Bill Brooks: DNA testing is trendy, but be wary as well

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There is news today about various tests and companies that offer DNA testing. 23andMe was one of the first companies to offer DNA testing for individuals through the mail. Originally, in addition to providing users of the DNA test a peek into their racial background, the company also gave the user information that, according to their original website, looked at their predisposition to various diseases and conditions. Federal regulators quickly put a stop to the section of the results indicating one’s various predispositions.

Last Tuesday, 23andMe announced it will start telling customers of its mail-in DNA-testing kit about three mutations in the breast-cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 — a move officially sanctioned by the Food and Drug Administration. Don’t get all excited about this. This announcement only covers cancers indicated by the presence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, both of which are most prevalent in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. These mutations are among the most common and best studied, but they still account for only a small fraction of hereditary breast cancers in the United States.

What does this mean for the future? It means that medical science is on the threshold of being able to predict other conditions and diseases based on genetic testing. This can be great if you want to know more about your chances of having a particular disease or condition. The availability of this kind of information can also be used in other ways. For instance, an insurance company or even employer can use this information to screen OUT individuals with certain predispositions.

MY ADVICE: If you’re curious, go ahead and get your DNA profile; it’s interesting. On the other hand, keep it confidential and keep a close eye on what Big Brother comes up with to use or misuse this information. In any event, be careful of scammers, offering tests and asking for payment over the phone.

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AIRMULES: Update — The Transportation Safety Administration spokesman didn’t respond to my call as promised. I can only assume that the TSA has no pressing concerns about AirMules package delivery service. I did get a very positive email from a couple who were enjoying their vacation in Bali. Apparently The Coeur d’Alene Press is more widely read than I had originally thought.

(I wonder if on their next trip to a tropical paradise, they could pack me in a piece of baggage with a few breathing holes punched into it for my comfort — and survival. I am REALLY getting tired of winter.)

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DARLENE – WHAT ONE WOMAN CAN DO: Bosanko Street light removal, yes or no?

A senior lady named Darlene proved how effective one consumer can be. She called me to find out what government agency was behind the plan to change the traffic pattern around the Bosanko and 95 intersection. I learned that it was the Idaho Department of Transportation and contacted them. I put Darlene in touch with a very professional traffic engineer and between them arranged a meeting of the state and concerned citizens.

I don’t know what the eventual outcome will be, but the meeting, while intense, was polite and courteous. That’s how things should work. Thanks Darlene!

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VAPING DANGER: In the past year or so, I’ve noticed a lot of people walking around with what look like old-fashioned cigarette holders in their mouths, exhaling steam. The common explanation is that this replaces smoking cigarettes, thus reducing the proven major health risks of smoking cigarettes.

Many who “vape” claim that vaping significantly reduces or eliminates the risk of ingesting various carcinogens. This claim is false. If there’s any way you can stop the vaping, you’ll probably be healthier and you will certainly smell better. (And you WILL look cooler and more attractive.)

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ON-DEMAND HOT WATER: In the last week I’ve had a huge influx of consumers calling about problems with “on-demand” hot water heaters. This a great technology, UNDER THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES!

If you have “hard” water, with a lot of mineral content, this is probably not a good selection without the addition of a water softener. If you have water with visible impurities in it, this is not a good choice unless you have an in-line water filter.

The problem is, on-demand water heaters tend to clog up quickly if you have untreated hard water or unfiltered water in the case of a high particulate level. MY ADVICE: Before you purchase one or more of these units, know how hard your water level is, and how much “stuff” is floating around in your water. Also get guarantees from sales and manufacturing companies and READ THEM completely. Lastly, make sure installation is done by a licensed company with good references that you have checked out personally.

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UNEXPECTED PARCEL DELIVERY NOTICE: If you get a call or email telling you that you have a parcel being delivered, and it’s one you’re NOT expecting — CALL ME before doing anything. Don’t call the suspicious number or email. We’ll check it out together before any harm is done.

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YOU WANNA HELP? I love the calls I get, and the relationships I’ve made over the phone because of this column. The other day I met a gentleman that I’ve talked with on several occasions. What I mean to say is, that we finally met face-to-face. It turned out I was sitting next to him in a relatively large meeting.

“It was neat to finally meet.”

Lately I’ve been getting a ton of calls. Don’t stop — please keep calling. Most of the calls are readers and members of the community reporting scams and some bad business practices. (I’ve also helped some businesses with some “difficult” customers.) I am making a slight switch in how I’m handling calls. Almost all calls will go immediately to voicemail. Leave your message and if you want a call back, say so and don’t forget to leave your phone number. If you ask for a call-back, I WILL CALL YOU BACK (unless you’re the IRS guy warning me that you have a warrant for my arrest).

If you’re helping by reporting a scam, or just giving other information, just leave a message and tell me that I don’t need to call you back. I’m still a “one-man-band,” no files and no secretary, no staff. Help me out by doing these things so I can continue to help you out.

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REMEMBER BILL BROOKS: “He’s On Your Side”

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I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on. Call me at (208) 699-0506, or email me at BillBrooksAdvocate@gmail.com or fax me at (866) 362-9266. (#GoGetEmBillBrooks) You can follow me at www.billbrooksconsumeradvocate.com. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. Bill Brooks is a consumer advocate and the Broker and Owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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