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Why the CDC declared a flu epidemic

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The CDC says the flu virus crossed into being an epidemic this past week.

Combined with a flu shot that's already been declared not as effective as most years, the agency has warned this flu season could be a severe one.

In its weekly FluView report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 22 states — mostly in the Midwest and Southeast — reported a high level of influenza activity.

Some other numbers to know; the CDC says the flu is widespread in 36 states, 15 children have died from the flu so far this season and the total number of deaths attributed to the flu hit 6.8 percent this past week. That's the exact percentage where the CDC declares an epidemic.

This year's predominant strain is the H3N2 virus, which caused harsh flu seasons as recently as two years ago. So why aren't we as protected by the flu shot as most years?

"What they're finding is in the predominant virus — at least, early on — it has drifted or become different from what they had predicted," The Washington Post's health blogger Lenny Bernstein said.

"By the time they knew that it had mutated to this extent, it was really too late to change the vaccine," Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa of the NYU Langone Medical Center told Fox News. "They figured this out around March. That's too late for a vaccine that really comes out in October."

You'll be hard-pressed to find a medical professional, however, who says to take this year off when it comes to getting a shot because they say some coverage is better than no coverage.

The summary of the CDC's weekly report says more states will likely fall into that high activity category soon and rather bluntly advises, "If you have not been vaccinated yet this season, get vaccinated now."

The head of Johns Hopkins' Office of Epidemiology and Infection Prevention pointed out children and the elderly are more susceptible and, if nothing else, she told The Washington Post average adults getting a shot "are in essence protecting those that are vulnerable."

4 habits to be healthier, wealthier in 2015

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Depending on which study or urban myth you believe, the typical American gains two to 10 pounds during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. And there is no question that December is the spendiest month of the year. Credit card issuers can document it, and retailers count on it.

And January? That’s when we resolve to lose weight and save money. Can we attack them together? Or does it make more sense to do one, then the other? While many people will make an effort (good intentions but no specific plan) and others will look for the quickest fixes (deprivation), some of us will find that the changes hoped for in January feel like a normal part of life by June. If you need motivation for making financial changes, check out just how much your debt is costing you over the course of a lifetime. And know, too, that people who exercise and pay attention to what they eat tend to be healthier and feel better.

Ellie Kay, co-author of “Lean Body, Fat Wallet,” said it might be easier to do both at the same time since the same four habits are required for each endeavor. So success in one area helps reinforce the habits you need for the other.

1. A Sense of Entitlement Can Be Your Friend

The first habit is to monitor your thoughts and redirect them. If you’ve been stopping for milkshakes on the way home from soccer because it’s been a long, tiring day and you are entitled to a treat, change that. You are entitled to a life free of financial worry, and you are entitled to inhabit a body that is as healthy as you can make it. You deserve those things. You are worthy of them. And so taking a walk is what you do because you are entitled to it; you are worth taking care of. Got that? No? That is why it bears repeating. Over and over until you believe it.

Athletes visualize success because it’s a tool that works. See yourself succeed (and watch those reruns). Because it will take some time to override those old thoughts of, “I always start well, but…” and “I just can’t get control of my sweet tooth.” Every year, some people succeed. Tell yourself that in 2015, you will be one of them.

2. Have a Plan for Temptations

The second habit is what the authors call the 3-D habit, and it’s a way to keep bad habits from getting the better of you. The D’s are for determine, distract and delay. Determine your goal (and remind yourself of it). In the face of temptation, find a way to distract yourself so that you can perhaps interest or immerse yourself in an activity that does not run counter to your goals. And finally, delay. Feel like you must have the carrot cake or the 75%-off Christmas decorations? Can you see if the need is just as urgent in an hour? Do you have a buddy you can call for support?

3. Keep Up With the Numbers

The third habit is knowing and keeping up with your numbers. It essentially means recognizing that the intake and outgo are, one way or another, going to balance out.

With weight, it means if you are taking in more calories (intake) than our body uses in a day (outgo), that unused energy will be banked in the form of fat. With money, it’s making sure that every dollar that comes in has a destination and actually goes there (you want a fatter bank account). For both, the secret is tracking. You are essentially balancing a checkbook in real time.

It is only human to underestimate how long we exercised or how much we spent (overestimating the size of our bills or how many steps we took in a day is much less common). Knowing numbers also lets you measure progress. While you may be measuring steps walked or shrinking balances, your persistence may also be paying off in more global measures, like weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, net worth or credit scores. Monitoring your progress can help you keep track of how far you’ve come (you can see your credit scores for free on Credit.com, while you’re at it).

4. Are You Counting the Minutes Until it’s Over?

The last habit is sustainability, meaning you could live this way and still enjoy your life. A couple of months back, Credit.com staffers went on a “spending freeze,” with varying degrees of success. While a freeze can — and did — help shine a spotlight on areas where we could most easily cut back, it also showed us where it was extremely difficult to do so. And if you feel deprived, your efforts are doomed. Make sure you are not being so restrictive that you just can’t wait for this to be over.

These four habits are the ones that, practiced consistently, can give you what you want. Here’s how it might look in practice. Kay says improving both physical and fiscal fitness requires some tracking, but the tracking isn’t difficult. In fact, you can do most of it on your smartphone while waiting in line, while on hold on the phone, etc. If you received a fitness tracker as a gift, use it. There are plenty of financial and fitness-tracking apps that can help you get control.

And although she concedes a healthier lifestyle may have some initial startup costs (let’s say you spend 10% more on groceries and avoid the pesticide-laden “dirty dozen” and replace some cheap, processed food with fresh fruits and vegetables), she says that over time, the cost of continuing to be unhealthy will outweigh any savings that come from eating cheaper, less nutritious food. So buy those athletic shoes with good support, but be sure you’re getting a good price. Also check with your health insurance, Kay says. Sometimes you can get a discount for enrolling in a fitness program or sharing fitness data that verifies you are getting a certain amount of exercise.

Get the Family on Board

She also recommends enlisting your family’s help — and making it fun. (Yes, fun.) There has to be room for fun. If you are able to eat a meal out, consider giving each child a spending allowance and allow them to keep what they do not spend. You won’t have to deny them $3 soft drinks; most will decide they would rather have money and drink water, and that lesson is important.

Decide on a family reward for paying off a certain amount of debt. (A camping trip can be fun, Kay notes, and plan modest splurges.) While it’s good to tell kids that you’re saving money or trying topay off debt, Kay cautions about telling children the amounts; that is not something they should worry about. You can share the small sacrifices you’ve decided to make to help save money, and ask what they can do. Talk to them about making money (that’s the other way to help save more), and encourage budding entrepreneurs. Tell them the family is working toward financial peace and security. Tell them that you — and they — deserve it.

Recognize Enemies of Success

Among the threats to your success are rationalizing — and we all do it sometimes. Try hard to recognize it and get back on track. Also be careful about judging yourself too harshly. You won’t be perfect, and you won’t meet every single goal every single day. But if you are meeting weekly goals, you’re on your way to succeeding. (That means if if it’s 10 p.m. and you’ve walked only 5,000 steps and your goal was 10,000 that you need not lace up your shoes. Just walk more tomorrow.) Kay recommends being “diligent without being legalistic.”

Give your goals a reality check, too. Goals that are too ambitious set you up for failure — as do goals that are too vague. It’s reasonable to commit to doing aerobic exercise four times a week; it’s not reasonable to go to your 25th high school reunion looking just like you did when you graduated. It’s not reasonable to decide in January that by June you will have paid off $30,000 in debt if you have an average income. As motivating as it might be to dream that those things are going to happen, it is a recipe for failure.

Finally, don’t let procrastination keep you from being successful. It won’t be easier to start in February… or March. Trust us on this. Accept that you will screw up some days and fail to do what you hoped. And that you will succeed if you start again now instead of deciding that you blew it, and what’s the use of trying? A small setback doesn’t have to become a roadblock if you let that first habit — believing you are entitled to succeed — help you get back on track.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Prepackaged caramel apples linked to 5 deaths, several illnesses

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Health officials are warning consumers to avoid prepackaged caramel apples after they were linked to five deaths and more than two dozen illnesses in 10 states.

The CDC says it knows of 28 cases in which people were sickened with the same strains of the bacterial illness listeria, with 26 of them hospitalized. Of those who were hospitalized, five died. The CDC said listeriosis contributed to at least four of the deaths.

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The agency said interviews showed that 83 percent of those sickened reported eating commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples before falling ill.

Three cases of meningitis linked to the listeria were also reported in children, the CDC said. The three children were not among those who died.

Those who fell ill got sick between Oct. 17 and Nov. 27. CDC said it's possible other illnesses have occurred since then. Christopher Braden of the CDC said the agency is still trying to determine the specific brands that were involved.

Two of the deaths were in Minnesota and one was in Texas, according to the CDC. The agency was not able to say where the other two deaths occurred.

The CDC said the illnesses also occurred in Arizona, California, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Family who lost conjoined twins invites public for memorial service

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An Alabama father, whose conjoined twins passed away Friday, posted a new message on Facebook thanking everyone for their support.   Michael Hamby and his wife Robin are now home, according to the video post.   Robin gave birth to the twins on Thursday, but the boys, named Asa and Eli, passed away Friday night. The twins were born and were being treated at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.   The boys shared a torso, arms and legs. Because they also shared a heart and circulatory system, doctors said separation was not an option.   In the message, Michael said the last few days have been very draining and heartbreaking for him and his wife.   "We both filled out birth certificates for the boys, and that's something that supposed to be joyous, and it wasn't," Michael said. “We’ve had a very hard, hard week as you know, with the boys coming and passing.”

The Hambys invited the public to a memorial service for the twins.

That service will take place Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Ladonia Baptist Church in Phenix City, Alabama.

Teen with terminal cancer defies odds, retires bucket list

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"It's not supposed to be, but who cares, because it is," Devin's stepmother, Daneen Kowall said. Daneen Kowall never thought we'd be sitting here. "They told us last Thanksgiving that he wouldn't make it through the holidays," said Kowall. That's because her 14-year-old son Devin had just been diagnosed with an aggressive, terminal bone cancer.  When Pittsburgh's WPXI-TV first met him last fall, he had weeks to live. "We tried to make it the best possible Christmas that it could have been," said Kowall. But then, New Years passed.  And so did the weeks. And then the months. "His one oncologist says this isn't how it happens. This isn't how it's supposed to happen," said Kowall. Now, a year later, Devin's still here, defying the odds. "Gets on my nerves daily, like a normal teenager!" teased Kowall. Devin stole Pittsburgh's heart last year because he wasn't working on his Christmas list.  He had a bucket list.  One of his wishes was to get 10,000 likes on his Facebook page called, "Devin's Dreams."

Viewers, came through. "I thought maybe I'd get close to like, a hundred." said Devin.  After WPXI’s interview, the page had 17,000 likes.  Today, it has more than 21,000 likes. Devin has since retired his bucket list. "It depresses him," said Kowall.  "It makes him feel like, 'I'm going to die.'" Devin's prognosis hasn't changed, but this young man still finds strength in your Facebook messages. "I like it because it shows me that other people care and I'm not just alone," said Devin. "He wants to live and that's his best medicine right now," said Kowall. Devin's family also endured a house fire in February, and they had to live in a hotel for months. Now, the family is back home, and Devin is looking forward to a big Thanksgiving meal.

Supporters of Brittany Maynard release birthday video

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Nearly three weeks after her death, on what would have been her 30th birthday, Brittany Maynard returned to the national spotlight on Wednesday in a video in which she urges states to pass laws allowing terminally ill people to end their lives on their own terms.

The video, made in August, was released by an advocacy group that worked with Maynard during the last months of her life in a campaign that prompted a national debate about allowing terminally ill people to hasten their deaths.

The group, Compassion & Choices, is hoping that the practice will be expanded beyond the five that already allow it: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico. But even though Maynard's story received national attention, the groundswell of support on a legislative level for laws like Oregon's has yet to materialize.

Compassion & Choices held a conference call with journalists on Wednesday, hoping to build on the momentum generated for the movement while Maynard was alive. After the news conference, the organization released a video that is partly narrated by Maynard.

In the video, Maynard says: "I hope for the sake of other American citizens ... that I'm speaking to that I've never met, that I'll never meet, that this choice be extended to you."

Previous Stories

>> Right-to-die advocate's mom blasts Vatican remarks

>> Social media reaction to the death of Brittany Maynard

>> Brittany Maynard, woman with terminal brain cancer, ends her own life

The video includes photographs of Maynard before her illness. It also features the voices of other terminally ill patients and their family members.

In the conference call, Compassion & Choices officials said legislators in about a dozen states plan to introduce right-to-die laws next year.

Also on the call were legislators from Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Pennsylvania Democrat whose 63-year-old father died of the same type of brain cancer as Maynard, said the young woman's campaign and his family's situation made it apparent why such bills are needed.

"I had to watch my father die of cancer... It was the most gut-wrenching experience our family and he had to endure," Rozzi said. "He would always tell me this is not the way he wanted to live."

A "death-with-dignity" bill was introduced in Pennsylvania last month. Rozzi conceded that it has been difficult getting bills out of the judiciary committee when they are opposed by the state's Catholic leadership.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, a Wyoming Republican, said he plans to introduce such legislation in his state.

Oregon was the first state to allow terminally ill patients to die using lethal medications prescribed by a doctor. Maynard moved from California to Oregon to make use of the Oregon law.

The New Jersey Assembly passed a bill last week that would allow physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients, with some legislators citing Maynard's story as a deciding factor in their vote. But Republican Gov. Chris Christie has said he opposes the measure.

In California, the West Hollywood City Council this week passed a resolution that urges the Los Angeles County District Attorney to not prosecute physicians and family members who offer aid in dying to the terminally ill. But the state has no current bills or ballot measures on the issue.

Some religious groups and social conservatives, including a Vatican official and the American Life League, have heavily criticized Maynard's decision. Pope Francis denounced the right-to-die movement Saturday, saying the practice is a sin against God and creation and provides a "false sense of compassion." He didn't refer specifically to Maynard's case.

Compassion & Choices said its website has had more than 5 million unique visitors during the past month, while Maynard's two previous videos have been viewed more than 13 million times on YouTube alone.

"I sense immense momentum right now," said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices. "Brittany Maynard is a new voice for a new generation of activists ... she devoted her precious energy to help ensure other dying Americans would have a choice."

Teen performs CPR to save infant who stopped breathing at Wal-Mart

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When an 11-month-old baby stopped breathing inside a Missouri Wal-Mart, Abby Snodgrass leapt into action.

The 17-year-old Hillsboro High School girl was able to perform CPR on the baby as the store’s manager called 911.

“The one thought that crossed my mind was, ‘What if this doesn’t work?’ And I just had to push it out of my mind and keep going because I knew that’s what I had to do,” Snodgrass told ABC News.

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Thankfully, the CPR worked.

“I can’t explain how happy I was when she started to breathe,” Snodgrass said. “It was a huge relief.”

Emergency responders say that the infant might have died without Abby’s quick thinking.

“We are exceedingly grateful to the young woman who helped our daughter,” the baby’s family said in a statement. “Our daughter is home and healthy, and we couldn’t be more thankful.”

Read more at Rare.us

Riding in car with smoker can damage your health, new study claims

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Riding in an automobile with a smoker for one hour can significantly increase levels of toxins in non-smokers, posing a potential health risk, according to UC San Francisco study.

The study was published in the Nov. 14 journal “Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention”  which is published by the American Association for Cancer Research.

According to the research, non-smoking passengers showed elevated levels of butadiene, acrylonitrile, benzene, methylating agents and ethylene oxide, which are “thought to be the most important among the thousands in tobacco smoke that cause smoking-related disease,” senior investigator and UCSF professor Dr. Neal L. Benowitz said in a university press release.

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“Ours is the first study to measure exposure to these particular chemicals in people exposed to secondhand smoke,” Benowitz said. “This indicates that when simply sitting in cars with smokers, nonsmokers breathe in a host of potentially dangerous compounds from tobacco smoke that are associated with cancer, heart disease and lung disease.”

According to the university release, the study looked at 14 non-smokers who each sat for one hour in the right rear seat of an SUV while a smoker sat in the driver’s seat. The driver then smoked three cigarettes over the hour’s time while the front and rear windows were cracked open about four inches.

After 8 hours, urine samples from the nonsmokers were compared to samples taken from before the experiment. According the research, seven biomarkers showed a “significant increase” following exposure to secondhand smoke.

“This tells us that people, especially children and adults with preexisting health conditions such as asthma or a history of heart disease should be protected from secondhand smoke exposure in cars,” said lead author Dr. Gideon St. Helen.

Researchers cautioned that the study conditions may not be representative of real-world driving situations, as the study was conducted in a stationary vehicle which may not provide as much ventilation as a moving car.

8 women dead, 20 ill, after surgery at sterilization 'camp' In India

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Eight Indian women have died and 20 others were in critical condition Tuesday after undergoing sterilization surgeries in a free government-run camp to help slow the country's population growth.

A total of 83 women, all poor villagers under the age of 32, had the operations Saturday in a hospital outside Bilaspur city in the central state of Chhattisgarh, officials said. All 83 surgeries were conducted within six hours, said the state's chief medical officer, Dr. S.K. Mandal.

"That is not usual," he said. He declined to comment further on what might have gone wrong until autopsies are conducted on the victims.

According to The Guardian, such camps are held regularly across India as part of an effort to control India's booming population.

Each of the women had received a payment of 600 rupees, or about $10, to participate in the sterilization program, Mandal said.

The women were sent home Saturday evening after their surgeries, but more than two dozen were later rushed in ambulances to private hospitals after becoming ill. By Tuesday, eight of the women had died — apparently from either blood poisoning or hemorrhagic shock, which occurs when a person has lost too much blood, state deputy health director Amar Singh told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Twenty other women were in critical care, according to the district magistrate, Siddharth Komal Pardeshi.

"Their condition is very serious. Blood pressure is low," said Dr. Ramesh Murty at CIMS hospital, one of the facilities where the sick women were taken. "We are now concentrating on treating them, not on what caused this."

The state suspended four government doctors, including the surgeon who performed the operations and the district's chief medical officer. It also will give compensation payments of about $6,600 to each of the victims' families.

The state's surgeons met Tuesday night to discuss whether to continue the state's sterilization schedule, with a target of 180,000 for the year ending in March set by the central government, Mandal said. He said the quota for Bilaspur district for the year was around 12,000.

Activists blame sterilization quotas for leading health authorities to pressure patients into surgery rather than advising them on other forms of contraception.

"These women have become victims because of the target-based approach to population control," said Brinda Karat of the All India Democratic Women's Association, while demanding that the state's health minister resign.

Brittany Maynard, woman with terminal brain cancer, ends her own life

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Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer who weeks ago announced plans to end her life, reportedly died Saturday. 

Maynard was diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma last spring and told she had six months left to live. She then decided to move to Oregon with her husband and mother to utilize Oregon's Death with Dignity Act. (Video via Compassion & Choices)

>> Social media reaction to the death of Brittany Maynard

She eventually started an online video campaign for Compassion & Choices with the intent of expanding death with dignity laws nationwide. A spokesman from that group confirmed her death Sunday evening. 

Now, People quotes a post from Maynard's Facebook that reads: "Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more. ... Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!"

>> Previously: Terminally ill woman says now 'doesn't seem like the right time' to die

Brittany Maynard: "My goal of course is to influence this policy for positive change. I would like to see all Americans have access to the same health care rights."

Her movement started a conversation nationwide about dying in America and some media outlets point to a shift in national opinion.

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A social medical expert writes in The Washington Post, "We are beginning to focus on what patients want, on their right to self-determination. And people are increasingly asking why anyone — the state, the medical profession, religious leaders — would presume to tell someone else that they must continue to die by inches, against their will."

Five states in the U.S. have legislation in place that allows physicians to help patients end their lives in some circumstances. 

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