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Wed, 21 Nov 2018
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Plagues

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."

Attention

Zika virus 'spreading explosively' says World Health Organization

zika virus mosquito
© Mariana Bazo / Reuters
Specimens of Aedes aegypti mosquito
The World Health Organization will assemble an emergency committee to deal with what it says is a rapidly spreading Zika virus pandemic. However, scientists believe a vaccine is years away, while doctors say "questions abound" concerning the disease.

The UN-endorsed body says that since the first cases were registered in Brazil in May of last year, as many as 1.5 million people have been affected by the virus in that country alone, while more than 20 other Central and South American states have registered native infections as well. The disease had previously only broken out in small pockets of Africa and Asia.

"Last year the disease was detected in the Americas, where it is spreading explosively," Margaret Chan, the WHO's director general, said at a hastily arranged press briefing in Geneva. "The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty. Questions abound - we need to get some answers quickly. For all these reasons, I have decided to convene an Emergency Committee."

Most people with the disease, a mosquito-borne cousin of dengue and yellow fever, do not know they have been infected, or suffer mild flu-like symptoms. However, a notable minority appear to develop Guillain-Barre syndrome, a severe auto-immune condition, or give birth to children with microcephaly, a birth defect that results in an underdeveloped head and brain.

"A causal relationship between Zika virus and birth malformations and neurological syndromes has not yet been established - this is an important point - but it is strongly suspected. The possible links have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions," said Chan.

Before 2015, Brazil experienced fewer than 200 cases of microcephaly a year, but that figure has exploded to about 4,000 since the Zika outbreak, though officials say many can be attributed directly to other causes.

Comment: See also:


Question

Mysterious disease kills 6 children in Nepal; 50 others infected

Surgical Mask
A team of health workers has reached Itawa village in Kapilbastu district, where six children died of a yet-to-be-identified disease with symptoms similar to that of measles. The District Public Health Office, Kapilbastu dispatched the team to the village Ward Number 7 and 8 of the Somdiha VDC near the Nepal-India border.

The team is treating the infected children of the village. Team leader and officiating chief of the District Public Health Office, Bishnu Jayaswal said they were making home visits in the village and treating the infected children.

They were collecting blood samples simultaneously. He said the infected children had rashes like that of measles all over the body, high fever, and diarrhoea. They have also shown symptoms of malnutrition. The blood samples have been sent to the Central Health Laboratory at Teku, Kathmandu and the disease will be identified once the blood report is available. The unidentified disease has so far claimed the lives of six children in the village. All the victims are below five years. As many as 50 children have been infected, the District Helath Office stated.

Red Flag

New Ebola case confirmed in Sierra Leone after WHO declares outbreak over

Ebola Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone officials have confirmed a death from Ebola, hours after the World Health Organization declared the latest West Africa outbreak over.

The country was declared free of the virus on 7 November, and the region as a whole was cleared when Liberia was pronounced Ebola-free on Thursday.

Tests on a person who died in northern Sierra Leone proved positive, an Ebola test centre spokesman told the BBC. The WHO has warned, however, that more flare-ups are expected. The Sierra Leone death occurred earlier this week.

Ebola test centre spokesman Sidi Yahya Tunis told the BBC that the patient had died in the Tonkolili district. He had travelled there from Kambia, close to the border with Guinea.

The tests were conducted by British health experts. The BBC's Umaru Fofana in the capital Freetown said health officials were now urgently seeking those who had come into contact with the victim.

Close to 4,000 people have died of Ebola in Sierra Leone, and 11,000 people across the region, since December 2013.

Liberia was the last country to see the end of active transmission of Ebola. But it had been declared clear twice before, only for the infection to re-emerge.

Comment: Ebola - What you're not being told


Airplane

Study: Infectious disease spread is fueled by international travel, trade

Airplane flying
© ASU
International trade and travel has literally opened up new vistas for humans, ranging from travel to exotic places to enjoying the products and services of those distant lands. But along with international trade and travel comes the risk of spreading infectious diseases, a growing problem in today's global economy, says an Arizona State University researcher.

"The recent Ebola outbreak made us realize that we are all just a plane ride away from exposure to emerging infectious diseases," says Charles Perrings, an ASU professor of environmental economics. Perrings recently published the paper, "Options for Managing the Infectious Animal and Plant Disease Risks of International Trade," in the early online version of the journal Food Security.

The paper reported project results to an international conference "Global Plant Health Risks and Consequences: Linking Science, Economics and Policy," hosted by the British Food and Environment Research Agency, and supported by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's Cooperative Research Programme on Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems. Perrings is the principle investigator of a project funded by the National Science Foundation-National Institutes of Health-U.S. Department of Agriculture Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases program in collaboration with the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

In the paper, Perrings describes the growth of international trade since the 1950s and the increasingly tight coupling of developed and developing economies. The paper considers how the global community currently deals with trade-related infectious disease risks of animals and plants, and asks how the system could be made more effective.

An example of the impact of an infectious disease came in 2001 in the UK when an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease cost some $10 billion and more than 2 million sheep and cattle had to be destroyed, Perrings said. More recently, African swine fever--a much more serious disease of pigs--has been spread in the Caucasus region through trade in pork, pork product or through waste in trade vehicles.

Health

Two hospitalized, almost 200 sickened in norovirus outbreak at catered office party in Seattle

Seattle norovirus
© Komo News
Nearly 200 people who attended a catered party at a downtown Seattle office building have become ill with norovirus, a public health official said on Monday.

Public health officials closed all the food-service locations inside the Russell Investments Center in downtown Seattle, including a Starbucks location, said Dr. Meagan Kay, a medical epidemiologist for the public health department.

Norovirus can spread by an infected person, contaminated food, water or contaminated surfaces, the CDC said. Nearly 200 people out of roughly 600 people who attended the party catered by California-based Bon Appetit Management Co on Tuesday reported some level of sickness, Kay said. That number is likely to go up as the investigation continues into the cause of the outbreak, she said.

"The source of this illness remains unclear, and we are as eager as anyone to learn precisely how and when it began," the catering company said. "We have worked with our food safety experts to disinfect the surfaces in our facility and have taken all other necessary steps to ensure food safety."

Two people have been hospitalized overnight and eight people visited an emergency room for their illness, though the conditions of the patients were not known, Kay said. Over the weekend, the building was disinfected in part to address vomiting in restrooms and to clean door knobs and other surfaces, Kay said.

The virus causes the stomach or intestines or both to become inflamed with acute gastroenteritis which leads to stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the most common cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks and acute gastroenteritis in the United States, causing some 19 million to 21 million illnesses and 570-800 deaths annually, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

A man who identified himself as Bryan said on a health department blog that he and his wife, who is eight months pregnant, had become sick. He said he had gone to the emergency room and received intravenous fluids.

Bizarro Earth

Weird purple slime choking Norway's fjords

Purple Slime
© YouTube Screen Capture
Fisherman in northern Norway first noticed the strange-looking purple slime in late August of this year. At first, there were large clots of the slimy stuff, but now, it has collected in a 200 meter (219 yards) wide belt around Lyngen Fjord.

Whatever the purple slime is, it's freaking out fishermen and sailors alike, and no one seems to know what it is. There are various descriptions of the mass of purple slime, from clotted and mucoid, to gelatinous and gooey.

The Local, Norway's news in English reported that Roger Larsen, an associate professor at the University in Tromsø, told state news broadcaster NRK, "We have not been able to find out what this really is, other than that we are talking about large amounts of jellyfish."

Comment: Mystery purple slime coats Norway fjord