Thursday, March 12, 2020

How can you tell if you have a cold, the flu, or coronavirus?

 Local experts weigh in  By Amy Graff, SFGATE Updated 6:47 am PST, Tuesday, March 3, 2020


For more coverage, visit our complete coronavirus section here.
If you're showing signs of illness — a cough, runny nose and fever — how do you know whether you have a cold, the flu or COVID-19, the new coronavirus that originated in China and is spreading around globe.
The answer is that it's difficult to tell for sure unless you have been tested by a medical professional.
"It’s really hard because in all those things the spectrum of disease is broad," said Dr. Lee Atkinson-McEvoy, a pediatric doctor at UC San Francisco. "Even in coronavirus, they’re seeing people who have milder disease, so just a cough and runny nose, but no fever. Some people who test positive are asymptomatic, meaning no symptoms at all."
Coronaviruses are among a group of viruses that cause the “common cold,” and there are seven known ones that can infect humans. Four of these (229E, HKU1, OC43 and NL63) are seasonal and typically cause mild respiratory infection – fever, cough, nasal congestion, and headache, according to Dr. Charles Chiu, a professor of laboratory medicine and infectious disease at UC San Francisco.

How can you tell if you have a cold, the flu, or coronavirus? Local experts weigh in

Updated
 
 
For more coverage, visit our complete coronavirus section here.
If you're showing signs of illness — a cough, runny nose and fever — how do you know whether you have a cold, the flu or COVID-19, the new coronavirus that originated in China and is spreading around globe.
The answer is that it's difficult to tell for sure unless you have been tested by a medical professional.
"It’s really hard because in all those things the spectrum of disease is broad," said Dr. Lee Atkinson-McEvoy, a pediatric doctor at UC San Francisco. "Even in coronavirus, they’re seeing people who have milder disease, so just a cough and runny nose, but no fever. Some people who test positive are asymptomatic, meaning no symptoms at all."
Coronaviruses are among a group of viruses that cause the “common cold,” and there are seven known ones that can infect humans. Four of these (229E, HKU1, OC43 and NL63) are seasonal and typically cause mild respiratory infection – fever, cough, nasal congestion, and headache, according to Dr. Charles Chiu, a professor of laboratory medicine and infectious disease at UC San Francisco.
"The remaining three coronaviruses (MERS, SARS, COVID-19) are the result of recent zoonotic (animal-to-human) transmission events and although they are also associated with mild respiratory symptoms, infection can progress to cause severe, life-threatening pneumonia," Dr. Chiu shared in an email.
ALSO: Are the elderly at a greater risk for coronavirus complications?
COVID-19 is the most recently discovered coronavirus and was unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China in December 2019. To date, a vaccination or antiviral medication isn't available to treat it, according to the World Health Organization. People with serious illness should be hospitalized.
The flu, a.k.a. seasonal influenza, is similar to COVID-19. It also causes respiratory infection and can also lead severe pneumonia.
"The symptoms between common cold viruses, COVID-19, and the flu overlap significantly, at least in the early stages of illness," wrote Chiu. "Death from coronavirus in patients with pneumonia is thought to be a combination of direct damage of the viral infection to the airways (bronchiolitis and/or pneumonia), an abnormal immune response (“cytokine storm”), and secondary bacterial infections.  This is similar to the way people die from flu."
With the flu, the elderly, very young, or those with compromised immune systems are at the highest risk for severe disease. The current data available and research on the novel coronavirus suggests the elderly and immunocompromised are more susceptible to serious complications and children are at a lower risk, said Atkinson-McEvoy.
The latest estimates based on the reported number of cases and deaths around the world suggest that the death rate from COVID-19 infection is about 2 percent, but this may change as the epidemic progresses. For comparison, SARS had a death rate of about 10 percent and seasonal influenza has a death rate of 0.1%.
That said, Dr. Lee Riley, a UC Berkeley professor and chair of the Division of Infectious Disease and Vaccinology, adds mortality rate is frequently higher at the beginning of epidemics because "we don't know how to deal with them."
"We have vaccines for influenza so this contributes to its lower rate, but if we didn't have the vaccines, the mortality rates for influenza will be higher than 0.1%," said Riley. "Also, mortality rates for influenza varies according to the virus strain causing the epidemic, which changes every year.  So, it's too simplistic to compare mortality rates of two very different types of virus infections."
The most common symptoms of coronavirus are cough, fever and shortness of breath. In some cases, the virus causes severe respiratory illness. If a person develops symptoms and has reason to believe they may have coronavirus, the California Department of Public Health recommends you call your health care provider before going into a clinic or hospital
"Contacting them in advance will make sure that people can get the care they need without putting others at risk," according to the health department. "Please be sure to tell your health care provider about your travel history."


My thoughts
There are so many illnesses going around this year with the Coronavirus at the top of the list. Are you really prepared?  

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Here’s why you shouldn’t celebrate that big tax refund by Darla Mercado @darla_mercado

Think twice before celebrating that large refund check from Uncle Sam.The IRS had doled out 45.5 million refunds as of Feb. 28, with the average refund check totaling $3,064. That amount is just $4 less than last year’s average refund.
Filers have reasons to celebrate their small windfall. Most have ambitious plans for their small windfall, including shoring up their savings and paying off debt.
Here’s the downside of getting a large check from the IRS: It means you voluntarily overpaid the taxman last year.
“Most people are really happy about the refund because it’s money going back to them,” said Sean Stein Smith, CPA and member of the American Institute of CPAs’ financial literacy commission.
“But any refund you’re getting back is because you had too much tax withheld from your paycheck during the whole year,” he said.

Where’s the refund coming from?

Whether you owe Uncle Sam or get money back in the spring will depend on a document your employer has on file, known as a Form W-4 or an employee’s withholding certificate.
Employers use this form along with the tax withholding tables to figure out how much income tax to pull from your paycheck.
The W-4 considers the number of dependents you have in your household, your filing status, income you generate and whether you’re claiming the standard or itemized deductions on your tax return.
Arriving at the ideal level of income tax withholding is as much art as it is science.

If you withhold far too little, you take home more money with each paycheck, but you run the risk of owing the IRS the following year.
If you withhold too much, you’re giving Uncle Sam more money than necessary. This gives you good odds for a large refund in the spring, but a smaller paycheck in the meantime.
It’s also worth noting that after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act took effect in 2018, the IRS overhauled Form W-4 and its withholding calculator to reflect major changes to the tax code.  These changes include the roughly doubled standard deduction, the elimination of personal exemptions and new curbs on itemized deductions.

The new W-4 and the withholding calculator also account for side-gig or self-employed income you or your spouse may have.
You’re supposed to pay quarterly estimated taxes on this income — a requirement that moonlighting “9-to-5ers” may actually overlook.
“There is an extra line on W-4 where you can enter a flat amount that you want withheld form your paycheck,” said Andrea Coombes, tax specialist at NerdWallet. “That can help you get some of those estimated taxes paid and avoid a tax bill next year.”

How to figure out your taxes

A common misconception is that if your refund is high, then it must mean you’ve paid less in tax the prior year.
If anything, large refunds mean you’ve overpaid taxes.
However, if you really want to see how your taxes stand from one year to the next, look at line 16 of the Form 1040 — your income tax return for 2019 (line 15 on 2018′s 1040). This reports your total taxes paid.
Don’t forget to factor in the amount of income you’ve earned that year, too.

“It could be that your taxes went up because you have more income,” said Coombes. “It’s not necessarily bad news, but it could be something to think about.”
Review your 2019 tax return with your CPA or your tax preparer, as those results can help you strategize for next year.
Steps to consider might include lowering taxable income in the future by raising 401(k) plan contributions or socking money into health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts at work.

Aiming for zero

Zero is the magic number for taxpayers.
The IRS’s withholding calculator can help you tailor your tax withholding so that you’re close to matching your federal liability.
The amount of taxes you pay to your state might be a different story, so talk to your tax professional to make sure you’re paying just the right amount.
“In an ideal world, your income taxes withheld from paychecks should cover your income tax liability for that year,” said Smith. “Ideally your refund or additional taxes owed should be zero or as close to zero as possible.”

 



 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Reduce Refinancing Costs

There is much more than a lower rate and payment to determine whether to refinance a mortgage.  Lenders try to make refinancing as attractive as possible by rolling the closing costs into the new mortgage so there isn't any out of pocket cash required.

The closing costs associated with a new loan could add several thousand dollars to your mortgage balance.  The following suggestions may help you to reduce the expense to refinance.

·         Tell the lender up-front that you want to have the loan quoted with minimal closing costs.

·         Check with your existing lender to see if the rate and closing costs might be cheaper. 

·         Shop around with other lenders and compare rate and closing costs.

·         If you're refinancing an FHA or VA loan, consider the streamline refinance.

·         Credit unions may have lower closing costs because they are generally loaning deposits and their cost of funds is less.

·         Reducing the loan-to-value so mortgage insurance is not required will reduce expenses and lower the payment.

·         Ask if the lender can use an AVM, automated valuation model, instead of an appraisal.

·         You may not need a new survey if no changes have been made.

·         There may be a discount on the mortgagee's title policy available on a refinance.

·         Points on refinancing, unlike a purchase, are ratably deductible over the life of the loan ($3,000 in points on a 30-year loan would result in a $100 tax deduction each year.)

·         Consider a 15-year loan.  If you can afford the higher payments, you can expect a lower interest rate than a 30-year loan and obviously, it will build equity faster and pay off in half the time.

A lender must provide you a list of the fees involved with making the loan within 3 days of making a loan application in the form of a Loan Estimate and a Closing Disclosure Form.  Every dollar counts, and they belong to you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Moisture & Mold

Moisture is mold's best friend and it thrives between 40 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit which is why it is commonly found in homes.  Mold spores float in the air and can grow on virtually any substance with moisture including tile, wood, drywall, paper, carpet, and food.

Moisture control and eliminating water problems are key to preventing mold. Common sources of moisture can be roof leaks, indoor plumbing leaks, outdoor drainage problems, damp basements or crawl spaces, steam from bathrooms or kitchen, condensation on cool surfaces, humidifiers, wet clothes drying inside, or improper ventilation of heating and cooking appliances.

  • Control the moisture problem
  • Scrub mold off hard surfaces using soap and water or other cleanser; dry completely
  • Do not paint or caulk moldy surfaces
  • Discard porous materials with extensive mold growth
  • Avoid exposing yourself or others to mold
  • Periodically, inspect the area for signs of moisture and new mold growth

The EPA suggests that if the moldy area is less than ten square feet, you can probably handle the cleanup yourself.  If the affected area is larger than that, find a contractor or professional service provider. 

Increasing ventilation in a bathroom by running a fan for at least 30 minutes or opening a window can help remove moisture and control mold growth.  After showering, squeegee the walls and doors. Wipe wet areas with dry towels.  Cleaning more frequently will also prevent mold from recurring or keep it to a minimum.

A simple solution to clean most mold is a 1:8 bleach/water mixture.  Since homes have thermostatically controlled temperatures and water is used all day long in the kitchen and bathrooms, the environment is conducive to mold. 

See Ten things you should know about mold written by the EPA.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What to Avoid Before Closing Your New Home

It’s understandable; you’re excited; you’ve found the right home, negotiated a contract, made a loan application and inspections.  Closing is not that far away, and you are making plans to move and put personal touches on your new home.

Even if you have an initial approval on your mortgage, little things can derail the process which isn’t over until the papers are signed at settlement and funds distributed to the seller.  The verifications are usually done again just prior to the closing to determine if there have been any material changes to the borrower’s credit or income that might disqualify them.

Most lending and real estate professionals recommend NOT to:

  • Make any new major purchases that could affect your debt-to-income ratio
  • Buy things for your new home until after you close
  • Apply, co-sign or add any new credit
  • Close or consolidate credit card accounts without advice from your lender
  • Quit your job or change jobs
  • Change banks
  • Talk to the seller without your agent

The  lender and I are working together to get you into your new home.  It’s understandable to be excited and feel you need to be getting ready for the move.

Planning is fine but don’t do anything that would affect your credit or income while you’re waiting to sign the final papers at settlement.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Rising Rates Affect the Cost Too

Mortgage rates have risen 0.5% in 2018 on 30-year and 15-year fixed rate mortgages and experts expect them to continue to increase. Buyers paying attention to the market understand the relationship that inventory has on pricing; when the supply is low, the price usually goes up. Rising interest rates can affect the cost of homes also.

When interest rates go up, fewer people can afford homes. Lower numbers of buyers can affect the demand, which could cause prices of homes to come down. The question is how much do the interest rates have to go up to affect demand?

As the rates gradually go up, the affect may not be noticeable at all except for the fact that the payments for the buyer have increased.

A ½% change in interest is approximately equal to a 5% change in price. A $300,000 mortgage at 4.5% for a 30-year term will have a $1,520.06 principal and interest payment. If the mortgage rate goes up 0.5%, it would affect the payment the same as if the price had gone up 5%. The difference in payments for the full term of the loan would be $32,547.

There are some things beyond buyers’ control, but indecision isn’t one of them. If they haven’t found the “right” home yet, it is understandable. However, when that home does present itself, the buyer needs to be ready to make a decision. If they are preapproved and have done their due diligence in the market, they should be able to contract before significant changes occur in the mortgage rates.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Replace It Anyway

If it's not broken, why would a homeowner consider replacing something as expensive as a toilet when there may be other things in the home to replace that provide more aesthetic appeal. Don't be too quick to ignore the functionality and the reliability of this basic convenience.toilet.jpg

The first rationalization might take place at the economic level. A water-saving model could easily pay for itself in a few years and then, there is the good feeling of participating in the conservation of our natural resources.

Having to plunge a toilet more than once a week could motivate a homeowner to spend money on a replacement especially, if having made repairs to the flapper and fill valve didn't solve the issue.

Maybe your existing toilet has ugly scratches that make it difficult to clean. Maybe there are cracks in the tank or bowl that you're concerned will develop into a leak at the worst possible time.

The average cost to replace a toilet is around $400 with models ranging more and less based on the features and brands. Round toilet bowls tend to take up less room, are less expensive and better suited for children. Elongated bowls generally take more room, have more powerful flushing action, more comfortable, more stylish and cost more.

Replacing the shut-off valve for the toilet could be a good thing to do while you're replacing the toilet. Generally, it is as old as the toilet and having a reliable valve that works could be very convenient in a future repair or emergency.

There are a variety of videos on YouTube that could give you the confidence to do it yourself or simply, to have a better understanding of the scope of the project