Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Hurricane Safety: pre-storm

In light of Hurricane Sandy, it would be a good idea to review basic hurricane safety. Hurricanes are extremely violent storms that can cause life threatening injuries and damage to property. The key to minimizing these effects is to anticipate such conditions and prepare for them in advance. Of course, the most advance preparation you could make comes long before the onset of any hurricane, in the form of insurance. It's key to mention this here because not all hurricane-incurred damage is covered by basic home insurance. It's important to get in touch with your agent to learn what you are and are not covered for, and how you can purchase additional coverage if you are in an area susceptible to hurricanes. That said, once insurance has been taken care of, follow these tips to help you best prepare for a hurricane.

Staying connected with your community and keeping on top of weather reports is the most effective way to do this. This way, you will be alerted to hurricane watches and hurricane warnings without delay. The difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning is simply in the time anticipated for the hurricane to arrive. For a hurricane watch, this is a time frame of 48 hours; for a hurricane warning, 36 hours.

Make it a habit to check weather reports daily from a reliable source, like environment Canada, in addition to a radio station that gives frequent updates as the weather changes. This is key because hurricanes move so quickly that they cannot be anticipated very far in advance. You don't want to miss out on preparation time simply because of a delay in learning of a hurricane's approach.
Next, you will want to stock your home with supplies for several days. We'll look at what supplies you should have on hand in our next post. It's worth mentioning, though, that while you're out picking up your provisions, you should make sure to come home with a full tank of gas.

Once you get back home, remove any loose items that the wind could pick up from your yard and secure them in a sheltered area. This can help prevent these items from becoming damaged, and from causing damage as well when they are hurled at high speeds against your property.

As understandable as it is that you don't want to leave your home in a time of crisis, be prepared to evacuate if this is what your authorities advise. Listen to the radio, stay in touch with others in the area, and try and learn of evacuation advisories as soon as you can. If you have been advised to evacuate, have a household plan that includes which members of your family will be responsible for what portions of the evacuation, what you will take with you, and where you will head to. Reviewing and rehearsing these plans long before the need arises can minimize the panic of actually carrying them out when the time comes.

Friday, 26 October 2012

How far will AHCIP travel with me?

Recently we looked at what basic AHCIP coverage offers Albertan residents in terms of in province services. Today we wanted to give an overview of what AHCIP coverage offers Albertans during their travels outside of the province.

Under the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP) and the Hospitals Act, residents of Alberta are covered for physician and hospital services both within in Alberta, as well as in most other provinces. For this reason, Albertans should always carry their health cards with them. That said, though, such coverage is minimal (when you consider the types of medical emergencies that are common during travel), so Alberta Health really recommends that you seek additional coverage when planning a trip in order to cover unforeseen costs.

Physician visits when traveling within Canada
With the exception of Quebec, AHCIP will automatically travel with you to all provinces and territories when it comes to physician visits. So, for example, if you come down with bronchitis when you're in Saskatchewan and you need to see a general practitioner about it, AHCIP will cover that. The office will ask for your card (which is why you should carry it with you at all times) and charge the visit directly to your AHCIP number. If you find yourself facing a similar situation in Quebec, expect to be billed. That said, you should retain proof of payment for when you return home, as you may submit a claim to AHCIP in order to be reimbursed. You should be aware that the amount you get back is based on the rates set by the province where you were seen.

Hospital visits when traveling within Canada
Similarly to physician visits, with the exception of Quebec, AHCIP will automatically travel with you to all provinces and territories when it comes to hospital visits. However, such services must be provided in a publicly funded facility. Any services received in a private facility will not be covered. Additionally, transport services are not covered either. If you should require an air lift ambulance, you're looking at thousands of dollars of uncovered transport costs. Actual coverage at the hospital won't do much to relieve you if getting there is an issue. Moreover, you should assume that everything associated with your hospital visit will automatically be covered in full. The rate of coverage for inpatient services is $100 per day, and for outpatient services it is $50 per day. If your diagnostics, like bloodwork and CT scans, exceed this this amount, you won't be covered by AHCIP in full.

Traveling outside of Canada
AHCIP coverage for Albertans traveling outside of Canada is extremely limited. If, for example, you were to see a physician in the US during a trip to one of the states, AHCIP would reimburse you only for the amount that a similar visit would cost in Alberta. You should aware that there may be a huge disparity between what the Albertan rate paid to physicians is compared to the rate charged by the physician you visit during your travels. The same holds true for emergency hospital services. Once again, AHCIP will reimburse you $100 (in Canadian funds, of course) per day for inpatient services and $50 per day for outpatient visits with a limit of one visit per day. Compare that with an actual cost of $1625 to $2025 per day, as is the range of average daily rates for hospital visits in the US.

In light of these factors, and given how low the rates are for traveler's insurance, you really can't afford to travel without it.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Ways to contribute to your credit score

Whether you or your family members are students looking for ways to get a head start on earning a high credit rating, or whether your an experienced borrower who just hasn't given it much thought, it's a good idea to refresh yourself every so often on the behaviours that lead to a high credit score. Not only is a good score beneficial to you in and of itself, but it can also indirectly lead to better insurance rates for you, so it really pays to know what these behaviours are, and to put them into practice.

Open a credit card – if you're just starting out, this is the simplest way to begin. By opening a credit card, you can start demonstrating, on a low scale, that you are able to pay for what you have borrowed in a timely way.

Spend wisely – while your credit card may be your first foray into the world of credit score building, it could also be your nemesis if you don't use it properly. Experts recommend that you aim to charge ten percent of your limit, and try not to exceed thirty. However, if you do exceed that suggested amount, be prepared to make your payment right away.

Check your statements – this may sound obvious, but sometimes when we get busy, little things like checking statements can fall through the cracks. However, this is actually really important to do because of the prevalence of credit card fraud. More than likely, there will be at least one occasion in your credit card using life when an instance of fraud occurs on your card. If this is a card you seldom use, you may not know this, and those missed payments may count against you if the credit card company does not know those charges are fraudulent. While credit card companies are very good at catching fraudulent activity even before you notice it, there are some transactions of this kind that they don't catch, so do your part.

Don't close an unused account – even if you're not using a certain credit card, don't take it upon yourself to close it. Keeping it open will contribute to a higher score.

Pay bills on time – this refers to bills of every kind. By making your payments when they are due, you won't necessary raise your score, but you will protect it from the points you would inevitably lose if you were consistently late with payments.

Have a variety of debts – of course, it goes without saying that you should not sign up for more debt than you can manage. However, borrowing from a variety of sources will help increase your score. An example of this would be having a credit card, and having a car loan.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Witnessing collisions

Most of us know more or less what to do when we've been involved in a collision: call the police, exchange insurance information, file an accident report, and so on. However, what is less clear to us is what exactly our roles are when we are not directly involved in a collision, but are witnesses to one. If an accident unfolds before your eyes, here's what you should do:
  • safely pull off the road, and park about 30 metres away from the collision. Turn on your emergency lights.
  • approach the site of the collision and check to see if anyone is injured without touching anyone involved. Try to understand the events so that you are prepared to report your observations accurately.
  • phone 911 and tell them your reason for calling. You will be directed appropriately. Be prepared to supply your contact information, as you will likely be contact for details as to what you saw and heard.
  • Give us much detail as you can about the accident location. This may not seem critical to do in a timely fashion if nobody has been hurt, but if there are injuries, it is imperative that paramedics arrive as quickly as possible. Try to stay as calm as possible so that you can think clearly, and direct response teams to the accident location quickly and effectively.
  • Wait for the 911 operator to confirm that they have all of the information required of you before hanging up. Don't rush to get off the phone before all of their questions have been answered. This could cause unnecessary delays in their ability to respond.
  • Do not agree to direct traffic around the accident. For one, this puts you in harm's way physically. For another, you could be held responsible for any subsequent accidents that could be blamed on your directing.
  • Unless you are a physician, nurse, or paramedic by training, do not move any of the injured parties. It is very easy in circumstances like these to actually cause more harm and exacerbate injuries simply by trying to make the casualties more comfortable. Wait for the paramedics to arrive; they'll be able to do their best without interference.
  • Be prepared for future contact in case further details are needed later on.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Fire hazards in your home

In addition to endangering the lives of those in an affected home, unintentional fires cause hundreds of thousands of dollars damage every year. The most frustrating aspect of these accidents is that in most cases, the incident was very easily preventable. Here are some common culprits for fire-starting in the home:

stove top – leaving the stove unattended is one way to cook up disaster—no pun intended. Despite that you may have made sure to leave the heat low, there is always a chance of liquid bubbling over, or debris somehow being blown into the burner element. If this happens without your knowledge of it, a fire may start in a matter of seconds. This is particularly true if oil is involved. Moreover, even if you have a small kitchen, you really should resist the urge to use your stove top as additional counter space. You may think you are being careful to check if it is hot before placing an item on it, but the fact of the matter is that we all get distracted from time to time, and carry out our work on autopilot. If you're using your stove top as a counter, there will come a time when you place something on it when it isn't safe to do so; and if that something is flammable, the damage could be substantial.

Oven – similarly to the stove top, this should not be left on unattended. Despite that you've got errands to run, and baking times can be long, stick around when you're expecting to bake something. Don't dismiss smells of burning. While they are usually harming and owing to the burning of crumbs at the bottom of the oven, this isn't always the case. Monitoring your oven from time to time is important when it's in use. Also, if you are a user of parchment paper, be careful to not let the paper come into contact with heating elements.

Candles – unattended candles are one of the leading causes of home fires. You should never turn your back on an open flame—even for a minute. If any tremor or movement in your home knocks the candle over, or if a flammable item falls on or beside it, it won't take long for fire to catch.

Power cords – frayed, worn out, and damaged power cords are definitely a fire hazard. This is especially true if the exposed wires of these cords are in contact with your carpets or any other type of fabric. If you have pets, be sure to keep cords out of their chewing range. When you notice any damage at all to a cord, discontinue its use immediately and replace it with an undamaged one.

Appliances – faulty appliances, such as hairdryers and toasters, can emit sparks that will trigger a fire in a matter of seconds. If you know that an appliance is damaged, don't use it.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Driving like you're someone else

In all likelihood, scores (if not hundreds) of graduate students have very probably written dissertations on the topic of the psychology of driving. Our brains seem to function in a completely different way when we're behind the wheel than when we're at the office or in our homes. At the risk of trying to reduce everything in life to Batman, there's a little bit of Two-Face lurking in all of us: when we're on the road, we tend to engage in language and behaviour that—in the rest of our lives—is off limits. What accounts for the disparity between our driving selves and our rest-of-the-time selves?

One major factor in the release of inhibitions on the road is anonymity—both of the driver, and of those whom the driver perceives. Although it isn't necessarily a conscious effort on the driver's part to think of themselves as anonymous, the very nature of the physical barriers of their car and of those around them automatically cue their brains to say “I'm invisible right now.” That anonymity can be dangerous: when you cease to realize the extent to which you are accountable to those around you, it's possible to become destructive and opportunistic if that seems to be a way to get what you want. (You see this phenomenon frequently in the way that people behave online as well).

The other way that anonymity plays a role in this scheme is the driver's perception of those sharing the road. Again, the physical barriers both of your vehicle and theirs function to suppress your ability to recognize them as a person, rather than a vehicle. This would account for why you might cut them off without so much as a shred of embarrassment, while you never dream of cutting in front of the same person in queue at the supermarket. (This is not to say that there are not people who would do both, but rather to highlight that most of us are more at ease with misbehaving when we can't be seen).

When we find that we are driving in a way completely discrepant to the manner in which we conduct the rest of our lives, it is worth pausing to remember ourselves, and behave like ourselves.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Green car maintenance

The more we hear about the negative impact our lifestyles are having on the environment, the more driven we are becoming to modify our habits in order to make decisions that are more ecologically sound. One way we seek to do this is by switching to products that have a reputation for being environmentally friendly. In some instances, this can be a costly switch, but buyer beware: don't assume that getting swept away by the “greenwashing” trend that currently characterizes today's advertisements is the only way to do your part. In fact, some of the most environmentally friendly solutions can also be the most frugal if you take the time to learn about them. This is certainly the case when it comes to cleaning your car, as we'll examine. To begin with, set up your arsenal. Your basic solutions will include:
  • vinegar – once you discover how effective vinegar is, you'll use it for just about everything. It's cheap, and completely ecologically sound.
  • baking soda – when a little bit of abrasion is needed, you'll be hard pressed to find a less expensive or greener choice than baking soda.
  • olive oil – when was the last time you heard warnings about the effects of olive oil on your health, or on the environment?
  • lemon juice – if it's good enough to put in your body then it's a treat for your car.
  • liquid castille soap – this is made from olive oil, and is one of the gentlest soaps out there.
  • beeswax – not crucial, but it doesn't get much more natural than that when it comes to polishing your car.
And your basic tools will include:
  • Newspapers – recyclable, biodegradable, and often, free.
  • bucket – reusable, low cost.
  • scrub brush – reusable, low cost.
  • spray bottle – reusable, low cost.
  • Sponges – reusable, often biodegradable, and low-cost.
  • Rags – reusable, biodegradable (depending on the material), and low-cost.
Once you've gathered your materials, use this table to help you determine how to make the most of your low-cost, low-impact materials:

Car part
Use a mild solution of castille soap and water to remove dirt. Use ¼ cup melted beeswax mixed with ½ cup olive oil to polish it.
Dry newspapers work best if there isn't heavy soiling. Otherwise, precede the newspaper step by spraying undiluted vinegar on the windows, and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes.
Using a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar, use a rag dipped in this solution to wipe chrome. To apply the solution to hard to reach areas, use a spray bottle.
Add enough water to baking soda to form a thick paste, and apply it to your tires. Use a scrub brush to move it around, then rinse with straight water (like brushing your teeth).
Light stains can be removed by applying a paste made of vinegar and baking soda. Let the paste dry, then vacuum it.
Plastic and vinyl surfaces can be cleaned/protected using a 1:2 ratio of lemon juice to olive oil. Be sure to wipe the excess with a spare rag.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Do you drive defensively?

No matter where you live, traffic isn't getting better. It stands to reason that in a world, or even more specifically, in a country where the population is increasing, that crowding is going to be felt everywhere, though some will feel it more acutely than others. This of course means that sharing the road is only going to become more and more of a challenge as time passes. For most of us, our drivers ed courses were long, long ago, and from what we recall, pretty unmemorable; they were just another hoop for us to jump through in pursuit of independence. But there's a phrase that came out of that experience which has embedded itself in the minds of most of us: defensive driving.

The primary idea here is that there will be reckless drivers on the road, and our best course of action is to anticipate them and minimize the risk of danger they pose to us. And while we all agree in theory that this sounds like the smartest way to drive, we don't always evaluate our current driving habits to ensure that they are reflective of defensive driving. We don't like being bullied, so when we sense someone is going to cut us off, we speed up and eliminate room between ourselves and the car ahead. We don't appreciate being driven off the road onto the shoulder when trying to merge on the highway, so even after we've safely merged on, we give an angry honk at the driver who didn't let us in. Sometimes we “win,” but more often, when we engage in hostility on the road, it becomes competitive, and it becomes dangerous...and we forget all about what's important, and defensive driving takes the back seat.

It's worth scrutinizing your driving patterns to identify where you could be driving more defensively. Make sure you:
  • Don't retaliate: if someone has been inconsiderate to you, resist the urge to do the same to them. You really don't know how intelligent or stable this person is or is not, and you could be fueling their road rage, even if they were in the wrong to begin with.
  • Don't be an obstacle: if you find yourself in the path of an aggressive driver, and if there is a safe way out, take it. There's no need for you to be tailgated in the fast lane if the right lane is open and clear.
  • Don't insist: even if you have the right of way, don't assume that all drivers will follow the rules of driving. If you see that someone is taking your turn at a four way stop, for example, don't challenge them by pushing your car into the intersection; let them go.
Remember to revisit your driving habits frequently to make sure that you are driving defensively. You could dodge a costly insurance payment that way!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Get more mileage from your gas

Drive a fuel efficient vehicle – A while back, we discussed hybrid and electric cars. If you're in the market for one, go ahead and feel smug, but if not, there's still plenty of gas to be saved by driving a compact car during your daily commute instead of an SUV.

Check your tires – underinflated tires actually use 25% more gas. That doesn't mean you should overinflate either though, because that comes at its own cost: wearing your tires out more quickly. Get a gauge and check your tire pressure to make sure you're at the right pressure level. How do you know what the right tire pressure is? Especially when your car door says one thing and your tires say another? Rule of thumb is: go by what the car door says.

Lighten up – That massive shopping you did at Costco the other day? Don't delay in unloading it! Bring in those club packs of canned beans and those industrial sized bags of rice and sugar. Why should they get a free ride?

Cool! - Here's a “cool” (pun intended) fact: fuel is densest at the coolest time of day. So if you fill up when it's cooler outside, you'll actually be packing more fuel into your tank than if you fill up at high noon.

Put a lid on it – check your cap to make sure it's tightened properly. It's very common for people to lose gas in vapours that escape through caps that aren't properly tightened. If you haven't heard it click yet, keep turning.

Drive the limit – limits aren't just safe; they're economical too! Driving over 100 km an hour can actually reduce your fuel efficiency by as much as 33%. In fact, every 8 km over the limit that you drive is like paying an extra $0.08 per litre of gas.

Use cruise control – For long distance driving, when you are in charge of acceleration, you are going to fluctuate. This is because you are not a machine. If you let your cruise control do the accelerating and decelerating for you, you know it will be using only exactly the amount of gas it needs to precisely maintain the limit.

Stop and start gradually – driving at high speeds in spite of impending stops, only to screech to a halt is actually a pretty good way to waste gas. So is flooring the pedal as soon as it's your turn to go. By taking the starts and stops gradually, you waste less gas on unnecessary acceleration.

Maintain your vehicle well – An engine that is properly tuned can actually save 4% in gas costs. That's substantial! It's worth visiting a mechanic for this one. As with most efficiency related strategies, there may be a cost upfront (taking your vehicle to the auto shop) but there will be continuous payoff thereafter. Don't forget the spark plugs either—if they're not in shape, you could be losing as much as 12% in your mileage. Another gas waster is a dirty air filter. An air filter that needs changing can reduce your mileage by 20%. 

Don't sweat it – contrary to popular belief, driving with the air conditioner on doesn't actually waste much gas at all, so if that comfort will help you drive more smartly, you can turn it on without feeling guilty about it.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Flat tire dos and don'ts

Knowing how to properly manage a flat tire is key in protecting you from harm and unnecessary expense. Use this list of dos and don'ts as a guideline: 

Don't deliberately drive over sharp debris if it can be safely ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Don't swerve around debris to avoid it if it puts you into oncoming traffic or in the path of cyclists and pedestrians. That would be trading up from a moderate problem (flat tire) to a more serious one (collision).

Do briefly do a visual check of your tires before embarking on any trip so that if you do have a flat, it doesn't come as a nasty surprise. This takes seconds, literally, so it's not something you have to build extra time into your commute for.

Don't take off for work or home—especially if it involves highway driving—knowing you have a flat. Doing so increases the risk of you being involved in a collision. It's also damaging to your wheels.

Do pull off the road gradually and safely when you realize that you are driving with a flat tire.

Do check your spare to ensure that it is adequate for replacing any flats you may encounter. Sometimes it is the case that the spare itself is damaged, which leaves you in a bind if a flat does happen.

Do re-stock your spare once you've used the old spare to replace a currently damaged tire.

Don't assume that the damaged tire can be patched up and re-inflated. If it is a slow leak, then there is a good chance that repair and re-inflation will be adequate. However, if there is a puncture to the tire wall itself, or if it is an issue of the tire tread wearing out, then replacement will be necessary.

Don't assume you have a flat simply because you drove over debris, especially if there are no signs of deflation. Sometimes debris may just leave an impression in the tire without actually puncturing it all the way through. If there isn't any air leaking out, then there isn't a need to replace the tire.

Do check your valve system to ensure that there aren't any leaks there.

Do keep a gauge in your glove compartment to periodically check your tire pressure, and ensure that your tires are inflated at the recommended levels indicated on your vehicle doors. Making a habit of doing this at a gas station will allow you to adjust your tire pressure as soon as you notice it is off, decreasing the likelihood that you'll forget to adjust it later.

Friday, 5 October 2012

What does AHCIP cover?

The Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan is the basic health care coverage provided to residents of Alberta. In order to be financially prepared for all health-related situations you may find yourself in, it's important to know the basics about what AHCIP covers, and what it does not.

Under AHCIP, Albertan residents are covered for the following services:
  • visits and non-elective procedures by physicians in Alberta
  • oral and maxillofacial surgery, as well as limited other services provided by dentists in Alberta
  • limited coverage for visits to optometrists
  • limited coverage for visits to podiatrists (up to $250 per year)
  • in-patient and out-patient hospital visits (as long as these are not made to a private facility), and as long as rooms are ward rooms
  • community physiotherapy
  • public health services such as: home visits, speech language pathology, nutrition, and immunization (there may be some additional charges associated with these services)
  • addictions and mental health treatment at a government funded facility

The following items and services are not covered under AHCIP:
  • cosmetic surgery
  • prescription drugs
  • ambulance transit
  • eye exams for anyone ages 19 through 64
  • eyeglasses and contact lenses
  • dentist checkups/cleanups and dentures
  • most immunizations (although some are covered)
  • alternative medical care (such as visits to a chiropractor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, homeopath, social worker, or nutritionist)
  • visits to a psychologist
  • physiotherapy at a private office
  • private or semi private hospital rooms
  • medical and surgical devices such as prosthetics and mobility devices
  • experimental procedures

While several items listed under things that AHCIP does not cover may not be of concern to you, some of them will be. For this reason, it is important to carefully consider the items services you need in order to select the best health insurance policy to meet those needs.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

In light of Calgary's head start on winter...

Aside from suggesting that you consider trick or treating with a snow suit under your Halloween costume this year, it seems prudent (in light of Calgary's head start on winter weather) to review some safety tips for driving in inclement conditions...especially at the start of the season, when drivers might still be in autumn driving mode.

  1. Be visible. If your drive corresponds with a current session of snowfall, visibility is going to decrease for everyone on the road, so remember to use your lights. Additionally, don't make the already challenging task of letting other drivers see you by weaving and lurking in blind spots.

  2. Related to point one, make sure you can see. Remember your corrective eye wear if this applies to you. Also, be sure to remove barriers from your vision around your vehicle, such as snowfall on the exterior, and fog in the interior. Make sure you can see out of all windows before taking off.

  3. Check traffic and weather reports before your trip. Yes, it's one more thing to add to your routine, but it can usually be done simultaneously with other tasks with the flick of a switch so that it doesn't add any more time to your busy rush. It will save you a ton of time, frustration, and even danger in the long run.

  4. Slow down. You don't need to drop your speed to a measly fifteen clicks an hour, but be honest about your capabilities when it comes to driving in winter weather, and recognize that there are simply more factors that are not in your control during this season. You may not be able to stop as suddenly as you are used to in the summer, so flooring your pedal to make it through a changing light could be disastrous. Additionally, decreased visibility means that your perception will be a bit off, so don't assume it's safe to aggressively throw yourself into a tight squeeze when it comes to turns and other moves that depend on a clear road.

  5. Get your winter tires on. These will give you better traction, which will return some of that control which you've lost.

  6. Drive defensively. If you notice another driver in your vicinity who is driving recklessly, don't challenge them; move away, and stay safe.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Used car shopping - dos and don'ts

One way to save on the cost of car insurance to buy a used vehicle...and since used vehicles are already less expensive than their brand new counterparts, you save twice—at least. The potential for savings could be even more though, as the opportunity for bargaining is far greater when it comes to purchasing used cars than it is in purchasing new ones. Follow these guidelines when shopping for a used vehicle:

Do check out used car dealers in your area, and find out which ones have good reputations when it comes to the quality of the cars they sell, and the customer satisfaction of their clients.

Don't rush if you can help it. Taking the time to make a well informed decision will be one of the biggest money saving behaviours you engage in.

Do have a friend with knowledge of cars accompany you to look at a privately listed vehicle. Such a friend will have a keen eye for detecting easy-to-miss tell-tale signs of a previous collision, and to spot signs of trouble—both present and future—that an amateur might not catch.

Don't make any decisions without doing a test drive. If a dealer or seller is unwilling to let you test drive the car, take this as a red flag and move on.

Do require a warranty of some sort if purchasing from a dealer.

Don't purchase from any seller who won't allow you to have the vehicle in question inspected.

Do listen to what others have to say. As with most goods and services, word of mouth is invaluable in helping you both to eliminate dishonest dealers, and to focus on the worthwhile ones, so if you know somebody who recently purchased a used car and was happy with their purchase, ask lots of questions about what made that purchase successful.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Understanding E. Coli

With the current outbreaks of E. Coli in Alberta, it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basics of this infection.

What does the “E” stand for?
E. Coli refers to Escherichia Coli, a bacteria that is found in the intestines of most healthy people and animals. When you hear talk of an infectious type of E. Coli, this refers to a strain of the bacteria identified as E. Coli 0157:H7 . This is the illness-causing strain that most of us have heard of. While we typically think of cattle when we think of animals that may carry the infectious strain, it has also been found in deer, sheep, goats, and other animals.

How long has E. Coli been around?
E. Coli was first identified in 1982, when an outbreak causing illness prompted research. The findings traced the bacteria back to hamburgers that had the 0157:H7 strain in them.

What are the symptoms of E. Coli?
This really varies from individual to individual. Some infected people are completely asymptomatic. For those that do have symptoms, they range from mild diarrhea, to severe diarrhea that is accompanied with blood. Symptoms of nausea and vomiting are common as well. Fever is not a good indication of infection in this case, since there is usually only a mild fever or none at all.

Is it fatal?
E. Coli in and of itself is not a deadly infection. However, with complications it can be. This would not be the case in a typically healthy individual though, and is not very common.

Who is at risk for contracting E. Coli?
While E. Coli infections can affect anybody who is exposed to the bacteria, those who are elderly, as well as children under the age of five, are at greatest risk.

How does a person catch E. Coli?
The most common means of getting E. Coli are through the consumption of undercooked meat, drinking unpasteurized milk or juice, swallowing contaminated water (drinking water, pool water, natural bodies of water), or by eating raw leafy vegetables (like spinach or lettuce) that has been contaminated with E. Coli.

Are people infected with E. Coli contagious?
Since human waste carries E. Coli in it, if an infected person neglects to wash their hands well, they can be passing along the infection. Moreover, even long after an infected individual's symptoms have passed, they continue to shed the bacteria in their waste, so proper hand washing is important even long after the symptoms have subsided.