# Saturday, March 13, 2010
                 
Although factors such as family history and age cannot be altered, many of the health concerns that can cause cardiovascular disease are controllable. Every Canadian can make the choice to improve their health status, and thus, improve their chances over not becoming ill. In order to lessen the chances of heart disease and/or stroke the following is recommended:
 
  • Control Blood Pressure: The single most important stroke risk factor that is controllable; a 10 point drop in blood pressure equals a 40% less chance of having a stroke.
  • Quitting Smoking: Smoking can increase the risk of stroke as much as 2 to 3 times. Quitting can diminish this risk within the first year of cessation; after 5 years of successful abstinence from smoking the risk is diminished to a person that has never smoked before. For non-smokers, it is essential to avoid second- hand smoke which can double the risk of cardiac disease/stroke.
  • Control Cholesterol: The link between high levels of bad cholesterol, LDL and heart disease are stronger than the connection between bad cholesterol levels and stroke. LDL, however, causes hardening of the arteries, which in turn increases the risk of stroke. Keeping cholesterol in a healthy range will usually require being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, as well as taking any medications prescribed.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can be a major factor in reducing the risk of stroke. The right type and amount of exercise can often cut the possibility of having a stroke by half. As well, exercise can lead to other healthy changes.
  • Getting and Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Excessive body weight definitely raises the risk of having a stroke. Healthy eating, along with regular physical exercise, is essential for cardiovascular health. A properly balanced nutritious diet helps to lower body weight and the size of the waist/ The Body Mass Index (BMI) level is good indicator of whether or not the ideal body weight has been reached. High BMI levels for women are to be considered at a high risk of stroke; high BMI coupled with a large waist in males is considered particularly high risk.
  • Normal Blood Sugar Levels: Almost 20% of people who have had a stroke are diabetic. In turn, diabetics have a higher risk of stroke due to that over time; high levels of blood sugar can damage the blood vessels that lead to the brain. Diabetics must manage their disease with extreme care in order to reduce the risk of stroke.
  • Control Atrial Fibrillation: Atrial fibrillation is a heart rhythm disorder that can increase the chance of the formation of blood clots, which can lead to a stroke. It is important to take the medication that is prescribed for this condition.
This and the past 2 blogs have dealt with cardiovascular disease and stroke. As with most other health conditions, a healthy diet and lifestyle is absolutely essential for optimal health. Please remember to notify your health (and life) insurance broker if and when your health status is upgraded due to a healthier lifestyle; you may be entitled to lower insurance premiums.

posted on Saturday, March 13, 2010 2:59:36 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Friday, February 26, 2010
                 
Ischemic heart disease is the most common type of cardiovascular disease and affects men and women both equally. While factors such as age and/or heredity to contribute to the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, the majority of cases found in Canadians were related to risk factors that are modifiable. The major risk factors for cardiovascular disease are:

  • Smoking: Smoking greatly increases the risk of the development of blocked arteries, blood clots, reduction of oxygen in the blood as well as increased blood pressure. Smoking, either first and/or second hand are harmful to human health in general, and specifically is high-risk for developing ischemic heart disease and stroke. Non-smokers can die just as prematurely from second-hand smoke; smoking nearly doubles the risk of stroke as well. Quitting smoking not only provides immediate but also long lasting health benefits; within hours of smoking cessation the risk of heart attack already begins to decrease.
  • Lack of Exercise: People who are physically inactive have twice the risk of having heart disease as well as a stroke. More than half of the Canadian population reports to being inactive; for those who have already experienced a heart attack, it is vital to have and maintain a healthy level of exercise in order to increase chances of survival.
  • Unhealthy Eating: 56% of Canadians report eating less than 5 servings of fresh fruit and vegetables per day, with the minority only reporting that they eat fresh fruit and vegetables in the amounts recommended in Canada's Food Guide. Not only do fresh fruits and vegetables protect the heart and blood vessels, but they provide fiber and contain anti-oxidants (substances which work against the development of blockage in the arteries).
  • High Cholesterol: Cholesterol is one of the fats in the blood that contributes to the growth of all cells in the body. Too much cholesterol ca lead to blockage of the arteries. There are 2 main types of cholesterol:
    1. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is most often referred to as "bad cholesterol" because it's high levels contribute to artery blockage.
    2. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is most often referred to as "good cholesterol" because it helps to carry LDL-cholesterol away from the artery walls.
  • Triglycerides are not a type of cholesterol but they are, however, a type of fat thatis found in the blood and are linked with excess weight, excessive alcohol consumption and/or diabetes.
  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): This is the measure of the force (pressure) of blood against the walls of the blood vessels (arteries). The top number of a blood pressure reading represents the pressure when the heart contracts and pushes blood out (systolic) and the bottom number is the lowest pressure when the heart relaxes between beats (diastolic). Blood pressure that is consistently more than 140/90 mmHg is considered high, although for those people who have diabetes, 130/80 mmHg is considered high. High blood pressure can, over an extended period of time, cause scarring that promotes the build-up of fatty plaque which is a substance that can narrow and eventually block the arteries. Fatty plaque also causes strain to the heart, initially causing a thickening of the heart muscle and eventually causing the heart to weaken. Very high blood pressure can cause blood vessels in the brain to burst, resulting in a stroke. While high blood pressure is one of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, it is also the number one modifiable risk factors for strokes. More than 2.6 million Canadians have been diagnosed with hypertension; there is a possibility that just as many people are living with hypertension and are simply not aware of it. It is expected that more than 90% of people 55-65 with normal blood pressure are expected to develop high blood pressure over their lifetime. In 2007 21 million Canadians visited community physicians due to high blood pressure; blood pressure medication that is prescribed by a physician has also risen. Approximately 2.3 billion dollars a year are spent on direct costs of high blood pressure.
  • Sodium: While the human body does require some sodium in order to function in a healthy manner, too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn is a major risk for strokes, heart disease, and/or kidney disease.
  • Obesity/Overweight: Being significantly overweight and/or obese increases the risk of developing a wide range of serious health issues, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes as well as high blood pressure.
  • Stress: High levels of stress and/or prolonged stress may manifest itself in a physical sense, causing high cholesterol, increased blood pressure, and/or disturbances in heart rhythm. These conditions can all increase the risk of developing heart disease. As well, for some people, living with high levels of stress may cause them to not get enough rest, a proper diet, regular physical exercise etc. which in turn are all factors that can elevate the risks of heart disease.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes occurs when insulin does not control the level of sugar in the body, either because not enough insulin is produced or because the body does not react properly to the insulin that is produced. Insulin is then required to break down sugar in the body. Diabetes increases the risk of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and strokes, particularly for those whose sugar levels are poorly controlled. Diabetes can result in poor circulation caused by damage to the blood vessels.
The third and final blog in this series will provide information on how to lower the risks of cardiovascular disease as well as the current treatment methods; this blog will be available within the next 10-14 days.
 

posted on Friday, February 26, 2010 4:58:13 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Tuesday, February 16, 2010
                 
Canadians all across the country spent the weekend celebrating Valentine's Day on Saturday. And while the majority of men and women enjoyed affairs of the heart this weekend not enough are taking care of their heart. In fact, Health Canada states that although mortality rates have been reduced in the past forty years, heart disease is still one of the leading causes of death in Canadians. 1.6 millions Canadians are estimated to be living with either heart disease or those who are living with the effects of a stroke.

Anyone who gets a diagnosis for heart/cardiovascular disease should know that this disease is preventable and manageable, especially when it comes to making changes for a healthier lifestyle. There are 6 different types of cardiovascular disease (cardiovascular disease refers to more than one disease of the circulatory system, including the heart and blood vessels, whether the blood vessels are affecting the lungs, brain, kidneys, etc. These 6 are the leading cause of death in Canadians:
 
  • Ischemic Heart Disease: This is the most common type of cardiovascular disease in Canadians and other industrialized countries; this refers to problems with the circulation of blood to the heart muscle. A partial blockage of one or more of the coronary arteries can result in a lack of enough oxygenated blood (ischemia) which then causes symptoms such as angina (chest pain) and dyspnea (shortness of breath).An artery's complete blockage causes necrosis (damage to the tissues) and/or a myocardial infarction (heart attack).
  • Cerebrovascular (Stroke): This refers to a problem with the circulation of blood in the blood vessels of the brain. A blockage with effects lasting less than 24 hours is known as a transient ischemic attack. Complete blockage with long-term effects is known as a cerebrovascular thrombosis (clot). It is also common for a blood vessel in the brain bursting which results in long term effects on health.
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease: This disease affects the circulation found primarily in the legs; patients with this disease typically complain of pain in their calves, especially when walking.
  • Heart Failure: This occurs when the pumping action of the heart cannot provide enough blood to the rest of the body as it is needed, resulting in damage to the heart muscle (i.e. from a heart attack) or from excessive, chronic abuse of alcohol, or because of a heart muscle known as cardiomyopathy. People with heart failure usually complain of shortness of breath as well as leg swelling.
  • Rheumatic Heart Disease: This was once more common among Canadians, but now is more prevalent in many poor countries. This disease begins in childhood with a bacterial infection which affects joints and heart valves; the heart problems appear many years later, in which often the heart valves require to be replaced via surgery. Other infections can also occur attacking the inner tissues of the heart including valves (endocarditic) and the outer tissues overlying the heart (pericarditis).
  • Congenital Heart Disease: This begins because of a problem with the structure of the heart due to a birth defect. These anatomical defects can be as minor as a small hole in one of the inside walls of the heart or they can be as major and complex which can affect the way blood flows through the heart and lungs. Some congenital heart problems can be fatal unless immediately corrected by surgery, others cause disability in varying degrees and can be treated by surgery later in life with either one or more surgeries.
This blog dealt with identifying the major types of cardiac disease; the next blog will address treatment and identification issues surrounding cardiac disease.

posted on Tuesday, February 16, 2010 4:29:42 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Tuesday, January 26, 2010
                 
Many Canadians experience what is known as 'the winter blues'. Shorter daylight hours, combined with the anticlimactic feeling once the holiday season is over, can make people feel somewhat dejected. While feeling blue is a normal human reaction to life, some people experience clinical depression throughout the winter months. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and can be quite problematic. While it is normal and healthy for all people to experience some forms of feeling mildly depressed during the winter months, SAD is a form of clinical depression that is triggered by the winter season.

People who are suffering from SAD experience such symptoms as:

•    Feeling down constantly;
•    Low energy;
•    Sleep difficulties (either not being able to sleep or oversleeping);
•    Appetite difficulties, including sudden cravings for foods that are high in carbohydrates;
•    Lack of interest in what is happening in life and activities that were normally enjoyed;
•    Concentration difficulties and difficulties in processing information;
•    Feelings of depression, hopelessness, and/or anxiety;
•    Social withdrawal;
•    Weight gain.

Researchers believe that SAD is the result of the days becoming shorter in the winter months. Studies have suggested that SAD is more prevalent in northern countries; this is a result of winter days being shorter in the more northern countries. It is estimated that two to three percent of the population of Ontario suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder every year. As well, studies have shown that up to 100,000 people who reside in British Columbia experience SAD every year. A much larger percentage of the Canadian population suffers from the 'winter blahs' with symptoms very similar to SAD, but not to the extent of fitting the criteria for clinical depression.

The current typical treatment for SAD is light therapy, also known as phototherapy. This requires the person experiencing the symptoms of SAD to be exposed to bright artificial light. This treatment mimics the person being exposed to the level of sunlight normally experienced during the summer months. These light boxes can be purchased and used in the person's home; the majority of people have a significant positive result from as little as 30 minutes a day of being exposed to a special fluorescent light box. The most common ‘dose’ of light is 10,000 lux. Lux is a measure of light intensity. Typically, indoor light is under 400 lux; a cloudy day is typically 3,000 lux; a sunny bright day is typically more than 50,000.

Portable light boxes are safe and are now commercially available for those who experience the symptoms of SAD and typically cost between $200 and $400. The side effects of using a light box are usually quite mild; some people may experience nausea, headaches, eye strain, and/or feeling 'edgy' when they first start to use light therapy. These negative feelings usually do not last long and will go away as the therapy progresses. Anti-depressant medications may also be effective for those who are experiencing severe reactions to the lack of sunlight.

If you are experiencing these symptoms during the winter months, consult with your health care professional about whether or not light therapy may be beneficial for you. Also check your individual and/or group health plan to see if the cost of a fluorescent light box is covered through your health insurance.

posted on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 2:01:01 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Thursday, January 7, 2010
                 
Travelers in Canada and the United States are experiencing delays in North American airports due to the recent incident aboard a Northwest Airlines flight. The flight had originated from Amsterdam and was scheduled to land in Detroit. A Nigerian man attempted to ignite an incendiary device on the flight Christmas Day, but succeeded only in starting a small fire. An Al Queda group in Yemen is claiming responsibility for the failed attack.

The Canadian government has announced that it has ordered 44 full-body scanners. Passengers departing from major Canadian airports and flying to the United States will then have a choice of either being scanned or submitting to a physical ‘pat down’ by an airport guard. The first dozen of the full-body scanners are due to be delivered by the end of next week and be operational by March. Airports in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax and possibly Gander are the first Canadian cities to receive the scanners. Other unspecified locations will receive scanners in the later months of 2010. Until the scanners are operational the Minister of State for Transport is recommending that all passengers traveling to the United States through Canada be automatically subjected to the secondary screening program. This would entail passengers being asked to submit to a physical pat-down or a full-body scan in addition to the already existing security measures.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority has indicated that it will follow the recommendations of the federal privacy commissioner:
  • That the body scanners will be used only when a passenger fails a metal detector and then refuses a physical pat-down;
  • That the screening officers must be in a different room than the passenger and must not wear/have any identifying information.
The scan requires the passenger to pass through a stand-up probe that looks similar to a phone booth and takes approximately one minute. It works by projecting low level millimeter wave radio frequency energy over and around the passenger’s body. It is capable of peering beneath clothing to project a graphic three dimensional image of the person onto a computer screen in a remote room. There the security officer can detect weapons or explosive devices hidden beneath the clothing. The scan has already been approved for use in the United Kingdom as well as the Netherlands. In Canada the scan will not be used on anyone under the age of 18, due to the fears that the resulting images could possibly amount to child pornography.

For Canadians traveling to the United States, be advised that the new security measures will make wait times longer; allow for plenty of time to pass through Customs as well as the security checks. It is also advisable to call ahead and ask what exactly will the rules are regarding carry-on luggage and other items, i.e. laptop computers, cell phones.

posted on Thursday, January 7, 2010 4:39:31 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Monday, December 7, 2009
                 

With the Christmas season upon Canadians, alcohol can factor into many of the seasonal parties and functions. However, for women who are pregnant alcohol consumption can cause serious defects in the unborn child. It is estimated that nine babies for every 1,000 that are born in Canada have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder which can cause birth defects and/or developmental disabilities.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is an umbrella term that describes the range of disabilities and/or diagnoses that are a result of alcohol consumption during pregnancy; impact of FASD varies from child to child. The degree of disability and birth defects usually depends on the amount of alcohol that was consumed, how often it was consumed and at what stage of the pregnancy it was consumed, as well as the health status of the pregnant mother. It should be noted that no amount of alcohol is considered safe for pregnant women .

It is estimated that more than 3,000 babies in Canada are born each year with FASD, and approximately 300,000 Canadians are currently living with some form of FASD. Research suggests that the cases of FASD are higher in aboriginal communities as well as rural, remote Northern communities. However, FASD has been found in all communities in Canada regardless of location as well as financial status.

FASD causes mild to severe health problems for those who suffer from it. It can impact delays in development, cause intellectual problems and well as problems learning how to socialize with others. Some common examples of FASD are:

  • Learning disabilities (particularly in mathematical concepts);
  • Difficulty in understanding that actions have consequences;
  • Depression;
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder;
  • Physical disabilities such as kidney problems and internal organ problems;
  • Skeletal abnormalities, i.e. facial deformities.

FASD can also cause behavioral problems such as:

  • Difficulties in handling money and/or telling time;
  • Difficulties in reasoning and being able to competently think problems through;
  • Difficulties in learning from past experiences and not repeating the same mistakes over and over;
  • Difficulties in scheduling, i.e. remembering appointments;
  • Difficulty in maintaining socially appropriate behaviors;
  • Difficulties in everyday tasks, i.e. paying rent, grocery shopping, job performance.

People with FASD can also develop secondary disabilities; early diagnosis is essential for being able to access professional help and on-going supports. These secondary disabilities can include such issues as:

  • Mental health issues;
  • Poor performance in school or completion of education;
  • Problems with the law;
  • Chronic unemployment;
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse;
  • Homelessness.

If FASD is suspected, it is vital that a doctor trained in this issue do a medical diagnosis in order to rule out other medical conditions that are usually treatable. A medical diagnosis of FASD involves a team of doctors who are trained to assess psychological, speech as well as everyday functioning of the person. While there is no cure for FASD, proper medical intervention can help to provide those with FASD to lead more productive and satisfying lives.

In order to prevent FASD it is recommended that all women follow these steps:

  • As 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, most women do not realize they are pregnant in the early stages. Therefore, if a woman even suspects she may be pregnant, or is planning to become pregnant, cease all alcohol consumption immediately.
  • For women who are not using birth control but are having sex, avoid consuming alcohol as there is no way of knowing when you may become pregnant.
  • For women who are concerned about their consumption of alcohol, seek the help and advice of your healthcare professional.

It is essential that pregnancy and alcohol consumption are not mixed, since there is no safe amount of consumption during any stage of pregnancy.

posted on Monday, December 7, 2009 2:40:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Monday, November 30, 2009
                 
When it comes to quality of lifestyle, Canada is the top destination for expats, according to HSBC Bank International. Following Canada as a desirable location for expats is Australia and Thailand in the number 2 and 3 spots. Expats rated qualities such as accommodation, food, entertainment, social and family life, education, childcare, healthcare, household goods, working hours and commuting distances, health, hobbies, among other things. Canada was also highly rated when it came to such issues as making friends and integrating easily into their new communities.

According to the study, the top ten locations for expats determined by quality of life are:

•    Canada
•    Australia
•    Thailand
•    Singapore
•    Bahrain
•    South Africa
•    France
•    United States
•    Spain
•    Hong Kong

The United Kingdom scored very poorly in the votes regarding quality of life, and was at the bottom of the list of considered countries. Canada also scored very highly when it came to:

•    Enrolling children into the Canadian public school system;
•    Being able to set up finances, utilities and healthcare in their new country;
•    Finding a new place to live;
•    Learning the local language;
•    Making friends not only with other expats, but with local residents.

Over half the expats that participated in this study have lived abroad for more than five years. Canada placed third in regards to countries for settling down; South Africa and Thailand are first and second. Expats under the age of 35 are most likely to return home at least once a year; three-quarters of those surveyed make at least an annual trip home. Those expats who live in Brazil are most likely to go home at least once a year, according to almost 94% of those surveyed. The study also showed that the longer an expat has remained in their adoptive country, the less likely they are to return home. Only one third of expats who have lived away from their original country for 10 years or more reported they have not gone home for more than 2 years.

One of the factors that expats consider when choosing a new country is the quality and cost of healthcare in their adoptive country. While Canada does provide basic, free healthcare for all of its legal residents and/or citizens, newcomers to Canada may face a 3 month waiting period when they first arrive before they are eligible to receive their provincial health card. In order to avoid costly medical bills during these 3 months, outside health insurance is recommended. In some provinces a simple visit to a walk-in clinic can start at $50.00 just for an initial examination and does not include prescription medications, further follow-up medical care, etc. Visitors to Canada insurance is an ideal health insurance plan to bridge this gap in order to have optimal health coverage during those months where the newcomer is uninsured.

posted on Monday, November 30, 2009 3:23:19 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Sunday, November 8, 2009
                 
The H1N1 virus is now being held responsible for the death of 31 Ontario residents; last week an apparently health 13 year old boy died within 48 hours of displaying symptoms of the swine flu. An investigation is also currently underway to determine whether or not H1N1 was also responsible for the death of a 12 year old girl from Waterloo. A total of 101 people in Canada have died as a result of this pandemic so far. As a result of the 'second wave' of swine flu in Ontario, people are now lining up to receive the H1N1 vaccine throughout the province, sometimes waiting the whole day to receive the flu shot.

Access to the vaccine is currently being limited to people who qualify as a 'priority status'. This includes all children between the ages of 6 months to less than 5 years, health care workers, pregnant women, and people who live in remote and/or isolated communities.  How the vaccine is distributed depends on the province of residence, as each province decides on how best to serve their citizens. Provincial health cards are not required at flu shot clinics, but proof of residence must be shown in order to prove that the person is indeed a resident of that province.

The H1N1 vaccine is an adjuvanted vaccine, with the exception of pregnant women who should receive a non-adjuvanted vaccine. This does not necessarily mean that the adjuvanted vaccine is harmful to pregnant women, it just simply hasn't been tested for this specific group; if there is no alternative, pregnant women can get the adjuvanted vaccine. An adjuvanted vaccine is a vaccine that includes a substance that boosts the individual's immune system as well as increases their response to the vaccine. The non-adjuvanted vaccine does not have this 'booster' element. Immunity to the H1N1 virus should begin approximately 10 days after the person has been vaccinated.

 Along with vaccinations, some regions in Ontario are also implementing swine flu screening centers in order to relieve the stresses of hospital emergency rooms. Community health units will be opening flu assessment centers; patients can receive medical advice, receive antiviral medications if necessary, and be referred to further medical help if deemed necessary. The majority of people who have already or will contract H1N1 will not need further medical treatment past a prescription, if that. Those with healthy lifestyles and a healthy immune system will simply become ill, but with no life-threatening consequences.

Check your specific region for what is available, and for vaccination centers. The vaccine is currently being distributed to physicians as well; your doctor may be able to book you an appointment for your flu shots.

posted on Sunday, November 8, 2009 3:13:52 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Thursday, October 22, 2009
                 

As the previous article stated, there are several types of laser eye surgery: PRK, Lasik and Lasek procedures.

LASIK usually has less post-operative pain, and there is a greater risk of complication due to the cornea being cut into. This includes:

  • Mild to significant dry eyes, which can affect vision;
  • Poor quality of night vision due to halos and glare, thus affecting the ability to drive safely at night;
  • Corneal ectasia, a serious condition caused by the weakening and bulging of the cornea. Severe cases of this condition can require a corneal transplant or implant.

Both the LASIK and PRK procedures carry the risk of corneal infection, known as infectious keratitis. This infection can result in a significant loss of vision. LASEK surgery reduces the risks such as weakening of the eye and dry eyes. As with any other surgical procedure, complication risks are increased for people with certain health conditions and/or lifestyles. When contemplating eye laser surgery, have a detailed consultation with the surgeon about:

  • Your medical history and current health conditions. Make sure the surgeon is made aware of such conditions (yours and family history) as lupus, diabetes, keloid formation and any eye diseases, i.e. herpes simplex, glaucoma, dry eyes, eyelid infections, and/or previous eye surgeries.
  • Your current lifestyle. For people who engage regularly in sports, where it is likely to be hit in the face, after LASIK there is a risk that the flap could dislocate. This risk remains for years after the laser surgery.
  • Your career plans. Certain occupations (i.e. pilot, police officer) have specific vision requirements, most of which can be obtained through laser surgery. It is advisable to consult with not only the surgeon, but with members of the occupation to make sure the requirements are met.

As well as considering the benefits and risks of laser eye surgery, it is important that people are realistic about what they will achieve through the procedure. As people age, so do their eyes, it is possible that in the future some people may need reading glasses or other corrective eyewear again, especially those over the age of 40. There also is the possibility of having to have a second procedure if the right amount of correction is not achieved through the first surgery.

Cost is also a consideration for eye laser surgery. Before considering this option, consult with your health insurance professional to see what they cover. Most health insurance does however cover the costs of contact lenses and/or corrective eyewear. Check your group health insurance and/or individual health insurance plan.

posted on Thursday, October 22, 2009 3:40:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, October 5, 2009
                 

Every year, thousands of Canadians contemplate laser eye surgery in order to correct their vision. This surgery is done in anticipation of the person no longer being required to use contact lenses and/or prescription glasses in order to have better vision. Canadians who are contemplating laser surgery should be well informed of not the benefits of these procedures, but also the risks.

Laser eye surgery is most commonly used to correct vision problems such as:

  • Myopia, also known as near-sightedness;
  • Hyperopia: also known as far-sightedness;
  • Astigmatism: when vision is distorted when looking at objects at any distance;
  • Presbyopia: when the person is unable to focus on nearby objects.

All of these vision conditions are caused by problems with the eye focuses an image on the retina (the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye). A large part of the eye’s ability to focus is dependent on the shape of the cornea (the clear front surface of the eye). A surgeon will use a laser device to make permanent changes to the shape of the cornea. Most often used is the Excimer laser, which produces a ultraviolet light beam which vaporizes tissue, thus altering the shape of the cornea. This usually corrects mild to moderate refractive errors in the eye.

There are several types of laser eye surgery that are commonly performed in Canada:

  1. PRK (Photo-Refractive Keractectomy): the outer layer of the cornea is removed with a surgical blade or blunt instrument. A computer-guided laser beam is then used to vaporize tiny amounts of tissue that are under the surface of the cornea. This procedure removes just enough tissue in order to reshape the cornea in a way that the vision is now corrected. The healing process of this procedure is usually completed within one week.
  2. LASIK (Laser Assisted in situ Keratomileusis): This procedure is more complicated than PRK. A flap is cut in the cornea with either a sharp blade or a laser. The flap is then lifted and a computer-guided laser removed specific calculated amounts of tissue from the inside layers of the cornea. The flap is then put back. Wavefront technology may be used in this procedure, wherein a detailed map of the eye is produced. The healing time for this procedure is generally less than the time for PRK.
  3. LASEK (Laser Epithelial Keratomileusis): This procedure is a variation of both PRK and LASIK. The outer layer of the cornea is cut and then alcohol is used to loosen and lift it in a single layer. A laser beam is then directed at the tissue under the epithelium. This procedure is best suited to people who have vision problems that require minor correction; the healing period is usually two weeks. As with any surgical procedure, there is a risk taken (though quite small), that complications can arise. Each certain procedure does carry with it a small percentage of complications. For those contemplating PRK, the risks include: • Moderate to severe pain for the first several days; • Hazy vision during the healing; this generally will clear within the first week after the surgical procedure; • Regression. In some cases the eye can regress to its previous refractive error, this usually will occur during the first 6 months. In these cases the person may need a second (enhancement) surgery, or may have to once again wear corrective eyewear or contact lenses.

See our next blog article for the conclusion about laser eye surgery.

posted on Monday, October 5, 2009 3:40:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# 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)  #   
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