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Stay storm safe
How to protect yourself when severe weather strikes

August 13, 2019

While the dog days of summer are great for outdoor activities, it's always important to look out for thunderstorms.

Here's what to know when the dark clouds approach.

How lightning kills

Every year, 10 Canadians are killed by lightning, Public Safety Canada says. But only three to five per cent of deaths happen from direct strikes, they add.

Ground currents occur in around 40 to 50 per cent of lightning deaths. When lightning strikes an object, the deadly current can be carried outward, and the different voltages between parts of the ground can threaten those nearby.

For example, when lightning strikes a tree, the current can spread through the roots. This is one of the reasons why taking cover under trees is a bad idea during a storm.

Side flashes occur in 20 to 30 per cent of lightning deaths. Side flashes happen when lightning strikes an object and jumps off, potentially hitting a person.

Between 15 and 25 per cent of lightning fatalities happen when someone is touching an object, like a metal appliance or a telephone pole, that is struck by lightning.

When thunder roars, go indoors

According to Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization (EMO), thunder moves around 300 metres a second.

When you see lightning strike, count the seconds between the flash and the thunder. The EMO recommends taking shelter if thunder occurs less than 30 seconds after a strike.

If you're caught in a thunderstorm, you'll want to find a shelter with plumbing or wiring. This will help "ground" any lightning that strikes the shelter, keeping you safe.

But while inside, you'll want to stay away from anything that could shock you during the storm – wired computers, corded phones, metal appliances that are plugged in, etc.

However, appliances or electronics that are battery powered (laptop computers, wireless video game controllers) are safe, since they're not connected to the building's electrical system.

If you're out in the open and you're far from any buildings, take shelter in a car (but not a convertible). The car's metal will help ground any strikes. Be sure to roll up the windows.

If you're on the water, seek land immediately. Once a storm is in full swing, the wind and waves will make movement more difficult.

Even when the storm seems to be over, the danger is still there. Around one third of lightning-related casualties occur after the storm, because people leave their shelter too early, Public Safety Canada says. Wait 30 minutes after the last thunder rumbles before heading back outside.

Being prepared

Besides the direct danger that thunderstorms pose, they can also lead to floods and lengthy power outages.

That's why the EMO recommends you pack a 72-hour emergency kit, which has enough supplies to last three days during a disaster.

Recommended supplies include, but aren't limited to:

  • Water
  • Non-perishable food
  • Manual can opener
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Radio with extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Cash and cheques
  • Important documents (insurance policies, passports, ID)
  • An emergency plan

For more information on emergency kits, visit Get Prepared.

Stop the spread
Avoid viral hepatitis

July 22, 2019

Infectious hepatitis is a disease that causes inflammation of the liver. While there are six types, three types — A, B and C — make up 90 per cent of cases across the country, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is generally contracted through contaminated food and fluids or contact with an infected person's feces.

Contaminated water, raw or improperly cooked shellfish, and raw fruits and vegetables are common sources of hepatitis A.

The disease can also spread through improper handwashing.

Hepatitis A typically lasts only a couple weeks, but some people can take months to recover.

According to the PHAC, symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Stomach cramps
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)

Some people with the virus (especially children) don't show any symptoms. But 10 to 15 per cent of those people still carry and potentially spread the disease for up to six months.

While hepatitis A isn't deadly for most people, pregnant women are at risk, especially in the third trimester.

Avoiding hepatitis A

Be sure to wash your hands after using the washroom or changing a diaper. Also ensure your hands are washed before eating or preparing food.

You can be vaccinated to prevent hepatitis A or stop an infection that has already begun. The vaccine is especially useful if you're visiting a developing country, where the virus can more easily spread.

When on vacation, make sure you're eating properly cooked food and drinking clean water. Avoid ice in drinks — ice cubes can be contaminated.

Hepatitis B

While 95 per cent of adults with Hepatitis B recover within six months, the other five per cent become chronically infected, the PHAC says.

After infection, symptoms can take two to six months to appear — and only half of those infected will even develop symptoms.

Symptoms are similar to hepatitis A, with the addition of nausea, vomiting, pale stools and joint pain.

Unlike hepatitis A, hepatitis B cannot be spread through contaminated food or water. According to the PHAC, risk factors include:

  • Injection drug use
  • Contact with shared or contaminated medical equipment
  • High-risk sexual activities
  • Exposure to infected blood
  • Household contact between family members
  • Tattoos, body piercings, acupuncture with unsterile equipment or techniques

Hepatitis B can severely damage the liver, which can lead to liver failure, liver cancer and death.

Avoiding hepatitis B

Avoiding hepatitis B is important, since it can cause liver damage before symptoms even show.

Children under four years old are most at risk of chronic hepatitis B — 90 per cent can't get rid of the infection.

Hepatitis B can also spread from a mother to her baby.

Thankfully, there is a hepatitis B vaccine, and some chronic infections can be treated.

The PHAC also recommends:

  • Practicing safe sex
  • Avoiding shared grooming or medical equipment (nail clippers, toothbrushes, needles, etc.)
  • Avoiding procedures where the equipment may not be sterile
  • Being aware when travelling to countries with a higher likelihood of infection

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C shares the same risk factors as hepatitis B, but there is no vaccine. This means it is especially important to prevent infection.

Between 15 and 25 per cent of infected adults will recover, but most are at risk of long-term infection.

According to the PHAC, your risk is higher if you:

  • Received blood, blood products or an organ donation in Canada before 1992
  • Have a job where you're at risk of contact with infected bodily fluids or used needles
  • Were born to a mother with hepatitis C
  • Were born in a region where hepatitis C is widespread:
    • Eastern Europe
    • Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa
    • The Middle East
    • Central, East and South Asia
    • Oceania, which includes Australia and some islands in the Central and South Pacific Ocean

Avoiding hepatitis C

The PHAC recommends:

  • Practicing safe sex
  • Avoiding shared grooming or medical equipment (nail clippers, toothbrushes, needles, etc.)
  • Avoiding procedures where the equipment may not be sterile
  • Being aware when travelling to countries with a higher likelihood of infection

If you think you have contracted hepatitis C, contact your health provider as soon as possible, and be sure to tell anyone who may have been exposed to your bodily fluids or blood.

To learn more about hepatitis C, visit the PHAC website.

Keep your cool
Prevent heat stroke

July 8, 2019

It's fun to take advantage of Manitoba's short summers. But the more you do in the July heat, the higher your risk of heat exhaustion – and even worse, heat stroke, a deadly condition where the body's temperature regulation fails.

Heat exhaustion

When it gets hot enough, everyone is at risk of heat exhaustion.

But when you're exerting yourself outdoors – for example, working or playing a sport – and you don't drink enough fluids, your risk is even higher.

By sweating, your body regulates your temperature to around 37 degrees Celsius. But when you're dehydrated, your body stops sweating and your core temperature soars.

During heat exhaustion, your body temperature rises up to 40 degrees.

People with heat exhaustion will be sweating severely but will be acting normal. Symptoms include:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Thirst
  • Pale, clammy skin that is cool to the touch
  • Fainting

It's important to recognize signs of heat exhaustion before it advances into heat stroke. Get the person out of the heat immediately, cool them off and ensure they stay hydrated. If properly treated, symptoms should dissipate in a few hours.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is a medical emergency that happens when a person's body temperature rises above 40 degrees. Someone with heat stroke will be confused and act erratically. Other symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme weakness
  • Seizures
  • Dry skin that is red and hot
  • Headache
  • Rapid pulse
  • Shallow, rapid breathing
  • Possible loss of consciousness

A person with heat stroke has stopped sweating, and their temperature regulation is out of control. Untreated, heat stroke can kill by affecting heart circulation.

Other organs can also be damaged by the high temperature, including the brain. Even if heat stroke is treated, it can cause permanent brain damage.

How to treat heat stroke

When you suspect someone has heat stroke, have someone call emergency services while you begin treating the person immediately. You must cool them down.

One of the best ways is to immerse them in cold water. You'll want to aim for a body temperature of around 39 degrees (take their temperature every ten minutes, if possible) – cooling the person too much could lead to hypothermia.

You can also apply ice, mist them with water and fan them – anything that will gradually lower the person's body temperature. If they're shivering, slow down treatment – shivering raises body temperature.

Preventing heat stroke

Drink plenty of water before, during and after the activity. Even if you're not exercising outside, stay hydrated – drink even if you don't feel thirsty.

On top of getting enough fluids, take frequent breaks if you need to work outside, and seek shade wherever possible. Wear light clothes and avoid drinking anything with caffeine or alcohol in it.

Finally, be aware of upcoming extreme temperatures and prepare as much as possible.

For more information on staying healthy in the heat, visit the Government of Manitoba's website.

Our eco-friendly initiatives
Helping protect our environment

June 24, 2019

At Manitoba Blue Cross, eco-friendly initiatives start at the top.

Above our headquarters at 599 Empress Street in Winnipeg, the equipment penthouse holds the brains of the building.

This is where Building Engineer Russell Morden and Facility Maintenance Technician Wayne Hunt oversee the systems that keep Manitoba Blue Cross running efficiently.

"Everything is automatic and based on temperature sensors and pressure sensors," Russ says. "That's where a lot of the efficiencies happen."

Russ and Wayne point to the exhaust system as an example.

"We're always bringing fresh air into the building," Russ says. The building's air is completely exchanged every two hours, with 8,000 cubic feet of air brought in and out a minute, Wayne adds.

This seems simple enough when we're bringing in June's warm, early summer air — but what happens in the dead of winter?

That's where the heat recovery wheel comes in, Wayne says.

Inside the exhaust system, the wheel captures heat energy from the exhaust stream and introduces it to the fresh air stream, he says.

"The heat recovery wheel will warm arctic air to around zero degrees — just from the return air leaving the building that we've already heated," he adds.

The wheel can also be used to cool incoming hot air, and together with a glycol pump, it's easy and efficient to keep the building comfortable no matter the temperature outside, he says.

But the ventilation system is just one part of Manitoba Blue Cross's efficiency strategy, Wayne says.

"After our switch to LED lightbulbs, nearly every part of the old fluorescent system was recycled," he says, "including 6.5 tons of metal and enough cardboard to fill a room to the ceiling."

Even the plastic packaging on the new lights was recycled at a specialty depot in town, he adds.

A serious commitment to reducing waste can be found throughout the company, says Geralyn Cruzat, Facility Coordinator.

"We're constantly looking at new and different ways we can change our current procedures to be more environmentally friendly," she says.

This includes recycling bins located in all coffee stations and common areas. To reduce waste, each employee is given a reusable mug, and there are no single-use cups available in the coffee stations.

Waste reduction is especially important when it comes to sanitation, Geralyn says.

"Our daily cleaning supplies, like cloths and towels, are gently used by the cleaners and are cleaned for multiple use by our cleaning team," she says.

Where waste is unavoidable — as in the case of toilet paper and paper towels — the facility team uses only biodegradable materials, she adds.

While the organization makes a concerted effort to be eco-friendly in its processes, it also encourages employees to take their efforts outwards, Geralyn says.

"Every year, we participate in the Omand's Creek Clean Up, allowing our employees and their families to get involved in cleaning up our community," she says. "The cleanup always has a great turnout, and the collective help goes a very long way."

Additionally, dozens of employees participate in the Commuter Challenge every year, choosing to ditch their cars for more active or public transportation. In 2018, 32 employees participated, saving 152.54 litres of fuel and 330.33 kg of CO2 emissions.

To learn more about how to bring greener initiatives to your workplace, visit the Green Action Centre.

Stronger Together
In support of CancerCare Manitoba Foundation

June 11, 2019

In April, Manitoba Blue Cross kicked off our Stronger Together initiative in support of CancerCare Manitoba Foundation.

"The goal of Stronger Together is to come together as an organization to help fight cancer and show our support to those who have been affected," says Debbie Rehm, Senior Community & Events Coordinator and chair of the Stronger Together committee.

The event started in the Manitoba Blue Cross staff lounge, with a presentation hosted by Power 97's Joe Aiello.

"Two of our speakers were both cancer survivors and Manitoba Blue Cross employees, so it really hit home to hear them share their stories and experiences with us," Debbie says. "It was definitely a powerful and emotional kickoff, but having Joe Aiello as the emcee brought laughter and fun into the room exactly when it was needed."

For the rest of the day, employees participated in Stronger Together activities, with all proceeds going toward CancerCare Manitoba Foundation.

To raise funds, staff members donated money to dress casual for the week. Employees also donated homemade treats and crafts for a bake/craft sale.

"It was totally amazing to see how passionate the employees were to raise money for this cause," Debbie says.

Six employees raised pledges to shave their heads, and we were thankful to have hairdressing students from MC College and Rita Lehmann from Salon POP volunteer to do the honours.

The employee who raised the most pledges was Rita Dzioba, Supervisor, Agreement Services and cancer survivor.

"The effects of cancer and cancer treatments aren't visible, especially years later," she says. "Everyone I know still suffers from the effects of the treatment."

"Shaving my head was a visible acknowledgement... an acknowledgement of our experience, what some are going through and remembering those no longer with us."

Manitoba Blue Cross continued to accept donations throughout May and into June, with all funds being directed through CancerCare's Challenge for Life, a yearly 20 km walk or 200-minute workout in support of cancer research.

The Challenge for Life was on Saturday, June 8, and a dozen Manitoba Blue Cross employees and family members took to the pavement to show their Stronger Together spirit.

"The walk really was a challenge," says Ryann McCorkell, Social Media Strategist. "I'm not sure that I've ever walked 20 km in one go before."

The last few kilometers were the toughest, Ryann says. "You're tired and sore, but also so close — you know you don't want to stop."

But at the end of the day, it was worth it, she adds.

"Crossing the finish line was a wonderful experience," Ryann says. "The band was playing, and we were surrounded by volunteers and family members clapping and cheering for us. Ringing the bell at the end, I was filled with both relief that I'd finished and the satisfaction of knowing I did it for a good cause."

In total, Manitoba Blue Cross team members raised over $20,000 for CancerCare Manitoba Foundation.

"It goes to show that we are truly one big family," says Debbie Rehm. "We support each other, and we work together to support our community. Every employee has been touched by cancer in one way or another, including myself, and this is what brings the passion for us to come together and be Stronger Together in the fight against cancer."

To learn more about CancerCare Manitoba Foundation, including how to donate, visit their website.

Canada's disease
Join the fight against MS

May 27, 2019

Canada has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis (MS) in the world.

"MS is Canada's disease," says Averill Stephenson, Director of Marketing and Development for the MS Society's Manitoba/Saskatchewan Division.

One in 385 Canadians lives with MS. But MS impacts all Canadians, Averill says.

"Not only the individuals living with the disease, but also their friends, families, workplaces and healthcare teams who all come together to manage the realities of MS."

MS is considered an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system, which includes the brain and the spinal cord.

In an autoimmune disease, the body's immune system attacks cells that it shouldn't be attacking. In the case of MS, the body attacks myelin, a protective coating that protects the nerves.

If myelin is damaged, nerve impulses may be disrupted, which can damage nerve fibres.

MS symptoms vary widely from person to person, but they can include fatigue, weakness, tingling, bladder problems, cognitive impairment, mood changes and lack of coordination.

"MS is progressive and unpredictable," Averill says. "The effects are physical, emotional and financial and can last forever."

The cause of MS is unkown, but it's thought to have genetic, environmental and lifestyle components. Anyone can get MS, but most people with MS are between 20 and 49 years old. Women are three times more likely than men to get MS, and it affects people of northern European descent more than any other ethnicity.

MS can be different for everybody. Some people have periods of relapse and remission, while others experience a steadily progressing disease.

In its early stages, MS can be invisible, which can cause problems when out in public, Averill says.

"Sitting in a handicapped spot, a person with MS may encounter dirty looks and negative comments," she says. Many people don't realize that a person can have a disability, but not require a wheelchair – balance issues and muscle weakness can still necessitate accessible seating or parking, she says.

While MS can be debilitating, many people think that those with MS can't work, Averill says. But like other disabilities, staying at work is possible with accessibility adjustments, she adds.

Others think people with MS shouldn't exercise. This is another myth, Averill says – exercise is especially recommended for people with MS.

The MS Society of Canada offers a wide variety of support groups, wellness programs and educational events to make living with the disease more manageable.

Resources include the MS Knowledge Network, which is the society's network of supports. These include MS Navigators, trained MS experts who provide phone, email and web chat assistance.

The MS Society also funds MS research – they've invested $175 million since they started.

"MS Society-funded studies are helping to better understand the causes, progression and treatment of MS," Averill says. "We are fortunate to have leading MS researchers right here in Manitoba."

If you're interested in helping fight MS, Averill has simple advice.

"Get involved," she says. "Volunteer or participate in an event – an MS Walk or bike event, attend a WAMS (Women Against MS) gala, make a donation, share our events and stories on social media," she says.

"Research is progressing at a faster rate than ever before," she adds. "Every day we are learning more about this disease – risk factors, progression, treatments. We dream of a world free of MS and need your help to get there."

For more information on MS, visit the MS Society of Canada.

Here comes the sun
Prevent the spring sunburn

May 13, 2019

With spring in full swing and summer still in the distance, it can be easy to forget the burning power of the sun.

And while the sun's rays can be harmful at any time of year, safety awareness becomes even more vital as the days grow longer and people spend more time outdoors.

Every year in May, the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA) reminds people that while we're not yet basking in the dog days of summer, staying mindful of the sun is still extremely important.

They recommend the following:

Seek Shade

A day in mid-March has around 11.5 hours of sunlight. A day in early May has 15.

Now that the days are longer, our sun exposure also increases. But the hours between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. are the most dangerous time for sun exposure. When outdoors during these times, try to stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible.

Cover up

It feels great to ditch the snow pants and boots for shorts and sandals.

But since we're so used to the winter sun, our first long foray outside often results in our first sunburn of the year. Consider wearing lighter, summery materials that keep you cool while also keeping you covered.

Wear sunscreen

We've all heard of "SPF" when it comes to sunscreen. But what does it actually mean?

A sunscreen's Sun Protection Factor (SPF) shows how effective it is in blocking the sun's rays. An SPF of 30, for instance, blocks 30 times more UV rays than going without sunscreen.

Some sunscreens block ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, while others block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Use a sunscreen that blocks both – both types of rays are harmful to your health.

Some people feel that the chemicals in sunscreen are harmful. "There is strong scientific evidence of the adverse effects of UV exposure in contrast to the hypothetical negative effects of sunscreen on your health," the Canadian Dermatology Assocaiation says.

If you have sensitive skin or allergies, the CDA recommends wearing mineral sunscreen, which reflects (rather than absorbs) the sun's rays.

Sunscreen shouldn't be applied sparingly – the CDA recommends a palmful for each arm and leg, for instance. They also recommend reapplying frequently.

Ditch the tanning salon

On top of enjoying the fresh spring sun, it might be tempting to do a little indoor tanning to prepare for summer.

But the CDA cautions against tanning beds, noting that they can be up to 10 to 15 times more powerful than the sun in the middle of the day. On top of that, a tan offers very little sun protection – it only offers an SPF of about two to four, they say.

Check yourself

Skin cancer can be scary, but it can also be spotted. The CDA recommends following the "ABCDEs" when checking for melanoma:

  • Asymmetry – the shape of a mole is different on one side (not symmetrical)
  • Border – the edges of the mole are irregular, jagged and imprecise
  • Colour – the mole's colour varies with brown, black, red, grey or white areas
  • Diameter – the mole grows over time
  • Evolution – the mole has changed

The CDA recommends getting a partner to check areas you can't easily access, like your back or neck.

To learn more about sun safety, visit dermatology.ca.

Sign up for life
A physician's thoughts on organ donation

April 22, 2019

Every 36 hours, a Canadian dies while waiting for an organ transplant.

"People live longer now than they did even 50 years ago," says Dr. Faisal Siddiqui, a physician with Transplant Manitoba's Gift of Life program. "We have a lot of people who are reaching the end of their life, not because something has happened to them, but because their organs just can't survive."

But when Manitobans are asked if they would donate their organs after death to help someone else, nine out of 10 say yes, Dr. Siddiqui says.

"That's an amazing thing we have in our province," he adds. "Generous people who are willing to give."

In 2018, there were 22 Manitobans who donated their organs after death, and 26 living Manitobans who donated a kidney.

"We know there are hundreds of Manitobans who are waiting on dialysis, waiting for a kidney transplant," Dr. Siddiqui says. "Life changes quite a bit when you're required to go for dialysis three hours a day, for three days a week. It gets in the way of living a productive and successful life."

But organ donation can make enormous improvements in their lives, he says. "They can come off dialysis and live a long, healthy, productive life with minimal disruption."

For others, organ donation may be even more urgent, says Dr. Siddiqui.

"There are dozens of people who are waiting for other organs, including heart, lungs and liver," he says. "And if we don't have organs to offer them, then some of those people may die from their organ failure."

While Manitobans used to carry blue cards in their wallets to indicate their willingness to donate, Manitoba's system is now entirely online through signupforlife.ca.

"The cards were awesome, because they were a great way to share that information with people if you were unable to communicate," says Dr. Siddiqui. "The problem was that sometimes the card didn't make it with you."

The card could also fade in the decades after signing it, he adds.

To register online, you need your Personal Health Information Number (found on your Manitoba Health card), your name, and your date of birth as it appears on your card.

"[The online registry] gives you the chance to say, 'Yes, I want to donate if the situation arises,'" Dr. Siddiqui says.

In the event you are close to death and become eligible for organ donation, doctors will consult the signupforlife.ca database. While your family has the final say in whether your organs are donated, the information you provide on signupforlife.ca will help guide their choice.

"Unfortunately... families sometimes just don't know what their loved ones would want," Dr. Siddiqui says. "It's not the kind of dinner conversation that happens most times.

"When families kind of know what their family member wants, then it's much easier for them," he says. "They're not making a decision – they're simply honouring a wish that's already been decided for them."

There are popular misconceptions that may turn people off from donating, Dr. Siddiqui says.

"People think that physicians and treating teams sometimes change their approach if they think someone could be a donor," he says, "[but] it does not change what we do when we're taking care of people." Giving patients the best possible treatment is a promise physicians make when they undergo training, he adds.

People also fail to realize how specific the organ donation eligibility requirements are, he says.

"You are six times more likely to need an organ than to be an organ donor," he says. "I think if anyone asked you, 'If you needed an organ, would you want one?' the answer would be yes."

But at the end of the day, the choice to register as a donor is yours, Dr. Siddiqui says.

"Our goal is not to convince everyone to be a donor – our goal is to honour the wishes of the people who want to," he says. "But what I do want to make sure is that if you want to donate, if you think it's the right choice for you, go online and register. Talk to your family and friends, let them know what you'd want. I think there's a lot of interest in Manitoba to be generous people, and this is the kind of generosity that goes beyond our life and into someone else's life."

For more information, visit signupforlife.ca.

Austin's Disney World adventure
a Manitoba child gets his wish

March 18, 2019

For over 30 years, Manitoba Blue Cross has been joining forces with the Children's Wish Foundation and other Blue Cross plans across the country to provide wish children with the travel insurance necessary to make their dream trips come true.

Fifteen-year-old Austin is one of the many incredible children from Manitoba who have benefited from this partnership and was able to fulfill his wish of going to Disney World with his friends and family.

Austin is a resilient young man with microcephaly and spastic quadriplegia. He is severely developmentally delayed, non-verbal and has a cortical visual impairment. He was also diagnosed with a seizure disorder.

One word to describe Austin is amazing – he smiles and powers his way through days that would bring most of us to our knees. He loves anything that goes fast. He loves school and he adores his friends. He has been at the same school since kindergarten and has developed a very strong bond with many of the kids he has grown up with. He teaches and inspires them every day!

We were lucky to be able to speak with Austin's mother, Jacqueline, about his trip.

We hear Austin likes anything fast. Did Austin have any fast adventures on the trip?

Austin went on as many fast rides at Disney and Universal that he could, including one of the smaller roller coasters. His favourite was the Mad Hatter's Tea Party – and the spinning tea cups – we couldn't get them spinning as fast as we wanted, because Austin's dad was afraid though!

What was Austin's favourite part of the trip?

One of Austin's favourite parts was the morning we had breakfast at Disney and were joined by Mickey, Minnie and Goofy. They treated Austin like he was a celebrity, and Austin loved that!

We hear Austin brought his best friends along. What was that experience like?

Austin, Emmy and Alyssa had a blast together. Austin enjoyed having his two friends to hang out with every day, and they spoiled him – pushing him fast in his wheelchair, going on rides with him, hanging out at the pool. We all have such great memories from this week and still talk about it when we get together.

What is Austin's favourite Disney movie or character?

Well, I would have to say since Minnie told Austin at their breakfast together that she liked him better than Mickey – I think he has a little crush on Minnie right now!

What does Austin do for fun?

Austin really likes to be in the water, so we try to take him swimming whenever we can. He loves being outside and we go for lots of walks in the summer, although mom never can push him fast enough! He also enjoys music, Paw Patrol and spending time with his friends!

March is Children's Wish month! To celebrate, Blue Cross is holding a draw for a $5,000 travel voucher. Visit www.bluecrossiwish.ca by March 31 to enter.

Canada's 2019 food guide
A dietitian's thoughts

March 11, 2019

When dietitian Dina Daniello-Santiago saw Canada's new food guide, she was taken aback.

"It's kind of shocking that the rainbow's gone," she says.

A nutritional counsellor with our Assistance Program, Dina's referring to the classic food rainbow – yellow for grains, green for vegetables and fruit, blue for milk and alternatives, and red for meat and alternatives. If you went through primary school after 1992, when it was first introduced, you might have seen the rainbow graphic in health class.

But two food guides and 27 years later, the rainbow has vanished. It's been replaced with a photo of a dinner plate.

Fruit and vegetables take up half the plate, with the other half split between protein foods and whole grains.

This means that the traditional four food groups have also disappeared.

These radical changes are part of the government's new Healthy Eating Strategy, which aims to improve healthy eating resources.

In many ways, the guide is a welcome change, Dina says.

"It does have a really fresh, clean look," she says. "It's a one-pager, so it's easy to follow."

Canada's food guide is no stranger to the one-page format. It dates back to 1942, when the food guide was introduced.

But at under 200 words, "Canada's Official Food Rules" looked quite a bit different to today's guide.

"It was almost a prescription for the population, because this was during wartime," Dina says. "Helping to reduce malnutrition – that was a key focus."

The first guide introduced six food groups – fruits and vegetables were separate groups, and eggs were their own group. Tomatoes and citrus fruits were emphasized. Eating liver, heart, or kidney was recommended once a week.

The number of servings was also smaller than later versions – to avoid food shortages, the initial guide represented 70 per cent of the recommended daily intake at the time.

Two years later, with the Second World War still raging, the government grew concerned with Canadians' riboflavin (vitamin B2) intake.

"The focus was ensuring that individuals were getting enough milk," Dina says.

For adults, the daily serving of milk went from half a pint to up to one pint (the metric system wasn't introduced in Canada until the 1970s). For children, it grew from "more than one pint" to "up to one quart."

Seventy-five years later, the role of milk has been all but eliminated from the guide.

"The [2019] food guide really lacks a focus on calcium, because the whole milk and alternatives group has been completely removed," she says. However, with part two of the guide aimed for release later in the year, we may get more support information later, she adds.

Support materials have been part of the food guide since the beginning. In 1942, materials included a series of leaflets, six lesson plans for teachers and a Score Sheet for One Day's Meals.

Today, resources are even more expansive. They include recipes, tips on prenatal nutrition, posters and healthy eating recommendations.

One of the main recommendations of the new guide is to eat mindfully.

"I really like how it emphasizes how to eat, not just what to eat," Dina says. "It's supporting a positive eating environment, which I think is really helpful and practical. There's a lot of talk now about being a mindful eater and eating with your family."

The guide also places a heavy emphasis on variety, with the healthy plate photo including several foods in each section.

The concept of variety was introduced in 1949's guide, but strongly implemented in the 1977 version.

But where the 1977 guide incorporated meat as a prominent quarter of its "food wheel" design, meat takes a backseat in 2019.

"I like the fact that it's encouraging more plant-based proteins," Dina says. "I try to encourage my clients to at least consume a plant-based meal once a week."

But while recommending plant-based meals is a step forward, past guides have included an important aspect that the new version lacks, Dina says.

"There really isn't any discussion in the [2019] food guide about physical activity," she says.

Incorporating a holistic approach – discussing how activity, stress and eating work together – would be a nice addition, Dina says.

Physical activity was a footnote in the 1992 guide but played a larger role in the 2007 version. The latter introduced a detailed, six-page booklet format, with different serving sizes for each demographic and more culturally diverse food choices.

"They saw that chronic illness was on the rise, obesity was on the rise, so people needed a little more guidance and direction," Dina says.

But not everyone was a fan of the longer, expansive format, Dina says.

"There was so much information on there," she says. "That confused everybody... People found it really hard to meet those serving sizes. It became a little bit too much."

The new dinner plate method is a nice improvement, because dietitians have been using it for years, Dina says.

"I use that in my practice very often, because it's just a good clear visual," she says. "People could relate to it a lot better than measuring portions."

But while the plate method is an improvement, it's still somewhat vague – and hopefully it's expanded on later in the year, Dina says.

At the end of the day, the food guide is just that – a guide, she adds.

"Healthy eating is flexible, and it should be fun and intuitive," she says. "There's not just one way to eat.

"That's why dietitians are here. Because we understand that nothing is just cookie cutter for the population... And the food guide isn't going to meet everybody's needs. So we kind of have to take that and tailor it and adapt it to individuals."

For more information about Canada's food guide, visit the new food guide page.

For more information about dietitians, including more healthy eating resources, visit Dietitians of Canada.

To find out if nutritional counselling with our Employee Assistance Program is included in your benefit plan, visit your mybluecross online account.

Fighting hunger
Proud to support Winnipeg Harvest

February 18, 2019

Six days a week, fifteen Winnipeg Harvest trucks gather donated, quality food from retail partners. Collectively, they make nearly 1,000 pickups a month, distributing food to over 400 agencies across the province.

These donations, supplied by generous shoppers and waste-conscious retailers, make up a large portion of the food that Winnipeg Harvest receives and serves to the nearly 64,000 Manitobans that rely on food banks every month.

The food that shoppers donate to store bins is vital, says Winnipeg Harvest CEO Keren Taylor-Hughes. "That's a big part of how we have food to distribute," she says.

But the need for food is growing. From 2008 to 2016, Manitoba's food bank usage grew 53 per cent. Over 40 per cent of those served are children. With an increasing need for more food banks around the city, Winnipeg Harvest faces a higher demand for food deliveries.

To help ease this demand, Manitoba Blue Cross has sponsored a new food delivery truck, the sixteenth in the fleet. We are pleased that the truck is now on the road, and we're able to help fight hunger one delivery at a time.

"Having a new vehicle makes a huge difference to us," says Taylor-Hughes. "We try to maximize our routes and leverage all the resources we have. But sometimes we just need another vehicle to ensure we can get to food banks on time."

While the truck is our latest contribution, Manitoba Blue Cross has been supporting Winnipeg Harvest for years. Since 2015, we've participated in Grow-A-Row, growing food on our rooftop and donating around 100 pounds each year.

We also donated 500 pounds of food during last spring's food drive, and we supported last fall's Empty Bowls Soup-er Lunch.

But while food donations are critical, Winnipeg Harvest couldn't operate without committed volunteers.

In 2017, volunteers donated 166,245 hours of their time – equivalent to 80 full-time jobs. They do everything from driving trucks to sorting food to coordinating events.

"Whether you're four or ninety-four, there's always a role, says Taylor-Hughes. "That's the beautiful thing about Harvest – everyone can help."

Last year these volunteers helped Winnipeg Harvest move over 11 million pounds of food – the equivalent of around one thousand African elephants.

But Winnipeg Harvest's role doesn't end there, says Taylor-Hughes.

"We're much more than a food bank," she says. "Our number one business is collecting and distributing food, but we really try to train and empower people to get them back into the workforce."

Winnipeg Harvest's continually expanding training programs include custodial, customer service, warehouse and kitchen skills. By the time a client is finished an approximately two-month program, they're prepared to look for work at one of Harvest's large retail partners.

It's another way for Winnipeg Harvest to accomplish their ultimate vision – a community that no longer requires the services of a food bank.

To learn more about Winnipeg Harvest – including how to donate food, money or your time, visit Winnipeg Harvest's website.

Talking to a professional
February is Psychology Month

February 11, 2019

More people with mental health concerns are getting professional help, a 2018 survey says.

The 4th Annual Canadian Mental Health Checkup, conducted by Ipsos, measured Canadians' mental health and attitudes toward mental health.

With February being Psychology Month, we spoke to a psychologist in our Assistance Program about talking to a professional.

"We all sometimes need a little help," says Dr. Leigh Quesnel. A clinical psychologist, Dr. Leigh specializes in psychotherapy and workplace issues.

While we used to think of mental health and physical health as independent from one another, they're actually inseparable, Dr. Leigh says.

"Mental health is health," he adds.

"Your mind has a significant impact on your body's functioning, and in turn, your body's functioning has a significant impact on the mind," he says. "Psychologists are as significant to health as physical health caregivers."

Sixteen per cent of Canadians surveyed said they spoke to a professional (a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist) about their mental health in the past year. This is the same percentage as 2017, but it's five per cent higher than in 2015.

"The stigma is reduced in many, many respects," Dr. Leigh says.

Forty-five per cent of Canadians said they're more comfortable discussing mental health now than two years ago, according to the survey. And 57 per cent think Canadians as a whole are more comfortable speaking about mental health than years prior.

The trick to reducing the stigma is being more open about seeking help, says Dr. Leigh.

"We don't tell everyone we're seeing a physician, but we also don't hide the fact that we are seeing a physician," he says. "The stigma declines as we observe that more and more people are seeing psychologists."

While the stigma is shrinking, financial circumstance is still the largest obstacle, with 64 per cent of respondents reporting money is a problem when thinking about seeking help.

While professionals can be expensive, you may be able to access counselling as part of your Manitoba Blue Cross coverage.

We have an exclusive network of multidisciplinary providers located throughout the province, and we're the only health coverage provider to have an on-site Assistance Centre. Intake is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Counselling sessions are included in many group plans and several of our individual plans. To find out if you have Assistance Program coverage, visit mybluecross or talk to your plan administrator.

No matter the reason, some people may be wary or nervous to approach a professional.

"They should be far more afraid of living less fully than of visiting me or any other psychologist," says Dr. Leigh. "Do it scared and call it excitement."

And working through problems with a psychologist isn't easy, he adds.

"[People] should expect that any effort to improve oneself, to enhance the quality of one's life, to enhance one's wellbeing... will come with some challenges," he says. "It will come with an honest evaluation of where one is at, where one has been going, and what changes are needed, if any."

But while it can be difficult, getting help is worth it, Dr. Leigh says.

"It is, for the very most part, a very productive venture."

To learn more about our Assistance Program, visit our Employee Assistance page.

More than winter blues
Seasonal affective disorder

January 28, 2019

With chilling winds, drifting snow and dreary nights, it's easy to get the winter blues.

But while winter can be difficult for many of us, it can be even tougher for people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

What is seasonal affective disorder?

SAD is a type of seasonal depression that mostly occurs during the fall and winter months. However, it's also been known to affect some people during late spring and early summer.

The main symptom of SAD is a despairing mood that is present most of the day, occurs most days, lasts for more than two weeks and impairs daily life, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

They also list other symptoms, including:

  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Loss of interest in work, hobbies, people or sex
  • Withdrawal from social connections
  • Feeling useless, guilty, hopeless, pessimistic, or hard on oneself
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering and making decisions

In extreme cases, SAD can even cause suicidal thoughts and a loss of touch with reality.

People who are affected by SAD in the summer may experience different symptoms (e.g. insomnia instead of excess sleep).

What causes SAD?

While the cause of SAD is unconfirmed, one factor may be the brain's pineal gland. This gland secretes melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep.

When darkness hits, the pineal gland secretes melatonin to prepare us for sleep. When sunlight hits our eyes in the morning, the pineal gland stops secreting melatonin, preparing us for wakefulness.

Many Manitobans who have typical work or school hours wake up before the winter sun rises. This means that melatonin production takes longer to wind down. If you find it hard to wake up in the colder months, melatonin may be why.

Many of us are also confined indoors at school or work during daylight hours, which means we may lose exposure to direct sunlight for days at a time.

Among others, these factors contribute to the development of SAD. And you don't need to have had depression or other mental illnesses to be affected.

How is SAD treated?

Treatment is based on severity, but it typically involves light therapy. Patients sit next to full-spectrum white lights, which simulate sunlight.

Exercise is also recommended, and it's even more effective when combined with sunlight (for instance, using an exercise bike while next to a light box, or jogging outside on a lunch break).

In cases where symptoms are severe, antidepressant medication may be considered.

If you think you might have seasonal affective disorder, please consult a doctor.

To learn more about seasonal affective disorder, see the CAMH website.

Survey shows Canadians are confident in travel coverage

January 15, 2019

Canadians are confident in travel insurance and positive about their coverage experience, a recent survey says.

Ninety-three per cent of respondents that filed claims within the last year said their claims were either fully (71 per cent of respondents) or partially paid (22 per cent of respondents), reports Pollara Strategic Insights, the research firm behind the survey. Five per cent of claims were still being processed at survey time, while two per cent were denied.

This is consistent with numbers from 2015, the last time the survey was conducted.

"With the purchase of travel coverage comes the hope that it will never be needed," says Nikki Makar, Individual Benefits Consultant at Manitoba Blue Cross. "The reality is that unexpected injuries and illnesses do arise – and fortunately, we see that the vast majority of claims are paid and adjudicated in a timely manner."

Around one third of Canadians bought travel insurance in the past year, and nine per cent of those filed a claim, according to the survey.

Ninety-one per cent of claimants said they were satisfied with the overall claim experience.

"When clients buy the appropriate coverage, it makes sense that they'll be satisfied with their claim," Nikki says. "Working with our broker partners, we ensure customers are given the information and tools they need to purchase the appropriate coverage and if needed, to file a complete claim."

Canadians are also knowledgeable about what they're buying, the survey says. Eighty-nine per cent of respondents said they had at least a reasonable amount of knowledge of their policy's terms, and 83 per cent said they knew who to contact in the event of an emergency.

"Over the past few years, we've extended our efforts to ensure people are knowledgeable about their policies," says Nikki. "We are committed to working toward providing customers with as much information as possible so they can make informed decisions about their travel coverage before purchase, during the trip, and, if a claim is incurred, after the policy ends."

To learn more about Manitoba Blue Cross travel coverage, view our Travel Coverage Plans.

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