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Tue, 21 Aug 2018
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Plagues

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


Bug

Deadly 'kissing bug' reported in 28 U.S. states, spreading parasite linked to Chagas disease

Image
© Charles Hedgecock/AP
Here's another reason to stay in New York this holiday season — the "kissing bug" has now spread to 28 states.

Texas is the latest to report an outbreak of infections from the Latin American triatomine bug after the pest had been spotted in other southern and western states, including Georgia, Alabama and California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The creepy crawler resembling a cockroach gets its colorful nickname because it likes to bite around the lips and eyes of people when they are asleep. More than half of the bugs carry a parasite that can cause Chagas disease in humans, dogs and other mammals.

The good news? To actually pass on the disease, the bug not only needs to bite you, but then defecate into the gash. If left untreated, up to 30% of bite victims will develop chronic conditions such as difficulty breathing, heart and intestinal complications, and, in extreme cases, death.

There have been eight million cases in Latin America and South America because of poorly constructed rural homes, according to the CDC.

To prevent an outbreak, the CDC recommends:
Sealing cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs, and doors.

Removing wood, brush, and rock piles near your house.

Comment: Living in a toxic world: Iodine to the rescue


Bizarro Earth

Mystery purple slime coats Norway fjord

Purple Slime
© Roger Larsen/University in Tromsø
The slime has been described as "a plague" by local fishermen.
A mysterious purple slime has emerged off the coast of northern Norway, coating millions of cubic meters of a picturesque fjord with a strange mucoid, margarine-like substance.

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

"The images we are picking up from the echo sounders and other equipment are totally atypical.

We have tried to gather information to find the answers, but I am absolutely sure that this is something we've never seen before."

Larsen, who has been surveying the emergence of the slime since fishermen first began reporting it in late August, said that the substance had collected in a 200m wide belt around the Lyngen Fjord.

"We are talking about millions of cubic metres," he said.

Beaker

Chipotle closes 43 restaurants in Oregon and Washington after investigation into E. coli outbreak opens

Image
© Robert Galbraith / Reuters
Fast food chain Chipotle voluntarily closed 43 restaurants in Washington State and Oregon over the weekend after health authorities launched an investigation into 22 cases of E. coli poisoning. Beef shipped across the US has also been recalled.

"There have been links made to six restaurants in the Seattle and Portland areas," Chris Arnold, communications director for Chipotle, told The New York Times. "We have closed 43 restaurants in those markets out of an abundance of caution."

The company is not planning to close any other restaurants because there is no evidence of an E. coli link to other locations. Re-openings will depend on the investigation.

The Oregon Health Authority said in a statement over the weekend that the outbreak affected people who had eaten at Chipotle outlets from October 14 to 23. They expect the number of cases to rise as more people hear about the situation and seek medical attention.

Health

More research needed - Blood biomarker predicts death from serious infection

Blood Cells
© Getty
The biomarker predicts hospitalisation and deaths from sepsis.
Scientists have found a biomarker in the blood that can tell if a person is more likely than others to die early from pneumonia or sepsis.

The biomarker is associated with chronic inflammation, perhaps due to microbial infection, and predicts death from infection up to 14 years in the future, said researchers today in the journal Cell Systems.

But, the researchers warned further research was needed before a test for the biomarker would be warranted.

In the past year, scientists have found that when a collection of common proteins called GlycA is elevated in the blood, a person is more likely to die prematurely.

"Per unit increase of GlycA, you get an increased risk of death, from any cause, of between 40 and 50 per cent," said Dr Michael Inouye from the University of Melbourne's Centre for System Genomics. But little was known about the biology of the GlycA biomarker, and how it could lead to early death.

"We wanted to understand why, because without that you can't remove the risk," said Dr Inouye.

He and colleagues analysed data, much of it electronic records, on over 10,000 adults from Finland and found that those who had elevated GlycA tended to be more likely to die from sepsis and pneumonia.

"As GlycA increases, your risk of disease increase," Dr Inouye said.

"There were some strong associations. People who had one unit increase in GlycA levels were at 2.2 fold increased risk from sepsis, which makes up the majority of systemic infections."

Importantly, the study showed that when GlycA levels became elevated they tended to remain so for up to a decade, and GlycA predicted death from infection up to 14 years in the future.

Info

Plague began infecting humans much earlier than thought

Yamnaya people
© Natalia Shishlina
This skull is from an individual of the Yamnaya people, a group that moved into Central Asia in early Bronze Age (c. 5000 years ago). The group belonged to a culture that is one of the Bronze Age groups carrying Y. pestis.
The germ that causes the plague began infecting humans thousands of years earlier than scientists had previously thought.

Researchers analyzed teeth from the remains of 101 individuals that were collected from a variety of museums and archaeological excavations. They found DNA of the bacterium that causes plague, called Yersinia pestis, in seven of these people. The earliest sample that had plague DNA was from Bronze Age Siberia, and dated back to 2794 B.C., and the latest specimen with plague, from early Iron Age Armenia, dated back to 951 B.C.

Previously, the oldest direct molecular evidence that this bacterium infected humans was only about 1,500 years old.

"We were able to find genuine Yersinia pestis DNA in our samples 3,000 years earlier than what had previously been shown," said Simon Rasmussen, a lead author of the study and a bioinformatician at the Technical University of Denmark.

The finding suggests that plague might be responsible for mysterious epidemics that helped end the Classical period of ancient Greece and undermined the Imperial Roman army, the researchers said.

The new study also sheds light on how plague bacteria have evolved over time, and on how it and other diseases might evolve in the future, the investigators added.

Plague is a lethal disease so infamous that it has become synonymous with any dangerous, widespread contagion. It was one of the first known biological weapons — for instance, in 1346, Mongols catapulted plague victims into the Crimean city of Caffa, according to a 14th-century Italian memoir. The germ is carried and spread by fleas, as well as person-to-person contact.

Yersinia pestis has been linked with at least two of the most devastating pandemics in recorded history. One, the Great Plague, which lasted from the 14th to 17th centuries, included the notorious epidemic known as the Black Death, which may have killed up to half of Europe's population at the time.

Arrow Down

Carbon nanotube pollutants found in human lungs

Carbon nanotubes
© Fathi Moussa/Paris-Saclay University
Carbon nanotubes (the long rods) and nanoparticles (the black clumps) appear in vehicle exhaust taken from the tailpipes of cars in Paris.
Some potentially disturbing news out of France this week: Researchers studying the lungs of young Parisian asthma patients have found evidence that man-made carbon nanotubes are becoming a common air pollutant.

Carbon nanotubes are deliberately manufactured in several industries — their unique physical properties make them useful in electronics and nanotechnology, especially. But they can also be created accidentally, as a byproduct of catalytic converters in automobile engines.

The study — conducted by researchers in Paris and at Rice University in Houston — found that carbon nanotubes from the asthma patients' lungs are similar to nanotube samples taken from the exhaust pipes of Paris vehicles.

It's apparently not just a local problem, either: The samples are also similar to nanotubes found in Houston, in spider webs in India and even in polar ice cores.

No direct linkage is suggested between the nanotubes and asthma, but previous studies have questioned whether carbon nanotubes might act like asbestos, a known carcinogen.

"The concentrations of nanotubes are so low in these samples that it's hard to believe they would cause asthma, but you never know," says chemist Lon Wilson in press materials provided by Rice University. "What surprised me the most was that carbon nanotubes were the major component of the carbonaceous pollution we found in the samples."

Syringe

Australian government prepares to punish parents who don't vaccinate children

Vaccination
© Natural Society
The Australian government is set to pass a law that would withhold child care and other benefits from parents who opt out of vaccinating their children.

Under the "No Jab, No Pay Bill" introduced to Parliament, the "conscientious objector" category would be removed, making parents ineligible for full government benefits for not immunizing their children. Youngsters would only be exempt due to medical reasons.

If the law is passed, families could lose up to 15,000 Australian dollars ($11,000) per child per year in tax and child care benefits starting January 1, 2016, if their children are not inoculated. [1]

There has been a rise in unvaccinated children under age 7 in Australia, due to parental concern over the potential side effects of vaccines, and worse. Over the past decade, the number of children under 7 who aren't vaccinated has increased from 24,000 to 39,000. There are reasons for it, too. Encephalopathy, febrile seizures, anaphylaxis and hardening of the brain are two devastating conditions associated with measles immunization. And there are many reported adverse vaccine effects reported (and many more unreported) to the CDC and FDA - known as VAERS.

No matter; Australian legislators are adamant that moms and dads "jab" their kids, despite their well-founded fears.
"The choice made by some families not to vaccinate their children is not supported by public policy or medical research, nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of family payments," Social Services Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament.

Arrow Up

A step closer to the end? Syria war prompts pull from doomsday seed vault

Svalbard Global Seed Vault
© Associated Press Photo/John McConnico
Snow blows off the Svalbard Global Seed Vault before being inaugurated at sunrise.
A seed storage vault built into the side of an Arctic mountain to protect global food supplies in case of global cataclysm is being tapped by researchers in the Middle East who say the Syrian war has devastated their crops.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built in 2008 by the Norwegian government as the world's largest secure seed storage, is intended to protect thousands of varieties of essential food crops against things like nuclear disaster, disease and climate change.

Now, the devastation brought on by the war in Syria, which has raged on for four years and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, has prompted researchers to request some of the samples they gave to the vault, as their collection of crops in Aleppo was destroyed in the fighting.

Among the samples requested by the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) crops resistant to drought that could help scientists develop and secure food supplies in the face of climate change in dry areas worldwide.

Protecting the world's biodiversity in this manner is precisely the purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault," said Brian Lainoff, spokesman for the Crop Trust, which runs the underground store, located on a Norwegian island 1,300 km (800 miles) from the North Pole.