Spread the word, not the germs

In today’s world, we’re well aware of many deadly viruses, thanks to media, anxious friends and the Internet. This past year Ebola raged in Eastern Africa and even made it to American shores. We’re bombarded almost daily by scary stories about strains of Avian, Swine and Bird flus. And closer to home, many of us are still infected by common contagious culprits such as influenza, measles, chickenpox, tuberculosis and even Whooping Cough.

Many infectious diseases can be largely prevented by vaccines. Frequent and thorough hand-washing also helps protect you from infectious diseases. The easiest way to catch most infectious diseases is by coming in contact with a person or animal that has the infection. Three ways infectious diseases can be spread through direct contact are:

  • Person to person. A common way for infectious diseases to spread is through the direct transfer of bacteria, viruses or other germs from one person to another. This can occur when an individual with the bacterium or virus touches, coughs on or kisses someone who isn’t infected. These germs can also spread through food handling, the exchange of body fluids from sexual contact or a blood transfusion. The person who passes the germ may have no symptoms of the disease, but may simply be a carrier.
  • Animal to person. Being bitten or scratched by an infected animal — even a pet — can make you sick and, in extreme circumstances, can be fatal. Handling animal waste can be hazardous, too. For example, you can acquire a toxoplasmosis infection by scooping your cat’s litter box.
  • Mother to unborn child. A pregnant woman may pass germs that cause infectious diseases to her unborn baby. Some germs can pass through the placenta. Germs in the vagina can be transmitted to the baby during birth.

Disease-causing organisms also can be passed by indirect contact. Many germs can linger on an inanimate object, such as a tabletop, doorknob or faucet handle. When you touch a doorknob handled by someone ill with the flu or a cold, for example, you can pick up the germs he or she left behind. If you then touch your eyes, mouth or nose before washing your hands, you may become infected.

Some germs rely on insect carriers — such as mosquitoes, fleas, lice or ticks — to move from host to host. These carriers are known as vectors. Mosquitoes can carry the malaria parasite or West Nile virus, and deer ticks may carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

Another way disease-causing germs can infect you is through contaminated food and water. This transmission mechanism allows germs to be spread to many people through a single source. E. coli, for example, is a bacterium present in or on certain foods — such as undercooked hamburger or unpasteurized fruit juice. E. coli makes people violently stomach sick and dehydrated, and may require hospitalization.

In Connecticut, cases of Pertussis (Whooping Cough) have reemerged in the western part of the State, due largely to parents who choose to not vaccinate their children. Tuberculosis (TB) also remains stubbornly entrenched in Connecticut.

Understanding TB

Tuberculosis is a potentially serious infectious disease that mainly affects your lungs. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are spread from one person to another through tiny droplets released into the air via coughs and sneezes.

Once rare in developed countries, tuberculosis infections began increasing in 1985, partly because of the emergence of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV weakens a person’s immune system so it can’t fight the TB germs. In the United States, because of stronger control programs, tuberculosis began to decrease again in 1993, but remains a concern and fairly active in most major cities.

Many strains of tuberculosis resist the drugs most used to treat the disease. People with active tuberculosis must take several types of medications for many months to eradicate the infection and prevent development of antibiotic resistance.

Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that spread from person to person through microscopic droplets released into the air. This can happen when someone with the untreated, active form of tuberculosis coughs, speaks, sneezes, spits, laughs or sings.

Although tuberculosis is contagious, it’s not easy to catch. You’re much more likely to get tuberculosis from someone you live with or work with than from a stranger. Most people with active TB who’ve had appropriate drug treatment for at least two weeks are no longer contagious.

Don’t buy into the myths about vaccines

Earlier this year, hundreds of people contracted measles. “Ground zero,” it turned out, was Disneyland, in Anaheim, California. While there were only 50 reported measles infections in the United States in 2009, there had already been 288 cases in the country this year before the end of May 2015. Most of those cases have been linked to the unvaccinated; a recent study found “substandard vaccination” to have been the cause of the massive measles outbreak at Disneyland.

This month, California passed a mandatory vaccination law requiring children to be fully vaccinated before attending public school or a licensed pre-school program. Vaccinating children poses nearly no risk to their health; choosing not to vaccinate not only puts the child in harm’s way, but also endangers other immunocompromised persons — pregnant women, the elderly, and those who’ve had cancer or organ transplants — that un-vaccinated children come into contact with.

Additionally, adults should verify their own vaccination history. Disease resistance can deteriorate over many years, but your physician can easily search for active antibodies through a simple blood test, and revaccinate you as an adult. This is especially important if you work in healthcare, plan to travel internationally or will be living in communal spaces like college dormitories.

Other than a minuscule population who avoid vaccinations based on religious grounds, most non-conforming parents or individuals worry about contracting autism or other diseases from vaccinations. There are absolutely no scientific or medical grounds for that myth. However, an ingredient commonly found in some vaccinations — thimerosal — does contain trace amounts of mercury. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), these extremely low doses of thimerosal pose no risk to humans, except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site.

While not dangerous, thimerosal has been removed from most vaccines anyway. In fact, there is no thimerosal present in the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella — and there never was.

Follow these tips to decrease your risk of infecting yourself or others:

  • Wash your hands. This is especially important before and after preparing food, before eating and after using the toilet. And try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands, as that’s a common way germs enter the body.
  • Get vaccinated. Immunization can drastically reduce your chances of contracting or spreading many diseases. Make sure to keep up to date on your recommended vaccinations, as well as your children’s.
  • Stay home. Don’t go to work if you are vomiting, have diarrhea or are running a fever. Don’t send your child to school if he or she has these signs and symptoms, either.
  • Prepare food safely. Keep counters and other kitchen surfaces clean when preparing meals. Cook foods to the proper temperature using a food thermometer to check for doneness. For ground meats, that means at least 160 F (71 C), for poultry, 165 F (74 C), and for most other meat, at least 145 F (63 C). In addition, promptly refrigerate leftovers — don’t let cooked foods remain at room temperature for extended periods of time.
  • Practice safe sex. Always use condoms if you or your partner has a history of sexually transmitted infections or high-risk behavior.
  • Don’t share personal items. Use your own toothbrush, comb and razor. Avoid sharing drinking glasses or dining utensils.
  • Travel wisely. If you’re traveling out of the country, talk to your doctor about any special vaccinations you may need or foods to avoid.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Keep moving — even when you’re not!

Unless you work in an environment that is physically challenging or potentially dangerous, the worst most of us have to fear at work is eye or ear strain, sore backs or necks, repetitive motion injuries or circulation problems. The latter issue can result from sitting too long at your desk or workstation, in a plane, bus or another vehicle. Repeated inactivity or lack of entire-body movement for extended periods inhibits circulation and can lead to clotting problems.

Two of the more common circulation-related health issues include the risk of developing Deep Vein Thrombosis or a Pulmonary Embolism.

Veins are blood vessels that return blood from the tissues of the body back to the heart. The body has two distinct systems of veins — superficial and deep. The superficial system is made up of veins that are close to the skin. These are the blood vessels we frequently can see on our hands, arms or legs that can become more prominent when we exercise. The deep system comprises veins within the muscles of the body. The two systems are connected by small communicating veins. The body regulates the amount of blood going through both systems as a way of rigidly controlling the body’s central temperature.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition where a blood clot forms in a vein of the deep system. DVTs can occur anywhere in the body, but are most frequently found in the deep veins of the legs, thighs, and pelvis. They may infrequently arise from the upper extremities usually because of trauma.

Thrombophlebitis is a condition in which there is both inflammation and a blood clot in a vein. Thrombophlebitis can occur in either superficial or deep veins. Superficial thrombophlebitis occurs in veins close to the skin surface, and usually causes pain, swelling and redness in the area of the vein. Superficial thrombophlebitis usually is treated with heat, elevation of the affected leg or arm, and anti-inflammatory medications.

A thrombosis in a deep vein is a much more serious problem than one in a superficial vein, because a piece of the clot can break off and travel through the deep veins back to the heart, and eventually be pumped by the heart into the arteries of the lung. When this happens, the condition is called pulmonary embolism (PE). Pulmonary embolisms occur in 30 percent of people with DVT, and cause 60,000 deaths annually, many of them unrecognized and labeled incorrectly as heart attacks. Blood clots from DVT can lodge in the legs, heart, kidneys, lungs or brain.

Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis may be difficult to identify. That’s because DVT symptoms are similar to many other health problems. People most at risk from DVT are over 60, smoke, or are overweight. Women on birth control or patches, or people who sit for long periods of time can be at risk as well.

If you or someone you know has any of the DVT symptoms below — especially if they occur suddenly — call your doctor right away:

  • Swelling in one or both legs
  • Pain or tenderness in one or both legs, which may occur only while standing or walking
  • Warmth in theskin of the affected leg
  • Red or discolored skin in the affected leg
  • Visible surface veins
  • Leg fatigue

If a blood clot breaks free and travels to your lungs, it’s called a pulmonary embolism, and it can be fatal. Pulmonary embolism may not cause symptoms, but if you ever suffer sudden coughing, which may bring up blood; sharp chest pain; rapid breathing or shortness of breath; or severe lightheadedness, call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately.

How to improve your circulation and avoid potential clots

About 350,000 Americans are diagnosed with DVT and pulmonary embolism each year, although it is estimated that some 300,000 more adults have undiagnosed DVT/PT. The condition has a 6 percent to 12 percent mortality rate.

If you’re at risk, there is much you can do to prevent DVT. Here are 10 tips to help avoid circulation-related clotting or related problems:

  • Eat a healthy diet, maintain an active lifestyle andexercise regularly — daily, if possible. Walking, swimming, and bicycling are all great activities.
  • If you smoke, quit! Nicotine therapy (in patches, gums, or sprays) and support groups can make this easier to do.
  • Getyour blood pressure checked regularly; take steps to lower it, if necessary, and report any family or personal history of blood-clotting problems to your doctor.
  • Discuss alternatives tobirth control pills or hormone-replacement therapy with your doctor.
  • If you are on an airplane for more than four hours, walk when possible and while awaiting connecting flights, or do leg stretches in your seat.
  • Stay well-hydrated and avoid alcohol and caffeine consumption – both contribute to dehydration, which cause blood to thicken and the veins to narrow.
  • In the workplace, stretch, move around regularly, and walk as often as possible, even if to the lunch room, bathrooms or outside during breaks.
  • Avoid wearing short, tight socks or crossing your legs for long periods.
  • When traveling by car, stop once every hour or two to walk around and stretch.
  • Consider purchasing compression stockings at a medical supply store and wearing them during your travels to help reduce swelling.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Be fresh. Eat locally grown, raised and produced food

Are you a locavore? Would you like to be one? It’s simple and painless — just eat food grown locally whenever possible! First appearing in Webster’s in 2005, the term locavore reflects the growing movement toward eating fresh, locally produced vegetables, fruit, dairy products and meats. It also means patronizing restaurants and grocers who buy locally as well, growing your own, and taking advantage of seasonal bounty.

There’s something truly special about eating vegetables and fruit that have been picked in the past 24 hours, or which you’ve picked yourself. In Connecticut, local produce and fruit, dairy products, eggs and meats can be purchased at farms, through specialty stores, and in restaurants that promote “farm to table” sustainability. But beyond the importance of supporting our local farmers and regional economy, there are a variety of other advantages to eating fresh and local.

Locally grown produce is fresher and more diverse.  Produce that is purchased in the supermarket or a big-box store has been in transit or cold-stored for days or weeks. On the other hand, produce that we buy at our local farmer’s market, farm or stand has often been picked within 24 hours of our purchase. This freshness not only affects the taste of our food, but the nutritional value and varietal choices, which decline with time and when fruit and vegetables are processed. Additionally, local farms are more likely to produce atypical varieties and hybrids of fruits and vegetables that you may not find in large grocery stores.

Locally grown fruits and vegetables have longer to ripen. Because local produce requires less handing and shipping time, it is picked at its nutritional height, when it’s ripe and most delicious. Eggs and milk purchased in supermarkets are weeks old — when purchased locally, they are likely only a few days old. And with less handling, the food you buy will have fewer bruises, mildew or other damage, and won’t be treated with preservatives that enhance looks but neutralize taste and nutritional value.

Local, sustainably produced farm fruits and vegetables do not require long distances for transport, and can be harvested closer to peak ripeness. Many fruits and vegetables contain more nutrients when allowed to ripen naturally on the parent plant. Meat from animals raised sustainably on pasture is also more nutritious. For example, grass-fed beef is higher in “good” cholesterol (and lower in “bad”), higher in vitamins A and E, lower in fat, and contains more antioxidants than factory-farmed beef.  Sustainably produced food also means fewer agricultural chemicals (such as pesticides), antibiotics, and hormones, all of which are common in conventional farm products.

Locally produced food is more nutritious. The global industrial food system relies on crops that have been bred primarily for higher yield and ease of transport, while farmers involved in local food systems often place a higher value on plant varietals that are more nutritious by virtue of their variety or by their method of production.

Eat with the seasons. Nature offers us an abundance of food each season that meets our physiological and nutritional needs — if we tune in. Fruits and vegetables that help keep us hydrated are readily available in the summer. Berries available this time of year top the antioxidant charts. Root vegetables and squashes help us prepare for the coming colder months, and are more easily stored. Apples, which become available later in the summer, are high in antioxidants as well, and best when eaten fresh.

Help protect the environment. The side effects of energy consumption and pollution can be considered “collateral damage” when it comes to food that is produced elsewhere and shipped. It takes a lot of fossil fuel-based products and services to harvest, prepare, freeze, process and ship food. This is bad for the environment, and can be limited by buying locally.

Another good reason to purchase locally is that by supporting our farms, we protect the land and green spaces. This is important for preserving air and water quality, and for preventing overbuilding and the tax on resources that comes with congestion and the loss of open, undeveloped or farmed land.

Know the source. It’s also important to know where our food is produced. Fruit, vegetables, meat and fish originating in other countries may not be subject to the same tough regulatory requirements found on U.S. farms and processing centers. That includes pesticides and fertilizers used, water sources for irrigation, and how safely — in terms of germs, bacteria and other contaminants — the food has been handled prior to shipping.

As food-production networks have become increasingly consolidated and globalized, the risk of food safety problems, such as food-borne illness, has also increased. The consolidation of meat and produce production, including animal slaughter and processing, means that there are more possibilities of improper processing, handling, or preparation affecting vast quantities of food. Tracing outbreaks of food-borne illnesses also becomes more difficult because the production and distribution of conventional food products often involves multiple farms, food processors, and food distributors.

Supporting sustainable growth and food distribution

Local food production/distribution networks often start on smaller, sustainable family farms. Farm products are transported over shorter geographic distances, generally processed either on the farm itself, or with smaller processors. Sustainable local food distribution networks rely on the direct-to-consumer market and the direct-to-retail, foodservice, and institutional market.

The direct-to-consumer market is currently the most established sector of local food distribution.  Direct-to-consumer means that all middlemen are cut out of the food distribution equation – farmers sell their products directly to consumers, rather than through third parties, such as grocery stores. Common direct-to-consumer operations include:

  • Farmers’ Markets: These are communal spaces in which multiple farmers gather to sell their farm products directly to consumers. Farmers’ markets may be municipally or privately managed and may be seasonal or year-round. Farmers may have to pay a vendor’s (or other similar) fee to participate, and usually transport their own farm products to the farmers’ market site.
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs): These are direct-to-consumer programs in which consumers buy a “share” of a local farm’s projected harvest. Consumers are often required to pay for their share of the harvest up front; this arrangement distributes the risks and rewards of farming among both consumers and the farmer. CSA participants often pick up their CSA shares in a communal location, or the shares may be delivered directly to customers.
  • Other Direct-to-Consumer Programs: A much smaller proportion of the direct-to-consumer market are options such as pick-your-own farms, on-site farm stands and stores, and gleaning programs, in which consumers are invited to harvest crops that are left in fields, usually after harvest.

For information on locally grown food, and a listing of what’s available when and where across Connecticut, visit http://www.pickyourown.org/CT.htm. Additionally, if you’d like to find farmer’s markets close to where you live, check out http://www.visitconnecticut.com/state/farmers-markets/

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Catering to employee appetites for good nutritional health

It’s July already — how’s that diet going? If you’re like most Americans, you may be a few pounds heavier than you’d like, or have a specific goal in mind. That could be sliding effortlessly into a favorite dress or suit, comfortably wearing your bathing suit or bikini in public, or reconnecting with the jeans that used to fit you like a glove!

Many of us could stand to lose a few pounds. Nobody knows better than we do how we feel — and look — at optimum weight. Maybe the stairs or trails are getting tougher to climb, or that brisk walk across the shop floor or mall parking lot leaves us huffing a bit. Or, of greater consequence, our blood sugar, cholesterol counts or blood pressure is higher than recommended by our physicians.

If we are managing a business, we’re trying to keep ourselves, our workers and our bottom line healthy. But it isn’t easy. Every day we hear staggering statistics about the toll heart disease, diabetes, cancer, failing joints and respiratory illnesses take on Americans. Anybody afflicted with these chronic diseases or conditions knows how it affects their quality of life — and their pocketbooks. But it’s also costing employers billions of dollars annually in lost productivity, sick time, worker’s compensation, disability, safety and quality.

More times than not, the culprit — directly or indirectly — is obesity or a combination of poor diet, bad eating habits and lack of exercise. It’s aggravated, of course, by genetics, stress, age, poverty and access to good healthcare and nutritional information.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 36 percent of U.S. adults are obese (at least 20 percent above their ideal weight), and current estimates of the medical cost of adult obesity range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion annually — more than alcohol — and smoking-related costs combined.

Medical expenses for obese employees are estimated to be 42 percent higher than for those with a healthy weight, says the CDC. Costs related to medical expenses, however, don’t necessarily account for the lion’s share of the financial burden on employers.

A 2010 study by Duke University researchers found that obesity among full-time employees costs U.S. employers more than $73 billion per year. The investigation considered three factors in determining costs: Employee medical expenditures; lost productivity on the job due to health problems (presenteeism); and absence from work (absenteeism). Presenteeism was found to account for most of the total cost — as much as 56 percent in the case of female employees and 68 percent in the case of male workers.

When workers aren’t feeling well, they don’t perform well…or at all. Quality, productivity and safety decline, and other workers and customers feel the pain, as well.

So, what to do? You can’t follow your employees around watching what and when they eat or exercise. You also can’t discriminate against them for being heavy, or offer incentives or competitions that punish those who can’t lose weight successfully. What you can do is provide access to informational tools on nutrition and healthy eating. You can invite specialists to come counsel your workforce. You can sponsor healthcare screenings where employees’ Body Mass Index (BMI) is determined and discussed, and where medical professionals can screen for cholesterol, sugar, high blood pressure and other issues.

Educating employees plays a beneficial role in promoting healthy weight consciousness. This is especially important when you consider that individuals’ beliefs about the causes of obesity affect weight-loss success or failure.

Researchers found that whether a person believes obesity is caused by overeating or a lack of exercise can predict whether he or she will gain or lose weight. People who believe obesity is caused by diet will focus on consuming less food, while those who believe the cause is lack of exercise will work out more. The problem is that people tend to overestimate the number of calories burned during exercise and underestimate the number of calories in the food they eat.

Employers can help themselves and their employees by encouraging a culture of wellness from the top of the shop down.  The most effective solution is to provide economic and other incentives to those employees who show clear signs of improving their health via weight loss, maintaining a healthy weight, or participating in exercise programs.

Interactive options can take many forms, from healthy snacks, recipe swaps and lunches to time during the day for exercise, educational sessions and peer support. Letting employees lead the effort can pay back in creative ideas, buy-in and improved results, boosting morale and team work at the same time.

Although it may seem that only large organizations can implement obesity prevention and control programs, organizations of all sizes have done so successfully. One useful website that provides a variety of tools, ideas and resources can be found at www.cdc.gov/obesity/

Whatever you do, communicate your intentions candidly and consistently, encourage feedback, and seek guidance from experts in your community. Engage employees and their families as much as possible, and the results could help lift some, uh, weight off your shoulders!

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If you’re not enjoying 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!