A Shot in the Arm Beats Days in Bed

Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe symptoms, and can lead to hospitalization and death. Every year in the United States, millions of people are sickened, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and thousands die from the flu.

Anyone, no matter how healthy you are, can get the flu, and serious problems related to the flu can happen at any age. Unfortunately, some people are at a higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children.

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone six months of age and older get a flu vaccine annually. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.

The body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccine is needed for optimal protection. Also, flu viruses are constantly changing, so the formulation of the flu vaccine is reviewed each year and sometimes updated to keep up with changing flu viruses. For the best protection, everyone six months and older should get vaccinated annually.

“Flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through their community.

How vaccines work

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus; an influenza A (H3N2) virus; and an influenza B virus. There also are flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus.

The CDC recommends use of injectable influenza vaccines (including inactivated influenza vaccines and recombinant influenza vaccines).  A nasal mist is typically available, as well, but last year, the CDC advised against using it and favored immunizations. One exception of note is that standard-dose trivalent shots are manufactured using virus grown in eggs. If you are allergic to eggs, there exists an alternative made using a different base grown in cell culture.

Flu vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac (heart) events among people with heart disease, especially among those who experienced a cardiac event in the past year. Flu vaccination also has been associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes (79%) and chronic lung disease (52%). And flu vaccination helps protect women during and after pregnancy. Getting vaccinated against the flu can also protect a baby from flu after birth. (A mother can pass antibodies onto the developing baby during pregnancy.) Flu vaccination also may make your flu illness milder if you do get sick.

Contrary to myth, a flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are attenuated (weakened), and therefore cannot cause flu illness.

Side effects from a flu vaccination are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of the flu. Side effects may include soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, a low-grade fever, or aches, but it’s all short term.

Get vaccinated now

You should get a flu vaccine before flu begins spreading in your community, so make plans to get vaccinated early in fall. CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible. Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination is offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later. Children who need two doses of vaccine to be protected should start the vaccination process sooner, because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart.

There are many options for obtaining your vaccination, ranging from your regular physician to walk-in clinics, college health centers and even local drug stores and supermarket pharmacies.  Many larger employers will sponsor flu clinics so people don’t have to leave work to obtain their shot.  If you have questions about which vaccine is best for you, talk to your doctor or other health care professional.

Preventing pneumonia and shingles

Another important consideration as we head into the autumn months is to get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections. Pneumococcal disease is common in young children, but older adults are at greatest risk of serious pneumococcal infections and even death. The CDC recommends vaccination with the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine for all babies and children younger than two years old, all adults 65 years or older, and people two years through 64 years old who are at increased risk for pneumococcal disease due to certain medical conditions.

Shingles is the reactivation of a viral infection in the nerves to the skin that causes pain, burning, or a tingling sensation, along with an itch and blisters in the skin supplied by the affected nerve.  It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, or VZV — the same virus that causes chickenpox.  When the itchy red spots of childhood chickenpox disappear, the virus remains in a dormant state in our nerve cells, able to strike again. This second eruption of the chickenpox virus is called shingles or herpes-zoster.  Shingles is not caused by the same virus that causes genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease.

Shingles occurs when an unknown trigger causes the virus to become activated.  It afflicts approximately one million Americans annually, and children are vulnerable, too. However, about half of all cases occur in men and women 60 years old or older. People who develop shingles typically have only one episode in their lifetime, though it can strike a person a second or even third time. Since most of us had chickenpox as children, we’re at risk, even if the case was so mild that it may have passed unnoticed.

In the original exposure to VZV (chickenpox), some of the virus particles settle into nerve cells where they remain for many years in an inactive, hidden form. When the VZV reactivates, it spreads down the long nerve fibers that extend from the sensory cell bodies to the skin. As the virus multiplies, a telltale rash erupts. With shingles, the nervous system is more deeply involved than it was during the bout with chickenpox, and the symptoms are often more complex and severe.

Several antiviral medicines are available to treat shingles. These medicines will help shorten the length and severity of the illness. But to be effective, they must be started as soon as possible after the rash appears. But the only way to reduce the risk of developing shingles and the long-term pain from post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) – a condition that can afflict people after they’ve recovered from shingles – is to get vaccinated. Shingles vaccine (Zostavax®) reduces the risk of developing shingles and the long-term pain that can sometimes afflict those who have had shingles. The CDC recommends that people aged 60 years and older get one dose of shingles vaccine.


 

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!

Being Mindful is Good for Your Mind…and Body

If you’re one of the two out of 10 employed Americans who say they are NOT stressed at work, you may already be practicing mindfulness and stress-reduction techniques effectively, be one of those annoyingly happy people we all love to hate, be truly lucky, or maybe you just happened to be having a great day. Regardless, if you’re one of the eight out of 10 Americans who struggle with stress during the work day – as an employer or an employee – this article may help you.

Staying focused can be challenging. There’s just so much coming our way simultaneously and so many messages constantly bombarding us. Whether it’s people talking to us face-to-face or through technology, the assault on our senses is ongoing and distracting. And it’s hurting productivity, service, quality and our health.

We can only stand a certain amount of stimulation and distraction. Remaining focused on priority tasks and duties always is in conflict with reality. Whether it’s planned or unexpected meetings, calls, people showing up uninvited, customer demands, drop-everything rush projects – we’ve all been there. Finding ways to retain focus and concentration for increased productivity and quality is critical, as is ensuring that we keep stress at bay.

Many organizations are realizing the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness, in its simplest terms, is awareness, being present, and feeling like we’re in control. In addition to contributing to overall well-being, mindfulness and meditative practices have been linked to improved cognitive functioning and reduced stress levels.

Mindfulness enhances emotional intelligence, notably self-awareness and the capacity to manage distressing emotions. Sometimes it’s as simple as truly paying attention in a meeting or on a call, or managing to let other ideas, thoughts and pressures slide past you and concentrate on the person or task at hand. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve memory and lessen depression and anxiety.

Some employers have created quiet spaces for people to relax, meditate or simply seek a few peaceful minutes during their workday to unwind and refocus. Lunch rooms help, but are shared and often not as effective. Savvy businesses are inviting meditation, mindfulness, yoga and massage specialists to the workplace during the day, during lunch and after hours. But when these opportunities don’t exist or aren’t convenient to the day and type or place of work, there are other mindfulness tips you and employees can practice to help relax and improve productivity and efficiency. For example:

  • Practice breathing. It seems so obvious, but taking time to breathe consciously is very beneficial and easy to do, wherever you are. Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, and become aware of each breath, in and out. Feel the air enter your mouth and nose and travel down into your lungs, and then back out on the exhale. Some people measure the breathing cycle with a simple one/two count, others silently chant a personal mantra, but it doesn’t matter – spend five minutes just breathing consciously and it will slow you down considerably. It’s also an easy exercise to practice anytime, anywhere when you feel your pressure rising and your concentration weakening.
  • Practice “strategic acceptance.” When we get stressed out, we start thinking of everything in catastrophic terms. Each setback is amplified, and the negativity starts to compound. Rather than fighting these negative feelings and getting more stressed, try observing and exploring them, and accept the situation you’re presently experiencing. It doesn’t mean we like or can necessarily change or fix things at that moment, but through acceptance and a willingness to examine the way the negative energy is working on our minds and bodies, we can regain control and perspective. This doesn’t mean resigning yourself to a bad situation at work — it’s a matter of accepting how things are at this moment before making a plan to do what you can to improve them.
  • Tune into distractions around you. Offices are noisy, distracting environments, especially so-called “open offices” and cubicles. People talk loudly, you hear one another’s phone calls, typing, music – the sound mix is non-stop. Taking a moment to pay attention to those distractions rather than trying to tune them out can be a good way to prevent them from stressing you out. Gently notice the sounds and see if you can become aware of the effects they have on your body. The observation tends to rob the distractions of their power.
  • Take breaks. Regular breaks during the workday can boost productivity, creativity and patience. Instead of eating at your computer or work station, leave your work area for a brief walk, to get a drink or breathe some fresh air.  Stretch, walk when you can, or simply eat your meal in a different location, and try doing it without technology interference like emails, texts or social media . . . it’s good to use the time to think, daydream, meditate or do something that breaks the routine of your regular day.
  • Unplug from technology. With laptops, smart phones and tablets, it’s hard to truly relax or get unplugged from our work. Studies have shown that excessive reliance on technology makes us distracted, impatient and forgetful. Finding a way to “detox” can be extremely relaxing and helpful, be it through a walk, live social interaction, sharing a meal, reading a book or whatever works best for you.
  • Find time to exercise. There’s nothing like exercise, whether formal or spontaneous.  Exercise is good for our minds and our bodies, and a great tool for reducing stress. Whether you prefer to recreate outdoors, participate in sports, take a hike or bike ride or go to a fitness center, gym or training class, getting “physical” is a good way to calm our minds.

Whatever form or method you choose to achieve mindfulness, being aware of how stress, noise and distractions play negative roles in our every-day work lives is a critical first step for improving how we react – or don’t react – to situations that tap our energy, patience and creative spirits.


 

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!

Are Cell Phones Cooking Our Brains?

Quick, of all the electronic, radiation-producing devices invented in the past century, which one do we most keep pressed against or near our brain, ears, eyes and body for countless hours of each day, seven days a week, all year long? If you’re a cynic, you probably thought of hearing aids, right? But the answer is cell phones, smarty pants.

It would take volumes and years to examine and debate the profound effects cell phone technology have had on our culture, even well beyond the impact on human communication. Almost everyone you know has a cell phone, and most people today are using so-called “smart” phones, with Wi-Fi access to the Internet and thousands of useful and entertaining applications. But while we love our phones and the benefits we derive, it’s prudent to consider how safe they are, and how they might be affecting our health.

The good news is that countless studies around the world have failed to demonstrate a clear link between the radio waves used by cell phones and cancer in humans, especially with today’s more modern cell phone technology. The less-good news is that excessive cell phone use has caused other physical and emotional tolls, and that research into long-term health consequences from cell phone use is still in its infancy.

What we do know about cell phones and health

Electromagnetic fields in the radiofrequency range are used for telecommunications applications, including cell phones, televisions, and radio transmissions. The human body absorbs energy from devices that emit radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation.

There are many different types of radiation. Generally, they’re split into two categories: ionizing and non-ionizing. The first category includes x-rays, some high-energy UV rays, and cosmic rays. Cell phones give off radio waves, which are in the non-ionizing group. While ionizing radiation has been linked to cancer, non-ionizing radiation has not.

Over time, the number of cell phone calls per day, the length of each call, and the amount of time people use cell phones have increased. However, improvements in cell phone technology have resulted in devices that have lower power outputs than earlier models.

The only consistently recognized biological effect of radiofrequency energy is heating. The ability of microwave ovens to heat food is one example of this effect of radiofrequency energy. Radiofrequency exposure from cell phone use does cause heating to the area of the body where a cell phone or other device is held (ear, head, body, etc.). However, it is not sufficient to measurably increase body temperature, and there are no other clearly established effects on the body from radiofrequency energy.

When mobile phones are used very close to some medical devices (including pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, and certain hearing aids) there is the possibility of causing interference with their operation. The risk is much reduced for newer equipment. There is also the potential of interference between mobile phone signals and aircraft electronics. Some countries have licensed mobile phone use on aircraft during flight using systems that control the phone output power, but most airlines restrict cell phone and laptop use during takeoffs and landings.

Negative health consequences from cell phones

While the jury’s still out on non-ionizing radiation, heat and cell phones, what we DO know is that constant cell phone use typically requires bending one’s neck down to look at a small screen. This posture isn’t new – we look down when we write or read books, magazines and printed materials, as well – but texting adds another element that causes us to spend far more time than ever before bending our necks to look down, and spending way more time doing it.

Both of these elements are affecting posture and causing neck pain. This is especially troublesome when involving children because, over time, this constant bad posture can damage their cervical spine and result in neck injuries and chronic pain later in life.

Another less-often-mentioned consequence of cell phone use is bacterial exposure and infections. In studies, cell phones were shown to be germ magnets, especially for fecal bacteria, typically as a result of people going to the bathroom and not properly washing their hands. Cell phones with cases were the worst offenders for capturing and retaining germs, including viruses. Careful and regular cleaning of phones and phone cases with alcohol will help mitigate the potential for getting sick.

Interference with sleep is another consequence of constant cell phone use. Of course, it isn’t just cell phones – it’s the light emitted from “blue screens” such as television and computers, as well. Blue light shuts down melatonin production; melatonin is our body’s natural hormone which helps us fall asleep. Avoiding all types of blue-light emitters at least a full hour, and preferably, two or three hours before bedtime will result in improved sleep.

Studies also are underway regarding cell phones and repetitive use injuries to wrists and thumbs. While there haven’t been many conclusive results published, researchers have found that tablet and laptop users are at greater risk of developing musculoskeletal problems due to unnatural wrist postures.

And finally, the phenomena scientists are calling “digital distraction” is alive and, unfortunately, unwell. This is a wide range of distracted behaviors that result in vehicle, work and pedestrian accidents from people texting or phoning while they are driving, working or recreating.  Add GPS and music, and it’s a fine recipe for vehicular disaster. Countless examples of distracted driving have now been documented, resulting in thousands of deaths and many more injuries.

Here are a few “common-sense” tips for reducing potential injuries from cell phone use or exposure:

  • Use a hands-free device as often as possible. This does not include an “all-in-one” device like Bluetooth, which also emits radio frequencies, but a wireless or attached hands-free device. Use of these simple and inexpensive tools allows you to look ahead, not down, and moves the source of radiation away from your brain.
  • Keep the phone away from your head. Keep the phone in a handbag, holster or backpack, if possible, rather than holding it in your hands or keeping it pressed against your body in a pocket.
  • Avoid using your phone when you have bad reception. The fewer bars there are, the more powerfully the phone has to broadcast – some phones may increase output tenfold or more in areas with poor service.
  • Don’t text while your drive, walk or work. It seems obvious, but the alarming number of traffic, work and pedestrian accidents related to distracted phone users has mushroomed.
  • Place your phone or device on a counter or desk when possible. Phone and tablet users should attempt to place their devices in cases or on a stand that would allow for tilting the screen rather than holding and tilting the device in their hands. And whenever possible, place your cellphone in a mounting device in your car above the dashboard where it’s accessible without completely looking away from the road.

It’s not likely that we’re going to stop using cell phones. What is likely is that the technology will continue evolving, giving us access to faster, “smarter” and smaller phones and related communication devices. But as in other forms of modern technology, the practical uses and convenience evolves faster than researchers’ ability to assess long-term dangers and potential health consequences. The prescription for smart health, in all things, remains the use of common sense, and practicing cell phone use in moderation whenever possible.


 

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!

The Super Food in Your Fridge

The world around us provides practically all the nutritionally sound foods, supplements and even many of the natural medicines we need to survive . . . if only we take the time to learn about and understand them, respect their value and benefits, and resist the smorgasbord of unhealthy alternatives that tantalize us every minute.

A great example of one of nature’s almost perfect foods – after a little human intervention — is yogurt.  Whether you prefer it smooth and creamy or thick like custard, tangy, plain, sweet or overflowing with fruit and granola, yogurt is packed with nutrients, including vitamins and chemicals that help build strong bones and reduce blood pressure. It also contains friendly bacteria that aid in digestion and benefit our bodies in myriad other ways.

Yogurt contains probiotics, bacteria that are good for our health. They can help reduce inflammation, and improve how our bodies react to insulin, a hormone that manages the amount of sugar in our blood. Eating yogurt regularly is helpful for warding off type-2 diabetes, aids in digestion, and helps keep weight off over time. And the probiotics help regulate bowel movements, fight infections and can restore balance to our digestive systems after a round of antibiotics, reducing the likelihood of developing diarrhea, a common side effect from antibiotics.

Yogurt is made from milk, which contains calcium, an alkaline earth metal. Calcium is good for bone growth and health. Many dairies add vitamin D to their milk as well, another bonus. Eating yogurt, especially when we’re young, can reduce our risk of developing osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disease. Additionally, yogurt contains potassium, which helps keep blood pressure in check by flushing salt from our bodies.

Besides lowering blood pressure, yogurt has been linked to lower cholesterol levels. And according to some studies, yogurt consumers appeared to have a better metabolic profile such as lower BMI, waist circumference, levels of triglycerides, fasting glucose and insulin, and lower blood pressure but higher HDL [good] cholesterol.

These studies measured people who ate more yogurt and less processed meat and refined grains. When combined with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains and other healthy foods, participants had higher levels of potassium (which helps flush excess salt from our body), vitamins B2 and B12, calcium, magnesium, zinc and other micronutrients.

Something for everyone

Shopping at the supermarket for yogurt can be confusing – there are many brands, varieties and styles, and more seem to be added every day. Yogurt, like all milk products, has natural sugar called lactose. Six ounces of plain yogurt has about 12 grams, but sweetened yogurts have considerably more.  Plain yogurt topped with fruit is a healthier alternative, or even mixing a sweetened yogurt with plain yogurt is preferable to reduce the amount of sugar.

Greek yogurt is strained to make it thicker — it has more protein but less calcium. Many brands boost their Greek yogurts with extra calcium, so it’s important to read labels. Also, the label should tell you if the yogurt contains live and active cultures, which are important for digestion. And when it comes to fat, low-fat yogurt is your best option, since whole-milk yogurts have more saturated fat, which isn’t good for our hearts.

Mixing yogurt with nuts like walnuts or almonds, as well as fresh fruit, enhances its benefits.  Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fats and contain higher amounts of antioxidants than most other foods. Eating walnuts may improve brain health while also helping to prevent heart disease and cancer.

Like other nuts, most of the energy or calories in walnuts come from fat. This makes them an energy-dense, high-calorie food. However, even though walnuts are rich in fat and calories, studies indicate that they do not increase the risk of obesity when replacing other foods in the diet. They also are richer than most other nuts in polyunsaturated fats.

So, think about adding yogurt to your diet as a breakfast staple, for lunch, or as a healthy snack. And no matter how or when you enjoy it, know that it’s healthy, easy to prepare or mix with other foods, and comes in so many flavors and varieties that you can enjoy it for years to come!


 

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!

It’s That Other Sneezing, Coughing, Itchy Eye Time of Year

As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, we’re already seeing color in the trees and bushes.  Autumn is almost upon us, and while we may be mesmerized by what’s to come – including the vibrant colors, crunching of leaves underfoot and seasonal squash and vegetables — there are a few side effects of fall we might not love, such as allergic reactions to ragweed, respiratory illnesses and the 2017/2018 flu season.

If you’re already sniffling and sneezing, the symptoms may be familiar, but the causes – and diagnosis – may not be as clear. Many respiratory ailments start with sneezing, running eyes and noses, and then may progress to sore throats, coughs, chest pain and fever. Understanding the differences, deciding on treatment options, and when to seek medical attention are important, especially if the patient is young, elderly or suffers from other chronic illnesses.

Beware pneumonia and bronchitis

Pneumonia is a condition of the lungs where the air sac (alveoli) become filled with fluid or pus. The pus in the lungs can be the result of a bacterial or viral infection, which leaves the infected person with a cough containing phlegm.

People with weaker immune systems, such as young children below the age of five and elderly people above the age of 65 are most likely to be affected by the infection. If left unchecked it can be fatal. If bacterial, it can be treated effectively with antibiotics.

Bronchitis is a respiratory condition where the bronchial tubes and trachea are inflamed. These are the airways that carry air to the lungs. With bronchitis, the airways are constantly irritated, inducing a cough, and the mucus that comes up with the cough is responsible for spreading the infection. The infection that causes bronchitis is usually caused by the same viruses that spread the common cold and flu.

The primary difference between pneumonia and bronchitis is that while the air sacs in the lungs are infected in pneumonia, it is the airways of the lungs that are affected in bronchitis. Both are respiratory disorders which affect the effective functioning of the lungs, which make it difficult to breathe properly.

But sneezing, coughing and related symptoms aren’t always a sign of a serious illness. Oftentimes, it’s more likely to be seasonal allergies which, though more prevalent in the spring, cause a fair share of autumn suffering, as well.

What causes hay fever in the fall?

Many plant varieties can cause hay fever, but the 17 varieties of ragweed that grow in North America pose the biggest threat. Three out of four people who are allergic to pollen are allergic to ragweed.

A hardy annual, ragweed thrives just about anywhere turf grasses and other perennials haven’t taken root — along roads and riverbanks, in vacant lots, and certainly in your yard or neighborhood. Over the course of a single year, one ragweed plant can produce one billion grains of pollen, which float wherever the breeze carries them, and often are unwelcome visitors in your home, car and workplace.

For hay-fever sufferers, inhaling these tiny particles triggers a cascade of biochemical reactions resulting in the release of histamine, a protein that causes sneezing, congestion, fatigue, coughing, and post-nasal drip; itchy eyes, nose, and throat; dark circles under the eyes; and asthma attacks.

Here are six simple strategies for reducing the severity of hay fever attacks:

  • Make Your Home as pollen-free as possible: During ragweed season, keep your windows shut and the air conditioner on (and do the same while in your car). Running the air conditioner will also help remove moisture from the air, which helps prevent the growth of mold, which also aggravates hay fever symptoms. HEPA air filters can be helpful, especially if your home is carpeted.
  • Wear a Mask: A surgical-style facemask isn’t going to completely protect you from pollen, but it can cut exposure substantially, especially when gardening, mowing the lawn, walking and Look for a facemask with an “N95” rating from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). You should be able to pick one up at a drugstore or home-supply store.
  • Wash your hands and face: Whenever you come in from outside, wash your face and hands. If you’ve been exposed to outdoor air for quite a while, shower and change into fresh clothes. And if you have pets that go outdoors, regular brushing and bathing will help reduce the amount of pollen in their fur.
  • Beware of certain foods that aggravate allergies: Some foods, such as bananas, melons and chamomile contain proteins similar to the ones in ragweed.
  • Beware of pollen counts where you live and work. On days when the pollen count is especially high, stay indoors as possible, or take over-the-counter or prescription medicines before you go out.

If these pollen-avoidance strategies fail to bring relief, consider non-prescription antihistamines. If you’re bothered by congestion as well as sneezing and a runny, itchy nose, adding a decongestant may help. There are also antihistamine/decongestant combinations available. For severe or persistent symptoms, a steroid nasal spray may also be helpful. If you have any medical conditions or questions about what to take, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your options, including generics which cost less and generally work just as well.

Finally, tenderness or pressure in the nasal passages and headaches might be an indication of a sinus infection, which may require antibiotics. And with flu season rapidly approaching, it’s time to schedule your flu shot, which is easily available through your physician’s office, at walk-in clinics, chain drugstores and even in many supermarket pharmacies.


 

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!

 

Achieving Balance Between Work, Health, and Overall Wellness

It is rare when you find a company that seems to have successfully bridged the gap between hard work, customer service and quality of life. ZAG Interactive is one of those organizations, featuring a vibrant, energized workforce that prides itself on customer quality, innovation, teamwork and their own health and wellness.

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency specializing in website design, strategic marketing, custom development and campaign support. Much of its name recognition comes from building or redesigning websites for credit unions and banks across the country. It employs 55 people, and has been growing like gangbusters. It’s a youthful organization founded 15 years ago by a young, hands-on CEO, Larry Miclette, Jr., who leads by example, in the office and in the fitness arena.

Miclette has always supported work/life balance, and takes a personal, interactive interest in the health of his employees. The culture, says the company’s Wellness Champion Dawn Stanford, operations coordinator for ZAG, is very family and team oriented. People work and play together, and even spend time in one another’s company out of the office. And fitness, nutrition and exercise play important roles in helping them bond, manage stress and remain customer focused.

ZAG offers a variety of opportunities for employees to increase their activity level and health, Stanford says. “Employees are given a full membership to Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness, a gym that specializes in group classes, personal training, or individual training. We also offer a membership to Mission Fitness, which is a group-fitness-style gym that specializes in group boot camp, boxing, power and spin classes. They also offer ‘Mission Adventures,’ which include trail running, hiking, and triathlons.”

ZAG recently provided on-site lunch-time workouts with a trainer from Mission Fitness. The trainer offered nutritional guidance as well as a 20- to 30-minute workout. Lunchtime is playtime, as well – interested employees gather to enjoy Wiffle ball, a fun activity that started with a few ZAG players and now has expanded into a league, with tournament time quickly approaching and a trophy – and bragging rights – on the line.

Every Friday during the warm months there is a team picnic, and an employee who is a yoga instructor offers a class onsite on many Thursday evenings. Frequently employees bring in fresh vegetables and fruit from their gardens, share smoothie and nutritional snacks and dinner recipes, and discuss healthy food alternatives at lunch time and throughout the day.

“Our team is very congenial, supportive, proactive and involved,” says Melissa Wilkinson, a senior designer at ZAG, who also assists Stanford with the day-to-day health and wellness communication, planning and outreach. “In the past we’ve posted daily health tips such as how to optimize a 30-minute workout break, nutritional information, and other ideas. Many of us go outside at lunch for walks or hikes, and there’s a park nearby with walking and fitness trails. We set and share personal goals, and prompt and support each other.” A fear years ago, Zag hosted a “ZAG Fit” competition. The competition encouraged employees, their families and friends of ZAG to upload photographs of themselves doing any kind of health and wellness activities that interested them at work or on their own time. If they posted photos with a ZAG Fit hashtag, they were entered into a drawing for a free Fitbit. One was awarded to an employee, and one went to a non-ZAG employee.

They’ve also created a wellness advocacy team, comprising one representative from each business area. The goal, Wilkinson says, is to better integrate health and wellness across the organization by recognizing that each department has different interests, challenges ideas and its own subculture. Inclusivity, she adds, is key to success.

“Everyone benefits in a culture that embraces wellness,” Wilkinson explains. “We all think we eat healthy and exercise properly, but getting a professional to come in and explain things to the group, or in a one-on-one setting, makes a huge difference in how effective and educated we are when it comes to nutrition, fitness and overall wellness.”

“Here at ZAG, living a healthy lifestyle is important,” Stanford stresses. “‘Living healthy’ means different things to different people. We offer many opportunities for our employees to help reduce their stress and be active, involved and nutritionally fit every day. Wellness is a regular topic of conversation, and a way of life.”


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!

Certain Foods and Meds Don’t Mix

Raise your hand if you typically ignore the tiny little writing on your prescription medication bottles or on the box that comes with your over-the-counter meds. You are not alone because according to medical researchers, millions of Americans—by some estimates, half or more of the people using medications or drugs – ignore the warning labels, either partially or completely.

Medical compliance broadly applies to how well you adhere to the directions, warnings, and advice you’ve received from your physician, pharmacist, or the drug company. It concerns frequency, dosage, time of day for taking a medication, and what foods, other medications or liquids to avoid when using certain drugs.

While it may be hard to imagine that food would play such an important role in how well our medications work, think vitamins, digestion, compounds, and chemicals . . . . lots and lots of chemicals. That’s what food and the medications we ingest, inhale, or otherwise insert into our bodies are made of.  How they work together – and if they work well together – is important information for medical consumers to understand and employ. Failure to comply with these warnings can minimize the effectiveness of the medications you are taking and, in some cases, endanger your life.

The range of foods that can counteract, boost, or reduce medicinal potency are far reaching. Some may be surprising — the list includes everyday items such as bananas, kale, grapefruit, black licorice, caffeine, alcohol, salami, and walnuts, just to name a few. Here’s a rundown on some common food/drug interactions consumers should be aware of:

Bananas shouldn’t be mixed with ACE inhibitors and so-called “potassium-sparing” diuretics, which can increase the amount of potassium in our bodies. Too much potassium can cause an irregular heartbeat and heart palpitations. So people who take those drugs should avoid large amounts of food high in potassium, including bananas, oranges, green leafy vegetables, and salt substitutes such as Morton Lite Salt. The meds that fall into these categories include captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), and lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril), which are used to lower blood pressure or treat heart failure. Also avoid mixing with certain diuretics, such as triamterene (Dyrenium), used to reduce fluid retention and treat high blood pressure.

Kale shouldn’t be mixed with blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin). Kale and other greens, including broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and brussels sprouts are rich in vitamin K, which can reduce the drug’s anti-clotting effects. It’s good to eat a balanced diet with lots of greens, but if you have the urge to start drinking a daily kale smoothie, speak with your doctor first.

Black licorice shouldn’t be mixed with Digoxin (Lanoxin), which is used to treat heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms. Glycyrrhizin, a component of black licorice, can cause irregular heartbeat or even death when combined with digoxin. Licorice also appears to make certain drugs less effective. The list includes blood-pressure medications, blood thinners, pain relievers, and birth-control pills. Be careful if you eat a lot of it (only the real stuff counts; some candy is just licorice-flavored, so look for “licorice extract” on labels) or if you take licorice-root supplements for heartburn.

Grapefruit juice shouldn’t be mixed with cholesterol drugs such as atorvastatin (Lipitor) and lovastatin (Mevacor). Drinking grapefruit juice can raise the level of the drug in your bloodstream and increase the risk of side effects, especially leg pain. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice can interfere with other drugs, too.

 Walnuts shouldn’t be mixed with thyroid drugs such as levothyroxine (Levothroid, Levoxyl, Synthroid). Walnuts, soybean flour, cottonseed meal, and high-fiber foods can prevent your body from absorbing those medications. So if you eat a high-fiber diet, you might need a higher dosage.

Milk shouldn’t be mixed with Tetracycline antibiotics (Sumycin). Calcium, which we derive from dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, and calcium supplements and fortified foods can prevent the body from absorbing the drug. In general, tetracycline works better if taken one hour before or two hours after eating.

Salami shouldn’t be mixed with drugs such as metronidazole (Flagyl) and linezolid (Zyvox), used to treat bacterial infections. If you eat or drink too much of anything that contains the amino acid tyramine, your blood pressure could spike. Tyramine is found in foods that are aged, pickled, fermented, or smoked such as processed cheeses, anchovies, and dry sausage. It’s also in avocados, bananas, chocolate, and alcoholic drinks.

Alcohol doesn’t mix well with most medications. Many medications come with instructions not to drink alcohol while you’re taking them. It’s an important warning—even a single glass of wine could be too much. Alcohol alone can make you drowsy, light-headed, and less coordinated; mixing it with certain drugs can magnify those effects. Even worse, it can cause serious problems, including internal bleeding and breathing and heart problems. And alcohol can make a drug less effective, even useless, or it can make a drug toxic. For example, just a few drinks mixed with acetaminophen (Tylenol) can damage your liver.

Finally, beware of mixing supplements with your prescription and over-the-counter medications without consulting your physician or pharmacist. Like the foods and drinks above, some dietary supplements, including vitamins, minerals, and herbals, can cause problems if you take them with some drugs.

Even a multivitamin with iron can negate the effects of many drugs. But herbs are the worst offenders. For example, combining St. John’s wort with over-the-counter cough medicines or prescription antidepressants or migraine drugs can cause serotonin syndrome, a dangerous condition that can cause rapid blood-pressure changes, confusion, muscle spasms, and even death.

The most common drugs involved in negative interactions with supplements were, in order, warfarin (Coumadin), insulin, aspirin, digoxin (a heart drug), and ticlopidine. The supplements that most often caused problems were St. John’s wort, magnesium, calcium, iron, and ginkgo biloba.

Just because these foods and supplements might interact with certain drugs you’re taking doesn’t mean you have to avoid them completely. Speak with your physician about any short- or long-term medication you’re taking, read labels carefully, and learn when it’s safe to eat what you like, when you like it.


 

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!

Seeing Clearly Is Good for Your Whole Body

Remember those stories we heard as children about eating carrots to keep our eyes strong? While it’s true that the beta carotene found in carrots converts to vitamin A during digestion and is rich in antioxidants, the best way to keep our eyes strong is to eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, wear eye protection when appropriate, and make sure to schedule regular eye exams for yourself and your family members.

Millions of Americans wear corrective eye wear or contact lenses, but taking our eyes for granted is common and easy to do. Wearing approved safety glasses on a job site, while working in the yard, or when competing in sports seems obvious enough. But there are so many ways to hit ourselves in the eye or to be injured by thrown objects, splashed liquids, and even wind-blown contaminants or materials. Hospital emergency rooms treat patients with eyes damaged by all manner of chemicals, fish hooks, baseballs, wood chips, and much more. So if you’re doing something that might result in an injury, take the safe and easy step to cover your eyes.

Being aware of the potential damage from ultraviolet light also is important. Sunglasses and clear eyeglasses with protective coatings filter out the sun’s damaging rays, so if you work or spend a lot of time outdoors, you need that extra protection.

Visit your eye care professional regularly

Adults should visit an ophthalmologist at least once every other year, and annually if you have bad eyesight or a family history of glaucoma, cataracts, or other congenital or age-related eye ailments. Many eye maladies develop as we get older, part of the natural aging process. Through a comprehensive eye exam that typically involves dilating your pupils and conducting a number of standard (and painless) tests, eye care professionals (ophthalmologist and optometrists) not only determine sight deficiencies and illnesses, but also find warning signs pointing to other dangers such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer. Opticians can prescribe glasses and contacts, but aren’t as highly trained to spot illness and to deal with injuries.

Dry eye syndrome and glaucoma are two common ailments that affect people as they age. If the glands in your eyes stop making enough natural lubricants, you can buy over-the-counter remedies, but you should have your eyes checked for inflammation or infection. Sometimes dry eyes occur from living or working in windy, dry, or low-humidity environments, or in buildings with air-blown hot air. Doctors recommend “fake tears,” which don’t have as many chemicals as the “get the red out” eye drops. Anti-inflammation medications and vitamins or foods like fish oil which are high in Omega-3 are often recommended.

Glaucoma is a group of illnesses that can lead to blindness if not treated. When fluid builds up inside the eye, pressure and tension can result in damage to the optic nerve, including blindness. Glaucoma has no early warning signs. However, symptoms can include blurriness or clouded vision, sensitivity to light, headaches, reduced peripheral, or “tunnel vision”. It’s more common in adults over 60, in African American adults over 40, or in adults with diabetes, or a family history of glaucoma. It is most often treated through medications and surgery.

Here are some common tips for helping to ensure good eye health:

  • Know your family’s eye health history. Talk to your family members about their eye health history. It’s important to know if anyone has been diagnosed with a disease or condition since many are hereditary. This will help to determine if you are at higher risk for developing an eye disease or condition.
  • Eat right to protect your sight. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or collard greens is important for keeping your eyes healthy. Research has also shown there are eye health benefits from eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing systemic conditions such as diabetic eye disease or glaucoma which can lead to vision loss. If you are having trouble maintaining a healthy weight, talk to your doctor.
  • Wear protective eyewear. Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or doing activities around the home. Protective eyewear includes safety glasses and goggles, safety shields, and eye guards specially designed to provide the correct protection for a certain activity. Most protective eyewear lenses are made of polycarbonate, which is 10 times stronger than other plastics. Many eye care providers sell protective eyewear, as do some sporting goods stores.
  • Quit smoking or never start. Smoking is as bad for your eyes as it is for the rest of your body. Research has linked smoking to an increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and optic nerve damage, all of which can lead to blindness.
  • Be cool and wear your shades. Sunglasses are a great fashion accessory, but their most important job is to protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When purchasing sunglasses, look for ones that block out 99 to 100%of both UV-A and UV-B radiation.
  • Give your eyes a rest. If you spend a lot of time at the computer or focusing on any one thing, you sometimes forget to blink and your eyes can get fatigued. Try the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds. This can help reduce eyestrain.
  • Clean your hands and your contact lenses properly. To avoid the risk of infection, always wash your hands thoroughly before putting in or taking out your contact lenses. Make sure to disinfect contact lenses as instructed and replace them as appropriate.

Through comprehensive, regular eye exams, your doctor can check for early warning signs of glaucoma, potential retinal detachment (which causes floaters or flashes in the eye but can be sight threatening) and other common eye diseases, and help keep those beautiful peepers of yours sparkling and healthy.


 

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!

What’s That on Your Feet?!

It’s summer and many of us are fairly active outside or indoors; walking, jumping, biking, boating, playing sports, jogging, and exercising. Chances are we’re wearing sneakers or athletic shoes while we play or work, those leather, cloth, or mesh multi-colored foot coverings universally popular with children and adults alike. In the United States alone, the market for sneakers and athletic shoes comprises a multibillion-dollar industry that capitalizes on smart marketing, style, star power, peer pressure, practicality, and comfort.  We all wear them, yet how much do we actually know about what’s on our feet, like if they’re suitable for the activities we’re using them for and if they’re good for us?

At one time in the not-too-distant past, everyone wore sneakers when active. Now there are hundreds of athletic shoes to choose from, designed for practically every type of activity, though typically for running, training, and walking.

Court sports include shoes for tennis, basketball, and volleyball. Court sports require the body to move forwards, backwards, and side-to-side. As a result, most athletic shoes used for court sports are subjected to heavy abuse. The key to finding a good court shoe is its sole. Field sports include shoes for soccer, football, and baseball. These shoes often are cleated, studded, or spiked. The spike and stud formations vary from sport to sport, but generally there are replaceable or detachable cleats, spikes, or studs affixed onto nylon soles.

When it comes to track and field, athletic shoe companies produce many models for various foot types. One brand does not meet the needs of everyone, and the latest innovation or most expensive shoe may not be your best choice. However, even the best-designed shoes in the world will not do the job if they do not fit properly. You can avoid foot problems by finding a shoe store that employs a pedorthist or professional shoe fitter who knows about the different shapes and styles of shoes.

Here’s some guidance for choosing the athletic shoe that’s best for you:

Running Shoes:  A good running shoe should have ample cushioning to absorb shock, though there are advocates for minimalist running shoes with almost no cushioning. If you choose a cushioned shoe, look for overall shock absorption for the foot and good heel control. This may help prevent shin splints, tendinitis, heel pain, stress fractures, and other overuse syndromes.

Joggers should wear a shoe with more cushioning for impact. Running shoes are designed to provide maximum overall shock absorption for the foot. Such a shoe should also have good heel control. Together, these attributes help prevent shin splints, tendinitis, heel pain, stress fractures, and other overuse syndromes.

Walking Shoes:  If walking is a major athletic activity for you, wear a lightweight shoe. Look for extra shock absorption in the heel of the shoe,especially under the ball of the foot (the metatarsal area). This will help reduce heel pain (plantar fasciitis and pump bumps) as well as burning and tenderness in the ball of the foot (metatarsalgia). A shoe with a slightly rounded sole or rocker bottom also helps to smoothly shift weight from the heel to the toes while decreasing the forces across the foot. Walking shoes have more rigidity in the front so you can roll off your toes rather than bend through them as you do with running shoes.

Aerobic Shoes:  Shoes for aerobic conditioning should be lightweight to prevent foot fatigue and have extra shock absorption in the sole beneath the ball of the foot (metatarsal area), where the most stress occurs.

Tennis Shoes: Tennis players need a shoe that supports the foot during quick side-to-side movements or shifts in weight. A shoe that provides stability on the inside and outside of the foot is an important choice. Flexibility in the sole beneath the ball of the foot allows repeated, quick forward movements for a fast reaction at the net. You need slightly less shock absorption in the shoe if you’re playing tennis or other racquet sports. On soft courts, wear a softer-soled shoe that allows better traction. On hard courts, you want a sole with greater tread.

Basketball Shoes:  For basketball, choose a shoe with a thick, stiff sole. This gives extra stability when running on the court. A high-top shoe may provide added support but won’t necessarily decrease the risk of ankle sprain or injury.

Cross Trainers:  Cross-training shoes, or cross trainers, combine several of the above features so that you can participate in more than one sport. A good cross trainer should have the flexibility in the forefoot you need for running, combined with the lateral control necessary for aerobics or tennis.

We don’t necessarily need a different pair of shoes for every sport in which we participate. Generally, wear sport-specific shoes for sports you play more than three times a week. If you have worked out for some time injury-free, then stick with the particular shoe you have been wearing. There is really no reason to change.

For special problems, you may need a special shoe. If your ankles turn easily, you may need to wear a shoe with a wide heel. If you have trouble with shin splints, you may need a shoe with better shock absorption.

If the shoe fits, buy it!

Here are some useful guidelines for buying new athletic shoes:

  • If possible, purchase athletic shoes from a specialty store. The staff will provide valuable input on the type of shoe needed for your sport as well as help with proper fitting. This may cost a little more, but is worthwhile, particularly for shoes that are used often.
  • Don’t go just by size. Have your feet measured, and choose shoes that fit the larger foot first.
  • Try on athletic shoes after a workout or run and at the end of the day. Your feet will be at their largest.
  • Wear the same type of sock that you will wear for that sport.
  • When the shoe is on your foot, you should be able to freely wiggle all of your toes.
  • The shoes should be comfortable as soon as you try them on. There is no break-in period.
  • Walk or run a few steps in your shoes. They should be comfortable.
  • Always re-lace the shoes you are trying on. You should begin at the farthest eyelets and apply even pressure as you create a crisscross lacing pattern to the top of the shoe.
  • There should be a firm grip of the shoe to your heel. Your heel should not slip as you walk or run.
  • If you participate in a sport three or more times a week, you need a sport-specific shoe. Remember that after 300 to 500 miles of running or 300 hours of aerobic activity, the cushioning material in a shoe is usually worn down and it’s time to toss the shoes.
  • If you have bunions or hammertoes, find a shoe with a wide toe box. You should be able to fully extend your toes when you’re standing, and shoes should be comfortable from the moment you put them on. They will not stretch out.
  • Women who have big or wide feet should consider buying men’s or boys’ shoes, which are cut wider for the same length.

Finally, if your feet or back hurt, you should get them checked out by a physician. For the best advice, see an orthopedic surgeon, a doctor specializing in diseases of the bones and joints. The orthopedic surgeon is trained to treat problems of the foot and ankle. Pedorthists and orthotists are trained to make and modify arch supports (orthoses) and fulfill the surgeon’s prescription. Working with these professionals will ensure you get the right shoe for the best possible treatment.

Proper-fitting sports shoes can enhance performance and prevent injuries. But whatever you choose to wear on your feet, get out there, have fun, and be healthy!


 

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!

Flu Shot Protocols for Employers

The cost of getting sick taxes employers and employees alike. Chronic illness and injuries—though not always anticipated—can be managed, but it’s hard to limit exposure to viruses and bacteria. However, there are steps we can take to mitigate the chances that we and our fellow workers will come down with and share certain contagious illnesses, especially in the workplace.

High on the list of contagions that can be controlled is influenza, or the flu. Every year, millions of Americans contract the flu, losing three to five days of work or more, requiring visits to physicians or walk-in clinics, and for many, a stay in the hospital. It’s also life threatening for seniors, small children and adults with compromised immune or respiratory systems. The annual medical costs run in the billions, as do the costs of lost productivity.

With easy, convenient, and affordable access to safe immunizations for preventing the flu, employers across the country, especially in the healthcare industry, are taking a more proactive stance toward ensuring employee compliance. Some companies are shooting for 100%compliance, launching educational campaigns, team competitions, rallies, and incentive options such as discounts and premiums. Others are taking a carrot and stick approach, linking employer contribution incentives to medical savings accounts. Others are just wielding the stick, insisting that employees receive a flu vaccination as a condition of employment, with exceptions for those who have legitimate religious concerns or allergies to the vaccination.

Recognizing the central role businesses and employers play in protecting the health and safety of their employees, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have produced materials intended to guide employers in their planning and preparedness for seasonal and pandemic influenza. The guidance is intended to help employers take actions to decrease influenza spread, maintain business continuity, and secure critical infrastructure. OSHA recommends that employers prioritize vaccination because it is a long-term and effective intervention that reduces reliance on employee behavioral changes such as hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

As far back as February of 2010, the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) released their provisional recommendation that all people six months of age or older receive an annual influenza vaccination, unless contraindicated. The CDC also recommends that employers encourage employees to seek vaccination against both seasonal and pandemic influenza, offer influenza vaccination opportunities at their worksite or consider allowing employees time off from work to seek vaccination.

Despite the potential benefits of vaccination, self-reports within the National Health Interview Survey suggest that vaccine coverage among healthy adults 18 to 49 years is only approximately 20%. Offering vaccination in the workplace could increase coverage by making vaccination more convenient, and reducing or eliminating the associated cost may further improve influenza vaccine participation.

Studies have shown that individuals who received influenza vaccine at work cited convenience as an important factor in the decision to be vaccinated. Following physicians’ offices, workplaces are the most common location to receive an influenza vaccination, with one-third of 18- to 49-year-old vaccine recipients and one-fifth of 50 to 64-year-old vaccine recipients receiving the vaccine at work. The addition of workplace education programs can provide information and alleviate employees’ concerns and misinformation about influenza vaccination.

Compliance and the law

More and more healthcare employers are requiring that all employees get the influenza vaccine in order to help protect patients and coworkers during flu season. This trend has resulted in questions pertaining to the legality of such policies, as well as how to properly implement a mandatory influenza vaccination policy for employees. Employers may adopt mandatory flu shot policies which are drafted and implemented in a legally compliant manner.

As a condition of employment, an employer may require that all employees receive a flu shot. However, an employer’s compulsory flu shot policy must provide for exemptions in order to comply with various laws regulating the employer/employee relationship. For example, if an employee with a physical or mental disability refuses a flu shot, the employer may have to make a reasonable accommodation in order to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A reasonable accommodation could take the form of exempting the employee from the requirement and instead requiring a different protective measure, such as wearing a surgical mask. Similarly, if an employee objects due to a sincerely held religious belief, the employer may also have to provide a reasonable accommodation, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

If an employee refuses to comply with the employer’s policy and/or any reasonable alternative protective measures required by the employer if an exemption is granted, an at-will employer may pursue disciplinary action which could include termination. Employers should consult knowledgeable legal counsel before making employment-based decisions.

Employers wishing to require flu shots should adopt a written flu shot policy so that all employees have reasonable advance notice that receiving an annual influenza vaccination is a condition of employment. The policy should set an annual compliance deadline based on the anticipated start of the flu season and outline consequences for noncompliance. For instance, the policy may list the steps triggered by noncompliance, such as a written warning, suspension, and termination if the noncompliance is not addressed within a certain time frame. The policy should also specify what written documentation the employee must furnish the employer to prove that the employee was vaccinated.

An Employer’s Policy Should Include Exemptions

An employer’s influenza vaccination policy should provide a process for employees to request an exemption from the employer. Additionally, the policy should notify employees that if the employer grants an exemption, employees are required to comply, as a condition of employment, with reasonable alternative protective measures specified by the employer.
Exemptions should be allowed for reasons such as

  • A sincerely held religious belief or creed;
  • A qualifying physical or mental disability;
  • A prior severe allergic reaction to the flu shot;
  • A history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome; or
  • Some other relevant medical reason.

Ultimately, educating employees about the benefits and importance of the flu shot may help maximize employee participation. Just like frequent hand washing, the flu shot is an important protective measure for employees and their families. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) recommend that all U.S. health care workers get vaccinated annually against influenza. The CDC has a variety of resources related to influenza vaccination  that may be helpful to employers and employees, especially those in the healthcare field.


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!