Viruses, bacteria, and antibiotics: What you need to know to stay well

Like the muted diesel roar of school buses, earlier sunsets, pumpkins on doorsteps and frost on the ground, colds, influenza, ear, throat and sinus infections are as reliable an indicator of the return to autumn as the spectacular palette of changing leaves. With kids in close proximity, poor hand-washing habits, and everyone sneezing around us, our natural immunities to bacterial and viral infections are taxed, leaving us more likely to contract a variety of seasonal illnesses. And with the aches and pains, runny noses, itchy throats and increased body temperature, we’re off to the doctor in search of an antibiotic or other magic pill to cure us.

Many of the illnesses that wreak havoc in the autumn and winter are caused by bacteria or viruses, and it’s important to know the difference. Bacteria are single-celled organisms usually found all over the inside and outside of our bodies, except in the blood and spinal fluid. Many bacteria are not harmful. In fact, some are actually beneficial. However, disease-causing bacteria trigger illnesses, such as strep throat and some ear infections. Viruses are even smaller than bacteria. A virus cannot survive outside the body’s cells. It causes illnesses by invading healthy cells and reproducing.

Antibiotics, the so-called wonder drugs, are our chosen line of offense against many types of infections, but they don’t work against all. For example, we should not treat viral infections such as colds, the flu, sore throats (unless caused by strep), most coughs, and some ear infections with antibiotics.

Antibiotics are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria. After the first use of antibiotics in the 1940s, they transformed medical care and dramatically reduced illness and death from infectious diseases. The term “antibiotic” originally referred to a natural compound produced by a fungus or another microorganism that kills bacteria which cause disease in humans or animals. Although antibiotics have many beneficial effects, their use has contributed to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Why we should be concerned about antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria or other microbes to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in some ways that reduce or eliminate the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals, or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply causing more harm. Almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread to family members, schoolmates, and co-workers, threatening the community with a new strain of infectious disease that is more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat.

An essential part of preventing the spread of infection in the community and at home is proper hygiene. This includes hand-washing and cleaning shared items and surfaces. Antibacterial-containing products, by the way, have not been proven to prevent the spread of infection better than products that do not contain antibacterial chemicals. More studies examining resistance issues related to these products are needed.

Smart use of antibiotics is the key to controlling the spread of resistance. If you or someone you care for is ill, talk with your physician about antibiotic resistance and whether or not antibiotics are likely to be beneficial for the illness. Here are some other useful tips to remember:

  • Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like colds, sore throats, the flu, and some ear infections.
  • Do not save some of your antibiotic for the next time you get sick. Discard any leftover medication once you have completed your prescribed course of treatment.
  • Take an antibiotic exactly as your healthcare provider tells you. Do not skip doses. Complete the prescribed course of treatment even if you are feeling better. If treatment stops too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect you.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be appropriate for your illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.
  • If your healthcare provider determines that you do not have a bacterial infection, ask about ways to help relieve your symptoms. Do not pressure your provider to prescribe an antibiotic.

By being responsible and knowing when to allow our bodies and nature to run their course, we’ll all be healthier for the long term!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Why bother investing in prevention?

Employers face a variety of costs related to their employees. If you’re already providing health benefits, giving your staff a safe work environment, and underwriting paid vacations and sick days, why do more? After all, people manage their lives outside of the workplace every day. So what’s an employers’ return on investing in prevention?

Every day, we take steps to prevent unwanted events from happening. We brush our teeth and take vitamins. We wear helmets when we ride our bikes, safety glasses on the job, or protective gear in contact sports. Even our lawnmowers and tools have safety devices to limit our chances of hurting ourselves. Of course, accidents still happen. People who brush their teeth can still get cavities. People who always wear their seat belts may still get hurt in a car crash. The best we can do is to reduce the odds these events will happen by improving the chances for a good outcome.

When talking about cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases, the same concept applies. Prevention mainly refers to lowering the risk of getting a disease rather than completely removing the risk. There always will be elements outside of our control, and there are many behaviors or realities we can’t prevent.

If you’re an employer, the health and wellness of your employees is and should remain of concern to you on a number of levels. The stronger, more vibrant and happier your workforce, the better their productivity and morale. Healthy employees take fewer sick days, are more “present” at their jobs, and provide better service to your customers. So, what can you do to help keep them healthy and well?

Making a difference

Humans, by and large, are pleasure driven, well-intentioned, convenience-dependent creatures. We eat what tastes good, drive when we can walk, sleep when we’re able, and create amazing tools and devices to make our lives faster, cheaper, and easier.

It’s hard to know who benefits from prevention. We know some behaviors can lower the risk of cancer, but we don’t know how great the benefit is for any one person. For example, non-smokers are much less likely to develop lung cancer compared to smokers. However, we do not know who prevents lung cancer by not smoking and who would have remained cancer-free even if they had smoked. Further, most smokers will never be diagnosed with lung cancer and some non-smokers will. So, taking steps to prevent cancer lowers risk, but it does not ensure a person never develops the disease.

Cancer, like many other chronic diseases, tends to be caused by a combination of factors. Some factors we may be able to control (like exercise and diet), some are out of our control (like age and genetics), and some are still unknown. Since many factors drive risk and we can change only a few of these, we cannot avoid some amount of risk.

But employers are leaders, and as such, we can lead our employees to better health by creating an environment and culture at work or outside of the office that educates, informs, accommodates, and rewards for healthier behaviors. We can provide easy online or onsite access to health assessments and screenings, underwrite gym memberships, support walking during breaks, sponsor bowling or softball teams, contribute toward charitable events like walkathons and 5K races, and much more. We can recognize and provide incentives, like time off, gift certificates and peer celebrations for our employees who set and achieve personal goals such as weight loss, smoking cessation and cholesterol reduction. And we can encourage our workers to get regular physical exams, mammograms, colonoscopies, and other preventative tests that help reduce long-term health risks.

Prevention is not an illusion. The disease process is very complex, so it’s hard to pin down how a certain set of risk factors will affect a person. But the good news is that many behaviors that comprise a healthier lifestyle are under our control. Making healthy choices offers rewards far beyond disease prevention, and leaders can set the bar higher for their employees and help them achieve those benefits.

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To enjoy the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Remember, Memory Loss is Not Inevitable and Can Be Reduced or Limited

Word on the tip of your tongue? Misplaced your keys or glasses again?  Mixing up your kids’ names when you talk about them? If you recognize any of these behaviors, you can probably relax; they all are common memory lapses that increase when we’re tired, stressed, overworked, and as we age. Who hasn’t walked into a room, gotten distracted, and returned to our previous location without the book, phone number, file or other item we originally went searching for? Forgetfulness, distraction, and memory are affected by time and by what’s going on in our lives. But there are a number of steps we can practice to improve and strengthen our memory and warning signs we should heed that could point to a more severe memory problem, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.

As we grow older, we experience physiological changes that can cause glitches in brain functions we’ve always taken for granted. It takes longer to learn and recall information. We’re not as quick as we used to be. In fact, we often mistake this slowing of our mental processes for true memory loss. But in most cases, if we give ourselves time, the information will come to mind.

The first step to staying mentally sharp as we age is to understand the difference between normal forgetfulness and serious memory problems. The brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age, so significant memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging. But just as it is with muscle strength, we have to “use it or lose it.” Our lifestyle, health habits, and daily activities have a huge impact on the health of our brain.

It’s important to be aware of ways that our health, environment, and lifestyle may contribute to memory loss. Sometimes, even what looks like significant memory loss can be caused by treatable conditions and reversible external factors. Examples include:

  • Medication side effects. Many prescribed and over-the-counter drugs or combinations of drugs can cause cognitive problems and memory loss as a side effect.
  • Depression. Depression can mimic the signs of memory loss, making it hard for us to concentrate, stay organized, remember things, and get things done.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 protects neurons and is vital to healthy brain functioning.
  • Thyroid problems. Thyroid problems can cause memory problems such as forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating. Medication can reverse the symptoms.
  • Alcohol abuse. Excessive alcohol intake is toxic to brain cells, and alcohol abuse leads to memory loss.
  • Dehydration. Severe dehydration can cause confusion, drowsiness, memory loss, and other symptoms that look like dementia.

Preventing memory loss and mental decline

Just as physical exercise can make and keep your body stronger, mental exercise can make your brain work better and lower the risk of mental decline. Try to find brain exercises that you find enjoyable. The more pleasurable an activity is to you, the more powerful its effect will be on your brain. You can make some activities more enjoyable by appealing to your senses, such as by playing music during the exercise, or lighting a scented candle, or rewarding yourself after you’ve finished. Play games that involve strategy, like Chess or Scrabble, crossword and number puzzles. Read newspapers, magazines and books. Challenge yourself by playing a musical instrument or learning new recipes or a foreign language. The more you exercise your brain, the more you’ll continue learning and strengthening your brain at the same time.

Additionally, the same practices that contribute to healthy aging and physical vitality also contribute to healthy memory.

  • Exercise regularly. Regular exercise boosts brain growth factors and encourages the development of new brain cells.
  • Stay social. People who don’t have social contact with family and friends are at higher risk for memory problems than people who have strong social ties.
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fats. Antioxidants, found in abundance in fresh produce, literally keep our brain cells from “rusting.” And foods rich in omega-3 fats, such as salmon, tuna, trout, walnuts, and flaxseed, are particularly good for our brain and memory.
  • Manage stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, damages the brain over time and can lead to memory problems.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, the process of forming and storing new memories so we can retrieve them later. Sleep deprivation also reduces the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus and causes problems with memory, concentration, and decision-making
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking heightens the risk of vascular disorders that can cause stroke and constrict arteries that deliver oxygen to the brain.

When to worry

The primary difference between age-related memory loss and dementia is that the former isn’t disabling—the memory lapses have little impact on our daily performance and ability to do what we want to do. When memory loss becomes so pervasive and severe that it disrupts our work, hobbies, social activities, and family relationships, we may be experiencing the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, another disorder that causes dementia, or a condition that mimics dementia.

Symptoms that are reasons for concern include difficulty performing simple tasks, such as paying bills or dressing, or forgetting things you’ve done many times; getting lost or disoriented in familiar places; frequently forgetting common words, and constantly repeating phrases or stories; and trouble in judgment, when making choices, or socially inappropriate behaviors that never existed in the past. If you or someone close to you is exhibiting any of these behaviors, you should consult with a physician.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Pumping Iron Through Your Body

Iron, one of the most abundant metals on Earth, is essential to most life forms and to normal human physiology. Iron is an integral part of many proteins and enzymes that maintain good health. It is an essential component of proteins involved in oxygen transport, and also is essential for the regulation of cell growth. Iron deficiency limits oxygen delivery to cells, resulting in fatigue, poor work performance, and decreased immunity. On the other hand, excess amounts of iron can result in toxicity and even death.

The World Health Organization considers iron deficiency the number one nutritional disorder in the world. As many as 80 percent of the world’s population may be iron deficient, while 30 percent may have iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency develops gradually and usually begins with a negative iron balance, when iron intake does not meet the daily need for dietary iron. Iron deficiency anemia is an advanced stage of iron depletion. It occurs when storage sites of iron are deficient and blood levels of iron cannot meet daily needs.

Absorption of iron from meat proteins is more efficient than from plant foods such as rice, maize, black beans, soybeans and wheat, though both are valuable. Tannins (found in tea), calcium, polyphenols, and phytates (found in legumes and whole grains) can decrease iron absorption, so it’s important to include foods that enhance iron absorption when daily iron intake is less than recommended.

Iron intake is negatively influenced by low-nutrient-density foods, which are high in calories but low in vitamins and minerals. Sugar-sweetened sodas and most desserts are examples of low-nutrient-density foods, as are snack foods such as potato chips. For many Americans, especially adolescents between the ages of  8 and 18, low-nutrient-density foods contribute almost 30 percent of daily caloric intake, with sweeteners and desserts jointly accounting for almost 25 percent of caloric intake. Those adults and adolescents who consume fewer low-nutrient-density foods are more likely to consume recommended amounts of iron.

Signs of iron deficiency anemia include:

  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Decreased work and school performance
  • Slow cognitive and social development during childhood
  • Difficulty maintaining body temperature
  • Decreased immune function, which increases susceptibility to infection

Iron deficiency is uncommon among adult men and postmenopausal women. These individuals should only take iron supplements when prescribed by a physician because of their greater risk of iron overload. Iron overload is a condition in which excess iron is found in the blood and in organs such as the liver and heart. Men and women who engage in regular, intense exercise such as jogging, competitive swimming, and cycling and have marginal or inadequate iron status need to pay closer attention to iron retention. Vegetarians also need to remain aware of their iron intake.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

10 Tips to Keep Your Bones and Joints Healthy

As the summer comes to an end and the weather starts to cool, we find ourselves indoors more often. For some, that means less physical activity. For others, it’s a call to get back to the gym before the holidays arrive. Any change in activity makes us more susceptible to joint- and bone-related issues. Here are 10 tips for preventing damage, reducing pain, and improving your general quality of life and health.

Exercise to protect and strengthen your joints. Overall, by strengthening muscles and aiding in weight loss, exercise can reduce the strain on joints. Squats and lunges, as well as certain exercises with weights, can help strengthen quadriceps and reduce the pressure on your knees. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking also helps maintain bone density, no matter what your age. However, note that running and other high-intensity exercise can damage joints and ligaments, leading to inflammation, pain and, eventually, arthritis.

Stretch and warm up prior to exercising. Our bodies need to be warmed up in order to work properly and avoid excess injuries. This allows our tendons to flex and become more supple, helps the muscles to loosen up and work better, and gets the blood flowing through our body. Bodybuilding and weight lifting-related joint pain problems can be caused by tendonitis, an inflammation or irritation of the tendons. This type of joint pain can be reduced or eliminated by stretching and warming up tendons before working them too hard. This makes them more flexible and able to handle the added weight or exercise loads we put on them.

Change exercises. Both avid and occasional exercisers should consider changing the type of exercise we do. Impact-style exercising, such as step aerobics or kick boxing, is harder on our joints than exercises such as yoga and water-based workouts.

Don’t over-exercise. Regardless of the type of exercise we do, or how heavy the workout, our bodies need time to repair. Someone who does hours of intense exercising daily will have more problems with chronic joint pain than someone who allows their body to recuperate. Our muscles, tendons and ligaments all need time to rest and repair after a hard workout. That’s what causes them to strengthen over time.

Lose weight. Extra body weight creates strain on our joints, particularly the knee joints. Losing as little as 10 pounds of body weight can help reduce pain, and improves breathing and circulation.

Understand the value of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 acids are primarily found in fatty fish and some nuts and seeds, such as flaxseeds. Omega-6 acids are found in many vegetables, such as corn and corn oil. While the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3 fatty acids (which include fish oil supplements) is well known, less known is the fact that your intake of these fats can affect both bone formation and the rate at which bone is broken down. It’s important to consume both varieties, though consuming more omega-3 fatty acids improves bone mineral density, particularly important for good hip health. Eating a fatty fish like salmon twice a week is recommended, and many physicians suggest fish oil supplements.

Get your D. Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium and maintain enough calcium and phosphate in our blood so it doesn’t get pulled out of bone. It also enables bone growth and the breaking down and building up of bone. Low levels of vitamin D contribute to osteoporosis and a condition called osteomalacia, which produces an aching pain in our bones as the bone weakens. Low vitamin D also causes muscle weakness, which can lead to falls and fractures as we age. The best source of D is sunlight, but it’s nearly impossible to get enough in the fall and winter, or if we’re using sunscreen. That’s why supplements are helpful. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a daily level of vitamin D to 600 international units (IUs) for anyone up to age 71 years old, including children, and as much as 800 IUs for those 71 and older. As with all medicines or supplements, consult with your physician or nutritionist to ensure the best regimen for your personal wellness needs.

Evaluate your shoes. Proper footwear is important for bone and joint health. Women who wear high-heeled shoes have seven to 10 times greater chance of developing joint pain and problems. It’s a good idea to vary the heel height of the shoes we wear. For those who like high heels, heels lower than three inches are best for bone and joint health. It’s also important that all shoes, including tennis and athletic shoes, fit properly. Toes need room and there should be good arch support. Some sort of cushion, especially under the ball and heel areas of our feet, also is recommended.

Change positions. Sitting or standing all day, day after day, can cause joint pain. We need to vary our routines to give both our bodies and joints variety and rest periods. Getting up and moving around is helpful to break up a routine and keep our bodies in shape.

Stop smoking. People who smoke tend to have lower bone density and higher risk of fractures than those who don’t, possibly related to lower calcium absorption and the production of hormones such as estrogen and testosterone which affect bone growth and strength.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

A Customized Wellness Plan Can Fit Your Culture, Size, and Budget

As companies become savvier about the benefits of employee health and wellness programs, many are turning to their health benefits providers, insurance companies, or to “off-the-shelf” wellness plans that they can adopt or model in determining what works best for their own organization. But what if you’re a really small company, say three or four people, or you and your staff work from home or other remote locations? While many formal wellness programs are designed for larger companies, small employers still can embrace a personalized wellness effort that recognizes the value in planning and rewarding healthy behaviors, without spending a bundle or struggling with programs designed with economy of scale in mind.

Most health benefits providers offer some type of wellness program or assistance. These typically include access to online information, a health assessment, smoking cessation plans, weight-loss options, and fitness center discounts. CBIA Health Connections employers can join Healthy Connections, CBIA’s wellness program, for free and use all the tools. But they also have access to many of the individual insurance carrier wellness benefits.

Additionally, employers can supplement these efforts by setting up their own customized wellness-support plan that would benefit its staff’s health and wellness. For instance, employers can contribute a set dollar amount each employee can use per year to help defray the costs of health- and wellness-related expenses such as fitness club or gym membership, physiotherapy, nutritional consultations, home workout equipment, registration costs for athletic team participation, and more.

The result is an all-encompassing plan tailored to the unique needs of your staff.

Employers also can sponsor their employees in individual or team charity events like organized walks, runs, tournaments, bike rides, and healthy activities of personal interest to each employee.

Selecting and supporting a fundraising event as a team is another good way to build teamwork, morale, and camaraderie.  And the more you can build in family activities, the better – it improves and strengthens home and work bonds.

There are a number of other practical ideas you can consider implementing that are wellness related, from keeping a fully equipped kitchen on your premises, to more flexible hours that make it easier for staff to walk, jog or exercise during the work day. You can add a basketball hoop or volleyball net on your property and even challenge neighboring companies to compete, purchase healthy lunches for team meetings, share pot luck meals and healthy recipes, and encourage your staff to talk to one another and with wellness experts about building individual plans that match their interest, goals, and time.

However you do it, and no matter the size of your organization, nurturing a positive work environment that recognizes, celebrates, and rewards healthy living, teamwork, and community spirit will prove beneficial to you, your employees, and your customers.

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To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Pucker up!

Bet you thought we were writing about the health benefits of kissing, right? Not even close!  We’re talking citrus, and while some citrus fruits, like oranges, are sweet not tart, they’re all tasty, refreshing and loaded with nutrients, fiber and minerals. Regardless of your taste for fruit, you should be able to find something you like in the citrus family, which features a variety of oranges (including mandarin oranges, clementines and tangerines), pineapples, tomatoes, lemons, kumquats, tangerines, and limes.

We love our cold glass of orange juice first thing in the morning, and what beats the natural “puckering up” citrus blast from a grapefruit or lemon? And while we don’t typically think of a tomato as a “fruit,” it is, and it offers many valuable health advantages along with its citrus cousins.

Increasing citrus in your diet offers a multitude of benefits. A few centuries ago, sailors making ocean crossings often became sick with scurvy due to vitamin C deficiencies caused by a lack of citrus fruits. Vitamin C deficiency typically isn’t a problem anymore in the United States, but many people don’t eat enough citrus fruits, even though they’re readily available in grocery stores.

Vitamin C is the first thing most people think of regarding citrus fruits, and for good reason: It’s perhaps the most studied of all vitamins, and has shown promise in shortening the duration of colds, helping wounds heal faster, and protecting the body from the damaging effects of free radicals. It also is essential for healthy gums and skin.

Since vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, sufficient quantities must be consumed every day. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin C is not stored in the body. That is why eating at least a few servings a day of citrus fruits and other vitamin C-rich food is so important. Luckily, getting the recommended daily amount of vitamin C is not difficult, since a single orange contains 150% of the government’s recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.

Citrus fruits also are high in fiber content. While we most often think of cereals and grains when we think of fiber, citrus fruits are a good source of dietary fiber, including the all-important soluble fiber. Fiber plays a vital role in digestion, and studies indicate it may help to reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood and even reduce the risk of some kinds of cancer.

Another benefit is derived from folate, or folic acid as it is better known. Folates play a vital role in early pregnancy, so all women of child-bearing age are encouraged to consume adequate amounts of this important nutrient. That is because one of the most critical times in a pregnancy takes place before the woman knows she is pregnant. In addition to its importance in preventing many neural tube birth defects, folic acid also aids in the production of mature red blood cells and helps to prevent anemia.

Need more convincing? Oranges are particularly high in potassium, as are non-citrus fruits like bananas. Potassium is vital to maintaining a proper fluid balance in the body, and for transmitting signals between nerve cells. Potassium levels can be affected by excess caffeine consumption and by dehydration, so it is important to consume adequate levels of potassium every day.

With so many benefits, it’s easy to see why citrus fruits are so important to the diet. No matter what your ultimate fitness regimen, a diet rich in citrus fruits will help you achieve your goals and remain healthier. And with the many varieties of citrus fruits to choose from throughout the year, you can add plenty of variety to your healthy-eating plan.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Knowledge is Your Best Vaccination

If you’re in your late fifties or older, you likely remember lining up in elementary school to receive your oral polio vaccine. Before immunizations were readily available well into the mid-20th century, polio crippled thousands of Americans. It was only through aggressive, collaborative eradication efforts that it was eliminated from our soil and from all but a few countries in the world. Those countries have politicized immunizations, leaving their populations and the world at risk. But even here in the United States, where access to medical care and immunizations is available to everyone, some diseases that could be completely controlled still leave us in harm’s way.   

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. While controversy around certain vaccinations—such as the HPV vaccine to prevent Human Papillomavirus—has its roots in religious and moral differences, ignorance, fear and lack of information are the greater culprits in not protecting ourselves and our children from preventable illnesses. Most of us choose to immunize our children from the day they’re born. In fact, children can’t attend public school, go to camp, compete in many sports or travel outside of the country without a proven medical history of required immunizations. But as adults, we may not have received all the necessary immunizations, some of them may no longer be working effectively, and others, such as the vaccination for tetanus, have to be repeated periodically…in the case of tetanus, once every 10 years.

Today, children and adults receive a “Tdap” booster for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. If you doubt the importance of this, note that pertussis (Whooping Cough) has recently reappeared in Connecticut. Pertussis is caused by bacteria spread through direct contact with respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The reason for its reemergence, experts believe, is because our bodies may have stopped producing antibodies in response to the vaccinations we received as children, or because some parents are not protecting their children through recommended vaccinations. This disease is particularly dangerous for babies, so protecting yourself also protects others.

Diphtheria, also prevented through the Tdap booster, is a very contagious bacterial disease that affects the respiratory system, including the lungs. As with pertussis and another common contagious disease, tuberculosis, diphtheria bacteria can be passed from person to person by direct contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. When people are infected, the diphtheria bacteria produce a toxin in the body that can cause weakness, sore throat, low-grade fever, and swollen glands in the neck. Effects from this toxin can also lead to swelling of the heart muscle and, in some cases, heart failure. In severe cases, the illness can cause coma, paralysis, and even death.

The third leg of that triad involves tetanus (lockjaw), which also can be prevented by the Tdap vaccine. Tetanus is caused by bacteria found in soil. The bacteria enter the body through a wound, such as a deep cut. When people are infected, the bacteria produce a toxin in the body that causes serious, painful spasms and stiffness of all muscles in the body. This can lead to “locking” of the jaw so a person cannot open his or her mouth, swallow, or breathe. Complete recovery from tetanus can take months. Three of 10 people who get tetanus die from the disease.

You should consider a tetanus shot when you or your child step on a rusty nail or receive a nasty cut, especially if that immunization hasn’t already taken place. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t remember if or when you had it, talk to your doctor.

Additionally, if you plan to travel outside of the United States or Canada, it’s wise to speak with your physician or an infectious disease specialist about immunizations to consider, such as protection against Hepatitis A, before traveling. In many foreign countries, especially third-world nations, diseases can still be contracted through impure water systems, through food that hasn’t been properly protected, and by air-borne particles.

But even if you aren’t traveling abroad, it’s important to know your medical history and to obtain a copy of your personal immunization record. That’s especially valuable if you can’t remember if you ever had common diseases such as mumps, chicken pox, rubella and measles, all of which still afflict thousands of Americans. In many cases, vaccinations to prevent these diseases may not have existed when you were a child, but they do now.

If your personal record doesn’t exist or has been lost, your physician can order a simple blood test that checks for the antibodies currently active in your system. He or she can then offer you the missing vaccinations, bringing you up-to-date as required. Typically, you’ll only have to do this once, unlike the vaccination for preventing influenza, which has to be received annually since strains of “flu” mutate or change from year to year. Influenza may lead to hospitalization or even death, even among previously healthy children, so it’s smart to speak with your doctor annually about whether or not you should respond proactively rather than take your chances.

Protecting ourselves and our loved ones is our most important job. Today’s medical advances and access make that far easier, but only if we each take personal responsibility to ensure that our immunizations are up-to-date. For more information, call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

10 Tips for Smart Food Preparation, Handling, and Storage

It’s summer. We’re barbequing and picnicking, entertaining and enjoying the nice weather and chances to be outdoors. It’s hot, too, and food may sit out on the counter, on a picnic table or in your car longer than it should. Keeping perishables properly refrigerated and stored helps limit opportunities for bacteria to form, but it’s only one of several steps you should be taking regularly to limit exposure, protect your food, and protect yourself, your family and guests from getting sick.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that one in six Americans gets sick from eating contaminated food, and there are at least a thousand reported outbreaks of potentially deadly Salmonella and E. coli infections annually. Overall, the CDC estimates that between 6 million and 33 million are affected by food-borne illnesses each year, resulting in at least 9,000 fatalities. The reason the numbers vary so much is that many cases are never reported as food-borne. Salmonella infections cause more hospitalizations and deaths than any other type of germ found in food, and $365 million in direct medical costs annually. That’s certainly food for thought.

Follow these tips to reduce the risk of food poisoning at home:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water and dry them before handling food and after handling raw foods (meat, fish, eggs and vegetables), after touching the garbage pail, going to the toilet, blowing your nose, or touching animals (including pets).
  2. Wash worktops before and after preparing food, particularly after they’ve been touched by raw meat, including poultry, raw eggs, fish and vegetables. You don’t have to use anti-bacterial sprays. Hot soapy water is fine.
  3. Wash dishcloths and dish or hand towels regularly and let them dry before you use them again. Dirty, damp cloths are the perfect place for bacteria to breed.
  4. Use separate chopping boards for raw food and for ready-to-eat food. Raw foods can contain harmful bacteria that can spread very easily to anything they touch, including other foods, worktops, chopping boards and knives. Less porous materials, like glass, are less likely to become contaminated than wood or plastic.
  5. It’s especially important to keep raw meat away from ready-to-eat foods such as salad, fruit and bread. This is because these foods won’t be cooked before you eat them, so any bacteria that get on to the foods won’t be killed.
  6. Always cover raw meat and store it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator where it can’t touch other foods or drip on to them.
  7. Cook food thoroughly and check that it’s piping hot all the way through. Make sure poultry, pork, burgers, sausages and kebabs are cooked until steaming hot, with no pink meat inside. Learn to use a meat thermometer to verify cooking temperature.
  8. Keep your fridge temperature below 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Celsius), and your freezer temperature below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, preferably closer to zero. By keeping food cold, you stop germs that cause food poisoning from growing.
  9. If you have cooked food that you’re not going to eat straight away, cool it as quickly as possible (within 90 minutes) and store it in the fridge or freezer. Use any leftovers from the fridge within two days.

10.  Don’t eat food that’s past its “use by” date label. These are based on scientific tests that show how quickly harmful germs can develop in packaged food.

Tips for barbequing

When you’re cooking any kind of meat on a barbecue, such as poultry (chicken or turkey), pork, steak, burgers or sausages, make sure:

  • The coals are glowing red with a powdery grey surface before you start cooking, as this means that they’re hot enough to ensure proper cooking.
  • Frozen meat is properly thawed before you cook it.
  • You turn the meat regularly and move it around the barbecue to cook it evenly.

Remember that meat is safe to eat only when:

  • It is piping hot in the center.
  • There is no pink meat visible.
  • Any juices are clear.

Finally, it’s important to keep many kinds of food cool to prevent germs from multiplying. Make sure you keep the following cool:

  • Salads
  • Dips
  • Milk, cream, yogurt or other dairy products
  • Desserts and cream-based cakes
  • Sandwiches (especially when packed for travel, work or school)
  • Ham, turkey and other cooked meats
  • Cooked rice, pasta and soups

Don’t leave food out of the fridge for more than a couple of hours, and don’t leave food in the sun. Food poisoning and contamination are serious threats to your health all-year round, but simple attention to these details can help ensure healthier eating and a happier summer.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Bringing the Family to Work

“It’s a Family Affair,” sang Sly and the Family Stone, and indeed it is.  An effective workplace functions like an extended family, and acknowledging and accommodating employees’ “real” families contributes significantly to employee satisfaction, quality, improved productivity, and enhanced customer service.

When employees take time off, whether planned or unplanned, to tend to sick family members or to pursue family oriented activities away from work, it can be inconvenient and disruptive, especially when you have a small staff. How companies handle those “normal” requests can make a world of difference in employee attitudes toward their employer.

There are two sides to this coin. As understanding as employers may appear regarding work/family balance, when we have an angry customer, deadline, or rush job on the line, we don’t want to work around personnel shortages. Planned absences are more easily managed, but unplanned time, such as when an employee gets sick or has to take care of someone else who is sick, can be a real pain.

For their part, employees typically understand that being away from work or the office may put pressure on others to fill gaps. We don’t want to leave our teammates in the lurch, and being away can make preparing for the time off or the return more challenging. But life calls, and taking breaks from work, whether planned or not, is healthy and important, especially since it helps strengthen families and reduces stress, which makes the employee more appreciative of workplace accommodation and support.

Employers can help employees reduce unplanned time off through proactive wellness efforts that address healthy nutrition and diet, by encouraging and supporting exercise and fitness, by supporting smoking-cessation and general health improvement, and through a positive, accommodating attitude toward employees’ lives away from the office.

By providing health and wellness information and educational resources that encourage family awareness and participation, you can help your employees and their families set and achieve personal wellness goals. Employers also can sponsor activities outside of the workplace, such as wellness walks and runs, bicycling events, outings and other healthy activities that promote teamwork and include families.

Being actively aware of employees’ personal needs goes a long way toward improved morale, loyalty and productivity. For example, if your workplace can accommodate scheduling flexibility—such as letting an employee start a little later or leave a little earlier, or take time off during the day for medical appointments, workouts or other needs—it helps employees better manage their lives and meet their families’ needs. When employees can’t achieve balance in their lives or satisfy family obligations, it causes stress and resentment and can contribute to absenteeism or “presenteeism,” the word coined to reflect when employees come to work but aren’t able to pay attention or work effectively.

Additionally, establishing and communicating clear boundaries and expectations about time off is crucial. Productivity, safety and quality always will remain critical requirements, but they’re not just the company’s goals—every employee and his or her family can embrace them as well.

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To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!