# Sunday, May 3, 2009
                 
The World Health Organization has announced that the current influenza pandemic alert has been raised from phase 4 to phase 5.  They are suggesting that all countries immediately activate their pandemic preparations to combat this illness. Effective as well as essential measures to combat the swine flu include heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment, and infection control in all health facilities.

As of April 29, 2009, nine countries have officially reported cases of AH1N1 swine influenza infections. The countries with laboratory confirmed cases are:

•    Austria – 1 reported case, no deaths
•    Canada –85 cases, no deaths
•    Germany – 3 cases, no deaths
•    Israel – 2 cases, no deaths
•    New Zealand – 3 cases, no deaths
•    Spain – 4 cases, no deaths
•    United Kingdom – 5 cases, no deaths
•    United States – 91 cases, 1 death
•    Mexico – 26 cases, 7 deaths

These numbers are changing rapidly; so for more information, check the websites of the individual country for the latest confirmed case count.

The World Health Organization is responsible for identifying the phases of outbreaks, as well as defining what those phases are. They are currently defined as:

Phase 1: Influenza viruses circulating in animals, especially birds. Phase 1 does not include humans becoming infected.

Phase 2: Humans becoming infected by an animal influenza virus; potential for pandemic.

Phase 3: Animal and/or animal-human influenza virus causing limited disease in humans; human to human transmission is not widespread, but rather isolated.

Phase 4: Human to human transmission and/or human to animal transmission are confirmed, with widespread or community-level outbreaks. The risk of pandemic infection is much higher, but not yet considered a foregone conclusion.

Phase 5:
Human to human spread of the virus is confirmed in at least 2 countries in one WHO region; it is now likely that a pandemic is imminent.

Phase 6: The Pandemic Phase. Community outbreaks are now occurring in at least one country from a second WHO region; this indicates that a global pandemic is underway.

It is important for people and communities to realize that a pandemic does not indicate the severity of the influenza; but rather that the infection is happening. Cases that have currently been reported in Canada are all considered mild. Pandemic influenza is defined as a new influenza virus that is being spread easily between humans and is affected a wide geographic area. The term pandemic should not be equated with the severity of the infection.

Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs that is caused by the influenza A virus. Transmission to humans is rare, but does occasionally happen, resulting in H1N1 flu virus.  The virus in humans is a respiratory illness that has symptoms similar to those of regular human seasonal flu. However, the risk of animal influenza that is transmitted to humans is the potential for the virus to mutate and be directly transmitted human to human. The flu shot that many people receive each year does not protect those people from this virus; it is only effective for the seasonal flu that is expected to affect those people for that given year. The symptoms of swine flu are:

•    fever;
•    lack of appetite;
•    coughing and/or sneezing;
•    sore throat;
•    muscle aches;
•    fatigue;
•    runny nose and/or watery eyes.

Some people have also reported vomiting and/or diarrhea as well. For people with chronic conditions pneumonia may develop from infection of this virus. It is important to note that this is the first time that this strain of the flu virus has been identified in humans. There has been no documentation of this virus having a sustained infection rate in human to human transmission.

Canadian travelers are now being advised to postpone any elective and/or non-essential travel to Mexico. This advisory is in place until further notice; there is no time line yet of when this will be lifted. For those who are going to Mexico, they are advised to:

•    Wash hands frequently. Soap and water should be used often; alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a great way to keep hands sanitary when out in public with little access to public facilities (i.e. beach, pubic transit).
•    Practicing proper sneezing/coughing etiquette; use a tissue, your sleeve, or some other barrier method in order to reduce the spread of germs. After sneezing and/or coughing, make sure that hands are thoroughly washed.
•    Avoid physical contact with anyone who appears to be sick, and/or is displaying any of the symptoms.
•    Pay close and careful attention to local government and public health announcements daily. These announcements can include movement restrictions as well as prevention recommendations. These announcements can and do change frequently, so check often.
•    For those who are at higher risk of severe illness from influenza (i.e. people with diabetes, lung and/or heart disease, the elderly and children under 2 years), consult with your health care provider before travel.

For anyone who is in Mexico and develops symptoms of H1N1 flu virus, seek medial attention immediately. The Canadian Embassy as well as the consulate will be able to provide a list of physicians. The website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade also has this information available. For those returning from Mexico, it is important to monitor for the symptoms for at least 7 days. Avoid contact with other humans and stay home until you have a confirmed diagnosis of your illness. Contact your health care provider immediately, and advise them that you have recently been to Mexico. If you are displaying symptoms when arriving back into Canada, advise the customs officer as well. You must also advise a customs officer or a quarantine officer if you have been near and/or in contact with someone who either has been confirmed as having this virus, and/or if it is suspected.

It is essential to advise the hospital, clinic, doctor's office, etc. that you have been to Mexico and may have been exposed to the swine flu virus. This will enable the healthcare professionals to promptly isolate you, and/or provide you with a mask in order to prevent any further transmission.

For updates on the swine flu in Canada, visit Health Canada's website. This gives information regarding new transmissions, where the new transmissions are located, as well as any updates on travel advisories. For those who are planning international travel, visit the World Health Organization's website for current information on the country you plan on visiting.

posted on Sunday, May 3, 2009 9:35:02 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Wednesday, April 22, 2009
                 
Canada has now been in the news twice in the past week due to Canadian travelers experiencing difficulties. One incident was the hijacking of a Canadian commercial flight in Montego Bay, Jamaica, that was ultimately destined for Cuba. The other incident relates to Conquest Vacations not paying their bills, leaving Canadian tourists stranded as many were forced to come up with money for their hotel bills, which were included in their travel package.

Stephen Fray, a 20 year old Jamaican resident who has been described as being 'mentally challenged' stormed a CanJet Airlines flight, armed with a loaded gun. Fray forced his way past airport security, barging onto the jetliner and took the crew hostage. He fired a shot that grazed the co-pilot's face and then demanded to be flown off the island. The situation was ultimately resolved when a unit from the Jamaica Defence Force Counter Terrorism Operations Group stormed the aircraft and arrested the disturbed young man after 8 hours of negotiations did not resolve the crisis.

This incident however, is raising questions about airport security around the globe. In a post 911 world, where airport security has been dramatically increased, it's disturbing that an armed man with mental health issues could reach an aircraft with relative ease. Security personnel at Sangster International Airport are not armed. A former senior immigration officer at Pearson International Airport who is also an expert in terrorism and national security, said that this hijacking could have happened anywhere. He raises the question of airport security personnel being armed, being sufficiently trained to deal with this type of situation, as well the distance between the security check and the aircraft, where ideally there would be enough time and distance to intercept someone before they had the opportunity to approach a waiting plane.

Approximately 1,600 Canadian travelers were recently stranded when Conquest Vacations suddenly went out of business on April 15, 2009, citing the current economic downturn for their business failure. Other reasons that they stated for their now defunct operations includes price wars with other major tour operators, overcapacity and unrealistic and unreasonable demands by credit cards companies. When Conquest suddenly and unexpectedly (at least to Canadian consumers) shut their doors, they claimed that current vacationers would not be affected; however that statement has proved to be false. Canadians who were on vacations that had been booked through Conquest were suddenly faced with demands for their hotel payments, which they had already paid through their booking. Some Canadians who were stranded in Mexico reported that hotel security demanded payment immediately; if not paid they threatened to call Mexican police. Some were suddenly locked out of their hotel rooms until payment was made; there is a report stating that one traveler was denied their medication that was in their hotel room, and became quite ill as a result of this delay. As well, some vacationers who assumed they had a paid airline ticket back to Canada were faced with the realization that this was possibly no longer the case. With banks being closed on the weekend, some travelers had difficulties getting money wired to them in order to fulfill these unexpected financial demands. The hotels were demanding payment that Conquest had not honored, and had not informed anyone who had booked through them that this was a possibility.

Because Conquest has shut down business as opposed to filing for bankruptcy, Canadians who have booked through them and have paid in full will have to wait up to 6 weeks to get a refund on their credit card, as there is an investigation pending. For those who have already booked vacation time from work and booked their vacation, and do not have the financial resources to pay again while waiting for their refund, this effectively means that they're out of luck. All future bookings made through Conquest will not be honored; these vacations need to be rebooked through another tour operator. They will have to seek refunds through their travel agent, credit card company, and/or through Conquest itself.

There has been a lot of criticism regarding the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) and their responsibility regarding whether or not they adequately protected consumers. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says that the government owes it to Canadian travelers to examine whether or not TICO should warn the public when a tour operator is in financial difficulty. However TICO responds to this suggestion by saying that by warning the public of possible financial distress, tour operators could find themselves failing due to the publicity. Currently, there are no rules in place in order to prevent this situation happening again.

For Canadians who are planning a vacation abroad, it appears that the responsibility regarding this issue lies with the traveler. Although provincial travel watchdog agencies are trying to help stranded tourists, and are offering to refund their out-of-pocket expenses, this still does not totally alleviate the problems that these travelers faced. And with the economy still in a downturn, this could potentially happen again if other operators suddenly close their doors without any warning.

All inclusive travel insurance does offer some protection for stranded travelers. Depending on the plan, it can cover costs that are non-refundable when it comes to the sudden disruption of all inclusive trips, as well as covering unexpected medical costs. Canadians who are planning to leave the country for a vacation should be aware of what their travel insurance coverage includes, and adjust this if necessary. Every trip is different, depending on the destination country, tour operator, etc. It is highly recommended that all Canadians research and understand what their travel insurance covers. While all inclusive coverage may not be necessary for every trip, it may be a wise choice for some locations, as well as the type of trip planned.  For more information regarding the different types of travel coverage that are available, please visit our Travel Insurance page.

posted on Wednesday, April 22, 2009 5:40:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Tuesday, March 31, 2009
                 
IPSOS-Reid has just released a survey that shows 7 out of 10 seniors in Canada have mobility and/or health issues that affects their physical limitations as well as increases their risk of falling. 46% of these seniors do not use an assistive device, i.e. scooter, cane, walker. 63% of seniors who reported having a fall in the past year do not use an assistive device, even though life expectancy for seniors is reduced as much as 25% due to falls, as well as costing the Canadian healthcare system $1 billion annually.

According to these results, there is a major discrepancy between seniors who need these devices when the warning signs appear, and the willingness to do so. The survey indicated that two thirds of Canadian seniors believe that using an assistive device is a threat to their security; making them visible targets for crime. However, studies have shown that 9.5% were victims of reported crime in 2004; 28% of reported crimes were committed against people aged 15-24 in the same time period. Being stigmatized as 'old, vulnerable, frail, loss of independence, etc' were largely the number one reasons cited for not using a device that would not only improve their mobility, but help prevent falls.

Although the psychological impact of a senior feeling that they are losing their independence, assistive devices are intended with exactly the opposite in mind. They range from products that allow a person to bathe alone, help prepare food, to devices that assist with mobility. Grab bars, bath seats and non-slip floor mats greatly reduce the risk of accidental falls that occur when bathing, and can allow a senior to bathe unattended, thereby in actuality allowing them to retain their independence. Food preparation devices such as side-opening oven doors, height-adjustable cupboards and counters also allow for greater independence, giving a senior the equipment they need to safely and comfortably use their kitchens. Items such as automatic card shufflers allow seniors to continue their hobbies and enjoyment of life.  

It is estimated that one out of every 3 Canadian seniors will experience a fall at least once a year. Hip fractures are the most common injury, and approximately 20% of injuries sustained in falls will contribute to death. Health issues that can increase the risk of fall in seniors are:

•    Poor balance;
•    Decreased muscle and/or bone strength;
•    Reduction in vision;
•    Reduction in hearing;
•    Home conditions.

Almost half of all falls experienced by seniors occur in and/or around the home. Go through the home in order to determine where the possible danger areas are. Some suggestions for making the home safe:


Bathroom:

•    Rubber non-slip bath mat for the tub and shower.
•    Grab bars by the toilet and the bath which will help for sitting and/or standing.
•    Bath seat in the shower.
•    Raised toilet seat (if needed).

Living Room/Bedroom:

•    Clean up any loose wires and/or cords that may trip someone.
•    Reduce clutter and establish wide, clear walking paths.
•    Make sure that lights are all working (you may want to use a higher wattage light bulb now).
•    Use a cordless phone, this not only eliminates cords lying around, but allows the senior to have the phone with them always.
•    Ensure that scatter mats are of the non-slip variety. Normal scatter rugs are a hazard for slip and falls.

Kitchens:

•    Make sure that items that used daily are within reach, i.e. not in cupboards that require a mini-ladder to access them.
•    Store all heavy items in lower cupboards.
•    If you must use a step stool to access items, make sure it is a stable step stool that has a safety rail.
•    If you use floor wax, ensure that it is a non-skid formula.
•    Ask for help for any tasks that you do not feel that you can safely accomplish on your own.

Stairways:

•    Ensure that stairway lighting is well lit (this could include using higher wattage light bulbs).
•    Make sure that the handrails are safe and can safely accommodate weight.
•    For those who wear reading glasses, make sure you remove them before attempting to go up and/or down the stairs.
•    Take your time! Rushing up and down stairs is a major factor in falls.

Home Exterior:

•    Make sure that all walkways and outside steps are free of debris; especially in winter, make sure that all snow and ice are removed.
•    Keep the front entrance well lit.
•    Put all lawn and garden maintenance tools away in order to prevent accidentally falling over them.

If you are a senior who requires an assistive device that will improve your quality of life, check your health insurance coverage to see if these are included in your benefit package. Talk to your primary health provider about any issues you are currently dealing with; your physician can be very helpful in discussing products and devices that are suited for your needs. The Red Cross also has a ‘loan’ program for some assistive devices; consult with your local chapter.

posted on Tuesday, March 31, 2009 4:28:02 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Tuesday, March 10, 2009
                 

Statistics Canada has released a new study regarding obesity as it relates to job performance. The study shows that more Canadian workers are now obese, with the obesity rate climbing from 12.5% in the mid 1990's to 15.7% in 2005. Obesity is most prevalent among workers in the age range of 55 to 65; 21% of this workforce population was obese in 2005. Obesity is defined as any person whose body mass index (BMI) is over 30; 18.5 to 24.9 is defined as a normal weight range. Body mass index is calculated by a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters.

The study found that those who were obese found it harder to get their job done; some needed to cut back on their work activities as well as had a higher risk of being injured and/or requiring more days absent from work. Young men are almost 4 more times likely to be absent from work if they are obese. Obesity is also cited as the cause for women aged 35 to 54 to require either reduced work activities and/or disability days. Obese workers also have an increased probability of being hurt on the job; partially due to fatigue as well as physical limitations. As well, personal protective equipment may not be worn (or worn correctly), i.e. gloves and goggles. Certain medications may also increase the risk of being injured at work. Obese employees were found to have higher job strain (this is defined as high psychological demands combined with low job control.) These workers also felt that they received low social support from their colleagues and/or supervisors.

While obesity may be causing a problem in the workplace, the workplace may actually be the cause of some workers obesity problem. Canadians who work shift work and/or excessive hours tended to be at higher risk for being obese. A higher proportion of 'blue-collar' workers were found to be obese compared to those who work in the 'white-collar' professions. Irregular working hours associated with shift work can make it hard for employees to maintain a healthy eating schedule. Men who work more than 40 hours per week were more likely to obese than those who work a full-time schedule of 30 to 40 hours per week. Men between the ages of 35 to 54 with higher incomes tended to be more obese than those with lower incomes; one possible reason given was a tendency to dine out more often. However, women in the same age bracket tended to be more obese when their personal incomes were lower; this was attributed to possible cultural differences. Men and women with low education levels had a significantly higher chance of obesity with the exception of younger workers aged 18 to 34.

Workplace environments also play a large role in employee health. Jobs that are sedentary in nature can lead to excessive eating as well as a decrease in physical activity. Many Canadian jobs require much of the workforce to be in front of a computer terminal. This can lead to the tendency to snack during work hours as well as limited physical movement throughout the day, which in turn raises the risk of obesity.

With the rates of obesity having such a negative impact on the Canadian workforce, employers are being urged to help facilitate better health practices for their employees. It has been suggested that implementing health promotion programs may actually cost employers less than having to pay for sick leave, etc. This can have a direct impact on such expenses as prescription medications that are needed for those who are obese, as well lessening the risk of workplace accidents and/or injuries. As well, Canadians who have a better health status enjoy a lower premium on their health benefits. Even if a person initially must pay more due to health status, losing weight can actually entitle them to apply for a reduction in premiums. Health insurance premiums are based in part on health status; improvement in status can save potentially a large amount of money, especially in the long-term. It may also reduce the amount that is deducted from group insurance premiums should all staff improve their health.

There are many ways all Canadians can help improve their health that do not require a large financial investment, but rather more a conscious effort of daily habits. Some suggestions to make your workplace a healthier environment are:

• Talk to your co-workers as well as your employer about implementing a healthier workplace. Your employer may be willing to offer such initiatives such as partially reimbursing employees for such items as gym memberships, etc. in order to have a healthier, more productive staff.
• You can also talk to your co-workers about healthier snacks and lunches; substituting fresh fruit instead of donuts and other high-fat snacks for example.
• Organize a staff walk during the lunch break; this can help not only burn off calories, but help re-energize for the afternoon hours.
• Use the stairs instead of the elevator if you can; walk instead of drive if possible.
• Packing a lunch gives you more control over the types and portions of food you eat instead of dining out. This also tends to be a less expensive alternative than eating out. You can pack snacks such as fresh fruit, vegetables, crackers, etc. for when you’re working that will satisfy the craving to eat, while not being high in fat and calories.


If exercise is just not possible during the week, plan some weekend activities that require you to be active. An improved diet as well as physical exercise gives the employee more energy as well, making them more productive. A few simple lifestyle changes can make all the difference when it comes to health and helping to combat the stresses of life.

posted on Tuesday, March 10, 2009 10:06:59 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Monday, March 2, 2009
                 

Most times, when Canadians think about insurance, they think only of the standard health and life insurance policies. For some, this may be enough; however, especially for self-employed people, as well as those who do not have the savings to maintain their lifestyle for a period of time, disability insurance may be a wise choice.

Personal Accident Disability Plans provide monthly payments that can fund expenses, and/or replace your income in case you become disabled due to an accident. Sickness Disability is also offered, providing you meet the qualification standards for this particular plan. These plans are guaranteed to be renewed to age 65, 70, or 90; the age limit will depend on the particular plan you select; as long as premiums are paid on time, your plan cannot be canceled.

This insurance is quite easy to apply for, with automatic acceptance and/or acceptance within 5 days of the application (the coverage starts on the day the application was signed), up to 90 days. Very few questions will need to be answered, so the application process is very easy for most.

The 24 Hour Compensation Plan includes features such as:

Accident Total Disability Benefits: This entitles the policyholder to payments of $2,000 a month which is paid each month on the first day of the disability if you become totally disabled due to an injury sustained in an accident. This amount is paid while the total disability continues for up to 2 years. This benefit does reduce to $1,000 at age 70. Totally disabled means that you were employed (minimum 30 hours a week) prior to the accident, and that you are unable to perform your occupation and are not working elsewhere. Otherwise, this means that you are unable to perform most of your routine daily activities.

Accident Partial Disability Benefits: If you become partially disabled due to injury, this plan will pay a partial disability benefit of $1,000 (50% of your Total Disability Benefit) for up to 6 months. If employed prior to the accident, partially disabled means that you cannot perform one or more of your important duties and cannot work full time. Otherwise this means that you are unable to perform a significant amount of your routine daily activities.

Accident Total Disability Benefit Adjustment: If your annual income decreases after you have applied for coverage, your Total Disability benefit, as well as claim payment and premiums may be reduced based on your new annual income.

Integration With Other Sources:  If your Total Disability claim is more than $2,000 per month, your claim payment may be reduced by the amount of disability benefits you receive from other plans.

The Accident Excess Medical Rider provides you with a reimbursement of the following expenses that you may have incurred as a result of an accident:

• Paramedical services of a licensed physiotherapist, osteopath, massage therapist, and/or chiropractor, up to $800 per accident;
• Semi-private or private hospital room expenses, up to $100 per day for up one year;
• T.V., radio and/or telephone rental expenses while hospitalized, up to $15 per day;
• Prescription drug expenses of up to $500 per accident, maximum 30 day supply of medication per prescription for all Canadian residents except those who reside in Quebec;
• Medical equipment expenses, i.e. hospital beds, oxygen equipment, wheelchairs, crutches, canes, walkers, etc. of up to $7,500 per accident;
• Medical supplies and prosthesis expenses of up to $7,500 per accident. This includes such expenses as artificial limbs or eyes, surgical stockings, orthopedic appliances (not including teeth), braces, collars, splints, casts, trusses, pressure garments, burn garments, medical dressings, etc.
• Prescription vision care expenses. This covers the full cost of 1 pair of prescription eyeglasses or 1 year supply of contact lenses, provided that these were not previously required or worn. Up to $250 per accident for the repair or replacement of existing prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses.
• Dental care expenses for the services of a dentist or dental surgeon, for up to $3,500 per accident for the repair of natural teeth or treatment of a fractured jaw.

Consult with your insurance broker to see if this type of coverage is best suited for your needs. You can also visit us at http://www.healthquotes.ca/Disability/ for more information regarding these types of plans.

posted on Monday, March 2, 2009 12:51:26 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Saturday, January 24, 2009
                 

When a lump is discovered in the breast, either by the woman or her physician, tests will be ordered to determine whether or not the lump is cancerous. These tests can be used to 'stage' and 'grade' the cancer. These tests will most likely include:

Imaging Studies: This allows tissues, organs and/or bones to be studied in detail. X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans and/or bone scans give healthcare professionals the opportunity to study pictures of the size of the tumor and to see if it has spread.

Biopsy: This is usually necessary to make a definite diagnosis of cancer; cells are removed and checked under a microscope. These cells can also be studied to determine how fast the cancerous cells are growing. A biopsy can be done by:

   • Fine needle aspiration: this uses a thin needle to remove fluid/cells from the lump.
   • Core needle biopsy: a needle is inserted through a small incision in the breast to remove samples of tissue.
   • Surgical biopsy: local anesthetic is used and part or the entire lump will be removed.

Laboratory Tests: If cancerous cells are found in the biopsy sample these tests can help the physician learn more about the cancer to determine which treatment options are best suited. The hormone receptor status test shows whether the cells have certain hormone receptors. This can help predict how the tumor will behave and whether or not it will respond to hormonal therapy; this is more common in post-menopausal women. The Her2 test looks for the cancer gene that controls the Her2 protein. Her2 positive breast cancers behave differently than other breast cancers and need specific treatment.

Once a definite diagnosis of cancer has been made the cancer will be given a stage and a grade. The cancer stage describes the tumor size as well as whether or not it has spread beyond the place where it began to grow. In the earliest stage of breast cancer the cells are found only in the milk ducts or lobules and are called in situ cancer. If this is diagnosed before these cells have spread to the surrounding tissue there is no risk of them spreading once they have been removed. When breast cancer spreads of the duct or lobule it is called invasive cancer; this is still effectively treated especially if diagnosed early. The five stages of breast cancer are:

Stage 0: There are 2 kinds of stage 0 breast cancer: ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), where abnormal cells are in the lining of the milk duct and have not spread outside of the duct. Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), where abnormal cells are in the lining of a lobule.
Stage 1: Where the tumor is 2 cm or smaller and the cancer has not spread outside of the breast.
Stage 2: Where the tumor is 2 to 5 cm, or the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, or both.
Stage 3: Where the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and may have also spread to surrounding tissues i.e. the muscle or the skin.
Stage 4: Where the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.

The biopsy sample is studied to determine the grade of the tumor which is based on how the cancer cells look and behave when compared to the normal cells. There are 3 grades:

Grade 1: This is a low grade; slow growing and less likely to spread.
Grade 2: This is a moderate grade.
Grade 3: This is a high grade that tends to grow quickly and is more likely to spread.

Along with the stage and grade of the breast cancer, the healthcare team will factor in the woman's age, health status and whether or not she has been through menopause in order to determine the best treatment options. The most common treatment methods are:

Surgery: The type of surgery will depend on the size and location of the tumor. A lumpectomy involves the removal of a lump as well as some tissue, but not the whole breast. A mastectomy involves the removal of the whole breast. Many times the doctor will also remove some lymph nodes from the armpit in order to determine whether or not the cancer has spread.

Radiation Therapy: External beam radiation therapy involves a large machine that is used to aim a beam of radiation at the tumor. The radiation damages the cancerous cells as well as healthy cells that are in the path of the beam. This type of radiation therapy is almost always given after breast-conserving therapy (lumpectomy) and is sometimes used after a mastectomy. In certain cases, the lymph node area will also be treated with this therapy. Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy) involves radioactive material being placed directly into or near the tumor. 

Chemotherapy: This treatment is given either orally (pills) or by injection. Chemotherapy drugs interfere with the ability of cancerous cells to grow and spread; however this treatment does damage healthy cells as well. Side effects from chemotherapy generally include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, hair loss, decreased appetite as well as increased risk of infection. Some chemotherapy drugs can affect the ability to become pregnant as well.

Hormone Therapy: This treatment removes hormones from the body and/or blocks their actions which can stop cancer cells from growing. Tumors that are hormone receptor positive can be treated with this therapy. Drugs, surgery or radiation therapy can be used to change hormone levels. Hormonal drugs are given as either injections or oral medications. This can cause menopause-like symptoms, i.e. irregular periods, hot flashes. These side effects can be reduced and/or controlled and usually go away once treatment has been concluded; however menopause may be permanent. Surgically removing the ovaries from pre-menopausal women is also a treatment option. This causes immediate onset of menopause.

Biological Therapy: This method of treatment uses drugs to interfere with how the cancer cells grow as well as using the body’s immune system to destroy the cancerous cells. This treatment is often used for women whose breast cancer has too much of the Her2 protein.

Early detection plays a large role in the successful treatment of breast cancer. Women aged 40-49 should have a clinical breast examination at least every 2 years. Women aged 50-69 should have a clinical breast examination every 2 years as well as a mammogram during the same time period. Women over this age should talk to their physician regarding how often testing should occur. For more information regarding breast cancer, please visit the Canadian Cancer Society.

posted on Saturday, January 24, 2009 4:20:55 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Monday, January 12, 2009
                 

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer found in Canadian women. It is estimated that in 2008 over 22,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and over 5,000 will ultimately lose their life due to this disease. Over 400 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every week in Canada on average; as well an average of 100 women die due to this illness every week. Men are also at risk for breast cancer, with an estimated 170 diagnosed cases in 2008 with 50 fatalities.

Early detection is crucial for successful treatment and survival for women who have breast cancer. Every woman, regardless of age and medical history should regularly examine their breasts in order to detect any abnormalities. Breast cancer is most often detected when a lump is found in the breast and/or armpit. These lumps are usually painless. Other signs of potential breast cancer may include:

   • Changes in breast size and/or shape;
   • Dimpling and/or puckering of the skin that resembles an orange peel;
   • Thickening of the breast skin;
   • Redness, swelling, and/or increased warmth in the affected breast;
   • Inversion of the nipple;
   • Crusting and/or scaling of the nipple.

Women of all ages should be aware of their breasts in order to be able to detect any changes. This can be achieved through looking at your breasts as well as touching them in order to detect any changes. Some women may experience changes that are due to their menstrual cycle; these are important to note in order to determine if anything unusual is happening. Breast tissue may also change with a woman's age. When doing self breast examinations, remember that breast tissue covers not only the breast, but extends up to the collarbone as well as from the armpit across to the breastbone in the centre of the chest. It is recommended to do breast self-examinations monthly for all women, even those who are having regular screening tests.

The majority of women who develop breast cancer have no risk factors other than being a women as well as aging (especially for women 50 and older). However, your risk factor can be higher if:

   • You have already had breast cancer;
   • You have a family history of breast cancer, especially if your mother, sister and/or daughter have been diagnosed before menopause;
   • You have a family history of ovarian cancer;
   • You have an above average exposure to estrogen (which your body naturally produces). This could be due to:

  • Not having given birth for the first time before the age of 30;
  • Menstrual cycle starting at an early age;
  • Beginning menopause later than the average age;
  • Have taken hormone replacement therapy for more than 5 years;
  • Having dense breast tissue;
  • Having a history of breast biopsies that show certain breast changes, i.e. increased number of abnormal cells that are not cancerous (atypical hyperplasia);
  • Having had radiation treatment to the chest area, especially before the age of 30.

Women who may have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer include:

   • Women who are obese, especially after menopause;
   • Women who regularly drink alcohol;
   • Women who have regularly taken birth control pills.


It is important to remember that most women who develop breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease; as well, some women may develop breast cancer without having any of these risk factors present in their lives.

The next blog that will be posted will give in-depth information regarding diagnosis, staging and treatment. Please post in the comment section if you have any questions regarding this or any other health related topic. We would like to invite all our readers to suggest ideas that they would find informative!

posted on Monday, January 12, 2009 4:39:54 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Monday, December 22, 2008
                 

Canadian health officials are urging parents to not give over-the-counter cold medications to children under the age of 6. This warning comes from concerns over misuse and unintentional overdoses of the products. Earlier this year Health Canada recommended that these medications not be given to any children 2 years of age or less and said that there is limited evidence that these medications have any effectiveness in young children.

Health Canada asked a scientific panel to review these issues and while these products cannot be definitely proven; there are signs that cannot be ignored. The panel did find that there were indications of misuse and overdoses, as well as rare instances of serious side effects linked to these treatments. These effects included such problems as heart problems, hallucinations and convulsions; as well 5 deaths have been linked to various cold and cough products.

Officials also have found that very few studies indicate that these products work effectively on children. Since studies designed to test these products are tested on adults, it has always been assumed that they work on children as well. The Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association of Canada plans to submit new evidence showing that their products are indeed safe and effective for children to use.

Over a 13 year period, Canadian officials received reports of over 160 negative reactions from children who were given cough and cold remedies. Last year it was recommended that no cold and cough medication be given to any child under the age of 2 unless it was directed by a healthcare professional. Further studies have since been evaluated, and now Health Canada wants to raise that age to 6. Their reasons state:

• Both Canadian and international health professionals and experts agree that these products should not be used for children under the age of 6;
• As body weight can affect how a medication works, some children between 2-6 may weigh the same as some other children who are less than 2 years old which is the most vulnerable group;
• Children under the age of 6 generally have more colds than older children and are more likely to be exposed more frequently to these medications;
• Younger children are less likely to communicate a side-effect from the medicine and ask for help in the same manner as a child over 6.

Health Canada recently released a statement that will now make over-the-counter medications have 'enhanced labeling' for medications for children aged 6-12 and have dosing devices for all liquid formulas. Companies will have until the fall of 2009 to comply with these new standards.

posted on Monday, December 22, 2008 3:53:22 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Friday, December 12, 2008
                 

Health Canada has found that three quarters of soft plastic children's toys contain chemicals that have been linked to reproductive harm in children. These toxic chemical additives have been voluntarily banned in the European Union; the United States is joining this ban in February of 2009. Toys containing phthalates are still on sale in Canada legally so no enforcement of the voluntary ban can be taken.

Phthalates are used to soften the plastic in toys that are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Phthalates are not chemically bound to the plastic that they are added to; this results in the chemicals continually leaching from the plastic. This leaching process is accelerated when the toys which contain the chemicals are sucked on or put in the mouth of children. This exposure can pose serious health risks during a child's crucial development stage, causing such problems as reproductive defects, early onset of puberty, and/or lower sperm counts. Phthalates can cause disruption to the endocrine system and block production of testosterone. Some phthalates have also been linked to cancer when people are exposed to large doses.

Health Canada, along with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission called on toy manufacturers a decade ago to remove these harmful chemicals in all products that were intended for sale for children aged 3 years and younger that were likely to be chewed and/or sucked on. However this voluntary ban did not include toys that are produced for children above this age range where there still is a high risk of health problems due to these additives. Due to a higher cost in replacing these additives, some toy manufacturers are continuing to use phthalates despite the risks. As these toys are banned in Europe and will be banned in the United States in 2009, Canada will become a top market for these products.

Fortunately some toy companies have voluntarily discontinued using phthalates in the production lines; as well some retail stores are voluntarily no longer stocking these items. Hasbro and Mattel Inc. discontinued using these chemicals in their toy production shortly after the ban in Europe. As well, Sears Canada, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us have announced that starting in 2009 they will no longer carry toys that contain phthalates.

As of this date, there is no scheduled ban for these harmful chemicals in Canada. It is the responsibility of the Canadian consumer to be aware of the types of toys they purchase to ensure that it is not harmful to their children. The majority of toys that contain these chemicals originate from China where the use of phthalates is still predominating in the manufacturing of children's toys. These products usually do not carry a label that identifies the type of plastic that they are made of; consumers should look for words such as vinyl and/or PVC in the toy's description. As well, most toys that are composed of PVC often have a strong odor that is described as 'disagreeable'.  Toys comprised of PVC tend to feel soft and rubbery and most often do not immediately return to their original shape once they are twisted and/or bent.

For those consumers who are concerned about purchasing potentially toxic toys, there are alternatives. A variety of teethers are available that are made of fabric as well as non-toxic plastics. Wooden toys (that do not contain toxic paints) as well as hard plastic toys are also a safe option.

posted on Friday, December 12, 2008 4:27:10 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Friday, November 21, 2008
                 

With the lessening of daylight hours, many Canadians are prone to experiencing the 'winter blues'. For many people the lack of sunlight causes only slight depression, but for others it can be cause of clinical depression. In very rare cases Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can also occur in summer months as well. Canadians who are affected by SAD can be much debilitated throughout the winter months, unable to function at their normal level of productivity.

Since the days get shorter the further north someone is, SAD is more common in northern countries, i.e. Canada. It is estimated that 3% of the Canadian population will experience symptoms of SAD within their lifetime and 15% of all Canadians will experience the milder form of SAD, i.e. the 'winter blahs'. Episodes of SAD are very similar to the episodes of depression and can be difficult to diagnose. Medical conditions such as thyroid problems can cause the same symptoms that people who have SAD may experience.

Although awareness of SAD as a condition affecting mental health has been around for 150 years, it was only recognized as a disorder in the early 1980s. As such, many people who have SAD may not be aware of the disorder and/or that treatment is available. Research is still ongoing as to determine the causes of SAD, as of yet there is no one confirmed cause. However the disorder seems to relate to the seasonal variations in light "A";a biological internal clock in the part of the brain which regulates the circadian (daily) rhythms. Circadian rhythm responds to changes in the season, partially because of the difference in the day length. With electricity and other modern implements of society, the circadian rhythm is telling the body to sleep as the hours are dark, but unlike past centuries, society rarely goes to bed when the hour turns dark; electricity means being able to be productive well past sunset. Other research shows that neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) that help the regulation of sleep, mood and appetite may be disrupted in people who have SAD.

The symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder may be difficult to diagnose as the symptoms can be very similar to other forms of depression and/or bipolar disorder. Generally symptoms that recur for at least 2 consecutive winters without any other possible explanation for the changes in mood and behavior indicate the presence of SAD. These symptoms may include:

• Appetite change, particularly a craving for sweets and/or starchy foods.
• Weight gain.
• Decreased energy/fatigue.
• The tendency to oversleep.
• Difficulty concentrating as well as an increase in irritability.
• Feelings of despair and/or anxiety, some may experience thoughts of suicide.
• Avoidance of social situations.

For those who do suffer from SAD, these symptoms will generally disappear when the spring arrives. Some people's symptoms may disappear quite suddenly with a short time of heightened activity; others may experience the gradual dissipation of their symptoms.

Although some teenagers and children may experience SAD, it generally begins in people who are over the age of 20. It is more prevalent in women than in men. The risk of SAD does decrease with age. SAD may also affect shift workers and those who are naturally deprived from natural sources of light in their work environment.

For those people who suffer from long periods of depression during the winter months as well as major changes in sleeping and eating habits, consult with your healthcare provider as soon as possible. There are effective treatments available that can relieve these symptoms. As with other forms of clinical depression, anti-depressants may be prescribed in order to help cope with the symptoms. Anyone displaying symptoms of clinical depression are strongly urged to obtain medical help immediately.

For those who are experiencing milder symptoms of SAD there are ways of lessening these negative effects. These include:

• Spending more time outdoors during the available daylight hours in order to have the maximum exposure to sunlight.
• Rearranging your furniture (or work space if possible) in order to be near a window; make sure to keep the curtains open as much as possible.
• Install skylights; add more lamps.
• Maintain a physically active lifestyle since exercise relieves stress, builds energy and increases both your physical and mental well-being.
• Taking a walk during your lunch period in order to experience sunlight.
• If affordable, try to book a vacation in a sunny part of the world; be aware however, that symptoms may occur once you come back home. Make sure that you have the appropriate travel insurance for your trip!

Light therapy has proven to be effective for many people who suffer from mild to moderate SAD. Light therapy involves sitting beside a specialized fluorescent light box for several minutes a day. Before starting light therapy, consult with your physician about whether this is the best alternative for your needs. If light therapy has been approved by your doctor, be sure you are buying an approved light box. The box you purchase should be labeled CSA approved for use in Canada. Make sure that the device has a filter that blocks ultraviolet rays, which are harmful to human skin. It is always a wise idea to purchase your light box from a reputable company that has a history of good business practices.

For more information regarding Seasonal Affective Disorder, you can visit the Canadian Mental Health Association website.

posted on Friday, November 21, 2008 2:39:03 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Friday, November 7, 2008
                 

Diverticulitis is a condition that affects many Canadians as they get older. It generally occurs in people over 40 and becomes more common as they age. Diverticulitis is the condition of having one or more diverticula (sacs that form by a fold in the lining of the intestinal wall). These sacs can trap feces that move through the intestine. It is quite common for Canadians to already have diverticula and be unaware of the condition as there are usually no symptoms until inflammation and/or bleeding occurs. Diverticulitis can also appear in the gastrointestinal tract above the stomach which can trap food. Esophageal diverticula do not cause any serious health problems, but trapped food can cause the food to back up when a person bends over and/or lies down.

Once the diverticula have become inflamed the condition is then known as diverticulitis which can become a serious health problem. It is believed that diverticula are usually caused by muscle spasms, or by pairs of muscles that do not contract in a synchronized manner. This puts pressure around the blood vessels that pass through the inside of the wall of the large intestine (colon). The most common symptom of inflammation is abdominal pain which usually occurs in the lower left side of the abdomen. Cramping, nausea, vomiting, bloating, fever, chills and sudden change in bowel habits can also signal diverticulitis.

Bleeding can occur when feces get lodged in a diverticulum and the bowel draws fluid out of feces before ejecting it. If the feces stays lodged for a long time it can become hard and dry, which can erode the blood vessels. This can cause a large amount of blood to be released from the rectum, as well as small amounts of blood being released on a continual basis. Any bleeding that does not stop always requires medical attention. A colonoscopy can be used to identify the site of the bleeding as well as to stop the bleeding. For people with chronic bleeding surgery may be necessary to remove the affected part of the colon.

Diverticulitis can cause infections that are easily treated with antibiotics. If an infection is left untreated, an abscess (localized collection of pus) can form in the wall of the colon. An abscess can cause swelling as well as destroy the surrounding tissue. If the abscess remains small and in the wall of the colon it usually can be treated with a course of antibiotics. If the abscess does not respond to antibiotics a doctor may need to insert a catheter through the skin in order to help drain the abscess.

Peritonitis can occur when large parts of the abdominal cavity become inflamed. It always causes a fever and the belly very often is bloated and feels very hard. As well, a person may feel extremely ill with nausea and vomiting. Peritonitis can cause death within a few hours if it is not treated. This can be caused by perforations that leak pus out of the colon and in turn form a large abscess in the abdominal cavity.

Diverticulitis is more common in North America, Australia and England where diets typically are not high in fiber. Industrialized countries that have diets that are high in processed foods have higher cases of diverticulitis than countries in Asia or Africa, where these food products are not as common in people's daily diets. If you have been diagnosed with diverticulitis, changing your diet as well as regular exercise can be very beneficial. Talk to your health care professional about the best way to manage your condition, as well as possible medical procedures that may be required.

posted on Friday, November 7, 2008 4:20:19 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Wednesday, October 22, 2008
                 

A fast food restaurant has been linked to over one hundred suspected and confirmed cases of E. coli in North Bay, Ontario. Health officials have reported that the outbreak appears to have originated from a Harvey's restaurant. The particular restaurant in question was ordered to close after initial laboratory tests traced the strain of E. coli 0157:H7 to the specific location.

There are currently 158 cases of suspected E. coli; so far 35 have been confirmed. Health officials speculate that the origin of the outbreak stems from improper food handling (i.e. improperly sanitized counter surface) rather than originating from the food products, as no symptoms have occurred from patrons of other Harvey's restaurants throughout the province which would have received the same food products.  However, there are cases being reported from other parts of Ontario as the particular Harvey's location was patronized by travelers. Cases are being investigated in Toronto, Muskoka, Simcoe, Sudbury, Belleville and Trenton, as well as other neighboring communities in Northern Ontario. Currently 18 cases have been ruled out as originating from the Harvey's location.

Many Canadians still remember the E. coli outbreak that occurred in Walkerton, Ontario in May, 2000 where 2300 people became ill and 7 people died as a result of the town's water supply becoming contaminated. The Walkerton outbreak which was ultimately found to be a result of manure from a farmer’s field that was located near one of the town wells was Canada's most severe outbreak of E. coli. Canadian health authorities usually report only a few thousand cases of E. coli sickness per year for the whole country.

The term E. coli is an abbreviation for Escherichia coli and is a form of bacteria most commonly found in the intestines of humans as well as animals. There are hundreds of strains of the bacterium, with many strains being harmless to humans. However E. coli 0157:H7 is identified as the most dangerous to humans as it produces a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness. While the bacterium is mostly found in meat, it can also be found in unpasteurized milk and apple cider, as well as raw vegetables, cheese and contaminated water. Fruits and vegetables that grow close to the ground are susceptible to contamination as they can come into contact with improperly composted cattle manure that is used as a fertilizer. It can contaminate water as the bacteria that causes E. coli can be washed into creeks, rivers, etc. that may ultimately end up in sources for drinking water.

The symptoms of E. coli are generally characterized by severe abdominal cramping. This cramping occurs from merely hours after exposure, but can also take up to 10 days to show up. Diarrhea (sometimes bloody) can also occur in people who have been exposed to E. coli. It is possible for someone to have no symptoms, but still spread the bacteria to other people, who can then become quite ill. People who have suffered E. coli 0157:H7 poisoning are at a 30% higher risk of developing either high blood pressure or kidney damage, according to a Canadian study that was released in 2008. While most cases will resolve on their own within 5-10 days, a small number of cases of E. coli contamination can lead to a condition known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This is a life-threatening condition which is treated in the intensive care units of hospitals. HUS kills approximately 3-5 % of people who contract it; it can also lead to lifelong complications for its survivors. These complications can include lifelong health issues such as blindness, paralysis as well as kidney failure.

 As E. coli can also be spread via human contact, it is also urged that people who are exhibiting symptoms do not go to their workplace so as to prevent spreading the bacteria. The bacteria is most often spread from person-to-person but can also be spread by hand-to-mouth contact. Anyone who has been infected with E. coli should not share dishes, glassware and/or cutlery with anyone else. As well, all bedding, towels, facecloths, etc. should be washed separately with hot water and bleach. Washing hands often and thoroughly will help reduce the possibility of spreading E. coli to other people, as well as not handling food products when actively sick (i.e. diarrhea). Ensure that all raw fruits and vegetables are washed thoroughly before cooking and/or cutting them; disinfect all cutting surfaces and utensils before and after as well.

If you suspect that you may have been exposed to this (or any other) E. coli outbreak it is important to contact your local health department to advise them of your situation. It is also important to receive medical care to ensure that all steps are being taken to ensure a speedy and full recovery. For more information regarding this or any other related topics, visit the Public Health Agency of Canada.

posted on Wednesday, October 22, 2008 3:26:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, October 6, 2008
                 

Ontario public health officials are trying to contact 27 people who have been exposed to tuberculosis from a passenger on a bus traveling from Toronto to Windsor this past August. The passengers are being publicly urged to contact their local health units in order to be tested for TB as a safeguard. As the TB bacteria cannot be detected for at least 3 weeks following exposure, people may not be aware that they could potentially become ill. The risk that other passengers may have been exposed is low, but it is still necessary to be tested to determine if anyone else has caught the disease.

Approximately 1600 new cases of TB are reported in Canada every year, so the risk of developing the disease is relatively low. However, it can have serious health risks, so it is important for Canadians to recognize the symptoms as well as minimize the risk of becoming infected. TB is transmitted by frequent exposure to someone that has active tuberculosis; the bacterium is spread via sneezing, singing, coughing, etc. It is not as contagious as other diseases such as influenza or the chicken pox.

Most people can be exposed to TB bacteria and not develop the disease. It is possible for the immune system to effectively kill the germs. If this doesn't happen the bacteria can remain alive in the body which is called TB infection. Someone with TB infection will show no symptoms and not fall ill; they are also at no risk of spreading the disease. TB infection occurs when the immune system cannot stop the bacteria from growing; this risk is highest within 2 years of becoming infected. Approximately 10% of people will become infected with tuberculosis within their lifetime.

The symptoms of tuberculosis in the lungs are:

• bad cough that lasts longer than 3 weeks
• pain in the chest
• feeling very weak and/or tired
• coughing up blood and/or sputum
• loss of appetite
• fever and/or night sweats

A simple skin test can determine whether or not a person has a TB infection. This is accomplished by a very small amount of non-infectious TB protein being injected under the surface of the skin; a hard swelling will develop within 48-72 hours if the person is infected. At this point the health care provider will probably recommend antibiotic treatment in order to prevent the infection from developing into TB disease. Additional tests as well as chest x-rays may be needed in order to determine whether or not TB disease is present.

For those people who have TB disease it is extremely important to be treated as soon as the disease has been determined. A course of antibiotics for a minimum of 6 months is needed in order to kill all of the TB bacteria. Finishing the course of treatment is vital in order to prevent the risk of developing a strain of the disease that will be drug resistant, which is harder as well as more expensive to treat. As well, people who do not finish the treatment also pose a risk of spreading TB to others.

People with a weakened immune system are more at risk of developing TB infection and/or disease. People who have HIV/AIDS are 50-170 times more likely to develop TB disease; therefore this population group should always be tested for TB. Conversely, people who test positive for TB infection and/or disease should also get tested for HIV in order to help the physician determine the best course of treatment. Other populations that have an increased risk for TB infection are anyone:

• who has come into close contact with someone who has or is suspected to have active TB
• with a history of active TB and/or has had an x-ray suggesting that they had TB in the past but did not receive treatment
• who is living in an Aboriginal community that has a high rate of TB infection and/or disease
•  who is living or working at a long-term care facility, correctional facility
• who has had an organ transplant and is being treated with immunity-suppressing drugs
• who has a lung disease known as silicosis
• who has chronic lung failure and requires dialysis
• who has cancer of the head and/or neck
•  who has been infected with the TB bacteria within the past 2 years
•  who has had a chest x-ray that shows signs of old TB
• who is being treated with glucocorticoids
• who is receiving treatment with tumor necrosis factor alpha inhibitors (for auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis)
• who has any type of diabetes
• who is underweight with a body mass index of under 20
• who smokes one pack of cigarettes or more per day
• who is under five years old when first infected with the bacteria

If you suspect that you have been exposed to someone that has tuberculosis, make an appointment with your health care provider for testing. You can also visit The Lung Association website for more information regarding tuberculosis.

posted on Monday, October 6, 2008 3:40:02 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Wednesday, September 24, 2008
                 

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has long been the leading cause of severe vision loss in Canadians. As age is one of the predominant risk factors for developing this condition, all Canadians over 50 years of age are strongly encouraged to learn more about the warning signs, as well as having an understanding of what this condition entails.

AMD gradually takes away central vision by the slow degeneration of the macula (a small area located in the very centre of the retina). Due to the slow and painless progress of this condition, AMD can remain undetected until it reaches the more advanced stage; routine eye exams however can detect it in its earlier stages. Therefore it is highly recommended that all people over 50 have their eyes regularly examined. In rare cases AMD can progress incredibly fast, i.e. weeks and/or months, resulting in permanent central vision blindness. It is imperative that AMD be caught as quickly as possible as earlier treatment usually results in less vision loss.

AMD is characterized by either 'dry' or 'wet'. Dry AMD occurs first; all people who have wet AMD have had the dry form of the condition. For 85-90% of people however, AMD will stay at the dry level and not progress to the advanced wet AMD. Dry AMD happens when light sensitive cells in the macula begin to break down; this causes gradual blurring of the central vision. As it progresses some individuals may see a blurry spot in the center of their vision. This loss of central vision increases as less of the macula can function. This can happen to either one eye or both; it is possible that both eyes may be affected at different times as well. For those who have AMD in one eye there is an increased likelihood that AMD will develop in the other eye. It is also possible to have AMD in both eyes and have the eyes progress to wet AMD at different interval.

A common early sign of dry AMD is drusen, which are yellow deposits located under the retina. Scientists are uncertain about the connection between drusen and AMD; what is known is that an increase in size and/or number of drusen raises the likelihood of developing into advanced dry AMD or wet AMD. Drusen alone does not cause vision loss, and many people can have a few small drusen in their eyes and not progress into AMD. However, people who have drusen should be regularly tested by their eye care professional in order to monitor this condition.

Wet AMD (also known as advanced AMD), occurs when abnormal blood vessels start to grow under the macula. These blood vessels are usually quite fragile and often leak blood and fluids, which raise the macula from its normal location at the back of the eye. This damage occurs rapidly, resulting in a greater loss of central vision. Wet AMD tends to be quite unpredictable and can appear very suddenly. There is no set schedule of when dry AMD changes into wet AMD; one of the early symptoms of wet AMD is the appearance of straight lines that are suddenly wavy. This, as well as any other vision change, should be reported immediately to your eye care professional as a comprehensive dilated eye exam is necessary.

There is currently no known cure for either dry or wet AMD. However, there are different treatments, depending on which type of AMD you have that can halt the progress of the condition. People who have the dry form of AMD can slow the progression and/or reduce vision loss by using specific high dose ocular vitamin therapy. As well, lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and/or and improved diet can have a positive impact on reducing the chance/speed of progression of the disease. As well, vision should be monitored on a regular basis in order to track the progression.

Currently effective treatment is not available for all forms of wet AMD. Research is progressing, but at this date only 3 treatments for wet AMD have been approved by Health Canada. Although these treatments will not cure the condition, they can be very effective in halting the progression of wet AMD. They are:

Laser Photocoagulation (LPC): This method uses a high energy beam of light (laser) to destroy the fragile, leaky blood vessels. However, this method poses a risk of damaging surrounding healthy tissue as well as some vision. As well, there is a high risk of developing new blood vessels after this treatment; repeated treatments are usually necessary. Laser surgery is only used to treat a very small percentage of people who have wet AMD; it is usually most effective on those whose leaky blood vessels have developed away from the fovea (central part of the macula).

Photodynamic Therapy: This method involves injecting the drug verteporfin into an arm, which then travels throughout the body. This drug will 'stick' to the surface of new blood vessels; when a light is shined on the eye for 90 seconds the light will activate the drug, destroying the new blood vessels. It does not destroy the surrounding healthy tissues, but those who are being treated with this method must avoid any bright lights (indoor and outdoor) for five days after the treatment. It is a painless course of treatment that can be done in a doctor's office and usually takes 20 minutes. This treatment may need to be repeated as the results are often temporary.

Injections: This is the latest method to treat wet AMD and involves injecting drugs directly into the affected eye. Also known as anti-VEGF therapy, the injections work by blocking the growth of new abnormal blood vessels that tend to grow at an abnormally high level in eyes with wet AMD. Injections may need to be done as often as monthly. Successful injection treatments can help slow down vision loss; in some cases it can also improve vision. Injections may need to be done as often as on a monthly basis depending on the rate that the wet AMD is progressing. It is done in a doctor's office; the eye is numbed before injection and afterwards the eye will be monitored.

Research shows that AMD occurs more in people of white origin than those of African American descent. As well, women appear to be at greater risk for this disease than men. Having a family history of AMD can also increase the odds of having the condition. However, there are lifestyle choices that can either lessen the risk, and/or slow down AMD. Smoking has been linked to the increased risk of AMD; obesity has also been linked to the progression of early and intermediate stages of AMD to advanced AMD. Eating a healthy diet of fish and leafy green vegetables can reduce your risk of developing AMD; it is also important to maintain a healthy weight, exercise and maintain a normal blood pressure.

More information can be found about Age-related macular degeneration at AMD Canada, as well as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

posted on Wednesday, September 24, 2008 4:29:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, September 1, 2008
                 

So far, 15 Canadian deaths have been linked to the listeria outbreak that has now spread throughout most of Canada. Nine deaths in Ontario, one in Alberta and one in British Columbia have been attributed to listeria, either as a contributing factor or the direct cause. 4 deaths in Ontario as well as one death in Quebec and another in Saskatchewan are currently being investigated to determine whether listeria was a contributing factor. As well, the number of listeriosis cases has now reached 33, from the original 17 that had been diagnosed. Another 25 illnesses are being investigated as well to determine whether listeriosis was the cause, as well as 6 more deaths.

The outbreak has been definitively linked to a north Toronto plant of Maple Leaf Foods Inc. The plant has since been closed for mass sterilization. Maple Leaf Foods has recalled almost all products that were produced at this plant; so far over 20 different meat products totaling over 500 000 kilograms, have been recalled. Supermarket chains Loblaw Co. and Sobeys Inc. have recalled close to 50 ready-to-eat sandwiches and other deli products that contain meat that could be contaminated as it originated from the affected Toronto plant. This is due to the uncertainty of what lines have been contaminated in the food plant. Currently, the only meat products that have tested positive for listeria were manufactured in July, but all products that were manufactured from June 2 and forward are being recalled as a preventative measure. King Bean Wholesalers is also recalling 4 different varieties of roast beef sandwiches from stores that are located throughout British Columbia.

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. has taken full responsibility for the listeria outbreak. They have released television commercials as well as full page newspaper ads apologizing to the Canadian public and vowing to do to everything in their power to rectify the situation. The spokesperson for Maple Leaf has stated that the company is in no way is blaming Canada's current food inspection laws and guidelines. Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are supervising and monitoring the food recall at the Toronto plant.  Maple Leaf Foods and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have set up toll-free phone lines that consumers can call with any questions or concerns. These phone numbers are 1-800-568-5801 and 1-800-442-2342.

Public health officials are warning that the current amount of Canadians that have become ill, or may become ill, from listeriosis will likely increase. Every illness and/or death must be investigated in order to determine whether or not the strain of listeria that has been linked to the tainted meat is actually responsible. They are currently locating and interviewing people in order to establish whether they have been ill with listeria, and to determine the likely source of the contaminated food.

To see the list of all recalled products visit the CFIA website. Remember that there is the possibility of more products that will be recalled. Although this outbreak was initially thought to be in Ontario, other provinces are reporting cases that may be linked to Maple Leaf products. Check with your local health agency to see whether or not these products may have been sold in your region. You may want to check every few days in order to be aware of any new recalls.

posted on Monday, September 1, 2008 6:17:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Friday, August 8, 2008
                 

The Health Minister of Canada has announced that Canada will be increasing protection for Canadians who suffer from food allergies. This will be done through new labeling requirements for food allergens, gluten sources and added sulphites contained in prepackaged foods. Health Canada has also announced that they will also launch several studies related to allergies, including a large national study of food allergy prevalence. They will also conduct 2 studies on the dietary habits and coping skills of people who have celiac disease and are on a gluten-free diet.

Currently, the Food and Drug Regulations requires that ingredients of food products be declared on the labels of most prepackaged foods; however components of certain ingredients are exempted from this declaration. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency does have the ability to recall foods that are currently exempted from the labeling requirements if a health risk is identified; however the tougher labeling regulations will provide manufacturers with clear rules establishing procedures to be followed in a consistent and systematic fashion, thereby reducing the number of food recalls and/or preventable allergic reactions. The improved regulations would require that manufacturers now declare all food allergens, gluten sources as well as added sulphites on prepackaged food labels. The new regulations would detail exactly how these are to be listed on the food labels.

Some Canadians may be unaware between the differences of food allergies and intolerances. You are not necessarily allergic to a particular type of food just because it does not agree well with you. Although certain foods may make you sick, food allergies are much more serious and can be fatal if untreated quickly.

• Food intolerance: is a food sensitivity that does not involve the immune system. Unlike food allergies, or chemical sensitivities, where a small amount of food can cause a reaction, it usually requires a more normal portion of food to produce symptoms of food intolerance. Although these are commonly mistaken for a food allergy, intolerance is more likely to originate in the gastrointestinal system and caused by an inability to digest and/or absorb certain foods, or food components. One of the most common forms of food intolerance is lactose intolerance. This occurs in people who lack an enzyme called lactase, which is needed by the body to digest lactose (a sugar in milk). Symptoms of lactose intolerance may include abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence and/or diarrhea.
• Chemical sensitivities: This occurs when a person experiences an adverse reaction to chemicals that naturally occur in, or are added to foods. This may be the caffeine found in coffee, tyramine in aged cheeses, and flavor enhancer MSG.
• Celiac disease: This is an inherited intolerance to gluten. The main sources of gluten are cereal grains; the only current treatment for celiac disease is a strict diet that is completely gluten free.
• Food allergies: are sensitivities caused by a reaction of the immune system to specific proteins in a food. Currently, it is estimated that food allergies affect as many as 6% of young children and 3-4% of adults. In allergic individuals, a food protein is mistakenly identified as harmful by the immune system. The first time the body is exposed to such a protein the immune system responds by creating antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). When the individual is exposed again to the same food protein, Ige antibodies and chemicals such as histamine are then released. Histamine is a powerful chemical that causes a reaction in the respiratory system, gastrointestinal track, skin and/or cardiovascular system.

It is also a wise choice to carefully read all labels of prepackaged foods that you are buying. Make sure you also understand what the labels mean, and what the ingredients are. Some people can become confused with the long, confusing names of products; some research of your own will give you a better understanding of what you are buying, as well as what the nutrition value of that product is.

posted on Friday, August 8, 2008 6:46:26 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Tuesday, July 15, 2008
                 

Summer can be an ideal time to take part and/or all of your accrued vacation days from work, especially for those who wish to have a family holiday. Taking time off from your work environment is essential in order to maintain mental and physical health. This time is also valuable in terms of maintaining your relationships with your family and friends. Not taking time off from work often leads to higher levels of stress, which negatively impact health. For those who already have health issues such as cardiovascular problems, acute stress can be quite dangerous.

A study which started in 1948 had women filling out questionnaires over a 20 year period that tracked their vacation time, as well as health status. Back then the study showed that women who took a vacation only once every 6 years were almost 8 times more likely to develop health issues such as coronary disease and/or heart attacks than those women who took a minimum of 2 vacations a year. The published study in 1992 also factored in health issues such as obesity, diabetes, smoking and the amount of income; once again those at a higher risk level were those that did not take regular vacation time.

Another study was conducted in 2000 which studied 12,000 men who were considered high risk for coronary disease over a 9 year period. The results showed that those men who did not take a yearly vacation had a 21% higher risk of death from all causes and 32% more likely to have a fatal heart attack.

A study has shown that 23% of Canadians have canceled and/or postponed their vacation plans due to their obligations at work. Canadians also "give back" an average of 3 days of their vacation time that though they are entitled to, do not take due to work. This is in part due to the fact that most Canadians are conditioned to value employment productivity sometimes more than their work-life balance. To maintain work-life balance, it's also important not only to take your vacation days, but to take them properly. 42% of Canadians seem to use all their time at once, taking a 2-3 week vacation from work, while the rest seem use their days here and there. Taking 2 weeks off seems to be the ideal amount of time; it allows the body and mind the chance to properly unwind and become rejuvenated. However, breaking up your vacation time into a series of long weekends does not seem to give you enough

Every company will have their own policies regarding when to submit your vacation days in order to get them approved. This does require sometimes making plans a few (or more) months in advance. You will need to be proactive as your vacation time approaches, in order to let all the other staff know exactly when you are leaving, and for how long. If someone is temporarily filling in for you, you should make sure they are aware of what their responsibilities will be, and what realistically you expect them to accomplish. Due to this advance planning, you may find that when your vacation finally comes, you are swamped with work, i.e. in the middle of a project. This may require you to be in contact with your office while you are on vacation. If this is happening to you, designate with your office a certain time of day that you will be available to them. Try and deal with your work within that window of time, so you can actually relax and enjoy your vacation the rest of the time. Make sure that all people involved are aware of this schedule, as well as that your cell phone/blackberry/laptop etc will be turned off until the next appointed time.

Remember that by not taking time off you are reducing your productivity as well as optimum health status. Whether jetting out of the country, or simply staying home, all Canadians need to take time to unwind and relax in order to be at their peak performance for work.

posted on Tuesday, July 15, 2008 5:33:20 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, June 23, 2008
                 

With summer here bringing the hot weather, air quality can be a big concern for Canadians, especially depending on where you live. Even for those who do not have respiratory problems, smog can be quite harmful and pose a health risk. For those with existing breathing problems, smog can be very dangerous.

Originally, the word smog was a definition of the mixture of smoke and fog. However, today smog defines the harmful mixture of gases and particles and is considered air pollution. Although it is usually visible as haze, it can also be invisible, due to particles that are too tiny to be visible. Weather factors such as humidity, as well as the type of pollutants determine what type of smog you experience on that certain day.

Many air pollutants combine to make smog. These pollutants are usually:

• Ground-level ozone: Ozone that is found high in the atmosphere is known as "good ozone"; it helps protects us from the sun's rays. However, ground level ozone is harmful to human health when it is inhaled. It can exacerbate respiratory problems for those who already have asthma, COPDS and other lung diseases, as well as those who suffer from cardiovascular diseases. Ground-level ozone forms when nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds from vehicle exhaust, factory emissions, etc. react with sunlight.
• Fine Particulate Matter (PM): A broad term for particles of liquids and/or solids that are air pollutants. PM 2.5 is matter that is very small but that can be breathed deeply into a person's lungs and remain there. It also stays in the air longer and travels further than other large particles. It is usually a result of vehicle exhaust, wood burning, paved and/or unpaved roads, construction, industry and forest fires. This tends to be the matter that makes people cough and/or sneeze as well as irritate the lungs, eyes, and/or throat. This also exacerbates breathing problems for those who already have respiratory disorders, and can actually cause heart attacks in those who have existing heart diseases.
• Sulphur Dioxide: A colorless gas that usually smells like burnt matches; this is a main ingredient in acid rain. When this combines with Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOC) and sunlight it creates ground-level ozone. The main causes for this gas are burning fossil fuels, industry mills, volcanoes and hot springs, and diesel vehicles. Exposure to sulphur dioxide can actually cause lung disease. It also irritates the nose and throat and causes breathing problems, as well lowering the lung's natural defense system. For those with cardiovascular and/or respiratory problems, exposure can make these worse.
• Nitrogen Oxides: This is caused by the same things that cause sulphur dioxide. Exposure can lower the body's resistance to lung infections as well as cause shortness of breath and irritation of the upper airways.
• Total Reduced Sulphur Compounds (TRS): A mixture of gases that usually smells like rotten eggs. This is common around areas that contain steel, pulp and/or paper mills, refineries and sewage treatment plants. Exposure usually results in headaches and/or nausea.
• Carbon Monoxide (CO): Odorless, tasteless, colorless gas that is poisonous at high levels. This is usually caused by burning fossil fuels in vehicles, the production of metals as well as emissions from heaters. At low levels, it can cause headaches, dizziness, lack of breath as well as slower reflexes and perception. High level exposure can result in unconsciousness, seizures, coma and respiratory failure that can result in death.
• Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC): These are gases in the vapors of gasoline, solvents as well as oil-based paints. They react with nitrogen oxides when it is sunny and/or warm and cause ground level ozone. The most common causes for VOCs are burning gasoline, the production of oil/gas products, wood burning and the evaporation of liquid fuels and solvents. Exposure can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and/or throat, headaches, nausea, loss of coordination and can also worsen lung and heart conditions.
• Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH): This is caused by the incomplete burning of carbon materials, i.e. wood, oil, garbage, coal, etc. Over 10,000 compounds make up this group of pollutants, which are responsible for lung irritation as well as skin rashes. Some PAHs have been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals when they are inhaled, ingested, and/or come into contact with skin. The major sources of PAHs are furnaces, exhaust from vehicles, cigarette smoke, wood burning, and fuel producing plants.

It is estimated that smog causes 5900 early deaths in Canada per year. The majority of these early deaths occur in Canadian major cities. While smog is harmful to everyone's health, those who are at high risk are:

• People already suffering from lung disease, i.e. asthma, emphysema and/or chronic bronchitis
• Children and teenagers as their lungs are still developing and they tend to be more active outdoors. Their smaller size also means that they are breathing in more pollutants per pound of body weight which leads to a higher absorption rate.
• Seniors
• Anyone who does vigorous outdoor activities during high smog days, especially those that work outside (construction workers, etc)

Although April – September is usually considered "smog season", it can and often does occur all year round. Ground level ozone generally is more prevalent in the warmer months, while fine particulate matter occurs during the winter. Everyone should be aware of how air quality affects their breathing, especially those listed above. Pay attention to air quality advisories, and try to avoid being outside during times when smog is prevalent.

For those who are sensitive to smog, or suffer from pre-existing heart and/or lung problems, try to stay inside in an air-conditioned environment. Air conditioning can help make breathing easier during the hot summer months, especially in hot and humid weather. If you can’t avoid being outside, make sure to avoid exerting yourself physically. Try to stay in shady areas, as well as roads and streets with heavy traffic. Drink plenty of water, and rest often. Exercise indoors, such as a gym or your home. Going outdoors in the morning instead of the afternoon is also advisable; the pollution levels are usually lower during this time period. If you have asthma, never leave home without your inhaler; chances of having an asthma attack are much higher when the air quality is poor.

Smog can have a negative affect on your health for up to a day after being exposed. If you experience problems breathing, make sure to contact your physician as soon as possible. For severe asthma attacks or other serious difficulties breathing, go to your nearest emergency room.

posted on Monday, June 23, 2008 4:36:04 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Wednesday, June 11, 2008
                 

While everyone will experience a sleepless night every now and then, chronic insomnia can have a very negative impact on health. Lack of sleep is one of the main causes of preventable traffic accidents as well as work-related accidents. Sleep is also required to bolster your immune system, as well as restore physical and mental energy. Long term sleep deprivation can also increase the severity of chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

Everyone's sleep requirements are different; while some people only need 4-5 hours of sleep others require 9-10 hours. The average amount of sleep required for optimal health is usually 7-8 hours per night. The amount of sleep you need will change throughout your life, depending on such factors as your age, physical activity level as well as any medications you may be on. Insomnia also becomes more prevalent as people age and is usually more common in women.

Insomnia can be either temporary or chronic. Temporary insomnia can be situational, i.e. not being able to sleep before a stressful situation (exam, interview, etc). This usually resolves itself when the stressful situation is over. Chronic insomnia however happens on a regular and frequent basis, with either problems falling and/or staying asleep. Chronic insomnia often occurs for no apparent reason. Symptoms include such things as:

• Difficulty falling asleep at night
• Waking up often during the night
• Waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep
• Daytime irritability due to lack of sleep
• Daytime fatigue

The most common reasons for insomnia include:

• Stress and/or anxiety: Worrying about work, school, family, health, etc. can result in your mind being too active to be able to relax. Everyday anxiety, as well as anxiety disorders can have the same effect.
• Depression: Depression can result in either sleeping too much or not being able to sleep. The chemical imbalances that can cause depression can result in the brain not being able to relax enough to be able to fall asleep.
• Using stimulants: Certain prescription drugs such as high blood pressure medication, some antidepressants as well as corticosteroid medication can cause insomnia. As well, over the counter medications such as decongestants, weight loss products and some pain medications contain caffeine and/or other stimulants which will interfere with the ability to fall asleep.
• Change in circadian rhythm: Jobs that require rotating shift work can interfere with the body's natural circadian rhythm and cause sleep problems. Jet lag is also another known interference, but usually resolves itself within a few days.
• Eating habits: Eating too much before bedtime can cause some people to feel uncomfortable when they lie down. As well, heartburn can cause discomfort which can result in keeping you awake.
• Pain: Medical conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, etc. can cause pain that is great enough to keep some people awake.
• Behavioral insomnia: Worrying excessively about not being able to sleep can result in prolonging the pattern of insomnia. Trying too hard to force sleep can cause stress which in turn keeps the body awake.
• Changes in physical activity: A decrease in physical activity, which is common among people who are older, can cause sleeplessness.
• Change in lifestyle: Drinking more alcohol and/or caffeine can cause insomnia. As well, people who tend to nap during the day may find themselves not being able to sleep as well at night.

While there is differing opinions about the time length to wait before consulting with a doctor (a few days or a few weeks) it is advised to seek help from your physician if your insomnia is such that it drastically interferes with your daily activities. Because insomnia is not a disease, there is no specific test to diagnose it. Your doctor will ask very detailed specific questions about your regular sleep patterns and habits, i.e. snoring, medications you are currently taking, pain, and whether or not your legs jerk when you sleep, as well as other related questions. You will probably be asked to keep a sleep journal, where you can record when you go to bed, how long before you fall asleep, how many times per night you wake up, and when you get up in the morning, as well as the quality of your sleep. Your physician may also require that you spend a night in an accredited sleep disorder clinic, where your sleep can be monitored by professionals.

There are different ways that your doctor can recommend to help deal with chronic insomnia. The most common treatments are:

• Stress reduction: If your insomnia is due to increased stress, then reducing your stress will help solve the disrupted sleep patterns. Daily exercise can help as it can reduce stress, improve mood as well as deepen sleep. It is recommended to complete exercising at least 4 hours before bedtime. As well, your doctor may recommend therapy to help you manage your stress in a more productive manner.
• Sleep hygiene techniques: There are certain strategies that can be used in order to help promote a better sleep pattern. This includes such things as having a "buffer zone", in which you spend 90 minutes before your scheduled bedtime consciously trying to relax. Another successful technique is the "20 minute rule", where if you do not fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, you get up; only returning to bed when feeling 'drowsy'. This should be repeated throughout the night if necessary. This technique does result in mild sleep deprivation, which should increase the pressure to sleep the following night. When repeated, over time this technique should improve sleep.
• Medications: Your physician may prescribe sleeping pills which will help you sleep. This can be especially effective for those who are going through a stressful period, as once the stress is over, a more normal sleeping pattern will return. Sleeping pills are usually prescribed as a short term solution; if used for too long insomnia can return when you stop taking them. As well, dependency will result in needing higher doses in order to obtain the original effect. However, there are cases where your doctor may extend the time that sleeping pills are used.

Getting enough sleep is essential for not only your physical health, but also your mental health. Leading a healthier lifestyle can promote better sleep patterns, as well as being aware of the amount of caffeine, nicotine and/or alcohol you consume. Talk to your family doctor if you are consistently having difficulties sleeping; finding the origin of the problem will result in a quicker resolution.

posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2008 9:33:29 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, May 26, 2008
                 

With summer soon approaching, many Canadians are planning their summer vacation. For those who plan on leaving Canada, attention should be paid to not only what vaccinations are mandatory, but which ones are recommended. It is important to remember that not all countries face the same potential outbreaks; for every visit outside of Canada you should consult with your physician as well as reputable travel advisories in order to be informed of any potential health risks.

Certain diseases are far more common in developing countries than in Canada, however as Canadians are usually immunized early in childhood, there is very little risk of becoming infected. Check your childhood immunization chart to make sure you have been vaccinated for diseases such as rubella, tetanus, polio, and diphtheria. While outbreaks of these have not been prevalent in Canada for a long time, epidemics do occur in other countries. If you are traveling with young children, consult with their pediatrician about the status of their vaccinations, as well as any health risks concerning the area of travel.

The most common diseases that you can be vaccinated for and are at risk of acquiring are:

• Hepatitis A and B: Can be caught from "unclean" water, including fruits and vegetables that are washed in this water and ice cubes and is also transmitted by sexual contact. There is a combined vaccine that provides lifetime protection against both Hepatitis A and B consisting of three doses given over a 21 day period.
• Influenza: The flu vaccine in Canada is based on projections of what type of flu will be prevalent for the season. While this is usually consistent with flu outbreaks around the world, it does vary. Timing as well is a factor, as the flu season in the Northern Hemisphere occurs in wintertime; the Southern Hemisphere has their projected flu season during the summer, and flu season typically lasts all year round at the equator. As well, due to the recycled air on airplanes, the risk of catching infectious diseases is quite high.
• Typhoid: Be advised that the vaccination for typhoid only lasts for 3-4 years, and typically only provides 70% protection. Anyone traveling to a country with under-developed water treatment systems and/or sanitation systems should be vaccinated. New Canadians who are traveling back to their homeland are at the highest risk of becoming ill with typhoid.
• Yellow Fever: One of the only vaccinations that is required by health officials to cross international borders. 21 countries in Central Africa as well as South America require a yellow fever vaccination certificate for all entries; 102 countries demand this certificate from anyone who has been in the "yellow fever zones". There is a high mortality rate among people who become infected with yellow fever. The current vaccine only lasts for 10 years, so it is important to keep your immunization records, and be aware of when you need to be vaccinated again.
• Meningococcal (bacterial) meningitis: This is recommended for anyone traveling throughout sub-Saharan Africa, especially if you plan on living closely among the local population. This is a very dangerous disease and is highly contagious; it is passed between people through coughing and/or sneezing. This vaccination is now required for anyone going to Saudia Arabia to participate in the Hajj. As your risk of infection is lower when staying in a quality hotel, you may not need this vaccination. It is a wise idea to consult with a travel health professional in order to determine your individual risk.
• Japanese encephalitis: Is transmitted through mosquito bites, as is malaria and yellow fever. This is prevalent mostly in rural areas of South and Southeast Asia and can be fatal, as well as causing severe neurological damage. It is mostly contracted in the summer months by an evening-biting mosquito and the symptoms are similar to those of meningitis. The vaccine offers protection for 2-3 years; be aware that there have been allergic reactions associated to this vaccine. It is highly recommended for those who plan on spending more than a month in areas that are affected with this disease.
• European tick-borne encephalitis: Has similar symptoms to the Japanese version, but often has more severe consequences. It is a viral infection carried by ticks, and is found in Russia, the former Soviet Union, as well as other parts of Europe, and is most prevalent in the summer months. Anyone planning to stay in these areas for a long period of time should be vaccinated; this vaccine does need to be ordered, so you must plan ahead. It is also important to follow procedures that reduce the risk of being bitten by ticks.
• Rabies: A fatal disease of the brain and nervous system that is transmitted through animal bites, especially dog bites. Rabies is common throughout the world, including North America. Although this vaccine is expensive, it is very safe and effective. For those who have been vaccinated and are bitten by an animal, 2 additional doses are required. However, for those who have not been vaccinated, 5 doses of vaccine and one of rabies immune globulin are required for effective treatment. The rabies immune globulin is not widely available in the developing world, which poses a huge health concern if bitten. It is important to know whether or not this is easily accessible in the country you plan on traveling in, as well, consult with a travel medical professional. This is usually recommended for long-stay travelers, especially those traveling with children.
• Malaria: There is currently no malaria vaccine. There is however, three first-line antimalarial drugs that are recommended to help prevent becoming infected. These drugs should be taken for several weeks or even the day before potential exposure, as well as during the travel period, and for 1-4 weeks after returning. It is important to know that none of these drugs offer 100% protection, so it is important to take safety measures to prevent being bitten by virus-carrying mosquitoes. These include using insect repellants, as well as mosquito netting, screened accommodations, and wearing long pants and long sleeved shirts after dark.

You should consult with your physician as soon as possible when making your travel plans. This will allow you enough time for the slower vaccines to take effect. A 2 month time period is usually recommended to consult with your doctor. Your doctor will have the latest information on any outbreaks, as well as the latest vaccines that are available. As well, it is very important to tell your doctor that you have been abroad if you become ill within 2 months of returning to Canada, in case you have caught a foreign-based illness.

There are also websites that offer the latest information about these diseases globally. The Public Health Agency of Canada offers travelers advisories and/or warnings of any outbreaks throughout the world. This is an important tool when making your travel plans in order to decide if your destination is a safe one. Before booking your travel plans, make sure you have the latest information available about the country/region. Be aware that the health status of a country can and does change; make sure you read all travel advisories every time you plan on leaving Canada.

posted on Monday, May 26, 2008 3:13:54 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
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