How to Beat Those Cold and Flu Blues

If you’re not already a budding germophobe, spend a few hours shopping, in school, eating in a restaurant or doing your thing at work and note the sneezing, wheezing, sniffling and runny noses confirming that, indeed, cold and flu season is upon us again. You could wear a mask and gloves or only venture out when absolutely necessary. But that’s silly, especially since there are simple, proven steps you can take to greatly reduce your risk of getting sick.

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 you touch people, surfaces, and objects throughout the day, you accumulate germs on your hands. In turn, you can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth…and food.

Although it’s impossible to keep your hands germ-free, washing your 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 you use a restroom. Wash after you visit the supermarket, ride a bus or train, or use an ATM. When it isn’t easy to wash your hands, 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 it to ourselves. Sneeze into your sleeve or in a tissue or hanky so you don’t 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 your system — allows you to spread those germs to many other people before you even realize you’re infectious. Finally, when you know you’re sick, stay home!

What you need to know about the flu

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 you 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 the seasonal 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, seniors 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 and can’t infect you with the flu. Injected flu vaccines 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 you fight the flu, which is not caused by bacteria, but by a virus. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily weakens your 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 your body and allow bacterial invaders to infect you. 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 November is a good time to get your 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!

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

Autumn Fitness Includes Walking Our Way to Better Health

Autumn in New England is, for many of us, as good as it gets — warm days, crisp evenings, the smell of wood fires, pumpkins and freshly picked apples, breathtakingly colorful, scenic panoramas in every direction…what could be bad? Well, the days are getting shorter, the evenings colder and winter isn’t far away — but let’s stay focused on the positive, okay?

This is a great time of year to be outdoors walking, riding and hiking, working in the yard and enjoying the fresh air and beautiful scenery. As the cooler weather approaches it may portend the limitation of certain outdoor activities, but as is said, “When one door closes, another opens.” In this case, it’s the opportunity to continue our commitment to improved health and fitness, and to plan activities that will prevent us from winter stagnation. That may include many kinds of indoor fitness activities such as aerobic workouts, spinning, dance, yoga, swimming, athletics and much more, but also includes outdoor recreation such as hiking, bicycling and sports that can be practiced until the big chill sets in.

Dressing properly for the cooler weather is critical, as is proper hydration. It’s also important to remember to protect ourselves from damaging ultraviolet rays. However warming and enriching, sunshine damages unprotected skin all year long, and we need to continue using sunscreen and protecting our eyes as well, even in the cooler months.

Autumn also is a good time to moderate our diets, and a chance to implement good nutritional practices that may help reduce the seasonal gluttony (and related guilt) that accompanies the rapidly approaching holidays. Taking the time now to focus on sugar, fat, salt and carbohydrate intake will leave us in far better shape come January!

Walk the walk                                                                         

One of the simplest and most beneficial outdoor wellness activities is walking. This valuable exercise is good for our hearts, breathing, blood pressure, circulation, cholesterol levels, joint health and much more. If dressed for the weather with clothes that wick or keep moisture off our skin, we can walk all-year-round. And when it comes to fitness value it doesn’t really matter where we walk, as long as it’s done regularly and for long-enough distances and time periods to make a positive health difference.

According to a recent national survey conducted in August 2013 by GfK Research on behalf of Kaiser Permanente, Americans know that walking is good for their overall health, but many are not walking enough to meet recommended guidelines for health benefits. According to the survey, 30 percent of Americans said they walk more than they did five years ago, 35 percent are walking less and 32 percent are walking about the same amount. One-third of those surveyed said they don’t walk for 10 minutes at a time over the course of a week. In addition, 31 percent of those who walk do so for less than 150 minutes per week, which is the minimal threshold for physical activity established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationwide, 94 percent of those surveyed said they view walking as good for their health and 79 percent acknowledge they should walk more. At least nine in 10 respondents agreed that walking is a good way to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight and can help prevent heart disease. In addition, 73 percent said they believe their children should walk more. Respondents also view walking as a good way to reduce stress and combat depression. More than eight in 10 Americans said walking can reduce feelings of depression and 87 percent said walking helps reduce anxiety.

Survey respondents don’t necessarily view the CDC’s guidelines as difficult to meet. Half said it would not be difficult to meet the CDC’s guidelines of walking 150 minutes per week. Nearly six in 10 respondents also said they would walk more if their doctor told them to.

When asked why they don’t walk more, those surveyed cited lack of time and energy. Not living in communities where they can walk to services, shops, school and work is also a deterrent. Four in 10 describe their neighborhood as “not very” or “not at all walkable.”

So, if we know that walking is good for us, and we know we don’t do it often enough, what can we do to change this paradigm? Setting personal, achievable goals is the first priority.

Walking a minimum of 30 minutes a day, five days a week can help address chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and depression that limit our quality of life and contribute to the escalating cost of healthcare. Everyone can benefit from walking, regardless of age. It can be done alone, with a partner, or in groups.  Depending on where you live, and when you go to school or work, you can establish your own walking routine any time of day or night.

Set simple goals:  Plan to walk every day, or at least five days a week, at a time that works best for you. If something interferes with your walking schedule or the weather is lousy, walk later that day or the next day when it’s more convenient. Great walking venues include parks, schools, athletic tracks, established walking trails or your own neighborhood. City streets, shopping malls and quiet, safer roads can suffice, as well. Keep a written or electronic record of your walking so you can track your progress, and reward yourself when you hit a personal milestone of your own choosing. Encourage a friend, child or work associate to join you, and see walking as a critical daily activity, not as elective.

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

Rocking your diet with seasonal fruits and veggies

Even if eating with the seasons may sound like the name of an alternative rock band, it’s wise nutritional counsel. Late summer and early autumn offer a bounty of fruits and vegetables that are rich in nutrients and vitamins, fresh, and often locally grown. Beyond nutritional value, supporting local produce helps the farming community by requiring fewer resources to grow, store and transport fruit and veggies. As the weather cools, it’s fun to incorporate seasonal varieties in meal planning. Many of us savor traditional autumn favorites like apples, pears, pumpkins, and certain kinds of squash, but there are many other healthy seasonal choices like beets, turnips, cranberries, dates, almonds, mushrooms, peppers, grapes, potatoes, and hearty greens like kohlrabi, collards, and spinach.

Pumpkins aren’t just for chucking or carving

The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well and reduces some degenerative aspects of aging. There are dozens of great, easy recipes online for using pumpkins as side dishes, soups, and breads, or for integrating it into salads, desserts, and much more.

An apple a day

While we all remember that popular refrain, apples are a perpetual favorite and just one part of a healthy diet. Though available year-round, they are especially crisp and flavorful when the newly harvested fall crop hits the market. Ranging in flavor from sweet to tart, locally grown U.S. apples are at their peak from September through November. There are over 100 varieties grown in the United States, and every single state, including Connecticut, has multiple orchards, so an apple-picking outing is usually within convenient reach.

Apples are delicious, easy to carry for snacking, low in calories, a natural mouth freshener, inexpensive, and a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber such as pectin actually helps to prevent cholesterol buildup in the lining of blood vessel walls, reducing the incident of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The insoluble fiber in apples provides bulk in the intestinal tract, holding water to cleanse and move food quickly through the digestive system.

It’s a good idea to eat apples with their skin. Almost half of the vitamin C content is just underneath the skin. Eating the skin also increases insoluble fiber content. Most of an apple’s fragrance cells are concentrated in the skin and as they ripen, the skin cells develop more aroma and flavor.

Here are some hints on how to purchase apples for maximum value:

  • Select firm apples with unbroken, well-colored skins and no bruises. Brown streaks on the skins (called scald) do not affect quality.
  • Apples will keep in a cool, dry place for up to one week. For longer storage, refrigerate in a plastic bag for four to six weeks.
  • Select types of apples based on how they will be used:  Raw (for eating out of hand and adding to salads); cooked (for applesauce, pies and other desserts); or baked whole.
  • All-purpose apples can be used for both eating raw and cooking. Varieties include: Braeburn, Cortland, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonathan, and McIntosh.
  • Red Delicious apples are strictly for eating raw and Rome Beauty apples are best for baking whole. Crisp, tart Macouns and Macintosh tend to be favorite eating apples, but every variety is healthy and often can be picked fresh at farms, or purchased at farm stands or in your local market.

Other seasonal veggies to consider

Sweet potatoes are a healthy complement to any meal. They are rich in carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and supply about twice the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin C. One medium baked sweet potato has only 103 calories.

Freshly dug sweet potatoes are uncured. They are good boiled, mashed, candied, fried and in many cooked dishes, but uncured potatoes do not bake successfully. Sweet potatoes must be cured two or three weeks before they will bake. Store cured potatoes in a cool, dry place where the temperature is about 55 F or 60 F. Do not store them in the refrigerator. Chilling the vegetable will give it a hard core and an undesirable taste. Well-matured, carefully handled and properly cured potatoes will keep for several months if the temperature and storage conditions are ideal.

Another healthy seasonal favorite, though not as popular, are beets, which are low in calories and fat, cholesterol free, and a good source of folates, a B vitamin which supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia. Fresh beets, in season from late summer through October, have a sweet flavor and tender texture. While traditionally a garnet-red color, today’s beets are available in golden-yellow, white and red-and-white-striped hues. In addition to serving them as a vegetable side dish, toss beets into autumn salads and soups for extra color and flavor.

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

Taking Your Best Shot at Long-Term Wellness

If you’re like most adults, you probably can’t remember the last time you had a tetanus shot unless you stepped on a nail or caught an arm on a rusty metal fence. Checking up on your personal immunization record, and making sure your loved ones are properly immunized as well, is a simple and critical step for helping to protect yourself and your family from preventable illness and related serious medical conditions.

Improved sanitation, hygiene, and other living conditions have created a generally healthier environment and reduced the risks for disease exposure and infection in the United States. However, the dramatic and long-term decrease of diseases is primarily a result of widespread immunizations throughout the U.S. population.

Even though some diseases, such as polio, rarely affect people in the U.S., all of the recommended childhood immunizations and booster vaccines are still needed. These diseases still exist in other countries. Travelers can unknowingly bring these diseases into the U.S. and infect people who have not been immunized. Without the protection from immunizations, these diseases could be imported and could quickly spread through the population, causing epidemics. Non-immunized people living in healthy conditions are not protected from disease; only immunizations prepare the immune system to fight the disease organisms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wellness Never Takes a Vacation

Summer’s wrapping up quickly. The days are getting shorter and school is right around the corner. You and your employees are probably reliving your vacations and wondering where the time went. As the hot weather starts to wane and attention spans lengthen, it’s a great time to revisit your wellness planning to ensure continuity and keep your workforce focused and motivated about their health.

To reduce costs, employees need to become engaged in both their healthcare spending and in reducing their health risks. A standard approach is to focus on wellness, education, and consumer support by weaving wellness into the fabric of your company’s culture.

While one obvious goal of any wellness program is to reduce costs, it is not the primary message. Wellness is about improving health and quality of life. Successful programs place heavy emphasis on personal outcomes. Employees benefit from access to healthcare education and information on topics ranging from stress management and exercise to healthy cooking. They also benefit from smoking-cessation courses and materials, and through an understanding of their own personal responsibility in ensuring their health and wellness.

Making connections between costs and choices

When you integrate wellness and intervention programs, you have the opportunity to educate employees about how the connections between their healthy behaviors and lifestyle choices relate to their premiums and other healthcare costs.

The impact of health data and supportive outreach to drive changes is working for employers across the country. There are a variety of interactive, online wellness programs that can help employers enhance the health and productivity of their employees and support a more complete system of care.

If you’re not there yet, the first step is encouraging your team to complete an in-depth health assessment. This assessment yields revealing, yet actionable information for the individual, and can be used to help guide the employee to programs and actions that will address his or her health needs.

Quality educational courses and materials, sensible fitness activities, and effective communication are all core components of a successful wellness program. Employers must make the connections between medical costs, health risks, and personal responsibility. The more we understand that health risks, many of which are modifiable, drive health utilization and cost, the more effective we can be in helping our employees adjust their behaviors and attitudes toward wellness.

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!

Control the bites, day and night

How’s that old song go? Summertime, and the biting is easy?! Once the late spring rain subsides and July arrives, heat and fireworks aren’t the only things driving us crazy. Insects of every possible shape and variety are numerous, noisy, defensive, and hungry. Many of these pesky little creatures leave us alone, but the more aggressive species will bug us to distraction, and their bites or stings can cause allergic reactions, discomfort, itchy side effects or illness.

Unless you plan to spend the summer indoors, you’re likely to come in contact with some of these annoying critters. You can improve your odds of not getting bitten by wearing protective clothing, headgear and socks, using insect repellants and citronella products, minimizing use of cologne and perfume when planning outdoor activities, avoiding swampy areas, and moving the party indoors during the height of bite time. You also can spray clothes with repellent containing permethrin, and use a repellant like DEET on your skin.

Practice avoidance, and be prepared

If you know you have an allergy to one of these insects, you should always carry an epi-pen or other backup medication in case you’re stung or bitten, and seek immediate medical attention. For the rest of us, most bites or stings leave a mark and cause some swelling and irritation. Ice or a cool compress applied directly to the site can bring relief, as can topical salves, ointments or sprays sold over the counter. If the area around the bite continues to expand or becomes blistery and weepy, you have to get checked for a possible infection.

If you’re not aware of allergies but react dramatically, experiencing symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing or extensive swelling, it’s important to get to a hospital, urgent care center or physician immediately, or to call for emergency medical assistance as quickly as possible.

Protecting against ticks and mosquitoes

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

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

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

Handling ticks

Ticks embedded in your skin can be gross, but painless. The best bet is to keep them at bay. But if they do find you, here are tips for dealing with them easily and effectively:

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

Should you or a family member develop a bulls-eye-type red rash near the bite site, or exhibit other side effects such as a fever, lethargy or extreme exhaustion, consult your doctor. You may need to be tested for Lyme disease, which is common in New England and treated with antibiotics.

Other biting and stinging insects

Here’s a brief primer on stinging and biting insects most common in the Northeast:

Spiders:  Most spiders in New England are relatively harmless as long as you’re not allergic to their bite. One of the common venomous spiders in this region is the Brown Recluse. You can identify this spider by the violin-shaped marking on its back. The bite produces a mild stinging, followed by local redness and intense pain within eight hours. A fluid-filled blister forms at the site and then sloughs off to leave a deep, enlarging ulcer. Reactions from a Brown Recluse spider bite vary from a mild fever and rash to nausea and listlessness. On rare occasions death results, more often in children.

If bitten by a spider, try and identify the type of spider that bit you. Clean the site of the spider bite well with soap and water. Apply a cool compress over the spider bite location. If the bite is on an extremity, elevate it. Aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and antihistamines may be used to relieve minor signs and symptoms in adults. Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.

Honeybees are commonly found throughout the United States. They usually nest in hives built in hollow trees or rock crevices or in building walls. They are not usually aggressive unless they are near their hive. They sting only once and leave behind a barbed stinger with a small venom sac attached.

Wasps are able to sting more than once. They build paper nests that resemble a bee’s honeycomb without any covering. They usually nest under eaves or rain gutters, behind shutters, in crevices and vent openings, and sometimes on the underside of wooden decks and outdoor furniture. You can often see wasps on the outside of their nests.

Yellow jackets are a kind of wasp that are aggressive and sting with little or no provocation, especially when near food. They are able to sting more than once and usually do not lose their stinger. They are more common in the late summer and fall. They usually make their nests underground, but nests may be found in walls, crevices, and hollow logs as well. They are attracted to food and may be found around open trash cans and dumpsters. You may come upon a yellow jacket while doing yard work, gardening, or farming.

Hornets are closely related to wasps; in fact, the hornet is a specific type of wasp. There is only one species of hornet present in North America and is not particularly aggressive.

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

Throw another veggie burger on the barbie, mate

If you’re a barbeque and picnic lover, the last thing in the world you want to hear, now that summer’s finally here, is another warning about the perils of charcoal-cooked food.  It’s bad enough you have to listen to news reports about protecting yourself from harmful ultraviolet rays, or the importance of putting on bug spray and keeping yourself hydrated. But messing with your char-broiled ribs, chicken, steaks, burgers and dogs is practically sacrilegious, right? Well, maybe…though there are compromises, healthier alternatives and choices you can make to ensure good summer eating and improved nutritional wellness.

Here’s a brief science lesson. 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.

We can reduce our exposure to these potentially damaging chemicals through several cooking methods:

  • When possible, avoid direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface and avoid prolonged cooking times (especially at high temperatures).
  • 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.

 

Even though it probably goes without saying, we’ll say it again, anyway:  Eat more seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables when at picnics, out, or at home. Avoid high-fat appetizers and desserts high in sugar, or processed foods loaded with sodium, fat, and preservatives.

Summer is a blast, and summer eating doesn’t have to be harmful if you eat everything in moderation and try to avoid those foods and preparation processes that are less healthy.

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

Too stressed to take a vacation? Think again.

Considering we’re a society that claims to love our vacations, it’s curious that Americans don’t take enough vacations, and often don’t even use the vacation days we’ve earned. What’s up with that?!  It’s a sad reality, but job reductions, doing more with less, pressure from employers, financial challenges and our own sense of insecurity drives us to make bad choices about our need for healthful relief from our jobs. And whether you’re an employer or an employee, you’ll both suffer for the lack of time off, whether it’s staff or management time.

We all get it. Every day seems an endless cycle of deadlines, customer, associate or employer demands, tough decisions, endless house chores, commuting, kid duty, and more.  There’s stress whether you’re employed, under employed or unemployed, and everyone who has a job worries about keeping it. Even trying to arrange and take the time for a vacation is stressful – little wonder we often put off making our vacation decision, feel guilty taking time off, and have trouble relaxing when we finally do get away.

Time off from our jobs and our regular routines helps us manage stress, improves our bonds with family, friends and co-workers, can alleviate fatigue, and strengthens our immune systems. When we’re stressed our work performance suffers. That has an impact on customer service, as well as safety, quality and productivity. Most of us are harder to get along with when we’re under pressure and feeling anxious, and more prone to depression, memory loss, distraction and bad decision making. We eat poorly and sleep less. Whether you’re typically healthy or not, that’s an insidious mix, and while vacation or time away from work and our regular routines won’t cure it all, vacations offer an important break.

Ironically, the United States lags behind most developed countries when it comes to paid vacation time, and vacation is typically not mandated in our country, or a legal right. In contrast, the United Kingdom requires employers to give at least 28 vacation days. In Finland, France and Greece the minimum is 25, and in Germany and Japan, it’s 20.

We don’t take time off for many reasons. Typically these include having too much work to do, fear of losing our jobs, or because people are unable to afford to go away. But there’s more at work here, if you can excuse the bad pun. With tough workloads and schedules, cost issues and market demands, employers often send mixed signals to their staff about accommodating time off. Instead of being supportive, there’s often the unspoken caveat, “Sure, take the time off, but make sure all your work gets done and nothing falls through the cracks.” The insinuation is that vacations are inconvenient, and the time is allowed reluctantly instead of graciously as the earned benefit and healthy break it represents. According to a 2011 survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Jet Blue, about 57 percent of working Americans had unused vacation time at the end of that year, many leaving as much as 70 percent of their time untouched.

Sometimes vacation days carry over from year to year, and employees “stockpile” them, but it isn’t healthy, despite longer-term intentions. And while in today’s unstable job market it’s understandable that employees – or managers – are reluctant to take time off, employers should be encouraging this healthy respite.

Vacations have the potential to break the cycle of stress that plagues most working Americans. We emerge from a relaxing vacation fresh, more enthusiastic and better able to solve problems. Time off helps us regain perspective on our problems, allows us to reconnect with our families and friends, and gives us a break from our usual routines. When we return to work we’re happier, better focused, more pleasant and more productive. Everyone benefits – so if you’re an employer, start asking your team when they’re planning time off, make it as easy as possible for them to take their breaks, and book yourself some time off as well!

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Scratch Weeks of Discomfort, Not Outdoor Fun

As the summer approaches we’re back outdoors enjoying hiking, camping, and picnicking. We’re working in our yards, attending sporting events and barbeques, and loving the warm weather and beautiful flowers. However, there’s a serious side to outdoor play. We don’t want to sound like a teaser for a Steven King novel, but there are certain dangers lurking in the trees and among the bushes, trails and woods that we need to know about. These aren’t necessarily all life threatening, but certainly can be annoying and, in some cases, can lead to serious illness or even death. We’re not talking lions, tigers, and bears (oh my), but about poisonous plants.

Poisonous plants adorn trails, parks, yards, golf courses and ballfields across the Northeastern United States. While it goes without saying that we should never pick and eat a wild berry we don’t know and recognize distinctly (like wild blueberries or blackberries), there are dozens of inviting berries growing in bushes along paths that can sicken or kill us if ingested. Same goes for toadstools (mushrooms) growing in the wild. Don’t even touch them, unless you are trained and know what you’re doing.

Plants poison people in two ways – contact with the skin and contact with the mouth, including swallowing. Reactions range from mild skin irritation to much more serious effects. It is common that one part of a plant is poisonous while other parts are not.

Different types of poisonous plants affect the body differently. Stomach upset, including vomiting and diarrhea, and skin rash are the most common problems. Some examples of plants that can cause stomach upset include pokeweed, ivy, Jerusalem cherry, and the bulbs of the daffodil, and iris. Poinsettia can be a mild irritant, but only in very large quantities, and is not considered to be very poisonous.

Almost any plant can cause a skin rash (dermatitis) in sensitive people. Daisy, black-eyed-susan, and hyacinth are some common examples of plants that can cause dermatitis. Additionally, some plants have calcium oxalate crystals, which cause burning and swelling of the throat, tongue, and mouth. Jack-in-the-pulpit, philodendron, and dieffenbachia are among the many plants that have this needle-like irritant. Rhubarb contains another type of oxalate. Eating large amounts of rhubarb leaves may damage the kidneys and other organs.

Foxglove, lily-of-the-valley, and oleander are very toxic. They are examples of cardiac glycosides. Cardiac glycosides can affect the heart rate and rhythm. Symptoms may include nausea and vomiting, belly pain, slowed heart rate, irregular heart rhythm, dropping blood pressure, and lethargy. Death may occur in severe cases.

Avoiding the most common intruders — poisonous ivies

The most common poisonous plants we typically see in Connecticut include Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac. Each of these can produce a topical reaction that includes a rash, itching, and weepy open sores and blisters that easily spread when scratched or touched. People who are highly allergic can be affected by spores carried in the air, or when the poisonous leaves are burned, but most people react after touching or brushing up against the plants or items that have been in contact with the plants’ oils. In more serious cases, the reaction can spread across the body, and even get into your bloodstream.

  • Poison Ivy usually has three broad, spoon-shaped leaves or leaflets (“Leaves of three? Let it be!”), but it can have more. It may grow as a climbing or low-spreading vine that sprawls through or as a shrub. It’s common to see it along fences and stone walls, and throughout wooded areas. Most people are allergic to the oily resin or sap of poison ivy. You can get a rash by touching any part of the poison ivy plant, or anything that has come in contact with poison ivy and still has the oily resin on it (for example, gardening equipment and tools, toys, pets, clothing, shoes, gardening gloves, camping equipment and sports gear).
  • Poison Sumac has seven to 13 leaflets per leaf stem. The leaves have smooth edges and pointed tips. Poison sumac grows as a shrub or small tree. It is found in wooded, swampy areas and in wet, wooded areas.
  • Poison Oak has leaves that look like oak leaves, usually with three leaflets but sometimes up to seven leaflets per leaf group. It grows as a vine or a shrub. Poison oak is more common in the western United States, but is also found in the eastern United States.

Plants may look different depending on the season and the area where they are growing. But all of these plants have small white, tan, cream, or yellow berries in the fall. Their berries can help distinguish them from harmless but similar plants. Also, after the leaves have fallen off, these plants can sometimes be identified by the black color on areas where the oil in the plant has been exposed to air.

The best approach for beating any allergic reaction is to avoid the source that triggers it. Here are some tips to help you steer clear of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac:

  • Avoid areas where you know poisonous plants grow, whenever possible.
  • Cover up with closed shoes, socks, long pants, long sleeves, and gloves. Wash any clothes that come in contact with poisonous plants as soon as you can.
  • If you do get exposed, wash your skin with soap and water, or rubbing alcohol. Though the timeframe varies by person, you have about 10 minutes to wash a poisonous plant’s oil off your skin before the stage is set for a rash.
  • Scrub under your nails. You can spread poison ivy to other parts of your body by having the oil on your fingers.
  • If you suspect your pet has rolled around in a poisonous plant, give him a bath with pet shampoo and water — before you hug or touch him. Wear rubber gloves while you give your pet a bath.
  • Oil from poison ivy and other poisonous plants can get on golf clubs, balls, bats, and any other objects, and can remain potent for as long as five years. Make it a habit to wash sports equipment, gardening tools, and other outdoor items with soap and water.

Ultimately, if you do come in contact with and react to one of these common poisonous plants, there are a variety of over-the-counter remedies, lotions and drugs (such as strong antihistamines like Benadryl, and topical treatments such as hydrocortisone) available. The best advice always is to seek professional assistance from your physician or pharmacist to see what’s recommended, how to care for yourself, and how it might react with other drugs or medicine you may be taking. In serious cases where the rash is spreading quickly and leaving blisters or sores, you should seek immediate medical attention from a physician or medical center. You may require a stronger medicine administered by injection, or other care to prevent the infection from entering your bloodstream and potentially causing internal damage.

Being outdoors is healthy and fun, but you still have to be careful. We’ll save common biting insects and snakes for another day!

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

Sunny Side Up: Good for Breakfast, Not for Our Skin

It’s already May, and we’re outdoors again as much as possible, enjoying the mild weather and longer days. We love the stunning spring colors, and those seasonal rituals like squeezing into our spring wardrobes, first barbeques, and basking in the sun. But remember: While we’re savoring the warmth and working on that early tan, we’re also soaking up damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Every year we hear stories about the importance of covering up, applying sunscreen, and donning hats. But we’re creatures of habit, and procrastinators…maybe a little sun now, and then we’ll hit the shelves for sunscreen when it really gets hot!  But that’s a mistake – in fact, we should be protecting ourselves from damaging UV rays all year round.

May is UV and Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Unprotected exposure to UV radiation is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. 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.

How to protect yourself from UV exposure

The best way to lower your risk of skin cancer is to protect your 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, it is important not to rely too much on sunscreen alone. You should also not use sunscreen as an excuse to increase the amount of time you spend in the sun. Even with the use of sunscreens, people should not stay out too long during peak sunlight hours; UV rays can still penetrate your clothes and skin and do harm.

When possible, avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 am to 4 pm, when UV rays are the strongest. Clouds and haze do not protect you from the sun, so use sun protection even on cloudy days. Use 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 helpful tips on when and how to use sunscreen:

  • 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.

Wearing sunscreen is critical, but only half the battle. Here are additional safety tips and information for protecting yourself from harmful UV radiation:

  • 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.

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