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Aussies hit with "hidden fees" for using common payment method

<p>Millions of Aussies have copped up to $1 billion in "hidden fees" for choosing to use one common payment method. </p> <p>Many are unaware about the secret extra charges that come with using the tap-and-go payment method, as millions of customers use it as the preferred way to pay and go. </p> <p>However, according to financial counsellor Scott Pape, also known as The Barefoot Investor, while tapping your card may be easier, it might not be great for your bank account.</p> <p>“What most people don’t know is that, when they tap, their bank generally defaults that payment through Visa or MasterCard, who pays them a fee — instead of defaulting that payment through the much cheaper bank-owned EFTPOS,” Pape said in his column for the <em><a href="https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/business/barefoot-investor/the-common-smartphone-app-thats-ripping-you-off/news-story/0b71afa29c86faf2b938c44f93bbc8d6?amp" target="_blank" rel="noopener" data-link-type="article-inline">Daily Telegraph</a></em>.</p> <p>While some businesses choose to absorb the cost, others pass it on to the customer as a surcharge, as Pape says, “Talk about a rort.”</p> <p>According to the Royal Bank of Australia (RBA), Visa and Mastercard are generally more expensive for merchants than the EFTPOS network.</p> <p>Payments through EFTPOS are generally about 0.3 per cent of the transaction value, while Debit Mastercard and Visa Debit may cost many some people about 0.5 per cent.</p> <p>Mastercard and Visa credit could cost customers more than 0.75 per cent of the transaction, while American Express card payments are even more, charging merchants 1 to 1.5 per cent.</p> <p>Thankfully, according to Pape, there are ways to avoid paying the extra fees. </p> <p>If your bank card is attached to your smartphone, you can change the default payment setting.</p> <p>“On an iPhone, open ‘Settings’, go to ‘Wallet & Apple Pay’, then tap your debit card,” Pape said.</p> <p>“Then look for ‘Payment Option’. It will generally have ‘MasterCard’ or ‘Visa’ preselected, but instead you should select ‘EFTPOS SAV’.”</p> <p>This is not allowed on all cards, however, and those who use Android will need to check with their bank if a possible solution exists.</p> <div> </div> <p>The other way to avoid paying the surcharges is to just start inserting or swiping your card again.</p> <p>“I know it’s annoying, but if you swipe and insert your card you can choose ‘cheque’ or ‘savings’ and it’ll go through the EFTPOS system, which at the bigger retailers means you’ll be less likely to be charged,” Pape said.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock </em></p>

Money & Banking

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Common mistakes pet owners make

<p>While most pet owners have the best of intentions, sometimes not everyone is aware of the mistakes they are making or the things they could be doing better. Here’s a list of common mistakes pet owners make. How many are you guilty of?</p> <p><strong>Lack of exercise</strong><br />While each breed and species is different in reference to their specific exercise needs, one thing stays the same: every animal requires daily exercise. When working out what is the correct amount for your animal, you need to look at their age, species and breed.</p> <p>And before you go thinking of daily exercise at a chore, remember this: exercise should be fun! It can include play time, walks, jogs, runs, agility training and more. Always consult with your local vet if you want to know the specific exercise guidelines for your pet.</p> <p><strong>No behavioural training</strong><br />When bringing a new animal into your home and family, adequate training is so important. Does your animal know how to take commands? It’s important to be able to teach your pet things and that they respect you.</p> <p>Remember the saying: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Well, that’s right. Investing the time to go through behavioural training from the start will help save you time and frustration in the long run.</p> <p><strong>Your pet is bored often</strong><br />Just like humans, pets too get bored. Playing games with your furry friend – such as teaching them tricks or providing them with the toys and space to do interesting things – will do wonders in ensuring their mind is constantly developed.</p> <p>If your pet is stimulated, it should stop them from destroying the house, and your things, when you’re out.</p> <p><strong>Poorly looked after teeth</strong><br />A common mistake a lot of pet owners make, is not brushing often enough – or at all – their pet’s teeth. After all, dental hygiene is one of the most important health issues animals face. The good news is this is avoidable by regularly brushing your pet’s teeth and checking on their oral hygiene.</p> <p>Anything out of the ordinary may be an indication of infection, but when caught early, can be more easily treated. So ensure you book in regular visits at the vet to check your furry friend’s mouth too.</p> <p><strong>Not enough trips to the vet</strong><br />Just as it is important for humans to go to the dentist and doctor for check-ups and shots regularly, visiting the vet and keeping up with a vaccination schedule is equally as important.</p> <p>If not more so, as pets cannot tell you when something is wrong. Booking into to see the vet every so often will ensure your pet is healthy and blossoming for years to come. </p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock </em></p>

Family & Pets

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How to avoid 6 common tourist scams

<p>Often when people are on holidays their focus is on relaxing or seeing the sights of the area. But if you don’t keep your wits about you, it’s possible you might end up losing everything to scammers who will do anything to get their hands on your belongings.</p> <p>Here we have six common scams to look out for while you are travelling abroad.</p> <p><strong>Scam 1:</strong> You are in a busy bar in a tourist friendly area when some locals ask where you’re from and offer to buy you a drink. Without thinking, you accept the drink and then find yourself waking up hours later without any of your belongings as you’ve had your drink spiked.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>Solution:</em></span> If people seem too friendly, be aware that they may be scammers. Don’t accept drinks from people you don’t know, and don’t leave your drink unattended to use the bathroom.</p> <p><strong>Scam 2:</strong> You are about to put your handbag and computer on the conveyer belt to go through the scanner. The people in front of you walk through the metal detector and while one goes through, the other sets off the alarms. They step back into where you are standing and take their time removing wallets and coins from their pockets. While you are waiting for your turn to walk through the metal detector, the other person has taken your belongings and is long gone.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>Solution:</em></span> Don’t place your items on the conveyer belt until there is no one else waiting in front of you to go through the metal detector.</p> <p><strong>Scam 3:</strong> In a busy area such as after a concert or a busy night like New Year’s Eve it can be impossible to get public transport or a taxi back to your hotel. A friendly looking guy comes by and offers you a lift for a reasonable fee using his private car. The scam itself can then range from being charged an exorbitant amount when you arrive at your hotel – or you could even find yourself robbed and dropped by the side of the road with no way home.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>Solution:</em></span> However tempting it is, never get in the car with an unlicensed taxi driver. This is even more important to note if you are travelling alone.</p> <p><strong>Scam 4:</strong> While you are waiting with your luggage for a train or bus, a passer-by appears to drop their wallet and walk off without noticing. You might try to do the right thing by grabbing the wallet and running after the person to return it. By the time you get back, your luggage is missing.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>Solution:</em></span> When travelling alone, never leave your items unattended even if it means you don’t help someone when you normally would. This is especially true in airports where baggage will quickly be confiscated if left alone.</p> <p><strong>Scam 5:</strong> You’re taking in the sights when a couple of men dressed as policemen approach you. They demand to see your wallet and let you know that counterfeit money has been given to tourists in the area. When your wallet is returned it has had much of the contents removed.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>Solution:</em></span> Police would never demand to see your wallet. If something doesn’t feel right, suggest that you continue the discussion at the nearest police station as you don’t feel comfortable. Most likely they will not push their luck.</p> <p><strong>Scam 6:</strong> You receive a phone call in your hotel room late at night from someone claiming to be from the front desk. They apologise for the late call but request that you just confirm your credit card details as their system is playing up. You read out the numbers and hang up. Before too long your credit card has rung up a huge bill as this was a scammer calling you, not a staff member.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>Solution:</em></span> Organise payment in person by letting the caller know that you will come down to the front desk to discuss it.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></p>

Travel Tips

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3 common travel illnesses (and how to avoid them)

<p>Nobody wants to fall sick when they’re on holidays but it happens and is actually quite common. Not every travel illness is foreseeable, but the most prevalent ones usually can be managed if you’re prepared and know what to look out for. Here are three of the most common illnesses travellers experience and what you can do to avoid them.</p> <p><strong>Traveller’s diarrhoea</strong></p> <p>It may be an unpleasant topic of conversation, but as diarrhoeais the most common travel sickness, it’s important to be prepared. It is estimated diarrhoeais experienced by almost half of travellers at some point on their holiday, but mainly by those visiting developing countries. It’s contracted by eating or drinking contaminated food and water and in severe cases can last for days.</p> <p><em><span style="text-decoration: underline;">How to avoid it</span>:</em> Stick to bottled or purified water, freshly cooked meals and fruits and vegetables you can peel yourself. Talk to your doctor for antibiotics you can take in case you are struck with traveller’s diarrhoea.</p> <p><strong>Motion sickness</strong></p> <p>Whether it’s by boat, plane, or car, many travellers experience motion sickness. This occurs when your eyes see motion but your body doesn’t register it, leading to a conflict of the senses. It often results in nausea, vomiting, headaches, and sweating.</p> <p><em><span style="text-decoration: underline;">How to avoid it</span>:</em> If flying, try to sit near the wings of plane. If cruising, get an outside cabin in the middle of ship, and if in a car, sit up front. Don’t play with your devices, as looking at a small screens often exacerbates the problem; instead try to look far to the horizon. Have a light meal before travelling and avoid spicy, greasy or rich foods. You can talk to your doctor about over-the-counter medication that can help motion sickness as well.  </p> <p><strong>Bug bites</strong></p> <p>There are all sorts of infectious diseases like malaria, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever you can pick up from bug bites, especially in developing nations. While you should always talk to your doctor about the types of vaccines you need to take for your travel destination, it is always advisable to protect against insect bites.</p> <p><em><span style="text-decoration: underline;">How to avoid it</span>:</em> Apply insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants where possible and try to avoid outside activity around dust and dawn when mosquitos are active. If sleeping outdoors, it is advisable to use curtain nettings.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></p>

Travel Tips

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Flash droughts are becoming more common in Australia. What’s causing them?

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/milton-speer-703091">Milton Speer</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-technology-sydney-936">University of Technology Sydney</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lance-m-leslie-437774">Lance M Leslie</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-technology-sydney-936">University of Technology Sydney</a></em></p> <p><a href="https://www.drought.gov/what-is-drought/flash-drought">Flash droughts</a> strike suddenly and intensify rapidly. Often the affected areas are in drought after just weeks or a couple of months of well-below-average rainfall. They happen worldwide and are <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/377274397_Flash_drought_A_state_of_the_science_review?_tp=eyJjb250ZXh0Ijp7ImZpcnN0UGFnZSI6InB1YmxpY2F0aW9uRG93bmxvYWQiLCJwYWdlIjoicHVibGljYXRpb24iLCJwcmV2aW91c1BhZ2UiOiJwdWJsaWNhdGlvbiJ9fQ#read">becoming more common</a>, including in Australia, due to global warming.</p> <p>Flash droughts can occur anywhere and at any time of the year. Last year, a flash drought <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-10-20/dams-dry-up-as-drought-takes-hold-in-hunter-valley/102996364">hit the Upper Hunter</a> region of New South Wales, roughly 300 kilometres north-west of Sydney.</p> <p>These sudden droughts can have devastating economic, social and environmental impacts. The damage is particularly severe for agricultural regions heavily dependent on reliable rain in river catchments. One such region is the Upper Hunter Valley, the subject of our <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2225-1154/12/4/49">new research</a>.</p> <p>We identified two climate drivers – the <a href="http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/about/?bookmark=enso">El Niño Southern Oscillation</a> and <a href="http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/about/?bookmark=iod">Indian Ocean Dipole</a>) – that became influential during this drought. In addition, the waning influence of a third climate driver, the <a href="http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/about/?bookmark=sam">Southern Annular Mode</a>), would typically bring rain to the east coast. However, this rain did not reach the Upper Hunter.</p> <p>Flash droughts are set to get more common as the world heats up. This year, a flash drought developed over western and central Victoria over just two months. While heavy rain this month in Melbourne ended the drought there, it continues in the west.</p> <h2>What makes a flash drought different?</h2> <p>Flash droughts differ from more slowly developing droughts. The latter result from extended drops in rainfall, such as the <a href="http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/">drought affecting</a> parts of southwest Western Australia due to the much shortened winter wet season last year.</p> <p>Flash droughts develop when sudden large drops in rainfall coincide with above-average temperatures. They mostly occur in summer and autumn, as was the case for Asia and Europe in 2022. That year saw flash droughts appear across the northern hemisphere, such as the megadrought affecting China’s <a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/acfe21">Yangtze river basin</a> and <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352340923000264?via%3Dihub">Spain</a>.</p> <p>The flash drought devastating the Upper Hunter from May to October 2023 developed despite the region being drought-free just one month earlier. At that stage, almost nowhere in NSW showed any sign of an impending drought.</p> <figure class="align-center "><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/586776/original/file-20240409-18-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" sizes="(min-width: 1466px) 754px, (max-width: 599px) 100vw, (min-width: 600px) 600px, 237px" srcset="https://images.theconversation.com/files/586776/original/file-20240409-18-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=276&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 600w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586776/original/file-20240409-18-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=276&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1200w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586776/original/file-20240409-18-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=276&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 1800w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586776/original/file-20240409-18-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=347&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 754w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586776/original/file-20240409-18-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=347&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1508w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586776/original/file-20240409-18-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=347&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 2262w" alt="Maps of drought conditions in NSW in April 2023 compared to the next six months" /><figcaption><span class="caption">NSW Department of Primary Industries’ combined drought indicator in April 2023 (a) and combined drought indicator for May–October 2023 (b) show how rapidly a flash drought developed in the Upper Hunter region.</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">Milton Speer et al 2024, using NSW Department of Primary Industries' data</span></span></figcaption></figure> <p>The flash drought greatly affected agricultural production in the Upper Hunter region, due to the region’s reliance on water from rivers. Low rainfall in river catchments means less water for crops and pasture. It also dries up drinking water supplies.</p> <p>Flash droughts are characterised by abrupt periods of low rainfall leading to rapid drought onset, particularly when accompanied by above-average temperatures. Higher temperatures increase both the evaporation of water from the soil and transpiration from plants (evapotranspiration). This causes soil moisture to drop rapidly.</p> <h2>The Upper Hunter drought is part of a trend</h2> <p>Flash droughts will be more common in the future. That’s because higher temperatures will more often coincide with dry conditions, as relative humidity falls <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/377274397_Flash_drought_A_state_of_the_science_review_tp=eyJjb250ZXh0Ijp7ImZpcnN0UGFnZSI6InB1YmxpY2F0aW9uRG93bmxvYWQiLCJwYWdlIjoicHVibGljYXRpb24iLCJwcmV2aW91c1BhZ2UiOiJwdWJsaWNhdGlvbiJ9fQ#read">across many parts</a> of Australia and globally.</p> <p>Climate change is <a href="https://climate.ec.europa.eu/climate-change/consequences-climate-change_en">linked to</a> shorter, heavier bursts of rain followed by longer periods of little rainfall.</p> <figure class="align-center "><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/586777/original/file-20240409-16-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" sizes="(min-width: 1466px) 754px, (max-width: 599px) 100vw, (min-width: 600px) 600px, 237px" srcset="https://images.theconversation.com/files/586777/original/file-20240409-16-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=196&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 600w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586777/original/file-20240409-16-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=196&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1200w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586777/original/file-20240409-16-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=196&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 1800w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586777/original/file-20240409-16-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=246&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 754w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586777/original/file-20240409-16-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=246&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1508w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586777/original/file-20240409-16-n82npo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=246&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 2262w" alt="Map of Upper Hunter region showing drought indicators in December 2023" /><figcaption><span class="caption">Intense drought conditions continued in the Upper Hunter in December 2023.</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">Milton Speer et al 2024</span></span></figcaption></figure> <figure class="align-right "><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/586778/original/file-20240409-16-www3a.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=237&amp;fit=clip" sizes="(min-width: 1466px) 754px, (max-width: 599px) 100vw, (min-width: 600px) 600px, 237px" srcset="https://images.theconversation.com/files/586778/original/file-20240409-16-www3a.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=376&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 600w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586778/original/file-20240409-16-www3a.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=376&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1200w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586778/original/file-20240409-16-www3a.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=376&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 1800w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586778/original/file-20240409-16-www3a.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=472&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 754w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586778/original/file-20240409-16-www3a.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=472&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1508w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586778/original/file-20240409-16-www3a.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=472&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 2262w" alt="Map of NSW showing average temperature ranges recorded for May–October 2023." /><figcaption><span class="caption">The sharp drop in rainfall coincided with the Upper Hunter’s highest average maximum temperatures on record for May–October 2023.</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">Milton Speer et al 2024</span></span></figcaption></figure> <p>In south-east and south-west Australia, flash droughts can also occur in winter.</p> <p>In May 2023 rainfall over south-east Australia dropped abruptly. The much lower rainfall continued until November in the Upper Hunter. Over this same period, mean maximum temperatures in the region were the highest on record, increasing the loss of moisture through evapotranspiration. The result was a flash drought. While flash droughts occurred in other parts of south-east Australia, we focused on the Upper Hunter as it remained in drought the longest.</p> <h2>What were the climate drivers of this drought?</h2> <p>We used machine-learning techniques to identify the key climate drivers of the drought.</p> <p>We found the dominant driver of the flash drought was global warming, modulated by the phases of the three major climate drivers in our region, the El Niño Southern Oscillation, Indian Ocean Dipole and the Southern Annular Mode.</p> <p>From 2020 to 2022, the first two drivers became favourable for rain in the Upper Hunter in late winter through spring, before changing phase to one supporting drought over south-east Australia. Meanwhile, the Southern Annular Mode remained mostly positive, meaning rain-bearing westerly winds and weather fronts had moved to middle and higher latitudes of the southern hemisphere, away from Australia’s south-east coast.</p> <p>Combined, the impact of global warming with the three climate drivers made rainfall much more variable. The net result was an atmospheric environment highly conducive to a flash drought appearing anywhere in south-east Australia.</p> <figure class="align-right zoomable"><a href="https://images.theconversation.com/files/586248/original/file-20240405-16-ti5j3m.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=1000&amp;fit=clip"><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/586248/original/file-20240405-16-ti5j3m.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=237&amp;fit=clip" sizes="(min-width: 1466px) 754px, (max-width: 599px) 100vw, (min-width: 600px) 600px, 237px" srcset="https://images.theconversation.com/files/586248/original/file-20240405-16-ti5j3m.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=464&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 600w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586248/original/file-20240405-16-ti5j3m.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=464&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1200w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586248/original/file-20240405-16-ti5j3m.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=464&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 1800w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586248/original/file-20240405-16-ti5j3m.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=583&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 754w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586248/original/file-20240405-16-ti5j3m.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=583&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1508w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/586248/original/file-20240405-16-ti5j3m.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=583&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 2262w" alt="Map of Upper Hunter region showing drought indicators in December 2023" /></a><figcaption><span class="caption">Intense drought conditions continued in the Upper Hunter in December 2023.</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">Milton Speer et al 2024</span></span></figcaption></figure> <h2>Victoria, too, fits the global warming pattern</h2> <p>As for the flash drought that developed in early 2024 over western and central Victoria, including Melbourne, it continues in parts of <a href="http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/#msdynttrid=_ytsVsw1a3IFZ7xGCnQz8mw1Gum_n_0JUdQyt2hUVCo">western Victoria</a>. The flash drought followed very high January rainfall (top 5% of records) dropping rapidly to very low rainfall (bottom 5%) in February and March.</p> <p>It was the <a href="http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/maps/rainfall/?variable=rainfall&amp;map=decile&amp;period=2month&amp;region=vc&amp;year=2024&amp;month=03&amp;day=31">driest February-March period</a> on record for Melbourne and south-west Victoria.</p> <p>At the beginning of April, a storm front <a href="https://www.9news.com.au/national/severe-weather-storm-warning-for-victoria-and-melbourne-easter-monday/41d5d383-b70d-4d36-a649-38632bc607de">brought heavy rainfall</a> over an 18-hour period to central Victoria, including Melbourne.</p> <p>The rains ended the flash drought in these areas, but it continues in parts of western Victoria, which missed out on the rain.</p> <p>The pattern of the 2024 flash drought in Victoria typifies the increasing trend under global warming of long dry periods, interspersed by short, heavy rainfall events. <!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/227052/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/milton-speer-703091"><em>Milton Speer</em></a><em>, Visiting Fellow, School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-technology-sydney-936">University of Technology Sydney</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lance-m-leslie-437774">Lance M Leslie</a>, Professor, School of Mathematical And Physical Sciences, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-technology-sydney-936">University of Technology Sydney</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/flash-droughts-are-becoming-more-common-in-australia-whats-causing-them-227052">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Do parolees really ‘walk free’? Busting common myths about parole

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/monique-moffa-1380936">Monique Moffa</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/alyssa-sigamoney-1375881">Alyssa Sigamoney</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/greg-stratton-161122">Greg Stratton</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/jarryd-bartle-441602">Jarryd Bartle</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a>, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michele-ruyters-18446">Michele Ruyters</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a></em></p> <p>Parole is a hot topic in politics and in the media at the moment, fuelled by several high-profile parole applications.</p> <p>Recently, <a href="https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/no-parole-for-convicted-baby-killer-keli-lane/xoykrtvxe?cid=testtwitter">Keli Lane’s</a> attempt to be released on parole after years in jail for the murder of her baby daughter was unsuccessful. <a href="https://www.heraldsun.com.au/truecrimeaustralia/police-courts-victoria/how-frankston-serial-killer-paul-denyer-will-apply-for-bail/news-story/4613d1b3fced1f4aeaa9c4e08e8b81e0">Paul Denyer</a>, known as the “Frankston Serial Killer” for murdering three women in the 90s was also denied parole.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Snowtown accomplice <a href="https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/truecrimeaustralia/police-courts-sa/bodies-in-the-barrels-helper-mark-haydon-released-on-parole/news-story/fdfbbbe7b59267d8009c6910249de585">Mark Haydon</a> was granted parole with strict conditions, but is <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-04-01/snowtown-accomplice-mark-haydon-still-in-custody-after-parole/103653934">yet to be</a> released.</p> <p>Some media coverage of such well-known cases is littered with myths about what parole is, how it’s granted and what it looks like. Here’s what the evidence says about three of the most common misconceptions.</p> <h2>Myth 1: people on parole walk free</h2> <p>Parole is the conditional release of an incarcerated person (parolee) by a parole board authority, after they have served their non-parole period (minimum sentence) in jail. This isn’t always reflected in headlines.</p> <p><a href="https://www.9news.com.au/national/snowtown-murders-bodies-in-barrels-murders-mark-haydon-release-south-australia/f4b62a72-ec3d-4238-94d2-64697fbcdef3">Some coverage</a> suggests people on parole are released early and “walk free” without conditions. This is not true.</p> <p>According to the <a href="https://www.adultparoleboard.vic.gov.au/what-parole/purpose-and-benefits">Adult Parole Board of Victoria</a>: "Parole provides incarcerated people with a structured, supported and supervised transition so that they can adjust from prison back into the community, rather than returning straight to the community at the end of their sentence without supervision or support."</p> <p>Parole comes with strict conditions and requirements, such as curfews, drug and alcohol testing, electronic monitoring, program participation, to name a few.</p> <p>People with experience of parole highlight its punitivism and continued extension of surveillance.</p> <h2>Myth 2: most parolees reoffend</h2> <p>Another myth is that the likelihood all parolees reoffend is high. Research over a number of years has consistently found parole reduces reoffending.</p> <p>For example, <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0004865815585393?journalCode=anja">a 2016 study in New South Wales</a> found at the 12 month mark, a group of parolees reoffended 22% less than an unsupervised cohort.</p> <p>A <a href="https://www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au/Publications/CJB/2022-Report-Effect-of-parole-supervision-on-recidivism-CJB245.pdf">2022 study</a> by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research found parole was especially successful in reducing serious recidivism rates among incarcerated people considered to be at a high risk of reoffending.</p> <p>More recently in Victoria, <a href="https://www.adultparoleboard.vic.gov.au/system/files/inline-files/Adult%20Parole%20Board%20Annual%20Report%202022-23_0.pdf">the Adult Parole Board</a> found over 2022–23, no parolees were convicted of committing serious offences while on parole.</p> <p>In contrast, unstructured and unconditional release increases the risk of returning to prison.</p> <h2>Myth 3: parole is easy to get</h2> <p>While the number of parolees reoffending has dropped, so too has the total number of people who are exiting prison on parole.</p> <p>Over a decade ago, Victoria underwent significant parole reforms, largely prompted by high-profile incidents and campaigns. In just five years following Jill Meagher’s tragic death in 2012, the Victorian government passed <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10345329.2018.1556285">13 laws reshaping parole</a>.</p> <p>The result is the number of people on parole in Victoria has halved since 2012, despite incarceration numbers remaining steady.</p> <p><iframe id="maNRy" class="tc-infographic-datawrapper" style="border: none;" src="https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/maNRy/" width="100%" height="400px" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p>These reforms have made it more difficult for people convicted of serious offences to get parole, as well as preventing individuals or specific groups from being eligible for parole (such as police killers, <a href="https://theconversation.com/no-body-no-parole-laws-could-be-disastrous-for-the-wrongfully-convicted-191083">“no body, no parole” prisoners</a>, and certain high-profile murderers).</p> <p>Similar laws can be found in other states. For example, no body, no parole was introduced in all other Australian states and territories, except for Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.</p> <p>As a consequence, more people are being released at the end of their full sentence. This can be detrimental not only for the incarcerated person but the wider community, because they are not receiving the reintegration support parole provides.</p> <p>Aside from restricted access due to political intervention, parole is facing a new crisis, which has nothing to do with eligibility or suitability.</p> <p>Last year, 40% of Victorian parole applications were denied, often due to reasons <a href="https://www.adultparoleboard.vic.gov.au/system/files/inline-files/Adult%20Parole%20Board%20Annual%20Report%202022-23_0.pdf">unrelated to suitability</a>.</p> <p>Housing scarcity played a significant role, with 59% of rejections (or 235 applications) citing a lack of suitable accommodation as one of the reasons parole was denied. This is playing out <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-08-11/women-on-bail-parole-increased-risk-of-homelessness-qld/102717002">across the country</a>.</p> <p>Parole is vulnerable to community and media hype, and political knee-jerk reactions in response to high profile incidents involving a person on parole. Because of the actions of a few, parole as a process has been restricted for many.</p> <p>While the wider community are active in advocacy efforts to restrict parole from certain people or groups (for example, this petition for <a href="https://www.change.org/p/lyns-law-no-body-no-parole">Lyn’s Law in NSW</a>), public efforts to restrict parole seem at odds with its purposes.</p> <p>Despite this, research suggests when the public are educated about the purposes and intent of parole, they are more likely to be <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3125829">supportive of it</a>.</p> <p>The susceptibility of parole to media and community influence results in frequent, impactful changes affecting individuals inside and outside prisons. Headlines such as “walking free” have the potential to mislead the public on the purpose and structure of parole. Coverage should portray parole beyond mere early termination of a sentence by accurately reflecting its purpose and impact.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/226607/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/monique-moffa-1380936">Monique Moffa</a>, Lecturer, Criminology &amp; Justice, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/alyssa-sigamoney-1375881">Alyssa Sigamoney</a>, Associate Lecturer in Criminology and Justice Studies, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/greg-stratton-161122">Greg Stratton</a>, Lecturer - Criminology and Justice Studies, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/jarryd-bartle-441602">Jarryd Bartle</a>, Associate Lecturer, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a>, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michele-ruyters-18446">Michele Ruyters</a>, Associate Dean, Criminology and Justice Studies, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/do-parolees-really-walk-free-busting-common-myths-about-parole-226607">original article</a>.</em></p>

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What are the most common symptoms of menopause? And which can hormone therapy treat?

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/susan-davis-10376">Susan Davis</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/monash-university-1065">Monash University</a></em></p> <p>Despite decades of research, navigating menopause seems to have become harder – with conflicting information on the internet, in the media, and from health care providers and researchers.</p> <p>Adding to the uncertainty, a recent <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(24)00462-8/fulltext">series in the Lancet</a> medical journal challenged some beliefs about the symptoms of menopause and which ones menopausal hormone therapy (also known as hormone replacement therapy) can realistically alleviate.</p> <p>So what symptoms reliably indicate the start of perimenopause or menopause? And which symptoms can menopause hormone therapy help with? Here’s what the evidence says.</p> <h2>Remind me, what exactly is menopause?</h2> <p>Menopause, simply put, is complete loss of female fertility.</p> <p>Menopause is traditionally defined as the final menstrual period of a woman (or person female at birth) who previously menstruated. Menopause is diagnosed after 12 months of no further bleeding (unless you’ve had your ovaries removed, which is surgically induced menopause).</p> <p>Perimenopause starts when menstrual cycles first vary in length by seven or more days, and ends when there has been no bleeding for 12 months.</p> <p>Both perimenopause and menopause are hard to identify if a person has had a hysterectomy but their ovaries remain, or if natural menstruation is suppressed by a treatment (such as hormonal contraception) or a health condition (such as an eating disorder).</p> <h2>What are the most common symptoms of menopause?</h2> <p><a href="https://srh.bmj.com/content/early/2024/02/21/bmjsrh-2023-202099.long">Our study</a> of the highest quality menopause-care guidelines found the internationally recognised symptoms of the perimenopause and menopause are:</p> <ul> <li>hot flushes and night sweats (known as vasomotor symptoms)</li> <li>disturbed sleep</li> <li>musculoskeletal pain</li> <li>decreased sexual function or desire</li> <li>vaginal dryness and irritation</li> <li>mood disturbance (low mood, mood changes or depressive symptoms) but not clinical depression.</li> </ul> <p>However, none of these symptoms are menopause-specific, meaning they could have other causes.</p> <p>In <a href="https://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/abstract/2015/07000/moderate_to_severe_vasomotor_and_sexual_symptoms.6.aspx">our study of Australian women</a>, 38% of pre-menopausal women, 67% of perimenopausal women and 74% of post-menopausal women aged under 55 experienced hot flushes and/or night sweats.</p> <p>But the severity of these symptoms <a href="https://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/abstract/2015/07000/moderate_to_severe_vasomotor_and_sexual_symptoms.6.aspx">varies greatly</a>. Only 2.8% of pre-menopausal women reported moderate to severely bothersome hot flushes and night sweats symptoms, compared with 17.1% of perimenopausal women and 28.5% of post-menopausal women aged under 55.</p> <p>So bothersome hot flushes and night sweats appear a reliable indicator of perimenopause and menopause – but they’re not the only symptoms. Nor are hot flushes and night sweats a western society phenomenon, as has been suggested. Women in Asian countries are <a href="https://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/fulltext/2022/05000/prevalence,_severity,_and_associated_factors_in.9.aspx">similarly affected</a>.</p> <p>Depressive symptoms and anxiety are also often linked to menopause but they’re less menopause-specific than hot flushes and night sweats, as they’re common across the entire adult life span.</p> <p>The <a href="https://srh.bmj.com/content/early/2024/02/21/bmjsrh-2023-202099.long">most robust guidelines</a> do not stipulate women must have hot flushes or night sweats to be considered as having perimenopausal or post-menopausal symptoms. They acknowledge that new mood disturbances may be a primary manifestation of <a href="https://www.cell.com/cell/abstract/S0092-8674(23)00905-4?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0092867423009054%3Fshowall%3Dtrue">menopausal hormonal changes</a>.</p> <p>The extent to which menopausal hormone changes impact memory, concentration and problem solving (frequently talked about as “brain fog”) is uncertain. <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13697137.2022.2122792">Some studies</a> suggest perimenopause may impair verbal memory and resolve as women transition through menopause. But strategic thinking and planning (executive brain function) <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13697137.2022.2122792">have not been shown to change</a>.</p> <h2>Who might benefit from hormone therapy?</h2> <p>The Lancet papers <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(24)00462-8/fulltext">suggest</a> menopause hormone therapy <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(23)02799-X/fulltext">alleviates</a> hot flushes and night sweats, but the likelihood of it improving sleep, mood or “brain fog” is limited to those bothered by vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes and night sweats).</p> <p>In contrast, the highest quality <a href="https://srh.bmj.com/content/early/2024/02/21/bmjsrh-2023-202099.long">clinical guidelines</a> consistently identify both vasomotor symptoms and mood disturbances associated with menopause as reasons for menopause hormone therapy. In other words, you don’t need to have hot flushes or night sweats to be prescribed menopause hormone therapy.</p> <p>Often, menopause hormone therapy is prescribed alongside a topical vaginal oestrogen to treat vaginal symptoms (dryness, irritation or urinary frequency).</p> <p>However, none of these guidelines recommend menopause hormone therapy for cognitive symptoms often talked about as “brain fog”.</p> <p>Despite musculoskeletal pain being the most common menopausal symptom in <a href="https://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/abstract/2016/07000/prevalence_and_severity_of_vasomotor_symptoms_and.6.aspx">some populations</a>, the effectiveness of menopause hormone therapy for this specific symptoms still needs to be studied.</p> <p>Some guidelines, such as an <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13697137.2023.2258783">Australian endorsed guideline</a>, support menopause hormone therapy for the prevention of osteoporosis and fracture, but not for the prevention of any other disease.</p> <h2>What are the risks?</h2> <p>The greatest concerns about menopause hormone therapy have been about breast cancer and an increased risk of a deep vein clot which might cause a lung clot.</p> <p>Oestrogen-only menopause hormone therapy is <a href="https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng23">consistently considered</a> to cause little or no change in breast cancer risk.</p> <p>Oestrogen taken with a progestogen, which is required for women who have not had a hysterectomy, <a href="https://www.moh.gov.my/moh/resources/Penerbitan/CPG/Women%20Health/CPG_Management_of_Menopause_2022_e-version-1.pdf">has been associated with a small increase</a> in the risk of breast cancer, although any <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/371/bmj.m3873.full.pdf">risk appears to vary</a> according to the type of therapy used, the dose and duration of use.</p> <p>Oestrogen taken orally has also been associated with an increased risk of a deep vein clot, although the risk varies according to the formulation used. This risk is avoided by using estrogen patches or gels <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/364/bmj.k4810.full.pdf">prescribed at standard doses</a></p> <h2>What if I don’t want hormone therapy?</h2> <p>If you can’t or don’t want to take menopause hormone therapy, there are also effective non-hormonal prescription therapies available for troublesome hot flushes and night sweats.</p> <p>In Australia, most of these options are “off-label”, although the new medication <a href="https://australianprescriber.tg.org.au/articles/management-of-menopause.html">fezolinetant</a> has just been <a href="https://www.tga.gov.au/resources/artg/401401">approved</a> in Australia for postmenopausal hot flushes and night sweats, and is expected to be available by mid-year. Fezolinetant, taken as a tablet, acts in the brain to stop the chemical neurokinin 3 triggering an inappropriate body heat response (flush and/or sweat).</p> <p>Unfortunately, most over-the-counter treatments promoted for menopause are either <a href="https://srh.bmj.com/content/early/2024/02/21/bmjsrh-2023-202099.long">ineffective or unproven</a>. However, cognitive behaviour therapy and hypnosis <a href="https://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/abstract/2023/06000/the_2023_nonhormone_therapy_position_statement_of.4.aspx">may provide symptom relief</a>.</p> <p><em>The Australasian Menopause Society has useful <a href="https://www.menopause.org.au/health-info/fact-sheets">menopause fact sheets</a> and a <a href="https://www.menopause.org.au/health-info/find-an-ams-doctor">find-a-doctor</a> page. The <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13697137.2023.2258783">Practitioner Toolkit for Managing Menopause</a> is also freely available.</em><!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/225174/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/susan-davis-10376">Susan Davis</a>, Chair of Women's Health, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/monash-university-1065">Monash University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-are-the-most-common-symptoms-of-menopause-and-which-can-hormone-therapy-treat-225174">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Attempts to access Kate Middleton’s medical records are no surprise. Such breaches are all too common

<p><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/bruce-baer-arnold-1408">Bruce Baer Arnold</a>, <em><a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-canberra-865">University of Canberra</a></em></p> <p>The <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-03-20/claim-hospital-staff-tried-to-access-kate-middleton-health-info/103608066">alleged</a> data breach involving Catherine, Princess of Wales tells us something about health privacy. If hospital staff can apparently access a future queen’s medical records without authorisation, it can happen to you.</p> <p>Indeed it may have already happened to you, given many breaches of health data go under the radar.</p> <p>Here’s why breaches of health data keep on happening.</p> <h2>What did we learn this week?</h2> <p>Details of the alleged data breaches, by <a href="https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/royals/breaking-kate-middleton-three-london-32401247">up to three staff</a> at The London Clinic, emerged in the UK media this week. These breaches are alleged to have occurred after the princess had abdominal surgery at the private hospital earlier this year.</p> <p>The UK Information Commissioner’s Office <a href="https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/media-centre/news-and-blogs/2024/03/ico-statement-in-response-to-reports-of-data-breach-at-the-london-clinic/">is investigating</a>. Its report should provide some clarity about what medical data was improperly accessed, in what form and by whom. But it is unlikely to identify whether this data was given to a third party, such as a media organisation.</p> <h2>Health data isn’t always as secure as we’d hope</h2> <p>Medical records are inherently sensitive, providing insights about individuals and often about biological relatives.</p> <p>In an ideal world, only the “right people” would have access to these records. These are people who “need to know” that information and are aware of the responsibility of accessing it.</p> <p>Best practice digital health systems typically try to restrict overall access to databases through hack-resistant firewalls. They also try to limit access to specific types of data through grades of access.</p> <p>This means a hospital accountant, nurse or cleaner does not get to see everything. Such systems also incorporate blocks or alarms where there is potential abuse, such as unauthorised copying.</p> <p>But in practice each health records ecosystem – in GP and specialist suites, pathology labs, research labs, hospitals – is less robust, often with fewer safeguards and weaker supervision.</p> <h2>This has happened before</h2> <p>Large health-care providers and insurers, including major hospitals or chains of hospitals, have a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/dec/22/st-vincents-health-australia-hack-cyberattack-data-stolen-hospital-aged-care-what-to-do">worrying</a> <a href="https://www.afr.com/technology/medical-information-leaked-in-nsw-health-hack-20210608-p57z7k">history</a> of <a href="https://www.innovationaus.com/oaic-takes-pathology-company-to-court-over-data-breach/">digital breaches</a>.</p> <p>Those breaches include hackers accessing the records of millions of people. The <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/nov/11/medical-data-hacked-from-10m-australians-begins-to-appear-on-dark-web">Medibank</a> data breach involved more than ten million people. The <a href="https://www.hipaajournal.com/healthcare-data-breach-statistics/">Anthem</a> data breach in the United States involved more than 78 million people.</p> <p>Hospitals and clinics have also had breaches specific to a particular individual. Many of those breaches involved unauthorised sighting (and often copying) of hardcopy or digital files, for example by nurses, clinicians and administrative staff.</p> <p>For instance, this has happened to public figures such as <a href="https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2008-mar-15-me-britney15-story.html">singer</a> <a href="https://journals.lww.com/healthcaremanagerjournal/abstract/2009/01000/health_information_privacy__why_trust_matters.11.aspx">Britney Spears</a>, actor <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/10/nyregion/10clooney.html">George Clooney</a> and former United Kingdom prime minister <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2024/mar/20/when-fame-and-medical-privacy-clash-kate-and-other-crises-of-confidentiality">Gordon Brown</a>.</p> <p>Indeed, the Princess of Wales has had her medical privacy breached before, in 2012, while in hospital pregnant with her first child. This was no high-tech hacking of health data.</p> <p>Hoax callers from an Australian radio station <a href="https://theconversation.com/did-2day-fm-break-the-law-and-does-it-matter-11250">tricked</a> hospital staff into divulging details over the phone of the then Duchess of Cambridge’s health care.</p> <h2>Tip of the iceberg</h2> <p>Some unauthorised access to medical information goes undetected or is indeed undetectable unless there is an employment dispute or media involvement. Some is identified by colleagues.</p> <p>Records about your health <em>might</em> have been improperly sighted by someone in the health system. But you are rarely in a position to evaluate the data management of a clinic, hospital, health department or pathology lab.</p> <p>So we have to trust people do the right thing.</p> <h2>How could we improve things?</h2> <p>Health professions have long emphasised the need to protect these records. For instance, medical ethics bodies <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h2255">condemn</a> medical students who <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-14/picture-sharing-app-for-doctors-raises-privacy-concerns/5389226">share</a> intimate or otherwise inappropriate images of patients.</p> <p>Different countries have various approaches to protecting who has access to medical records and under what circumstances.</p> <p>In Australia, for instance, we have a mix of complex and inconsistent laws that vary across jurisdictions, some covering privacy in general, others specific to health data. There isn’t one comprehensive law and set of standards <a href="https://theconversation.com/governments-privacy-review-has-some-strong-recommendations-now-we-really-need-action-200079">vigorously administered</a> by one well-resourced watchdog.</p> <p>In Australia, it’s mandatory to report <a href="https://www.oaic.gov.au/privacy/notifiable-data-breaches">data breaches</a>, including breaches of health data. This reporting system is currently <a href="https://theconversation.com/governments-privacy-review-has-some-strong-recommendations-now-we-really-need-action-200079">being updated</a>. But this won’t necessarily prevent data breaches.</p> <p>Instead, we need to incentivise Australian organisations to improve how they handle sensitive health data.</p> <p>The best policy <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1475-4932.12693">nudges</a> involve increasing penalties for breaches. This is so organisations act as responsible custodians rather than negligent owners of health data.</p> <p>We also need to step-up enforcement of data breaches and make it easier for victims to sue for breaches of privacy – princesses and tradies alike.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/226303/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/bruce-baer-arnold-1408">Bruce Baer Arnold</a>, Associate Professor, School of Law, <em><a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-canberra-865">University of Canberra</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/attempts-to-access-kate-middletons-medical-records-are-no-surprise-such-breaches-are-all-too-common-226303">original article</a>.</em></p> <p><em>Images: Getty</em></p>

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Sarah Ferguson diagnosed with malignant melanoma – here are the latest treatments for this increasingly common skin cancer

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/sarah-allinson-137762">Sarah Allinson</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/lancaster-university-1176">Lancaster University</a></em></p> <p>News that Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, has recently been diagnosed with malignant melanoma highlights the dangers of this increasingly common skin cancer.</p> <p>Malignant melanoma affects <a href="https://www.iarc.who.int/cancer-type/skin-cancer/">325,000 people worldwide</a> every year. While it’s not the most common form of skin cancer – typically, for every one diagnosed case of melanoma, up to ten non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed – it causes <a href="https://theconversation.com/skin-cancer-more-people-die-from-types-that-arent-melanoma-surprise-new-finding-215378">almost as many deaths</a>. The reason for this is because it’s far more likely to spread, or metastasise, to other sites in the body compared to non-melanoma skin cancers.</p> <p>Melanoma arises in a type of pigment-producing skin cell called a <a href="https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/melanoma-skin-cancer/about/what-is-melanoma.html#:%7E:text=Melanoma%20is%20a%20type%20of,to%20grow%20out%20of%20control.">melanocyte</a>. These cells produce and export melanin in order to provide a protective layer in the skin which helps to screen out ultraviolet (UV) radiation.</p> <p>Mutations in genes that normally carefully regulate cell growth and survival override the controls that ensure the body only produces the cells it needs. The result is uncontrolled cellular growth, or a tumour, that normally appears as an unusual-looking mole.</p> <p>The mutations that drive the growth of a melanoma usually happen as a result of exposure to UV from the sun or from an artificial source, such as a tanning bed. We know this because when a melanoma’s genome is compared to that of a normal cell we can see a high number of mutations that have a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-1943-3">characteristic “UV signature”</a>. For this reason, melanoma skin cancers occur most frequently in people who have light-coloured skin and who are exposed to high amounts of UV.</p> <p>Non-melanoma skin cancers are also mainly caused by exposure to UV but arise from a different kind of skin cell called a keratinocyte. These are the cells that normally make up the majority of the outer part of our skin, called the epidermis. Cancers that arise from keratinocytes are less likely to spread than those that come from melanocytes – although <a href="https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/non-melanoma-skin-cancer#heading-One">they can still be fatal</a>.</p> <p>In the duchess’s case, the melanoma was discovered during treatment for breast cancer. Her dermatologist recommended that some moles be removed for biopsy during breast reconstruction surgery. After testing, one was identified as malignant melanoma.</p> <p>If the results of the biopsy show that the cancer hasn’t spread, then like the majority of patients with melanoma, the duchess will be treated with surgery. In this case the tumour will be removed along with some of the surrounding normal skin.</p> <p>The amount of normal skin removed depends on the results of the biopsy – in particular, how deep into the skin the tumour has penetrated (called the <a href="https://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancer-information-and-support/melanoma/staging-of-melanoma">Breslow thickness</a>). The normal skin will be checked for any signs that cancerous cells might have spread out of the tumour.</p> <p>For most people diagnosed with melanoma, particularly if it’s at an early stage, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK481850/">surgery will cure the cancer</a> and they will be able to go on with their lives. But for around <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8544364/">20% of patients</a>, additional treatment will be needed. This happens if their cancer has spread further into the body or if their cancer can’t be treated surgically. The <a href="https://ascopubs.org/doi/10.1200/OP.21.00686">good news</a> for these patients is that the past decade has seen huge improvements in treatment.</p> <p>Previously the only options other than surgery were radiotherapy or non-specific chemotherapy treatments. These treatments work by affecting the ability of cells to copy their DNA, which prevents them from duplicating and causes fast-growing cancer cells to die. But because these also affect the patient’s normal cells, they were accompanied by severe side effects – and were often ineffective.</p> <p>But we now have a better understanding of the specific changes melanoma makes to cell growth pathways. This has led to the development of drugs, such as <a href="https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2022/fda-dabrafenib-trametinib-braf-solid-tumors">dabrafenib</a> and <a href="https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Trametinib">trametinib</a>, that specifically target cells with these altered pathways. In other words, they only target the cancerous cells.</p> <p>These drugs are much more effective and have fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapies – although about half of patients who initially respond to them relapse within a year. In these patients a few of the tumour cells survive by activating other pathways for growth and use these to <a href="https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cncr.30435">regrow the tumour</a>. Promisingly, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10417341/">a recent study</a> suggests that re-using these drugs after a period off them can have good results in relapsed patients.</p> <p>Another exciting development in the treatment of malignant melanoma has been the use of immunotherapies. These involve harnessing the patient’s own immune system to fight the tumour.</p> <p>One particularly successful immunotherapy approach for melanoma involves the use of drugs called checkpoint inhibitors. These prevent cancer cells from being able to hide from the body’s immune system. A <a href="https://www.ejcancer.com/article/S0959-8049(23)00694-9/fulltext">recent report</a> has highlighted how the introduction of these treatments has led to improved survival for melanoma patients.</p> <p>Although the duchess’s skin cancer was discovered while she was being treated for breast cancer, it’s unlikely that the two are related. A more likely risk factor is the duchess’s famous red hair. People with red hair and pale skin that tends to freckle and burn in the sun are at a greater risk of developing skin cancer because their skin produces <a href="https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/gene/mc1r/#conditions">less melanin</a>. This means that their melanocytes are exposed to higher levels of UV and are more likely to undergo cancer-causing mutations.</p> <p>While melanoma is much more common in people with the duchess’s skin type, it’s important to be aware that anyone can get it. It’s a good idea to regularly check your skin for unusual looking moles and to contact a doctor for advice if you have a mole with any of the so-called <a href="https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/melanoma/symptoms">ABCDE characteristics</a>: such as an asymmetrical shape, irregular, blurred or jagged border, uneven colour, is more than 6mm wide and is evolving (either in size, texture or even bleeding).<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/221647/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/sarah-allinson-137762">Sarah Allinson</a>, Professor, Department of Biomedical and Life Sciences, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/lancaster-university-1176">Lancaster University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty </em><em>Images </em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/sarah-ferguson-diagnosed-with-malignant-melanoma-here-are-the-latest-treatments-for-this-increasingly-common-skin-cancer-221647">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Drug resistance may make common infections like thrush untreatable

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/christine-carson-109004">Christine Carson</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/the-university-of-western-australia-1067">The University of Western Australia</a></em></p> <p>We’ve all heard about antibiotic resistance. This happens when bacteria develop strategies to avoid being destroyed by an antibiotic.</p> <p>The consequences of antibiotic resistance mean an antibiotic previously used to cure bacterial infections no longer works effectively because the bacteria have become resistant to the drug. This means it’s getting harder to cure the infections some bacteria cause.</p> <p>But unfortunately, it’s only one part of the problem. The same phenomenon is also happening with other causes of infections in humans: fungi, viruses and parasites.</p> <p>“Antimicrobial resistance” means the drugs used to treat diseases caused by microbes (bugs that cause infection) no longer work. This occurs with antibacterial agents used against bacteria, antifungal agents used against fungi, anti-parasitic agents used against parasites and antiviral agents used against viruses.</p> <p>This means a wide range of previously controllable infections are becoming difficult to treat – and may become untreatable.</p> <h2>Fighting fungi</h2> <p>Fungi are responsible for a range of infections in humans. Tinea, ringworm and vulvovaginal candidiasis (thrush) are some of the more familiar and common superficial fungal infections.</p> <p>There are also life-threatening fungal infections such as aspergillosis, cryptococcosis and invasive fungal bloodstream infections including those caused by <em>Candida albicans</em> and <em>Candida auris</em>.</p> <p>Fungal resistance to antifungal agents is a problem for several reasons.</p> <p>First, the range of antifungal agents available to treat fungal infections is limited, especially compared to the range of antibiotics available to treat bacterial infections. There are only four broad families of antifungal agents, with a small number of drugs in each category. Antifungal resistance further restricts already limited options.</p> <p>Life-threatening fungal infections happen less frequently than life-threatening bacterial infections. But they’re rising in frequency, especially among people whose immune systems are compromised, including by <a href="https://7news.com.au/news/qld/first-heart-transplant-patient-to-die-from-fungal-infection-at-brisbanes-prince-charles-hospital-identified-as-mango-hill-gp-muhammad-hussain-c-12551559">organ transplants</a> and chemotherapy or immunotherapy for cancer. The threat of getting a drug-resistant fungal infection makes all of these health interventions riskier.</p> <p>The greatest <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2017.00735/full">burden of serious fungal disease</a> occurs in places with limited health-care resources available for diagnosing and treating the infections. Even if infections are diagnosed and antifungal treatment is available, antifungal resistance reduces the treatment options that will work.</p> <p>But even in Australia, common fungal infections are impacted by resistance to antifungal agents. Vulvovaginal candidiasis, known as thrush and caused by <em>Candida</em> species and some closely related fungi, is usually reliably treated by a topical antifungal cream, sometimes supplemented with an oral tablet. However, instances of <a href="https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/they-can-t-sit-properly-doctors-treat-growing-number-of-women-with-chronic-thrush-20230913-p5e499.html">drug-resistant thrush</a> are increasing, and new treatments are needed.</p> <h2>Targeting viruses</h2> <p>Even <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-are-there-so-many-drugs-to-kill-bacteria-but-so-few-to-tackle-viruses-137480">fewer antivirals</a> are available than antibacterial and antifungal agents.</p> <p>Most antimicrobial treatments work by exploiting differences between the microbe causing the infection and the host (us) experiencing the infection. Since viruses use our cells to replicate and cause their infection, it’s difficult to find antiviral treatments that selectively target the virus without damaging us.</p> <p>With so few antiviral drugs available, any resistance that develops to one of them significantly reduces the treatment options available.</p> <p>Take COVID, for example. Two antiviral medicines are in widespread use to treat this viral infection: Paxlovid (containing nirmatrelvir and ritonavir) and Lagevrio (molnupiravir). So far, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, has not developed significant resistance to either of these <a href="https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/covid-19/low-levels-resistance-paxlovid-seen-sars-cov-2-isolates">treatments</a>.</p> <p>But if SARS-CoV-2 develops resistance to either one of them, it halves the treatment options. Subsequently relying on one would likely lead to its increased use, which may heighten the risk that resistance to the second agent will develop, leaving us with no antiviral agents to treat COVID.</p> <p>The threat of antimicrobial resistance makes our ability to treat serious COVID infections rather precarious.</p> <h2>Stopping parasites</h2> <p>Another group of microbes that cause infections in humans are single-celled microbes such as <em>Plasmodium</em>, <em>Giardia</em>, <em>Leishmania</em>, and <em>Trypanosoma</em>. These microbes are sometimes referred to as parasites, and they are becoming increasingly resistant to the very limited range of anti-parasitic agents used to treat the infections they cause.</p> <p>Several <em>Plasmodium</em> species cause malaria and anti-parasitic drugs have been the cornerstone of malaria treatment for decades. But their usefulness has been significantly reduced by the <a href="https://www.mmv.org/our-work/mmvs-pipeline-antimalarial-drugs/antimalarial-drug-resistance">development of resistance</a>.</p> <p><em>Giardia</em> parasites cause an infection called giardiasis. This can resolve on its own, but it can also cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and bloating. These microbes have <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6207226/">developed resistance</a> to the main treatments and patients infected with drug-resistant parasites can have protracted, unpleasant infections.</p> <h2>Resistance is a natural consequence</h2> <p>Treating infections influences microbes’ evolutionary processes. Exposure to drugs that stop or kill them pushes microbes to either evolve or die. The exposure to antimicrobial agents provokes the evolutionary process, selecting for microbes that are resistant and can survive the exposure.</p> <p>The pressure to evolve, provoked by the antimicrobial treatment, is called “selection pressure”. While most microbes will die, a few will evolve in time to overcome the antimicrobial drugs used against them.</p> <p>The evolutionary process that leads to the emergence of resistance is inevitable. But some things can be done to minimise this and the problems it brings.</p> <p>Limiting the use of antimicrobial agents is one approach. This means reserving antimicrobial agents for when their use is known to be necessary, rather than using them “just in case”.</p> <p>Antimicrobial agents are precious resources, holding at bay many infectious diseases that would otherwise sicken and kill millions. It is imperative we do all we can to preserve the effectiveness of those that remain, and give ourselves more options by working to discover and develop new ones.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/213460/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/christine-carson-109004">Christine Carson</a>, Senior Research Fellow, School of Medicine, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/the-university-of-western-australia-1067">The University of Western Australia</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/drug-resistance-may-make-common-infections-like-thrush-untreatable-213460">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Name that rash: 6 common skin conditions (and how to treat them)

<p><strong>Psoriasis</strong></p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>What psoriasis is like:</em></span> Psoriasis is made of red, scaly plaques that can be itchy and painful. It can show up anywhere but is most commonly found on the scalp, as well as the outside of the elbows and knees. It usually starts between age 10 and 30 and tends to be a chronic condition. “It’s a stubborn disease that waxes and wanes, so people have it for their whole lives,” says dermatologist Paul Cohen.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>What causes psoriasis:</em></span> This skin rash is the result of your immune system attacking the skin’s cells, and creating new ones too quickly, which then build up into the plaques. There’s no one single cause, but the condition runs in families. Stress, obesity, smoking and having many infections (particularly strep throat) increase your risk.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>How to treat psoriasis:</em></span> The first step is generally topical steroids, which can be used for a week or two at a time to clear up the plaques. For ongoing treatment, people use a synthetic form of vitamin D (which slows skin growth), medicated shampoos and retinoids (a topical version of vitamin A). Daily exposure to sunlight also seems to help, as does moisturising well. For more serious cases, options include oral medications that suppress the immune system and phototherapy done in a doctor’s office with a special light. (Discover more applications of light therapy.)</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>Possible red flag:</em></span> Serious cases can involve the joints, a condition called psoriatic arthritis. Also, psoriasis increases your chances of having some other diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune conditions such as Crohn’s – all of which are, like psoriasis, linked to inflammation.</p> <p><strong>Hives</strong></p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>What hives are like:</em></span> Hives are itchy, raised welts that often have a red ring around them. Their most salient characteristic is that they disappear after about a day, only to show up later in a different location. They come in two forms: acute, which lasts six weeks or less, and chronic.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>What causes hives:</em></span> Hives are often the result of the body releasing histamine as part of an allergic reaction to drugs, food or some other irritant. They also commonly appear after a viral illness, as a side effect of your immune system revving up to battle the disease. “There are a number of potential triggers,” says dermatologist Katie Beleznay. In most cases, she adds, the specific origin is never determined.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>How to treat hives:</em></span> Since hives are a histamine reaction, over-the-counter antihistamines are the first line of defence. If that doesn’t clear them up, ask a doctor if you should use a stronger antihistamine or oral prednisone, an anti-inflammatory medication.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>Possible red flag:</em></span> Rarely, people suffer from ongoing outbreaks of hives almost daily for six weeks or more, a condition called chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU). The treatment for CIU is the same as for regular hives, but in some cases, it can also be a sign of an underlying thyroid disease or cancer.</p> <p><strong>Eczema</strong></p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>What eczema is like:</em></span> Eczema presents as patches of red, scaly skin that are extremely itchy, especially at night. These rashes often appear on the inside of your elbows and knees. If it’s more serious, the skin might blister or look thickened and white in those areas.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>What causes eczema:</em></span> Eczema is the result of having a weakened skin barrier, which can lead to inflammation and an overreaction from your immune system. Most people are born with it, and your genes are partly to blame. “You’re more predisposed to eczema if you have a family history of asthma, hay fever or the condition itself,” says Lisa Kellett, a dermatologist in Toronto. Some research also suggests that it might be a reaction to pollution, or to not being exposed to enough germs in childhood. (Kids who have dogs, for example, are less likely to have eczema.)</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>How to treat eczema:</em></span> For general maintenance, apply a thick, hypoallergenic moisturizer to affected areas immediately after a bath or shower and at night. More serious flares will need topical prescription steroid creams or non-steroid immunosuppressant creams. People with stubborn eczema might also try phototherapy, which uses UVB light to help calm your immune system and reduce itchiness.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>Possible red flag:</em></span> Rarely, what looks like eczema is actually skin cancer, as both can appear red and scaly. “The difference with skin cancer is that it doesn’t go away if you use a steroid,” says Kellett.</p> <p><strong>Contact Dermatitis</strong></p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>What contact dermatitis is like:</em></span> Contact dermatitis is a variation of eczema, and it looks similar – red, itchy patches on your skin. But unlike that chronic condition, this skin rash is a reaction to something specific and appears only where the offending object has made contact. “Poison ivy, for instance, will show up as a streak where the branch touched the skin,” says Beleznay.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>What causes contact dermatitis:</em></span> Besides poison ivy, other common culprits that can cause the immune system to go into overdrive are face cream, jewellery or fragrances. You can also develop a new intolerance to something you’ve used for a long time, such as Polysporin. If it’s not clear what caused it, your dermatologist can do a patch test, putting small amounts of suspected substances on your skin to see if you react.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>How to treat contact dermatitis:</em></span> Contact dermatitis is treated with topical steroids, or a stronger oral one, to calm down your immune system and stop the reaction.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>Possible red flag:</em></span> Like eczema, the red and scaly presentation of contact dermatitis could be confused for skin cancer, which is another reason to visit your doctor if you’re not sure what caused it.</p> <p><strong>Rosacea</strong></p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>What rosacea is like:</em></span> As rosacea is a dilation of the blood vessels in your cheeks and nose, it often presents as red, sensitive skin in those places. Another form of the condition also includes bumps that resemble acne. For some people, the skin on their nose thickens, making it appear larger.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>What causes rosacea:</em></span> We don’t know what brings rosacea on, but, as with eczema, you’re more likely to have it if others in your family do, too. You’re also prone to acquire the condition if you have sun-damaged skin. “Rosacea usually begins around the age of 35 and gets worse with time,” says Kellett. People often find their flare-ups come after eating or drinking specific things.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>How to treat rosacea:</em></span> For many, preventing activation of their rosacea is as simple as avoiding triggers – but that’s easier than it sounds and can be a serious test of a sufferer’s willpower. “Those are often the good things in life,” says Beleznay, citing coffee, spicy foods and alcohol as common aggravators. Some women find that everyday makeup is enough to cover up the cosmetic impact of the condition, while others use prescription creams or laser or light therapy to constrict the blood vessels in the cheeks and reduce redness. For those whose rosacea includes bumps, topical creams or oral antibiotics often get rid of them.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>Possible red flag:</em></span> Rarely, what looks like rosacea can be confused for the butterfly rash that’s a symptom of lupus, a serious autoimmune disease. The butterfly rash is named as such because of the shape it makes on the nose and both cheeks.</p> <p><strong>Shingles</strong></p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>What shingles is like:</em></span> Shingles normally starts out as a tingly, numb or bruised feeling in a small area, most commonly a patch on the abdomen. A few days later, a painful skin rash with blisters appears over those places. As the condition follows the path of a nerve, the rash eventually presents as a stripe that lasts from two to six weeks.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>What causes shingles:</em></span> This one’s easy: chicken pox. Even once you have fully recovered from that virus, your body never totally beats it; it simply retreats and lies dormant in your nerve cells, where, decades later, it can re-erupt as shingles. You’re more likely to get them if you’re immunocompromised or over 50, the age at which most public health agencies recommend you get the vaccine.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>How to treat shingles:</em></span> If you suspect you have shingles, see your doctor immediately. “You have to go right away because studies show that people do much better if the antiviral pills are started within 72 hours of the rash onset,” says Cohen. Additionally, sufferers are often given medication, like a local anaesthetic or codeine, to help control the pain.</p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>Possible red flag:</em></span> The real worry with shingles is that for some people, if it is not contained quickly, the virus can lead to longer-term pain lasting over three months and in some cases over a year. If the skin rash appears on the face, it can even cause blindness.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/healthsmart/name-that-rash-6-common-skin-conditions-and-how-to-treat-them" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Reader's Digest</a>. </em></p>

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15 money-saving habits self-made millionaires have in common

<p><strong>Start saving smarter</strong></p> <p>Learning how to save money like a self-made millionaire can mean the difference between stressing to dress and dressing to impress. It can help you retire younger so you’re able to see more of the world sooner. It can mean finally building that dream house. And more than anything, it can mean having the money when you truly need it.</p> <p>But let’s face it: Not all of us are natural savers. We waste our money on frivolous supermarket buys we’re convinced we have to have in the moment. We don’t bother with high-yield savings or investment accounts. And we have a tendency to try to keep up with the Joneses. In other words, we could really use the help of a self-made millionaire who not only knows the tricks to getting rich but is also skilled at saving. Luckily, we talked to some financial geniuses who were willing to share their expert tips on the money-saving strategies all self-made millionaires share.</p> <p>Whether you’re planning to retire at 30 or are opening your first savings account, these are the money-saving habits you should borrow from self-made millionaires to become one yourself someday.</p> <p><strong>They follow the 50-30-20 rule</strong> </p> <p>Forget complicated budgeting or uncomfortable belt-tightening; the secret to saving big might boil down to three simple numbers. Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet, says that many a self-made millionaire follows the “50-30-20” rule.</p> <p>Using this formula, they put aside 50% of the money they earn for savings and necessities such as rent and groceries, 30% for lifestyle purchases like new clothing and 20% for fun activities like concerts or eating out. By regularly and intentionally setting aside a fixed amount of savings, the self-made millionaire builds a nest egg faster.</p> <p>Ready to try it for yourself? To get started, download a budget app to help you divvy up your income accordingly. “You might find that with some adjustments, such as shifting your food spending toward groceries and away from takeout and restaurants, or cutting back on monthly subscriptions, you can take steps toward reaching your wealth-building goals,” Palmer says.</p> <p><strong>They automate their finances</strong></p> <p>Budgeting is a smart move, but there are times when it can backfire, according to nine-time New York Times bestselling author David Bach, the founder of FinishRich.com. “You’re too busy, and you will just get frustrated and fail,” he says.</p> <p>Instead, self-made millionaires automate their financial lives so they can’t fail. That includes setting up a regular deposit into their savings accounts to be automatically withdrawn from their pay.</p> <p>Bach also recommends using autopay for many of your bills, including car payments, mortgage payments and credit card bills. Doing so helps you avoid missing a payment and getting hit with those pesky late fees, saving you money in the long run. Just make sure to leave out any of these bills you shouldn’t put on autopay.</p> <p><strong>They spend less than they earn</strong></p> <p>Believe it or not, “self-made millionaires don’t necessarily look like millionaires on the outside,” according to Palmer. Rather than spending money on flashy holidays or new clothes, “they often spend less than they earn so they can put their money into savings and investments,” she says.</p> <p>To maximise your savings like a self-made millionaire would, Palmer recommends taking stock of your personal spending and cutting back on categories that matter less to you. For example, if you enjoy taking a big holiday every year, consider cooking lunches and dinners at home to curb your spending at restaurants. On the flip side, maybe you would rather have a smaller clothing budget and create a capsule wardrobe to free up spending for dining out with your friends.</p> <p><strong>They avoid "want spending"</strong></p> <p>Another way self-made millionaires avoid spending more than they earn? They never fall into the trap of “want spending,” according to Tom Corley, an expert on wealth creation and author of Rich Habits. “According to Census Bureau data, there are approximately 30 million people who make more than they need but who are, nonetheless, one pay away from poverty,” he explains. “These individuals engage in something called want spending.”</p> <p>Are you a “want spender”? Corley’s research found that some of the biggest indicators include:</p> <ul> <li>Surrendering to instant gratification, forgoing savings in order to buy things you want now, be it a 60-inch TV, nice holiday, expensive car or fancy pair of shoes</li> <li>Spending too much going out to eat or ordering in</li> <li>Incurring debt in order to finance your standard of living</li> </ul> <p>Essentially, want spenders create their own poverty by rationalising their desire to spend in various ways, whether it be by planning to make more money in the future or relying on the economy improving down the line. That’s why self-made millionaires shun spending money on their wants and focus more on their needs and savings. That said, if you do want to make a purchase that you didn’t budget for, here are some quick ways to earn extra cash.</p> <p><strong>They're smart spenders </strong></p> <p>Impulse purchases can happen to the best of us. No, you didn’t need the trucker hat at the petrol station on your long, boring road trip. And yes, stuff like that, when made a habit, adds up. To prevent extraneous spending and save more money, Corley suggests a few specific strategies that self-made millionaires followed in his research:</p> <ul> <li>They buy in bulk. “If done properly and with the right items, buying in bulk can save your household money and reduce waste,” he says. Toilet paper, soap, laundry detergent, paper towels and shampoo are items proven much cheaper when bought in larger sizes. Prioritise food items like applesauce, canned goods or yoghurt, which can be portioned into glass jars and saved for future use.</li> <li>They create a meal plan. “If you can sketch out a menu for the week that utilises similar ingredients, you’ll have a more focused trip to the supermarket, and you’ll end up throwing less away weeks after it’s been shoved to the back recesses of the refrigerator,” says Corley. “Making a conscious effort here saves you money, and it keeps food waste out of landfills.” For other smart tricks to save money on groceries, consider following a budget grocery list and learning how to find coupons.</li> <li>They reduce energy costs. “Lowering your energy consumption is low-hanging fruit when it comes to cutting monthly expenses,” he explains. This can be as simple as swapping incandescent bulbs for CFLs or LEDs to lower your utility bill.</li> </ul> <p><strong>They prevent lifestyle creep </strong></p> <p>Whether you tried out a new side hustle idea or learned how to negotiate for a higher salary, you’re now bringing in more money. But be careful! It’s all too tempting to splurge on a bigger house or fancier car as your income grows. “It’s a common habit among many who suddenly find themselves making more money,” Corley says. But self-made millionaires avoid increasing their standard of living in order to match their growing income—a money-burning practice called lifestyle creep.</p> <p>In fact, Corley’s research found that a whopping 64% of self-made millionaires lived in a modest, middle-class home; 44% purchased used cars; 41% spent less than $3000 on their annual holiday; and 28% mowed their own lawn to save money.</p> <p>Here’s why lifestyle creep can hurt you financially: “Once you spend your money, it’s gone,” Corley says. “When you hit a bump in the road, such as a job loss, you are then forced to sell your stuff. If the stuff you purchased depreciated in value, you get pennies on the dollar.”</p> <p>As a good rule of thumb, he recommends spending no more than 25% of your annual net pay on housing costs and 5% on car costs, no matter how much you earn.</p> <p><strong>They don't lend money to friends or family </strong></p> <p>The self-made millionaire knows that your love for your family and friends shouldn’t be measured by your generosity, but sometimes that’s exactly what it comes down to. You’re inevitably left in an awkward bind: If you don’t provide a loan, there can be tension, but if you do, you may never get the funds back and might find yourself resenting your pal. “You will lose both your friend and the money, and you’re not a bank,” advises Bach.</p> <p>Say you do lend them money. Did you come up with an agreement for a timeline for repayments? When it comes to friends or family, setting such boundaries can be difficult, but it’s even more awkward to continuously ask for the money back.</p> <p>If self-made millionaires absolutely must lend money to someone near and dear, they make sure the loan isn’t open-ended. Bach recommends coming up with a timeline and sticking to it. You can also take advantage of companies that specialise in peer-to-peer lending, like Zirtue, which formalises loans between family members and friends.</p> <p><strong>They're frugal, not cheap </strong></p> <p>Although it may seem counterintuitive, buying cheaper products is not a common money-saving habit among self-made millionaires. In fact, Corley’s research found that 66% of poor people admitted to being cheap. “Cheap, to them, meant spending their money on the cheapest product or service available,” he explains. But cheap products break or deteriorate at a much quicker rate than quality products, which means you end up spending more in the long run.</p> <p>He also points out that, when looking for services, those who provide cheap ones are typically inexperienced or not very good at what they do. “If they were good, they would be able to command higher prices. Cheap service providers can get you in a lot of trouble, especially when it comes to taxes, legal representation or even just getting your car fixed. Cheap service providers are able to keep their fees down by paying their staff lower wages. This means they are not getting the best staff or are settling for inexperienced staff.”</p> <p>Being cheap won’t make you poor, but it will mean you save less money because you’re constantly shelling out for new products or services to replace the low-quality ones you bought in the first place. Self-made millionaires focus on buying fewer, higher-quality products that will last a long time.</p> <p><strong>They don't play the comparison game</strong></p> <p>Keeping up with the Joneses is more tempting (and common!) then you might think. According to a recent NerdWallet survey, 83% of Americans say they overspend due to social pressures from seeing others dining at expensive restaurants or taking fancy trips abroad. “It’s easy to get caught up in overspending, especially when you see peers or neighbours spending more than you on cars, houses or vacations,” Palmer says.</p> <p>But when rich people feel green with envy, Palmer says, they put things into perspective—and keep in mind that what they’re seeing may not be the entire picture. “It’s important to take a step back and realise you might not want the same things they have, or they might be creating financial stress for themselves by buying those things,” she says.</p> <p><strong>They pay themselves first </strong></p> <p>By setting aside a portion of their income every day, week or month—in other words, “paying yourself first”—self-made millionaires take one of the most important steps towards building wealth, according to Bach. “You’re going to work 90,000 hours over your lifetime; you should keep at least an hour a day of the income,” he says.</p> <p>He recommends setting aside an hour’s worth of your income each day and then saving and investing it—preferably automatically to begin earning some passive income and reach that high-roller status.</p> <p><strong>They find a passive income source</strong></p> <p>Speaking of passive income, self-made millionaires save even more money by investing their savings in an account that creates passive income through accumulated interest, such as a high-yield savings or investment account. There are several types of accounts to consider, and ultimately, the one you choose will depend on your financial goals.</p> <p>“No strategy is a one-size-fits-all approach, since everyone’s financial situation is unique and different,” Palmer says. She recommends speaking with a financial advisor to learn the right strategy for you and to avoid the most common retirement-planning mistakes.</p> <p><strong>They put away the credit card</strong></p> <p>Credit cards can sabotage even the best of savers, according to Corley. “Credit card use can easily get out of control,” he says. “If you rely on credit cards to pay for ordinary living expenses, that means you are living beyond your means.”</p> <p>Not only are there high interest rates on credit card debt, but paying with plastic could also trick you into spending more money. In a study published in the journal Marketing Letters, MIT researchers found that shoppers spend up to 100% more when paying with a credit card—and were even willing to pay twice as much for an item as those who paid in cash.</p> <p>The 100-day credit card money-saving challenge could help you break bad spending habits, according to Corley. Essentially, the goal is to go 100 days without using your credit cards for purchases. The result? “Having to use cash or your ATM card forces spending awareness and restricts how much you can spend,” Corley says.</p> <p><strong>They design their dreams </strong></p> <p>What do you want your life to look like in five, 10 or 20 years? Self-made millionaires always know their answer to this question, Corley says. He calls this dream-setting or creating a clear vision of your ideal future life. From there, you should set and pursue financial goals that will help you accomplish those dreams. “Dream-setting is a springboard for creating the goals you’ll need in order to help you get to your destination,” he says.</p> <p>For example, if you want to earn a master’s degree so you can get a job with a higher salary, you can set goals like setting aside two hours every day to study for the graduate record exam (GRE). “Goals are the transportation system to your ideal future life,” Corley says. “Once you have a clear vision of your destination, the goals you’ll need to achieve will magically manifest themselves out of thin air.”</p> <p><strong>They invest in themselves </strong></p> <p>There’s no question that saving and investing your money is key to accumulating wealth fast. But according to Corley, the first (and most important!) money-saving habit that self-made millionaires practice is investing in themselves—whether that means reading for at least 30 minutes a day, listening to podcasts during a long commute or seeking out career mentors.</p> <p>Exactly how should you invest in yourself? The self-made millionaires in Corley’s research focused their daily reading on content that was directly related to the dreams and goals they were pursuing.</p> <p><strong>They never give up</strong></p> <p>Maybe it sounds cliche, but it’s the type of mindset that will keep you above water. “No matter what happens, no matter how many times you fail, as long as you get up and try again, you haven’t lost,” says Bach. So commit to the sort of money-saving tricks a self-made millionaire would follow, but give yourself a break if you fall off the wagon. Dust yourself off and recommit to your saving strategies.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/food-home-garden/money/15-money-saving-habits-self-made-millionaires-have-in-common?pages=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Reader's Digest</a>. </em></p>

Money & Banking

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Common car act could cost touchy drivers a hefty fine

<p>A worried driver has shared his concerns over being slapped with a potential fine after being caught holding his girlfriend's hand while driving. </p> <p>The man questioned whether the hand holding warranted a fine, after the couple passed a road safety camera in the "compromising" position. </p> <p>“Me and my girlfriend were holding hands and there was a camera on the left side, will they fine me?” the poster anonymously posted in a Facebook group for discussions about mobile phone detection camera locations in Australia.</p> <p>Online responses were varied from commenters, as many thought he driver could attract a fine as the act could be misconstrued as a more serious offence. </p> <p>One person wrote, “Was there a (mobile phone) between your hand and your girlfriends?" while another cheekily added “As long as she was just holding your hand.”</p> <p>But while some people mocked the question, others were closer to the mark, writing, “Holding her hand is no problem other than you may not have had effective control of the vehicle.”</p> <p>“Both hands on the steering wheel is my take on it,” another said.</p> <p>While police and transport authorities confirmed to <a href="https://7news.com.au/travel/driving/common-driving-act-that-could-cost-romantic-drivers-up-to-514-c-12217058" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>7News</em></a> that no specific rule exists for holding hands, if the hand-holding is deemed to constitute a failure to maintain proper control of a motor vehicle, that would be an offence under Australian Road Rule 297 of the Road Traffic Act 1961.</p> <p>The rule is observed nationally, but not all states fine offending motorists equally.</p> <p>Those who are caught red-handed could be fined between $215 and $514 depending on where they are.</p> <p>A Department of Transport and Main Roads spokesperson said that drivers should use their best judgement, saying, “Drivers must also drive with care and attention, as there are significant penalties for more serious offending.”</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p>

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6 common factors that are impacting your sleep

<p>While we all do our best to make sure we’re get our eight hours every night, at times it can feel as though we’re our own worst enemies. And while we’re all aware of the importance of sleep, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out what the root of the problem is.</p> <p>Here are six common factors that may be negatively impacting your ability to get shut eye. Correct these and you’ll be on your way to enjoy a good night sleep.</p> <p><strong>1. Light</strong></p> <p>Studies have shown the exposure to light can wreak havoc in terms of our internal circadian rhythm. Try to avoid having your vision obstructed by any light when you’re about to get to sleep and keep the use of mobile and computer devices to a minimum.</p> <p><strong>2. Food</strong></p> <p>Asides from the correlation between poor quality sleep and processed foods, it’s generally not recommended you have large, heavy meals just before you’re about to go to bed. Also, try to avoid sugar and caffeine in the few hours leading to bedtime.</p> <p><strong>3. Noise</strong></p> <p>Noise can also affect the pattern of your sleep as anyone who’s tossed and turned at the sound of a neighbour’s party. Earplugs are one option you can explore. It’s also an idea to perhaps try a light fan to drown the noise out somewhat, or some sort of gentle recording.</p> <p><strong>4. Temperature</strong></p> <p>Each person has an optimal temperature for falling asleep and it varies between people. If you’re feeling a bit hot under the collar (or too cool to start sleeping) it’s worth experimenting with the temperature in your room until you find one that better suits.</p> <p><strong>5. Schedule</strong></p> <p>Are bodies are fiends for routines, so try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekend. Not only will this help integrate your body into a regular sleep/wake pattern, it will also make the actual process of falling asleep seem much easier.</p> <p><strong>6. Naps</strong></p> <p>While there’s nothing quite as nice as an afternoon nap during the day, it can actually significantly disrupt out sleep patterns during the night. If you really do have to nap during the day, try to keep it short and avoid napping too much in the later parts of the day.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p>

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The strange history of these 5 common superstitions

<p><strong>Where superstitions come from</strong></p> <p>You probably engage in many of these superstitions as second nature, but have you ever thought about where they come from?</p> <p><strong>Superstition: Black cats are bad omens</strong></p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>The backstory</em></span>: Despite centuries of royal treatment (Egyptians worshipped them; the Norse goddess Freya rode in a chariot pulled by them), cats took a big hit to their reputation in the 1200s, when Pope Gregory IX, waging a culture war on pagan symbols, damned cats as servants of Satan.</p> <p>As a result, cats – especially black ones – were killed across Europe. One unintended consequence, according to some historians: The cat-deprived continent may have allowed disease-carrying rodents to flourish and spread the bubonic plague of 1348.</p> <p>Rumours that the feline’s fangs and fur were venomous persisted, and by the witch-hunting days of the 1600s, many Puritans believed black cats to be “familiars” – supernatural demons that serve witches – and avoided them (to borrow an apt phrase) like the plague.</p> <p><strong>Superstition: Never walk under a ladder</strong></p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>The backstory</em></span>: Depending on your background, a ladder leaning against a wall can represent an honest day’s work, a textbook geometry problem, or a symbol of the Holy Trinity that, if breached, will damn your soul. That last bit is what some ancient Christians believed – that any triangle represented the Trinity, and disrupting one could summon the Evil One.</p> <p>These days, our under-ladder phobia is a smidge more practical: Avoid it because you might get beaned by falling tools, debris, or an even less lucky human.</p> <p><strong>Superstition: Break a mirror and see seven years of bad luck</strong></p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>The backstory</em></span>: Numerous ancient cultures agree: Your reflection doesn’t just reveal whether you’re having a bad hair day – it also holds a piece of your soul. To break a mirror, then, is to fracture your very essence, leaving you vulnerable to bad luck.</p> <p>So why should the sentence last seven years? Some writers cite the ancient Romans, who are said to have believed that the human body and soul fully regenerate every seven years. Any poor pleb who fractured his or her soul in the looking glass would therefore have to endure the bad karma until the soul renewed again.</p> <p><strong>Superstition: A full moon brings out the crazies</strong></p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>The backstory</em></span>: Ever wonder where the word lunatic came from? Look no further than luna, the Latin word for the moon. Many Greeks knew that the moon and its goddess, Luna, held the tides in their thrall, and Aristotle considered the human brain – the “moistest” organ – particularly susceptible to Luna’s pull.</p> <p>Ancient physician Hippocrates agreed, writing, “One who is seized with terror, fright and madness during the night is being visited by the goddess of the moon.” Today, some emergency room workers still believe the full moon means trouble.</p> <p><strong>Superstition: Say “God bless you” after a sneeze or risk something worse than a cold</strong></p> <p><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>The backstory</em></span>: You’ve probably heard the myth that a sneeze stops the heart (it doesn’t) or separates body from soul (science declines to comment there). But to explain the ritual of post-sneeze “blessing,” we can look to another pope.</p> <p>During the first recorded plague pandemic, in the sixth century, severe sneezing often portended sudden death. As a desperate precaution, Pope Gregory I supposedly asked followers to say “God bless you” every time someone sneezed. Today, it’s just polite.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/culture/this-is-the-history-behind-these-5-common-superstitions" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Reader's Digest</a>. </em></p>

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Finding a live brain worm is rare. 4 ways to protect yourself from more common parasites

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/vincent-ho-141549">Vincent Ho</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/western-sydney-university-1092">Western Sydney University</a></em></p> <p><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/aug/28/live-worm-living-womans-brain-australia-depression-forgetfulness">News reports</a> this morning describe how shocked doctors removed a live worm from a woman’s brain in a Canberra hospital last year. The woman had previously been admitted to hospital with stomach symptoms, dry cough and night sweats and months later experienced depression and forgetfulness that led to a brain scan.</p> <p>In the <a href="https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/29/9/23-0351_article">case study</a> published in Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, doctors describe removing the live 8cm-long nematode (roundworm) from the brain of the 64-year-old woman who was immunosuppressed. The worm was identified as <em>O. robertsi</em> which is native to Australia, where it lives on carpet pythons. The woman may have come into contact with worm eggs via snake faeces while foraging for Warrigal greens to eat.</p> <p>It’s important to note this is an extremely rare event and headlines about brain worms can be alarming. But there are more common parasites which can infect your body and brain. And there are ways you can minimise your risks of being infected with one.</p> <h2>Common parasites and how they get in</h2> <p>Parasitic infection is extremely common. Arguably the most widespread type is pinworm (<em>Enterobius vermicularis</em> also called threadworm), which is thought to be present in <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6522669/">over a billion people</a> worldwide, especially children. Pinworms grow to around 1cm in length and are specific to human hosts. They cause intense bottom itching and get passed from person-to-person. It’s a myth that you can get it from pets.</p> <p><a href="https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/giardia/pathogen.html#:%7E:text=Giardia%20duodenalis%20is%20a%20protozoan,Giard%20of%20Paris%20and%20Dr.">Giardia</a> (<em>Giardia duodenalis</em>) is also very common and can contaminate food, water and surfaces. This water-borne parasite is associated with poor sanitation and causes stomach symptoms like diarrhoea, cramps, bloating, nausea and fatigue. Giardia cysts (little sacs of immature parasite) spread disease and are passed out in faeces, where they can remain viable in the environment for months before being consumed by someone else. They can also be ingested via foods (such as sheep meat) that is raw or undercooked.</p> <p><a href="https://www.cdc.gov/dpdx/hookworm/index.html">Two types</a> of hookworm – <em>Necator americanis</em> and <em>Ancylostoma duadonale</em> – are found in soil. Only <em>Ancylostoma duodenale</em> is an issue in Australia and is typically found in <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/dpdx/hookworm/index.html">remote communities</a>.</p> <p>When a person is infected (usually via barefeet or contaminated footwear) these worms enter the bloodstream and then hit the lungs. From the bronchi in the upper lungs, they are swallowed with secretions. Once in the gut and small bowel they can <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/soil-transmitted-helminth-infections#:%7E:text=Transmission,these%20eggs%20contaminate%20the%20soil.">cause anaemia</a> (low iron). This is because they are consuming nutrients and affecting iron absorption. They also release an anticoagulant that stops the human host’s blood clotting and causes tiny amounts of blood loss.</p> <p>Fortunately, these very common parasites do not infect the brain.</p> <p>Across the world, it’s estimated <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22491772/">30–50% of people</a> are infected with <em>Toxoplasma</em>. Most people will be asymptomatic but many carry the <a href="https://theconversation.com/one-in-three-people-are-infected-with-toxoplasma-parasite-and-the-clue-could-be-in-our-eyes-182418">signs of infection</a>.</p> <p>The parasites can remain in the body for years as tiny tissue cysts. These cysts can be found in brain, heart and muscle. Infants can be born with serious eye or brain damage if their mothers are infected during pregnancy. People with compromised immunity – such as from AIDS or cancer treatment – are also at risk of illness from infection via pet cats or uncooked meat.</p> <h2>Then there are tapeworms and amoebas</h2> <p>Tapeworms can infect different parts of the body including the brain. This is called <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/resources/pdf/npis_in_us_neurocysticercosis.pdf">neurocysticercosis</a> and is the leading cause of epilepsy worldwide. Neurocysticercosis is uncommon in the Western world and infection is usually via eating pork that is uncooked or prepared by someone who is infected with tapeworm (<em>Taenia solium</em>). It is more likely in locations where pigs have contact with human faeces via sewerage or waterways.</p> <figure class="align-right zoomable"><figcaption></figcaption></figure> <p>Tapeworm larvae can infect muscle and soft tissue. Brain tissue can provide a home for larvae because it is soft and easy to get to via blood vessels. Brain infection can cause headaches, dizziness, seizures, cognitive impairment and even dementia, due to an increase in <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/cysticercosis/gen_info/faqs.html">cerebral spinal fluid pressure</a>.</p> <p><em><a href="https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/general.html">Naegleria fowleri</a></em> is an amoeba found in lakes, rivers and springs in warm climates including <a href="https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/public+health/water+quality/naegleria+fowleri#:%7E:text=How%20common%20are%20Naegleria%20fowleri,frequently%20found%20in%20the%20environment.">in Australia</a>. People swimming in infected waters can have the parasite enter their body through the nose. It then travels to the brain and destroys brain tissue. The condition is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/general.html#:%7E:text=Top%20of%20Page-,What%20is%20the%20death%20rate%20for%20an%20infected%20person%20who,States%20from%201962%20to%202022.">almost always fatal</a>.</p> <h2>Yikes! 4 ways to avoid parasitic infection</h2> <p>That all sounds very scary. And we know being infected by a snake parasite is very rare – finding one alive in someone’s brain is even rarer. But parasites are all around us. To minimise your risk of infection you can:</p> <p><strong>1.</strong> avoid undercooked or raw pork. Freezing meat first may reduce risks (though home freezers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/trichinellosis/prevent.html">may not get cold enough</a>) and it must be cooked to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924224418301560#:%7E:text=and%20time%20conditions.-,Cooking%20at%20core%20temperature%2060%E2%80%9375%20%C2%B0C%20for%2015,relied%20upon%20in%20home%20situations.">high internal temperature</a>. Avoid pork if you are travelling in places with poor sanitation</p> <p><strong>2.</strong> avoid jumping or diving into warm fresh bodies of water, especially if they are known to carry <em>Naegleria fowleri</em>. Although only a <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/graphs.html">handful of cases</a> are reported each year, you should assume it’s present</p> <p><strong>3.</strong> practise good <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html#:%7E:text=Follow%20Five%20Steps%20to%20Wash%20Your%20Hands%20the%20Right%20Way&amp;text=Wet%20your%20hands%20with%20clean,for%20at%20least%2020%20seconds.">hand hygiene</a> to reduce the risk of rare and common infections. That means washing hands thoroughly and often, using soap, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, rinsing and drying well. Clip and clean under fingernails regularly</p> <p><strong>4.</strong> to avoid soil-borne parasites wear shoes outside, especially in rural and remote regions, wash shoes and leave them outside.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/212437/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/vincent-ho-141549">Vincent Ho</a>, Associate Professor and clinical academic gastroenterologist, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/western-sydney-university-1092">Western Sydney University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Canberra Health </em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/finding-a-live-brain-worm-is-rare-4-ways-to-protect-yourself-from-more-common-parasites-212437">original article</a>.</em></p>

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These 12 common terms started life as a real-person’s name

<p><strong>Oscar</strong></p> <p>And the Academy Award for the ‘Golden Statuette’s Eponym’ is … a mystery! But, there are a few theories circulating. Actress Bette Davis supposedly claimed that the statue’s backside bore a striking resemblance to her husband Harmon Oscar Nelson.</p> <p>While Sidney Skolsky, a columnist, gives himself the title of ‘eponym creator’ because he thought the nickname negated pretension from the esteemed award. And the Academy’s librarian Margaret Herrick reportedly declared that the statuette reminded her of her uncle, Oscar Pierce. We may never know its true origins.</p> <p><strong>Shirley Temple</strong></p> <p>Your favourite childhood mocktail was definitely named after none other than the curly-haired child star, Shirley Temple. The story goes that the wait staff at a Hollywood restaurant overheard the little girl whining when her parents wouldn’t give her a sip of their old-fashioned cocktails.</p> <p>A member of the staff mixed up a kid-friendly version made with a splash of grenadine, a cup of ginger ale, and garnished it with a signature maraschino cherry to emulate the old-fashioned cocktails her parents drank. One sip of the sweet, fizzy drink was all it took to quiet her cries.</p> <p><strong>Boycott</strong></p> <p>During the 1870s, history began to repeat itself as another agricultural crisis wreaked havoc in Ireland. The crisis threatened to recreate the horrific famine and mass evictions that occurred a mere thirty years prior. In an effort to campaign against rent increases and evictions by landlords, the Irish farmers banded together to form the Irish Land League.</p> <p>The group targeted one apathetic English land agent, in particular, Charles Cunningham Boycott, a man responsible for kicking out tenant farmers who refused to pay their rents. Boycott’s angered laborers and servants quit, his crops rotted to the ground, and the word ‘boycott’ defined as ‘refusing to deal with a country, organisation, or person to protest or punish them’ was named after him. In a way, karma got him good.</p> <p><strong>Dunce</strong></p> <p>No one wants to be crowned the dunce of the group, in other words, the dumb, dopey one. But there was a time when being called a dunce was the greatest form of flattery. Long ago, everyone wanted to think just like John Duns Scotus, the greatest medieval philosopher of his time. In fact, his followers referred to themselves as ‘dunsmen.’</p> <p>Unfortunately, Scotus’ beliefs faded with the times and soon people criticised his convictions as being antiquated and dumb. Thus, ‘dunsman’ was shortened to “duns” – no longer a term for a great thinker, but instead a slow-witted person.</p> <p><strong>Bloomers</strong></p> <p>The women’s rights activist, Amelia Bloomer, helped popularise the bloomer craze, despite the fact that other progressive women wore them much earlier than she did. As part of a women’s dress-reform movement, Bloomer started wearing loose-fitting blouses and short skirts with long pantaloons underneath to protest the heavy petticoats and bone-crushing corsets that women were forced to wear in the 1850s.</p> <p>Many people ridiculed her outlandish outfit that went against every gender norm. She lashed back at her critics in an article she wrote for a women’s rights newspaper that said, “Let men be compelled to wear our dress for a while, and we should soon hear them advocating for change.” Soon after the article’s publication, everyone called the pantaloons ‘bloomers’ – a new symbol for women’s rights.</p> <p><strong>Cardigan</strong></p> <p>Your favourite winter knit-wear wasn’t named after a seamstress or fashion designer. In fact, you can thank British general, James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, for reportedly popularising the timeless fashion item. During the Crimean War in 1854, Cardigan’s regiment donned wool knit waistcoats, which were later called cardigans, to keep them warm on the battlefields of the Crimean Peninsula.</p> <p>No one is sure why cardigans were named after a man who didn’t invent the article of clothing. But some people theorise that his highbrow tastes for elegance and extravagance amongst his troop’s uniforms helped cardigans gain traction as a fashion statement well after the war.</p> <p><strong>Saxophone</strong></p> <p>This object was actually named after its inventor, Adolphe Sax. The Belgian-French instrument maker wanted to combine the best of brass, woodwind and stringed instruments into one masterpiece. By 1841, he had created his first working model of the bass horn, the saxophone’s former name.</p> <p>But a French reporter had a much ‘saxier’ name for the instrument and dubbed it the saxophone. Sax patented the saxophone in 1846 and the name has stuck ever since!</p> <p><strong>Sideburns</strong></p> <p>Sideburns were all the rage in the American Civil War well before Elvis Presley was even born. The popular male hair trend of bushy whiskers on the cheeks was originally called burnsides after the Union Army General Ambrose E. Burnside.</p> <p>His wildly different facial hair first caught people’s attention during a parade in Washington DC as he led his regiment of Rhode Island volunteers. By the 1880s, the name was switched to sideburns.</p> <p><strong>Silhouette</strong></p> <p>Before there were selfies, painted or paper cut-out silhouettes were the most affordable portraits that adorned people’s homes during the 18th century. Many people loved their silhouette selfies, but the man for who they were named after was anything but loved.</p> <p>France’s finance minister at the time, Étienne de Silhouette, had a reputation for being a frugal French man and was often seen making the cut-paper shadow portraits, himself, in his free time. Because of his cheap ways and favourite hobby, the French phrase “à la Silhouette” came to mean ‘on the cheap’ and the shadow portraits were named after Silhouette to poke fun at him as well.</p> <p><strong>Sandwich</strong></p> <p>John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich who lived from 1718 to 1792, may have created the classic lunch staple. It was no secret in town that Montagu’s vice was gambling.</p> <p>Legend has it that the gambler once spent an entire 24 hours at the gambling table eating nothing but slices of cold beef wedged between two pieces of toast. And if the story bears any truth, it’s how the sandwich was invented.</p> <p><strong>Casanova</strong></p> <p>You may have dated a casanova or two in your life. Giacomo Girolamo Casanova inspired the well-known term for a promiscuous male. The Italian adventurer and author wrote a memoir that bragged about his many ‘conquests’ along his travels.</p> <p><strong>Dahlia</strong></p> <p>The vibrant flower with colourful hues from Mexico was named after Anders Dahl, an 18th-century Swedish botanist. Dahl must have been a highly admired plant expert of his time because many botanists have been credited for bestowing his name upon the flower.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/culture/12-common-words-that-were-inspired-by-real-life-people?pages=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Reader's Digest</a>. </em></p>

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What are your rights as an Airbnb renter in Australia? A law expert answers 6 common questions

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/mark-giancaspro-182268">Mark Giancaspro</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-adelaide-1119">University of Adelaide</a></em></p> <p>Airbnb has revolutionised the short-stay industry. Launched in 2008, it now eclipses the world’s biggest hotel chains. In Australia alone there are about <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-15/short-stay-rentals-airbnb-impact-on-australian-property-market/101019726">100,000 listed properties</a>.</p> <p>But in dealing with both a digital platform and a private owner (or “host”, in Airbnb-speak), your legal rights as a renter (or “guest”) can be unclear – at least without reading lengthy terms and conditions.</p> <p>This article answers six very common questions about using Airbnb in Australia. Please note that your legal rights may differ in other countries. Even if Airbnb’s terms and conditions are near identical – and they generally are – there may be differences in consumer laws.</p> <h2>What if an Airbnb property doesn’t match its description?</h2> <p>Airbnb’s <a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/help/article/2908#6">terms and conditions</a> require the host to provide “complete and accurate information” about their property. Content, including photos, must be “up-to-date and accurate at all times”. Airbnb’s <a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/help/article/2895/">Host Ground Rules</a> state that listings “should accurately describe the home and reflect the features and amenities that will be available”.</p> <p>If a property does not match its description or photos, <a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/d/anz-prohost-resource-centre-support">report this to Airbnb</a>.</p> <p>False advertising will also likely breach the Australian Consumer Law, which prohibits (Section 18) commercial conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive. Report to the <a href="https://www.accc.gov.au/about-us/contact-us/report-a-consumer-issue">Australian Competition and Consumer Commission</a> here.</p> <p>There are no specific provisions to claim a refund or a discount for misleading listings. Your only recourse would seem be to initiate the cancellation policy that applies to your booking.</p> <h2>So when can I get a refund?</h2> <p>If you cancel your booking or leave the property early, your refund rights are determined by your <a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/help/article/149">cancellation policy</a> (see “show trip details”).</p> <p>There are various <a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/help/article/475">policies</a> (from which a host selects when listing). Most allow full refunds if you cancel one to five days prior to check-in, while others require up to 30 days’ notice or only provide partial refunds.</p> <p>If the host cancels on you, they <a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/help/article/990">may be penalised</a> by Airbnb.</p> <h2>Can an Airbnb host impose harsh and unreasonable ‘house rules’?</h2> <p>If an owner wants to make rules against visitors without their permission or how many times you can use the washing machine, they generally can.</p> <p>When you rent a property through Airbnb, you are entering into a private agreement with the owner. Under contract law, they can stipulate whatever terms they like, so long as those rules aren’t illegal.</p> <p>What Australian Consumer Law does prohibit are <a href="https://www.accc.gov.au/business/selling-products-and-services/contracts#toc-unfair-terms-in-standard-form-contracts-">unfair terms</a> in standard form “consumer contracts” – which an Airbnb contract likely qualifies as. An unfair term is one that:</p> <ul> <li>causes a significant imbalance in your rights and obligations</li> <li>is not reasonably necessary to protect the host’s interests</li> <li>would cause you detriment (financial or otherwise) if it was enforced.</li> </ul> <p>The problem is that you will need to sue the host (that is, initiate civil litigation) to prove this.</p> <p>Your best option is to carefully review the rules before you confirm your reservation. Once you confirm, you are legally agreeing to all of the host’s terms whether you’ve read and understood them or not.</p> <p>If you disagree with a rule, ask the host to waive or amend it. If they won’t budge, your choice is to book or not.</p> <h2>What are the boundaries for an Airbnb host/owner?</h2> <p>Hosts are <a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/help/article/3057">required</a> to ensure every property is secure and safe. Airbnb’s Community Policy states properties must be properly lockable and free of hazards, and hosts must be responsive and willing to answer guest queries within a reasonable time.</p> <p><a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/help/article/3060?_set_bev_on_new_domain=1691395791_NmY1ZDNmZjQxZjQy">According to Airbnb</a>, a host cannot physically intrude or interfere with your stay. They can only re-enter their property (or a guest’s room in a shared stay) if there is an emergency or with express permission.</p> <p>In a shared stay, the host must not enter the bathrooms or guest bedrooms when the guests are inside. The host is also forbidden from sharing private details, photos, or videos of you without consent.</p> <p>Where your safety is threatened, you should contact law enforcement and notify Airbnb. If you decide to leave, you may be entitled to a partial refund. Your rights depend on the cancellation policy applying to your booking (discussed further below).</p> <h2>If I am injured in or get sick because of an Airbnb property, can I claim compensation?</h2> <p><a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/help/article/2908#4.2">Clause 4.2</a> of Airbnb’s terms and conditions states that, by staying at a listed property, you acknowledge and “freely and willfully” accept the risk of “illness, bodily injury, disability, or death”.</p> <p>Further, clause 19 contains a broad disclaimer absolving Airbnb of any liability for “personal or bodily injury or emotional distress” incurred in using its services. Clause 20 also contains an indemnity preventing you from making any claim against Airbnb in relation to your stay.</p> <p>This gives Airbnb legal protection. But you may make a claim against the host.</p> <p>The first step would be to formally write to the host outlining your claim. Airbnb may also assist with any disputes. If this fails, you can sue the host but whether the cost and effort is worth it will depend on the extent of your injury or illness.</p> <p>If you do make any claim against the host, they will likely rely on Airbnb’s insurance. Every Airbnb host is insured up to US$1 million (about A$1.5 million) through Airbnb’s <a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/help/article/3145">Host Liability Insurance Programme</a>. This covers any bodily injuries incurred by guests (or others) and damage to or theft of any property belonging to a guest (or others).</p> <p>There are some exceptions to what Airbnb’s insurance will cover, such as intentional violence, mould and communicable disease. If you want compensation for something the host is personally liable for, you are more likely to have to take legal action, using a lawyer. Consider the costs carefully.</p> <h2>What’s the maximum cleaning/damages fee an Airbnb host can charge?</h2> <p>Cleaning fees are <a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/help/article/2812">set by the host</a>. Airbnb provides a <a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/help/article/3171">pricing tool</a> to help them calculate a reasonable fee – generally <a href="https://www.igms.com/airbnb-cleaning-fee/">based on size and facilities</a> – but there is no maximum, presumably on the rationale that market forces (and reviews) will deter hosts from charging too much.</p> <p>Nor is there a maximum damages fee. You can formally <a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/d/anz-prohost-resource-centre-support">dispute the amount</a> with Airbnb, which will determine if it is reasonable, relying on information provided by both parties.</p> <p>Charging exorbitant prices is not illegal though Australian Consumer Law does prohibit “<a href="https://www.accc.gov.au/business/selling-products-and-services/unfair-business-practices#toc-unconscionable-conduct">unconscionable conduct</a>”. But, again, you need to initiate legal proceedings and have a court agree you deserve compensation.</p> <h2>Where to go for help and advice</h2> <p>You can <a href="https://www.airbnb.com.au/d/anz-prohost-resource-centre-support">contact Airbnb</a> for any account, listing, or reservation-related questions. Online forums can also be useful for advice and support.</p> <p>You can report consumer complaints to the <a href="https://www.accc.gov.au/about-us/contact-us/report-a-consumer-issue">Australian Competition and Consumer Commission</a> but the federal regulator does not resolve individual complaints or provide legal advice on your rights and obligations. For preliminary advice go to the following state and territory consumer advice agencies:</p> <hr /> <p><iframe id="lhlWv" class="tc-infographic-datawrapper" style="border: none;" src="https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/lhlWv/2/" width="100%" height="400px" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <hr /> <p><em>Please note this article does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult a lawyer.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/211026/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></em></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/mark-giancaspro-182268">Mark Giancaspro</a>, Senior Lecturer in Law, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-adelaide-1119">University of Adelaide</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-are-your-rights-as-an-airbnb-renter-in-australia-a-law-expert-answers-6-common-questions-211026">original article</a>.</em></p>

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"Possibly carcinogenic to humans": WHO's dire warning over common ingredient

<p dir="ltr">The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for one of the world’s most popular artificial sweeteners to be declared a possible carcinogen. </p> <p dir="ltr">The push will be led by the WHO’s research team for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), pitting it against the food industry and regulators.</p> <p dir="ltr">The sweetener, known as Aspartame, is used in products from Coca-Cola diet drinks, such as Diet Coke and Coke Zero, to Mars’ Extra chewing gum and some Snapple drinks.</p> <p dir="ltr">Later this month, the IARC will list Aspartame for the first time as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”</p> <p dir="ltr">The ruling from the IARC has assessed whether the sweetener is hazardous to humans or not, although it does not stipulate how much of the product a person can safely consume. </p> <p dir="ltr">This advice for individual consumers comes from a different organisation, known as JECFA (the Joint WHO and Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Expert Committee on Food Additives), who make consumption guidelines alongside national regulators. </p> <p dir="ltr">Despite the claims from the WHO, since as early as 1981 JECFA has said aspartame is safe to consume within accepted daily limits.</p> <p dir="ltr">An adult weighing 60kg would have to drink between 12 and 36 cans of diet soft drink, depending on the amount of aspartame in the beverage, every day to be at risk.</p> <p dir="ltr">Its view has been widely shared by national regulators, including in the United States and Europe.</p> <p dir="ltr">These conflicting reports have angered some regulators and consumers alike, with Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare official Nozomi Tomita writing to the WHO, “kindly asking both bodies to coordinate their efforts in reviewing aspartame to avoid any confusion or concerns among the public.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p>

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Solutions to common cruising problems

<p>Have you ever encountered any of these problems while you were out at sea? Here’s how to solve the most common problems encountered on a cruise.</p> <p><strong>1. You haven’t received your luggage</strong></p> <p>Most cruise lines ask passengers to be patient for the first few hours of the cruise after sailing. If you haven’t received your luggage after a few hours then you need to talk to someone at the purser’s desk. If your luggage was lost in transit then the cruise line will begin to trace their location and try to have them delivered to the ship at the next cruise port. If your luggage was loaded by a porter then it is possible that it is missing because there is a contraband item (like candles or alcohol) in your bag or it has been delivered to the wrong cabin.</p> <p>It’s helpful to carry on a bag with an outfit for your first day on the cruise along with toiletry essentials and medication.</p> <p><strong>2. Something in your cabin doesn’t work</strong></p> <p>The first step is to check with a cabin steward that there is a legitimate problem with the object and that it doesn’t just require a change of batteries. If the object still doesn’t work then call the front desk and notify them of the issue. If the problem can’t be fixed they may offer you a cabin upgrade or a gift like onboard credit. If they don’t offer you anything, be sure to ask!</p> <p><strong>3. You are unhappy with your dinner arrangements</strong></p> <p>If you are unhappy with your assigned dining time then you can request a switch in time slots or swap assigned dining for flexible dining. All dining requests cannot be accommodated, however, due to the high demand, but the staff will do their best to cater to your preferences.</p> <p>If you are not getting along with your tablemates then be upfront with the dinning staff when you request a new table. Often, the other party will also request for other arrangements.</p> <p><strong>4. Your ship had an itinerary change</strong></p> <p>All cruise contracts note that ports calls are not guaranteed and may be bypassed or changed. Usually, passengers will be refunded the port tax in the form of onboard credit, however, it is only a small amount of money. If you book excursions through the cruise line then you will be refunded your money but if you booked an excursion through a different company, you will need to contact them to find out about cancellation policies and refunds. It is always best to do your research in advance when booking a tour so if you do miss a port you won’t be short changed.</p> <p><strong>5. Your ship’s medical facility won’t accept your insurance</strong></p> <p>Cruise ships do not accept regular health insurance but keep your receipts as some insurance companies will reimburse you for medical expenses you incurred while travelling. A safe bet is purchasing a travel insurance policy that will cover any healthcare expenses.</p> <p><strong>6. Your onboard account is inaccurate</strong></p> <p>Incorrect account information can be fixed if you go to the purser’s office or call and explain the discrepancy. It’s best to keep an eye on your account throughout the cruise so you are not hit with any surprises at the end. It is helpful to save your receipts from onboard purchases if you need to contest anything.</p> <p><em>Images: Shutterstock</em></p>

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