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Wed, 23 May 2018
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Plagues

Bizarro Earth

Saharan dust storms linked to pathogenic Vibrio blooms

saharan dust storm
© Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC
The moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer on NASA's Terra satellite acquired this natural-color image of dust sweeping off the coast of Western Sahara and Morocco on Aug. 7, 2015.
Iron, a critical element for living organisms, can be hard to hard to come by in open marine waters—except each summer, when atmospherically transported dust from north Africa's Sahara Desert provides pulses of biologically important nutrients, including iron, to the tropical marine waters of the Caribbean and southeastern U.S.

In a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of Georgia found that Vibrio bacteria respond rapidly to this influx of iron-rich Saharan dust, leading to large blooms of the potentially harmful bacteria in ocean surface water.

Vibrio bacteria, common to ocean waters worldwide, are probably best known for their ability to cause serious illness in humans and other marine organisms. These bacteria are also characterized by their ability to reproduce rapidly and respond to newly available resources.

"Part of what makes these normal marine bacteria also potentially pathogenic is their ability to grow quickly when conditions are favorable, whether in a host or in the environment," said study co-author Erin Lipp, a professor of environmental health science in the UGA College of Public Health.

"While we are interested in how the population dynamics of Vibrio might cause disease, for this study we wanted to use Vibrio's opportunistic behavior as a model for how bacteria could exploit the availability of new nutrients and, in particular, iron delivered in dust."

In the laboratory, the researchers were able to show that iron in dust could cause test cultures of Vibrio to grow. To confirm these findings, the team traveled to sites in the Florida Keys and Barbados to measure the Vibrio growth during natural Saharan dust events. Not only did they observe that dissolved iron increases in ocean surface water as the dust arrived, but Vibrio grew from a background level of just 1 percent to almost 20 percent of the total microbial community within 24 hours of exposure.

Comment: Warmer sea temperatures from May to October cause the Vibrio bacterium to grow faster. People with open wounds can be exposed to the pathogen through direct contact with seawater or when they eat raw shellfish. Shellfish, including oysters, clams, and mussels, should be cooked thoroughly before eating, and raw shellfish should be avoided.


Bizarro Earth

North American tectonic plate peeling off

Earth's Mantle
© Johan Swanepoel/Shutterstock
Scientists suspect that chunks from the bottom of the North American tectonic plate, which is the upper portion of the mantle, are peeling off and sinking. Replacing the resulting void is gooey material from the asthenosphere.
An odd phenomenon may explain why the Southeastern United States has experienced recent earthquakes, even though the region sits snugly in the middle of a tectonic plate and not at the edges, where all the ground-shaking action usually happens.

This seismicity — or relatively frequent earthquakes — may be the result of areas along the bottom of the North American tectonic plate peeling off, the researchers said. And this peeling motion is likely to continue, leading to more earthquakes in the future, like the 2011 magnitude-5.8 temblor that shook the nation's capital.

To figure out the cause of these earthquakes, Berk Biryol, a seismologist at UNC Chapel Hill, and colleagues created 3D images of the uppermost part of Earth's mantle, which is just below the crust and comprises the bottom of a tectonic plate. These tectonic plates scoot around atop a layer of warm, viscous fluid called the asthenosphere.

The resulting X-ray images revealed that the plate's thickness in the southeast United States was uneven, with thick regions of dense, old rock combined with thinner areas composed of younger rocks that were also less dense.

Health

Yellow fever outbreak: Experts call on WHO to respond to latest global health 'emergency'

yellow fever
© AFP
Expert call on WHO to set emergency committee to tackle emerging yellow fever outbreak.
Medical experts have called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to convene an emergency committee in an effort to tackle an emerging epidemic of yellow fever infection across the world.

Two experts from Georgetown University Medical Center wrote to the WHO to immediately hold the meeting to decide a response to the new outbreak, which is becoming the latest global health emergency.

Professor Daniel Lucey and Lawrence Gostin urged the health organization to "mobilize funds, coordinate an international response, and spearhead a surge in vaccine production."

In return, the WHO said that holding an emergency committee meeting on yellow fever was "under discussion."

The experts also said the world's health advocates should not have to call for convening an emergency committee for each new international health threat.

Instead, the organization "should establish a standing emergency committee" to decide how to respond as new threats emerge, they said.

"Prior delays by the WHO in convening emergency committees for the Ebola virus, and possibly the on-going Zika epidemic, cost lives and should not be repeated," wrote the experts.

Comment: All eyes on Africa: Yellow Fever is the latest viral outbreak fear-mongering campaign


Info

Documents reveal 8 to 10 million Iranians died over Great Famine caused by the British in late 1910s

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill
© Wikimedia Commons
The "Big Three" at the Tehran Conference.
One of the little-known chapters of history was the widespread famine in Iran during World War I, caused by the British presence in Iran. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Britain became the main foreign power in Iran and this famine or--more accurately--'genocide' was committed by the British. The document in the American Archives, reporting the widespread famine and spread of epidemic disease in Iran, estimates the number of the deceased due to the famine to be about 8-10 million during 1917-19 (1), making this the greatest genocide of the 20th century and Iran the biggest victim of World War I (2).

It should be noted that Iran had been one of the main suppliers of food grains to the British forces stationed in the empire's South Asian colonies. Although bad harvest during these two years made the situation worse, it was by no means the main reason why the Great Famine occurred. Prof. Gholi Majd of Princeton University writes in his book, The Great Famine and Genocide in Persia, that American documents show that the British prevented imports of wheat and other food grains into Iran from Mesopotamia, Asia, and also the USA, and that ships loaded with wheat were not allowed to unload at the port of Bushehr in the Persian Gulf. Professor Majd argues that Great Britain intentionally created genocide conditions to destroy Iran, and to effectively control the country for its own purposes. Major Donohoe describes Iran of that time as a "land of desolation and death" (3). But this event soon became the subject of a British cover up.

Britain has a long record of its several attempts to conceal history and rewrite it in their own favor. The pages are filled with conspiracies that were covered up by the British government to hide its involvement in different episodes that would tarnish the country's image. One of the clear examples is the "Jameson Raid"; a failed coup against Paul Kruger's government in South Africa. This raid was planned and executed directly by the British government of Joseph Chamberlain under the orders of Queen Victoria (4) (5). In 2002, Sir Graham Bower's memoirs were published in South Africa, revealing these involvements that had been covered up for more than a century, focusing attention on Bower as a scapegoat for the incident (6).

The records that were destroyed to cover up British crimes around the globe, or were kept in secret Foreign Office archives, so as to, not only protect the United Kingdom's reputation, but also to shield the government from litigation, are indicative of the attempts made by the British to evade the consequences of their crimes. The papers at Hanslope Park also include the reports on the "elimination" of the colonial authority's enemies in 1950s Malaya; records that show ministers in London knew of the torture and murder of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya and roasting them alive (7). These records may include those related to Iran's Great Famine. Why were these records that cover the darkest secrets of the British Empire destroyed or kept secret? Simply because they might 'embarrass' Her Majesty's government (8).

Info

Movement of water around the world contributes to Earth's rotational wobbles says NASA

Earth's Spin Axis
© NASA/JPL-Caltech
Earth does not always spin on an axis running through its poles. Instead, it wobbles irregularly over time, drifting toward North America throughout most of the 20th Century (green arrow). That direction has changed drastically due to changes in water mass on Earth.
Using satellite data on how water moves around Earth, NASA scientists have solved two mysteries about wobbles in the planet's rotation -- one new and one more than a century old. The research may help improve our knowledge of past and future climate.

Although a desktop globe always spins smoothly around the axis running through its north and south poles, a real planet wobbles. Earth's spin axis drifts slowly around the poles; the farthest away it has wobbled since observations began is 37 feet (12 meters). These wobbles don't affect our daily life, but they must be taken into account to get accurate results from GPS, Earth-observing satellites and observatories on the ground.

In a paper published today in Science Advances, Surendra Adhikari and Erik Ivins of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, researched how the movement of water around the world contributes to Earth's rotational wobbles. Earlier studies have pinpointed many connections between processes on Earth's surface or interior and our planet's wandering ways. For example, Earth's mantle is still readjusting to the loss of ice on North America after the last ice age, and the reduced mass beneath that continent pulls the spin axis toward Canada at the rate of a few inches each year. But some motions are still puzzling.

Health

Taiwan sees 37% increase in gonorrhea cases

Gonorrhea
© CBS
Taiwan health officials are urging the public to avoid unsafe sex in light of the new numbers on gonorrhea cases on the island released earlier this week.

According to the surveillance data compiled by Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of gonorrhea cases reported increased from 2,622 in 2014 to 3,584 in 2015, reflecting a 37% increase. Moreover, the increase in the number of infected women (41%) is higher than that in the number of infected men (36%).

Further, a 47% increase in cases aged between 10 and 19 from 2014 to 2015 has been observed. Although the number of reported cases among underage girls is only a few, an 107% increase in the number of reported cases among girls aged between 10 and 19 from 2011 to 2015 has been observed, which is higher than the 102% increase in the number of reported cases among boys in the same age group.

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused the bacterium, Neisseria gonorrhoeae. This bacterium can infect the genital tract, mouth and rectum of both men and women. Ejaculation does not have to occur for the disease to be transmitted. It can also be transmitted from mother to baby during delivery.

Symptoms of gonorrhea usually appear with 2 to 5 days after sexual contact with an infected partner, occasionally symptoms make take longer to appear.

Men have symptoms more often than women and they may include; a white, yellow or green discharge from the penis with pain, burning sensations during urination, and painful, swollen testicles.In women, infection may be asymptomatic. If present, the early symptoms of gonorrhea are often mild. The first symptoms in women are frequently; painful or burning sensations when urinating, an increase in discharge (yellow or bloody) and bleeding after intercourse.

Question

Unknown continental-scale process is dumping phosphorus into streams and lakes across the U.S.

Water sampling
© Greg Dumas
Scientists found increased phosphorus during sampling of remote North American lakes. Janice Brahney gathers water from a site in Canada.
A new study reveals that an unknown continental-scale process is dumping phosphorus into streams and lakes across the U.S. (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2016, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b05950). Rising phosphorus measured in these water bodies could lead to toxic algal blooms and degraded habitat for fish, birds and frogs.

High phosphorus levels in streams and lakes typically result from sewage discharge and agricultural runoff. But the new work finds phosphorus pollution in remote areas far from such sources, leaving researchers scratching their heads about where it came from.

What evidence they have suggests the phosphorus inputs are probably linked to climate change, and are unlikely to be tamed anytime soon. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient. But when levels top 10 µg/L in water bodies, ecosystems start to change.

The kinds of algae that feed a healthy ecosystem begin to disappear, and undesirable species take over, says Emily H. Stanley, an aquatic biogeochemist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who was not part of the study.

One group of undesirables, cyanobacteria, can produce toxic blooms that threaten drinking water sources and cost the U.S. economy over $2.2 billion per year.

To track the health of the nation's waters, the Environmental Protection Agency monitors a selection of lakes and streams, measuring the concentration of important ions and nutrients every five years.

EPA stumbled on the new result while analyzing these data, says John L. Stoddard, a biogeochemist with the EPA. Phosphorus was the only measured nutrient that changed, he says. Uniformly across the country, median total phosphorus in streams more than doubled from 26 µg/L to 56 µg/L over the last 10 years. In lakes, levels rose from 20 µg/L in 2007 to 37 µg/L in 2012.

People

Mystery illness attributed to mass hysteria closes 57 schools in Bangladesh

Sick students
Late last month dozens of schools in Bangladesh were closed after hundreds of students began succumbing to a mystery illness.

According to the English-language Bangladeshi newspaper bdnews24.com:
"It was just another day at Shibram RD Academy School in Faridpur until student Ritu Saha started experiencing difficulty while breathing. Even as she was administered first aid, 37 of her classmates also reported similar symptoms. Academy's teacher Susanta Kumar said all the students were evacuated from the classrooms and gathered in the playground. Meanwhile, 30 other students, mostly girls, also fell sick.... Supervisor Ganapati Biswas said that... hundreds of students, mostly girls between Class 6 and 10, have been affected. The disease starts with a student feeling out of breath, with the rest developing symptoms driven by anxiety that rippled through the school."
The students were taken to a local college hospital and examined, but doctors there could find no common cause or reason for the symptoms. In all the cases the mystery illness was minor and soon faded away.

In all, 57 schools in the region were closed for two days while investigators searched for a cause but none was found. The Faridpur school mystery has all the textbook signs of a mass hysteria outbreak.

Understanding Mass Hysteria

Mass hysteria is often misunderstood as being an illness that sufferers are making up. In fact the symptoms are verifiable and not imaginary. The issue is instead what is causing the symptoms—whether some external environmental contaminant or instead a form of suggestion-driven social contagion.

Comment: See also: Schoolgirls' Mystery Illness: Mass Hysteria or Environmental Toxin?


Bug

CDC scientists discover new Lyme disease bacteria

Deer tick
© CDC/Reuters
A deer tick, or blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis. Scientists have discovered a new bacteria species causing Lyme disease in the U.S. Midwest.
Scientists have found a new bacteria, Borrelia mayonii, that triggers Lyme disease in humans, according to CDC. Until now, Borrelia burgdorferi was the only species believed to cause Lyme disease in North America.

The bacteria is called Borrelia mayonii, and was found by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with the Mayo Clinic and health officials from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, the official statement said.

Researchers from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, first suspected the chance a new strand of bacteria might exist after they had carried out lab tests on 9,000 people with Lyme disease, and six results were unusual, according to the study published in Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Previously, only one bacterium was known to trigger the disease in North America: B. Burgdorferi. The newly-discovered strand causes similar symptoms, but with several differences. Both bacteria cause fever, headache, rash, and neck pain in the early stages of infection (days after exposure) and arthritis in later stages of infection (weeks after exposure).

Borrelia mayonii, however, adds nausea and vomiting to the picture, as well as triggers diffuse rashes (as compared with a single rash caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, the so-called bull's eye). Plus, the findings suggest that Borrelia mayonii triggers higher concentration of bacteria in the blood, and it has only been found in the US upper Midwest.

"This discovery adds another important piece of information to the complex picture of tickborne diseases in the United States," Dr. Jeannine Petersen, microbiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in the press release.

Comment: Listen to our SOTT Health and Wellness editors discuss Lyme disease and take a closer look at issues surrounding the devastating disease: The Health and Wellness Show - A Close Look at Lyme Disease

See also:


Arrow Up

Indigenous native inhabitants seek apology from Pope Francis for genocide during his visit to Mexico

Indigenous ritual
© Flickr/Gabriel Saldana
Indigenous ritual.
Ahead of a February 12 visit by Pope Francis to Mexico, around 30 indigenous communities in Michoacan, Mexico, have released a statement demanding that he apologize for killings of some 24 million aboriginal inhabitants, committed with the complicity of the Catholic Church during the colonization of the Americas.

The Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacan, Mexico, accused the Catholic Church of being involved in mass genocide, which started with the Spaniards' arrival to the Central American region in the 16th century.

The statement noted that, by the beginning of the 17th century, there were less than 700,000 native inhabitants left alive, from an original population of about 25.2 million, which makes the Spanish intervention and invasion of the Americas one of the largest acts of genocide in history.

"For over 500 years, the original people of the Americas have been ransacked, robbed, murdered, exploited, discriminated and persecuted," the statement reads. "Within this framework, the Catholic Church has historically been complicit and allies of those who invaded our land."