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    Cork block stacking toys recalled

    Small pieces of cork can break off the blocks, posing a choking hazard

    A Harvest Company of Huntley, Ill., is recalling about 720 sets of Cork Stacker block sets.

    Small pieces of cork can break off the blocks, posing a choking hazard to young children.

    The firm has received seven reports of cork pieces breaking off of the blocks, including two reports of children putting the pieces in their mouths. No injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves a three-piece cork block stacking toy. Each of the square cork blocks is a different size: 2 7/8 inch by 2 7/8 inch, 2 3/8 inch by 2 3/8 inch and 2 inch by 2 inch. All of the blocks are 1 ½ inches tall and have black dots on the top. The packaging is labeled “6mo+” for use by children six months and older.

    The stacking toys, manufactured in the U.S., were sold exclusively online by StorkStack.com during January 2014, as part of the January Stork Stack subscription for about $30 for a total of five products.

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled cork block toys and contact A Harvest Company for instructions to return the block sets for a merchandise credit.

    Consumers may contact A Harvest Company toll-free at (877) 394-7774 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

    A Harvest Company of Huntley, Ill., is recalling about 720 sets of Cork Stacker block sets. Small pieces of cork can break off the blocks, posing a chokin...

    Are your digital devices driving up your electric bill?

    Consumer group says they take a bigger bite than you think

    If you've checked your monthly electricity bill and been surprised at how much it is, you may have more to blame than an overly cold winter. Researchers at the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) analyzed electric bills for California and other U.S. households and concluded that digital devices are driving bills higher.

    Look around your home. How many things are plugged into a wall outlet, sucking up kilowatts? If you find you must use power strips at many outlets to accommodate all your devices, you can begin to appreciate the demand.

    It's not just computers and big screen TVs, but monitors, notebooks, game consoles, routers and other devices that seem to be proliferating. All need electricity to do their jobs. But is it over-the-top demand?

    Energy guzzlers

    “Digital devices are energy guzzlers sapping consumer pocketbooks,” said Mark Cooper, CFA’s Director of Research and author of the report. “Improving the energy efficiency of household digital devices by a third or more would save consumers a lot of money because the reduction in electricity bills would be much larger than the increase in the upfront cost of putting more new more energy efficient technologies in the devices.”

    There's already a program in place to encourage that. Since 1992 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has administered the Energy Star program, setting efficiency standards and sponsoring research. While many manufacturers have embraced Energy Star, its standards are voluntary.

    Energy Star has made refrigerators, stoves and other large appliances more efficient than they might otherwise be, but these appliances aren't proliferating in the average home at the rapid rate digital devices are, and the latter's toll is adding up.

    500% increase

    The CFA researchers found that between 2000 and 2013, digital devices increased their killowatt consumption by 500% in the U.S. They estimate the average U.S. household now consumes 800 killowatt hours (kWh) per year.

    Putting that in perspective, CFA says digital devices consume half as much electricity as your air conditioner and two-thirds of what your refrigerator uses. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that electricity use by digital devices is highest in California, where computer and Internet usage is highest.

    Manufacturers disagree

    The consumer electronics industry takes issue with the suggestion that their products are running up Americans' electric bills. Earlier this month Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro complained of “conflicting and costly” energy efficiency requirements adopted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico, saying they are what are really costing consumers.

    “Specifically, the mishmash of Canadian, Mexican and U.S. energy efficiency policies is confusing and costly for businesses and could force consumers to pay higher prices,” Shapiro said in a statement.

    As for higher electricity bills for consumers, electricity rates have jumped in recent months, due in part to a spike in natural gas prices. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), average U.S. electric bills have been in decline since 2010. But the EIA says the ratio of annual peak-hour electric demand to average hourly demand has been rising over the last 20 years, with the increase especially noticeable in New England.

    For its part, CFA maintains that substantial, cost-effective improvements in the energy efficiency of consumer digital devices can be achieved through strong performance standards. And considering many of these devices didn't exist 20 years ago, it's reasonable to assume that the average home will have even more yet-to-be-invented digital devices in the years to come.

    If you've checked your monthly electricity bill and been surprised at how much it is, you may have more to blame than an overly cold winter. Researchers at...

    Senate bill would restrict e-cigarette marketing to children and teens

    E-cigs "a gateway to tobacco use," say the bill's sponsors

    For years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been trying to decide what to do about e-cigarettes -- the electronic gadgets that vaporize nicotine, a process promoters say produces a healthier way of ingesting nicotine.

    Apparently tired of waiting on the FDA, five U.S. Senators today introduced the "Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act" to prohibit the marketing of e-cigs to children and teens.

    “We cannot risk undoing decades of progress in reducing youth smoking by allowing e-cigarette makers to target our kids,” Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said. “This bill will help protect our children from an industry that profits from addiction.”

    State and local jusidictions have also been stepping into the void left by the lack of action by the FDA. Earlier this week, a committee of the Los Angeles city council passed a measure that would treat e-cigs like tobacco cigarettes and subject them to the same restrictions. Before leaving office last year, ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a bill outlawing e-cigs and plastic plates. 

    Mass marketing techniques

    Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), another sponsor of the Senate measure, said e-cig makers are increasingly adopting mass marketing techniques previously used by tobacco companies to target children and teens.

    "With fruit and candy flavors and glossy celebrity ads, e-cigarettes makers are undeniably targeting young people. Unfortunately, it’s working. We must take action now to prevent a new generation from walking down the dangerous path towards nicotine addiction,” Durbin said.

    “When it comes to the marketing of e-cigarettes to children and teens, it’s ‘Joe Camel’ all over again," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. "It is troubling that manufacturers of e-cigarettes – some of whom also make traditional cigarettes – are attempting to establish a new generation of nicotine addicts through aggressive marketing that often uses cartoons and sponsorship of music festivals and sporting events.” 

    The other senators sponsoring the bill are Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

    The Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act would permit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to determine what constitutes marketing to children, and would authorize the FTC to work with state attorneys general to enforce the ban.

    The health implications of using electronic cigarettes are not yet clear, and the FDA has warned that consumers of e-cigarette products “currently have no way of knowing” if e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use, or how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use.

    Gateway to tobacco

    “E-cigarettes are a gateway to tobacco use by children and teens and should not be marketed to youth, period,” Sen. Markey said. “We’ve made great strides educating young people about the dangers of smoking, and we cannot allow e-cigarettes to snuff out the progress we’ve made preventing nicotine addiction and its deadly consequences."

    According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, 1.8 million middle and high school students said they tried e-cigarettes in 2012, and a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the percentage of high school students who had tried them had more than doubled in just one year – indicating that e-cigarette companies could be targeting youth through advertisements.

    More than 76 percent of those users said they also smoked conventional cigarettes, suggesting that for many young people, e-cigarettes could be a gateway to nicotine addiction and smoking of conventional cigarettes, the senators noted.

    The bill has been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

    In December, Senators Boxer, Blumenthal, Durbin, Harkin, Markey, and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) sent a letter urging the FTC to investigate the marketing practices of e-cigarette manufacturers.

    For years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been trying to decide what to do about e-cigarettes -- the electronic gadgets that vaporize nico...

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      GM expands ignition switch recall

      Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac Solstice, and Saturn Ion and Sky included

      Saying that it is “deeply sorry,” General Motors is expanding an earlier recall of 619,122 model year 2003-2007 vehicles to correct a condition with the ignition switch that may allow the key to unintentionally move or switch to the “accessory” or “off” position, turning off the engine and most of the electrical components on the vehicle.

      In addition to the Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5 and Pontiac Pursuit sold in Canada only, GM is separately recalling 2003-2007 Saturn Ions, 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHRs, and 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky models.

      Surging total

      The number of affected U.S. vehicles -- including those in the earlier recall -- totals 1,367,146.

      This expanded vehicle population raises the number of reported incidents involving frontal crashes, in which the recall condition may have caused or contributed to the non-deployment of the frontal airbags, to 31 involving 13 front-seat fatalities.

      As part of the recall, GM is taking steps to address customer concerns and working with its suppliers to increase parts production and accelerate availability.

      GM will notify all affected customers that in addition to recalling their vehicles and performing repairs at no charge to them, GM and its dealers will work with customers on an individual, case-by-case basis to minimize inconvenience associated with the recall.

      “Ensuring our customers’ safety is our first order of business,” said GM North America President Alan Batey. “We are deeply sorry and we are working to address this issue as quickly as we can.”

      Fixing the problem

      In the affected vehicles, the ignition switch torque performance may not meet GM specifications. If the torque performance is not to specification, and the key ring is carrying added weight or the vehicle goes off road or experiences some other jarring event, the ignition switch may inadvertently be moved out of the “run” position.

      The timing of the key movement out of the “run” position, relative to the activation of the sensing algorithm of the crash event, may result in the airbags not deploying, increasing the potential for occupant injury in certain kinds of crashes.

      Dealers will replace the ignition switch to prevent the unintentional or inadvertent key movement. Until this correction is performed, customers should use only the ignition key with nothing else on the key ring.  

      Saying that it is “deeply sorry,” General Motors is expanding an earlier recall of 619,122 model year 2003-2007 vehicles to correct a condition with the ig...

      Delta Air Lines to award frequent-flyer miles based on price, not distance

      Most SkyMiles customers are spectacularly unimpressed

      Frequent customers of Delta Air Lines be warned: the company is changing the equation it uses to calculate frequent-flyer miles — instead of free miles being based on how many miles you fly, they'll be based on how much money you spend.

      Delta announced the change to its SkyMiles program on its website. “What's new with how you earn miles?” it asked, and then answered: “Miles for Delta flights will be earned based on ticket price instead of distance flown. So when you pay a higher price, you’ll be rewarded with more miles — up to 75,000 per ticket. This update will take effect for flights flown on or after January 1, 2015.”

      On its Facebook page, meanwhile, Delta said the change “will make Award redemption easier and better reward your loyalty.” But the actual Delta customers who posted on Facebook mostly took a different point of view — and remained unpersuaded by the arguments of whatever Delta employee is tasked with chatting on Facebook. Consider this Facebook exchange between a Delta representative and a customer named Derek:

      DEREK : So now I earn half the miles I use to - thanks Delta, time to look elsewhere. [45 “likes” for this comment, as of presstime.]

      DELTA: Derek, thank you for voicing your concerns. We encourage you to reference our Mileage Comparison Calculator by clicking here http://oak.ctx.ly/r/que1 to see how these changes impact you. Also, now the Miles you earn are now easier to redeem. We appreciate your feedback. Thank you. [0 "likes" as of presstime.]

      DEREK: I did compare - my usual destination presently earns me 8340 miles (as the crow flies, not counting the connection I must take). The new system will have me earning 4500 miles based on the average price. Just a tad over half what I earned before.

      DELTA: Derek, please remember that you can continue to earn up to an additional 2 miles on Delta spend with the SkyMiles Credit Card. That is 40% more miles on Delta flights as a General SkyMiles Member in the new 2015 program in addition to the miles you earn on every day spend with the Card. I hope this helps, thank you.

      DEREK: Still 2000 miles less than present for the route I used as an example, assuming I don't already have a card - which I do. If you were giving me two more miles than present you'd have something to brag about.

      Tough duty

      As a side note, it's hard not to feel a little sorry for the poor Delta schlub on Facebook duty. It's almost certain he or she is not allowed to admit to any customer, “Yeah, the changes leave you worse off than before” regardless of how much direct evidence customers post to prove it — and plenty of customers did.

      While Derek and Delta went back and forth, other customers chimed in with specifics regarding just how badly the new SkyMiles program would hurt them:

      “Comparison Calculator confirms 50% less miles, especially since the calculator only accounts for one-way miles for the old method vs full dollar amount of the new method.”

      “I just checked the mileage calculator on my end - 6,187 MILES* down to 2,240 MILES. How is this better? I have the card as well.”

      “Better to reward loyalty? What a joke. My flights from Asia to the US are now nearly worthless- and that's after the continual devaluation over the years since the NWA/Delta merger!! Time to cancel the Delta Amex cards! The miles are worthless!”

      A press release published in the Wall Street Journal spells out the details of how the new SkyMiles program will be calculated:

      Customers will be able to earn between five and 11 miles per dollar spent based on their SkyMiles status, and continue to earn up to an additional two miles per dollar when using their Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, for a total of up to 13 miles per dollar. The updated program will better reward the customers who spend more with Delta and give them improved mileage-earning opportunities.... The updated mileage-earning plan, for travel beginning Jan. 1, 2015, will better recognize frequent business travelers and those less frequent leisure customers who purchase premium fares. The move is consistent with a trend in the travel industry of rewarding customer behavior based on price. Customers will continue to earn additional miles for purchases with a Delta SkyMiles Credit Card.

      Frequent customers of Delta Air Lines be warned: the company is changing the equation it uses to calculate frequent-flyer miles...

      Feds sue for-profit college ITT, accusing it of predatory lending

      The school exploited its students and pushed them into high-cost student loans, the CFPB alleges

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today sued ITT Educational Services, Inc., accusing the for-profit college chain of predatory student lending.

      The CFPB alleges that ITT exploited its students and pushed them into high-cost private student loans that were very likely to end in default. The CFPB is seeking restitution for victims, a civil fine, and an injunction against the company.

      Consumers rate ITT

      “ITT marketed itself as improving consumers’ lives but it was really just improving its bottom line,” said CFPB Director Richard Corday. “We believe ITT used high-pressure tactics to push many consumers into expensive loans destined to default. Today’s action should serve as a warning to the for-profit college industry that we will be vigilant about protecting students against predatory lending tactics.”

       The CFPB said that, like the mortgage market in the lead-up to the financial crisis, the for-profit college industry may be experiencing misaligned incentives. These colleges benefit when students take out large amounts of loans, regardless of the students’ long-term success.

      That may describe the situation Aaron of Orange Park, Fla., faces. He wrote to ConsumerAffairs earlier this month said that, although he attended ITT Tech for two years, he did not learn anything. 

      "The way it was set up, if you go to school you will pass," he said. "I wish to God I never went there, but now I'm $43,000 in debt."

      Mark of Cincinnati described a similar experience, He also said he completed an Associate degree in two years but after being unable to find a steady job in his chosen field, he now works in a window factory.

      "I'm paying on a degree I have never used. I'm paying for technology I learned all those years ago that is now obsolete and I wouldn't stand a chance of getting a job in this field now. I feel I was lied to and cheated," Mark said. "Three of the loans I am paying on are College Advantage loans. These loans are not eligible for any income based repayment and I am paying almost $360 on these loans now. My government loans would be $280. If the government loans were not on deferment, I would be in the hole over $600 every month."

      Coaxing students into debt

      The CFPB said it is concerned that some of these corporations may be employing practices to coax consumers into taking out more federal and private student loans. Today’s announcement is the Bureau’s first public enforcement action against a company in the for-profit college industry.

      Most of ITT’s students borrow large sums to pay the high tuition costs and the majority of this money is borrowed from federal student loan programs, CFPB said, adding that private student loans also provide critical revenue for ITT. Because most ITT students’ federal aid does not cover the full cost of an ITT program, most students -- like Mark of Cincinnati -- face a “tuition gap” requiring them to find other sources of funding.

      The CFPB’s lawsuit alleges that ITT encouraged new students to enroll at ITT by providing them funding for this tuition gap with a zero-interest loan called “Temporary Credit.” This loan typically had to be paid in full at the end of the student’s first academic year. But ITT knew from the outset that many students would not be able to repay their Temporary Credit balances or fund their next year’s tuition gap, the lawsuit alleges.

      What to do 

      Consumer advocates recommended that students seeking training in technical fields attend a local community college. The tuition is a fraction of that charged by for-profit colleges and the curriculum is often more relevant and up-to-date.

      To assist student loan borrowers who may be in delinquency or default, the CFPB recently launched an updated version of the Repay Student Debt interactive tool.

      CFPB also takes complaints about student loans. To submit a complaint, consumers can:

      • Go online at www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint
      • Call the toll-free phone number at 1-855-411-CFPB (2372) or TTY/TDD phone number at 1-855-729-CFPB (2372)
      • Fax the CFPB at 1-855-237-2392
      • Mail a letter to: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, P.O. Box 4503, Iowa City, Iowa 52244

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today sued ITT Educational Services, Inc., accusing the for-profit college chain of predatory student lendi...

      Study: pregnant employees still subject to discrimination

      Researchers find 40% of gender-based complaints involve pregnancy

      In 1978 Congress added to the nation's workplace protections by passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which made it illegal to terminate or otherwise discriminate against an employee just because she is pregnant.

      Thirty-five years later, however, complaints from pregnant women in the workforce continue. Two researchers who have looked into these complaints conclude that, even though pregnancy discrimination is against the law, it's still going on.

      In their study, Reginald Byron, assistant professor of sociology at Southwestern University and Vincent Roscigno, professor of sociology at Ohio State University, said today's discrimination is a bit more subtle. Byron says pregnant employees are more likely to be singled out as poor performers and held strictly accountable for tardiness.

      Double standard?

      Byron and Roscigno concede performance and tardiness are very legitimate business concerns. The problem, they say, is the appearance that not all non-pregnant employees are being held to the same standards.

      “This strategy of portraying pregnant workers as undependable and costly seems to legitimize their terminations to external audiences,” Byron said. “Such a strategy adds to existing employer-employee power disparities like employers’ ability to hire a lawyer in discrimination suits.”

      The research will no doubt strike a chord with the National Women's Law Center (NWLC), which has continued to highlight problems encountered in the workplace by pregnant employees.

      The group's blog recounts the example of a Pennsylvania woman allegedly subjected to ridicule by fellow employees and indifference by her boss when she asked for private space to pump breast milk each day for her child. NWLC says the woman's boss responded to her complaints by placing her on a rotating shift.

      Examples cited in the study

      Byron and Roscigno say they analyzed 70 verified cases of pregnancy-based firing discrimination that were handled by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission between 1986 and 2003. They also looked at another 15 cases processed between 2007 and 2011.

      Among their findings they said 40% of gender-related complaints involved a pregnant woman. In 30% of the terminations, poor performance was cited as the reason. In 10% of the firings employers cited “business needs, profit and efficiency.”

      In citing specific examples the researchers highlighted the case of an assistant restaurant manager who happened to be pregnant, and who was terminated from her job. The reason? Not her performance, the researchers say. The restaurant downsized its management, reducing the assistant managers from three to two, not an unusual occurrence in this economy.

      But not long after the downsizing, Byron says the restaurant expanded, hiring a man to fill the position that earlier was no longer needed. Byron says some managers may discriminate unconsciously.

      “Some employers think pregnant women will be distracted both in the present and in the future,” Byron said.

      What the law says

      Employers might argue there are two sides to every dismissal story, and in fact there may be. But the law is quite specific about a pregnant woman's rights in the workplace.

      According to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), an employer can't refuse to hire a pregnant woman because of her pregnancy, because of a pregnancy-related condition, or because of the prejudices of co-workers, clients, or customers.

      Neither may an employer single out pregnancy-related conditions for special procedures to determine an employee's ability to work. If an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job because of her pregnancy, she must be treated as any other temporarily disabled employee. A leave for pregnancy must be treated the same as any leave of absence for all employees on sick or disability leave.

      In 1978 Congress added to the nation's workplace protections by passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which made it illegal to terminate or otherwise d...

      Blood pressure should be measured in both arms: study

      Different pressure between arms may foretell cardiovascular problems

      Most of us have two arms, so why is it that blood pressure is generally measured in only one arm? It's a good question and, in fact, a new study finds that it would be better to measure the pressure in both arms.

      Why? Research published in the March issue of The American Journal of Medicine suggests that there is an association between a difference in interarm systolic blood pressure and a significant increased risk for future cardiovascular events -- heart attacks and the like.

      A link between interarm blood pressure differences and cardiovascular risk has been long suspected, but little data existed to support the hypothesis until now.

      This new study examined 3,390 participants aged 40 years and older from the Framingham Heart Study. All subjects were free of cardiovascular disease at baseline, but investigators found that participants with higher interarm systolic blood pressure differences were at a much higher risk for future cardiovascular events than those with less than a 10 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) difference between arms.

      "In this large prospective, community-based cohort of middle-age men and women free of cardiovascular disease, an increased interarm systolic blood pressure difference was found to be present in nearly 10% of individuals and is associated with increased levels of traditional cardiovascular risk factors," explains lead investigator Ido Weinberg, MD, Institute for Heart Vascular and Stroke Care, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. 

      Researchers also found that participants with elevated interarm blood pressure difference were older, had a greater prevalence of diabetes mellitus, higher systolic blood pressure, and a higher total cholesterol level.

      According to these findings, investigators suggest practitioners should consider including blood pressure readings in both arms in order to get the most accurate readings possible and detect any differences in interarm blood pressure.

      "Even modest differences in clinically-measured systolic blood pressures in the upper extremities reflect an increase in cardiovascular risk," says Weinberg. "This study supports the potential value of identifying the interarm systolic blood pressure difference as a simple clinical indicator of increased cardiovascular risk."

      New study presents evidence that blood pressure should be measured in both armsDifference in interarm blood pressure linked to greater risk of future car...

      A rebound in sales of new homes

      On the other hand, mortgage applications posted their third weekly decline

      After falling for two months in a row, sales of new single-family homes shot higher in January,

      Figures released jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show sales jumped 9.6% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 468,000.That's also 2.2% above the year-ago rate of 458,000.

      Home prices

      Prices for homes sold during January were mixed.

      The median price -- the point at which half of those sold was higher and half was lower -- was $260,100, down $10,100 from December. The average sales price was $322,800 -- a gain of $11,400.

      The estimate of new houses for sale at the end last month was 184,000, representing a supply of 4.7 months at the current sales rate.

      The complete report on new home sales for January is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Mortgage applications

      Applications for mortgages have posted their third straight weekly decline.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows applications were down 8.5% in the week ending February 21.

      The Refinance Index plunged 11% from the previous week, sending the refinance share of mortgage activity down 3% -- to 58 percent of total applications, the lowest level since September 2013. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 8% of total applications.

      “This is the time of a year we would expect a significant pickup in purchase activity, and we are not yet seeing it,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose 3 basis points -- from 4.50% to 4.53%, the highest rate since week ending January 17, 2014, with points increasing to 0.31 from 0.26 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) increased to 4.47%, the highest rate since week ending January 24, 2014, from 4.45%, with points increasing to 0.13 from 0.11 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was up 1 basis point -- to 4.17%, the highest rate since week ending January 24, 2014,, with points increasing to 0.20 from 0.14 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs rose from 3.55% to 3.56%, the highest rate since week ending January 24, 2014, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs dipped 3 basis points to 3.17%t, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

      The survey covers over 75 percent of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

      After falling for two months in a row, sales of new single-family homes shot higher in January, Figures released jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the...

      Americans continue to pack on the pounds

      A new study says the prevalence of obesity remains high

      We're still a nation of tubbies.

      A national survey study in the February 26 issue of JAMA found that about one-third of adults and 17% of children and teens were obese in 2011-2012.

      Obesity and childhood obesity, in particular, are the focus of many preventive health efforts in the United States. These include new regulations implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for food packages; funding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of state- and community-level interventions; and numerous reports and recommendations issued by the Institute of Medicine, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the White House.

      Two articles published by the authors in JAMA in 2012 demonstrated that the prevalence of obesity leveled off between 2003-2004 and 2009-2010, but "given the focus of public health efforts on obesity, surveillance of trends in obesity remains important."

      Taking the measure

      Cynthia L. Ogden, Ph.D., led a team from the CDC examining trends for childhood and adult obesity among 9,120 persons with measured weights and heights (or recumbent length) in the 2011-2012 nationally representative National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

      The prevalence of high weight for recumbent length -- a standard measure of weight among infants and toddlers from birth to age 2 years -- was 8.1 percent in 2011-2012, with a difference between boys (5%) and girls (11.4%). For youth (2- to 19-years of age), 31.8% were either overweight or obese, and 16.9% were obese.

      Among adults, more than two-thirds (68.5%) were either overweight or obese, 34.9% were obese (body mass index [BMI] 30 or greater), and 6.4% were extremely obese (BMI 40 or greater).

      Little change seen

      Overall, there was no change from 2003-2004 through 2011-2012 in high weight for recumbent length among infants and toddlers or in obesity in 2- to 19-year-olds or adults. The prevalence of obesity among children 2 to 5 years of age decreased from 14% in 2003-2004 to just over 8% in 2011-2012, and increased in women age 60 years and older, from 31.5% to more than 38%.

      The authors conclude that "obesity prevalence remains high and thus it is important to continue surveillance."

      We're still a nation of tubbies. A national survey study in the February 26 issue of JAMA found that about one-third of adults and 17% of children and tee...

      Feds fine Asiana $500,000 for failing to help families of crash victims

      It's the first time an airline has been fined for violating family assistance rules

      Asiana Airlines has been fined $500,000 for failing to offer adequate aid to families after the crash of Asiana flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport.

      It's the first time the U.S. Department of Transportation has fined a carrier for not providing adequate support to families of crash victims. 

      “In the very rare event of a crash, airlines have a responsibility to provide their full support to help passengers and their families by following all the elements of their family assistance plans,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The last thing families and passengers should have to worry about at such a stressful time is how to get information from their carrier.”

      Family assistance plan

      The Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act of 1997 requires that foreign air carriers assure the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board that they will provide various services to passengers and their families by adhering to a “family assistance plan” in the event of aircraft accidents resulting in a major loss of life.

      Foreign air carriers must, among other requirements, publicize and staff a reliable, toll-free telephone number to take calls from families of passengers involved in an aircraft accident; notify the families of passengers involved in an aircraft accident as soon as practicable after the foreign air carrier has verified the identity of a passenger on the foreign aircraft, whether or not the names of all of the passengers have been verified; and commit sufficient resources to carry out the family assistance plan.

      On July 6, 2013, Asiana flight 214, operating from Seoul Incheon International Airport to San Francisco International Airport, crashed while landing. For approximately one day following the crash, Asiana failed to widely publicize any telephone number for family members of those onboard, and the only number generally available to the public that family members could call was Asiana’s toll-free reservations line.

      Locating this phone number on Asiana’s website required significant effort. The reservations line did not include a separate menu option for calls related to the crash and callers were required to navigate through cumbersome automated menus before being connected to an Asiana employee.

      In addition, Asiana took two full days to successfully contact the families of just three-quarters of the passengers. The families of several passengers were not contacted until five days following the crash.

      Asiana’s response to the crash of flight 214 indicates that the carrier failed to commit sufficient resources to carry out its family assistance plan. Asiana also took two days to send a sufficient number of trained personnel to San Francisco, initially lacked an adequate number of staff able to communicate in the languages spoken by the flight’s passengers, and had no pre-existing contract for the cleaning and returning of passenger property.

      Not until five days following the crash did Asiana possess the resources necessary to carry out all of the air carrier’s responsibilities under the Act, the DOT said.

      Asiana Airlines has been fined $500,000 for failing to offer adequate aid to families after the crash of Asiana flight 214 at San Francisco International A...

      Polaris recalls Ranger recreational off-highway vehicles

      The vehicles' throttle cable can melt on the exhaust pipe and fail to operate properly

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 16,550 Ranger recreational off-highway vehicles.

      The vehicles’ throttle cable can melt on the exhaust pipe and fail to operate properly. This could cause the rider to lose control, posing a crash hazard.

      The company has received one report of a vehicle’s throttle failing to return to idle after accelerating, causing the operator to lose control of the vehicle and be thrown from it, resulting in a scraped shin.

      This recall involves 2013 Polaris Ranger 500 EFI and Ranger Crew 500 EFI recreational off-highway vehicles. Model names are on the right and left side of the hood. “Polaris” is stamped on the front of the vehicles above the front grill and “Polaris Ranger 4x4” is printed on the side of the rear bed box.

      The Ranger has a bench seat and a rear cargo box. Ranger model colors are black, camouflage, green, and red. Model numbers for the Ranger are R13RH50AG, R13RH50AH, R13RH50AM and R13RH50AR.

      The Ranger Crew has a front and a rear bench seat and a rear cargo box. Model numbers for the Ranger Crew are R13WH50AG, R13WH50AH, R13WH50AR and R13WH50AX. Ranger Crew model colors are camouflage, green, red and tan.

      Recalled vehicles have a VIN between 4XA******DE210149 and 4XA******DE791730 stamped on the front lower frame rail of the vehicle on the driver’s side. Not all VINs in the range are included in this recall.

      The vehicles, manufactured in Mexico, were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from June 2012, through February 2014, from between $9,300 and $11,000.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled Polaris Ranger vehicles and contact a Polaris dealer to schedule a free inspection and repair. Consumers will also be given inspection instructions if they wish to perform their own inspection. Polaris is contacting its customers directly.

      Consumers may contact Polaris toll-free at (888) 704-5290 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.  

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 16,550 Ranger recreational off-highway vehicles. The vehicles’ throttle cable can melt on the exha...

      Tick bite could turn you into a near-vegetarian

      Doctors warn the lone star tick can cause severe red meat allergy

      Food allergies are becoming a more common occurrence, a result perhaps of new types of processes, substances and additives in the modern diet. But at least one type of increasingly common food allergy appears to have a very natural cause.

      There is a growing body of research suggesting that consumers stricken by a sudden allergy to red meat may have developed a sudden sensitivity because of a tick bite. In particular, the lone star tick may be causing thousands of new allergy cases, doctors say.

      Food allergies are reactions of the body's immune system to the introduction of a certain food, according to the Mayo Clinic. The immune system detects something in the food that isn't supposed to be there and goes to war. The result can be something as mild as digestive distress to hives, swelling and a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

      One of the most common food allergies is to peanuts, which can cause immediate severe and sometimes fatal reactions. For the most part, a peanut allergy begins in childhood.

      How it's different

      What is different about many cases of red meat allergy is that the symptoms occur later in life without warnings. One minute you're eating a hamburger and a couple of hours later you're headed for the emergency room.

      A 2012 study led by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University linked the lone star tick to red meat allergies, causing a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction. The cases were predominantly in the southeastern U.S. The study focused on antibodies in the blood to a substance called an alpha-gal found in the tick bite.

      That substance is also found in red meat so, when the body's immune system detects it following a nice steak dinner, it goes to war once again.

      "Where ticks are endemic, for example in the southeastern United States, clinicians should be aware of this new syndrome when presented with a case of anaphylaxis,” the authors wrote. “Current guidance is to counsel patients to avoid all mammalian meat -- beef, pork, lamb and venison."

      Cases on the rise

      At Vanderbilt University’s Asthma, Sinus and Allergy Program (A.S.A.P.) clinic in Nashville, Tenn., doctors are seeing one or more new red meat allergy cases each week.

      “It is not completely understood exactly how the allergy starts,” said Dr. Robert Valet said, assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt. “The thought is that the tick has the alpha-gal sugar in its gut and introduces it as part of the allergic bite and that causes the production of the allergy antibody that then cross-reacts to the meat.”

      Valet said the allergy's symptoms have included hives and swelling, as well as broader symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as vomiting, diarrhea, trouble breathing, and a drop in blood pressure.

      Among most important food allergies

      “I think it is something that certainly belongs among the most important food allergies, particularly in the Southeast,” he said. “Certainly these patients can present with every bit as severe of an allergy as someone who is allergic to peanuts.”

      Adding to the danger is the fact that someone can develop this food allergy literally overnight, with no warning they could have a problem. Valet recounts the case of September Norman, vacationing with her husband in Tennessee’s Fall Creek Falls State Park. After a steak dinner she was awakened in the middle of the night with a severe allergic reaction and had to be driven several miles to find cell coverage to call 911. Treatment included an epinephrine injection, Benadryl, an IV, and steroids.

      Developing this allergy is bad news for a carnivore because Valet says there is no good way to desensitize people once they develop this allergy. While chicken can remain in your diet, red meats and, in some cases, milk are off-limits.

      Food allergies are becoming a more common occurrence, a result perhaps of new types of processes, substances and additives in the modern diet. But at least...

      California man attempts e-cig lawsuit

      Do they or don't they help tobacco smokers quit?

      A California man named Eric McGovern is attempting to bring a class action suit against e-cig maker Njoy, on the grounds that e-cigs are allegedly not as harmless as they claim to be, and also that it is inconsistent regarding whether it does or does not help smokers give up the habit.

      Courthouse News Service reports that McGovern's suit claims that e-cig vapor contains the “same impurities and the same cancer-causing agents as traditional cigarettes” (though the levels of such substances in tobacco smoke vs. e-cig vapor are not specified).

      E-cigs are marketed as the less-harmful alternative to cigarette smoking, though this has not prevented criticism from those opposed to any use of nicotine, regardless of form. For example: last November, researchers at UC San Francisco released a report criticizing e-cigs for being “the new phase of the nicotine epidemic” and claiming that, instead of reducing the number of nicotine addicts (read: smokers of tobacco) in the world, e-cigs actually increase the number of nicotine addicts (read: inhalers of e-cig vapor).

      However, traditional opposition to tobacco smoking was based not on opposition to nicotine use per se, but to the very real health risks that come from regularly inhaling pure tobacco smoke into your lungs. So the debate on whether e-cigs are good, bad or neutral could also be reframed as a debate over what, exactly, is bad about traditional cigarette smoking: is it bad only because of the harmfulness of the smoke? Or should we assume any use of nicotine is bad, even if smoke damage is removed from the equation?

      The Courthouse News article about McGovern's lawsuit also reports this apparent non-sequitur:

      Njoy touts e-cigarettes as a safe alternative by implying that its product is as safe as vegetables and plants that contain nicotine, McGovern says.

      "In reality, a typical consumer would need to ingest, as an example, 244 grams of tomatoes to equal the amount of nicotine a passive smoker would absorb in about three hours in a room with a minimal amount of tobacco smoke," the 25-page lawsuit states.

      Assuming this is accurate, it still conflates two different things: the question of whether nicotine-containing plants can safely be ingested is entirely different from the question of how many plants one must ingest specifically to get a certain dose of nicotine. (If cigarette addicts jonesing for a nicotine fix are in the habit of eating tomatoes instead, this trend has not yet received mainstream media coverage.)

      And, of course, neither question addresses how much nicotine one might expect from a typical e-cig dose, let alone how much if any nicotine passive non-e-cig users could expect if they sat in a room with an e-cig user.

      McGovern is being represented by Brian Chase, a personal injury lawyer out of Newport Beach.

      A California man named Eric McGovern is attempting to bring a class action suit against e-cig maker Njoy...

      Facebook mercifully killing off Facebook email

      Facebook email was "not popular" in the same sense that the Hindenburg was "not fireproof"

      Good news for Facebook users: Facebook has finally succumbed to reality and will soon be phasing out its wildly unpopular Facebook email system.

      For those of you unfamiliar with Facebook, here's how things worked before the advent of Facebook email (and hopefully/presumably how things will work again): when you register for Facebook, you use an already-existing email address to do so — say, JaneDoe@email.com.

      Then, people who see you on Facebook and wish to contact you privately (as opposed to posting a publicly visible note on your “Wall”) have two options: they can send you a message over Facebook's private messaging system, or through your regular email.

      Then Facebook decided to introduce its email system: instead of emails landing in your JaneDoe@email.com inbox, they were shunted into the brand-new email account JaneDoe@Facebook.com, and any emails landed in your Facebook private-messaging system.

      Really annoying

      From Jane Doe's perspective, this was annoying on two levels: one, if she wants to read all of her emails, she has to log in to Facebook in addition to checking her email.com account.

      Even worse, Facebook's messaging system has two layers, and most Facebook users only know about one: your official “Messages” box contains private messages (or Facebook.com emails) sent by your official “Facebook friends.” But messages from anyone else were shunted into a different folder, called “Other.”

      (Relevant personal anecdote: my own Facebook account was a couple years old before I knew about the “Other” folder, and I might still be unaware of it had I not read this circa-2011 article in Slate, from a writer furious to discover that some extremely important personal messages had languished unread in her “Other” folder. A worse horror story unfolded in Georgia last year, when a mother in Clayton County went a whole month without knowing her missing son had been murdered – police used Facebook to let her know, and the message sat unread in her “Other” folder.)

      Such little kinks still exist in Facebook's private messaging system, but this week, finally, the company announced that it was ending its ill-fated @Facebook.com email experiment: by March, Jane Doe's default email address will once again be JaneDoe@email.com, not JaneDoe@Facebook.com

      The blog InsideFacebook.com reported on Feb. 24 that Facebook was doing away with its “unpopular” email service due to “lack of participation.”

      Oddly enough, the mainstream media news reports about the closing were often more tongue-in-cheek than the commentary from the blogosphere. For example, when North Carolina TV station and website MyFox8.com shared the news with its readers, the story started by asking “Check your Facebook mail lately? Didn’t think so. Apparently not many others did, either.”

      If your tastes run more toward understatement, you'll prefer this quote from the Venture Capital Post: “There probably won't be any lost tears over this change for many users.”

      Facebook has finally succumbed to reality and is doing away with its wildly unpopular Facebook email system...

      Don't overlook Earned Income Tax Credit

      You could receive this benefit even if you pay no taxes

      Not everyone qualifies for it. In fact, it's specifically designed for low-income wage earners, which these days includes a lot of people. But if you qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), it could put more money in your pocket at tax time than you would ordinarily receive.

      “One-third of the population eligible for EITC changes each year as their personal circumstances change,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “We want workers who may qualify for EITC for the first time to have all the information they need to get the EITC and get it right.”

      Making work more attractive

      Congress passed the EITC in 1975 but it has grown over the years into one of the government's largest tools to fight poverty. Its purpose is to make work – especially low-wage work – more attractive.

      A lot of factors go into determining the size of of a tax credit, including income, family size and filing status. The IRS has an online tool that can help you find out if you qualify.

      As you will quickly see the EITC is designed specifically to help families with children. To qualify this tax year the taxpayer's Adjusted Gross Income for a family with three or more qualifying children must be less than $46,997 – or $52,427 if married and filing a joint return. But for taxpayers with no children, the income limit is $14,590 – or $20,020 if married and filing jointly.

      80% are eligible

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimates that four out of five workers and their families get the credit. At the same time, the tax agency says millions miss it because they either don't claim it or they don't file a tax return at all.

      To use the IRS' online tool just answer a few questions. The EITC Assistant does the math, helping you both determine whether or not you are eligible and, if you are, how much the tax credit works out to be. If you don't qualify, the Assistant will tell you why.

      For the 2013 tax year Treasury Department and IRS have ruled that same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes, including eligibility for the EITC.

      Last year, the IRS says 27 million people were eligible and received more than $63 billion total in EITC, with an average EITC amount of $2,300. Qualifying families with children receive the most. The EITC for them maxes out at $6,044.

      But even couples with no children can get a maximum of $487. What makes this tax break unique it is available to people who owe no taxes. That's why even if you are not required to file a return, because your income is so low, you should anyway.

      Professional help

      Tax preparers are very familiar with the EITC and competent professionals will be quick to take advantage of it if you qualify. But the IRS urges taxpayers to use only trusted tax preparers, as it as seen a number of false claims in recent years.

      For example, scams that create fictitious qualifying children or inflate income levels to get the maximum EITC could land you – not just the tax preparer – in trouble. Besides paying a penalty, you might be prevented from claiming the EITC in the future.

      Under the law if you have a claim denied for any reason other than an honest mistake, future claims must be accompanied by Form 8862, insuring your claim will get extra scrutiny.

      Not everyone qualifies for it. In fact, it's specifically designed for low-income wage earners, which these days includes a lot of people. But if you quali...

      Netflix in talks with Verizon, AT&T

      Online entertainment service dips into its cash drawer to keep the video streaming

      It was just yesterday that Netflix agreed to pay an undisclosed fee to Comcast to ransom its video streams and now Verizon and AT&T have their hands out.

      The big telecom and cable companies have been keeping their fingers on the spigot lately, throttling Netflix as part of a scheme to create a new revenue source.

      Carriers have not previously charged content creators for what would once have been called "trunk" traffic, being content merely to charge for last-mile connections. But with Netflix accounting for more than half of overall traffic on the Internet at peak viewing times, the temptation is just too great.

      Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam and AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel both say that their companies are talking with Netflix to, as Siegel put it, "establish a more direct connection between our networks," Reuters reported.

      Netflix didn't directly confirm that talks but said it talks to major ISPs all the time "to make sure Netflix users get the best possible experience."

      A dangerous precedent

      It sounds harmless to slap a surcharge on Netflix which is without question one of the biggest if not the biggest user of broadband capacity but it also establishes a precedent for charging content providers based on how much bandwidth they consume.

      What does this sound like?

      If you said "long distance," you're right. The legacy telephone companies -- Verizon and AT&T -- have nightly dreams in which they magically find a way to reimpose time- and distance-based charges on everyone who uses the Internet.

      It's not much of a stretch to say that all content providers should pay for the bandwidth they burn up each day, which would pretty much be the end of the Internet free-for-all, many analysts think.

      Verizon CEO: We Expect A Deal With Netflix (CNBC)Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam said Monday that he expects to reach an agreement with Netflix th...

      Los Angeles may be next to restrict e-cigs

      A proposed ordinance would treat them like traditional tobacco cigarettes

      There doesn't seem to be much middle ground on electronic cigarettes; people either love them or hate them. And those who hate them tend to be in positions of power.

      The Los Angeles city council is the latest to consider outlawing the gadgets. A pending ordinance would basically treat e-cigs as though they were traditional, tobacco-burning cigarettes, outlawing them in public places.

      The proposed ordinance made it through a committee on Monday and is now headed to the full city council. The committee acted after hearing from Los Angeles County's public health director, Jonathan Fielding, who said the e-cigs tend to make smoking socially acceptable, encouraging young people to take up smoking.

      "We don't want to risk e-cigarettes undermining a half century of successful tobacco control," he said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

      Opponents of the measure say it would simply drive smokers back to tobacco.

      Promoters of e-cigs argue that they are much safer than traditional cigarettes, which release nicotine as a byproduct of burning tobacco, a process that releases deadly tars into the lungs of smokers and those nearby. 

      E-cigarettes electrically heat nicotine, releasing it as vapor, giving users their nicotine fix without the dangerous tars and minus the fire hazards of traditional cigarettes.

      But a study released late last year disputed the contention that e-cigs are an effective way to keep teens from taking up the smoking habit.

      UC San Francisco researchers said last November that the youths they studied using e-cigarettes were more likely to be trying to quit, but also were less likely to have stopped smoking and were smoking more, not less.

      "We are witnessing the beginning of a new phase of the nicotine epidemic and a new route to nicotine addiction for kids," according to senior author Stanton A. Glantz, PhD, UCSF professor of medicine and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UCSF.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that the majority of adolescent e-cigarette users also smoke regular cigarettes, and that the percentage of middle and high school students who use e-cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. An estimated 1.78 million U.S. students had used the devices as of 2012, said the CDC.

      There doesn't seem to be much middle ground on electronic cigarettes; people either love them or hate them. And those who hate them tend to be in positions...

      Younger people particularly hard-hit by the flu

      The good news: flu shots made a big difference this season

      Younger- and middle-age adults took a particularly hard hit from the flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’sMorbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR ).

      People age 18-64 represented 61 percent of all hospitalizations from influenza compared with the previous three seasons when this age group represented only about 35% of all such hospitalizations. Flu deaths followed the same pattern with more deaths than usual occurring in this younger age group.

      A second MMWR report showed that influenza vaccination offered substantial protection this season, reducing a vaccinated person’s risk of having to go to the doctor for flu illness by about 60% across all ages.

      “Flu hospitalizations and deaths in people younger- and middle-aged adults is a sad and difficult reminder that flu can be serious for anyone, not just the very young and old; and that everyone should be vaccinated,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “The good news is that this season's vaccine is doing its job, protecting people across all age groups."

      Ain't over til it's over

      U.S. flu surveillance data suggest flu activity is likely to continue for several weeks, especially in places where activity started later in the season. Some states that saw earlier increases in flu are now seeing decreases. Other states are still seeing high levels of flu activity or continued increases.

      While flu is responsible for serious illness and death every season, the people who are most affected can vary by season and by the predominant influenza virus. The currently circulating H1N1 virus triggered a pandemic in 2009, in which there were high rates of hospitalization and death in younger- and middle-aged people. While H1N1 viruses have continued to circulate since the pandemic, this is the first season since then that they have been predominant in the U.S. Once again, the virus is causing severe illness in younger- and middle-aged people.

      High hospitalization rates

      Approximately 61% of flu hospitalizations so far this season have occurred among persons aged 18-64 years. Last season, when influenza A (H3N2) viruses were the predominant circulating viruses, people 18 to 64 years accounted for only 35% of hospitalizations. During the pandemic season of 2009-2010, people 18 to 64 years old accounted for about 56% of hospitalizations.

      Hospitalization rates have also been affected. While rates are still highest among people 65 and older (50.9 per 100,000), people 50 to 64 years now have the second-highest hospitalization rate (38.7 per 100,000), followed by children 0-4 years old (35.9 per 100,000). During the pandemic, people 50 to 64 years also had the second-highest hospitalization rate. Note that hospitalization rates are cumulative and thus will continue to increase this season.

      Flu deaths this season are following a pattern a similar to the pandemic. People 25 years to 64 years of age have accounted for about 60% of flu deaths this season compared with 18%, 30%, and 47% for the three previous seasons, respectively. During 2009-2010, people 25 years to 64 years accounted for an estimated 63% of deaths.

      Not invincible

      "Younger people may feel that influenza is not a threat to them, but this season underscores that flu can be a serious disease for anyone," said Dr. Frieden. "It's important that everyone get vaccinated. It's also important to remember that some people who get vaccinated may still get sick, and we need to use our second line of defense against flu: antiviral drugs to treat flu illness. People at high risk of complications should seek treatment if they get a flu-like illness. Their doctors may prescribe antiviral drugs if it looks like they have influenza."

      People at high risk for flu complications include pregnant women, people with asthma, diabetes or heart disease, people who are morbidly obese and people older than 65 or children younger than 5 years, but especially those younger than 2 years.

      The value of flu shots

      In the flu vaccine effectiveness (VE) study, CDC looked at data from 2,319 children and adults enrolled in the U.S. Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness (Flu VE) Network from December 2, 2013, to January 23, 2014. They found that flu vaccine reduced the risk of having to go to the doctor for flu illness by an estimated 61% across all ages. The study also looked at VE by age group and found that the vaccine provided similar levels of protection against influenza infection across all ages.

      VE point estimates against influenza A and B viruses by age group ranged from 52% for people 65 and older to 67% for children 6 months to 17 years. Protection against the predominant H1N1 virus was even slightly better for older people; VE against H1N1 was estimated to be 56% in people 65 and older and 62% in people 50 to 64 years of age. All findings were statistically significant.

      The interim VE estimates this season are comparable to results from studies during other seasons when the viruses in the vaccine have been well-matched with circulating influenza viruses and are similar to interim estimates from Canada for 2013-14 published recently.

      While flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, vaccination offers the best protection currently available against influenza infection. CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine.

      “We are committed to the development of better flu vaccines, but existing flu vaccines are the best preventive tool available now,” said Dr. Frieden. “This season vaccinated people were substantially better off than people who did not get vaccinated. The season is still ongoing. If you haven’t yet, you should still get vaccinated."  

      Younger- and middle-age adults took a particularly hard hit from the flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity an...