Current Events in August 2019

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    Google proposes new privacy standards for browsers and advertisers

    The company says it wants to restrict tracking technology

    Google has proposed a new set of standards, called the “Privacy Sandbox,” that would strike a balance between protecting consumers’ privacy and allowing advertisers to continue showing targeted ads. 

    In a blog post published Thursday, Justin Schuh, a director of Chrome engineering focused on security matters, described the privacy sandbox as "a secure environment for personalization that also protects user privacy.” 

    The company said its goal is to create a set of standards that is “more consistent with users' expectations of privacy.” Personalized ads would still exist, but users wouldn’t be required to disclose individually identifying information in order to be served relevant ads. 

    Minimizing privacy-violating practices 

    Google says it’s looking into technology that would enable it to limit user data shared with websites and advertisers by “anonymously aggregating user information, and keeping much more user information on-device only.” In other words, data shared by one person couldn’t be traced back to that individual because their data would form part of a larger group. 

    Additionally, Google wants to introduce a "privacy budget" that would limit how much personal information a website can access, which would help stop web fingerprinting.

    The success of the plan, as it pertains to boosting users’ privacy, would of course depend on whether or not advertisers, publishers, and other browser developers adopt the standards. Google is currently seeking feedback on its proposal from these groups, as well as privacy advocates. 

    Google argues that its proposed standards are a step above Apple’s plan to protect Safari users’ privacy by blocking cookies, which can have consequences for advertisers. 

    “Blocking cookies without another way to deliver relevant ads significantly reduces publishers’ primary means of funding, which jeopardizes the future of the vibrant web,” the company said, noting that irrelevant ads served without cookies leads to a roughly 52 percent drop in funding for publishers. 

    Google acknowledged that implementing new standards requires “significant thought, debate, and input from many stakeholders, and generally take multiple years.” If Google is ultimately cleared to move forward with its plan, it will likely be a while before Chrome users see the features included in the proposal. 

    Google has proposed a new set of standards, called the “Privacy Sandbox,” that would strike a balance between protecting consumers’ privacy and allowing ad...

    Newspaper claims many cell phones emit illegal levels of radiation

    The Chicago Tribune says it tested 11 models from four manufacturers

    An investigation by the Chicago Tribune found the iPhone 7, set to full power, reportedly emits more RF radiation than allowed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

    The Tribune said it conducted its tests according to federal guidelines and at an accredited laboratory. After an iPhone 7 was set to full power it was immersed in a tub of clear liquid that was designed to simulate human tissue.

    Measurements were taken to determine the amount of RF radiation that was being blasted into the liquid. The newspaper reports radiofrequency radiation exposure from the iPhone 7 was determined to be over the FCC’s legal safety limit and more than double what Apple reported to federal regulators.

    The FCC says cell phones approved for sale in the U.S. “will never exceed” the maximum allowable exposure limit, but The Tribune says the iPhone is not the only device giving off too much radiation.

    Tested 11 smartphones

    The Tribune tests 11 models of smartphones from four different manufacturers and reported it “varying” results. Tests also included phones from Motorola, Samsung, and BLU. The newspaper said it shared its findings with FCC officials and asked for a response.

    “We take seriously any claims on non-compliance with the RF exposure standards and will be obtaining and testing the subject phones for compliance with FCC rules,” agency spokesman Neil Grace told The Tribune.

    Whether cell phones pose a health threat is not exactly a new question. Even in the 1980s, there was a concern that holding a radio transmitter next to your head for long periods of time might not be healthy.

    2011 study

    As we reported in 2011, a group of international researchers meeting in Istanbul, Turkey claimed to have “stunning proof” that confirmed findings from the Council of Europe -- pulsed digital signals from cell phones disrupt DNA, impair brain function and lower sperm count.

    The research was reputed to show that prolonged exposure to cell phone radiation could damage DNA, brain function, and sperm.

    But there have been enough studies purporting to show no ill health effects that the issue has remained cloudy, even though the studies continue. A major 2018 study reportedly showed the RF exposure was linked to brain cancer in rats.

    In response to The Tribune’s tests, Apple took exception. Apple was one of two manufacturers who disputed the findings, saying the lab the newspaper retained used unusual testing methods.

    The Tribune said it conducted the tests to keep attention focused on the issue, hoping to contribute to the ongoing debate about the possible risks posed by cell phone radiation.

    An investigation by the Chicago Tribune found the iPhone 7, set to full power, reportedly emits more RF radiation than allowed by the Federal Communication...

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      AAA predicts a big drop in gasoline prices

      The national average price drops another three cents a gallon in the last week

      The price of gasoline continues to fall, and AAA predicts that we aren’t even close to the bottom. The organization has stated that prices could fall an average of 25 cents a gallon before the end of the year.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular is $2.59 a gallon, three cents below last Friday’s price. It’s down 23 cents a gallon from a year ago. The average price of premium is $3.19, down three cents from last week. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.94, a penny less than last week.

      “AAA predicts that fall gasoline prices will be significantly less expensive than this summer with motorists finding savings in every market across the country,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. “Many factors are driving this decrease, but the low price of crude oil is chief among them.”

      Because of falling oil prices, driven by a slowdown in the global economy, AAA predicts the average price will drop another 25 cents a gallon before it reaches a bottom. The economic consequences could be significant since lower fuel prices are likely to promote travel and more consumer spending.

      AAA forecasts crude prices to range between $50 and $60 per barrel this fall. That, along with a healthy refinery utilization rate, should keep downward pressure on prices at the pump through the end of the year.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.66)

      • California ($3.58)

      • Washington ($3.22)

      • Nevada ($3.14)

      • Oregon ($3.06)

      • Alaska ($3.02)

      • Utah ($2.87)

      • Idaho ($2.83)

      • New York ($2.80)

      • Connecticut ($2.78)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Louisiana ($2.22)

      • Mississippi ($2.23)

      • South Carolina ($2.25)

      • Alabama ($2.25)

      • Arkansas ($2.28)

      • Oklahoma ($2.30)

      • Tennessee ($2.31)

      • Texas ($2.34)

      • Missouri ($2.32)

      • Virginia ($2.35)

      The price of gasoline continues to fall, and AAA predicts that we aren’t even close to the bottom. The organization has stated that prices could fall an av...

      Agropur Cooperative recalls Iceberg and Originale Augustin ice cream sandwiches

      The products may contain fine metal particles

      Agropur Cooperative is recalling Iceberg and Originale Augustin brands of ice cream sandwiches.

      The products may contain fine metal particles.

      There are no reported injuries associated with the consumption of these products.

      The following products, sold throughout Canada, are being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameSizeUPCCode(s) on Product
      IcebergMega Sandwiches Vanilla Ice Cream8 × 190 mL74276 118162021 MA 29 19149
      Originale AugustinMega Sandwich Vanilla Ice Cream30 × 190 mL74276 1188519134 BB/MA 2020MA14
      19135 BB/MA 2020MA15
      19141 BB/MA 2020MA21
      19142 BB/MA 2020MA22
      19147 BB/MA 2020MA27
      19148 BB/MA 2020MA28
      19168 BB/MA 2020JN17
      19170 BB/MA 2020JN19
      19176 BB/MA 2020JN25
      19177 BB/MA 2020JN26

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard r return them to the store where purchased.

      Consumers with questions may call 800-442-2342 (Canada and U.S.).

      Agropur Cooperative is recalling Iceberg and Originale Augustin brands of ice cream sandwiches.The products may contain fine metal particles.There...

      Reuven International recalls diced and shredded chicken meat

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Reuven International is recalling Reuven International brand Natural Proportion Cooked Chicken Meat (Diced) and Sysco brand Natural Proportions Cooked Shredded Chicken.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The Public Health Agency of Canada is investigating an outbreak of human illness.

      The following items (size: 4.54 kg), sold in Canada's Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Possibly National, Quebec and Saskatchewan provinces, are being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameUPCPack Date
      Reuven International LtdNatural Proportion Cooked
      Chicken Meat (Diced) 
      (#15307)
      907 63572 15307 1 01/21/19
      Reuven International LtdNatural Proportion Cooked
      Chicken Meat (Diced) 
      (#15807)
      907 63572 15807 6 01/21/19
      SyscoNatural Proportions Cooked
      Shredded Chicken 
      (#15885)
      007 34730 21450 4 01/21/19

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact the firm at (416) 929-1496.

      Reuven International is recalling Reuven International brand Natural Proportion Cooked Chicken Meat (Diced) and Sysco brand Natural Proportions Cooked Shre...

      E-cigarettes are just as detrimental to lung health as traditional cigarettes, study finds

      Experts suggest that health conditions worsen in much the same way for smokers of any kind

      Though once believed to help consumers quit smoking, recent research suggests that e-cigarettes can harm consumers’ overall health and well-being in much the same way that cigarettes do. 

      A new study conducted by researchers from the University of North Carolina Health Care found that emphysema is just as likely in e-cigarette smokers as it is in traditional cigarette smokers. The team explains that those who have swapped cigarettes for vaping are still putting a great deal of stress on their lungs. 

      “Our findings in this study indicate that vaping may not be safer than cigarette smoking,” said researcher Robert Tarran, PhD. 

      Lung damage is the same across the board

      The researchers started by sampling lung fluid for three different protease enzymes that came from cigarette smokers, e-cigarette smokers, and non-smokers. 

      Previous studies have shown that smokers have higher levels of these enzymes, which can ultimately lead to emphysema. With this in mind, the researchers wanted to gauge the levels in the three different groups to see how e-cigarettes are affecting consumers’ lung function. 

      All of the participants were tested for their levels of the three different enzymes.Though non-smokers were found to have normal levels of these enzymes, and were therefore not at an increased risk of emphysema, the opposite was true of both traditional smokers and e-cigarette smokers. 

      The findings showed that e-cigarette smoke and cigarette smoke affected the lungs in much the same way, which suggests that e-cigarettes pose just as much risk to consumers when it comes to developing emphysema as regular cigarettes. 

      Not as safe as expected

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced its plan to further investigate claims that e-cigarettes have a direct link to lung disease. The agency is following up on reports that many young consumers have been admitted to hospitals due to symptoms related to lung disease. 

      Five states across the country -- California, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois -- have reported instances of pulmonary disease that they believe are directly related to e-cigarette use, so the CDC is diving deeper to find out how the devices are affecting consumers’ health. 

      “There is no conclusive evidence that an infectious disease is causing the illnesses,” the CDC explained. “While some cases in each of the states are similar and appear to be linked to e-cigarette product use, more information is needed to determine what is causing the illnesses.”

      Though once believed to help consumers quit smoking, recent research suggests that e-cigarettes can harm consumers’ overall health and well-being in much t...

      Apple expected to announce camera-focused iPhones at annual press event

      A report suggests two ‘Pro’ phones are on the way

      Two of the three iPhones Apple is expected to debut next month will be “Pro” phones, featuring an emphasis on the device’s camera performance, according to a Bloomberg report. 

      The phones will boast a new triple-lens camera system, which combines wide angle, telephoto, and ultra-wide lenses. The publication says the upcoming “Pro” models will take the place of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. 

      The iPhone 11 Pro software will enable it to take three images at once and merge them into higher-resolution pictures “rivaling some traditional cameras.” The device’s low-light camera performance will also be enhanced.  

      Upgraded functions

      In addition to the new “Pro” models, the tech giant will reportedly unveil a successor to last year’s iPhone XR. A second rear camera will be added to the device, which will equip it with the ability to shoot in enhanced portrait mode and zoom in further without the quality of the shot being impacted. A change to Face ID, “multi angle” sensor hardware, is also expected to be announced in a few weeks. 

      “The phones will include a new multi-angle Face ID sensor that captures a wider field of view so that users can unlock the handsets more easily – even when the devices are flat on a table,” Bloomberg reported. 

      Aesthetically, Bloomberg says “at least some colors” of the devices will feature a new matte finish. The devices will also be more durable, thanks to enhanced shatter protection and water resistance. The publication also claims Apple is likely to release new AirPods and a smaller, less expensive HomePod smart speaker as early as next year. 

      Apple’s annual iPhone announcement event, which has been held in September for the past four years, is expected to take place on Tuesday, September 10 this year.

      Two of the three iPhones Apple is expected to debut next month will be “Pro” phones, featuring an emphasis on the device’s camera performance, according to...

      MoviePass security breach may have exposed nearly 60,000 customer records

      For several months, a key server wasn’t protected with a password

      A MoviePass database that was left unsecured may have exposed the credit card and customer card information of nearly 60,000 of the movie subscription service’s customers, TechCrunch reported this week. 

      Security researcher Mossab Hussein discovered the trove of unsecured records, which included names, email addresses, card expiration dates, and home addresses of some users. Hussein said the information may have been publicly accessible and vulnerable to misuse by cybercriminals for several months. 

      MoviePass confirms the incident 

      In a statement on Wednesday, MoviePass said it immediately secured the unprotected server once the vulnerability was discovered. The company said affected customers will be notified after it conducts its own research into how many customer records were exposed. 

      “MoviePass recently discovered a security vulnerability that may have exposed customer records. After discovering the vulnerability, we immediately secured our systems to prevent further exposure and to mitigate the potential impact of this incident,” said MoviePass chief executive Mitch Lowe. 

      “MoviePass takes this incident seriously and is dedicated to protecting our customers’ information. We are working diligently to investigate the scope of this incident and its potential impact on our customers. Once we gain a full understanding of the incident, we will promptly notify any affected subscribers and the appropriate regulators or law enforcement.”

      Profitability challenges

      The movie ticketing service, which had more than 3 million customers as of June 2018, has faced financial struggles as a result of its unsustainable business model and growing user base. 

      Last month, MoviePass announced that it would be shutting down for several weeks to make “improvements” and work on a new version of its app. MoviePass now claims on its website that “service has been restored to a substantial number of our current subscribers and we are hoping to take steps to restore service to all our current subscribers.” 

      For the time being, MoviePass isn’t letting new customers sign up.

      A MoviePass database that was left unsecured may have exposed the credit card and customer card information of nearly 60,000 of the movie subscription serv...

      You can’t treat the Apple Card like a regular credit card

      You might have to find a place other than your wallet to keep it

      The Apple Card began open enrollment this week, with the tech giant urging its iPhone customers to begin applying for the new credit card.

      But while the Apple Card works like a regular credit card, you can’t treat it like a regular credit card. 

      A support note, first reported by Apple Insider, warns users not to store the card in a leather wallet. Leather, it turns out, will permanently discolor the card’s bright, white, metal finish. Don’t put it in your jeans pocket either, since coming in contact with denim will do the same thing.

      In fact, it seems almost as though the Apple Card should be kept in a totally separate environment since contact with other credit cards, keys, and loose change can also damage the card.

      Cleaning instructions

      It’s unlikely that many consumers spend much time cleaning their other credit cards, but Apple has provided instructions for doing that to its new card.

      “Gently wipe with a soft, slightly damp, lint-free microfiber cloth,” the company advises. “Moisten a soft, microfiber cloth with isopropyl alcohol and gently wipe the card. Don't use window or household cleaners, compressed air, aerosol sprays, solvents, ammonia, or abrasives to clean your titanium Apple Card.”

      With this much pressure to keep the Apple Card in pristine condition, some consumers might think twice before shoving it into the slot of a nasty gas pump. And in truth, the card might not have been designed for that.

      The card may actually have been designed to be linked with Apple Pay. Consumers using Apple’s payment system can simply replace the card the system currently uses with the new Apple Card. Consumers who aren’t using Apple Pay may start using it once they get the Apple Card. Carrying the card might not even be necessary.

      All of this prompted tech site CCN to declare this week that the Apple Card really isn’t a credit card as much as it is a “huge marketing ploy for iPhone sales.”

      The Apple Card began open enrollment this week, with the tech giant urging its iPhone customers to begin applying for the new credit card.But while the...

      Waymo showing confidence in race to develop autonomous cars

      The Alphabet subsidiary is sharing high-resolution sensor data with researchers

      Waymo is breaking with tradition and releasing a large amount of data about its progress in developing autonomous vehicles, which may be interpreted as a sign of confidence. In its latest step, it has released some of its high-resolution sensor data to researchers.

      The company, a division of Google parent company Alphabet, has made public some datasets that follow actual road tests. Released in 20 second clips, the data will give researchers the information they need to create models showing how Waymo vehicles will fit into a normal road environment.

      “To me, it’s a bit of a labor of love,” Drago Anguelov, Waymo’s head of research, told reporters. “I think that also creating such a data set is a lot of work. And it takes many months to label the data, ensure that all the relevant parts are to the highest standards that one expects, making sure that the right utilities are available for researchers to be able to make progress without being hamstrung.”

      Not so secretive

      Autonomous vehicle companies have, from the start, closely guarded their data as trade secrets. But in recent months, that has appeared to change.

      In March, rival Aptiv dumped a significant amount of data into the public domain. Uber and Cruise, working with General Motors, have also made their AV visualization tools public.

      Waymo, meanwhile, is testing its cars in more extreme weather conditions. The company recently shifted some of its road testing from arid Arizona to Florida, where afternoon thundershowers are a summertime fixture.

      Extreme testing conditions

      During hurricane season, Miami is one of the wettest cities in the U.S., averaging an annual 61.9 inches of rain and experiencing some of the most intense weather conditions in the country.

      “Heavy rain can create a lot of noise for our sensors,” the company wrote in its blog. “Wet roads also may result in other road users behaving differently. Testing allows us to understand the unique driving conditions, and get a better handle on how rain affects our own vehicle movements, too.”

      The company says it will spend several weeks testing the cars on a course in Naples, Fla., choosing the rainiest season of the year for the tests. Later, tests conducted on Miami streets will use human drivers behind the wheel.

      Waymo is breaking with tradition and releasing a large amount of data about its progress in developing autonomous vehicles, which may be interpreted as a s...

      Google gives Play Store a ‘visual refresh’

      The Play Store has been given a cleaner appearance

      Google has given its Play Store a new look in an effort to “improve the overall store experience.” 

      In a blog post, Google said it has moved the navigation bar to the bottom of the app on Android phones and shifted the navigation on tablets and Chrome OS devices to the left.

      Within the new navigation bar, users will find two main tabs for apps and games. Google says adding the distinction between apps and games is intended to help “better serve users the right kind of content.”

      "Once users find the right app or game, the updated store listing page layout surfaces richer app information at the top of each page as well as a more prominent call-to-action button. This makes it easier for users to see the important details and make a decision to install your app," wrote Boris Valusek, design lead of Google Play.

      Visually, Google’s Play Store is now predominantly white, which mirrors the aesthetic of its all-white homepage. Users will also see more rounded-edge icons, similar to the ones Apple has on iOS. 

      A “Recommended for you” section has been added to enable users to discover other apps they might enjoy. 

      Finally, Google has moved the “Music” tab. Music can still be found in the search bar at the top of the screen. Relocating the Music tab suggests the company is gearing up to implement its plan of replacing Google Play Music with YouTube Music. 

      Google has given its Play Store a new look in an effort to “improve the overall store experience.” In a blog post, Google said it has moved the navigat...

      Existing home sales make a healthy jump in July

      But a severe shortage of entry-level homes is keeping many consumers on the sidelines

      The sputtering real estate market showed new signs of life in July as sales of existing homes rose 2.5 percent from the month before. Year-over-year sales also increased but less dramatically, rising 0.6 percent from July 2018.

      Home sales slowed down in the first half of 2019 as mortgage rates increased last year and home prices kept rising, pricing a growing number of would-be buyers out of the market. But  Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, says conditions for buyers have improved.

      "Falling mortgage rates are improving housing affordability and nudging buyers into the market," Yun said.

      But there are still obstacles for first-time buyers. The inventory of entry-level homes -- those priced around $200,000 or less -- remains very tight. The lack of supply has had the effect of pushing up the price of those formerly low-priced homes.

      Cheaper homes getting more expensive

      A NAR analysis of homes purchased in 2012 and sold again last year makes that point. During that six-year period, 50 percent of the homes -- those in the lower half price-wise -- doubled in value in markets like Atlanta, Denver, Miami, and Tampa. Homes in the more expensive half of those markets increased in value at a much lower rate.

      "Clearly, the inventory of moderately-priced homes is inadequate and more home building is needed," said Yun. "Some new apartments could be converted into condominiums thereby helping with the supply, especially in light of new federal rules permitting a wider use of Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgages to buy condo properties."

      Eighty-nine months of price increases

      The median existing-home price for all housing types in July was $280,800, up 4.3 percent from July 2018. July's price increase marks the 89th straight month of year-over-year gains.

      As affordability becomes an issue for more prospective buyers, The Wall Street Journal reports that mortgage lenders are beginning to loosen mortgage underwriting standards and making loans to more risky borrowers. Many lenders have already resumed the approval of loans for 100 percent of the value of the property.

      Both practices were abandoned a decade ago in the wake of the housing market crash. Making loans to buyers with little or no credit led to a wave of foreclosures. Loans for 100 percent of the home’s value trapped millions of otherwise solvent homeowners “underwater” when home values went down, and they could neither sell or refinance their homes.

      The sputtering real estate market showed new signs of life in July as sales of existing homes rose 2.5 percent from the month before. Year-over-year sales...

      Mercedes-Benz recalls GLE350 4MATICs and GLE450 4MATICs

      The fuel tank may have been improperly welded, allowing a leak

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 128 model year 2020 GLE350 4MATICs and GLE450 4MATICs.

      The connection between the fuel filler pipe and the fuel tank may have been improperly welded, allowing a fuel leak.

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

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel tank free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 1, 2019.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 128 model year 2020 GLE350 4MATICs and GLE450 4MATICs.The connection between the fuel filler pipe and the fuel t...

      YouTube may stop serving targeted ads on videos aimed at children

      The site is trying to appease regulators following the FTC’s privacy violation charge

      YouTube is considering putting an end to its practice of allowing “targeted” ads on videos that are more likely to be viewed by children, Bloomberg reports, citing people “familiar with the discussion.”

      The video streaming platform was recently hit with a multimillion dollar fine after the FTC found that it had violated children’s privacy laws by collecting data on children under the age of 13. It’s not clear if YouTube’s changes -- which, at this point, may or may not be implemented -- are a direct result of the settlement, Bloomberg noted. 

      Doing away with targeted ads on videos aimed at children could have a significant impact on YouTube’s ad revenues. An industry analyst cited in the report said the platform could lose as much as 10 percent of its overall intake from kids’ videos, which works out to about $50 million annually. 

      However, this solution would be much smaller in scale than other proposed ways of complying with regulators. Last year, a coalition of advocacy groups suggested that the FTC require YouTube to migrate all of its kids’ content to its YouTube Kids app. FTC chairman Joseph Simons has suggested the possibility of disabling ads on videos likely to be watched by children. 

      Tracking still an issue

      Google hasn’t commented on YouTube’s reported decision to stop serving targeted ads on kids’ videos, and it’s still unclear how YouTube would determine which videos would count as kids’ videos. 

      Complainants have argued that the move would be hard to enforce. Josh Golin, from the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, noted that shutting off the ad-targeting feature for select kids’ videos doesn’t mean YouTube will stop tracking their web habits. 

      “Is Google still going to be collecting all the data and creating marketing profiles?” he asked Bloomberg. “That wouldn’t be satisfactory either.”

      YouTube is considering putting an end to its practice of allowing “targeted” ads on videos that are more likely to be viewed by children, Bloomberg reports...

      Texas could become the next hotspot for measles outbreaks, experts say

      Study findings emphasize the importance of children staying up-to-date on vaccines

      With measles outbreaks running rampant across the country earlier this year, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found a new spot in the U.S. that could be home to the next big outbreak of the disease: Texas. 

      According to the researchers, large populations of children in Texas schools remain unvaccinated, making it an easy environment for the measles to spread rapidly. 

      “At current vaccination rates, there’s a significant chance of an outbreak involving more than 400 people right now in some Texas cities,” said researcher David Sinclair, PhD. “We forecast that a continuous reduction in vaccination rates would exponentially increase possible outbreak sizes.” 

      Vaccination rates trending downward

      Though vaccines are critical in preventing the spread of disease, Texas schools -- both private and public -- allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children. As a result, vaccination rates have gone down, and experts are concerned about the potential health implications. 

      To get a better idea of how measles can spread across the state, which has one of the largest populations in the country, the Texas Pediatric Society had researchers at the University of Pittsburgh use a simulator known as FRED (Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics). FRED uses data from the U.S. Census to create a simulated population based off of real-world numbers and locations -- in this case the state of Texas -- and allows users to understand how diseases can spread on a person-to-person level based on how the simulated people would interact in the real world. 

      Data from FRED revealed that cities both large and small across Texas could be affected tremendously by measles outbreaks due to the state’s laws. In vulnerable areas where vaccination numbers are lowest, measles cases could affect upwards of 1,000 people should the vaccination rate dip by five percent; in busier cities like Dallas or Austin, current vaccination rates could lead to an outbreak that affects more than 400 people. 

      The researchers want consumers to be aware of the risks associated with choosing not to vaccinate children, as the population at-large could be greatly affected. 

      “When someone refuses to be vaccinated, they are making a decision that doesn’t only impact them,” said researcher Dr. Mark Roberts. “They are increasing the risk that people who are not immune, through no fault of their own, will get very sick and possibly die.” 

      Fighting vaccine exemptions

      In the midst of one of the worst measles outbreaks in decades that occurred earlier this year, health experts and lawmakers alike were working to promote the powerful benefits of vaccines in an effort to protect consumers from disease. 

      In mid-June, New York lawmakers voted to abolish religious exemptions to vaccines. Around the same time, public health experts were pushing for wider vaccine outreach, particularly from local representatives who have the most sway with people in their communities and can work to make real changes for consumers. 

      “Part of the problem is making the seeming invisibility of prevention, visible; this requires imagination and creativity, together with leadership and the effective delivery of services,” said researcher John Ashton.

      With measles outbreaks running rampant across the country earlier this year, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found a...