# Monday, 25 May 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, 25 May 2009 14:19:20 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Sunday, 03 May 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, 03 May 2009 21:35:02 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
RSS 2.0