‘It’s shiny, it’s round’ — and it can kill your child: Guard against accidental poisoning

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted July 06, 2014, at 10:15 a.m.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that nine of every 10 accidental poisonings of children happen in the home. The CPSC also says those cases involve more than our medicine and kitchen cabinets.

Safety experts urge that we “go beyond the bottle” and look all through our homes for possible dangers. They say we need to look at things through a child’s eyes and seek out anything that might be appealing to a youngster.

“It’s shiny, it’s round, and children can’t tell the difference,” says Dr. Karen Simone, director of the Northern New England Poison Center (NNEPC). Simone says tens of thousands of children who think they are eating candy have to be treated for accidental poisonings every year.

She says most of us think of household cleaners and insecticides as the major problems. However, she says children can grab common products such as toothpaste and deodorants, if they’re not kept out of reach; these products can also cause health problems when ingested.

NNEPC compiles statistics on accidental exposures to harmful things. Accompanying the stats is a reminder that numbers of exposures do not equal numbers of patients treated for those exposures; because little hands and mouths are attracted to all kinds of things, multiple exposures are all too common.

From 2011 to 2013, the center recorded 40,080 exposures in youngsters up to age 5. More than 6,000 of those exposures involved cosmetics or other personal care products. The next leading causes of problems were analgesics — mainly ibuprofen and acetaminophen — in what Dr. Simone describes as “therapeutic misadventures.”

Some of those accidents relate directly to our busy lifestyles. Adults hurrying through their morning routines may set out medication on the kitchen table; while their backs are turned, “a small child will scoop it up before they take it.”

Another issue involves adults putting chemicals of various kinds into food or drink containers for storage. Toddlers who don’t yet read act based on what they see; if they see something that looks like food or drink, they may ingest it faster than an adult can react.

Then there’s the matter of many Mainers’ addiction to opioids. An increasing number of take-home medications pose increased risks to children.

“We need to treat the people, but we have to look at the whole picture,” Simone says, urging more awareness by treatment professionals and patients alike.

A final caution involves caregiver errors. More and more women are working, and men are handling more household duties; Simone says this “has led to some confusion” in administering medications. Communication is the key to keeping consumers safe.

Call NNEPC at 800-222-1222 if you suspect there has been an accidental poisoning. You may also call just to ask a question. Simone urges people not to be embarrassed to call, and says they may call anonymously if they like.

For more information, visit www.nnepc.org.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visithttp://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Hiding in plain sight? — Federal Trade Commission

Could your mobile carrier be hiding third-party charges on your phone bill that you never authorized? The FTC has alleged that T-Mobile has done just that.

The agency says that T-Mobile charged consumers not only for regular phone services, but also for third party content – including monthly subscriptions for ringtones, wallpaper, horoscope texts, flirting tips, and celebrity gossip – that consumers neither knew about nor agreed to.

According to the FTC, here’s how it happened: On the first page of the bill, T-Mobile deceptively lumped third-party charges under a general line item that also included charges for their services like texting. The obscure breakouts of each charge were on the pages toward the end of the bill.

More surprising? The company continued to charge consumers, pocketing up to 40 percent of those third-party charges, even after some consumers caught on, complaints piled up, and industry auditors put T-Mobile on notice that the charges were unauthorized.

Here’s how to reduce the chances of paying charges crammed onto your bill without your knowledge or permission:

  • Read your mobile phone bill each month – line by line, and page by page. Don’t ignore the billing statement you get in the mail or through an automated online payment system. You should know your baseline monthly bill. Taking time to read every page of your statements can help you detect potentially fraudulent charges, keep surprise charges to a minimum, and save you money.
  • Consider a block on third-party charges. Many phone carriers already offer third-party blocking service for free. You just have to ask.
  • Ask your mobile phone carrier for its policy on refunds for fraudulent charges. Some carriers have a 60-day period for refund requests, and many have a policy of partial refunds for fraudulent charges you detect – no matter how long the cramming charges have occurred.
  • If you have a prepaid phone plan, check that you’re not losing pre-paid minutes to pay for unauthorized third-party charges. Stay on top of how many calling minutes you have, and make sure that minutes don’t go missing due to deductions unrelated to your regular phone calls. Check your accounts online or call the number your carrier gives you for account access.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of cramming, contact your phone carrier first about the charges, then file a complaint with the FTC.

FDA’s Advice: Know the Risks of Feeding Raw Foods to Your Pets

Press Release FDA June 30

Salmonella and Listeria Knowing the Risk to Your Pet

Dogs and cats aren’t exempt from the dangers of foodborne illness. To minimize risk, FDA suggests consumers carefully consider the risks of feeding a raw pet food to their pets.

Raw pet food consists primarily of meat, bones, and organs that haven’t been cooked, and therefore are more likely than cooked food to contain organisms that can make your dog or cat sick, says William J. Burkholder, DVM, PhD, Veterinary Medical Officer in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Division of Animal Feeds. Moreover, raw food can make you sick as well if you don’t handle it properly. FDA does not believe feeding raw pet foods to animals is consistent with the goal of protecting the public from significant health risks.
The agency therefore recommends cooking of raw meat and poultry to kill harmful bacteria like Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes before you give the food to your pets. And as always, when working with food, you should follow FDA’s instructions on how to handle it safely.

Salmonella bacteria are commonly found in such foods as raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs and egg products. Salmonella can also contaminate raw or unpasteurized milk and other dairy products, as well as raw fruits and vegetables.

Burkholder says people who choose a raw diet for their pets often point out that feral dogs and cats catch prey and eat it raw. “That’s true,” he adds, “but we don’t know how many of these animals get sick or die as a result of doing that. Since sick feral animals are rarely taken to a veterinarian when they’re ill, there’s no way to collect that information.”

Symptoms of salmonellosis in animals include:

Vomiting
Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
Fever
Loss of appetite
Decreased activity level

Listeria bacteria are commonly found in uncooked meats, vegetables and unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses. Unlike most bacteria, Listeria like cold temperatures and can grow and spread in the refrigerator. So if you refrigerate Listeria-contaminated food, the germs not only multiply at the cool temperature, they could contaminate your refrigerator and spread to other foods there, increasing the likelihood that you and your family members would be exposed to Listeria and get sick.

Symptoms of listeriosis in animals include:

Nausea
Diarrhea
Fever
Neurological disease can happen in a small percentage of situations
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Raw Foods Can Also Affect Human Health

Consumers also run the risk of getting sick if they handle contaminated pet foods and accidentally transfer the bacteria to their mouths.
“If you’re going to handle raw foods, you need to pay particular attention to good hygienic practices,” Burkholder says. “Wash your hands and anything else that comes into contact with the product with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.”

Feeding raw food to a pet also increases the risk of contaminating food contact surfaces and other places.

“Even if the dog or cat doesn’t get sick, they can become carriers of Salmonella and transfer the bacteria to their surroundings, and then people can get the disease from contact with the infected environment,” Burkholder says.

Once Salmonella gets established in the pet’s gastrointestinal tract, the animal can shed the bacteria when it has a bowel movement, and the contamination will continue to spread.

Symptoms of Salmonella and Listeria Infection in Humans

Salmonella infection (salmonellosis) symptoms in humans include:
Fever
Nausea
Vomiting
Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
Stomach pain

More rarely: entry of Salmonella into bloodstream from intestines, followed by spread to joints, arteries, heart, soft tissues, and other areas of body

Symptoms associated with salmonellosis most often begin 12 hours to 3 days after ingestion of the bacteria and can last 4 to 7 days without treatment. All consumers are at risk for contracting salmonellosis from contaminated foods, but pregnant women, children under five, the elderly and those with weak immune systems are at risk of developing severe symptoms.

Compared to salmonellosis and other foodborne illnesses, infection with Listeria monocytogenes (listeriosis) is rare, but has serious and potentially fatal risks.

Listeria can infect multiple locations in the body:

The brain
Membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord
Gastrointestinal tract
Bloodstream

Symptoms associated with listeriosis begin 11 to 70 days after coming in contact with the bacteria, with a mean (or average) of 31 days, and they can last up to a few weeks. Listeriosis occurs almost exclusively in pregnant women and their fetuses, newborns, the elderly and those with weak immune systems. Listeriosis can cause life-threatening infection in a fetus and newborns, as well as in persons with weakened immune systems, although the infection can often be treated with antibiotics.

“Feeding raw foods to pets increases the risk that both the pet and the people around the pet will encounter bacteria that cause foodborne illness, particularly if the products are not carefully handled and fed,” Burkholder says. “This is certainly one factor that should be considered when selecting diets for your pet.”

This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

 

Keeping pets safe in war on ticks, fleas

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT

Posted June 29, 2014, at 8:57 a.m.

Fleas and ticks are most active this time of year, so pet owners should consider the variety of treatments on the market and keep their pets and their families safe from the little critters.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued updated guidelines for using flea and tick control products. Those guidelines can be found online at http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm169831.htm. What follows is a condensed version of that update.

There are two pieces of advice we consider critical. Don’t go “off-label” when treating your pets, and always consult your veterinarian when beginning or changing treatment.

We’ve read plenty about the dangers of Lyme disease from ticks; complications from incorrect treatment also can have serious consequences.

Fleas are insects, while ticks are arachnids or spider-like creatures. Getting rid of them requires different treatments, as product manufacturers generally do a good job explaining. FDA regulates animal drugs, but some products that deal with external parasites come under rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dogs may be treated either with medication or topically, with what are called “spot-on” products.

Only topical treatments are safe for cats, according to Dr. Robert Feher of the Brewer Veterinary Clinic. He says pet owners must be extra careful not to use flea products designed for dogs on their cats. Because of its grooming habits, anything that’s applied to a cat will end up inside it; any product used on cats must be safe for cats.

Topical treatments coat the hair shaft of the pet. When a pest rubs against it, it picks up the active ingredients that cause it to move faster, so it runs into more hair and treatment. Soon after, the pest dies.

Medication works by being in the bloodstream. When a pest gorges itself on the animal’s blood, it ingests the medication in the blood, which kills the pest. Veterinarians advise pet owners who use medication to do so with great care, especially when giving doses based on a pet’s weight.

Thin animals can be especially at risk for adverse effects due to overdosing.

“Be very careful of weight; don’t guess,” Feher urged. He said that some new flea and tick treatments just on the market have more finely tuned “weight splits,” designed to help owners make better dosing decisions.

Feher, a vet for nearly 40 years, said treatment should continue year-round to protect both pets and people. However, he said kittens and puppies younger than 8 weeks and smaller than two pounds should not receive any treatment.

If side effects do occur — such as vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, excessive salivation or depression — discontinue treatments immediately.

If a topical treatment is suspected, immerse the pet in water to remove as much of the product as possible and call your vet. You can call the National Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. While the call is free, the center does charge for consultation. Save packaging and instructions; they can help pinpoint problems if they occur.

What about flea and tick collars? Experts are split, mainly due to some questionable ingredients in some collars.

Manufacturers of those have agreed to stop using the active ingredient called propoxur by April 2016. Some vets say because collars concentrate active ingredients around the neck, they’re less effective than other treatments.

One off-label use we’ve heard of involves treating the clothes of those who work or spend time outdoors. Put clothing in a recloseable plastic bag and drop in a tick collar; seal the bag, and the next day any ticks that may have come home on the clothing should be dead. Wash clothes thoroughly to remove remnants of both ticks and active ingredients from the flea collar.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

If You Purchased Certain Weight Loss Products Between May 9, 2006 and May 1, 2009, You May Be Entitled To Settlement Benefits

SAN DIEGO, CAJune 21, 2014 /PRNewswire/ – A class action lawsuit about certain Hydroxycut branded products sold through May 1, 2009 has been settled. The lawsuit is titled Dremak v. Iovate Health Sciences Group, Inc., No. 3:09cv01088 (S.D. Cal).  Consumers who bought the products may be entitled to choose either a cash refund or free products by submitting a claim.  The lawsuit alleges the products were misrepresented as clinically proven to be safe and effective for weight loss.  The defendants deny any allegations.  The settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing.  The court did not determine which party was correct.

The Settlement Class includes all persons who purchased one of the following Hydroxycut weight loss products in the United States between May 9, 2006 and May 1, 2009.  Hydroxycut Regular Rapid Release Caplets, Hydroxycut Max Drink Packets, Hydroxycut Caffeine-Free Rapid Release Caplets, Hydroxycut Liquid Shots, Hydroxycut Hardcore Liquid Caplets, Hydroxycut Hardcore RTDs (Ready-to-Drink), Hydroxycut Max Liquid Caplets, Hydroxycut Max Aqua Shed, Hydroxycut Regular Drink Packets, Hydroxycut 24, Hydroxycut Caffeine-Free Drink Packets, Hydroxycut Carb Control, Hydroxycut Hardcore Drink Packets (Ignition Stix), and Hydroxycut Natural.  The Class does not include anyone with a personal injury claim arising from the use of one of the above listed products.  This settlement only covers the economic loss for the purchase of the products listed above.

The settlement provides a fund of $14 million (less plaintiffs’ attorneys fees and notice and administrative costs) to compensate Class Members.  Class Members may choose either a cash payment or free product.  To claim a cash payment or free product, Class Members must submit a Claim Form online or by mail by January 13, 2015.

The Court will hold a hearing on October 15, 2014, to determine whether the settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate, to approve attorneys’ fees and expenses, and any service awards for the plaintiffs.  The deadline for exclusions and objections is September 15, 2014.

The Court appointed class counsel are Blood Hurst & O’Reardon, LLP and Bonnett Fairbourn Friedman & Balint, P.C.

To obtain a claim form, a detailed notice, and other documents, visit http://www.DietSupplementSettlement.com, or call toll-free 1-877-850-1033 or write to Hydroxycut Diet Supplement Settlement c/o Boston Financial’s Settlement Administration Solutions, PO Box 9111,Canton, MA 02021-9111 or send an e-mail to Hydroxycutsettlement@bostonfinancial.com.

/URL: http://www.DietSupplementSettlement.com

State Officials Announce Conclusion of Insurance Case and Return of More than $160,000 to Maine Consumer

Completed Case Highlights Importance of  Reporting Concerns and Utilizing Bureau’s Resources

GARDINER – Governor Paul R. LePage and Maine Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa announced that a complaint investigation resulting in the return of more than $160,000 to a Maine consumer has been completed. The investigation, conducted by the Bureau of Insurance’s Consumer Health Care Division, involved insurance agent Paul E. Richard and American Equity, the insurance carrier he represented.

“Maine is fortunate to have a large number of insurance agents, agencies and companies that provide important products and services with integrity and concern for their clients,” Governor LePage said.  “In those cases, however, when consumers or business owners are taken advantage of, the Bureau of Insurance is available to provide guidance and to take effective action whenever possible.”

The investigation and subsequent hearing found that Richard had recommended that a seriously ill man in the Lewiston area surrender his $100,000 life insurance policy, which he and his wife had paid premiums on for nearly 20 years. Richard recommended that the couple use the $11,935 cash value of the policy along with other assets, to purchase several annuities totaling $46,770, for which he received $4,775 in commissions.

After the death of her husband, which occurred just over a year later, the consumer filed a complaint with the Bureau. Following an enforcement action and hearing, Richard’s insurance producer license was revoked and he was ordered to pay a civil penalty of $12,500 to the State of Maine and restitution to the consumer equal to the full amount of the commissions and fees he received, plus interest. (A copy of the decision and order is available on the Bureau’s website at www.maine.gov/pfr/insurance/orders/08-305amended.htm.) The $12,500 civil penalty represented the maximum amount for each of the following ten violations:

Violation 1: $1500 for persuading someone with a disabling and degenerative condition to surrender his life insurance policy, in violation of 24-A M.R.S.A. §§ 1420‑K(1)(H), 2152, and 2155.

Violations 2–4: $1500 each for intentionally failing to disclose, on each of three annuity applications, that the new annuities were replacing existing policies

Violations 5–7: $1500 each for instructing the consumers to deposit the proceeds of the asset liquidations into the wife’s personal account and pay for each of three annuities by personal check, in order to conceal the source of funds.

Violations 8–10: $1500 with respect to the nonqualified annuity that replaced the life insurance policy, and $250 each with respect to the two qualified annuities, for selling annuities without conducting any meaningful inquiry into their suitability for the consumers, and without making a meaningful effort to ensure that the consumers understood what they were buying.

American Equity terminated the agent’s appointment with the company, following its own investigation, and paid the consumer the lost value of the $100,000 insurance policy, plus interest, and refunded the purchase price of all three annuities plus interest, without imposing surrender penalties. In addition, the company paid a $50,000 civil penalty to the State. (A copy of the consent agreement is available on the Bureau’s website www.maine.gov/pfr/insurance/consent_agreements/2010-2014/10202.htm).

Last month, the investigation was closed when, following a collections action initiated by the Attorney General’s Office against Richard, the final funds were paid and distributed.

“We are happy that this matter was brought to our attention and that we were able to assist in rectifying this situation for the consumer, who had suffered substantial financial loss as a result of this agent’s actions,” Superintendent Cioppa stated. “We encourage anyone with questions about life insurance, annuities or other insurance types, or anyone seeking information about insurance agents and brokers, to contact the Bureau by calling toll-free 1-800-300-5000 or e-mailing Insurance.PFR@maine.gov.”

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Fresh water, batteries — and insurance: Storm preparation includes updating coverage

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT

Posted June 22, 2014, at 7:53 a.m.

Maine’s major seasons recently may have felt like “mud” followed by “blackfly,” but we’ve just entered a much more serious time of year. Summer means more than camp and golf. It can also hold the threat of severe weather; the hurricane season began officially on June 1.

Consumers would do well to heed a recent urging of Eric Cioppa, Maine’s superintendent of insurance.

Cioppa said in a news release that a few basic precautions could save lives, minimize property damage and speed up recovery efforts following a severe storm. Wind, fire and flooding are the leading causes of damage and injury in any big storm. Doing what we can ahead of time just makes sense.

The first thing people might want to look at closely is their homeowners’ or renter’s insurance. Know what’s covered, and determine whether your coverage is adequate.

Cioppa said most people don’t know that a standard homeowners policy does not cover damage from flooding.

He also advises that homeowners “should review their policy, purchase additional coverage if needed, consider whether flood insurance makes sense for them, and complete an inventory of possessions.”

“A Consumer’s Guide to Homeowners Insurance” can be found online at http://www.maine.gov/pfr/insurance/consumer/Homeowner.htm.

Mainers who live in a flood plain will likely need to have flood insurance to satisfy requirements of their mortgage loans.

The National Flood Insurance Program’s website ( http://www.floodsmart.gov) contains tools to help you determine your risk of flooding. You may also call the program at 1-800-427-2419.

There’s a 30-day waiting period for flood insurance to take effect; if you’re in doubt about your flood risk, act quickly.

The inventory of your personal property can be critical if you need to file an insurance claim. Your inventory should include a photo or video of each room in your home. Include items you don’t use all the time (seasonal sports gear, tools, holiday decorations). You may want to take multiple, detailed photos of expensive items. As you acquire more valuables, you may want to add a “rider” to your policy to cover them.

While you can keep a copy of your inventory at home, you should keep a second copy — along with insurance policies and other important papers — in a safe deposit box or other secure place.

A free checklist to help prepare your inventory is available at the Maine Bureau of Insurance website ( http://www.maine.gov/insurance).

Update your insurance coverage regularly. Know whether your coverage is for the actual cash value of the items or the replacement value; the difference can be considerable.

Preparing for storms also means preparing an emergency kit. It should contain several days’ supplies of water and nonperishable food, a non-electric can opener and cooking utensils. Include medications you and your family would need, plus a first aid kid and supplies for pets.

A battery-powered radio could be essential in a prolonged power outage. Include a list of important names and phone numbers, including contact information for your insurance agent.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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