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Wed, 24 May 2017
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Plagues


Health

WHO declares new Ebola epidemic after three people die in Democratic Republic of Congo

© Reuters
A Doctors Without Borders health worker stands in an Ebola virus treatment centre in Conakry, Guinea.
A new Ebola epidemic has been declared in the Democratic Republic of Congo after the deaths of three people thought to be linked to the virus.

The country's health ministry confirmed one person has tested positive for the virus.

The World Health Organisation confirmed that the DR Congo had informed them of a lab-confirmed case of the disease.

The case was confirmed from tests on nine people who came down with a hemorrhagic fever in Bas-Uele province in the northeast of the country on or after April 22, the statement said.

Bug

Médecins Sans Frontières: Nigeria fighting worst meningitis C outbreak since 2008

© Fabrice Caterini/INEDIZ/MSF
Zahardien Musa, a meningitis patient from Sokoto, Nigeria.
Thousands of men, women, and children in northern Nigeria have been affected by a meningitis C outbreak, reportedly the largest to hit the country in the past nine years. Almost six months after the first cases were recorded in Zamfara State, Nigeria's Ministry of Health (MoH) is still struggling to fight this epidemic in seven states of the country.

Médecins Sans Frontières has supported the health authorities with surveillance and case management in the most-affected areas since February, when the outbreak was officially declared. However, the slow reaction of the country and a global shortage of vaccines have hampered the response.

On 15 April MSF set up a 200-bed treatment centre in Sokoto Town, followed by a 20-bed facility in Anka, Zamfara. In these locations, MSF's Nigeria Emergency Response Unit (NERU) works intensively to provide free, high-quality medical care and reduce mortality rates as much as possible.

These teams treat challenging cases in a difficult environment. "A few days ago a nine-year-old boy was brought in unconsciousness and with severe meningitis," recalls Caroline Riefthuis, an MSF nurse in Sokoto. "He received treatment for five days and recovered, but unfortunately we found out that he had become deaf and blind— complications of severe meningitis."

Comment: Considering how ineffective and dangerous vaccines are, what the MSF is doing (probably out of ignorance) is criminal: See:


Bandaid

Top health officials to simulate response to potential global disease outbreak

© AP/Branden Camp
Top health officials from the 20 leading and emerging economies are planning to simulate their response to a possible global disease outbreak.

A memo on the May 19-20 summit in Berlin states the meeting will include a four-hour "tabletop exercise" involving ministers and representatives from international organizations.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the memo on Tuesday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to open the summit. She has emphasized the importance of responding quickly and efficiently to sudden global health crises such as a deadly pandemic.

Among those taking part in the summit are Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization. The WHO has been criticized in the past for failures in its response to the 2009 flu pandemic and the Ebola outbreak four years later.

Health

Ebola ruled out as 'strange disease' hits southeastern Liberia; 11 dead

© gnnliberia.com
Liberia Health Minister Bernice Dahn
The outbreak of what medical authorities considered as 'Strange Disease' in Greenville, southeastern Liberia, Sinoe County, has reportedly taken the lives of eleven person and several being placed on critical list has reportedly crept in the populated City of Monrovia with one been pronounced dead by health authorities in Monrovia on Friday evening, and several quarantined in an undisclosed location.

According to health authorities in Monrovia those infected with the "strange" disease showed symptoms of severe stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and headaches, Liberia's chief medical officer, Francis Kateh, said on national radio.

Initial tests showed that the disease was not Ebola, said Dr. Francis Kateh, the Chief Medical Officer of Liberia during an interview with reporters in Monrovia recently.

Liberia, as well as neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone, were the three countries most affected by an outbreak of Ebola, which killed more than 11 000 people between December 2013 and mid-2016.

Arrow Down

The 'March to Silence' - Shots fired at building housing leading climate skeptic scientists

© Image via Google Maps Street View
National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) building.
A total of seven shots were fired into our National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) building here at UAH over the weekend.

All bullets hit the 4th floor, which is where John Christy's office is (my office is in another part of the building).

Given that this was Earth Day weekend, with a March for Science passing right past our building on Saturday afternoon, I think this is more than coincidence. When some people cannot argue facts, they resort to violence to get their way. It doesn't matter that we don't "deny global warming"; the fact we disagree with its seriousness and the level of human involvement in warming is enough to send some radicals into a tizzy.

Our street is fairly quiet, so I doubt the shots were fired during Saturday's march here. It was probably late night Saturday or Sunday for the shooter to have a chance of being unnoticed.

Maybe the "March For Science" should have been called the "March To Silence".

Campus and city police say they believe the shots were fired from a passing car, based upon the angle of entry into one of the offices. Shell casings were recovered outside. The closest distance a passing car would have been is 70 yards away.

This is a developing story. I have no other details.

Info

Indigenous peoples around the world tell myths which contain warning signs for natural disasters - Scientists are now listening

© Photo by Taylor Weidman/LightRocket/Getty
Native knowledge - A Moken woman stares out to sea.
Shortly before 8am on 26 December 2004, the cicadas fell silent and the ground shook in dismay. The Moken, an isolated tribe on the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, knew that the Laboon, the 'wave that eats people', had stirred from his ocean lair. The Moken also knew what was next: a towering wall of water washing over their island, cleansing it of all that was evil and impure. To heed the Laboon's warning signs, elders told their children, run to high ground.

The tiny Andaman and Nicobar Islands were directly in the path of the tsunami generated by the magnitude 9.1 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra. Final totals put the islands' death toll at 1,879, with another 5,600 people missing. When relief workers finally came ashore, however, they realised that the death toll was skewed. The islanders who had heard the stories about the Laboon or similar mythological figures survived the tsunami essentially unscathed. Most of the casualties occurred in the southern Nicobar Islands. Part of the reason was the area's geography, which generated a higher wave. But also at the root was the lack of a legacy; many residents in the city of Port Blair were outsiders, leaving them with no indigenous tsunami warning system to guide them to higher ground.

Humanity has always courted disaster. We have lived, died and even thrived alongside vengeful volcanoes and merciless waves. Some disasters arrive without warning, leaving survival to luck. Often, however, there is a small window of time giving people a chance to escape. Learning how to crack open this window can be difficult when a given catastrophe strikes once every few generations. So humans passed down stories through the ages that helped cultures to cope when disaster inevitably struck. These stories were fodder for anthropologists and social scientists, but in the past decade, geologists have begun to pay more attention to how indigenous peoples understood, and prepared for, disaster. These stories, which couched myth in metaphor, could ultimately help scientists prepare for cataclysms to come.

Anyone who has spent time around small children gets used to the question 'why?' Why is the sky blue? Why do birds fly? Why does thunder make such a loud noise? A friend's mother told us that thunder was God going bowling in the sky. Nature need not be scary and unpredictable, even if it was controlled by forces we could neither see nor understand.

The human penchant for stories and meaning is nothing new. Myths and legends provide entertainment, but they also transmit knowledge of how to behave and how the world works. Breaking the code of these stories, however, takes skill. Tales of gods gone bowling during summer downpours seems nonsensical on the surface, but know a little about the sudden thunderclaps and the clatter of bowling pins as they're struck by a ball, and the story makes sense.

Ambulance

Hawaii confirms nine cases of rat lungworm infections; researchers call it 'epidemic'

Researchers are calling it an epidemic: a big spike in the number of people infected with rat lungworm disease in Hawaii.

The Department of Health says so far there are nine confirmed cases of the disease. Four are Maui residents, two are visitors who contracted it on Maui, and three live on Hawaii Island.

State officials are also looking into three possible cases on Maui, and one on Hawaii Island.

The Department of Health adds 11 cases were confirmed on Hawaii Island in 2016.

The disease starts out as a parasitic worm that invades the human brain. The worm is carried by rats, then spread through snails or slugs that crawl onto fruits or vegetables.

Microscope 2

Giant Frankenstein-like virus discovered in Austrian sewage plant

© F. Schultz, et al., Science 356, 6333 (7 APRIL 2017) AAS
Researchers detected this giant virus particle in Austrian sewage.
New giant viruses found at an Austrian wastewater treatment plant probably evolved from a smaller virus that picked up bits of genome from its hosts and incorporated it, Frankenstein-like, into its own genetic code.

The viruses — four species in a new group dubbed the Klosneuviruses — are a type of Mimivirus. The giant viruses in the Mimivirus group were discovered just in 2003. Giant viruses live up to their name: They can reach sizes of up to 500 nanometers in diameter, compared to a few dozen nanometers for typical viruses. Giant viruses also have more complicated genetic machinery than their tinier cousins.

One of the new Klosneuviruses, for example, is so big that it carries transfer ribonucleic acids (tRNA) that can translate the genetic code for 19 out of the 20 protein-building amino acids found in nature. (Translation is part of the process in which a gene's instructions are decoded and carried out. Viruses use tRNA in their replication process, but not all of them have their own tRNA; some hijack their hosts'.) That's impressive, even for a giant virus, scientists led by Tanja Woyke of the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute reported April 6 in the journal Science.

Bug

MERS coronavirus emerges in Saudi Arabia hospital; 10 infected

Ten people have caught the MERS coronavirus after an outbreak in a haemodialysis unit in a hospital in Saudi Arabia, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, without giving details of how the virus was able to spread within the hospital.

The potentially fatal Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is thought to be carried by camels and comes from the same family as the coronavirus that caused China's deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003.

Since MERS emerged in September 2012, 1,935 cases have been confirmed and there have been at least 690 related deaths, WHO said.

The latest outbreak, at Wadi al-Dawasir in Riyadh province, began at the end of February, when a 32-year-old woman and a 31-year-old man showed symptoms. They were hospitalized in the first few days of March, and both were confirmed to have MERS on March 4.

Contact tracing found eight symptomatic and two asymptomatic cases. Two of those infected were health workers, WHO said.

None of the patients in the outbreak has yet died, WHO said, although MERS generally kills about 36 percent of sufferers.

Most of the known human-to-human transmission has occurred in health care settings, and the WHO has said hospitals and medical workers should take stringent precautions as a standard measure to stop the disease spreading.

Syringe

Bumper crop of acorns could put U.S. on brink of Lyme disease epidemic

© Shutterstock
A bumper crop of acorns could be putting the US on the brink of an unprecedented outbreak of Lyme disease, experts warn.

An estimated 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, but the illness is now on track to being the worst in 2017, according to Rick Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.

The acorn surge means mouse populations will climb — giving rise to more disease-carrying ticks.

"We predict the mice population based on the acorns and we predict infected nymph ticks with the mice numbers. Each step has a one-year lag," Ostfeld told New Scientist magazine.

One mouse alone can carry hundreds of immature ticks, according New Scientist.

The rodents' blood contains the Lyme-causing bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which gets transferred to the tick's stomach as it feeds. The bacteria can then be passed on to whatever new host — like humans — the tick latches onto.

Comment: See also: