September 21, 2011 10:43 pm
In the past, flu season was typically expected to begin in October or November, yet each year it seems to be arriving earlier and earlier. This year is no different.
The flu, more scientifically known as influenza, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses. When a person with the flu coughs or sneezes, the virus becomes an airborne contagion—waiting to be inhaled by anyone nearby. The risk of infection is greater in highly populated areas like schools, subways and crowded urban settings. You can also get the flu by touching a contaminated surface like a telephone or a door knob, and then touching your nose or mouth. The influenza virus usually enters the body through mucus membranes in the mouth, nose or eyes.
Sudden onset and severity of symptoms are hallmarks of the flu and help to distinguish it from other illnesses, like the common cold. Other indications include chills and fever, headaches, muscular aches and pain, cough and runny nose. Sometimes these symptoms are accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea.
On average annually in the U.S., 5-20% of the population gets the flu; over 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications; and about 23,600 people die from flu-related causes. Older adults, young children and people with specific health conditions are at higher risk for serious flu complications.
“In the past, little could be done in the way of treatment for the flu other than to manage its symptoms incidentally. Modern antibiotics were and are still useless against the disease because of its viral, not bacterial, nature,” says Peter Lamelas, MD.
“Nowadays, influenza can now be diagnosed quickly and inexpensively through a simple in-office procedure where the patient submits to a nasal swab test, known as a Rapid Flu Test,” he adds.
“Thankfully, several prescription antivirals are now available which have been proven to shorten the duration of the flu—but there’s a catch. Antiviral medications are most effective when taken within 12-48 hours of your first symptoms,” says Lamelas. “So act fast.”
Who should get the Seasonal Flu Shot?
According to the CDC, flu seasons are unpredictable, although epidemics happen every year. They believe everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine. This recommendation has been in place since February 24, 2010 when CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted for “universal” flu vaccination in the U.S. to expand protection against the flu to more people.
Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of serious flu complications, including young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease, people 65 years and older, and caretakers of these populations.
Here are three steps you can take to reduce or prevent you and your loved ones from the adverse effects of the flu this season:
Step # 1 – Take the time to get vaccinated. The single best way to protect yourself and others against influenza is to get a flu vaccination each year.
Step #2 – Take everyday preventative precautions. Wash your hands regularly and frequently with soap and water. Alcohol based hand sanitizers are also effective in reducing the spread of germs. Use disinfectants to routinely clean frequently touched surfaces, like doorknobs, keyboards and telephones. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth—places where the flu virus enters the body.
Step #3 – Take anti-viral drugs if recommended. Anti-viral drugs are not sold over-the-counter and are different from antibiotics. If you get the flu, anti-viral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. Anti-viral drugs work best if started within the first two days of symptoms. They may also prevent serious flu complications.
For more information, visit www.MyMDNow.com.
September 20, 2011 10:43 pm
After a long work week, sometimes our homes tend to get a little unorganized. If you feel consumed by the clutter that abounds in your home, picking up a little bit each day can be just enough to prevent a large-scale disaster from ever happening. During the week, keep the following in mind:
Avoid the "drop zone": Most homes have that one designated space where family members tend to drop miscellaneous items. From mail and car keys to cell phones, iPods, or books, once this area is full, the mess eventually spills elsewhere--to kitchen tables, living room floors, and beyond! Choose one spot for the entire family's car keys and phones. Next, designate another area (a drawer, perhaps) for any other miscellaneous items, such as paper clips, tape, rubber bands, or any small item you want to avoid losing. Stow away these small items to avoid a kitchen table takeover.
Enforce a "Clean Floor Policy": Convince your family members to help you keep a "clean floor policy." Shoes, backpacks, jackets or sporting equipment should always be put away immediately upon entering the home. Although these items may not seem like a big deal, they will add up and quickly diminish your space.
Store that media: Other items that tend to suffocate space are CDs, DVDs, books and computer software. A large bookcase or DVD/CD case can be the answer to your prayers. After using these items, return them to their proper places. This will clear up room on top of your CD or DVD players and on your coffee tables. The organization possible with just one case will make a remarkable difference.
Closet coordination: Buying a few closet organizers can also make a world of difference. Cleaning supplies, Tupperware, pet food and more can all be stored in closets with multi-tiered organizers or shelving. Consider putting one in a bathroom closet or behind a bathroom door as well; you'll save a significant amount of space by storing shampoos, soaps, towels and more, where most eyes won't be able to see them.
With a little bit of organizing skills and diligence, you can prevent your home from being conquered by clutter.
September 20, 2011 10:43 pm
As travelers jump on early fall travel to take advantage of cooler weather and colorful scenery, these tips can help find the best bargains and save time when planning the perfect fall getaway.
Fall for Foliage
Autumn in New England is high season for leaf peepers, and big crowds typically mean higher prices. Avoid both with an escorted fall foliage tour. Someone else does the planning, organizing and driving – all travelers need to do is take in the spectacular scenery. Try an all-day tour from Boston through the New England countryside with a visit to an apple orchard or a full-day Hudson River cruise from New York City to Bear Mountain – both under $60.
Just Say No…to the Queue
Save time by booking tours that offer skip-the-line access, particularly at popular attractions where wait times can be longer than two hours. Companies such as Viator offer programs like "Skip the Line: Eiffel Tower Tickets and Small Group Tour," which includes priority access to the first and second levels of the Eiffel Tower, tickets to the third level, and a small group guided tour limited to 20 people. A little bit of pre-planning could save hours of precious touring time.
Toast Shoulder-Season Savings at Oktoberfest!
A fall getaway to Europe is traditionally affordable (being shoulder season and all), and with the Euro at its lowest level against the dollar since the beginning of the year, there is no better time to plan a trip – particularly for those with a passion for beer, music and festivity! With Oktoberfest right around the corner, you can head to Munich for a unique and unforgettable experience.
Get Back to Nature
Fall is a great time to miss the crowds that flock to America’s national parks during the summer, but still enjoy great weather. Discover two of the West Coast’s most spectacular natural wonders, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park. Create your own camping and hiking adventure, and save money by driving instead of flying. Picnic lunches in the parks are also a great way to save some extra cash.
September 20, 2011 10:43 pm
Nationwide housing affordability during the second quarter of 2011 hovered for the 10th consecutive quarter near its highest level in the more than 20 years it has been measured, according to National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) data released recently.
The HOI indicated that 72.6% of all new and existing homes sold in the second quarter of the year were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,200. The affordability measure dipped slightly from the record high of 74.6% set last quarter but remained above the 70% threshold initially achieved in the first quarter of 2009.
"At a time when homeownership is within reach of more households than it has been for more than two decades and interest rates are at historically low levels, the sluggish economy and the extremely tight credit conditions confronting home buyers and builders remain significant obstacles to many potential home sales," says Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). "That said, however, some housing markets across the country have stabilized and are beginning to show signs of a budding recovery."
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa., was the most affordable major housing market in the country during the second quarter of the year. In Youngstown, 93.7% of all homes sold were affordable to households earning the area's median family income of $54,900.
Also ranking near the top of the most affordable major metro housing markets were Syracuse, New York.; Indianapolis-Carmel, Indiana; Dayton, Ohio; and Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida.
Among smaller housing markets, the most affordable was Kokomo, Indiana, where 95.8% of homes sold during the second quarter of 2011 were affordable to families earning a median income of $59,100. Other smaller housing markets ranking near the top of the index included Lansing-East Lansing, Michigan; Bay City, Michigan; and Sandusky, Ohio.
For more information, please visit www.nahb.org.
September 19, 2011 4:43 pm
For homeowners ready to sell their home, staging a property professionally can make a huge difference in the amount of time it takes to sell. If you're selling on a budget, you can still properly stage the home yourself in order to maximize the chances of alluring visiting buyers. Keep the following in mind before buyers come to the door:
Remember to highlight the home's strengths and take attention away from the weaknesses. Pick up and organize every room as much as possible. Organize book shelves, cabinets, closets, or any other nook and cranny a buyer might want to see. If a particular room has a fault, rearrange furniture or redesign the room as needed to draw the attention elsewhere.
Choose and place your furniture wisely. Be sure not to overcrowd a room with couches, tables and chairs. The end goal should be to make each room as spacious as possible, so cut down on the number of items, and remove any that may look old or beaten up. Try "floating" furniture away from the walls and more toward the center of the room. This will enhance the illusion of space and make the room look that much bigger.
Light it up: Proper lighting can give a home a warm, welcome feeling. Replace low-wattage bulbs with higher wattages. Be sure to have different types of lighting in each room (overhead lights, reading lights, etc). If you can, take advantage of natural light during daytime hours. Open up those drapes and let the sun shine through. The welcome feel your home gives off will be both infectious and memorable.
Repurpose storage rooms. For those miscellaneous storage rooms, be sure to repurpose them into something a buyer can picture themselves using. Create a craft room, game room or office with the extra space. You want to put ideas into the heads of your buyers, not entice them with rooms filled with junk and clutter.
Give bathrooms a spa-like feel: Buyers love the look of a nice, neat and clean bathroom. Anything you can do to create a spa-like environment, the better. Roll towels and place them on display in wire racks. Spread candles on countertops, and have a scented plug or other soothing scent permeating the room. The more calming the bathroom feels, the more appealing it will be to viewers.
Homeowners need not spend hundreds of dollars on a professional stager, however, staging is essential to selling your home promptly. Staging every room in your house will be beneficial toward reaching your end goal.
September 19, 2011 4:43 pm
Kids are back in school with a busy schedule that includes extra-curricular sports, playground fun and other activities. With kids spending lots of time outdoors, participating in leagues, and toting around heavy backpacks all day, strains, sprains, muscle pulls and other mishaps are sure to follow. In fact, emergency rooms in the U.S. treat more than 9 million children each year for accidental injuries.
While injuries are a part of growing up, parents aren’t always sure which treatment options are safe and effective for their children, especially given the side effects of many oral pain relievers and the allergic reactions many kids have to smelly, greasy topical ointments.
The potential of overdosing a child using oral pain medication can cause dire consequences—including irreparable damage to the kidneys and liver. The massive number of ongoing recalls of pediatric over-the-counter (OTC) medicines this year is further cause for alarm—especially those containing the active ingredients acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Topical OTC analgesic ointments are also cause for concern, containing volatile oils such as camphor, menthol, and other irritating and potentially hazardous chemicals.
Lou Paradise, president and chief of research of Topical BioMedics, urges parents to consider the following safety tips to help protect their children from pain and injury, and keep them out of the emergency room.
--Children should have a physical exam before participating in sports and always wear the proper protective equipment. Be sure your child stretches and warms up muscles prior to activity to help prevent injuries.
--Make sure backpacks fit properly and have padded backs and straps. Children should wear BOTH straps and only carry what is necessary to avoid any excess weight. A backpack should weigh no more than 5% - 10% of the child’s body weight, and never hang more than 4” below the waistline.
--Clothing and shoes should fit properly. Loose clothes can catch in playground equipment, and properly fitted footwear minimizes the risk of falling or tripping.
--Small children should be supervised at the playground or while playing outside at home.
--Bullying is becoming epidemic. An adult should accompany younger children to the bus stop to avoid episodes of roughhousing.
Even with precautions, kids have accidents, and there are times when pain and injuries are unavoidable. For more information, visit www.topricinkids.com.
September 19, 2011 4:43 pm
Never in the history of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has there been such demand for FHA-insured financing to build, rehabilitate or refinance multifamily apartment properties. FHA recently announced that it has endorsed $10.5 billion in multifamily rental housing loans since last October, with another month-and-a-half remaining in the fiscal year.
So far this fiscal year, FHA has endorsed nearly 1,100 multifamily loans, more than seven times the number of loans the agency endorsed just three years ago. This historic loan activity also breaks the $10 billion threshold for only the second time in FHA’s history of endorsing multifamily loans. To help meet this growing demand, FHA today published updated underwriting and program guidance to help accelerate and coordinate the processing of new loan applications.
“While we’re seeing record volume, we also recognize we have to accelerate the time it takes us to process these applications so we continue to meet this demand at the very time the market needs us the most,” says Carol Galante, FHA’s acting commissioner.
Meanwhile, FHA recently published its revised Multifamily Accelerated Processing (MAP) Guide, which is intended to cut the time required to approve loan applications and to assure consistent application of program requirements and credit standards across all HUD processing offices. FHA’s new MAP Guide delegates more underwriting responsibility to approved “MAP lenders” and includes all relevant guidance published by FHA since the MAP Guide was last updated in 2002. This new guide consolidates all necessary underwriting and program requirements in one document and addresses concerns raised by those seeking updated standards.
Earlier this year, FHA issued new multifamily loan closing documents that had not been updated in 40 years. The loan documents required updating to ensure that they would be consistent with modern real estate and lending practices. The new MAP Guide is fully coordinated with the new loan closing documents.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.
September 16, 2011 4:43 pm
Though cash flow may be tight for some homeowners this year, you can still rejuvenate and remodel your apartment without breaking the bank account. If your bathroom is in dire need of an update, consider doing the following to give it a fresh appeal:
Applying a fresh coat of paint is always a great place to start. If you make the decision to do so, why not consider a brand new color? Although this is a reasonably affordable update, don't skimp on quality paint to save a few bucks. With higher-grade paint, you may be able to skip a primer coat, but a cheap product will not get you far.
Replace hardware such as towel racks, drawer fixtures and vanity doors for a brand new spark. Aim for metals; they are less apt to show dirt and smudges than ceramic and acrylic materials.
Accessorize to fit your new color. Shower curtains, bath mats, towels, curtains, and more can all be changed up to give the room a new look. Add other items such as candles or scented plug-ins to really make the room unique.
On the higher cost end of the spectrum, you may want to change your entire vanity. A new vanity/countertop combination will definitely turn the room around, however, be careful to not exceed your budget when choosing which to use. Decide what renovations you want to make beforehand so that you can allot the proper funding to each change.
By designing and planning ahead, you can ensure that you stretch your money as far as it needs to go, leaving you with a modest and affordably "new" room.
September 16, 2011 4:43 pm
A report released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) shows that the agency is resolving individual housing discrimination complaints faster, increasing its focus on complaints that affect multiple people, and launching more investigations using its authority to initiate cases on behalf of discrimination victims where no one has filed a complaint.
HUD’s Annual State of Fair Housing Report also illustrates how the agency is helping municipalities and state and local agencies receiving HUD funding to comply with civil rights requirements and holding non-compliant recipients accountable.
“Our goal is to put an end to unlawful housing discrimination,” says John Trasviña, HUD assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “We have made progress in reducing housing discrimination, but more work needs to be done."
More than 10,000 fair housing discrimination complaints were filed in fiscal year 2010, according to the report. Discrimination based on a person’s disability continued to be the largest single category of complaints. Of the 10,155 complaints filed with HUD and its Fair Housing Assistance Program partner agencies, 48% alleged disability discrimination, 34% alleged discrimination based on race, and 15% alleged discrimination based on family status—consistent with the number and type of complaints received during the previous three years.
The report shows that in fiscal year 2010, HUD and its Fair Housing Assistance Program partner agencies processed 4,494 new complaints within 100 days, 328 more than in 2009 and 583 more than in 2008. The report also shows that HUD proactively pursued its own Secretary-initiated investigations, charging four and conciliating eight cases that developed from such investigations, and launching another 10 such investigations.
This year’s report shows that HUD has placed greater emphasis on ensuring that recipients of HUD funding create greater housing opportunities for minorities, families with children, and people with disabilities. HUD’s activities in fiscal year 2010 have led to significant relief for victims of housing discrimination, including:
• African Americans in whose neighborhoods a bank did not locate branches or provide banking services.
• Women on maternity leave who were denied mortgage loans and insurance.
• African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and families with children who were tenants or prospective tenants of an apartment complex that engaged in widespread discriminatory rental practices.
• Six families with children who were charged fees for using the common recreational areas of a condominium.
In addition, the report highlights how HUD, through its Section 3 program, is creating jobs for low-income residents of areas where HUD-funded construction is taking place, and contracting opportunities for the businesses that hire them. Between 2009 and 2010, the program provided jobs to more than 16,000 residents and contracts to 2,900 Section 3 businesses. HUD also announced, in June, that it was providing $600,000 in competitive grants to enable public housing authorities and state and local agencies that receive Section 3 funding to hire a program coordinator to help report on the success of their job creation and training efforts.
Furthermore, the Department is expanding its education and outreach to immigrants. HUD is conducting fair housing conferences throughout the nation to raise awareness of fair housing rights among advocacy and social service organizations working with immigrant communities. Also, as part of HUD’s efforts to make its programs accessible to all, the agency has translated more than 100 vital documents into 17 different languages.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov.
September 16, 2011 4:43 pm
Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing fixed-rate mortgages remaining near their 60-year lows as ongoing investor concerns over the European debt market kept Treasury bond yields low. The 30-year fixed averaged 4.09%, a new all-time low. The 15-year fixed, a popular refinancing option, also reached a new record low for the week averaging 3.30%.
• 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.09% with an average 0.7 point for the week ending September 15, 2011, down from last week when it averaged 4.12%. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.37%.
• 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.30% with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.33%. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.82%.
• 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.99% this week, with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.96%. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.55%.
• 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.81% this week with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.84%. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.40%.
Average commitment rates should be reported along with average fees and points to reflect the total cost of obtaining the mortgage.
"Continued investor concerns over the state of the European debt markets kept U.S. Treasury bond yields low and allowed mortgage rates to ease once more this week. In comparison, the average interest rate of mortgages outstanding in the second quarter was 5.28%," says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist of Freddie Mac. "By refinancing into today's 30-year fixed mortgage, homeowners could shave almost $1,715 a year in interest payments on a $200,000 loan."
For more information from Freddie Mac's Office of the Chief Economist, visit www.twitter.com/FreddieMac.