This One’s for Men, Unfortunately

We don’t need to live our lives afraid of disease and illness, but the better we arm ourselves with accurate and reliable information and take preventative steps, the more we’re likely to live to a ripe old age. That’s why if you’re a man reading this – or a woman who has a man or men in her life it’s important that you pay attention to this cautionary primer on prostate cancer, one of the most common cancers afflicting American men.

Other than skin cancer, which is the most common, more men – as many as one in nine – will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimate that approximately 165,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 2018, resulting in close to 30,000 deaths. About six cases in 10 are diagnosed in men aged 65 or older, and it is rare before age 40. The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 66.

Though prostate cancer can be a serious disease, most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it. About one man in 41 will die of prostate cancer, but more than 2.9 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point are still alive today.

Prostate cancer occurs more often in African-American men and Caribbean men of African ancestry than in men of other races. African-American men are also more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer than white men. Prostate cancer occurs less often in Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino men than in non-Hispanic whites. The reasons for these racial and ethnic differences are not clear.

Prostate cancer is malignancy that occurs in the prostate — a small walnut-shaped gland in men that produces the seminal fluid that nourishes and transports sperm. Usually prostate cancer grows slowly and is initially confined to the prostate gland, where it may not cause serious harm. However, while some types of prostate cancer grow slowly and may need minimal or even no treatment, other types are aggressive and can spread quickly.

When detected early — when it’s still confined to the prostate gland men diagnosed with prostate cancer have a better chance of successful treatment.

Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer may cause no signs or symptoms in its early stages. When it’s more advanced, common signs and symptoms include:

  • Trouble urinating
  • Decreased force in the stream of urine
  • Blood in semen
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Bone pain
  • Erectile dysfunction

There are a variety of factors that can increase the risk of prostate cancer. These include age, race, family history and obesity. If men in your family have had prostate cancer, your risk may be increased. Also, if you have a family history of genes that increase the risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2) or a very strong family history of breast cancer, your risk of prostate cancer may be higher. In fact, having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man’s risk of developing this disease. The risk is much higher for men with several affected relatives, particularly if their relatives were young when the cancer was found.

Men who eat a lot of red meat or high-fat dairy products appear to have a slightly higher chance of getting prostate cancer. Often, these men also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables.

While there is no sure way to prevent prostate cancer, there are some things we can do that might lower our risk for this disease. Typically, they involve controlling body weight, remaining physically active, and maintaining a healthy diet. Studies have found that men who are active and exercise regularly have a slightly lower risk of prostate cancer. Vigorous activity may have a greater effect, especially on the risk of advanced prostate cancer.

Several studies also have suggested that diets high in certain vegetables (including tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables, soy, beans, and other legumes) or fish may be linked with a lower risk of prostate cancer, especially more advanced cancers. Examples of cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Avoid high-fat foods and instead focus on choosing a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and nutrients that can contribute to your overall health.

When to See Your Doctor

Men with a higher risk of prostate cancer may consider medications or other treatments to reduce their risk. If you’re concerned about your risk of developing prostate cancer, talk with your doctor. Prostate screening tests include two traditional procedures:

Digital rectal exam (DRE). During a DRE, your doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum to examine your prostate, which is adjacent to the rectum. If your doctor finds any abnormalities in the texture, shape or size of the gland, you may need further tests.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. A blood sample is drawn from a vein in your arm and analyzed for PSA, a substance that’s naturally produced by your prostate gland. It’s normal for a small amount of PSA to be in your bloodstream. However, if a higher than normal level is found, it may indicate prostate infection, inflammation, enlargement or cancer.

For men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer, treatment may not be necessary right away. Some men may never need treatment. Instead, doctors sometimes recommend active surveillance such as regular follow-up exams, blood tests and, if necessary, biopsies. If tests show the cancer is progressing, patients may opt for a prostate cancer treatment such as surgery or radiation.

September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Do yourself or the men in your life a favor by reminding them of the importance of obtaining regular prostate cancer screenings for early detection and treatment as required, and for eating healthy and exercising. With those simple steps, men are likely to beat the odds on this common but dangerous disease.


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!

Colds and Flu Are Something to Sneeze At

As the days grow shorter, the thermostat finally starts to drop to palatable temperatures, and we wait in morning traffic backed up by stopped school buses, it’s easy to get wistful about how quickly summer flashed by. Autumn, we know, will soon be upon us, and already some of the early trees are beginning to turn. Unfortunately, cold and flu season will be upon us soon, too, so it’s best to prepare ourselves for the annual fall germ parade heading our way.

Between the change of seasons and kids returning to school where they can comfortably and conveniently share germs and swap bacterial and viral infections, it’s important to take some simple, proven steps to try and contain those ugly bugs and prevent, or at least limit, the spread of seasonal maladies such as colds, influenza, bronchitis and pneumonia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to clean our hands. As we touch people, surfaces, and objects throughout the day, we accumulate germs on our hands. In turn, we can infect ourselves with these germs by touching our eyes, nose, mouth, food, sporting equipment, hair products and other shared items.

Although it’s impossible to keep our hands germ-free, washing hands frequently helps limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. According to CDC research, some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to two hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, ATM machines and desks. So wash before and after using a restroom. Wash after visiting the supermarket, ride a bus or train, or use an ATM. When it isn’t easy to wash, use a hand sanitizer. Also, don’t use anyone else’s toothbrush, and avoid sharing food, drinks or eating off of one another’s plates.

Everyone sneezes, but we can do a better job of keeping our cooties to ourselves. When we sneeze into our sleeve or in a tissue or hanky, we’re less likely to infect innocent passersby or fellow employees. Airborne pathogens spread highly contagious viral or bacterial infections, and incubation time — the days it takes for germs to turn into something truly icky in our system — allows us to spread those germs to many other people before we even realize we’re infectious.

Finally, when sick, stay home – spreading the joy at school and at work is just plain mean and thoughtless.

Fun Flu Facts

Influenza — the flu – is not pretty. It’s far worse than a cold, includes body aches and fever, hangs around longer than a typical virus, is contagious, and can sideline us for a week or two.

Aside from the short-term misery and lost work or school days, flu can have more serious implications. Most people who get the seasonal flu recover just fine. But flu also hospitalizes 200,000 people in the United States alone each year. It kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people annually, depending on the variety of flu and length of the season. That’s close to the number of women killed by breast cancer each year, and more than twice the number of people killed by AIDS. And it’s particularly dangerous to children, the elderly and adults with other chronic illnesses or autoimmune disorders.

Beyond hand washing, the best prevention is to get a flu shot. Flu vaccines are very safe; they only contain dead virus, and a dead virus can’t infect you. There is one type of live virus flu vaccine, the nasal vaccine, FluMist. But in this case, the virus is specially engineered to remove the parts of the virus that make people sick. The standard flu vaccine can be dangerous if you’re allergic to eggs, so you should always talk with your doctor before taking the vaccine.

Note that antibiotics won’t help us fight the flu, which is not caused by bacteria, but by a virus. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily weakens our body’s ability to fight bacterial illnesses, since many bacteria become resistant to antibiotics due to overuse and inappropriate prescribing practices.

However, there are instances of flu complications that involve bacterial infection. The flu virus can weaken our body and allow bacterial invaders to infect us. Secondary bacterial infections due to the flu include bronchitis, ear infections, sinusitis, and most often, pneumonia. The flu doesn’t peak until February or March, and it hits all across the country, so early fall is a good time to get a flu shot, while there’s still plenty of time to protect yourself and your family.

There’s no guarantee you won’t get sick this winter, but you can improve your odds tremendously. Eat well, exercise, and dress for the weather. Avoid going places when you’re not feeling well, get your flu vaccination, and wash your hands regularly. Take charge of your health, and the flu and colds can bug someone else!

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!

Stretching Is Critical, the Goats Are Optional

 

Picture this scene: You’re lying on your back on a yoga mat, eyes closed, comfortable, stretching different parts of your body as a voice gently takes you through a guided relaxation exercise. Quiet music invoking gurgling streams and singing songbirds plays in the background and you are extremely calm and serene. Suddenly, you feel pressure as two small hooves press into your belly, and giggling, you open your eyes as the tiny white and brown goat starts nibbling at your socks. Focus is now lost, but who cares? The dwarf goat is adorable and, after all, it’s really why you came to this yoga studio – all concentration lost, you stretch out your hand to pet its head as it bleats and runs off to visit another mat.

So-called “goat yoga” is a hot fad these days in the yoga industry. The marriage of farms and yoga studios is relatively new over the past few years, but has spread rapidly across the country, with at least a dozen locations in Connecticut seeing the value – and attraction – in combining yoga and a petting zoo. But whatever the catalyst for exercise, stretching is a critical component in any physical regimen, so if seeking out comfort from goats or puppies or other cute cuddly creatures gets you moving in a healthy way, there’s no down side – other than cleaning up when the critters do their business!

Why We Need to Stretch

Proper stretching is highly recommended for protecting our joints and muscles. It’s normal to take our joints for granted, but consider how important they are: The joint is the connection between two bones. Joints and their surrounding structures allow us to bend our elbows and knees, wiggle our hips, bend our back, turn our head, and wave wiggle our fingers.

Smooth tissue called cartilage and synovium and a lubricant called synovial fluid cushion the joints so bones do not rub together. But increasing age, injury, or carrying too much weight can wear and tear cartilage. This can lead to a reaction that can damage joints and lead to arthritis, injuries, discomfort and pain.

Stretching can help improve flexibility and our range of motion. Better flexibility improves our performance in physical activities, decreases risk of injuries, helps joints move through their full range of motion, and enable muscles to work most effectively. Stretching also increases blood flow to the muscle.

It’s a good idea to see stretching as an important ritual before you start exercising, playing ball, running, dancing or whatever form of exercise or sport you enjoy. But stretching incorrectly can actually do more harm than good. The best way to care for your joints is to keep them and your muscles, ligaments, and bones strong and stable.

You may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. Before stretching, warm up with light walking, jogging or biking at low intensity for five to 10 minutes. Even better, stretch after your workout when your muscles are warm.

Consider skipping stretching before an intense activity, such as sprinting or track and field activities. Some research suggests that pre-event stretching may actually decrease performance. Research has also shown that stretching immediately before an event weakens hamstring strength.

Instead of static stretching, try performing a “dynamic warmup.” A dynamic warm-up involves performing movements similar to those in your sport or physical activity at a low level, then gradually increasing the speed and intensity as you warm up.

Here are some related tips for good joint health and proper stretching:

  • Strive for symmetry. Everyone’s genetics for flexibility are different. Rather than striving for the flexibility of a dancer or gymnast, focus on having equal flexibility side to side (especially if you have a history of a previous injury). Flexibility that is not equal on both sides may be a risk factor for injury.
  • Focus on major muscle groups. Concentrate your stretches on major muscle groups such as your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Make sure that you stretch both sides.
  • Don’t bounce. Stretch in a smooth movement, without bouncing. Bouncing as you stretch can injure your muscle and actually contribute to muscle tightness.
  • Hold your stretch. Breathe normally and hold each stretch for about 30 seconds; in problem areas, you may need to hold for around 60 seconds.
  • Don’t aim for pain. Expect to feel tension while you’re stretching, not pain. If it hurts, you’ve pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
  • Make stretches sport specific. Evidence suggests that it’s helpful to do stretches involving the muscles used most in your sport or activity. If you play soccer, for instance, stretch your hamstrings as you’re more vulnerable to hamstring strains.
  • Keep up with your stretching. Stretching can be time-consuming. But you can achieve the most benefits by stretching regularly, at least two to three times a week. Skipping regular stretching means you risk losing the potential benefits. For instance, if stretching helped you increase your range of motion, your range of motion may decrease again if you stop stretching.
  • Bring movement into your stretching. Gentle movements, such as those in tai chi or yoga, can help you be more flexible in specific movements. These types of exercises can also help reduce falls in seniors.

Seek out professional counsel from a trainer or physical therapist for guidance on how best to stretch as part of your exercise routine. And remember to start off slowly and at a low intensity to get muscles used to the motion before gradually speeding up. No matter the sport or activity, preparing your joints and muscles for the activity to come is a wise move. And if yoga is your thing – and interacting with dwarf goats make you happy – go for 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!

Preventing Dehydration and Heat Stroke

No matter how many times people hear messages about remaining properly hydrated in the hot weather, it’s easy to forget that heat, sun and even minor outdoor activity can make dangerous companions.

Proper fluid levels are important for ensuring a good flow of oxygen and red blood cells to our muscles and organs. During exercise and activity, we lose valuable nutrients and minerals. These include sodium, magnesium and potassium, which help keep our muscles working properly, reduce fatigue and prevent dehydration.

Under normal conditions, we all lose body water daily through sweat, tears, breathing and going to the bathroom. This water is normally replaced by drinking fluids and eating foods that contain water. When a person becomes sick and experiences fever, diarrhea or vomiting, dehydration occurs. It also happens if someone is overexposed to the sun and heat and not drinking enough water. Additionally, it can be caused by certain medicines, such as diuretics, which deplete body fluids and electrolytes.

Even without hot weather, our bodies create a large amount of internal heat. We normally cool ourselves by sweating and radiating heat through the skin. However, in certain circumstances, such as extreme heat, high humidity, or vigorous activity in the hot sun, this cooling system may begin to fail. This allows heat to build up to dangerous levels; it is exacerbated when we don’t replace those fluids, and compounded by the loss of essential body salts. If a person becomes dehydrated and cannot sweat enough to cool his or her body, his or her internal temperature may rise to dangerously high levels. This causes heat stroke, which can be life threatening.

The following are the most common symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke:

  • Thirst
  • Less-frequent urination
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth and mucous membranes
  • Increased heart rate and breathing

In children, additional symptoms may include dry mouth and tongue, no tears when crying, listlessness, irritability and hallucinations.

In cases of mild dehydration, simple rehydration is recommended by drinking fluids. Many sports drinks effectively restore body fluids, electrolytes, and salt balance. For moderate dehydration, intravenous (IV) fluids may be needed. If caught early enough, simple rehydration may be effective. Cases of serious dehydration should be treated as a medical emergency, and hospitalization, along with intravenous fluids, is necessary.

How Much Should You Drink?

The rule of thumb should be to drink plenty of liquids before, during and after each activity.

A good guideline to use when preparing for an outdoor workout is to drink about two cups of fluid two hours before the activity. That helps make sure we are well-hydrated before we even go outdoors. Then, during the activity, we should drink four to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes to keep our muscles well-hydrated. If planning an hour-long walk or gym workout, take a water bottle with about 16 ounces (two cups). Then, after exercise, drink again.

Fluids are vital to help our muscles function throughout our activity, but so is our blood sugar. Eat a light meal or snack of at least 100 calories about an hour or so before an activity. The nutrients from the snack will help keep hunger from interfering. The best snacks combine healthy carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat. Fruit, yogurt, nuts, and granola bars are all good examples.

For most outdoor activities, regular tap or bottled water does the trick. If activity lasts an hour or more, either fruit juice diluted with water or a sports drink will provide carbohydrates for energy, plus minerals to replace electrolytes lost from sweating.

Sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, and All Sport can provide a needed energy boost during activity. They are designed to rapidly replace fluids and to increase the sugar (glucose) circulating in our blood. However, read the label to determine which sports drinks are most effective. Ideally, it will provide around 14 grams of carbohydrates, 28 mg of potassium, and 100 mg of sodium per eight-ounce serving. The drink’s carbohydrates should come from glucose, sucrose, and/or fructose, rather than from processed sugar or corn syrup. These are more easily and quickly absorbed. It shouldn’t be carbonated, as the bubbles can lead to an upset stomach.

“Fitness waters” are lightly flavored and have added vitamins and minerals. The additional nutrients are meant to supplement a healthy diet — not replace losses from exercise.

Fitness waters fall somewhere between the sports drinks and plain water in terms of being effective hydrators. They contain fewer calories and electrolytes but offer more taste than plain water. Whatever helps keep you hydrated is worth considering — as long as you keep drinking!


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!

Don’t Invite Food Poisoning to Your Summer Fun

As we dive into the barbeque, picnic and camping season, we get to enjoy cooking and eating al fresco – outdoors, under the stars, in parks, at the beach, on decks and in backyards. Americans love grilling, picnics and the seasonal foods that accompany outdoor dining. And if we’re careful with food preparation, handling, storage, heating and cooling, it can be wonderful. But outdoor cooking and eating poses potential hazards from contaminants, bacteria and other nasties resulting from improper storage, handling or heating. Nobody wants a fun summer picnic to end at the emergency room or by paying homage to the porcelain altar, but there are basic rules that will prevent an unhappy ending.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 48 million people get sick every year from a foodborne illness; 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. Researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases — most of them are infections caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites. Some harmful toxins and chemicals also can contaminate foods and cause foodborne illness, but poor handling, washing, storage and improper cooking techniques typically are the culprits.

The most common symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

After you consume a contaminated food or drink, it may take hours or days before you develop symptoms. Most people have only mild illnesses, lasting a few hours or days. However, some people need to be hospitalized, and certain food-related illnesses can result in long-term health problems or even death. Infections transmitted by food can lead to chronic arthritis, brain and nerve damage, and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which causes kidney failure.

How to Eat Healthy in the Summer

To start, all fresh or packaged fresh vegetables and fruit must be washed before consuming. For expediency, it’s smart to rinse fruits and vegetables before placing them in your picnic basket, since not all outdoor destinations offer clean, fresh water. Keep cold food in a cooler with ice or freezer packs at a temperature of 40 degrees or colder.

Keeping foods at the proper temperature is an important way to prevent the growth of foodborne bacteria. The danger zone for foods is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees, which are ideal temperatures for bacteria to multiply and increase your chances of foodborne illness. That’s why perishable cold foods — like potato salad, deviled eggs, and dips and dishes made with dairy or mayonnaise — should be kept in a cooler at 40 degrees or below. Hot foods should be kept hot, preferably at 140 degrees or above. To be safe, throw away any perishable items that have been left out for more than two hours (one hour if the outside temperature is higher than 90 degrees).

Also, when organizing a cooler, make sure meat, poultry and seafood are well wrapped to avoid cross contamination with prepared foods and fruits and vegetables. It’s also a good idea to keep a second cooler for storing beverages so the cooler can be opened and closed more frequently without exposing perishable foods to warmer temperatures.

Practice Safe Grilling

Marinate foods ahead of time in the refrigerator, not on a kitchen counter or outside. Also, don’t reuse platters or serving utensils that have handled raw meat, poultry or seafood. And always check to make sure you’ve cooked food thoroughly — a food thermometer is a handy and advisable tool.

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when meat, including beef, pork, fish, and poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. The formation of HCAs and PAHs is influenced by the type of meat, the cooking time, the cooking temperature, and the cooking method.

HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire, causing flames. These flames contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats.

Exposure to high levels of HCAs and PAHs can cause cancer in animals. Currently, no Federal guidelines address consumption levels of HCAs and PAHs formed in meat. HCA and PAH formation can be reduced by avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface, reducing the cooking time, and using a microwave oven or standard oven to partially cook meat before exposing it to high temperatures. HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods other than meat cooked at high temperatures. PAHs can be found in other charred foods, as well as in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes.

Here are some tips for reducing exposure to potentially damaging chemicals produced through cooking over an open flame:

  • Use a microwave or standard oven to pre-cook meat prior to exposure to high temperatures. This can substantially reduce HCA formation by reducing the time that meat must be in contact with high heat to finish cooking.
  • Continuously turn meat over on a high heat source to reduce HCA formation, compared with just leaving the meat on the heat source without flipping it often
  • Remove charred portions of meat, such as the skin from chicken, and refrain from using gravy made from meat drippings, which also contain HCA and PAH.
  • Consider steaming fish and vegetables in foil, rather than grilling over an open flame.

This isn’t to rain on our summer picnics — summer eating isn’t harmful if we are aware of the potential for contamination and practice careful and safe preparation, storage and thorough heating.


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!

A Sore Throat with Attitude

Strep throat is a common and highly contagious infection of the throat and tonsils. Bacteria called group A streptococcus, which live in the nose and throat, cause it. Like other infections, it spreads through close contact. You can catch the infection from someone who is sick with strep A bacteria or is a carrier of it. Strep is most common in children and teens, but adults can get it, too. You can still get strep even if you’ve had your tonsils removed, though it’s less common.

When people who are sick cough or sneeze, they release droplets into the air that hold the bacteria. You can infect yourself if you touch something a person with strep has coughed or sneezed upon and then brush your eyes, mouth, or nose with your hand. You can also get sick if you share a glass, toothbrush or other personal item with someone who has strep.

A painful, persistent sore throat is the main sign of strep. Though colds and other viruses also cause a sore throat, a virus will often product a runny nose, too. With strep, the sore throat comes on quickly. Your throat feels raw, and it hurts to swallow.

Strep is also more likely to cause these other symptoms:

  • A fever of 101 F. or higher
  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • White patches in the throat
  • Tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Appetite loss
  • Stomachache
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Rash

Identifying Strep

There are two types of medical tests for diagnosing strep. The first is a rapid test, where the medical provider takes a swab of the patient’s throat and then uses a testing kit which only take 10 to 20 minutes to indicate if the patient is positive for strep. The other testing method is to gather a traditional throat culture and send it to a medical lab to see if streptococci bacteria will grow in it. This takes a few days. In either case, if the test comes back positive, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic which, if taken faithfully over the course of up to 10 days, will effectively treat strep.

Strep complications are rare today, thanks to better diagnosis and treatment. Yet untreated strep can cause serious diseases, such as sinus or tonsil infections, Rheumatic fever, which can damage the heart, brain, and joints, and a kidney disease called glomerulonephritis. It can also spread infection to the middle ear, develop into meningitis (an infection to the lining of the brain and spinal cord) or turn into pneumonia. Additionally, strep throat presents symptoms, initially, that mimic infectious mononucleosis (“mono”), except mono is viral. S o while most sore throats are related to colds, a sore throat that doesn’t go away quickly or produces strep symptoms should never be ignored.

Ultimately, there isn’t much you can do to avoid catching strep. But there are steps we can take to strengthen our immune systems and help protect ourselves from illnesses. That includes washing hands regularly, avoiding people who are sick, getting plenty of sleep and exercise, and eating a well-balanced diet. Also, if you do contract strep throat, do yourself and others a huge favor and stay home from school, work or shopping for at least 24 hours after starting an antibiotic and until you are fever-free for an additional 24 hours.


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!

Recognizing and Preventing Staph Infections

Infections are insidious little buggers. Microscopic germs or bacteria – many already present in our bodies and long dormant – are triggered by immune system weaknesses, poor nutritional health, existing chronic diseases and many other factors, and then run rampant through our bodies. Fortunately, if identified and treated in time with the proper antibiotics, we can limit the damage and return to full health. But infectious diseases are major killers and shouldn’t be ignored or treated lightly.

Here’s a sobering reality:  Of more than 500 known infectious diseases, we lack cures for about 200 of them. One often misunderstood but extremely common type of infection is 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.

But staph infections can turn deadly if the bacteria invade deeper into our bodies, entering the bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart. A growing number of otherwise healthy people are developing life-threatening staph infections at alarming rates. Treatment usually involves antibiotics and drainage of the infected area. However, some staph infections no longer respond to common antibiotics.

Symptoms 

Staph infections can range from minor skin problems to endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocardium). As a result, signs and symptoms of staph infections vary widely, depending on the location and severity of the infection.

Many people carry staph bacteria and never develop staph infections. However, if you develop a staph infection, there’s a good chance that it’s from bacteria you’ve been carrying around for some time.

These bacteria can also be transmitted from person to person. Because staph bacteria are so hardy, they can live on inanimate objects such as pillowcases or towels long enough to transfer to the next person who touches them. They also can survive drying, extremes of temperature, stomach acid and high levels of salt.

Many kinds of skin infections are caused by staph bacteria as well. They include boils, impetigo, cellulitis, and staphychoccal scaled skin syndrome. Additionally, staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of food poisoning. Symptoms come on quickly, usually within hours of eating a contaminated food. Symptoms usually disappear quickly, too, often lasting just half a day.

A staph infection in food usually doesn’t cause a fever. Signs and symptoms you can expect with this type of staph infection include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Low blood pressure

Risk Factors 

A variety of factors — including the status of your immune system and even the types of sports we play — can increase our risk of developing staph infections. So can underlying health conditions. Certain disorders or the medications used to treat them can make us more susceptible to staph infections. People who may be more likely to get a staph infection include those with:

  • Diabetes who use insulin
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Kidney failure requiring dialysis
  • Weakened immune systems — either from a disease or medications that suppress the immune system
  • Cancer, especially those who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation
  • Skin damage from conditions such as eczema, insect bites or minor trauma that opens the skin
  • Respiratory illness, such as cystic fibrosis or emphysema

Of great concern, staph bacteria remain highly present in hospitals, where they attack the most vulnerable, despite vigorous attempts to eradicate them. They are particularly invasive to people with weakened immune systems, burns and surgical wounds. If staph bacteria invade your bloodstream, you may develop a type of infection that affects your entire body. Called sepsis, this infection can lead to septic shock — a life-threatening episode with extremely low blood pressure.

These commonsense precautions can help lower our risk of developing staph infections:

  • Wash hands.Careful hand-washing is our best defense against germs. Wash hands briskly for at least 20 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 60 percent alcohol.
  • 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 tampons with 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.
  • Take food safety precautions.Wash your hands before handling food. If food will be out for a while, make sure that hot foods stay hot — above 140 F (60 C) — and that cold foods stay at 40 F (4.4 C) or below. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible.

Staph bacteria are very adaptable, and many varieties have become resistant to one or more antibiotics. For example, only about 10 percent of today’s staph infections can be cured with penicillin.

The emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of staph bacteria — often described as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains — has led to the use of IV antibiotics, such as vancomycin, with the potential for more side effects. Your doctor may perform tests to identify the staph bacteria 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.

Staph infections spread quickly, and can be contagious, so it’s critical that potential infections get diagnosed by a medical professional immediately. Waiting a day or two can be the difference between life and death, literally.


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!

Sunny Side Up for Eggs, Not Skin

After a long, cold winter and damp spring, the sun feels fabulous on our skin. We’re drawn to the warmth, happy to sit outdoors and bask, and wear our reddened skin and new seasonal tans proudly. But whether you’re a true sun worshipper, weekend gardener, sports enthusiast, or outdoor worker, there’s peril in the pleasure the sun affords us . . . like so much else in life, too much isn’t good for us.

Unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States. In fact, UV radiation from the sun and from tanning beds is classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization. Each year, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. than new cases of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and one American dies from skin cancer every hour.

Chronic exposure to the sun suppresses our natural immune system and also causes premature aging, which over time can make the skin become thick, wrinkled, and leathery. Since it occurs gradually, often manifesting itself many years after the majority of a person’s sun exposure, premature aging is often regarded as an unavoidable, normal part of growing older. However, up to 90 percent of the visible skin changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. With proper protection from UV radiation, many forms of skin cancer and most premature aging of the skin can be avoided.

Protecting ourselves from unhealthy UV exposure

The best way to lower our risk of skin cancer is to protect our skin from the sun and ultraviolet light. Using sunscreen and avoiding the sun help reduce the chance of many aging skin changes, including some skin cancers. However, even with sunscreen, people should not stay out too long during peak sunlight hours; UV rays can still penetrate our clothes and skin and do harm.

When possible, avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, when UV rays are the strongest. Clouds and haze do not protect us from the sun, so use sun protection even on cloudy day, especially sunscreens that block out both UVA and UVB radiation. Products that contain either zinc oxide or titanium oxide offer the best protection. Less expensive products that have the same ingredients work as well as expensive ones. Older children and adults (even those with darker skin) benefit from using SPFs (sun protection factor) of 15 and over. Many experts recommend that most people use SPF 30 or higher on the face and 15 or higher on the body, and people who burn easily or have risk factors for skin cancer should use SPF 50+.

Here are some simple tips for using sunscreen effectively:

  • Adults and children should wear sunscreen every day, even if they go outdoors for only a short time.
  • Apply 30 minutes before going outdoors for best results. This allows time for the sunscreen to be absorbed.
  • Remember to use sunscreen during the winter when snow and sun are both present.
  • Reapply at least every two hours while you are out in the sunlight.
  • Reapply after swimming or sweating. Waterproof formulas last for about 40 minutes in the water, and water-resistant formulas last half as long.

We don’t have to be afraid of going outdoors – to the contrary, outside walking, exercise, work and play are healthy and invigorating. But protecting ourselves can limit longer-term wellness hazards. Here are additional safety tips and information:

  • Adults and children should wear hats with wide brims to shield from the sun’s rays.
  • Wear protective clothing. Look for loose-fitting, unbleached, tightly woven fabrics. The tighter the weave, the more protective the garment.
  • Avoid sun lamps, tanning beds, and tanning salons.
  • Buy clothing and swimwear that block out UV rays. This clothing is rated using SPF (as used with sunscreen) or a system called the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) index.
  • Avoid surfaces that reflect light, such as water, sand, concrete, snow, and white-painted areas.
  • Beware that at higher altitudes you burn more quickly.

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!

Assessing Health and Wellness Activity

Three months into the new year, it’s easy for well-intentioned health commitments made in December to go south. It’s harder getting to the gym in the winter, comfort food may be beckoning during these cold, shorter days, and outdoor activities like running, bicycling, and hiking are far more difficult to complete.

Now is a good time to assess how effectively you and your team are using health and wellness tools. That includes those available to you through your health insurance provider and CBIA, and a variety of options you and your employees can embrace at your discretion.

Completing CBIA’s online healthcare assessment tool is an easy first step. Employers also can conduct their own health and wellness survey through a variety of media, including a written survey, using an online survey tool, or through small group or individual meetings. Discussions can focus on preferred health and wellness activities underway personally or through the workplace, or measure attitudes about the use of fitness facilities, tobacco-cessation plans, healthy vending machine options, nutrition, healthcare coaching and a variety of other subjects.

For example, when assessing topic areas, some possibilities might include the following areas of inquiry:

Health status:

  • Self-perceived general health status (i.e., poor to excellent)
  • Number of days per month impaired by poor physical/mental health
  • Specific questions about diseases or health conditions (e.g., high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, arthritis, stress)

Use of preventive health services:

  • Doctor visits (including an annual checkup)
  • Dental visits
  • Use of flu, pneumonia and shingles vaccines
  • Blood pressure and cholesterol checks
  • Colonoscopies, mammograms, and PAP smears

Health behaviors:

  • Tobacco use: Current smokers or other tobacco use, tobacco cessation goals
  • Diet and physical activity: Weight and height (to calculate Body Mass Index); self-perceptions of weight; fruit/vegetable consumption; activity level at work; recent moderate/vigorous activity outside of the job
  • Alcohol consumption: Drinks per week; drinks per sitting
  • Safety: Seatbelt and bicycle helmet use, ear and eye protection, etc.

Assessing current health status and health behaviors may point to opportunities for specific health-education programs. And completing a benchmark survey allows you to compare progress when you conduct follow-up surveys at set intervals. These can be conducted through the workplace, or online through a variety of employee healthcare information tools.

And when it comes to implementing health and wellness activities, some companies have gone the extra mile, inviting nutrition and fitness coaches to the office or workplace, holding onsite yoga, fitness and meditation classes, and encouraging employee participation through incentives and competitions.

Many employers form employee committees to oversee health and wellness programs, encourage participation and set and measure goals. When this outreach is peer driven, it tends to gather more steam and taps employee goodwill, enthusiasm and interest.

In the winter, team activities can include ice skating, sledding, downhill and cross-country skiing, and outdoor walks or hikes. Also, with spring right around the corner, so is the return of charity runs, walks and rides, and competitive team athletic activities like volleyball, softball and basketball. Encouraging and supporting team activities such as walks and sports builds morale, strengthens employee bonds and improves productivity. Employers can help their employees build personal health and wellness plans, check in to measure progress, or simply ensure that opportunities for staff wellness learning and exploration exist on a regular basis.


 

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!

Who Would Take Home Gold at an Olympic Tea Party?

In the spirit of the Winter Olympics and healthy competition, here’s a fun category that you won’t find in South Korea: Competitive tea drinking. And an unexpected country takes the gold: Turkey; silver goes to Ireland; and bronze is bestowed, not surprisingly, upon the United Kingdom. Russia comes in a distant fourth, and as for the United States, we totter in at 35th.

Famous for their tea imbibing, the English consume 165 million cups of tea every day. The Irish average 4.8 pounds of tea per person per year, far less than the Turks, at 6.9 pounds annually. The U.S., in comparison, averages half a pound per person annually. But beyond the cultural comparison, we Americans are missing out on the benefits the rest of the world seems to be enjoying.

Drinking tea is good for us, in many ways. In addition to a multitude of flavors and varieties, there’s compelling evidence that tea reduces the risk of heart disease, and possibly even helps prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Considered by many a super food—whether it’s black, green, white, oolong or herbal—tea gets the job done, health wise.

All those tea types, with the exception of herbal teas, come from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis. They are rich in polyphenols, antioxidants that detoxify cell-damaging free radicals in the body. Tea also has about eight to 10 times the polyphenols found in fruits and vegetables. For black tea, a process called oxidation turns the leaves from green to a dark brownish-black color. Green tea comes from the same plant, but is not oxidized.

Oolong tea is made from leaves of the same plant that green and black teas come from. The difference lies in how long the leaves ferment. Green tea leaves are unfermented, while leaves for black tea are fully fermented. Oolong comes from leaves that are partially fermented.

Research suggests that regular tea drinkers — people who consume two cups or more a day — have less heart disease and stroke, lower total and LDL cholesterol, and recover from heart attacks faster. There’s also evidence that tea may help fight ovarian and breast cancers.

Tea also helps soothe stress and keep us relaxed. One British study found that people who drank black tea were able to relax faster than those who drank a fake tea substitute. The tea drinkers had lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Why Is Tea Good for Us?

Catechins, a type of disease-fighting flavonoid and antioxidant, are the key to tea’s health benefits. The longer you steep the tea, the more flavonoids you get. For the best tea benefit, some studies suggest drinking three cups each day to cut heart disease risk. If caffeine consumption is a problem, you can drink decaffeinated tea or herbal teas.

The fermentation process used to make green tea boosts the levels of antioxidants. Black and red teas have them, too, but in lesser. Antioxidants latch on to and neutralize chemicals called oxidants, which cells make as they go about their normal business. Elevated levels of oxidants can cause harm—for example, by attacking artery walls and contributing to cardiovascular disease.

Green, black, white and oolong teas contain caffeine and a stimulating substance called theophylline. These can speed up the heart rate and make us feel more alert. In fact, black tea extract is sold as a supplement, largely for this purpose.

Some scientists think that specific antioxidants in tea, including polyphenols and catechins, may help prevent some types of cancer. For example, some research shows that women who regularly drink black tea have a much lower risk of ovarian cancer than women who do not. More research is needed to confirm this. There also is some evidence that the antioxidants in black tea may reduce atherosclerosis or clogged arteries and help lower the risk of heart attack.

Regularly drinking black tea may reduce stroke risk and also lower our risk of developing diabetes, high cholesterol, kidney stones and Parkinson’s disease, though more scientific research has to be conducted to formally prove these claimed benefits. Green tea has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for many centuries, and has been used as a remedy for headaches and depression.

How Much Caffeine Is in Tea?

Most tea has between 15 and 70 milligrams of caffeine per cup, compared to between 80 and 123 mg per cup of regular coffee.

All true teas from the Camellia sinensis plant contain caffeine, which is a naturally-occurring stimulant found in several plants. Caffeine is water soluble, and is extracted into the brewed cup when preparing tea, coffee, or other caffeinated beverages.

Tea can be made from different parts of the tea plant, and these parts contain different quantities of caffeine. Leaf buds (tips) and younger leaves are higher in caffeine than older, mature leaves. In the tea plant, caffeine acts as a natural insecticide, serving to protect the plant against being eaten by insects. Since the tips and tender young leaves are most vulnerable to insects, these parts of the plant are highest in caffeine; the older leaves are tougher and lower in caffeine.

Despite tea’s many health benefits, heavy caffeine use can have a negative impact on our health, including anxiety, insomnia and stomach irritation from acid. While the amount of caffeine in tea tends to be low, and brewing time effects caffeine levels, drinking large quantities of tea isn’t a great idea for people sensitive to caffeine for medical reasons.

In addition to caffeine, tea also contains L-theanine; theanine can interact with caffeine, allowing a smaller dose of caffeine to have a stronger effect in terms of boosting concentration and alertness.

The blending of tea with caffeine-free ingredients to produce flavored teas can result in a lower total caffeine content so long as less total tea leaf is used in the blend. It’s important to avoid sweetened teas, as the sugar isn’t good for our health.

Herbal teas are beverages made from the infusion or decoction of herbs, spices, fruits or other plant materials in hot water. They do not usually contain caffeine, unlike the true teas or decaffeinated tea, which are prepared from cured leaves. In addition to exploring herbal teas, people desiring caffeine-free tea-like drinks might want to try South African rooibos and honeybush, two plants which are often described as being similar to tea in flavor, health benefits, and manner of production.

Who knows, maybe by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, American tea drinkers will be contending for consumption medals while improving overall wellness.


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!