. Other things can be added to the pack depending on the family's size and other circumstances, such as the damage or conditions expected in the area.
  • Keep emergency numbers handy

Severe health emergencies will need more intensive medical treatment to properly address the injury or save the injured person's life. Committing emergency numbers to mind is good practice, but the stress and panic in an emergency can make it difficult to recall them.
Have a handy sheet or small card printed with all the emergency numbers listed for easy reference. After administering first aid, emergency services should be contacted immediately.
  • Memorize local evacuation procedures

During natural disasters, knowing where to evacuate and seek help can help avoid injury or other risks. Regularly review these evacuation procedures and, if possible, participate in evacuation drills to better commit these procedures to memory.

Be Prepared to Stay Healthy

Emergency preparedness can make all the difference in surviving a health emergency of any scale. While some emergencies cannot be avoided, knowing and staying prepared makes it easier to navigate the situation. For any medical emergencies, contact Makati Medical Center.