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!

Stemming the spread of common — and potentially deadly — infections

Germs, bacteria and viruses surround us, but fortunately, the human immune system is typically well equipped to fight many common bugs. For those that we can’t fight on our own, there are effective countermeasures to help us contain or prevent infections that range in intensity from inconvenient to deadly. Yet with all the medications and interventions available, education, awareness and common sense remain the best prescription for staying healthy and avoiding infections.

This month, Wellness Matters focuses on dangerous infections; next month (July), we’ll examine common contagious and infectious diseases.

It’s critical to not underestimate the severity and danger associated with infections. Regardless of how they’re contracted, if left untreated, infections that spread through insect, animal or human bites, cuts, punctures, or the sharing of toothbrushes, razors and other personal items can turn deadly quickly.

Signs and symptoms vary depending on the organism causing the infection, but often include fever and fatigue, or discomfort at the wound site. Mild maladies may respond to rest and home remedies, but some infections are life-threatening, need medical intervention and may require hospitalization.

Here are a few common infections that everyone should be aware of and which require medical attention:

Staph infections are caused by staphylococcus bacteria, types of germs commonly found on the skin or in the nose of even healthy individuals. Most of the time, these bacteria cause no problems or result in relatively minor skin infections.

Skin infections caused by staph bacteria include:

  • The most common type of staph infection is the boil, a pocket of pus that develops in a hair follicle or oil gland. The skin over the infected area usually becomes red and swollen. If a boil breaks open, it will probably drain pus. Boils occur most often under the arms or around the groin or buttocks.
  • This contagious, often painful rash can be caused by staph bacteria. Impetigo usually features large blisters that may ooze fluid and develop a honey-colored crust.
  • This infection of the deeper layers of skin causes skin redness and swelling on the surface of your skin. Sores (ulcers) or areas of oozing discharge may develop, too. Cellulitis occurs most often in the lower legs and feet and can be life threatening if left untreated.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections.

Most MRSA infections occur in people who’ve been in hospitals or other healthcare settings, such as nursing homes and dialysis centers. When it occurs in these settings, it’s known as health care-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA). HA-MRSA infections typically are associated with invasive procedures or devices, such as surgeries, intravenous tubing or artificial joints.

Another type of MRSA infection has occurred in the wider community — among healthy people. This form, community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA), often begins as a painful skin boil. It’s spread by skin-to-skin contact. At-risk populations include groups such as high school wrestlers, child care workers and people who live in crowded conditions.

Treating dangerous infections

Antibiotics are the most effective course of treatment for fighting infections. Your doctor may perform tests to identify what type of staph bacteria is behind your infection, and to help choose the antibiotic that will work best. Antibiotics commonly prescribed to treat staph infections include certain cephalosporins, nafcillin or related antibiotics, sulfa drugs or vancomycin.

Vancomycin increasingly is required to treat serious staph infections because so many strains of staph bacteria have become resistant to other traditional medicines. But vancomycin and some other antibiotics have to be given intravenously.

If you’re given an oral antibiotic, be sure to take it as directed, and to finish all of the medication prescribed by your doctor. Ask your doctor what signs and symptoms you should watch for that might indicate your infection is worsening.

These common-sense precautions can help prevent or reduce the likelihood of developing infections such as staph:

  • Wash your hands. Careful hand-washing is our best defense against germs. Wash hands briskly for at least 15 to 30 seconds, then dry them with a disposable towel and use another towel to turn off the faucet. If your hands aren’t visibly dirty, you can use a hand sanitizer containing at least 62 percent alcohol.
  • Clean a wound, puncture or bite, and use an astringent, alcohol or antibiotic cream or pad. Oftentimes, simply washing the affected area with soap and water is enough. Even better, use one of the many available antibacterial creams or wipes for treating the area as soon as possible.
  • Keep wounds covered. Keep cuts and abrasions clean and covered with sterile, dry bandages until they heal. The pus from infected sores often contains staph bacteria, and keeping wounds covered will help keep the bacteria from spreading.
  • Reduce tampon risks. Toxic shock syndrome is caused by staph bacteria. Since tampons left in for long periods can be a breeding ground for staph bacteria, you can reduce your chances of getting toxic shock syndrome by changing your tampon frequently, at least every four to eight hours. Use the lowest absorbency tampon you can, and try to alternate using tampons and sanitary napkins whenever possible.
  • Keep personal items personal. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, sheets, razors, clothing and athletic equipment. Staph infections can spread on objects, as well as from person to person.
  • Wash clothing and bedding in hot water. Staph bacteria can survive on clothing and bedding that isn’t properly washed. To get bacteria off clothing and sheets, wash them in hot water whenever possible. Also, use bleach on any bleach-safe materials. Drying in the dryer is better than air-drying, but staph bacteria may survive the clothes dryer.

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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!

Milking it

Whole milk, low-fat, two percent, silk, goat, almond, lactose free . . . there’s even coconut milk! Confused? If you’re wondering what is what and which is better — or best for you and your family — here’s a quick primer to help you sort out the fat from the soy in your dairy products.

If you’ve ever traipsed through the dairy aisle at your local grocer, you know there’s a wide assortment of milk choices. But the contents and differences can be confusing, and misleading to the uninformed. Some people (including babies) can’t digest whole milk — fortunately, there are many non-dairy “milk” products available to help provide critical proteins and nutrients typically found in milk. But for those of us who can’t imagine an Oreo, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or bowl of cereal without cold milk, here’s some facts that might help narrow your healthy choices.

The primary types of milk sold in stores are whole milk, reduced-fat milk (2%), low-fat milk (1%), and fat-free milk. The percentages included in the names of the milk indicate how much fat is in the milk by weight.

Whole milk is 3.5 percent milk fat and is the closest to the way it comes from the cow before processing. Consumers who want to cut calories and fat have multiple options: Reduced-fat milk contains 2 percent milk fat and low-fat milk contains 1 percent milk fat. Fat-free milk, also called nonfat or skim, contains no more than 0.2 percent milk fat.

All of these milks contain the nine essential nutrients found in whole milk, but less fat. The U.S. government sets minimum standards for fluid milk that is produced and sold. Reduced-fat milks have all of the nutrients of full-fat milk; no water is added to these types of milk.

There are many types of milk – different fat levels, lactose-free, flavored and plain, rBST-free, organic and conventionally produced. This variety allows consumers to choose the milk product that best matches their nutritional needs and personal preferences.  All milk and milk products have an irreplaceable package of nutrients that cannot be found in any other single food or beverage. Cup for cup, organic and regular milk contain the same nine essential nutrients – such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium – that make dairy products an essential part of a healthy diet.

Organic labeling is not a measure of the quality or safety of a product. As with all organic foods, it’s the process that makes milk organic, not the final product. Any differences between organic and conventionally-produced milk are not likely to have an impact on our health. According to the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA), milk and milk products can be labeled “organic” if the milk is from cows that have been exclusively fed organic feed with no mammalian or poultry by-products, have access to pasture throughout the grazing season, are not treated with synthetic hormones and are not given antibiotics. Due to the pasture feeding requirement, organic milk can have more omega-3 fatty acids. However this will vary depending on the season and other factors.

Milk is among the most highly regulated and safest foods available. Both conventionally produced and organic milk are routinely tested for antibiotics and pesticides and must comply with very stringent safety standards, ensuring that both organic milk and conventional milk are pure, safe and nutritious.

What’s most commonly referred to as simply “milk” is cow’s milk, a product of the cow’s mammary gland. As with all other animal-based foods, it’s a complete protein; that is, it supplies people with all the necessary amino acids to form proteins. Cow’s milk contains 8 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbohydrates per 8-ounce cup.

Cow’s milk is a rich source of other nutrients as well. One cup provides adults with about 30 percent of their daily calcium needs and about 50 percent of their vitamin B12 and riboflavin requirements. Often, milk is fortified with vitamin D to facilitate the absorption of calcium. Vitamin A is usually added to milk as well. But as already mentioned, depending on the selection, cow’s milk can have a significant amount of fat. (See chart )

Soy and non-dairy substitutes

Lactose, the primary carbohydrate in cow’s milk, poses a digestive problem for some people. These folks are deficient in the lactase enzyme that’s needed to break down this milk sugar, causing gas, bloating, and diarrhea after consuming some forms of dairy products. The solution is to purchase products with the lactose already broken down, to take the enzyme in the form of a pill or drops, or to find a substitute for these foods.

Soymilk is not technically milk, but a beverage made from soybeans. It is the liquid that remains after soybeans are soaked, finely ground, and then strained. Since it doesn’t contain any lactose, soymilk is suitable for consumers who are lactose-intolerant. It’s also a popular cow’s milk substitute for vegans and vegetarians since it’s based on a plant source (others include rice, oat, almond, coconut, and potato milk).

One cup of unfortified soymilk contains almost 7 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbohydrate, 4½ grams of fat, and no cholesterol. Although soymilk supplies some B vitamins, it’s not a good source of B12, nor does it provide a significant amount of calcium. Since many people substitute soy beverages for cow’s milk, manufacturers offer fortified versions. These varieties may include calcium and vitamins E, B12, and D, among other nutrients. If you do choose to use soymilk instead of cow’s milk, read labels carefully to be sure you’re getting enough of these important nutrients or consider getting them from alternative food sources.

Soymilk may help some people reduce their risk for heart disease. Soy naturally contains isoflavones, plant chemicals that help lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) if taken as part of a “heart healthy” eating plan. The recommendation is to take in about 25 grams of soy protein per day. One cup of soymilk has about 7 to 10 grams of protein, depending on the brand. If you’re going to buy soy, go for the unflavored, organic soymilk in order to preserve the protein it contains.

Almond milk sales have climbed over the past few years, as it has been touted as a healthier alternative to milk and soymilk. It contains fewer calories than soy (90 calories in 8 ounces), no saturated fat or cholesterol, about 25 percent of our daily vitamin D, and almost half of our vitamin E requirement. Though almond milk has also been recognized for preventing heart disease, researchers don’t believe it has the same nutritional value as conventional milk, and it has very little protein.

Rice milk is processed, milled rice, blended with water until it transforms into a liquid. During the process, carbohydrates become sugar, giving it a natural sweetened taste. This sugary alternative is very low in nutrient value unless vitamins and calcium are added to it. It’s the least likely to trigger allergies, but contains almost no protein and has twice as many carbohydrates.

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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!

Welcome to Lyme Disease central

It’s nice to brag about Connecticut’s shoreline, rolling hills, beautiful rivers and scenic vistas. We’re among the leaders in quality of life, have a highly skilled workforce, and a history rich in innovation, invention and discovery. Unfortunately, we’re also the national poster child for Lyme Disease, which — literally and figuratively — has made the nutmeg state its bull’s eye.

Lyme Disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, joint pain and in many, but not all cases, that characteristic “bull’s-eye-like” skin rash called erythema migrans. It’s estimated to affect 300,000 Americans a year and 65,000 in Europe, typically in the spring and early summer.

If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks.  Laboratory testing is helpful but not always conclusive, and Lyme Disease often is misdiagnosed. It is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness (meaning transmitted via organisms such as ticks or mosquitoes) in the United States, even though it does not occur nationwide and is heavily concentrated in the northeast and upper Midwest.

Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. It is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person. But there are certain precautions we can take to prevent the spread of the illness, including using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, applying pesticides, and reducing tick habitat, especially since the ticks that transmit Lyme Disease can occasionally transmit other tick-borne diseases as well.

While it is a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks year-round, we should be extra vigilant in warmer months (April through September) when ticks are most active. And in summer, when we’re out hiking, biking, camping, and spending a lot more time in and around grass and woods, there are several steps we can take to limit bites from ticks, mosquitoes and other disease-bearing insects.

Avoid direct contact with ticks and mosquitoes when possible. If you can, avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. When hiking, picnicking or walking, try to remain in the center of trails.

Wear long pants and protective clothing, and when you’re done recreating or working outdoors, check your clothing for ticks, since they can migrate once in the car or home.

Use appropriate repellants. We can repel ticks and mosquitoes with DEET or Permethrin. Here are some useful hints for maximizing our use of tick repellant:

  • Use repellents that contain 20 percent or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.
  • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and remains protective for up to 70 washings.
  • If you’re using other repellents, go to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website for safety information.

Find and remove ticks from our bodies. Finding and removing ticks embedded in our skin can be gross, but painless. The best bet is to keep them at bay. But if they do find us, here are tips for dealing with them easily and effectively:

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on us.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of the body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
  • Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
  • Consult a doctor or a nurse (or check on the Internet) to determine the best method for removing the tick; it’s important to remove the entire tick, or it can leave parts embedded in our skin.

Should you or a family member develop a bull’s-eye-type red rash near the bite site, or exhibit other side effects such as a fever, lethargy or extreme exhaustion, consult a doctor and ask to be tested for Lyme Disease.

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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!

Putting national observances to work for your company

Summer’s rapidly approaching, which means the year is half gone. Or, on a more positive note, you still have six months in 2015 to plan some fun, competitive and interesting health and wellness activities for your workforce!

One CBIA Health Connections employer created a health and wellness committee to brainstorm and plan activities. They linked several of their activities to national health- and wellness-related observances. Another tied their activities to local events, charities, and parks. Many employers bring in guest presenters and instructors, or sponsor classes, health screenings, nutritional education, and internal competitions. It’s all good fun, can be used to support charitable programs, and helps build stronger workplace teams.

Every month in the United States, there are a dozen or more “formal” awareness commemorations. These provide great topics around which you, your wellness champion, management team, or staff employees can develop an action plan for one or more activities.

There’s something for everyone, ranging from high-profile cancer awareness months for ovarian, prostrate, breast, lung and skin cancers, to fruit and vegetables “matter” month, obesity, eye and hearing care, diabetes, yoga, UV protection, blood pressure, workplace and helmet safety, immunizations, and much more. You can find the list and related information here.

This month is National Great Outdoors Month – there are a variety of activities planned at Connecticut State parks, perfect locations for picnics and outings. And even though it’s not even summer yet, it’s never too early to begin planning for the autumn and winter – by building a schedule well in advance, you can encourage more employee involvement in planning and implementing activities that ultimately improve teamwork, enhance morale and productivity and support health and wellness.

Healthier employees are happier employees. They get sick less often, suffer from fewer incidences of chronic diseases, and have reduced absenteeism and sick days.

Sounds like a win for everyone. By delegating – and using the many health and wellness tools available online – you can play a major role in promoting, supporting and funding health and wellness activities that feature a huge return on your investment!

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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!

Preserving our health

It’s spring, and the colors around us are beautiful, bright, and pleasing. That’s great outdoors, but how about when the color is in our salads, sandwiches, desserts or drinks? What we see and don’t see on our plates or in our cups may make our food more appealing and last longer, but is it good for us or adding any nutritional value?

Understanding and limiting the wide variety of preservatives and additives used in our food is another side to the healthy-eating equation. Food additives are substances that become part of a food product when they are added during the processing or making of that food. “Direct” food additives — which may be man-made or natural — are often added during processing to provide nutrients, help process or prepare the food, keep the product fresh, or make it more appealing. This includes emulsifiers that prevent liquid products from separating, stabilizers and thickeners that provide an even texture, and anti-caking agents that allow substances to flow freely.

Additionally, many foods and drinks are fortified and enriched to provide vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Examples of commonly fortified foods are flour, cereal, margarine, and milk. This helps to make up for vitamins or minerals that may be low or lacking in a person’s diet.

These aren’t bad or dangerous — but they are substitutes that accommodate us for not regularly eating a healthy assortment of fruits, grains, and vegetables.

Certain preservatives help preserve the flavor in baked goods by preventing the fats and oils from going bad. They also prevent fruits and vegetables from turning brown when they are exposed to air. Finally, they provide color and enhance the taste of food.

Most concerns about food additives have to do with man-made ingredients that are added to foods. Some of these are:

  • Antibiotics given to food-producing animals, such as chickens and cows
  • Antioxidants in oily or fatty foods
  • Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharine, and sodium cyclamate
  • Benzoic acid in fruit juices
  • Lecithin, gelatins, corn starch, waxes, gums, and propylene glycol in food stabilizers and emulsifiers
  • Many different dyes and coloring substances
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Nitrates and nitrites in hot dogs and other processed meat products
  • Sulfites in beer, wine, and packaged vegetables

Congress defines safe as “reasonable certainty that no harm will result from use” of an additive. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides a list of food additives — many have not been tested, but most scientists consider them to be safe. These substances are put on the “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” list. This list contains about 700 items. Examples of items on this list are guar gum, sugar, salt and vinegar.

For a comprehensive FDA glossary of food additives, ingredients and labels, go here: http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm091048.htm

In the supermarket, your best ally is the Nutrition Facts Label on product packages, which lists, for example, how much sodium is in each serving. Sodium is a commonly used preservative and taste enhancer, but too much is unhealthy and contributes to increased blood pressure, heart disease and congestive heart failure.

As a guideline, to include a “sodium-free or salt-free” claim on the label, a product cannot exceed 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.  A product with a “low sodium” claim must not exceed 140 mg per serving.  A “no salt added or unsalted” claim on the label does not mean the food is “sodium free.”  Compare food labels and choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium. Also, look for the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark to find foods that can be part of a heart-healthy diet. This red and white icon on the package means the food meets specific nutrition requirements for certification. You can learn more about the Heart-Check Food Certification Program and find foods that are currently certified by visiting heartcheckmark.org.

Unless we grow and prepare everything we eat, we can’t avoid additives and preservatives in our diet. But by limiting intake through conscious shopping, and by eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fiber, we can improve our nutritional health and preserve our lives instead of just our food!

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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!

Calling all nuts

Life can certainly be pretty nutty; but when it comes to our nutritional health, the nuttier the better! That’s because eating nuts as part of a healthy diet can be good for our heart. Nuts, which contain unsaturated fatty acids and other nutrients, are a great snack food, simple to store, and easy to pack when we’re on the go. They’re also high in protein and fiber which delays absorption and decreases hunger, so frequent nut eaters are less likely to gain weight.

Nuts are energy-dense foods rich in bioactive macronutrients, micronutrients and phytochemicals. The unique composition of nuts is critical for their health effects. Patients who eat a “Mediterranean-style” diet rich in nuts or extra virgin olive oil — as well as vegetables and wine — have fewer heart attacks, strokes, or deaths from cardiovascular disease than those who eat a diet that simply lowers their intake of dietary fat.

Nuts, seeds, and pulses have been a regular part of mankind’s diet since pre-agricultural times. In Western countries nuts are consumed as snacks, desserts or part of a meal, and are eaten whole (fresh or roasted), in spreads (peanut butter, almond paste), as oils or hidden in commercial products, mixed dishes, sauces, pastries, ice creams and baked goods.

The type of nut we eat isn’t that important, although some nuts have more heart-healthy nutrients and fats than do others. Almost every type of nut has a lot of nutrition packed into a tiny package. People who eat nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet can lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol level in their blood. High LDL is one of the primary causes of heart disease. Eating nuts may reduce our risk of developing blood clots that can cause a fatal heart attack. Nuts also appear to improve the health of the lining of our arteries.

As much as 80 percent of a nut is fat. Even though most of this fat is healthy fat, it’s still a lot of calories. That’s why we should eat nuts in moderation and use nuts as a substitute for saturated fats, such as those found in meats, eggs and dairy products. The American Heart Association recommends eating four servings of unsalted nuts a week.

Select raw or dry-roasted nuts rather than those cooked in oil. A serving is a small handful (1.5 ounces) of whole nuts or two tablespoons of nut butter. But again, do this as part of a heart-healthy diet. Just eating nuts and not cutting back on saturated fats found in many dairy and meat products won’t do our hearts any good.

Walnuts are one of the best-studied nuts, and it’s been shown they contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans are other nuts that appear to be quite heart healthy. And peanuts — which are technically not a nut, but a legume, like beans — seem to be relatively healthy. Keep in mind, though, we cancel out the heart-healthy benefits of nuts if they’re covered with chocolate, sugar, or salt.

Besides being packed with protein, most nuts contain at least some of these heart-healthy substances:

  • Unsaturated fats. It’s not entirely clear why, but it’s thought that the “good” fats in nuts — both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — lower bad cholesterol levels.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Many nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a healthy form of fatty acids that seem to help our heart by, among other things, preventing dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in many kinds of fish, but nuts are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • All nuts contain fiber, which helps lower our cholesterol. Fiber makes us feel full, so we eat less. Fiber is also thought to play a role in preventing diabetes.
  • Vitamin E. Vitamin E may help stop the development of plaques in our arteries, which can narrow them. Plaque development in our arteries can lead to chest pain, coronary artery disease or a heart attack.
  • Plant sterols. Some nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can help lower our cholesterol. Plant sterols are often added to products like margarine and orange juice for additional health benefits, but sterols occur naturally in nuts.
  • L-arginine. Nuts are also a source of l-arginine, which is a substance that may help improve the health of our artery walls by making them more flexible and less prone to blood clots that can block blood flow.

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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!