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    Brazilian McDonald's Manager Wins Obesity Lawsuit

    Employee said that food sampling, free lunches made him pack on 65 pounds

    McDonald's has lost a high-profile obesity lawsuit, with a Brazilian court ordering the fast food giant to pay $17,500 to a former manager who says he gained 65 pounds while working at a franchise.

    The employee, whose identity was not made public, said he went from around 155 to 231 pounds during his time with the company. The plaintiff said that the random presence of "mystery clients" -- who are tasked with visiting franchises and evaluating their food quality, cleanliness and customer service -- made him feel obliged to sample the food every day.

    He also scolded McDonald's for offering free lunches to its employees, charging that those meals -- which consisted mostly of hamburgers, French fries and ice cream -- increased his daily caloric intake.

    Follows CPSI suit

    The suit is further evidence that obesity-related litigation is still going strong, despite criticism that such suits absolve consumers of the responsibility of making healthy choices. In June, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) served McDonald's with noticethat it would file suit against the company unless it stopped selling its famed Happy Meals, which CSPI called "unhealthy junk food."

    CSPI said that McDonald's "make[s] parents' job nearly impossible by giving away toys and bombarding kids with slick advertising," and compared it to a "stranger in the playground handing out candy to children."

    In a sharply-worded response written in July, McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner said that "the public does not support [the] lawsuit," adding that "parents, in particular, strongly believe they have the right and responsibility to decide what's best for their children, not CSPI. It really is that simple."

    True to its word, CPSI announced last month that it was proceeding with the suit.

    Previous class actions

    In 2005, McDonald's agreed to pay $7 million to the American Heart Association as part of a settlement concerning its use of trans fats in its food. It also agreed to pay $1.5 million for a public advertising campaign telling the public of the dangers posed by those fats.

    And in 2008, a judge allowed a class action by consumers who alleged that McDonald's food made them obese to proceed, overturning a lower court's dismissal of the case. That action, Pelman v. McDonald's, alleged that "certain [McDonald's] foods [are] substantially less healthy than represented."

    The lead plaintiffs in that case, Ashley Pelman and Jazlyn Bradley, both minors, brought suit on behalf of all consumers who bought and ate McDonald's food from franchises in New York. Their suit alleged that the food increased consumers' chances of developing "obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol intake, and/or other detrimental and adverse health effects and/or diseases."

    McDonald's is considering whether to appeal the Brazilian ruling, which was issued by Judge Joao Ghisleni Filho in Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil. In a statement, the company stressed that it "offers a large variety of options and balanced menus to cater [to] the daily dietary needs of its employees."

    Perhaps the plaintiff should have spent more time taste-testing the salads.

    Brazilian McDonald's Manager Wins Obesity LawsuitEmployee said that food sampling, free lunches made him pack on 65 pounds...

    Teens' Addictions To Texting Cuts Into Sleep Time

    Study shows teens regularly miss out on sleep to keep talking to their friends

    Jeff is a 19 year old college student who usually climbs into bed around 1:00 AM and gets up about six hours later. That's not to say Jeff is sleeping those 6 short hours; his TV is on for awhile, but then Jeff and his friends sometimes text each other throughout the night.

    Jeff's case is becoming more typical. National and international studies are drawing the same conclusions:

    "Mobile phone use after lights out is very prevalent among adolescents," according to a study by the JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J. "Its use is related to increased levels of tiredness. There is no safe dose and no safe time for using the mobile phone for text messaging or for calling after lights out."

    The study finds that older students tended to be awakened by a text message more often during the night than their younger counterparts. Researchers also found that older teens who are awakened by text messages reported being more tired than those who are never awakened during the night.

    "Concerns about media use should not be limited to television," the authors conclude. "Mobile phone use for text messaging and Internet use are related to sleep behavior as well."

    For the JFK Medical Center study, 40 kids, ages 8 to 22, filled out questionnaires regarding their phone habits. The hospital also conducted research, in part, with teenaged patients, with hospital staff getting a firsthand look at teen's almost compulsive need to stay connected.

    The medical center said it has a video tape of a nurse asking a teenage patient if his cell phone is off. The patient answers, "Yes", but is then seen texting as he is monitored on videotape during a night's stay at the center.

    A 2010 Neilsen Company study showed teens aggressively use their cell phones to text, surf the web, listen to music, play games, and sometimes talk.

    But more and more, kids are staying up late, sometimes four hours past their bedtimes, to feed their addictions. And if they receive texts after they've fallen asleep, they'll usually wake up to answer them.

    While this may seem like nothing more than an annoying form of teen rebellion, doctors worry the lack of sleep could lead to serious mood and cognitive problems, like anxiety, depression, ADHD and learning difficulties.

    Lack of sleep at night might not be the only reason to worry about teens and their texting addictions. They could develop physical injuries in their hands, wrists, and fingers.

    Doctors report more patients complaining of tingling, numbness and pain in their fingers and wrists. Since this is a relatively recent complaint, at least in large numbers, physicians are looking around for a recent phenomenon that might explain it. Their attention quickly fell on texting.

    With over 152.7 billion text messages sent per month in the United States alone, it is becoming clear that people are shifting their primary method of communication from voices to hands and fingers. Does this shift explain the injuries?

    While these complaints can all be signs of tired, overused hands, these symptoms can also indicate something more serious, such as a repetitive stress injury, tendonitis, aggravation of arthritis or sprains, and even carpal tunnel syndrome, doctors say.

    "It is important that patients don't dismiss symptoms of sore fingers, occasional numbness and tingling", says George Kardashian, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and hand specialist at The Center for Bone and Joint Disease in Hudson, FL. "These symptoms are all the body's way of saying it needs a break or a more serious injury will occur."

    Kardashian suggests patients take frequent breaks from texting and typing and stretch the affected areas if experiencing any symptoms. If pain and/or swelling exist, use ice packs to reduce swelling while giving your hands a rest.

    Or maybe turn off the cell phone and get a full night's sleep.

    Teens' Addictions To Texting Cuts Into Sleep Time Study shows teens regularly miss out on sleep to keep talking to their friends ...

    Where to Find Work When Your Unemployment Runs Out

    There are certain jobs even in this recessionary climate that still need workers

    These can be difficult times for people looking for work, especially if you work in a particular industry hard hit by layoffs and restructurings. And if you've been out of work for a long time, your unemployment eligibility may have run out and you need money to survive.

    There are jobs that appear to be in demand no matter how poorly the economy is doing. And depending on the extent of your education and your skill set, these just may help you get through the lean periods until a more permanent job comes along.

    Here are few occupations that need people now and will probably need people for sometime to come. They don't pay great, but you can earn enough to survive.

    As a freelance writer, I decided to investigate the need for writers and what I found was that there is more than enough writing to go around and not nearly enough writers to do it all. You can thank the hungry beasts known as the Internet for creating a nearly insatiable need for content, but it text, or audio or video. No matter what the content is, some writing is required.


    So the first survival job is that of writer. Writing for the internet pays a lot less than writing for print publications, but there is a need for constant written content whether it is answer to search engine questions, or articles about new restaurants. The demand is huge. Your only qualification is to be a half-way decent writer.

    Clear and simple is the name of the game here. No fancy words. No creative sentence structure, just straight talk using clear and simple language and grammar. Some websites looking for writers include helium.com and demandstudios.com, just to name a couple. Google websites for freelance writers and hundreds will pop up.

    If the Internet isn't your cup of tea, you may want to try your hand at greeting card companies. According to the Greeting Card Association, writers may be paid between $25 and $150 for a submission that's accepted. Humor or punch line writing pays the most. To find out which companies accept submissions, look for guidelines on their websites or call them directly. You can also check out the latest edition of Writer's Market to find freelance opportunities at everything from websites to national and regional magazines and trade publications.

    Elder Care

    The next job where people will always be needed is in elder care. We're all getting older and sooner or later if we're lucky, or unlucky depending on how you look at it, you may need someone to take care of you. Your kids would seem like the most logical choice but they're going to be too busy taking care of themselves. So they're going to want to hire somebody else to watch over mom and dad, in the capacity of a professional companion. Sort of an escort for the elderly.

    You might end up reading to them, or pushing their wheelchairs outside so they get some sun. This job doesn't even require any special skills. It helps to know how to read, but that's about it.

    Pet Care

    If caring for old people isn't your thing, how about a dog or a cat. Deborah Jacobson is the author of Survival Jobs: 154 Ways to Make Money While Pursuing Your Dream. She says that regardless of what's happening in the economy, pet owners will continue to need help caring for their animals.

    Put an ad on Craigslist or flyers at your church or local coffee shop that promote pet-sitting services. This will appeal to pet-owners who are out of town or working, or for elderly people who may need someone to walk their dog.


    Chances are you wouldn't think of catering as a survival job, but I have friends who have fallen into the catering business by accident because word got around that they could cook a mean vegetarian spread for several people. Now that's what they do. And no matter how bad the economy seems to get, there are some people who still want to throw parties and get married. So you have children's birthday parties, and weddings and even some businesses who still have lunch meetings.

    They difference here is that catering will require a certain amount of experience. You will have to know how to cook.

    Substitute teacher

    A fellow I used to work with at in the UBS marketing department was laid off a few months before I was and couldn't find similar work. So he became a substitute teacher. He didn't have his teacher's license or any advance degree in education but that didn't matter. Education and certification requirements for substitutes vary by state and school district, and usually they're not as strict as for full-time teachers. For some reason substitute teaching jobs seem to be easier to find at private schools where experience and certification are often not required.

    The downside is that the average pay for a substitute teacher $105 a day. I know cleaning ladies who make more than that and we wonder why our education system is so miserable.

    Teach a skill

    Let's say you don't have your Bachelors. You can still be a teacher, just not a school teacher. You could teach a skill. Do you play the guitar or some other musical instrument? There are a lot of folks who'd like to learn. Nearly everybody can teach something. Do you speak and write Spanish? There's a huge demand for Spanish language teachers. What about gardening, carpentry, do-it-yourself skills of all kinds are in demand.

    Offer to teach a class at a local community college, or community center. Offer a course for an adult continuing education program.

    Hotel Worker

    I'm told that the hospitality industry has a high employee turnover rate and an abundance of seasonal positions. Call hotels in your area and see if there are any openings for bellhops, concierges, or desk clerks. Many of these positions require no experience.

    If you need money to survive here are a few jobs that seem to be always in demand despite the economy...

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      Scientists Find Possible Cause of Peanut Allergies in Children

      Eating peanuts during pregnancy may be the cause

      Roughly 3.9% of American children suffer from peanut allergies and scientists are scrambling to understand how these life-altering, possibly life-threatening sensitivities are brought on.

      Researchers have found that women who eat peanuts during their pregnancy may put their babies at risk for developing peanut allergies.

      The data is published in the November 1 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

      Led by Scott H. Sicherer, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, researchers at five U.S. study sites evaluated 503 infants aged three to 15 months with likely milk or egg allergies or with significant eczema and positive allergy tests to milk or egg, which are factors associated with an increased risk of peanut allergy. The study infants had no previous diagnosis of peanut allergy.

      Of the 503 infants, a total of 140 had strong sensitivity to peanut based on blood tests, and their mothers consuming peanuts during pregnancy was a significant predictor of this test result.

      "Researchers in recent years have been uncertain about the role of peanut consumption during pregnancy on the risk of peanut allergy in infants," said Dr. Sicherer. "While our study does not definitively indicate that pregnant women should not eat peanut products during pregnancy, it highlights the need for further research in order make recommendations about dietary restrictions."

      In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that women whose infants were at increased risk of allergies based upon family history consider avoiding peanut products while pregnant and breastfeeding. However, the recommendation was withdrawn in 2008 due to limited scientific evidence to support it.

      The Consortium of Food Allergy Research (CoFAR), which was just awarded a renewed $29.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, is conducting this ongoing, observational study to help better understand the risk factors behind a child's developing peanut allergy, as well as allergies to milk and egg.

      The Consortium is also studying novel treatments for food allergies.

      The authors caution that the study has limitations, such as relying on the women self-reporting their dietary habits.

      Importantly, the study has thus far only shown an increased risk for positive allergy test results to peanuts.

      Despite its limitations, the study has identified a potential risk factor that, if verified, could present an opportunity for risk reduction.

      The authors conclude that controlled, interventional studies should be conducted to explore these findings further.

      "Peanut allergy is serious, usually persistent, potentially fatal, and appears to be increasing in prevalence," said Dr. Sicherer. "Our study is an important step toward identifying preventive measures that, if verified, may help reduce the impact of peanut allergy."

      Scientists Find Possible Cause of Peanut Allergies in Children Eating peanuts during pregnancy may be the cause...

      Online Retailers Fined for Failing to Post EnergyGuide Information for Appliances

      Three firms will pay more than $400,000 in total penalties; two other sellers facing stiff fines as well

      Three online retailers have agreed to pay more than $400,000 in total penalties to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that they failed to post EnergyGuide information on their websites to inform consumers about the energy use of major home appliances they sell.

      The agency also notified two other online sellers that it will seek a total of $640,000 in fines from them.

      Labels omitted

      According to the FTC, the online appliance retailers knowingly violated the agency's Appliance Labeling Rule, which requires them to provide EnergyGuide information for certain products such as refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, air conditioners, water heaters, and washing machines. The information estimates the annual cost to operate the appliance.

      "Companies selling appliances covered by the FTC's rules, either online or in stores, have an obligation to provide EnergyGuide labels," said David Vladeck, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The information on the labels helps shoppers make smart buying decisions that take into account energy use."

      The civil penalty cases are the first the agency has brought against online retailers for Appliance Labeling Rule violations.

      Nationwide retailers

      The FTC used its authority under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) to assess civil penalties for knowing violations of the Appliance Labeling Rule against five online retailers, which also operate brick-and-mortar stores in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, and California.

      Three of those companies have settled with the agency and agreed to pay the following amounts: P.C. Richard & Son, Inc., $180,000; Abt Electronics, Inc., $137,500; and Pinnacle Marketing Group, Corp., $100,000. Two other companies, Universal Computers and Electronics, Inc. and Universal Appliances, Kitchens, and Baths, Inc., have not agreed to settle the FTC charges.

      Before the FTC may assess civil penalties under the EPCA, it must notify the non-settling companies of the proposed penalty amounts. The companies can then choose to pay the proposed penalty or be sued by the FTC in an administrative proceeding. The FTC has proposed penalties of $540,000 against Universal Computers and Electronics, Inc. and $100,000 against Universal Appliances, Kitchens, and Baths, Inc.

      The administrative complaints and consent orders were issued against:

      • P.C. Richard & Son, Inc and P.C. Richard & Son, LLC, doing businesses as (d/b/a) Pcrichard.com, based in Farmingdale, New York;
      • Abt Electronics, Inc., d/b/a abt.com, based in Glenview, Illinois; and
      • Pinnacle Marketing Group, Corp., d/b/a homeeverything.com, based in Brooklyn, New York.
      The notices of proposed civil penalties announced today were issued against:
      • Universal Computers and Electronics, Inc., d/b/a appliancebestbuys.com, based in Jamaica, New York; and
      • Universal Appliances, Kitchens, and Baths, Inc., d/b/a universal-akb.com, based in Studio City, California.

      Online Retailers Fined for Failing to Post EnergyGuide Information for Appliances Three firms will pay more than $400,000 in total penalties; two other ...

      When China Coughs the U.S. Stock Market Gets Sick

      The Economic Version of the Butterfly Effect gets acted out on a daily basis in America’s Securities Markets

      In science, the butterfly effect is a metaphor from the chaos theory that goes something like this. If a butterfly flaps its wings in Asia, there is some kind of causal effect that triggers a tiny atmospheric change that could in theory lead to a hurricane in Chile. Similarly, in economics, such seemingly small changes in one part of the world could have an enormous impact somewhere else.

      Case in point. Today, China released a report that showed its factories had increased production last month in response to a boost in new business. Based on that report, U.S. stock futures shot up after being lower for a good deal of the pre-market morning. Some dismal salary figures came in shortly thereafter and this brought them back down but they still remained in positive territory, mostly because of the Chinese manufacturing report.

      The message for investors struggling to get their portfolios back in shape following the nearly two-year bear market is that we are in a global arena, whether you are invested in international securities such as emerging markets or not. What happens in China and India and in many other fast growing economies plays a major role in the sale of goods made in the U.S.

      A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about the importance of investing in emerging markets as a way to improve your returns. And while I maintain that strategy, investors should remain cautious about how much of their portfolio should be invested in these more volatile markets.

      In fact, there's research reported in the Wall Street Journal that shows you actually may do better by being partially invested in U.S. and emerging markets instead of just the developing countries even though the lure of huge returns beckons.

      According to the Journal, if investors simply are increasing ownership of emerging-markets stocks from very low levels that's good. But some strategists warn that putting too much money into this market could cause an asset bubble and they point to recent data showing almost $50 billion flowed into emerging-markets equity funds this year through September, while $78 billion flowed out of developed-market funds.

      That was based on data from fund-flow tracker EPFR Global. In the week ended October 6, emerging-markets equity funds attracted $6 billion, the largest weekly inflow in about three years.

      One study by University of Florida finance professor Jay Ritter looked at market returns in 32 nations since the 1970s. It concluded that stock gains and economic performance can diverge dramatically. Speaking to the Journal, Dr. Ritter said, "a healthy economy isn't a guarantee that established companies will attract enough capital and labor to expand sales and earnings strongly—partly because they have to compete with newer ventures for resources."

      Some investors have done very well investing in emerging-markets stocks. In fact, according to the Journal, anyone who invested in emerging-markets equities at the end of 2008, during the global financial crisis, could have realized a gain of around 75% in 2009 as global stock markets rebounded sharply from depressed levels. In contrast, the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index rose only 23% in 2009.

      Still, an analysis by economists from Vanguard, the mutual fund giant, says that generally, over the past decade, emerging-markets investors were rewarded for the additional risk they were taking not because of high economic growth but because of comparatively low equity valuations.

      The Vanguard analysts use the price/earnings ratio for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index on a trailing basis and it, according to the Journal, suggests that valuations for U.S. and emerging-markets stocks have moved much more closely into alignment recently.

      To translate all this financial services speak, you should continue to own some emerging market stocks but if you are just now getting into the market, maybe you should wait or at least limit your exposure.

      The Journal offers these tips:

      1.Don't make an outsized wager on emerging markets. Emerging-markets stocks should represent around 10% to 15% of an investor's total equity portfolio, about in line with the proportionate share of emerging-markets stocks to total global stock-market capitalization, many investment pros say. Much more than that represents a move beyond diversification.

      2.Avoid funds that focus narrowly on hot regions or countries. Deciding whether to invest in a single country or region requires skill in active management that most individuals don't have.

      3.Instead, you might consider buying a broadly diversified emerging-markets fund—or even an international-equity fund that includes emerging-markets shares. That way, you aren't tying performance to a single economy.

      4.Make a long-term commitment to emerging-markets positions. Markets in emerging nations can be volatile, increasing the risk that investors pull out at precisely the wrong time.

      5.Consider getting some emerging-markets exposure via a large-cap U.S.-equities fund. By some estimates, the performance of more than half the companies in the S&P 500 depends more on global growth than on U.S. growth.

      Individual investors need to know how what happens in the rest of the world can impact your portfolio even it’s entirely in domestic securities...

      Do Happy Workers Increase Productivity?

      Many companies seem to think so and are spending a lot of money to make their employees happybb

      Do you whistle while you work? Do you walk through the door of your workplace with a big smile because you're just so glad to be there? Are you worried that you're having too much fun at work and someone will find out and they'll stop paying you? Hey, if it's this much fun, why do they even call it work?

      Would you believe corporations are spending considerable dollars to make their employees smile, or at least feel better about where they work?

      According to Harvard University researcher Shawn Achor, employees who feel positive outperform employees who are negative in terms of productivity, energy levels, turnover rates and even health care costs. Achor is the author of "The Happiness Advantage" and he says optimistic salespeople, outperform pessimistic salespeople by 37%.

      Sales isn't the only field impacted by how you feel. Achor says he's seen across many industries and many jobs. He points out that doctors with a positive mindset are 50% more accurate when making diagnoses than those who are negative.

      There are a number of companies that are investing in the happiness of their employees to increase both innovation and boost productivity. Smart Money actually has a list of some of the happiest companies to work for.

      One of them is Google and its chief culture officer, Stacy Sullivan says "if you infuse fun into the work environment, you will have more engaged employees, greater job satisfaction, increased productivity and a brighter place to be."

      Google has often been used as an example of a firm known for its forward thinking campus-like atmosphere and perks. For example, it offers its 23,000 employees onsite daycare, dry-cleaning, oil changes and free breakfast, lunch and dinner. Google even hosts "TGIF" staff meetings in which staffers can ask questions of the CEO.

      Has all this paid off? Well, Google asked employees to use 20% of their work time on a project outside the scope of their jobs. This led to the creation of Gmail and Google Talk.

      Some other companies that may not be as well known for their creative work atmosphere as Google are beginning to find ways to increase workplace happiness. Financial firm UBS offers employees a nap room and a Friday beer cart. Beverage company PepsiCo encourages associates to get outside by offering them plots of land to start organic gardens.

      According to the research, here are few companies along with Google and UBS who are spending money to make their employees happier.

      Adobe offers employees positive psychology training; onsite cafeterias, fitness facilities and bocce courts; and 80 associations like knitting and book clubs bring employees together based on personal interests.

      American Express encourages flexible schedules like telecommuting, job-sharing and compressed workweeks; employees are offered paid sabbaticals; gay partners receive health benefits.

      At IBM researchers found the more social employees were the better they performed. Each additional e-mail contact added $948 in revenue so IBM launched a program to facilitate employee introductions to increase overall happiness.

      KPMG invests in happiness training; allows employees to take partially paid leaves for up to 12 weeks; encourages flexible scheduling and formal mentoring programs.

      Studies show happy works are more productive than unhappy workers so some companies are investing in ways to make employees feel better about work...

      Get Set for Winter Illness Season

      Health experts offer tips on staying healthy during cold and flu season

      In much of the Northern Hemisphere, this is prime time for colds, flu, and other respiratory illnesses.

      While contagious viruses are active year-round, fall and winter are when we're all most vulnerable to them. This is due in large part to people spending more time indoors with others when the weather gets cold.

      Most respiratory bugs come and go within a few days, with no lasting effects. However, some cause serious health problems. Although symptoms of colds and flu can be similar, the two are different.

      Cold vs. flu

      Colds are usually distinguished by a stuffy or runny nose and sneezing. Other symptoms include coughing, a scratchy throat, and watery eyes. No vaccine against colds exists because they can be caused by many types of viruses. Often spread through contact with mucus, colds come on gradually.

      Flu comes on suddenly, is more serious, and lasts longer than colds. The good news is that yearly vaccination can help protect you from getting the flu. Flu season in the United States generally runs from November to April.

      Flu symptoms include fever, headache, chills, dry cough, body aches, fatigue, and general misery. Like colds, flu can cause a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes. Young children may also experience nausea and vomiting with flu.

      Fighting flu

      According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

      • More than 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized from flu-related complications each year, including 20,000 children younger than age five.
      • Flu-associated deaths number in the thousands each year. Between 1976 and 2006, the estimated number of flu-related deaths every year ranged from about 3,000 to about 49,000.

      Flu vaccine, available as a shot or a nasal spray, remains the best way to prevent and control influenza. The best time to get a flu vaccination is from October through November, although getting it in December and January is not too late. A new flu shot is needed every year because the predominant flu viruses may change every year.

      All people six months of age and older should be vaccinated. However, you should talk to your health care professional before getting vaccinated if you

      • have certain allergies, especially to eggs
      • have an illness, such as pneumonia
      • have a high fever
      • are pregnant

      Flu vaccination for health care workers is urged because unvaccinated workers can be a primary cause of outbreaks in health care settings.

      Certain people are more at risk for developing complications from flu; they should be immunized as soon as vaccine is available. These groups include:

      • people 65 and older
      • residents of nursing homes or other places that house people with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease
      • adults and children with heart or lung disorders, including asthma
      • adults and children who have required regular medical follow-up or hospitalization during the preceding year because of chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes), kidney dysfunction, a weakened immune system, or disorders caused by abnormalities of hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen)
      • Young people ages 6 months to 18 years receiving long-term aspirin therapy, and who as a result might be at risk for developing Reye's syndrome after being infected with influenza

      This year's flu shot

      Note that only one vaccine is needed for the 2010-2011 influenza season.

      During last flu season, two different vaccines were needed; one to prevent seasonal influenza and another to protect against the 2009 H1N1 flu virus. This year's seasonal flu vaccine protects against three strains of influenza, including the 2009 H1N1 flu virus.

      Also, a vaccine specifically for people 65 years and older is available this year. Called Fluzone High-Dose, this vaccine induces a stronger immune response and is intended to better protect the elderly against seasonal influenza.

      This vaccine -- which was approved by FDA in 2009 -- was developed because the immune system typically becomes weaker with age, leaving people at increased risk of seasonal flu-related complications that may lead to hospitalization and death.

      Good sanitation

      Wash your hands often. Teach children to do the same. Both colds and flu can be passed through coughing, sneezing, and contaminated surfaces, including the hands. CDC recommends regular washing of your hands with warm, soapy water for about 15 seconds.

      FDA says that while soap and water are undoubtedly the first choice for hand hygiene, alcohol-based hand rubs may be used if soap and water are not available. However, the agency cautions against using the alcohol-based rubs when hands are visibly dirty. This is because organic material such as dirt or blood can inactivate the alcohol, rendering it unable to kill bacteria.

      Try to limit exposure to infected people. Keep infants away from crowds for the first few months of life. This is especially important for premature babies who may have underlying abnormalities such as lung or heart disease.

      Practice healthy habits

      • Eat a balanced diet.
      • Get enough sleep.
      • Exercise. It can help the immune system better fight off the germs that cause illness.
      • Do your best to keep stress in check.

      Also, people who use tobacco or who are exposed to secondhand smoke are more prone to respiratory illnesses and more severe complications than nonsmokers.

      Already sick?

      Usually, colds and flu simply have to be allowed to run their course. You can try to relieve symptoms without taking medicine. Gargling with salt water may relieve a sore throat. And a cool-mist humidifier may help relieve stuffy noses.

      Here are other steps to consider:

      • First, call your doctor. This will ensure that the best course of treatment can be started early.
      • If you are sick, try not to make others sick too. Limit your exposure to other people. Also, cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw used tissues into the trash immediately.
      • Stay hydrated and rested. Fluids can help loosen mucus and make you feel better, especially if you have a fever. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated products. These may dehydrate you.
      • Know your medicine options. If you choose to use medicine, there are over-the-counter (OTC) options that can help relieve the symptoms of colds and flu.

      If you want to unclog a stuffy nose, then nasal decongestants may help. Cough suppressants quiet coughs; expectorants loosen mucus so you can cough it up; antihistamines help stop a runny nose and sneezing; and pain relievers can ease fever, headaches, and minor aches.

      In addition, there are prescription antiviral medications approved by FDA that are indicated for treating the flu. Talk to your health care professional to find out what will work best for you.

      OTC products

      • Be wary of unproven treatments. It's best to use treatments that have been approved by FDA. Many people believe that products with certain ingredients -- vitamin C or Echinacea, for example -- can treat winter illnesses.

      Unless FDA has approved a product for treatment of specific symptoms, you cannot assume the product will treat those symptoms. Tell your health care professionals about any supplements or herbal remedies you use.

      • Read medicine labels carefully and follow directions. People with certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure, should check with a health care professional or pharmacist before taking a new cough and cold medicine. Some medicines can worsen underlying health problems.
      • Choose appropriate OTC medicines. Choose OTC medicines specifically for your symptoms. If all you have is a runny nose, use only a medicine that treats a runny nose. This can keep you from unnecessarily doubling up on ingredients, a practice that can prove harmful.
      • Check the medicine's side effects. Certain medications such as antihistamines can cause drowsiness. Medications can interact with food, alcohol, dietary supplements, and each other.

      The safest strategy is to make sure your health care professional and pharmacist know about every product you are taking, including nonprescription drugs and any dietary supplements such as vitamins, minerals, and herbals.

      • Check with a doctor before giving medicine to children. Get medical advice before treating children suffering from cold and flu symptoms. Do not give children medication that is labeled only for adults.

      Don't give aspirin or aspirin-containing medicines to children and teenagers. Children and teenagers suffering from flu-like symptoms, chickenpox, and other viral illnesses shouldn't take aspirin.

      Reye's syndrome, a rare and potentially fatal disease found mainly in children, has been associated with using aspirin to treat flu or chickenpox in kids. Reye's syndrome can affect the blood, liver, and brain.

      Some medicine labels may refer to aspirin as salicylate or salicylic acid. Be sure to educate teenagers, who may take OTC medicines without their parents' knowledge.

      When to See a Doctor

      See a health care professional if you aren't getting any better or if your symptoms worsen. Mucus buildup from a viral infection can lead to a bacterial infection.

      With children, be alert for high fevers and for abnormal behavior such as unusual drowsiness, refusal to eat, crying a lot, holding the ears or stomach, and wheezing.

      Signs of trouble for all people can include:

      • a cough that disrupts sleep
      • a fever that won't go down
      • increased shortness of breath
      • face pain caused by a sinus infection
      • worsening of symptoms, high fever, chest pain, or a difference in the mucus you're producing, all after feeling better for a short time
      Cold and flu complications may include bacterial infections (e.g., bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infections, and pneumonia) that could require antibiotics. 

      Remember: While antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections, they don't help against viral infections such as the cold or flu.

      Get Set for Winter Illness Season Health experts offer tips on staying healthy during cold and flu season ...