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Mon, 27 Jan 2020
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Plagues


Bug

Unprecedented swarms of voracious locusts to hit East Africa, Mideast, leaving behind barren earth

locust
© European Press Agency
In just one day, a swarm of locusts the size of Paris could eat the same amount of food as half the population of France
A real plague of pests has been forecast for the region that saw unprecedented rainfall over the last three months of 2019, with the scale of it reaching well beyond the Horn of Africa, where it all started.

A United Nations report, cited in a press conference Friday, warns that petrifyingly large swarms of locusts are expected to hit East Africa, and the timeline is no less frightening - in the next few months, making it the worst infestation in Ethiopia for the past 25 years, and in Kenya in 70 years.

The invasion poses "an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods" in the area, says a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), adding that the issue is "extremely" acute in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia, where locusts have already descended in eye-watering numbers - up to 150 million jumping critters per square kilometre (0.39 square miles.)

Comment: Another sign of Earth's environmental imbalance? A symbol of the elites' rapaciousness? Out-breaks seem to be increasing in the last five years


Biohazard

WHO Emergency Committee meet on Wednesday as China confirms sixth coronavirus death

coronavirus china
© Getty
Medical staff transfer patients to Jin Yintan hospital in Wuhan. China has confirmed that the deadly Wuhan coronavirus virus can be transmitted between humans, with medical workers currently among the infected
The World Health Organisation is convening an emergency committee of experts on Wednesday to assess whether the coronavirus outbreak in China constitutes an international emergency, the WHO said on Monday.

The meeting follows the virus spreading from Wuhan, where it has infected nearly 200 people, to more Chinese cities, including the capital Beijing and Shanghai, and a fourth case has been reported beyond China's borders.

Comment: Al Jazeera reports on the sixth death:
Asia steps up defences as China confirms sixth coronavirus death

Nations increase fever checks at airports amid fears of a bigger outbreak of the virus that causes pneumonia.

Asian countries have ramped up measures to block the spread of a new virus as the death toll in China rose to six and the number of cases jumped to almost 300, raising concerns in the middle of a major holiday travel rush.

From Australia to Thailand and as far as Nepal, nations stepped up fever checks of passengers at airports to detect the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)-like coronavirus, which first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.


Footage from Twitter reportedly shows checks occurring on aircraft in Wuhan: "[A scary sentence] I just returned from Wuhan!"



Zhou Xianwang, mayor of Wuhan, told state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday that the death toll had risen from four to six.

Fears of a bigger outbreak increased after a prominent expert from China's National Health Commission confirmed late on Monday that the virus can be passed between people.

Zhong Nanshan, head of the National Health Commission, said there was no danger of a repeat of 2002's SARS epidemic that killed nearly 800 people across the world, as long as precautions were taken.

"It took only two weeks to identify the novel coronavirus," state news agency Xinhua quoted Zhong as saying late on Monday.

Earlier, Zhong acknowledged patients may have contracted the new virus without having visited the central city of Wuhan where the infection is thought to have originated in a seafood market.

"Currently, it can be said it is affirmative that there is the phenomenon of human-to-human transmission," he said in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV.

China said it would attend a special World Health Organization (WHO) meeting on Wednesday which will determine whether to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which was detected in Thailand, Japan and South Korea among four people who had visited Wuhan.

Outbreak spreads

Almost 80 new cases have been confirmed, bringing the total number of people hit by the virus in China to 291, with the vast majority in Hubei, the province where Wuhan lies, and others in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, according to the National Health Commission.

State media said one case was found in Zhejiang province.

Australia on Tuesday said it would screen passengers on flights from Wuhan amid rising concerns that the virus will spread globally as Chinese travellers take flights abroad for the Lunar New Year holiday that starts this week.

A man showing symptoms of the new disease who had travelled to Wuhan was in isolation as health officials awaited test results, public broadcaster ABC reported on Tuesday

"The outbreak could perhaps not have come at a worse time," said Al Jazeera's Katrina Wu, who is in Beijing.

"This is the peak travel season in China. The government has always boasted that during the Lunar New Year you see two to three billion trips being made across the country and Wuhan is not a small city; it's about 11 million people who will be travelling not only in China, but overseas. It's a major transport hub."

Authorities around the globe, including in the United States and many Asian countries, have stepped up the screening of travellers from Wuhan.

Zhong, the head of the National Health Commission, said two people in Guangdong province in southern China caught the disease from family members who had visited Wuhan.

He added that 14 medical staff helping with coronavirus patients had also been infected.

The Wuhan virus causes a type of pneumonia and belongs to the same family of coronaviruses as SARS. Symptoms include fever and difficulty in breathing, which are similar to many other respiratory diseases and pose complications for screening efforts.

SARS originated in southern China in 2002 and spread to 26 countries across the world over the following months, infecting more than 8,000 people before it was brought under control, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO, which is due to hold an emergency meeting on the outbreak on Wednesday, has said an animal source appeared most likely to be the primary origin of the Wuhan outbreak

Enhanced screening

South Korea on Monday reported its first case of the new coronavirus - a 35-year-old woman who had flown in from Wuhan.

Thailand and Japan previously confirmed a total of three cases - all of whom had visited the Chinese city.

China festival
© Aly Song/Reuters
The outbreak is spreading as China gears up for the Lunar New Year festival when hundreds of thousands of people visit family or take holidays
WHO has said the jump in new cases was the result of "increased searching and testing for [the virus] among people sick with respiratory illness".

Wuhan authorities said they have installed infrared thermometers at airports, and railway and coach stations across the city. Passengers with fever were being registered, given masks and taken to medical institutions.

Chinese state media moved to calm the mood as discussion swelled on social media about the coronavirus spreading to other Chinese cities.


Weighing in on the matter for the first time, China's President Xi Jinping said on Monday that safeguarding people's lives should be given "top priority" and that the spread of the epidemic "should be resolutely contained", according to CCTV.

Xi said it was necessary to "release information on the epidemic in a timely manner and deepen international cooperation", and ensure people have a "stable and peaceful Spring Festival", the broadcaster said.

See also:


Biohazard

Second patient dies from 'novel' coronavirus in China, 1 confirmed case in Japan, fears outbreak may have spread further

wuhan china
A second person has died from the mystery virus in China amid fears the lethal outbreak may spread globally, officials have said.

The 69-year-old man, known only as Xiong, died in the early hours of January 15 at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan city.

Officials at Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said the man was admitted to hospital on December 31 with symptoms of the virus.

His health deteriorated on January 4 before he died, local media claims.

A total of 41 patients in Wuhan have been struck with the virus since December. The first death, on January 9, was a man aged 61.

Comment: See also: Mysterious coronavirus identified by China in record time as cause of pneumonia outbreak


Microscope 2

Mysterious coronavirus identified by China in record time as cause of pneumonia outbreak

Coronavirus
© Rockcafe.info
File photo: Coronavirus.
A mysterious new type of pneumonia linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, China, is caused by a novel coronavirus, Chinese state media reported today (January 9). The reports come a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that multiple known viruses had been ruled out as a cause of the outbreak, and that a coronavirus was the likely cause. The virus had sickened at least 59 people in China as of Sunday, and according to the Associated Press, one suspected case — a woman who fell ill after returning from China — has been identified in South Korea.

Xinhua reports that the virus was identified by the Chinese Academy of Engineering's Xu Jianguo based on tests of samples from 15 patients with the illness. Known coronaviruses include some that cause a cold, as well as the pathogens behind severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Comment: See also:


Biohazard

Mexican TV star dies from parasitic tissue infection after reportedly eating tapeworm-contaminated pork

sebastian ferrat
© AFP / Genome Biology
Instagram / @sebastianferrat ; MRI scans showing a tapeworm in a brain
Actor Sebastian Ferrat, beloved in his native Mexico, has died after a long and horrifying struggle with an infection he reportedly contracted from contaminated pork. Is 2020 the year to give up bacon?

Fans are in deep sorrow as Sebastian Ferrat, 41, died on Sunday after a long battle with a grave illness that local media identified as cysticercosis, a parasitic infection that attacks the brain, muscles, or other tissues. According to reports, the actor, best-known for his roles in various television dramas, contracted the deadly infection after eating spoiled pork.

He reportedly languished in a coma for several months in hospital before finally succumbing to the infection.

Comment: While the incidents noted above by themselves aren't particularly significant, and the risk of contracting an infection of one kind or another are heightened due to unsanitary conditions or when in an unfamiliar country, if we take into account the sheer number of reports of outbreaks and unusual infectious diseases, there does appear to be a trend - here are some stories from just this year:


Biohazard

Indonesia the latest country hit by African Swine Fever outbreak

pig dead

Millions of pigs have been culled across Asia in a bid to curb the spread of the disease
Indonesia is the latest country to confirm African swine fever. The disease was detected in the North Sumatra (far northwest part of the multi-island nation) province, however, an official announcement was not unexpected as reports of increased pig mortality have been coming in from that region since late September.

The United Nation's Food and Ag Organization is coordinating with the country's Livestock and Animal Health Services on containment and control of the virus.

The majority of Indonesians practice Islam, but more than 80 percent of the people living on the tourist island of Bali identify as Hindu and do consume pork.

Comment: This outbreak is showing no signs of slowing and the impact on the food supply is beginning to be felt, and could ultimately be disastrous:


Biohazard

US flu season arrives earliest in 15 years, driven by unexpected virus

influenza virus microscopy
© CDC
Electron microscopy of influenza virus.
The U.S. winter flu season is off to its earliest start in more than 15 years.

An early barrage of illness in the South has begun to spread more broadly, and there's a decent chance flu season could peak much earlier than normal, health officials say.

The last flu season to rev up this early was in 2003-2004 — a bad one. Some experts think the early start may mean a lot of suffering is in store, but others say it's too early to tell.

"It really depends on what viruses are circulating. There's not a predictable trend as far as if it's early it's going to be more severe, or later, less severe," said Scott Epperson, who tracks flu-like illnesses for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Comment: This, just after 2018 was dubbed as one of the worst flu seasons in the US in nine years, and the UK fared just as badly: NHS cuts and flu crisis push UK hospitals to the brink

See also: And check out SOTT radio's:


Microscope 2

A mysterious disease is striking American beech trees

nematode
© USDA/ARS/ELECTRON & CONFOCAL MICROSCOPY UNIT/LYNN CARTA/GARY BAUCHAN/CHRIS POOLEY/MYCOLOGY AND NEMATOLOGY GENETIC DIVERSITY AND BIOLOGY LABORATORY; COLORIZATION BY IT SPECIALIST/SOYBEAN GENOMICS AND IMPROVEMENT LABORATORY
Some researchers believe a nematode native to Asia is causing a deadly disease in American beech trees.
A mysterious disease is starting to kill American beeches, one of eastern North America's most important trees, and has spread rapidly from the Great Lakes to New England. But scientists disagree about what is causing the ailment, dubbed beech leaf disease. Some have recently blamed a tiny leaf-eating worm introduced from Asia, but others are skeptical that's the whole story.

Regardless of their views, researchers say the outbreak deserves attention. "We're dealing with something really unusual," says Lynn Carta, a plant disease specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Beltsville, Maryland.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia), whose smooth gray trunks can resemble giant elephant legs, can grow to almost 40 meters tall. It is the fifth most common tree species in southern New England and in New York state — and the single most common tree in Washington, D.C. Its annual nut crop provides food for birds, squirrels, and deer.

Comment: It's notable that the wild Beech trees were already suffering from a fungus. What is even more concerning is that cases where pathogens are affecting life on our planet appear to be on the rise, and that includes everything from trees to frogs to deer to humans. One wonders whether these unusual diseases and epidemics are related to the extremes in weather; solar minimum; the influx of cosmic rays; a decrease in immunity; mutation and adaptation; foreign viruses, and so on:


Microscope 1

CDC raises alarm over surge of drug-resistant superbugs infecting 3 million Americans annually, killing 4 people every hour

Colonies of E. coli bacteria
© Reuters/CDC Handout (file photo)
Colonies of E. coli bacteria grown on an agar plate are seen in a microscopic image.
Resilient "superbug" pathogens are seeing a boom in the United States, with lethal infections on the rise even as health officials take "aggressive" steps to rein them in, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) said in a new report.

In its latest "Antibiotic Resistance Threats" assessment, the CDC found an alarming rise in drug-resilient infections, surging from 2 to nearly 3 million per year since its last report in 2013. Those infections now kill 35,000 people each year, adding 12,000 annual fatalities to the CDC's previous assessment.

"Germs continue to spread and develop new types of resistance, and progress may be undermined by some community-associated infections that are on the rise," the report says, adding that "more action is needed to address antibiotic resistance."

Comment: For a deeper understanding of germs and infections, read Paul W. Ewald's groundbreaking book, "Plague Time: The New Germ Theory of Disease".


Biohazard

Pneumonic plague diagnosed in two people in China

pneumonic plague
© AP
Yersinia pestis bacteria, the cause of plague.
Two people in China have been diagnosed with plague, the latest cases of a disease more commonly associated with historical catastrophe.

Plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and can arise in three forms - a lung infection, known as pneumonic plague; a blood infection, known as septicemic plague; and a form that affects the lymph nodes, called bubonic plague.

The latter form is perhaps the most famous, and was behind several pandemics including the Black Death of the late middle ages, which is estimated to have killed up to 60% of the European population.

The two new cases being treated at a hospital in Beijing are of the pneumonic form, which is even more serious than bubonic plague.

Comment: See also: