Current Events in October 2016

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    How Hurricane Matthew could spread the Zika virus

    Bodies of standing water and clogged gutters are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes

    Hurricane Matthew is continuing to wreak havoc along the East Coast. Reports suggest that residents in North Carolina are currently being hammered by the storm. Governor Pat McCrory has stated that 10 people have died already and another 1,500 are stranded by a levee breach in the town of Lumberton.

    Rescue and relief efforts will undoubtedly continue as the storm winds itself down, but very real dangers will remain for some time to come. One of these dangers is the possibility that the Zika virus will be able to spread more easily in the coming weeks due to the accumulation of large standing bodies of water where mosquitoes can breed.

    “It knocks a lot of stuff down so you just have a lot more things in which the mosquito can breed. . . A damaged rain gutter, for instance, now becomes a rain collector. Every little object that blows off a house or even a chair flipped over on a porch becomes a container for mosquitoes to breed,” said Philip Stoddard, mayor of South Miami.

    Increased exposure

    The prediction of increased transmission rates is somewhat ironic, since storms like Matthew end up doing a lot of damage to the mosquito population. The strong winds and flooding waters wash away a large number of eggs and adult mosquitoes in the moment, but those that survive can wreak havoc in the aftermath.

    It’s a story that’s been seen before. In 2006, when Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana, Mississippi, and other Southeastern states, cases of West Nile Virus doubled in affected areas. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attributed it to increased exposure from residents having to spend more time outdoors.

    “The immediate increase in cases may be attributed to increased human exposure to mosquitoes. . . Tens of thousands of persons in the hurricane-affected region were living in damaged housing or were waiting outside for days to be evacuated,” noted Tulane researcher Kevin A. Caillouët in the report.

    In the same way, residents who have been displaced by Hurricane Matthew or are working on rebuilding their homes may be putting themselves at risk. “So when you’re out there rebuilding your house, you’re not thinking about the mosquitoes that are biting at your ankles at the time. You’re thinking about getting your house back in order,” said Caillouët.

    What to do

    CDC officials say that hurricanes and floods don’t usually lead to an increased spread of viruses because of the work of officials who curb mosquito populations. However, there are steps that consumers can take to lessen the risk of Zika transmission around their own homes.

    Homeowners are advised to drain any standing water sources in order to reduce mosquito breeding grounds. Also be sure to clean any clogged gutters or drains that may have been blocked by debris from the storm.

    Finally, if you’re going to be outside repairing damage, be sure to wear appropriate clothing that can protect you from mosquito bites. Re-applying insect repellant consistently can also provide an extra layer of protection.

    Hurricane Matthew is continuing to wreak havoc along the East Coast. Reports suggest that residents in North Carolina are currently being hammered by the s...

    What is kratom and why does the government want to criminalize it?

    The DEA believes the coffee-like herb could add to the opioid health crisis

    Dozens of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle reacted with alarm last month when the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) published its intent to classify a natural coffee-like herb called kratom as a “schedule I substance.”

    To put the move in context, other Schedule I substances include heroin and LSD. Needless to say, its DEA's most restrictive classification, and would present users with potential criminal charges.

    At the moment the classification, which could have gone into effect September 30, has been put on hold. The status is uncertain, however, since DEA has made no public comment.

    The herb, which is widely sold on the internet in a form that can be inserted into capsules, is valued for its pain-relieving properties – undoubtedly the principal reason the DEA wants to place it in the company of other controlled substances.

    Similarity to opioids

    Kratom's two main active chemicals affect the brain much like the ingredients in oxycodone and morphine do. The DEA is concerned the herb could increase the public health crisis caused by opioid addiction.

    In two separate letters to the DEA and Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the bi-partisan lawmakers question, not only the re-classification, but the haste in which the DEA sought to impose it.

    The letter from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT), and nine other senators charged the use of emergency authority to ban a natural substance is unprecedented. The DEA, it said, should be required to make its case for the Schedule I classification.

    "Congress has established a specific set of review protocols for scheduling decisions that will create significant disruption in the marketplace that allows for the full engagement of consumers, researchers, health professionals, law enforcement officials, and other stakeholders,” the lawmakers wrote. “Given the long reported history of Kratom use, coupled with the public's sentiment that it is a safe alternative to prescription opioids, we believe using the regular review process would provide for a much-needed discussion among all stakeholders.”

    Kratom advocates

    Among kratom supporters are some who work with drug addiction, who helped rally support against the ban. Jag Davies, director of communications strategy at the Drug Policy Alliance, said people who believe kratom is a useful alternative to opioids should keep the pressure on.

    “If the DEA gets its way, more people who struggle with addiction will be criminalized,” Davies said in a statement.

    Kratom is produced from a plant that grows in Southeast Asia, where it has been used for medical purposes for generations.

    Dozens of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle reacted with alarm last month when the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) published its intent to cla...

    EpiPen reaches lightning-quick settlement with Justice Department

    The auto-injector's manufacturer agrees to pay $465 million after an 'investigation' of less than two weeks

    Some would say that Mylan Pharmaceuticals has been slow to satisfy consumer calls for price rollbacks on the EpiPen auto-injector. But Mylan wasted no time reaching a settlement over the issue of whether it had overcharged Medicaid for the emergency allergy treatment.

    Late Friday, Mylan announced that it had agreed to pay a $465 million fine to the U.S. Justice Department, barely two weeks after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had charged that the drugmaker wrongly classified the epinephrine pen as a generic drug, thus avoiding the hefty rebates that are attached to branded drugs.

    "The terms of the settlement do not provide for any finding of wrongdoing on the part of Mylan Inc. or any of its affiliated entities or personnel," the company said in a press release.

    But it's not likely the lightning-quick settlement will silence Mylan's critics.

    “It's hard to say with a straight face that you did nothing wrong when your company has to repay nearly half a billion dollars," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "With investigations now being initiated by Congress and others, this may be the beginning of Mylan's problems -- not the end. Our constituents are still paying far more than they should be for this critical medication.”

    Mylan Moms

    In California, supporters of a proposition that would limit drug price increases scheduled a news conference for Monday to demand additional action against Mylan.

    "Mothers whose children rely on the EpiPen in case of a life-threatening allergic reaction will join consumer advocates to condemn the deceptive drug industry advertising against Proposition 61, and call on voters to pass the initiative to stop drug company price-gouging and save lives," said an announcement from Consumer Watchdog.

    "These Mylan Moms will speak of hardships caused by the rising cost of the EpiPen – which has gone up 500% to $608 in the last decade. Mylan’s EpiPen costs just dollars to make but earns the company more than $1 billion a year," the non-profit advocacy group said.

    Kangaroo court?

    The settlement with the Justice Department came less than two weeks after three U.S. senators -- Richard Blumenthal (D) of Connecticut, Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa, and Amy Klobuchar (D) of Minnesota -- called on the Justice Department to investigate the CMS's allegations.

    It's rare for an investigation and negotiated settlement to be arrived at in such record time and it should be noted that, although Mylan announced the settlement Friday afternoon, the Justice Department had not done so as of Saturday.

    As was widely noted when the EpiPen pricing scandal erupted, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch is the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia. The rapid settlement is likely to renew speculation that the company is being handled with kid gloves.

    “I am glad the Department of Justice pursued this so quickly, since the misclassification was an outrage,” Sen. Klobuchar said in a statement. “At the same time, this must be the tip of the iceberg. If other drugs are misclassified, and surely EpiPen isn’t the only one, the public deserves to know it, the taxpayers need to get their money back, and the process needs to be changed to stop this from happening again.” 

    Some would say that Mylan Pharmaceuticals has been slow to satisfy consumer calls for price rollbacks on the EpiPen autoinjector. But Mylan wasted no time...

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      Shoppers increasingly turning first to Amazon, study finds

      Forget about stores, Amazon is even nudging out search engines

      For awhile there, retailers were worried about "showrooming." They feared that consumers would come to their stores to examine merchandise and then buy it online instead of simply picking it up at the store.

      Showrooming is certainly commonplace these days, but it's often because so few stores are actually able to sell the items consumers are looking for. There may be a single item on display but it's increasingly difficult to be able to make an actual purchase.

      I was reminded of this the other day when I stopped into the neighborhood Lowe's to pick up a battery-powered hedge trimmer. The vast garden department had a shelf full of trimmers, ranging from simple plug-in models to the large gas-powered variety favored by professionals.

      I found one that looked suitable, hefted it around a bit, and decided it would be fine. But in the section where the boxed units were stored, the model I wanted was nowhere to be found. Looking closely, I discovered there were no battery-powered units at all, only a few plug-in types and only two gas-powered models.

      "We don't have it"

      "If it's not there, we don't have it," a friendly Lowe's employee shrugged. I bought $10 worth of mulch, went home and ordered $200 worth of hedge trimmer, battery, and charger from Amazon.

      It was just a few weeks earlier in another Lowe's that I went in search of an outdoor lighting transformer to replace one that had mysteriously died. Again, a yawning vacuum greeted me -- no transformers in stock.

      "It's because of Home Depot," a clerk sniffed. "They don't have any in stock so they send their customers over here and buy up all of ours. You might as well just order it from Amazon."

      Best Buy is also becoming a de facto Amazon showroom. When my laptop went toes-up on a recent trip, I dashed over to the nearest Best Buy to pick up a Chromebook to tide me over. I was in luck -- the store had the new HP model I had been admiring.

      "This is great, I'll take one of these," I told the salesman, who looked skeptically at me.

      "Sir, I can't sell you that one. It's the only one we have. We might get some more next Thursday, maybe," he said. "If you really need it in a hurry, you could just order it from Amazon."

      Even furniture is becoming an online-only item. I found an entertainment cabinet, again at Best Buy, while helping a friend move only to be told it was the only one in stock.

      "I could special-order it for you but the expedited shipping would cost more than it's worth," the salesman said. "You could just order it from Amazon and save a lot of money." (Target, which actually stocks merchandise in some of its stores, turned out to have a nearly identical item).

      Online gas?

      I expect someday to pull into a gas station and be advised to just order a tank online. We all understand that inventory is expensive and consumer buying habits difficult to predict, but at some point consumers may give up even trying to shop in stores if the out-of-stock trend continues.

      The situation is much the same in the online world -- Amazon, like a giant piranha -- is devouring everything in sight. A new study finds Amazon is even nudging out search engines as the go-to spot for consumers.

      The BloomReach research, conducted by Survata, found that 55 percent of consumers start their product searches on Amazon -- up from 44 percent just a year ago. That compares to 28 percent who first look for products using search engines and 16 percent who start their digital shopping excursions on a specific retailer’s website.

      The survey of 2,000 consumers and 400 marketing and sales representatives found an interesting fear lurking beneath consumers' Amazon infatuation -- nearly one in five said they were concerned about Amazon's growing dominance of the retail field.

      That fear is more explicit among retail professionals. Forty percent said they fear losing their job because of a competitor's dominance. Those whose main competitor is Amazon were twice as worried -- 80 percent fear losing their jobs because of Amazon.

      The fast-approaching holiday shopping season is not likely to improve matters. UPS and FedEx are staffing up for what's expected to be the biggest online buying spree ever. Everybody else? Perhaps the news that Mall of America won't bother to open on Thanksgiving Day this year pretty much says it all. 

      Instead of leaping up from the table and dashing over to the mall, we can all just leap up from the table and grab our laptops.

      For awhile there, retailers were worried about "showrooming." They feared that consumers would come to their stores to examine merchandise and then buy it...

      Verizon seeks a $1 billion discount on its Yahoo acquisition

      The data company's massive data breach has put a strain on negotiations

      When we first reported details about Yahoo’s massive data breach, which compromised user data on 500 million accounts, we mentioned how the timing of the disaster might negatively affect the acquisition deal it established with Verizon.

      The telecommunications giant snatched up the struggling data company in July for $4.8 billion. However, since the breach happened in 2014 and it wasn’t properly communicated, that gives Verizon some leverage to re-negotiate a price or back out of the deal entirely.

      Now, a new report from the New York Post says that Verizon is pushing for a $1 billion discount off the deal. It seems that news of the breach, along with allegations that Yahoo scanned emails for terrorist signals for a government agency, has put a strain on the negotiations.

      “In the last day we’ve heard that [AOL boss] Tim [Armstrong] is getting cold feet. He’s pretty upset about the lack of disclosure and he’s saying, ‘Can we get out of this or can we reduce the price?’” said a source close to Verizon.

      Yahoo pushes back

      Asking for a discount simply makes good business sense, since the scandal and any financial consequences diminishes Yahoo value. On top of the discount, sources say that Verizon is putting aside $1 billion in reserve to deal with any fallout from the breach. It’s a move that former Yahoo CEO Ross Levinsohn detailed to CNBC on Wednesday.

      “If I’m sitting at Verizon right now . . . just from a business standpoint, I’d probably reserve a bunch of money against the deal or go back to Yahoo and ask for a discount,” he said.

      At the same time, however, Yahoo is pushing back against the suggestion. The company has balked at the prospect of a discount, saying that Verizon should honor the established deal and that it has no legal avenue to change the terms at this point. Yahoo’s board is set to meet in two weeks to address the issue, but discussions will continue up to that point.

      “Tim was out there this week laying the law down and [Yahoo CEO] Marissa [Mayer] is trying to protect shareholders. . . Tim knows how to be fair, while Verizon is pushing him, he can bridge the gap,” said a source close to the situation.

      Incentive for a deal

      On Verizon’s end, the breach comes at an inopportune time for its other business prospects. The company acquired AOL nearly a year and a half ago for $4.4 billion and had hoped to combine it with its Yahoo acquisition to create a competitive rival to Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market.

      Estimates suggest that the combination will reach 1 billion consumers if it closes in the first quarter, and that number could grow to 2 billion by 2020. Wanting to get the Yahoo acquisition put together may provide incentive for Armstrong to hammer out a deal quickly, but at this point the going may be slow and nothing is set in stone.

      “They’re being cautious because they don’t know what they’re going to find,” one source said.

      When we first reported details about Yahoo’s massive data breach, which compromised user data on 500 million accounts, we mentioned how the timing of the d...

      Zillow sees biggest rent increases in the West

      After already steep climbs, Seattle renters could face another 7% rise

      Home prices have risen the fastest in the major Western U.S. markets, so it shouldn't come as a shock that rents in these metros are rising as well. The latest report from real estate marketplace Zillow suggests there's no relief in sight for some of these Western renters.

      Rents are up generally because more consumers are renting instead of buying. That increases competition for apartments and condos and single-family homes on the rental market.

      In the West, there's another contributing factor – high-paying tech jobs. As competition increases for the limited number of rental properties, landlords know there are plenty of people with good jobs who can pay a higher rent.

      Up 7% in Seattle

      Zillow predicts that rents will go up the most in Seattle and Portland over the next 12 months. While rents have begun to level off in some U.S. markets, renters in Seattle could see rents rise 7%, while Portland renters should brace for a 6% increase.

      On the other hand, the rise in rents should slow in the red-hot tech markets of San Francisco and San Jose, where the cost of renting a home is projected to rise about 4% – still more than twice the rate of inflation.

      It's not just the West where renters need to hold onto their wallets. Rents are generally rising in markets that have seen the most home price appreciation, and that includes Denver, Miami, and Cincinnati, the only Midwestern market to make the Zillow list of fastest growing rental markets.

      High demand, low supply

      Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell says high rent growth in these markets is being driven by high demand and low supply.

      "We have more renters today than in the past and most newly formed households are renter households,” she said. “This taken together with a lack of new rental construction at less expensive price points has been a recipe for rising rents.”

      But the news is not all bleak. Gudell says she expects rents in the hottest markets to begin to slow by the middle of next year.

      “Instead of the 10% rental appreciation we've been seeing in some places, expect growth more along the lines of 4% to 7%,” she said. “This is still high, but will hopefully give renters some relief."

      If you have a good job and get regular raises, you might be able to scrape by. But U.S. Census data shows half of all renters, and 83% of those with incomes less than $20,000, pay more than 30% of their incomes for rent.

      Home prices have risen the fastest in the major Western U.S. markets, so it shouldn't come as a shock that rents in these metros are rising as well. The la...

      VW recalls Golf, Golf SportWagen, GTI, Audi A3 sedans and A3 Cabriolets

      Fuel may flow into the evaporative emissions system

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 110,042 model year 2015-2016 Volkswagen Golf, Golf SportWagen, GTI, Audi A3 sedan and A3 Cabriolet vehicles.

      A problem with the suction pump inside the fuel tank may allow fuel to flow into the evaporative emissions (EVAP) system.

      As fuel accumulates in the EVAP system, it may leak out through the charcoal canister filter element. A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the suction pump, free of charge. Parts are not currently available. An interim notice will be sent to owners by early November and a second notice will be sent when parts are available.

      Volkswagen owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298, Audi owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's numbers for this recall are 20Y6 and 20Y5.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 110,042 model year 2015-2016 Volkswagen Golf, Golf SportWagen, GTI, Audi A3 sedan and A3 Cabriolet vehicles.A...

      Volkswagen recalls Audi Q5s and Q7s

      The fuel cap flange on the affected vehicles may crack

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 143,214 model year 2009-2012 Audi Q5s, and 2007-2012 Audi Q7s equipped with gasoline engines.

      The fuel cap flange on the affected vehicles may crack, allowing fuel to leak.

      A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will clean the pump flange and install a butyl rubber band to protect the pump, free of charge. Parts are not currently available. Interim notices will sent in early November 2016. A second notice will be sent when parts are available.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 20W9.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 143,214 model year 2009-2012 Audi Q5s, and 2007-2012 Audi Q7s equipped with gasoline engines.The fuel cap flan...

      Fresh Express recalls American Salad

      The product may contain egg, milk, wheat and anchovy, allergens not declared on the label

      Fresh Express is recalling of 480 cases of 11-oz. Fresh Express American Salad with a Product Code of G264A12A and Use-By Date of October 5.

      The product may contain egg, milk, wheat and anchovy, allergens not declared on the label.

      No illnesses are reported.

      The following product is being recalled:

      BRANDPRODUCT NAMESIZEUPCPRODUCTION CODEBEST IF USED BY DATEPOSSIBLE DISTRIBUTION STATES
      Fresh ExpressAmerican Salad11 oz.0 71279 241005G264A127A05-OctAL, FL, GA, NC, SC, TN

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard it.

      A refund is available at the place of purchase or by contacting Fresh Express toll-free at (800) 242-5472 from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. (ET).

      Fresh Express is recalling of 480 cases of 11-oz. Fresh Express American Salad with a Product Code of G264A12A and Use-By Date of October 5.The product...

      Traffic deaths surging but officials have a 'zero fatalities' plan for 2046

      If you can stay alive for 30 more years, your government sees a bright future for you

      Traffic fatalities continue to grow at an unusual clip, but safety regulators say they have a "zero fatalities" plan that they think will eliminate traffic fatalities completely. The catch? It won't happen until 2046.

      Lately, of course, there has been much discussion -- call it hype if you must -- about how autonomous cars will virtually eliminate accidents, most of which are caused by human error. This assumes that everything works perfectly and that the "blue screen of death" remains a metaphor and not a reality.

      Whatever happens in 2046, the situation today is bad and seems to be deteriorating. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Wednesday that traffic deaths rose 10.4% in the first half of this year, a sharp increase on top of a last year's big increase, which was the largest since 1966 and seemed to take safety experts largely by surprise.

      NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind calls it "an immediate crisis" while holding out the "zero fatalities" plan for the future.

      To put some raw numbers against the percentages, more than 17,700 people died in traffic accidents in the first half of this year, far outpacing the 3.3% increase in miles traveled.

      Is it even worse?

      In fact, NHTSA may be under-counting actual fatalities, safety advocates say. 

      "NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) is supposed to be a census of fatal motor vehicle crashes but it is not," Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, said in a recent letter to Rosekind. "The National Safety Council historically comes up with 2,000 more motor vehicle deaths each year."

      Why the difference? Ditlow says it's partly because NHTSA doesn't count certain off-roadway crashes or deaths that occur beyond 30 days after the crash.

      It was only recently that NHTSA bgan counting all of the traffic fatalities that were caused by drowning. "Until August 10, 2011, NHTSA insisted there were only 3 to 5 drowning deaths each year but was then forced to admit that there were actually 384 deaths each year on average," Ditlow said.

      Why so many?

      How can there be so many fatalities with all the new safety gear on cars? Well, the good news is that the absolute number of traffic deaths is down from a decade or so ago. In the first half of 2006, ten years ago, there were 20,500 fatalities despite there being fewer miles being driven.

      But what concerns safety officials and consumer groups today is that deaths have been moving up sharply the last year or two despite all the airbags, backup cameras and electronic stability control.

      The most commonly heard theory is that drivers are distracted by all the new gadgets in their cars -- smartphones, GPS, screwball entertainment consoles, and even self-driving features. There have, after all, already been cases of drivers being killed when their cars crashed while in self-driving mode. 

      Drunken driving has traditionally been cited as a major factor in crashes, with distraction running a close second. 

      Not much mentioned in official circles is the increased speed and congestion on the nation's highways, and the daredevil driving that seems to be encouraged by today's zippier, fun-to-drive cars. Drivers on Interstate 95 and the New Jersey Turnpike routinely cruise along at 90 while swerving in and out, tailgating and playing virtual bumper tag.

      It's not uncommon today to see traffic accidents in which cars are completely destroyed, leaving only scattered debris that looks more like an airplane crash than a traffic accident. Crashes at 90 miles per hour are simply not survivable in most cases, no matter how much safety equipment is latched onto cars.

      This line of thinking is more prevalent at the local and state level, where officials are perhaps closer to the day-to-day carnage than their Washington counterparts.

      At a recent Transportation Department conference, mayors suggested that, along with all the technological gee-whiz solutions, it might be worthwhile to partner with the Justice Department to boost enforcement of traffic laws and stiffen penalties. Insurance companies could also be encouraged to reward drivers who take safe-driving refresher courses, the local officials said.

      As a group, younger drivers continue to have the highest risk of dying, even though they tend to drive less than their elders. Because of inexperience, distractions, and perhaps a dose of adolescent bravado, teens are involved in three times as many accidents as drivers over the age of 20.

      Traffic fatalities continue to grow at an unusual clip, but safety regulators say they have a "zero fatalities" plan that they think will eliminate traffic...

      What's the oldest age that any human can expect to live to?

      Researchers believe 125 is the longest any human could live, regardless of future advances

      Back in August, we reported on a study which showed that consumers’ expectations for old age determined how long they wanted to live. In general, those who had a positive outlook on old age wanted to live longer, while those who viewed it negatively wanted to pass away at a younger age.

      Advances in science and medicine have certainly benefitted consumers who want to prolong their lives for as long as possible. The current life expectancy for children born in 2016 is 79, compared to only 47 for those born in the year 1900. However, while lifespans are expected to continue to increase for some time, researchers say that we have already touched its upper limit.

      "Demographers as well as biologists have contended there is no reason to think that the ongoing increase in maximum lifespan will end soon," said Dr. Jan Vijg, senior author of a study conducted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "But our data strongly suggest that it has already been attained and that this happened in the 1990s."

      125-year maximum

      The researchers came to their conclusions after analyzing data on the maximum reported age of death. After taking certain outliers into account, Vijg and his colleagues put the current average maximum human lifespan at 115 years. Based on this information, they posit that the absolute maximum for human lifespan is 125 years.

      The researchers believe that efforts to curb health problems should continue to boost the current average lifespan, but eventually these advances will hit a ceiling due to genetic restrictions. However, they do address the possibility that future therapies could prove them wrong.

      "Further progress against infectious and chronic diseases may continue boosting average life expectancy, but not maximum lifespan," said Dr. Vijg. "While it's conceivable that therapeutic breakthroughs might extend human longevity beyond the limits we've calculated, such advances would need to overwhelm the many genetic variants that appear to collectively determine the human lifespan.”

      Improving healthspan

      But does longevity of life really count for much if health isn’t maintained for its duration? Scientists are constantly striving to come up with advances that improve quality of life throughout old age, but a natural part of reaching an advanced age is the breakdown of internal systems. Accounting for every problem is a big task that may be unattainable.

      For that reason, the researchers believe that the medical and scientific communities should focus on increasing the number of years that we can remain healthy and active. “Perhaps resources now being spent to increase lifespan should instead go to lengthening healthspan -- the duration of old age spent in good health,” concluded Vigj.

      The full study has been published in the journal Nature.

      Back in August, we reported on a study which showed that consumers’ expectations for old age determined how long they wanted to live. In general, those who...

      Researchers: exploding e-cigarettes more common than you think

      Doctors urge greater monitoring of design and manufacturing process

      When e-cigarettes were introduced a few years ago, they were presented as a safer alternative to cigarettes. They delivered the same nicotine but not the tars and some other contaminants present in tobacco.

      What might have gotten lost in the discussion, however, is another safety issue. Users are putting an electronic device in their mouths. And just as we have seen with other electronic devices, like smartphones, they sometimes explode.

      Researchers at the University of North Carolina's (UNC) Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program decided to focus solely on e-cigarette safety rather than any other adverse health effects they might have.

      They said that in the first half of this year, doctors at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals treated 10 inpatients with severe burns and facial fractures. The injuries, they say, all came from e-cigarette explosions.

      Serious injury

      According to their study, most of the injuries required surgery, and one patient lost his eye when an e-cigarette exploded while he puffed on it.

      Clare Meernik, lead author of an editorial published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), says the UNC burn center's experience is not an outlier.

      “We think these explosions are happening to a greater extent than the current medical literature suggests,” she said.

      Other safety officials have recognized a threat. E-cigarettes have been banned from airline luggage, for fear they could ignite a fire while the plane is airborne.

      The BMJ editorial says there should be better monitoring of e-cigarette-related injuries, as well as better oversight of the manufacturing process.

      Dr. Felicia Williams, of the UNC School of Medicine, says victims of an exploding e-cigarette suffer from flame burns, but also from exposure to chemicals. She's concerned most emergency rooms, where victims tend to first be treated, are unaware of the severe nature of the burns.

      No way to track

      Currently, the researchers say there isn't a system in the U.S. health care system to track these injuries. Most cases are gleaned from media reports. They point to a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that more than nine million people in the U.S. are using e-cigarettes as a reason to increase the focus on safety.

      “We believe the FDA should immediately develop safety standards that all manufacturers must comply with, Williams said. We know that some explosions are related to battery issues, but other mechanisms may also be involved.”

      Improved safety standards, she says, would reduce the number of severe burns and other injuries. Since the FDA now has the authority to regulate e-cigarettes, the researchers say that authority should extend to the design and manufacture of these devices.

      When e-cigarettes were introduced a few years ago, they were presented as a safer alternative to cigarettes. They delivered the same nicotine but not the t...

      Lawmakers say Mylan misclassified EpiPens as a generic, costing taxpayers

      Reports suggest that U.S. government health plans spent over $1 billion on the devices

      Additional details have been made public in the EpiPen pricing saga. Quoting statistics released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Reuters reports that U.S. government health plans spent over $1 billion on Mylan NV’s EpiPen emergency allergic reaction treatment between 2011 and 2015, which may have been excessive due to a misclassification that allowed the company to pay less on rebates.

      Mislabeling the devices could mean big trouble for Mylan, which is under scrutiny from federal officials for raising the price of the live-saving device from an inflation-adjusted $109 to over $600 in the course of nine years. Lawmakers are currently trying to determine what kind of impact Mylan’s pricing practices had on government-funded health programs.

      EpiPen misclassified

      Based on the CMS figures, some lawmakers have already alleged that Mylan underpaid rebates to state Medicaid programs. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) has stated that Mylan misclassified the EpiPen as a generic drug instead of a branded drug.

      The difference in classification may account for millions of dollars; the rebate on a generic is 13%, while a branded drug has a minimum rebate of 23.1%. The CMS calculates that Medicaid plans spent $797 million on EpiPens during the five-year period between 2011 and 2015, or $960 million before rebates. The Medicare Part D program, which is intended to be used by the elderly, spent $335 million before rebates. At this time, CMS has stated that it cannot determine how much money the government may be owed for EpiPens.

      It will likely be difficult for Mylan to say it didn’t know about the improper classification. In its letter to Sen. Klobuchar, CMS stated that it reached out to Mylan and other members of the industry on the matter many times.

      “CMS has, on multiple occasions, provided guidance to the industry and Mylan on the proper classification of drugs and has expressly told Mylan that the product is incorrectly classified,” the agency said.

      Mylan's response

      Mylan has responded to the allegations from CMS and Klobuchar, saying that it has complied with the existing rules for classifying its products. It points out that the classification for Medicaid rebates on the EpiPen were created in 1997, before it took ownership of the devices.

      However, Klobuchar and other lawmakers are adamant about knowing how much extra money was paid by taxpayers and whether or not the classification problem is systemic.

      In a statement, Klobuchar asks for “clear answers on how dep this misclassification goes, how much it has cost taxpayers across the country, how many other drugs may be misclassified, and how we get that money back.” Mylan has declined to comment further on the situation until the CMS process has concluded. 

      Additional details have been made public in the EpiPen pricing saga. Quoting statistics released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), R...

      Don't put off holiday travel plans

      Planning ahead saves both money and headaches

      Traveling over the holidays? If you haven't already, now is the time to make your plans.

      Booking airfare is always like rolling the dice. When you do it can make a big difference, especially if you are booking for high demand dates around the end of the year holidays.

      Booking both too early and too late can cost you extra money. Knowing where the schedule sweetspot is can land you a deal.

      According to CheapAir.com, you're now bumping up against the price increase threshold for Thanksgiving travel. If you've waited until now to book, your fare could cost you an average of $38 more than if you made your reservation in September. If you wait until next month, you could pay $52 more, if last year is any guide.

      As for Christmas and New Year, you have a little more time, but not much. The numbers crunchers at CheapAir say booking end of the year holiday travel in October costs only $15 more than if you booked last month. Wait until next month and it will cost an estimated $50 more.

      CheapAir maintains a page with the latest data on how holiday airfares are trending. Booking today for Thanksgiving travel yields an average fare of $428. That compares to $410 last week and $328 in September.

      Emotional cost

      Of course, the cost of holiday travel isn't just financial. It can take a toll on your nerves as well. To help keep your sanity, the Travel Channel recommends doing some research to determine whether you need to travel by air or whether a road trip could be an option. If a family is traveling, a road trip is likely to be a lot less expensive.

      If you do decide to travel by air, make sure you understand the airline's restriction on carry-on luggage before you arrive at the airport. And don't forget to take baggage fees into consideration when you are considering costs.

      Finally, consider downloading a couple of smartphone apps that can provide valuable information. The Travel Channel recommends Flight Status for air travelers and Gasbuddy for road warriors.

      Traveling over the holidays? If you haven't already, now is the time to make your plans.Booking airfare is always like rolling the dice. When you do it...

      Office Depot recalls Winsley chairs

      The chair can tip over when the user is leaning back

      Office Depot of Boca Raton, Fla, is recalling about 129,000 Winsley Mid-Back chairs.

      The chair can tip over when leaning back, posing a fall hazard.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves Winsley Mid-Back Chairs (Office Depot item #388262 for black or #907932 for white or the OfficeMax item #25100033 for black or #25100649 for white) sold on or before August 2016.

      The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Office Depot and OfficeMax stores nationwide and online at officedepot.com from August 2015, through August 2016, for about $150.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chair and contact Office Depot to receive a free repair kit.

      Consumers may contact Office Depot at 800-949-9974 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at www.officedepot.com and click on Recall Notices at the bottom of the page for more information. 

      Office Depot of Boca Raton, Fla, is recalling about 129,000 Winsley Mid-Back chairs.The chair can tip over when leaning back, posing a fall hazard....

      Model year 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokees recalled

      The rear tow hook bracket or tow eye bracket may be loose

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 21 model year 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured August 8, 2016, through August 16, 2016.

      The rear tow hook bracket or tow eye bracket may be loose, which could allow the bracket to detach from the vehicle while being it is being driven -- possibly becoming a road hazard.

      If the bracket detaches during a vehicle recovery, there may be a loss of control of the towed vehicle. Either scenario increases the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will confirm both tow hook bracket bolts are properly tightened, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on November 6, 2016.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S73.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 21 model year 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured August 8, 2016, through August 16, 2016.The rear tow hook brack...

      Mall of America acts to preserve the sanctity of Black Friday

      Translation: the giant mall will close on Thanksgiving Day for the first time ever

      Thanksgiving is perhaps the biggest American holiday. It originated on these shores and remains unique to the U.S. The Mall of America is America's biggest shopping mall and in recent years, the two have co-existed, with shoppers jumping up from the dinner table to start their holiday shopping.

      But not this year. The giant Minnesota mall announced today that it will be closed on Thanksgiving Day for the first time ever. The mall's 520 stores can open if they want to but few are expected to do so.

      Mall management says it simply wants to give employees a day off and get the holiday shopping emphasis where it belongs -- on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

      “We’ve been talking about this for months, looking at the numbers, looking at the pros and the cons,” said Jill Renslow, the mall’s senior vice president of marketing and business development, according to a report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “We’re excited to give this day back to our employees so they can celebrate with their families.”

      "Special magic"

      Renslow also hopes the move will "bring that special magic back to Black Friday" and noted that the mall will throw open its doors at 5 a.m. on Black Friday, welcoming shoppers perhaps still somewhat besotted with family, food, and friends.

      Critics have warned that Thanksgiving has been in danger of becoming little more than an elaborate luncheon that kicks off Black Friday, as stores great and small began opening for at least part of the traditional holiday in recent years.

      For their part, retailers have complained that the extra hours have not generated appreciably more revenue but have simply spread it out over a greater time period while increasing labor, utility, and advertising expense.

      That apparently mirrors Renslow's thinking. 

      “By closing on Thanksgiving, we’re confident we’ll still get those strong numbers throughout the Black Friday weekend.” she said, according to the Start-Tribune.

      Thanksgiving is perhaps the biggest American holiday. It originated on these shores and remains unique to the U.S. The Mall of America is America's biggest...