# Monday, September 21, 2009
                 
Vancouver Canada will be the host of the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics Games that will be running from January 22 until March 21, 2010. The actual event schedule has not yet been released, and will not be until much closer to the actual games date. Vancouver is estimated to have 350,000 visitors to their city for this spectacular event; 10,000 worldwide media representatives be also be attending to cover the games.

Vancouver has some brand new venues that will be showcased during the Olympics, including:

•    Richmond Olympic Oval: Opened in December of 2008, this multi-use waterfront facility will be hosting all the speed skating events.
•    Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Centre: Will be opening in February of 2009 and will be hosting all of the curling events.
•    Whistler Olympic/Paralympic Park: Opened in 2008, this will be the first Olymic venue to include all three Nordic events on one site: Cross-Country skiing, Ski Jumping and Biathlon.
•    Whistler Sliding Centre: Opened in December of 2008, this venue boasts the fastest track in the world and will host the Bobsleigh, Luge and Skeleton competitions.

Non-Canadian residents must purchase their tickets for through an Authorized Ticket Retailer from their respective National Olympic Committee. Although the majority of accommodations have already been reserved, there will be rooms available closer to the competition dates. For those who have yet to book their trip, it is wise to do so as soon as possible. This includes not only accommodations, but flights, car rentals, etc.

For those who are planning to visit British Columbia for the Olympics, but are not Canadian residents, it is important to realize that they will need travel insurance for their stay here. The 'free' Canadian health care system has been in the international news quite frequently; people may not understand that this does not apply to visitors to Canada. Non-Canadian residents who require medical treatment in Canada and do not have the proper travel insurance will be required to pay out-of-pocket; for a trip to a Canadian hospital emergency room, this can quickly add up to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in medical bills. Even the average cost of visiting a walk-in clinic in Canada can start at over $50.00, which covers just the basic visit; any additional medications/treatments will be additional.

HealthQuotes.ca advises all non-Canadians to purchase Visitors to Canada insurance in order to make sure that your visit to our great country does not end in unexpected medical bills that can be very expensive. Travel insurance is quite inexpensive, and well worth the peace of mind should something go wrong.

posted on Monday, September 21, 2009 3:54:08 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, August 31, 2009
                 
Phobias: These are only classified as a disorder if they prevent the person from leading a normal life. They come in two categories; social phobia (fear of social situations) and specific phobias (i.e. spiders, flying, heights, etc.) Social phobia causes the person to experience intense fear of social situations to the extreme where contact with people can paralyze the person and make them experience feelings of extreme self-consciousness. This fear can be so intense that the person will find it easier and more comfortable to avoid any and all situations that may trigger these feelings, thereby limiting their ability to lead a 'normal' life as well as interact with other people. Specific phobias produce an irrational fear of a specific environment or object that produces an overwhelming feeling of fear. The inability to control this extreme terror even though logically they realize it is not grounded in reality causes extreme anxiety and panic.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This relates to someone who has suffered a traumatic experience, i.e. rape, robbery, physical, mental and or emotional violence. The person relives the terror of the experience and can be triggered by anything that they associate with the trauma. Common symptoms include:

•    Flashbacks;
•    Nightmares;
•    Depression;
•    Anger and irritability.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: This disorder causes persistent unwanted thoughts (obsession) and behaviors (compulsion) that is uncontrollable. Typical obsessions revolve around germs, persistent doubts (knowing you turned off the oven but still obsessed that you didn’t and the house may burn down), and disturbing sexual and/or religious thoughts. Compulsions can cause excessive washing, cleaning, counting, organizing and checking.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: This causes the person to excessively and inappropriately worry about ordinary things and events and usually lasts for at least six months. The person will expect the very worst to happen to them even when there is no evidence to support those thoughts (i.e. worrying about being fired, even when you have great evaluations, got a promotion, etc.) They can cause such physical symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, shaking, muscle tension and headaches.

As many anxiety disorders have some roots in biology, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications are commonly used in order to help the person relieve the symptoms as well as the emotional impact of these disorders. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is also used with great success, and usually in conjunction with medications. There are specific CBT techniques designed for anxiety disorders that can be learned to help alleviate the symptoms, i.e. breathing techniques for those with panic disorder in order to lower the heart rate. Support groups are also available whereby the person can not only learn from others, but find acceptance as well as a non-judgmental environment in which they  can be open and honest about their experiences.

It is not uncommon for people to suffer for up to 10 years with these disorders without seeking out treatment or even a diagnosis. A specialist can correctly diagnosis these disorders and help to not only provide medication, but specific supports and therapies that will help the person regain their life. The first step is to talk to your health care provider about what you are experiencing so they can refer you to a specialist as well as other resources in your community.

posted on Monday, August 31, 2009 10:29:51 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Friday, August 21, 2009
                 
With an estimated 1 in 10 Canadians affected by anxiety disorders these are now one of the most common mental health problems in Canada. Fortunately anxiety disorders can be successfully treated with a combination of medications and/or therapy. It is important for Canadians to understand the differences between simply being anxious in response to a real situation as opposed to an anxiety disorder that can produce fear and/or stress that is not proportional to the event.

Stress and anxiety are a part of daily life for Canadians, whether it's work and/or school, family and/or home life. Situations arise that legitimately can cause anxiety and while this may feel uncomfortable to experience, these feelings aren't debilitating. However, for those who have an anxiety disorder, these feelings can be extreme as well as last for long periods of time, with the feelings of intense fear and/or distress that are not proportionate to what is actually being experienced. The brain interprets these experiences to be more risky than they actually are, making life become fearful to the extent that it negatively impacts on personal and professional life. Anxiety disorders affect both adults and children, many times without the person realizing that what they are experiencing is not 'normal' stress. Due to the stigma of mental health issues, many choose not to seek out treatment because they are afraid of others opinions, especially in the workplace.

Anxiety disorders affect not only behavior and thoughts, but emotional and physical health. They are believed to be caused by various circumstances, such as biological factors, personal circumstances, social and economic circumstances, as well as brain functions. It is typical for a person to suffer from more than one anxiety disorder, as well as having depression, eating disorders and/or substance abuse issues. The most common anxiety disorders are:

Panic Disorder: This disorder causes the person to have very sudden and severe panic attacks in which they become very quickly and without warning with the feeling of being incredibly terrified. They cause such physical symptoms such as:

•    Chest pains, usually accompanied by chest palpitations;
•    Shortness of breath and/or difficulty breathing;
•    Dizziness and feelings of unreality;
•    Stomach pains;
•    The very real fear of dying (these are also symptoms of heart attacks).

People with panic disorder will usually visit local emergency rooms with the fear that they are having a heart attack and are possibly dying. Prolonged attacks which can elevate the heart rate for an extended period of time can be very stressful and extremely hard to work through.

The next blog will be a continuation, with the other disorders listed and explained.

posted on Friday, August 21, 2009 3:51:36 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Thursday, July 30, 2009
                 
The International Agency for Research on Cancer released a statement yesterday concerning tanning beds and the increased risk of cancer. They stated that tanning beds are as deadly as mustard gas, plutonium and other identified carcinogens, and officially labeled tanning beds and ultraviolet radiation as 'carcinogenic to humans'. They made this statement after they comprehensively reviewed studies which have found that the risk of skin melanoma increased by 75% when humans used tanning devices before the age of 30. The dangers of tanning beds are now considered as dangerous as smoking cigarettes.

Previously tanning beds and/or ultraviolet radiation have been labeled as 'probably carcinogenic to humans'. This new classification removes any doubt about the harmful potential of tanning beds; some doctors are advocating that they never be used under any circumstances. The Canadian Cancer Society is advocating for Ontario to place restrictions upon use of tanning beds and is calling for a ban for anyone under the age of 18. They claim that artificial tanning lights can emit rays that are as much as 5 times stronger than the midday sun. They are also calling for mandated standards for staff that operate tanning salons, a government run registry of tanning equipment use, and restrictions regarding advertising that is aimed at Canadian youth.

In a 2008 study conducted by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, it was found that the annual rate of melanoma among young women had risen by 50% since 1980; Canadian experts said that it was likely that this was also happening in Canada as well. It is estimated that 5,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer in 2009, almost 1,000 will die as a result of this.

Ontario currently has no regulations regarding who uses tanning beds as well as the staff who run the salons. Instead, Health Canada has voluntary guidelines for tanning salons; this states that children under 16 not use tanning equipment and that operators should inform clients to discuss with their physician the potential risks of using tanning beds. Regardless of these voluntary guidelines, a 2008 study conducted by the Canadian Cancer Society found that 60% of tanning salons in Toronto did not ask the age of the client, and 51% did allow clients under 16 to use the facility.

New Brunswick, along with Scotland, Germany, France and some Australian states have already banned tanning bed use for anyone under the age of 18. 29 states in the U.S. have restricted use for youths using tanning beds; many require parental consent. An MPP from Ontario did introduce a private member’s bill in 2008 calling for a similar ban; this bill is before the standing committee on social policy.

For more information regarding the dangers of ultraviolet radiation and the use of tanning beds, please visit the Canadian Cancer Society.

posted on Thursday, July 30, 2009 7:53:19 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, July 20, 2009
                 
Celiac disease affects nearly 1% of the Canadian population. Celiac disease is an immune mediated disease triggered by the ingestion of gluten, which is storage protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other cereal grains. Read on for information such as common Celiac symptoms, nutrition and diet.
posted on Monday, July 20, 2009 5:36:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, June 29, 2009
                 
The World Health Organization has updated their list of confirmed cases of the H1N1 influenza outbreak. As of June 24, 2009, 55,867 cases have been confirmed globally, with 238 people dying as a result of infection. Canada has reported 6,457 cases of the swine flu, with 15 confirmed deaths. Within Canada, confirmed cases for the provinces are as follows:
  
PROVINCE CASES DEATHS
British Columbia 243
0
Alberta
605
1
Saskatchewan
626
0
Manitoba
517
2
Ontario
2665
7
Quebec
1660
9
New Brunswick
4
0
Nova Scotia
117
0
PEI
3
0
Newfoundland
27
0
Yukon
1
0
NWT
6
0
Nunavut
258 0

Most of the confirmed cases have been mild, with only 275 people requiring hospitalization. However, there is growing concern over the rapid rate of infection in Canada's aboriginal communities, especially those in remote parts of Manitoba. Out of the 500 reported cases in Manitoba, over 25% are aboriginal. The Inuit community in Nunavut is also experiencing a H1NI outbreak, with over 250 reported cases. Many reserves, which are in isolated parts of Ontario and Manitoba, have been under virtual quarantine for a month after cases of either swine flu or other respiratory illnesses were reported.

Initially it was thought that the H1N1 virus would die out with the warm weather approaching; flu viruses tend to not be prevalent in warm weather as they don't like humidity. It was originally predicted by public health officials that the first wave of infections would decline over the summer, to be followed by a second wave of infections this fall. This is evidently not happening, as infections are still occurring, and are not decreasing in numbers at all. This unprecedented infection pattern has health officials baffled. In June the World Health Organization announced that it was announcing the swine flu a pandemic; this is the first global flu epidemic in over 40 years. Canada is a global leaser in pandemic planning and is continuing to implement our overall pandemic plan for the health sector, The Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan.

In response to the current data available, as well as not being to predict the nature of the virus, Canada has begun to implement an aggressive approach to combat this particular virus in order to determine the best way to protect Canadians. With the escalation of the Pandemic Phase 6, the Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan for the Health Sector. This includes such measure as:
 
  1. Ensuring that the National Antiviral Stockpile can be mobilized quickly so Canadians throughout the country will have access to the treatment they need.
  2. Reviewing the science and the working with the vaccine manufacture GlaxoSmith Kline, in order to begin the process of developing and testing a pandemic vaccine in accordance with their standing contract and ongoing involvement in vaccine development, testing and production.
  3. Managing the National Emergency Stockpile System (NESS) which contains hospital supplies, equipment and other pharmaceuticals which include a stockpile of antiviral medication.
  4. Assessing implementation of community based strategies aimed at mitigating potential impact on the healthcare system and society at large.
  5. Working with national professional organizations and non-government organizations to monitor essential health-related resources, i.e. medical supplies, antiviral, vaccines, sanitizers and antibiotics.
For more information regarding the latest outbreaks of the swine, flu, or what to do if you suspect it may be your area, please visit the Public Health Agency of Canada.
posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 2:27:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Friday, June 19, 2009
                 
Many Canadians have group health insurance which is provided by their employer. These insurance plans cover health costs which are not covered by the employee's provincial health insurance plan. This can include such expenses as dental care, vision care, prescription medications, etc. Depending on the group health insurance plan your employer provides, expenses such as physiotherapy, chiropractor, and speech therapist can also be covered, either partially or entirely.

Group health insurance is available for any business that has a minimum of 2 employees. This can be an easier and less expensive option to individual health insurance, as there may be less medical questions asked in order to qualify for health and dental benefits. Long term disability may also be included in a group plan; typically there is a 120 day waiting period for this benefit. However, individual long term disability coverage can be acquired with a typical waiting period of between 30 to 90 days, depending on the plan.

LTD insurance insures that a person will have an income if a sudden illness/accident prevents the insured person from working. It is designed to protect against the sudden loss of income, which for most Canadian families, can be financially devastating. Disability insurance pays a monthly benefit while the injured and/or ill person cannot return to work; this differs from critical illness insurance, which pays a lump sum even if the person returns to work.  Disability insurance is available for either long-term or short-term; it also is available on a guaranteed issue basis. Guaranteed issue disability is currently only available to residents of Ontario; however HealthQuotes.ca is working on expanding this coverage for other Canadian residents. Four questions are asked for this coverage:

•    Are you currently disabled?
•    Are you currently hospitalized?
•    Do you have cancer?
•    Are you HIV positive?

If the answer to these 4 questions is no, then enrolment in this LTD coverage is guaranteed, regardless of any other health concerns and/or issues.

Having this type of insurance coverage can be especially important during this tough economic recession. For those families that are living paycheck to paycheck, any loss of income can be disastrous for their financial well-being. An unexpected illness or injury can financially cause a family to suddenly not be able to pay their mortgage, car payments, etc. as well as big expenses such as university tuition.

Closely read your employee benefits package to see whether or not Long Term Disability insurance is included, and if so, how much you are covered for. Examine your monthly expenses and how much money is needed every month to adequately support your family. If you are not fully covered should an accident/illness occur, you may want to purchase more LTD coverage. A consultation with your insurance broker is usually free, so it won’t cost anything to ask questions if you are unsure about what type of health insurance coverage you have, and whether or not it is suited for your current needs.

posted on Friday, June 19, 2009 4:35:05 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, May 25, 2009
                 
Smoking is unhealthy for everyone, but women especially seem to be at higher risk than men, a new study shows. Scientists from Harvard University Medical School and the University of Bergen in Norway conducted a study that focused on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) which showed that female smokers experienced reduced lung function at a lower level of exposure as well as being affected at a younger age when compared to men. The differences in gender were most pronounced in COPD patients under 60 and those who had smoked less than a pack a day for 20 years. The study also showed preliminary findings that women who got cancer were younger than men, even though the women had on average smoked less than their male counterparts. These findings suggest that women may have an increased susceptibility to cancers caused by smoking, as well as COPD.

COPD is a progressive disease that causes increasingly difficulty in breathing in those it affects and includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking is one of the leading causes of COPD. Symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, an increase in mucus as well as coughing. COPD slowly damages the airways, making them swollen as well as partly blocking them. The air sacs at the tips of the airways may also suffer damage. The airways and sacs in the lungs lose their shape and stretchiness and the walls between the air sacs become destroyed. The walls of the airways become thick and swollen and the cells produce more mucus which blocks the airways.

80-90% of COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking. This includes current and former smokers, as well as exposure to second hand smoke. The symptoms are most often noticed in mid-life, generally 40 and over. Its symptoms can often be mistaken as a natural part of the aging process, which can prevent people from seeking treatment early on. Symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, coughing up a large amount of mucus, fatigue and constant chest infections. While there are treatment programs available, there is currently no known cure. COPD is a progressive disease which in most cases is fatal, either directly caused by COPD or by complications associated with the disease. Health complications that are caused by COPD include:

•    Recurring chest infections, i.e. pneumonia;
•    Pulmonary hypertension (higher than normal blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs);
•    Cor pulmonale (enlargement and strain on the right side of the heart) which can lead to heart failure;
•    Arrhythmia (irregular heart beat);
•    Respiratory failure.

Quitting smoking is a very important factor in treating COPD. While the damage caused by smoking cannot be undone, quitting smoking prevents further damage from occurring. Quitting smoking as well as preventing being exposed to second hand smoke is the fastest method to begin to feel better. This, combined with medication and pulmonary rehabilitation programs can help those with COPD relieve the symptoms as well as help prevent the disease from progressing.

While quitting smoking can be extremely hard, there are various methods available to help those who wish to quit. These can include support groups, cessation medications as well as nicotine patches and gum. Talking to a health care professional about quitting smoking is important in order to discover which cessation method will be best for your individual needs. Smokers who have quit should also inform their health and life insurance agent of this new health status as it can lead to a reduction in premiums based on an improved health status.

For more information regarding COPD as well as help for quitting smoking, visit The Lung Association for resources.

posted on Monday, May 25, 2009 2:19:20 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# 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)  #   
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