New Mustachioed Taxis Under Legal Pressure Pending City Hall Vote [UPDATED]

Photo from Lyft
Lyft's trademark pink mustache marks ordinary cars as providers of a peer-to-peer ridesharing service that traditional taxi companies call "cheating."
Updated 7/3: This story has been updated with info from a Lyft spokesperson.

Alternative West Coast taxi companies Lyft and Uber have finally deployed in Houston with the reputation of establishing dozens of successful operations throughout the country -- and warding off ample legal protest from local cabbies.

Houston City Council members will weigh criticism from traditional Houston taxi companies summarized in an April lawsuit against Uber and Lyft, in which a long list of transportation services accused the competition of illegally operating uninsured vehicles for hire without obtaining licenses, paying attending fees and charging regular rates.

Lyft and Uber both carry liability insurance of $1 million per incident.

For customers, the trade-off for the security of riding with a licensed driver is simple: cheaper service.

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Free Hotline for Houston Area If You're Feeling Sick and Don't Know What to Do

Categories: Public Health

Photo by COD Newsroom
A nursing hotline for the Houston area gives out general nursing help, for free.
We've only known of nurse help lines as part of a fancy insurance plan. But did you know that thanks to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, there's a free non-emergency you can call?

It's basically an advice and evaluation hotline staffed 24 hours a day, all week. "The Nurse Health Line features bilingual staff and language interpreters who are a valuable source of reliable and caring health information, education, and support," according to a statement about the hotline. The program is also supported by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

We figure that if you wake up some night with hot sweats, your stomach bubbling and you know you didn't have seafood during the day, this might be a good number to call to get sorted.

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Mobile Medical Unit Gets Trial Run in Houston

Categories: Public Health

Memorial Hermann-TMC
Maureen Osaka was the first stroke patient saved by a new stroke mobile partially paid for by Mattress Mac.
Blood clots in the brain are some scary business. Luckily, we now have what's been called "the first" mobile stroke unit in the nation in operation since late last month. It has some fancy equipment, but most important, it has people on board who can administer tPA, the clot-busting medication known as tissue plasminogen activator.

So, what's it like to have a stroke?

Maureen Osaka explains in a statement from Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center:

"I felt so weak, I couldn't use my hand and I was so dizzy," said Osaka. "I couldn't stand up so I started crawling from the living room to my bedroom, thinking I was going to lie down and go to sleep to hopefully feel better - I didn't know what was going on. But before I could make it to my room, the whole left side of my body stopped working and I could no longer see, so I made it to the phone and blindly started dialing the only numbers I knew."

Osaka was one of the unit's first patients when it was dispatched downtown.

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Beachgoers Reminded About Deadly Stretch

Categories: Public Health

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Stephen Lehmann
Coast Guard rescue swimmers dropped onto the beach this weekend to warm beach goers about the waters in San Luis Pass.
There have been a number of drownings near San Luis Pass. The strait is located at the southwestern tip of Galveston Island, and has taken on a reputation as a deadly spot for swimmers.

Not because of Jaws or anything, but because of the dangerous rip currents and sudden drop-offs.

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Airplane Dangers -- the Germy Kind

Categories: Public Health

Photo by Consumerist Dot Com
These seats might need an antibacteria wipe-down.
Research conducted by Auburn University recently reminded us just how germ-filled airplanes can be. Obviously, you should be more worried about your plane colliding with another, but given the disease-breeding ground that is summer airplane travel, it's good to know you might need some bleach wipes for that flight.

The two-year study was funded by the Federal Aviation Administration's Airliner Cabin Research Center and found that E. Coli and MRSA can "survive in airline cabins for up to a week."

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Seven Crazy Ways Houstonians May Be Trying to Lose Weight

Photo by Elena Ringo
Might be more fun than taking a laxative.
I know I am not the only woman who has her favorite jeans from years ago hiding in the back of the closet. No, I'm not a hoarder but that's my motivation. One day I am determined to fit into those jeans again.

"There are no shortcuts," said trainer and owner, Bella Barak, of Bella Body Fitness in Houston. "The only way to lose weight is through eating clean and exercise, everything else is just a gimmick."

Is Houston becoming the new Hollywood? There are so many ways to fight that extra belly fat. Some women have tried body wraps and corset training to get quick results. Here are a few more dubious ways women are trying to get their sexy on and stay slim.

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Lesbian Couple From Houston Featured in CDC's Report on Rare HIV Transmission

Categories: Public Health

Illustration by NIAID
The Centers for Disease Control this week released a report on a Houston case of HIV transmitted through lesbian sex. Rare, but true.

According to the report (which did not name any names), one of the partners, a 46-year-old woman, had been fighting an HIV infection since 2008, but stopped her treatment two years later. She started a six-month monogamous relationship with a woman in her forties who was previously healthy, and a regular blood donor in Houston. The woman had donated blood in March 2012, and tried again a few months later, but was denied for testing positive for HIV. In July that year, she was officially diagnosed with the disease.

"One of the problems here is that the original positive person decided to stop her treatment, which gave her more ability to be transmissive," Kathy Barton of the Houston Health and Human Services Department said.

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E. Coli Levels High in San Jacinto River, Says Study

Photo by theseoduke
Just a few days before an east Texas man died from flesh eating bacteria following a fishing trip on Lake Conroe, a water study showed high levels of bacteria in watersheds connected to Lake Houston. The bacteria study conducted by the Houston-Galveston Area Council and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found that levels of E. coli bacteria in the San Jacinto river were outside the normal range of 126 MPN/100mL.

"Almost every stream in all of Harris County is labeled as impaired for bacteria," said Jace Houston, general manager of the San Jacinto River Authority. "The state's been measuring bacteria in various streams, rivers, and lakes for many, many years and they've set a standard and if the number goes over that standard they call it impaired. Not everyone agrees that the standard should be as low as it is."

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Houston Flu Cases on Decline as School Mourns Teacher's Death

Categories: Public Health

Illustration by TimVickers

We have a lot of flu this year. But you probably already know that.

Although exact numbers are hard to come by since hospitals only voluntarily provide information on flu cases, we do know that there were 132 positive results found this flu season in Houston's bureau of lab services. A total of 110 of those positives came from a 2009 H1N1 swine flu strain.

Talk about retro viruses spreading fear one sneeze at a time. But reports suggest as many as 16 deaths in the greater Houston area this flu season. And a sudden death this week that may be flu-related grabbed headlines.

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