What to Know About Influenza Before Peak Flu Season

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Influenza activity is on the rise across the U.S., with 10 states already reporting high levels of flu activity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While getting the flu doesn't usually inspire dread among the otherwise healthy, the virus can have serious consequences for the frail. Every year, millions of people will be sickened by the seasonal flu and thousands in the U.S. will die from it.

As flu season reaches its peak in the next few weeks to months, here are a few things to keep in mind about the virus.

When Does Flu Season Peak?

While the spread of influenza can be unpredictable, generally season flu season peaks sometime between December and February, though it has been reported as late as May, according to the CDC.

"Flu varies, it's fickle sometimes it starts earlier sometimes it's later," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

During a 34-year study period, the CDC found that in flu activity generally peaked more often in February than other months. This year, public health experts believe the worst of the flu season has yet to arrive, Schaffner said.

"It should peak sometime in February and then it [will likely] abate through March," he said.

Is It Too Late to Get a Flu Shot?

If you've been putting off getting a flu shot, Schaffner said "run don't walk" to get the shot.

"It is not too late to get the flu shot. There is an excellent match between what is in the vaccine this year and the virus" circulating through the country, Schaffner said. The most prevalent strain currently circulating in the U.S. is influenza A (H3), according to the CDC.

However, since it takes between 10 days to two weeks for antibodies to build up after the flu shot, Schaffner said it's key to get the vaccination early.

"It's not too late [but] I wouldn't linger," he said.

Are There Other Ways to Avoid Getting Sick?

In addition to getting the flu shot, Schaffner said there are common sense actions people can take to avoid the virus. Simple steps like washing your hands and avoiding other people who are sick can go a long way in protecting you from being infected with the virus.

"Avoid people who are coughing and sneezing and if you get sick, restrict your activities," Schaffner said. "You don't want to give it to others."

Can You Treat the Flu?

Taking an antiviral like TamiFlu can help people get over the infection more quickly and can be especially helpful for those with weakened immune systems.

For the very young, very old or for those with an underlying medical condition, getting on an antiviral quickly can be key in shortening the duration of flu symptoms, Schaffner said.

"For older, the very young or anyone with underlying disease, if you get sick during flu season call your provider," to get an antiviral, Schaffner said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Three Resolutions for Happier Parenting in 2017

Purestock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Parenting is one of the toughest jobs out there, but maybe it doesn’t have to be. If one of your top priorities in 2017 is to be a happier parent, here are the parenting resolutions that can help you do just that.

Genevieve Shaw Brown, ABC News’ lifestyle editor and author of the brand-new book The Happiest Mommy You Know: Why Putting Your Kids First Is the Last Thing You Should Do, shared her top three tips for happier parenting in 2017 with Good Morning America.

"If moms are constantly putting their kids first and neglecting themselves as a result, they can’t be happy parents," she said. "And happy parents translate to happy kids, which, for most of us, is the ultimate goal."

Resolution 1: Treat your spouse as well as you treat your barista.

Brown said she noticed she was more polite to the people at Starbucks than to her own husband on some days. A study from the University of Georgia found feeling appreciated directly influences marital quality, so something as simple as just noticing all the work your spouse is doing and saying "thank you" can have a huge impact and increase happiness in the home for the whole family, she said.

Resolution 2: Get sleep at any cost.

"This is my favorite resolution and it will literally change your life overnight," she said. Brown said she was focused on her kids' sleep, even going as far as to make their bedroom resemble a spa, but in her own room was a TV, iPad and phone. Brown said that once she set bedtime for herself and banned devices from the bedroom, her mood, productivity and happiness improved dramatically.

Resolution 3: Ditch the playdates.

"If your toddler has a more robust social calendar than you, that's a problem," she told "GMA." Brown said she cut back on her kids’ social calendar, giving herself more time to spend on her own and reconnecting with her closest friends in the process.

(Note: Genevieve Shaw Brown is the Travel & Lifestyle Editor at ABC News. You can read her work here. "The Happiest Mommy You Know: Why Putting Your Kids First Is the Last Thing You Should Do" is on sale Jan. 10, 2017.)

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Snow Plow Driver Rescues Stranded Pregnant Woman Just in Time for Delivery

Courtesy of the Dawson Family(CHESAPEAKE, Va.) -- It was certainly not smooth sailing as Stephanie and Hugh Dawson rushed to get to the hospital in time for their baby’s delivery on Sunday morning in the Chesapeake, Virginia, area.

“She woke me up of course and told me that she was having contractions and it was time to go,” Hugh Dawson, 32, told ABC News of the frantic situation at 3:45 a.m. “We had a couple false contractions thinking that the baby was coming, but this time it was for sure.”

Many obstacles kept the couple from delivering their newborn, who was originally due on Jan. 1, with ease, but, “It could’ve been a lot worse,” said Stephanie Dawson, 28, keeping a positive outlook on the otherwise treacherous trip.

The Snow Storm

“Knowing we had the snow we had, and that everything was frozen over -- it was mostly icy, snowy, blizzard weather -- I needed to get the car started and get scraping to get the windshield clear,” Hugh recalled. “I got the truck started and defrosted, but then my sister-in-law who lives next door, who we called to watch our 4-year-old daughter while we went to the hospital, was also bringing me warm water to pour on the windshield to get it going faster. There was no time to waste.”

The couple lives in Moyock, North Carolina, which Hugh said is about seven minutes from their door to the Virginia border.

Stephanie had planned to deliver at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach because she is a nurse for the group’s heart hospital, but those plans were derailed.

“We started going down the highway to get to the hospital,” Hugh said. “We were supposed to be going to in Virginia Beach, which on a normal day would be about 35 minute away, but with the snow and everything, with no real cleared path, it took three times as long. Steph said we weren’t going to make it to the Virginia Beach one, so we were heading to the Chesapeake one.”

The Breakdown

Just as they thought they were in the clear after choosing the nearer hospital, Hugh’s truck broke down.

“I’m pulling off the exit to get on the road to the hospital we’re going to now, and on the off-ramp we’re now coasting because it’s a steep, tight turn,” he said. “As I’m getting into the merge lane, I’m already freaking out and when I go to press the gas, nothing happens. It had stalled out. I didn’t have time to figure out the diagnosis."

“Stephanie said her contractions were about two minutes apart,” Hugh added. “I jump out of the truck and as she’s hollering at me, I’m going across the road to flag down a plow that was going the other way.”

About a half a mile from Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, Hugh flagged down the snow plow and was “pleading with them” for a ride, he said.

“I almost jumped into the road to make sure this guy stops,” the frenzied father-to-be explained. “I said, ‘My wife is in labor. Please help me get to the hospital.’ They were looking around at each other like, ‘Who is this strange man who just jumped out of his truck?’ Luckily enough they told us they’d give us a ride. They turned around at the next intersection and dropped us off at the hospital.”

The Locked Doors

The parents were finally safe and sound at the hospital -- or so they thought.

“We get up to the front door, but the front doors were locked so we trucked it around to the back to the ER and jumped ahead to let them know my wife’s in labor,” Hugh said.

“The doors are locked overnight for security purposes and the Emergency Department is the only way to enter,” Pamela Cox, the hospital’s media relations specialist, told ABC News. “The front doors are locked from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m.”

By this time, Stephanie was having contractions every minute and a half.

“Stephanie said, ‘I’m ready to push,’ and they were right on spot,” Hugh said of the hospital staff. “This was at 4:50 or 5 a.m.”

The couple had to complete the hospital’s paperwork after delivery because “the baby was coming,” he said. “It was go time.”

The Happy, Healthy Delivery

Their baby son, Brayden, was born at 5:21 a.m., weighing 6 pounds 13 ounces.

“Within 15 minutes of coming through the door, the baby was out and healthy,” said the proud father. “Without the snow plow, we probably would’ve had the baby in the truck so it was a huge blessing they were coming at just the right time.”

As for the anonymous snow-plowers who saved the day?

“I’ve tried finding out and looking up local snow removal companies around the area,” Hugh said of trying to track the men down. “It was a white truck with a big black casing on the back of it. I don’t remember seeing any actual logos or wording around it. I was hoping maybe if it makes the news we can find out to thank them because without them it would’ve been a lot worse.”

Stephanie said she also hopes to locate the mystery men.

“I want to say thank you. Thank you so much for stopping,” she said. “They were on their way to do something. They definitely could’ve just kept going.”

The happy family hopes to return home Monday with their new bundle of joy. There’s just one last hiccup: Hugh needs to get his truck out of impound first. It had been towed after being left on the side of the road.

Despite all the hurdles along the way, “Everybody’s doing just great,” Stephanie said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


J.R. Smith, Wife Spotlight Families Grappling with Extremely Preterm Births

iStock/Thinkstock(CLEVELAND) -- Cleveland Cavaliers player J.R. Smith and his wife announced this weekend that their daughter was born five months early, making them part of the thousands of parents grappling with what's known as an extremely preterm birth.

In a video posted on the platform Uninterrupted on Saturday, Smith and his wife, Jewel Harris, said that their daughter Dakota weighed just 1 pound when she was born earlier this month.

"We know we're not the only family going through this, who has been through this or will ever go through it," Harris said in the video. "That's why we decided to share what we're going through with you guys. Please keep us in your prayers."

The announcement spotlights the rare but difficult occurrence of extremely preterm births, or births at less than 28 weeks of completed pregnancy.

The couple's daughter being born so prematurely is rare in the U.S., with an estimated 1 in 10 infants born prematurely and just a fraction of those births happening "extremely" preterm, according to Dr. Andrea Trembath, neonatologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

In 2015, just 0.69 percent of births occurred under 28 weeks, according to the National Vital Statistics Reports.

Trembath said that the strain of caring for an extremely preterm infant can be incredibly difficult.

"[We] try to help families prepare not just after the birth of a child born prematurely but before if at all possible," said Trembath.

As these infants need to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit after being born, parents may be torn between staying in the NICU with their child or tending to their jobs or family members outside of the hospital.

"It's an incredible social, emotional and financial stress on families," said Trembath. "Even those with very good insurance."

Trembath said these infants born extremely early are on the edge of viability and often require tremendous medical intervention to help them survive.

"[Families] say, 'If my baby survives, when are [we] going to go home?'" Trembath said. "I tell them, 'Don't expect your baby to come home until your due date.' If they are born three or four months early, we're talking about three to four months in the neonatal intensive care unit."

New medical breakthroughs have helped a small percentage of infants born extremely preterm to survive. Trembath pointed to special ventilators made for premature infants that help them breathe, new medication to help lungs expand, better catheters to deliver intravenous nutrition and other medications. However, even surviving preterm infants are at risk for multiple complications, including lung complications, developmental delays and increased risk of cerebral palsy.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Your Body: Sperm Quality and Exercise

iStock/ThinkstockBy DR. JENNIFER ASHTON, ABC News Senior Medical Contributor

Former couch potatoes who increase their activity level with a regular exercise regimen can actually improve sperm quality in as little as three months, a new study finds.

Researchers looked at different exercising groups and found that they all achieved significant weight loss and had improvement in sperm quality, with the fastest and most intense improvement seen in the moderate intensity exercise group.

So what’s moderate intensity? It could be as little as 45 minutes of walking or jogging just four times a week.

Here’s my prescription if you’re part of a couple trying to conceive:

  • Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
  • For guys, avoid warm or hot temperatures like Jacuzzis or tight underwear, which all can lower sperm count.
  • Consider a product containing the ingredient NAC. This has been shown in some studies to improve sperm function.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Scientists: You'd Need to Eat a Trillion Calories to Shoot "Star Wars" Force Lightning

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — While Star Wars isn't science fiction, with the release of Rogue One, brilliant people have been examining some science facts with regard to that galaxy far, far away. That's how we just learned, for example, it would take $7.8 octillion to run the Death Star for a day.

But now, they're drilling deeper, and undergraduate researchers at the University of Leicester have determined that to fire lightning from your fingertips as did Sith Lords like Darths Sideous and Tyrannus -- AKA Emperor Palpatine and Count Dooku -- you'd need to consume a trillion calories.

That's 1.85 million Big Macs.

The researchers crunched the numbers, using plate capacitors as stand-ins for a Sith Lord and his zapped victim. It's as thorough as it is confusing for non-eggheads, with graphs and all, but the conclusion is easy to follow:

Essentially, any Sith Lord you encounter would appear more like Jabba the Hutt than the late Christopher Lee's lithe Dark Side user.  

"We can thus conclude that without drawing power from some other source, it is unlikely a Sith lord could healthily produce lightning," the scientists conclude.

The findings were published in the Journal of Physics Special Topics, with the title, "How to be a Healthy Sith Lord."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


President Obama Says 'Obamacare' Will Survive Beyond His Presidency

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Barack Obama says he believes his signature health care law will survive, noting he has told Republicans over his two terms in office to come up with a different solution if the law doesn't work.

Asked by ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos whether he thinks the Affordable Care Act will survive, Obama quickly replied, "I think it will."

"It may be called something else. And as I said, I don't mind. If in fact the Republicans make some modifications, some of which I may have been seeking previously, but they wouldn't cooperate because they didn't want to -- make the system work, and relabel it as Trumpcare, I'm fine with that," he said in an exclusive interview on This Week Sunday.

On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan pledged that Republicans will complete legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act "this year," but Obama said he is skeptical the GOP will come up with a better system than Obamacare.

"I'm skeptical that they can do it, mainly because for seven years now, including when we first tried to pass health care, I said to them, 'Okay, if this doesn't work, tell me what does,'" he told Stephanopoulos. "If you think you got a better idea in terms of how to approach this that's not going to result in more pollution, and more asthma, and more illness, then put your ideas out there. But don't just depose things because, 'This was Obama's agenda.'"

He also noted that progress has been made during his time in office on access to health care.

"When it comes to health care, the gains that we've made are there. Twenty million people have health insurance that didn't have it before. The uninsured rate is the lowest it's ever been," Obama said.

He warned Republicans against undoing that progress just because his name is attached to it.

"It is true theoretically that all that progress can be undone, and suddenly 20 million people or more don't have health insurance," Obama said on “This Week.” "I think Republicans now are recognizing that's -- may not be what the American people, including even Trump voters, are looking for.”

"Don't undo things just because I did them. I don't have pride of authorship," he added.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


GoPro-Wearing Guide Dog Brings Awareness to 'Super Hard' Job

Amit Patel(NEW YORK) --  One blind British man is using his beloved guide dog to raise awareness about the tough job the canines have maneuvering around the city.

When Amit Patel lost his eyesight nearly five years ago due to a disorder called keratoconus his entire life changed, he told ABC News.

Keratoconus is when the shape of one's cornea changes, causing limited sight, blurred vision and glare, according to WebMD. It's most often treated with transplants.

Patel had eight corneal transplants, four in each eye, that were eventually unsuccessful because his body rejected each one, he said.

"Before, I was outgoing. I was independent," the Greenwich, England, man said. "Losing my eyesight was very difficult for me. I mourned the loss of my eyesight for nine months. I was in denial. I woke up every morning thinking my sight would come back again."

But it didn't. So Patel, 37, had to learn how to gain his independence again. First, it was through a walking cane and later with the help of a guide dog named Kika.

After his rehabilitation officer suggested it, Patel was matched with Kika, a 3-year-old Labrador, in September 2015.

"It never crossed my mind at all [to get a guide dog] because I never had a dog," he admitted.

Still, Patel said Kika has changed his life in immeasurable ways, helping him navigate the sometimes tough streets on London to commute to work. He volunteers at The Royal National Institute of Blind People.

"Ninety-nine percent of my journeys are absolutely fantastic. There are so many nice people out there, but it's that 1 percent that makes life difficult," Patel said.

Patel said that often Kika, who is highly decorated with badges to signify that she's a guide dog, gets injured by "rude" people during his commute. He said sometimes people will "budge her," "poke her or push her," and one terrible incident when other commuters told him, "'Oh, that lady just hit your dog with an umbrella.'"

He said these incidents can cause Kika to feel anxiety when taking him around the city.

So Patel started a Twitter account, @Kika_GuideDog, to raise awareness of the importance of guide dogs. He even recently strapped a Go Pro camera onto Kika so people can see what it's like for a guide dog to do its tough job.

"The relationship I have with my guide dog is I trust her 100 percent," Patel said. "If she has a bad day, I have a bad day and vice versa ... I just wanted to tell people if you budge her or if you hit her, it's unacceptable -- especially a dog who’s guiding a blind person."

Patel said Kika has changed his entire life, including allowing him to become a father to 4-month-old, Abhishek.

"We wouldn't have even thought about having a family if it wasn't for Kika," the new father admitted. "That's why it's so passionate for me. It's like harming a child. In our household, she's not a guide dog ... she's the big sister to our little son.

"She's so loyal," Patel continued. "The moment the harness goes on, she changes from being a boppy little girl in the house ... to being the most incredible guide dog."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Halsey Opens Up About 'Multiple Terrifying Surgeries' to Treat Endometriosis

Halsey/Instagram(NEW YORK) -- Halsey wants fans to know she's doing OK after undergoing several surgeries to treat endometriosis.

The "New Americana" singer, whose birth name is Ashley Frangipane, shared a photo of herself on Instagram in a hospital bed. In the photo posted Friday, Halsey gave a thumbs up to the camera while wearing a green hospital gown and blue surgical scrup cap.

"Today I braved multiple terrifying surgeries. The most important of which being the surgery that would hopefully treat my endometriosis," she began in a lengthy caption.

Endometriosis is a disease of the uterus that affects millions of women. It occurs when the tissue that makes up the lining of the uterus begins to grow outside of the womb for unknown reasons. Endometriosis can cause pain, cramping, scar tissue, and infertility.

"For those of you who have followed this battle of mine or who may suffer with it yourself, you know the extremes to which it can be mentally exhausting and physically painful," Halsey, 22, continued. "OK HONESTLY I'm in total agony right now (and I'm going to be in excruciating pain for a while cause I had quite the cocktail of procedures today)."

Addressing her fans, the singer said that during recovery she's "thinking of all of you and how you give me the strength and stamina to power through and prosper."

Halsey also used her caption to encourage others who may be suffering from "chronic pain or a debilitating disease."

"Please know that I have found time to live a crazy, wild, rewarding life AND balance my treatment," she wrote, "and I hope so much in my heart that you can too."

The "Closer" singer concluded by letting fans know that she'll "be off the map for a few days but please know even if I'm not on social media I am thinking of you."

ABC News reached out to a rep for Halsey, but so far has not received a response.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Five-Year-Old Boy Learns to Write First Word Thanks to Gwen Stefani’s 'Hollaback Girl'

ABC News via Twitter(NEW YORK) --  One kindergarten student, who is learning how to read and write, surprised his mother when he used a hit Gwen Stefani song to help him spell the word "banana."

Mother of one Norah Jones often plays the radio-edit of the 2004 hit single, "Hollaback Girl," in which the former No Doubt frontwoman croons, "This ... is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S!"

"We ride the subway all the time and he listens to that in the headphones so he hears it a lot," the New York City woman told ABC News.

 Still, she was shocked when her 5-year-old son Max started using the song to help him write his first word, "banana."

"He has these words that he spells out, and writes them on flashcards. So we do that every night," his mother recalled. "But one day he started writing something ... and it wasn't anything that we had practiced before."

It was the word "banana."

"And he just started singing the chorus to 'Hollaback Girl' and I was able to [record] that last bit," Jones, 28, said, laughing.

Jones posted the video to her Twitter account with the caption, "When you realize @gwenstefani taught your 5 year old how to write his first word." It quickly got the attention of Stefani herself, who retweeted the video.

"I thought it was so neat," Jones said.

She added that it's no wonder her son used the song to help him write his first word. "He's a very smart boy," she continued. "He's very sweet ... and he loves dancing to it."

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