ATLANTA, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Based on flu cases in the southern hemisphere and in the United States, officials are hoping this winter's flu season will be mild, USA Today said Tuesday.
Dave Daigle, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the winter flu season just wrapped up in countries south of the equator offered hope.
"The Southern Hemisphere saw a moderate year, and we're hoping we will too," he said, adding cases in the United States already recorded in seven states are "absolutely within the range of what we expect at this time of year."
Daigle said tests indicate the flu strains circulating match those in the current vaccine, although federal officials are grappling with an unexpected shortfall of some 45 million doses because of contamination at a manufacturing plant in England.
The CDC said it would begin to notify communities this week about when they can expect the remaining 20 million vaccine doses on order.
U.S. air force rockets Iraqi cities
BAGHDAD, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Four Iraqi national guardsmen were killed and dozens of others were wounded Tuesday in a mortar attack on their base north of Baghdad.
At least six mortars slammed into the base in al-Mashahdeh. Some reports spoke of as many as 80 wounded.
Witnesses said U.S. Blackhawk helicopters helped evacuate the casualties to nearby hospitals.
Earlier Tuesday, U.S. warplanes and helicopter gunships bombarded two Sunni cities north and west of Baghdad, inflicting numerous casualties.
Witnesses in al-Duluiah, a farm village north of Baghdad, said U.S. helicopters rocketed the area as tanks rolled in and troops conducted house-to-house raids in search of suspected insurgents.
There was no immediate word on casualties among residents, who are accused by U.S. forces of obstructing military supply routes between Baghdad and northern Iraq.
U.S. warplanes also fired rockets at suspected hideouts of the followers of Abu Musab Zarqawi in the city of Fallujah.
The raid, which came after a two-day lull in almost daily bombardments, targeted residential quarters, witnesses said.
Only 24 hours ago, U.S. forces released the chief tribal negotiator in Fallujah, Sheik Khaled Hammoud Jamili, who was detained for three days.
The Iraqi interim government hopes to find a peaceful settlement to the insurgency in Fallujah, a hotbed for Sunni Muslim extremists accused of attacking U.S.-led multinational forces.
Social security benefits to rise
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. Social Security Administration said Tuesday millions of Americans receiving Social Security will get a cost-of-living adjustment of $25.
The agency said the cost-of-living adjustment of 2.7 percent will start showing up in checks in January.
The increase was the largest since benefits rose by 3.5 percent in 2001. A 2.1 percent increase went into effect at the beginning of this year.
The annual cost of living adjustment is based on the rise in the government's consumer price index from the July-September quarter of last year through the third quarter of this year.
The $25 will mean that the monthly check for the average Social Security retiree will rise from an estimated $930 this year to about $955 next year.
NRA to spend $20 million on anti-Kerry ads
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- The president of the National Rifle Association claims Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is "the most anti-gun candidate we've ever had."
In an interview with the Washington Times, Kayne Robinson said the group is launching a $20 million ad campaign against Kerry between now and the Nov. 2 election.
Robinson said while Kerry has been "extremely effective" in portraying himself as a gun enthusiast and hunter in the 2004 campaign, he found the process deceptive.
Kerry has made a point of being photographed at campaign events brandishing firearms, like the Remington 12-gauge shotgun that was given to him as a gift at an event in West Virginia.
"He is actually a co-sponsor and voted for a bill to ban the Remington shotgun he held up in West Virginia," Robinson told the newspaper.
The 4 million member NRA has endorsed President Bush. Robinson praised the Bush administration for opening up federal lands to hunters that had been off limits and for opposing a United Nations small-arms treaty that could threaten Second Amendment rights.
Episcopal head rejects Anglican appeal
LONDON, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- The head of the Episcopal Church has dismissed an appeal by colleagues from around the world to put the brakes on promoting homosexuality.
Frank Griswold, who runs the 2.3-million member U.S. branch of the 70 million-plus member worldwide Anglican communion, responded to Monday's so-called Windsor Report with a re-affirmation of the contributions that homosexuals make to the life of his highly fractured denomination.
"As presiding bishop I am obliged to affirm the positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church," he said in a statement released almost immediately after the Windsor Report was disclosed.
"I regret that there are places within our communion where it is unsafe for them to speak out the truth of who they are."
The report was written by a panel of denominational leaders from around the world after Griswold officiated at the consecration last year of the first openly homosexual bishop in the communion's 450-year history.
While the Windsor Report called on Griswold and the scores of other U.S. bishops who supported the consecration to apologize for their actions, Griswold only expressed regret that other Anglicans were so troubled with his inclusive sexual agenda.