How to best protect against the flu this season

ljubaphoto/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Some experts have already predicted a severe flu season so it's time to take the proper health precautions and understand the best ways to protect against the virus.

ABC News' chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton weighed in on Good Morning America to share her take on this year's strain, the vaccine and how to stay healthy.

"It's so difficult to predict, we only know in hindsight," she explained. "You can't predict it."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases a weekly influenza surveillance report which has shown a spike in the number of new cases currently above the national baseline.

Why is the flu expected to be so bad this year?

Ashton said that much of what we use as an indicator comes from the southern hemisphere, which saw a busy flu season this year with the H3N2 strain.

There are two main groups of influenza viruses: influenza A and influenza B. The H3N2 strain belongs to the influenza A family.

"We look to the southern hemisphere, what has gone on there because they tend to be ahead of us and they had a tough season," she said. "The predominantly-circulating strain was the H3N2. People may remember from last year, it causes particularly severe symptoms."

The good news, Ashton added, "is that type of strain is included in this year's vaccine."

How does this year's flu vaccine differ?

Last year's vaccine was only about 30% effective, which Ashton explained is of course, "better than zero" but to think of it as a seat belt.

"It's not a great vaccine," Ashton said candidly. "It won't guarantee that you won't get the flu but it can reduce the symptoms and lower your risk of complications."

What does the hand sanitizer study show?

A recent study out of Japan compared the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers to regular soap and water in an effort to look at hand hygiene in terms of its efficacy to kill the influenza virus.

Ashton said that the study found "that the germs on the hand actually have to be dried for the alcohol-based hand sanitizers to work at maximum efficacy."

Best practices for flu season

The flu is transmitted via droplets and contact, so Ashton recommended "good old hot water and soap with vigorous rubbing is still the best."

  • Get plenty of sleep. Doctors recommend at least 6-8 hours of sleep per night.
  • Stay hydrated and stay active. Exercise is a great way to stay healthy.
  • Fuel your body with healthy foods.

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Two dads welcome two babies born nine days and hundreds of miles apart

Courtesy George Arison(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Newborns Luka Arison Luo and Emilia Arison Luo are siblings who arrived in the world nine days and more than 300 miles apart earlier this month.

The babies, who share the same biological mother, were birthed by two different surrogate women and share two dads who spent nearly three years bringing them into the world.

"We look at each other all the time and say, 'We can’t believe we did it,'" one of Luka and Emilia's dads, George Arison, told ABC News' Good Morning America, referring to their other dad, his husband, Dr. Robert Luo. "It’s incredible."

Arison, the 41-year-old co-founder of Shift, an online car selling platform, and Luo, a 40-year-old pathologist, wed in March, a marriage documented by the New York Times.

Their journey to having children together began much earlier, in 2015, when they met in San Francisco and fell in love. Soon after, they began planning how they would start a family together.

The couple knew they wanted their children to be related to each other and were hopeful they could each have a genetic link to the children also. As two gay men, they saw the reality that it would be a winding road to parenthood, adoption included, and decided to look into surrogacy.

Arison and Luo also knew they would need a woman to help them, which turned into three women.

They chose their egg donor -- a woman who will remain anonymous until much later if both the woman and Luka and Emilia want to meet -- and fertilized one egg with Arison's sperm and one with Luo's sperm.

They then settled in for the search for two surrogates, which proved to be a months-long process. Arison and Luo needed two surrogates because their fertility clinic would only implant one embryo in a surrogate at a time, a standard practice to reduce the risk of complications.

The couple also wanted to ideally find surrogates close to their lives in San Francisco so they could maintain close ties during the pregnancies.

They ended up finding, with the help of an agency, two women willing to carry their babies who lived in California but more than 300 miles apart.

Late last year, the two women met each other and Luo and Arison for the first time when they came together in San Francisco for the embryo transfers.

"They don't know this but, from the lab, when they came in, we were able to see [Luo and Arison] giving gifts to [the] women and hugging [the] women," said Dr. Peter Klatsky, the couple's fertility doctor and director of fertility preservation at Spring Fertility. "It was a really meaningful and special day for all involved."

In what Arison described as an "unexpected" but very welcome outcome, the embryo transfers in each woman were successful that day. Luo and Arison spent the next nine months looking after their two pregnancies.

"Robert attended nearly every ultrasound the surrogates had," said Arison, whose company, Shift, is a startup. "I joke that I started a company and Robert started another company, our children."

The couple also recorded themselves reading children's books throughout the pregnancies and sent the recordings to each surrogate to play for their children. Arison recorded some of the books in his native Georgian language.

One of the books they read aloud, And Tango Makes Three, is one they plan to keep reading to their kids as they grow. The book tells the true story of two penguins at the Central Park Zoo who create a nontraditional family with the help of others.

"We're going to tell [Luka and Emilia] there were very nice women who were willing to carry [you] in her tummy," Arison said. "We’ll never be able to say enough thank yous to our surrogates."

The surrogate carrying Luka went into labor earlier this month. On Sept. 2 she gave birth to him, a healthy 9 pounds, 4 ounces boy.

Luo and Arison were there for the delivery and as they celebrated the birth of their first child, got word the surrogate carrying Emilia was having contractions.

They rushed to her hometown and after a few days of agonizing waiting -- leaving Luka behind with his surrogate -- Emilia was born on Sept. 11, weighing 7 pounds, 11 ounces.

Luo was even able to scrub in and help with the delivery of Emilia, according to Arison.

"I cried when the embryos were transferred and I cried when Luka was [born] and I cried when Robert helped deliver Emilia," he said. "It was incredible."

The new dads are now home with both babies in San Francisco, relishing in the fact that their dreams of becoming parents came true.

Arison said he does not take for granted the fact that he and Luo live in California, a state where surrogacy is legal and where the two dads had their names placed on their kids' birth certificates immediately without a legal fight.

"The fact that we can do this makes me feel really good about the world we live in," Arison said. "We are massively relieved and grateful."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Mosquito-borne virus threat grows with new Michigan cases

iStock(NEW YORK) -- Michigan health officials amped up their warning about a rare mosquito-borne virus Tuesday, after the state's Department of Health and Human Services confirmed four new cases of Eastern equine encephalitis disease (EEE). Two of the state's seven cases so far this year were fatal.

"Michigan is currently experiencing its worst Eastern equine encephalitis outbreak in more than a decade," Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health said in a statement.

"The ongoing cases reported in humans and animals and the severity of this disease illustrate the importance of taking precautions against mosquito bites."

There are typically about seven cases of EEE reported each year in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with those cases tending to be clustered along the Eastern Seaboard and in the Great Lakes regions.

In addition to Michigan, a handful of states, including New York, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Massachusetts have seen an uptick in cases, bringing this year’s total to 73.

Last year there were only six cases reported nationwide.

EEE is transmitted by mosquitoes, usually in swampy areas where mosquitoes breed, so people who spend time working or participating in outdoor activities are at higher risk for contracting EEE. The disease cannot be transmitted from person to person. Symptoms of EEE include chills, fever, fatigue, and joint and muscle pain, which tend to set in around four to 10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

About 30% of people who develop the disease will die of the infection and among those who survive, many will experience neurological problems, ranging from seizures to intellectual impairment to personality disorders, according to the CDC.

To avoid being bitten, health officials recommend using mosquito repellent containing DEET and wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants while outdoors, as well as emptying standing water around the home to reduce mosquito breeding grounds.

Health officials don’t know exactly what’s causing the uptick, since unlike more prevalent mosquito-borne infections, like West Nile virus, there’s not much research on what causes mosquitoes to carry EEE in a given year, a Michigan health department spokesperson explained.

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A doctor joined an app popular with teens to teach about the dangers of vaping

high-number/iStock(ROBBINSDALE, Minn.) -- One doctor has found a foothold with the trendy social media platform TikTok to try and appeal to teens in hopes of discouraging e-cigarette use.

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie, a family medicine resident at the University of Minnesota North Memorial Hospital, has taken a new approach to the app popular among younger users for sharing short videos to make a difference in the wake of recent health warnings.

"There were a lot of adolescents and young adults, millions really, making up the population on this social media platform, but relatively few medical professionals," Leslie told ABC News. "So I really felt like it was a space where I could come in and use the health information that I know."

The soaring popularity of vaping has sparked new concerns over the potential health risks that could come with it after a sixth person died from a vaping-related lung illness.

Dr. Leslie shares information first hand like showing, side by side, x-rays of patients with healthy lungs and patients with a "mysterious disease associated with vaping."

"The response has been quite good," she said. "I have received many messages of people who are asking where they can find links for more information."

While some have hailed her for helping, Leslie has faced some critics.

"Any time when you explain the risks of a habit that's perceived as cool, there will be negative responses," she said. "Despite those experiences, the risks still exist."

"I just continue to give health information, relay what the CDC is putting out in a palatable way, in the space where teens and young adults are," she said.

Police in Wisconsin announced arrests in connection with a drug operation that was filling 3,000 to 5,000 illegal THC vaping cartridges a day for nearly two years at concentrations 157 times the labeled THC potency. It’s still unknown if these cartridges have been linked to any illness.

Leslie said there's still many unknowns with this "mysterious" illness, but shared a few key health tips.

"Women who are pregnant and teenagers should not be using any e-cigarettes or vape materials. People who have any shortness of breath, any chest pain, any fever should go in and seek medical attention," Leslie advised. "Avoid all tampered-with or black-market THC or e-cigarette products."

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Major new beverage guidelines for kids 5 and under: What parents should know

SilviaJansen/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Give kids little to no juice and more water.

That's the top line of what parents need to know about major new beverage guidelines for children from birth to age 5 issued by an unprecedented collaboration of major health organizations.

The guidelines show that beverages "may have the same impact on our overall level of nutrition, wellness and disease as food," according to ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, who was not involved in their creation.

They are the first "comprehensive recommendations" for beverage consumption for kids from birth to age 5, according to Healthy Eating Research, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focused on kids' nutrition.

Healthy Eating Research released the guidelines Wednesday after convening a panel of experts from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Heart Association.

Here is what parents need to know about the guidelines:

0-6 months: Breast milk or infant formula only; no fruit juice or other liquids of any kind.

6-12 months: Breast milk or infant formula; small amounts of plain drinking water okay once solid foods are introduced; no fruit juice.

12-24 months: Whole milk and plain drinking water; very limited 100 percent fruit juice on occasion.

2-5 years: Skim or low-fat milk and plain drinking water; very limited 100  percent fruit juice on occasion.

The best thing parents can do for their kids in addition to following the guidelines is to lead by example with their own beverage choices, according to Ashton.

"Don't drink your calories," she said. "Water is best."

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Brother surprises sister, his bone marrow donor, with the honeymoon of her dreams

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Jack Santos was just like any other 18-year-old kid who had the whole world ahead of him. He loved sports and spending time with his family, and he was planning for college.

Things came to a halt last year when he went in for a yearly checkup and his bloodwork revealed he had aplastic anemia, a rare, life-threatening blood disease that leaves those who have it feeling fatigued with uncontrollable bleeding.

Santos said, “I was getting a lot of nosebleeds but I didn’t really think I felt anything wrong.”

In order to survive, he would need a bone marrow transplant. And while finding a match can be challenging, Santos’ siblings got tested and his older sister, Shelby, was the perfect match.

“I didn’t want to see him go through something like this,” Shelby said. “It was terrifying, but we were ready for whatever brought with it at the time.”

On September 12, 2018, she became her brother’s bone marrow donor.

“Shelby saved my life,” said Santos, now 19.

Today, the two siblings are healthy and Shelby is even engaged to her fiance, Garrett.

So when Make-A-Wish offered Santos a wish to fulfill, he immediately wanted to thank his sister for her selfless act.

With Shelby and Garrett set to tie the knot in 2020, Santos asked to use his wish to give Shelby a honeymoon.

On ABC News' Good Morning America Wednesday, Santos surprised Shelby with the honeymoon of her dreams: a luxury vacation at Sandals Resorts.

"I am obviously in shock," said Shelby, who plans to wed in September 2020. "This is something that Jack has been having to go through so for him to give [his wish] up and give to me, is just, he didn’t have to do that and it’s amazing."

"He’s the youngest and he’s always been my little baby brother so I’ve always wanted to help him through life and I never thought I could do it this way," she said. "I’m so just beyond grateful that I could."

Wednesday also marked ABC's Robin Roberts’ “birthday” from her bone marrow transplant seven years ago. She received a bone marrow transplant in 2012 after undergoing 10 days of extensive chemotherapy.

Click here to learn more about Be the Match.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Seven ways to take care of your skin this fall

simarik/iStock(NEW YORK) -- You change your wardrobe each season -- so why not change your skin care routine, as well?

ABC News' Good Morning America spoke with skin care experts about how the change from summer to cooler months can affect your skin.

"I often tell my patients that when you begin layering your clothing in fall, it’s also a good time to start layering your skin care," said Dr. Whitney Bowe, a leading NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and author of Dirty Looks: The Secret to Beautiful Skin.

"As we transition from the balmy days of summer into the cooler days of fall, the air becomes more dry," Dr. Bowe said. "This cooler, dry air steals the moisture out of our skin. Without healthy hydration, skin loses elasticity, ages more quickly, and in general, looks dry, flaky and dull."

Two factors to keep in mind that affect your skin are moisture and sun exposure, according to board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. David Sieber.

"Drier climates tend to be warmer year-round, leading to increased sun exposure," he told GMA, which is why he recommends wearing a sunscreen year-round.

Ready to fall in love with your skin? Bowe shared seven easy ways to adjust your skin care routine:

1. Layer your skin care products from lightest to heaviest. For example, start with a light serum followed by a richer cream.

2. Use a cool mist humidifier in the fall when you start to use indoor heat. Humidifiers can keep skin hydrated all winter long. Opt for a cool mist humidifier if you have little ones running around because ones that use steam from hot water can be safety hazards.

3. Use lukewarm, not hot, water during your shower or when washing your face. Hot water can dry out your skin. Extreme temperatures can also make skin conditions like rosacea flare, causing red, blotchy patches on the skin.

4. Exfoliate your skin no more than one or two times a week because dry skin is more prone to irritation.

5. Choose rich, hydrating day and night creams to help replenish and lock in moisture. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides, which help to lock in moisture.

6. Heal your skin from within through diet.

"As I explain in Dirty Looks, your skin is a window into your overall health," said Bowe. "It’s not enough to care for your skin from the outside in -- it is equally important to nurture and nourish your skin from the inside out through diet. About 20% of our water intake comes in food form."

"Vegetables and fruits are naturally water-rich, but be careful here. The sugar in many fruits will negate the benefits of the water content. Sugar binds to your collagen -- a major component of connective tissue -- in a process called glycation, and targets it for destruction. So avoid fruits with a high glycemic index (ironically, watermelon is one of them!), and reach for low glycemic produce like strawberries, cucumbers, lettuce, and leafy greens to help keep your skin hydrated from the inside out," she said.

7. Incorporate hydrating masks into your skin care routine several times per week to soothe any irritation and to seal-in moisture.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Woman took five simple steps to lose 100 pounds in one year

vadimguzhva/iStock(NEW YORK) -- One day in 2017, Martha Elizondo found herself in the scale aisle at a local Walmart.

"I had a number in my mind that I thought I was," she told ABC News' Good Morning America. The number she actually saw -- 250 pounds -- sent her onto the floor in tears.

Elizondo, who had been both a high school and college athlete, was "heartbroken" she said.

"I couldn't believe I let it go that far that fast," she said.

Elizondo, from Edinburg, Texas, started her transformation on Jan. 1, 2018. It would result in a 100-pound weight loss by February of the following year.

Starting small

"I knew I didn't want to make drastic changes," she said.

At the time, the majority of her diet was made up of fast food. She would go to Little Ceasers, she said, and eat a whole pizza herself.

"If there was a burger meal, I had to upgrade it," Elizondo said of her fast-food habits. She decided to cook at home more and limit her fast-food consumption to twice a week.

She started moving

The next month, she began walking around her neighborhood. The month after that, she started using the elliptical for 30 minutes every day.

In April, her walking turned to jogging. Eventually, she ran a 5K. Then a 10K. Today, she's has her sights set on a half marathon.

She cut back on socializing

"I had to put my health first," Elizondo told GMA.

For her, that meant skipping meals out with family and friends.

"They know me and I knew if they saw me order a salad they would ask about it," she said. "I just wanted to avoid that situation."

There was a time where Friday nights were spent jogging and drinking water, she said.

Today, with 100 pounds gone, she's back to socializing regularly and spending time with her family and friends.

"They know I've worked so hard and understand where I'm coming from," she said.

She used a meal-tracking app

My Fitness Pal, Elizondo said, not only helped her lose the weight, but now helps her maintain it.

"It's still my best friend," she said.

Her favorite features are how the app gives calorie suggestions and allows users to upload photos so she can see her progress with every milestone reached.

"It took a lot of consistency and discipline," she said. "Now I don't track as closely to the dot as I used to, but it helps me choose well during the day if I am going to be going out with friends that night."

She learned to love herself

The hardest part?

"Learning to love myself at every weight," Elizondo said.

"So many people say they will be happy when they reach a certain weight," she said. "But you have to learn to love yourself at every stage."

"With every goal you accomplish, self-love helps you get to the next step," she added.

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The connection between violent video games, racial bias and school shootings

mtreasure/iStock(NEW YORK) -- When a school shooting hits the news, are we more likely to blame violent video games if the shooter is white?

Politicians, the media and even scholars often do.

President Donald Trump previously stated, "I'm hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people's thoughts," after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

There's little evidence showing a relationship between violent video games and school shootings, but video games are often blamed for overall violence in our communities. A recent study published in the Psychology of Popular Media Culture set out to find if we look for an external explanation for violence by whites more often than we do for African Americans.

"We try harder to make excuses for white perpetrators," said investigator Dr. James Ivory, a professor in the Department of Communications at Virginia Tech, in an interview with ABC News.

The investigators conducted a two-part study. The first study gave people a mock news story about a school shooting. When asked what caused the shooting, people were more likely to blame video games if the shooter was white than if the shooter was black. The second study looked at thousands of news articles -- video games were mentioned more often in stories of white shooters. Video games were discussed more often when the shooting happened in schools than in other settings.

"It’s a depressing finding," said Dr. Ivory.

This study undoubtedly brings up a larger conversation on race.

"When you see people on television talking about video games and crime, it may say a lot more about other things and how we think about crime, than about video games," he said. "We might be interested to look for reasons for white people because of racial stereotyping."

The study’s theory: Racial bias likely exists because of an assumed association between minorities and violent crimes, an assumption that isn’t there with whites. The study says, "when such an act of violence is carried out by a racial minority, individuals may not feel compelled to seek an external explanation because the race of the perpetrator fits their stereotype of what a violent criminal looks like." The bias, they believe, is likely to have significant consequences, especially when assigning blame and responsibility to criminals of different races.

Further research is needed to determine specifically why this relationship exists and persists.

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Bakers beware: General Mills recalls Gold Medal flour over E. coli fears

A&J Fotos/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Bakers beware.

General Mills issued a voluntary recall of Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose flour this week over fears that it may be contaminated with E. coli.

The food and beverage giant said the recall applies to 5-pound bags with a "better if used by" date of Sept. 6, 2020.

There were no reports of illnesses linked to the product, but the food producer said in a statement that it issued the recall "out of an abundance of care."

"The recall is being issued for the potential presence of E. coli O26 which was discovered during sampling of the five-pound bag product," the statement said. "This recall is being issued out of an abundance of care as General Mills has not received any direct consumer reports of confirmed illnesses related to this product."

In May, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control warned consumers to avoid consuming any raw products made with flour, noting that several flour brands could be contaminated with E. coli O26.

At least 21 people across the U.S. have been infected with the E. coli O26 strain between December 2018 and May. Three were hospitalized, but there were no deaths reported.

E. coli exposure symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, headaches and other symptoms, according to health officials.

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