Category Archives: Science

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, and nuclear woes


Long compendium today, so we open right up with this from the Associated Press:

Senegal monitors contacts of 1st Ebola patient

Senegalese authorities on Monday were monitoring everyone who was in contact with a student infected with Ebola who crossed into the country, and who has lost three family members to the disease.

An Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 1,500 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The university student is Senegal’s first case of the dreaded disease.

The 21-year-old left Guinea on Aug. 15, just days after his brother died of the disease, according to Guinea’s Health Ministry. It said that the brother apparently caught Ebola in Sierra Leone.

We thought we’d look at local papers for a better sense of what the epidemic feels like to journalists there. First this from Punch in Lagos, Nigeria:

Ebola: Three new suspected cases in Port Harcourt

Three people have been taken to the Ebola Virus Disease   quarantine centre at Oduoha, Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State.

The State Commissioner for Health, Sampson Parker, made this known on Sunday just as the Federal Government said another emergency meeting of the National Council of Health over the EVD would hold in Abuja today. The last meeting took place on August 11, 2014.

Parker, who addressed journalists,   said those quarantined were   a doctor, a pharmacist and a woman who came into contact with Dr. Iyke Enemuo, who died of the virus in Port Harcourt on August 22.

A related story from Leadership, another Nigerian paper:

Rivers Doctor: 60 Ebola Contacts Yet To Be Found

The Rivers State government has said about 60 people, out of close to 200 that had primary and secondary contacts with the late Dr Ikechukwu Sam Enemuo, who died of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Port Harcourt, the state capital, are yet to be found.

Also, the state government has placed a ban on the movement of corpses within and outside the state without death certificates and explanations on the cause of such deaths, and has directed the police to demand such documents from ambulances conveying such corpses in the state.

This is as the state governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, will today meet with leaders of churches in the state, while a meeting with the traditional rulers will hold tomorrow, Tuesday, over the spread of the Ebola virus in the state.

The Associated Press covers another side-effect:

9 African wrestlers barred from worlds championships

The governing body of wrestling says nine athletes cannot compete at the upcoming world championships because of travel restrictions imposed since the Ebola virus outbreak in west Africa.

FILA says the ruling by the Uzbekistan health ministry affects seven wrestlers from Nigeria and two from Sierra Leone.

The decision follows similar travel bans imposed by China and Russia ahead of the recent Youth Olympic Games and judo worlds.

From International Business Times, another border closes:

Saudi Arabia Stops Issuing Visas To Workers From Ebola-Stricken Nations

Saudi Arabia announced Monday it has temporarily stopped granting visas to workers from the countries most ravaged by the Ebola outbreak. The decision follows repeated incidents in the past month that raised fears the hemorrhagic fever could spread to the Middle Eastern nation.

Saudi Arabia’s labor ministry has temporarily stopped issuing visas to laborers from the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Agence France-Presse reported. The three nations have seen the highest death tolls in the current Ebola outbreak, which was first detected in Guinea in March.

The visa ban was described as a “preventative measure,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported. Saudi Arabia had already instituted a ban in April on Muslim pilgrims visiting from the three nations because of concern the disease could spread as thousands of people descend on Mecca for early October’s hajj.

From StarAfrica, a blackout imposed:

Sudan bans reporting on Ebola

The Sudanese authorities have prohibited local media from covering any news related to the Ebola virus.Press sources who asked not to be mentioned for security reasons confirmed to APA on Saturday that the security authorities have circulated warning to all media outlets not to publish any news or articles related to the transmission of the Ebola virus in Sudan.

The prohibition came after local media reported on some suspected cases of Ebola in the west of Sudan.

The Minister of Health Affairs for the Darfur Regional Authority, Firdos Abdel Rahman Yousif denied reports of the deadly Ebola virus disease in El Geneina, capital of West Darfur State.

From New Dawn in Monrovia, another lack:

Ebola Survivors Lack Clothes

Health authorities at the Eternal Love Wins Africa or (ELWA) Hospital have disclosed that Ebola survivors leaving the treatment center do not have clothes to wear. Medical Director Dr. Jerry Brown, said nurses usually dress survivors in veils as they leave the hospital compound due to lack of clothes. Dr. Brown made the disclosure when the Citizens Organized for Transparency and Accountability (COPTA) presented items valued over US$5,000 to the ELWA Isolation Unit 2.

He appealed to well-meaning Liberians and NGOs to assist the unit with clothes for survivors to wear when leaving the hospital. But a non-governmental organization, Smile Liberia International, has promised to provide clothes for survivals returning home. An executive of the group, Ms. Fasiah Harris, said Smile Liberia in collaboration with COPTA will continue to provide needed services for Liberians.

COPTA is a local partner to Smile Liberia International and some Liberians working with the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. The project coordinator Christine Brooks-Jarrett said COPTA is an organization working to ensure a better Liberia in which leaders can be held accountable to the people in the discharge of their services.

National Geographic offers a reminder:

Doctors and Nurses Risk Everything to Fight Ebola in West Africa

  • Foreign and local caregivers are essential to stopping the virus’s deadly spread

In two Land Rovers, one fitted out as an ambulance, a small team of humanitarian workers last week headed deep into Sierra Leone’s jungle. After hours on deeply rutted paths that could barely be called roads, they stopped at a village that had seen ten reported cases of Ebola.

With the consent of the village chief, the team fanned out across the community, asking at each hut if anyone was feeling ill or had made contact with the earlier patients. At one, they found a mother nursing a seven-month-old, even though she had experienced bouts of bloody diarrhea and a fever of 102°F—possible signs of Ebola. A quick conversation revealed that the mother had recently attended the same funeral as the ten patients.

The aid workers knew right away they had to get the woman away from her village. It would improve her chances of recovery, even though those chances hovered at only about 30 percent. And it would protect her baby and husband, and the entire community, because Ebola is easily passed through bodily fluids such as diarrhea, vomit, and blood.

BBC News updates:

British Ebola patient ‘pretty well’

The parents of the first British person to contract Ebola during the outbreak in West Africa say he is recovering well.

William Pooley, 29, has spent the last week in a special isolation unit at Royal Free Hospital in London.

His parents, Robin and Jackie, say they knew he was improving when he ordered a “bacon butty” and praised the “world class” care at the hospital.

More than 1,500 people have died since the outbreak started in Guinea.

From the Wall Street Journal, a clearance:

Stockholm Patient Does Not Have Ebola

But Test Results Awaited on Another Suspected Case in Spain

Tests results have shown that a man who was hospitalized in Sweden on Sunday as a suspected Ebola case isn’t carrying the potentially deadly virus, Stockholm County Council health officials said in a news release on Monday.

An unidentified young man sought treatment for high fever and stomach pains at a local health clinic in Stockholm on Sunday evening.

After medical staff learned that he had recently visited a West African country affected by the Ebola virus, he was transferred to medical isolation at Stockholm’s Karolinska University Hospital.

ABC News initiates:

Human Trial for Ebola Vaccine to Begin This Week

The first human trial for an investigational Ebola vaccine is set to begin this week.

The ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa prompted the National Institutes of Health to expedite safety testing for several vaccines already in the works. Since March, the deadly virus has killed 1,552 people, according to the World Health Organization, which predicted last week that the virus could infect 20,000 people in the next six months.

An Ebola vaccine is different from the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp, which two Americans received last month and is designed to treat an existing Ebola infection rather than prevent one.

“There is an urgent need for a protective Ebola vaccine, and it is important to establish that a vaccine is safe and spurs the immune system to react in a way necessary to protect against infection,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement.

From StarAfrica, getting ready:

Malawi MPs to table Ebola preparedness

Members of the Malawi Parliament are expected to discuss and look at the country’s preparedness for containing the Ebola disease which is rampaging across West Africa.Parliament’s Health Committee Chairperson Juliana Lunguzi said on Monday in Lilongwe that the parliamentarians need to look at measures which government through the Ministry of Health have put in place to prepare for any eventuality.

“We need to know what has been put in place as a country in terms of preventive measures in entry points, border districts and capacity-building for caregivers” she declared.

She said that Malawi needs to be alert because the disease is gradually spreading across the borders of the region.

Reuters notes the obvious but often uncommented upon:

Poor response to Ebola causing needless deaths: World Bank head

The world’s “disastrously inadequate response” to West Africa’s Ebola outbreak means many people are dying needlessly, the head of the World Bank said on Monday, as Nigeria confirmed another case of the virus.

In a newspaper editorial, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said Western healthcare facilities would easily be able to contain the disease, and urged wealthy nations to share the knowledge and resources to help African countries tackle it.

“The crisis we are watching unfold derives less from the virus itself and more from deadly and misinformed biases that have led to a disastrously inadequate response to the outbreak,” Kim wrote in the Washington Post.

Off to another continue and the update on another outbreak via the Asahi Shimbun:

19 new cases of dengue fever reported

Health ministry officials on Sept. 1 confirmed 19 new cases of dengue fever, bringing the total to 22 in a country that had not seen domestic infections of the disease for about 70 years.

The disease was found in individuals living in Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, Ibaraki, Kanagawa and Niigata prefectures. None of the patients has ever been abroad, but all had recently visited Yoyogi Park in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.

Officials said the outbreak was likely caused by mosquitoes carrying the virus in the vicinity of the park.

We begin today’s water woes with the South China Morning Post:

Toxic waste mountains threaten Southeast Asia’s booming megacities

From Jakarta’s Bantar Gebang dump to Manila’s “smoky mountain”, open landfills blight Southeast Asia’s booming megacities, as urban planners labour to keep pace with rapid urbanisation and industrial growth.

Experts warn those dumps are an environmental and health time bomb.

Open dumping “offers a quick and easy solution in the short run”, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific says in a study, warning of severe environmental problems and long-term health issues caused by contaminated water and land.

Of Thailand’s 2,500 open rubbish pits, just a fifth are properly managed, according to its Pollution Control Department. The rest are at the mercy of illegal dumping – including of hazardous waste – fires and seepage into nearby land and water systems.

TheLocal.de covers a warm water invader up north:

Vacationer killed by Baltic Sea bacteria

  • Six people were infected with a bacteria from the Caribbean which has made itself at home in the popular German vacation destination. One of them is now in a coma.

The bacterium, Vibrio vulnificus, is found in parts of the Baltic Sea and other regions of the world, though most-concentrated in the Gulf of Mexico. It spreads best in brackish waters with temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius.

“This could be found anywhere as long as the conditions are right,” Dr. Heiko Will, the first director of State Office of Health and Welfare (LAGuS) of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, told The Local. “It is just as prevalent in Denmark, Poland, and all along the German coast.”

The victim had been holidaying on the island of Usedom at the end of July, according (LAGuS). He passed away at the beginning of August.  Another pensioner has been in a coma for three weeks and there is a possibility he will lose a leg. He went swimming near Ahrenshoop with a small open wound on his leg. He went to the hospital after noticing on the drive home that his leg had turned blue. Doctors diagnosed blood poisoning caused by Vibrio vulnificus.

From Al Jazeera America, another invader off the Golden State:

On Calif. coast, biotoxins cause deadly sea lion seizures, seafood scare

  • An outbreak of algae-produced biotoxins that attack animals’?? brains also poses a grave risk to humans

The culprit? Domoic acid, a deadly neurotoxin produced by algae, that appeared at record high levels along California’s Central Coast this spring and summer, closing fisheries and taking the lives of many marine mammals. But toxic algae isn’t just limited to California– this summer various toxic blooms have poisoned coastlines across America, including Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico.

While the algae in Monterey, produced by the Pseudo-nitzschia genus of phytoplankton, are a common occurrence along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and around the world, its production of domoic acid is not.

First discovered in 1987 when 107 people on Prince Edward Island fell ill after eating mussels harboring domoic acid, the algae occasionally produce this deadly toxin, which scientists believe is triggered by changing ocean conditions and surges of nitrogen into bodies of water.

Another California water woe from the University of California Newsroom:

Drying Sierra meadows could worsen California drought

Carpeting the high valleys of Yosemite and other parts of the Sierra Nevada, mountain meadows are more than an iconic part of the California landscape. The roughly 17,000 high altitude meadows help regulate the release of Sierra snow melt into rivers and streams.

But climate change and California’s severe drought threaten to permanently alter these fragile and important ecosystems, according to research by Chelsea Arnold, who was awarded a doctorate in environmental systems from UC Merced in May. Her findings reveal that soil changes already are taking place that could have long-term implications for California’s water supply.
Impact of extreme weather

Arnold’s research found that meadows in the Central Sierra near Yosemite are drying out as a result of several years of unusual variation in climate and snowfall.

“What we’re seeing is that all kinds of extreme weather, including one dry winter like the one we just had, can totally change the structure of the soil,” Arnold said. “Part of that is an irreversible change.”

Under normal conditions, a mountain meadow acts like a sponge. Organic material in the soil allows the meadow to hold water, which is filtered and slowly released to mountain streams. Samples collected by Arnold and her colleagues found that the larger pores which trap and hold moisture are disappearing, to be replaced with smaller, more compact pores through which water doesn’t easily flow.

As meadows dry out, flooding in wet years is likely to increase. And in drought years, parched meadows could result in less snowmelt reaching streams, exacerbating the state’s already precarious water situation.

And another from the New York Times:

Desperately Dry California Tries to Curb Private Drilling for Water

California’s vicious, prolonged drought, which has radically curtailed most natural surface water supplies, is making farmers look deeper and deeper underground to slake their thirst. This means the drought is a short-term bonanza for firms like Arthur & Orum, which expects to gross as much as $3 million this year.

But in a drought as long and severe as the current one, over-reliance on groundwater means that land sinks, old wells go dry, and saltwater invades coastal aquifers. Aquifers are natural savings accounts, a place to go when the streams run dry. Exhaust them, and the $45 billion annual agricultural economy will take a severe hit, while small towns run dry.

Yet for a century, farmers believed that the law put control of groundwater in the hands of landowners, who could drill as many wells as deeply as they wanted, and court challenges were few.

That just changed. The California Legislature, in its closing hours on Friday, passed new and sweeping groundwater controls. The measures do not eliminate private ownership, but they do establish a framework for managing withdrawals through local agencies.

After jump, water woes in Mexico, ice caps on both poles in epic retreat, a decade-long drought looms in the American Southwest, Mediterranean tsunami dangers, Japanese dolphin slaughter, branding environmentalists as terrorists, volcanic eruptions in both hemisphere, a species extinction commemorated, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water woes, and nukes


First up, sobering news from Science:

Disease modelers project a rapidly rising toll from Ebola

Alessandro Vespignani hopes that his latest work will turn out to be wrong. In July, the physicist from Northeastern University in Boston started modeling how the deadly Ebola virus may spread in West Africa. Extrapolating existing trends, the number of the sick and dying mounts rapidly from the current toll—more than 3000 cases and 1500 deaths—to around 10,000 cases by September 24, and hundreds of thousands in the months after that. “The numbers are really scary,” he says—although he stresses that the model assumes control efforts aren’t stepped up. “We all hope to see this NOT happening,” Vespigani writes in an e-mail.

Vespignani is not the only one trying to predict how the unprecedented outbreak will progress. Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that the number of cases could ultimately exceed 20,000. And scientists across the world are scrambling to create computer models that accurately describe the spread of the deadly virus. Not all of them look quite as bleak as Vespignani’s. But the modelers all agree that current efforts to control the epidemic are not enough to stop the deadly pathogen in its tracks.

The accompanying graphic:

BLOG Ebola

From the Associated Press, a four-alarm alaert

WHO: Senegal Ebola case ‘a top priority emergency’

The effort to contain Ebola in Senegal is “a top priority emergency,” the World Health Organization said Sunday, as the government continued tracing everyone who came in contact with a Guinean student who has tested positive for the deadly disease in the capital, Dakar.

Senegal faces an “urgent need” for support and supplies including hygiene kits and personal protective equipment for health workers, the WHO said in a statement Sunday.

“These needs will be met with the fastest possible speed,” the WHO said.

Reuters reports a strike by those most vulnerable to infection:

Health workers strike at Sierra Leone Ebola hospital

Health workers have gone on strike at a major state-run Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone, over pay and poor working conditions, hospital staff told Reuters on Saturday.

Sierra Leone’s government is struggling to cope with the worst Ebola outbreak in history, that has killed more than 1,550 people across West Africa, with the rate of infection still rising.

“The workers decided to stop working because we have not been paid our allowances and we lack some tools,” said Ishmael Mehemoh, chief supervisor at the clinic in the city of Kenema, in the country’s east.

Clothing to protect health workers being infected is inadequate and there is only one broken stretcher which is used to carry both patients and corpses, Mehemoh added.

The Independent sounds an urban alert:

Ebola virus: It’s ripped through towns – now the deadliest ever outbreak of the virus is heading for Africa’s cities

Ebola is now spreading from the remote provinces and into the teeming cities such as Freetown, where 1.2 million people jostle for space. Previous outbreaks had been limited to remote vil-lages, where containment was aided by geography. The thought of Ebola taking hold in a major city such as Freetown or Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, is a virological nightmare. Last week, the World Health Organization warned that the number of cases could hit 20,000 in West Africa.

“We have never had this kind of experience with Ebola before,” David Nabarro, coordinator of the new U.N. Ebola effort, said as he toured Freetown last week. “When it gets into the cities, then it takes on another dimension.”

The hemorrhagic fever has no cure. Odds of survival stand at about 50-50. Detection is difficult because early symptoms are hard to distinguish from those of malaria or typhoid, common ailments during the rainy season. While Ebola is not transmitted through the air like the flu, it does spread by close contact with bodily fluids such as blood, saliva and sweat — even something as innocent as a tainted tear.

From the New Dawn in Monrovia, Liberia:

Liberia: Dogs Feed On Ebola Victims

The residents of the Mount Barclay Community within the Johnsonville Township, outside of Monrovia woke up on last Friday morning in total dismay when the remains of dead Ebola victims were reportedly seen, eaten by dogs, something reminiscent of the brutal civil war here, when dogs ate dead bodies on the streets.

The Liberian Government, through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, buried some unaccounted-for corpses, suspected to have died from the Ebola Virus in that township few weeks ago.

The burial was done in a hurry at night following a standoff in the day between residence and the Ministry of Health burial team. The former had refused to grant the authority a piece of land to carry out the burial. The dogs, in their numbers, were seen pulling the bodies out of the shadowed grave and hastily eating them.

TheLocal.no sounds a Nordic Ebola alert:

Ebola threat to Norway: Sweden fears first case

  • Sweden has confirmed a suspected case of Ebola on Sunday, making it possibly the first Nordic case of the virus.

A hospital in Stockholm is investigating a possible case of Ebola, reported NTB.

A man who recently travelled to a “risk area” for the virus was taken to Karolinska University Hospital in the Swedish capital suffering from a fever. He is being treated in an isolation unit.

Åke Örtqvist, doctor at the infectious disease unit at Karolinska hospital, said to Aftonbladet: “The risk is minimal of it being Ebola, but we handle all such cases in seriously. We have a high level of safety to ensure we don’t overlook a possible case of contamination.”

From The Hill, a political call:

US should do more to contain Ebola outbreak, Sen. McCain says

The U.S. should do more, including possibly dispatching military assets, to combat the Ebola outbreak roiling at least five African nations, according to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

“All of us would like to see the United States more involved,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We have [U.S. Navy] hospital ships because they can move from one place to another.”

Senegal on Friday became the fifth country to confirm a case of the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) last week said there have been more than 3,000 cases of the disease reported so far in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.

Motherboard explains:

How the Ebola Virus Jams Immune System Signals and Kills

The largest Ebola outbreak in history has been making headlines for months. Health officials and government leaders from West Africa and well beyond have been left perpetually scrambling to get ahead of a disease still boasting a mortality rate near 50 percent. The current confirmed death toll: 1,552.

Researchers based at Washington University School of Medicine, however, have figured out how Ebola manages to be so uniquely deadly in humans, by mapping out in detail how one Ebola virus protein interacts with a protein integral to human immune systems. This is good news because deep knowledge of the ins and outs and intricacies of Ebola makes finding a cure and vaccine for the virus all that much easier.

Scientists have known for a while that this one particular Ebola protein was messing with our human one, but were unsure of these exact specifics, published this month in the open-access journal Cell Host & Microbe.

On to Asia and another disease outbreak from NewsOnJapan:

3 more people suspected of contracting dengue fever within Japan

Three more people are believed to have contracted dengue fever and all of whom recently spent time in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park, government authorities said Sunday, raising to six the number of confirmed or suspected cases of domestic infection, the first in Japan since 1945.

The three new cases of infection by the mosquito-borne disease involve a boy from Niigata Prefecture, and a girl and man from Kanagawa Prefecture, all of whom recently visited the popular park in central Tokyo.

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases is examining other suspected cases involving people who have visited the same Tokyo park recently, with plans to announce the results of those tests as soon as known, possibly on Monday afternoon, health ministry officials said.

And from Nature, a domestic alert:

US government labs plan biohazard-safety sweep

The discovery of smallpox in a refrigerator at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, on 9 July has apparently sparked some soul searching in the US government. On 27 August, the NIH designated September as National Biosafety Stewardship Month, encouraging researchers to take inventory of their freezers for potentially dangerous agents such as pathogens and toxins, and review their biosafety protocols. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) did the same in a memo released to the public on 28 August, suggesting “a government-wide ‘safety stand-down,’” and “strongly urging” both federal agencies and independent labs to complete these steps within the month.

Although the OSTP does not have the regulatory power to enforce inspections, documents obtained exclusively by Nature show that some government agencies are already starting strict surveillance of their labs. In July, the NIH began scouring its own facilities for any misplaced hazards. Its rigorous strategy, obtained through public-records request, requires laboratories at all of its campuses — whether they work with infectious diseases or not — to survey their vials and boxes for potentially dangerous pathogens, venoms, toxins and other agents.  The scientific directors of each NIH institute have until 30 September to submit affidavits confirming that this has been completed by the laboratories in their institutes.

Next up, the Reykjavík Grapevine covers an eruption:

Holuhraun Volcano Erupts Again

  • An eruption has commenced at Holuhraun again, replete with magma plumes some 60 metres tall.

RÚV reports that an eruption has re-opened at Holuhraun, just north of Vatnjökull, which began in the early morning hours. As can be seen, this is a lava eruption, and plumes of magma are reportedly reaching heights of up to 60 metres.

This eruption is at the same location as the one which began last Friday, and continued for a few hours, only this time the eruption is 10 to 20 times bigger, volcanologist Ármann Höskuldsson told reporters. The southernmost point of the eruption begins where last Friday’s eruption left off, and extends some 1.5 to 1.8 kilometres northwards.

Civil Protection in Iceland is on alert, although there are as yet no plans to elevate preparations, as the eruption is occurring in an area not considered to put any people or animals in danger.

After the jump, domestic water woes on both coasts, fracking pollution, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Ebola, its origins, and how it spreads


If you are at all interested in the sudden surge of Ebola outbreaks in Africa, then this 28 August lecture at the University of California’s public health school in Berkeley will fill in a lot of gaps in your knowledge.

The speaker is a pediatrician and epidemiologist who was there at the beginning, investigating the first major outbreak in 1976 in the Sudan, where he learned first-hand about the disease and the devastation it brings.

Especially illuminating is his explanation of the reasons behind both the disaster the disease inflicts on the medical staff who care for them, with infected doctors and nurses themselves sparking a surge in new cases.

Also notable are the impacts of contrasting forms of government and traditional burial practices on outbreak containment,

Donald P. Francis serves as executive director of Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases in San Francisco, a global NGO.

Here’s an excerpt from his bio:

An infectious disease trained pediatrician and epidemiologist, Dr. Francis has over 30 years experience in epidemic control and vaccines. He spent 21 years working for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) focusing on vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, cholera, smallpox, and hepatitis B. He directed the WHO’s Smallpox Eradication Program in Sudan and U.P. State in Northern India. His hepatitis B vaccine work included Phase III trials among gay men in the United States and among infants born to carrier mothers in China. Dr. Francis was also a member of the WHO team investigating the world’s first outbreak of Ebola virus in 1976. Dr. Francis has worked on HIV/AIDS since its emergence in 1981.

From UC Berkeley Events:

The 2014 Ebola Outbreak: Update on an Unprecedented Public Health Event

Program note:

Dr. Francis, MD, DSc is the Executive Director at Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases (GSID) in South San Francisco.

Chart of the day: Obama’s non-green thumb


From the Los Angeles Times, the amount of marijuana grown by Uncle Sam for doling out to researchers plunged after the inauguration of Barack Obama, the nation’s first President to ever admit using the stuff [a topic we’ve previously noted:

BLOG Doobie

And to close, from a previous post:

Excerpts from the Washington Post Associate Editor David Maraniss’s book Barack Obama: The Story on our president’s days as a serious Hawaiian pothead and member of the ironically named Choom Gang, via Buzzfeed Politics:

Barry popularized the concept of “roof hits”: when they were chooming in the car all the windows had to be rolled up so no smoke blew out and went to waste; when the pot was gone, they tilted their heads back and sucked in the last bit of smoke from the ceiling.

When you were with Barry and his pals, if you exhaled precious pakalolo (Hawaiian slang for marijuana, meaning “numbing tobacco”) instead of absorbing it fully into your lungs, you were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around. “Wasting good bud smoke was not tolerated,” explained one member of the Choom Gang, Tom Topolinski, the Chinese-looking kid with a Polish name who answered to Topo.

 

Sounding the climate alarm: The IPCC report


Sounding the climate alarm: The IPCC report

From The Real News Network, a Sharmini Peries interview with Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University who holds dual appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) as well a serving as director of the university’s Earth System Science Center (ESSC).

http://www.meteo.psu.edu/holocene/public_html/Mann/about/index.php

From The Real News Network:

Forthcoming IPCC Report Calls for Control of Fossil Fuel Consumption

From the transcript:

PERIES: So, Prof. Mann, this report is synthesizing the information already captured in previous IPCC reports. But can you break down the key findings that has been sent to governments?

MANN: Sure thing. So in a sense there are no surprises, because we know what material is in this report. It’s a summary of the three working group reports that have already appeared, the report on the basic science of climate change, which was followed by the Working Group II Report on climate change impacts, and then there was the Working Group III report, Mitigation, how we can solve this problem. This is the synthesis report. So it brings it all together. And if there is one word or one sort of assessment that I think summarizes what this report has to say, it’s that we really need to get working on this problem now. We don’t have time to waste. We really need to act now if we are going to protect ourselves against what can reasonably be described as truly dangerous and potentially irreversible changes in our climate.

PERIES: What do you think IPCC expects from the warning sent to the governments?

MANN: Well, what’s interesting is that the IPCC, it’s a very conservative organization, because it’s literally made up of hundreds and hundreds of scientists from around the world, experts in various aspects of the science of climate change. And because of that, it represents sort of a scientific lowest common denominator. The report reflects a very conservative viewpoint that can be shared by essentially all of the scientists contributing to the report, who have various views, various findings. So by their nature, the IPCC reports tend to be conservative. In many cases, the IPCC projections, for example, have actually underestimated the rate of climate change that has actually occurred subsequently. And we see that, for example, with the dramatic decrease in Arctic Sea ice. It’s happening faster than the IPCC said it should. The melting of the ice sheets, it’s happening faster than the IPCC said it should.

So what’s particularly interesting, I think, about this latest synthesis report is the stark terms in which the IPCC, a very conservative body, a very staid body, the very stark terms in which they lay out the problem, essentially saying, look, there’s no question the globe is warming, our climate is changing, it’s due to human activity, and if we don’t do something about it, it’s going to be a real problem. It’s already a problem. We are already seeing damages, in many cases way ahead of schedule.

What is interesting about the report as well is that it also makes it quite clear that it is still relatively inexpensive to solve this problem. If we act now, if we bring our fossil fuel emissions down by several percent a year, which is doable, if we scale up renewable green energy to the point where we can meet growing energy demand through less and less fossil fuel based energy, then we can stabilize global warming below levels that are truly dangerous and potentially irreversible. And it would be fairly inexpensive to do so, because we can actually undergo that transition, we can get that transition underway, we can scale up renewable energy, so that in a matter of decades it meets 80, 90, maybe close to 100 percent of our energy needs.

The problem is if we defer that, if we wait to lower our emissions. Then that means we are going to have to make far more austere cuts in carbon emissions in the future. And that’ll be much more expensive economically, and we will have basically entered into a regime where the cost of inaction, the deferred maintenance, the problems that we will begin to see because we didn’t act on the climate change problem in time, will become far more expensive than any measures necessary to mitigate the problem.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, toxins & nukes


Today’s compendium of headlines about the relationship between Homo sapiens and Planet Earth opens, as usual these days, with the latest of the Ebola front, first with a three-alarm screamer from News Corp Australia:

Peter Piot says ‘perfect storm’ has allowed Ebola to spread in West Africa

PETER Piot, the Belgian scientist who co-discovered the Ebola virus in 1976, on Tuesday said a “perfect storm” in West Africa had given the disease a chance to spread unchecked.

“We have never seen an (Ebola) epidemic on this scale,” Piot was quoted by the French daily paper Liberation as saying. “In the last six months, we have been witnessing what can be described as a ‘perfect storm’ — everything is there for it to snowball,” he said.

The epidemic “is exploding in countries where health services are not functioning, ravaged by decades of civil war.”

The Associated Press raises another alarm:

Ebola has ‘upper hand,’ says US official

The Ebola virus may have the “upper hand” in an outbreak that has killed more than 1,400 people in West Africa but experts can stop the virus’ spread, a top American health official said at the start of his visit to the hardest-hit countries.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was in Liberia on Tuesday, and later plans to stop in Sierra Leone and Guinea. Nigeria also has recorded cases, but officials there have expressed optimism that its spread can be controlled.

“Lots of hard work is happening, lots of good things are happening,” Frieden told a meeting attended by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday. “But the virus still has the upper hand.”

Nikkei Asian Review covers economic impacts:

Ebola crisis starting to affect economies across Africa

The worst-ever Ebola outbreak is hurting not just the countries in West Africa where the disease has been found, but the entire continent.

Neighboring countries have banned their citizens from traveling to the Ebola-stricken countries. Some international airlines have suspended some flights. And many countries on other continents have become wary about any travel to Africa, even if it is to countries far away from those with outbreaks.

All this could hurt future business investment in the continent, as disease experts say it will take considerable time to bring an end to the current Ebola outbreak.

Reuters covers the aid front:

WHO says sending supplies for Ebola outbreak in Congo

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday it has sent protective equipment for medical staff to Democratic Republic of Congo, where authorities have confirmed two cases of Ebola in a remote area.

“The ministry of health has declared an outbreak and we are treating it as such,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in Geneva in response to a query.

The current Ebola epidemic, which has killed at least 1,427 people, has focused on Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone with several cases also in Nigeria.

And from Quartz, compounding tragedy:

African survivors of Ebola have to deal with stigma, too

West Africa is still reeling from the worst-ever Ebola epidemic: at least 2,615 people have contracted the virus, and 1,427 have died from it. And while the Westerners who are being repatriated and treated at home are saluted as heroes, many African survivors are met with skepticism and face stigma in their own communities.

Displaying reactions that recall the AIDS epidemics, people are afraid of touching Ebola survivors. As Liberian doctor Melvin Korkor—who contracted Ebola while tending to patients and subsequently recovered from it—says that on his return on Cuttington University campus, where he teaches, he was only greeted from a distance. FrontPage Africa reports that students were afraid he may still be contagious:

“We want to hug our doctor, but fear we would come in contact with the virus [...] I will greet him from a distance.”

“I am happy doctor Korkor has returned, but I am totally not convinced he is Ebola-free. I will shake his hands after 21 days.”

Next, an African Ebola  video report from Down Under, with SBS Dateline via Journeyman Pictures:

Ebola Outbreak Becomes International Health Emergency

Program notes:

Ebola’s Epicentre: As the DRC becomes the latest country to be hit by Ebola, the situation at the outbreak’s epicentre in Sierra Leone is increasingly desperate.

The Ebola outbreak is claiming around a hundred victims a week and spreading fast. With the death toll rising daily, we head to the heart of the crisis to reveal the human tragedy behind the headlines.

“I’m doing the right thing, but people are ungrateful for my efforts. People are afraid of me”, says a ‘dead body worker’. He is one of many locals helping foreign NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontieres, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders to tackle the ebola epidemic. Yet it is a scramble to contain and treat the virus in makeshift facilities and as they desperately try to get control of this killer disease, locals remain suspicious. “They were claiming we were taking parts of the corpse to do rituals.” At a government hospital in Kenema a dirty ebola screening tent sits alongside a maternity ward. As chaos reigns, patients are free to wander in and out. Over 20 nurses have died at the contaminated hospital; one doctor warns, “don’t touch the walls”. Volunteers are travelling across Sierra Leone’s vastly dispersed population to educate communities in rural areas about the symptoms and prevention methods. “We have these charts which we use to display to the people and tell them what to do and what not to do.” Yet fear and distrust are spreading as fast as the virus. As one villager says simply, “We are totally afraid. This is the main point”.

The London Telegraph offers yet another fortunate European story:

British Ebola sufferer William Pooley given experimental drug ZMapp and sitting up in bed

  • William Pooley being given the same drug that was credited with saving the lives of two American missionaries

The British Ebola sufferer William Pooley is being given the experimental drug ZMapp and is sitting up, talking and reading in his hospital bed, his doctors have revealed.

Mr Pooley, 29, is being given the same drug that was credited with saving the lives of two American missionaries earlier this month and was described today as a “resilient and remarkable young man”.

It had been thought that supplies of ZMapp had run out, but doctors at the Royal Free Hospital managed to get hold of some from abroad and Mr Pooley was given the first dose on Monday. Further doses are expected to be given to him “in due course”.

From TheLocal.it, ditto:

Italian woman cleared of Ebola in Turkey

An Italian woman who was hospitalized in Turkey last week does not have the deadly Ebola virus and will return home soon, Italian media has reported.

The Italian woman became ill on a flight to Turkey’s Istanbul Ataturk Airport on Friday and was taken to hospital for tests.

She has now been cleared of the Ebola virus, which as of Friday had killed an estimated 1,427 people in West Africa. The Italian woman has also been cleared of malaria, Tgcom24 said.

While The Hill covers the American political front:

Pryor cites Ebola scare to attack Cotton

A new ad from Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) cites the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to hit GOP opponent Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) for cuts to medical and emergency programs.

The 30-second spot opens with news reports of the current outbreak, the worst in the history of the disease. The ad accuses Cotton of voting against preparedness measures that could help prevent the virus from spreading to the U.S.

“Congressman Cotton voted to cut billions from our nation’s medical disaster and emergency programs,” says a narrator. “Instead Cotton voted for tax cuts for billionaires funding his campaign,” adds another voice.

On to another virus and another continent with South China Morning Post:

Number of new HIV cases in Hong Kong set to reach record high for fourth year running

  • Government consultant warns number could pass 600 this year for the first time

The number of new cases of HIV infections in Hong Kong is set to hit a record high for the fourth year running, says a government consultant who predicts this year’s figure could pass 600.

Some 304 new cases were diagnosed in the first half of this year, well up on the 262 new cases reported in the same period last year.

“It is worrying. It is likely that the annual figure will surge past 600, which will be the highest figure in Hong Kong history,” Dr Wong Ka-hing, a Department of Health consultant, said on Tuesday.

The accompanying graphic:

BLOG AIDS

And from the New York Times, back to Africa:

AIDS Progress in South Africa Is in Peril

Though few Americans or even South Africans realize it, the nation owes much of its success to a single United States program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or Pepfar, started in 2003 under President George W. Bush. It has poured more than $3 billion into South Africa, largely for training doctors, building clinics and laboratories, and buying drugs.

Now that aid pipeline is drying up as the program shifts its limited budget to poorer countries, so the South African government must find hundreds of millions of dollars, even as its national caseload grows rapidly.

The country has six million infected and 370,000 new infections a year. That is seven times as many new infections as in the United States, which has six times the population. Condom use is dropping, according to a new survey, and teenage girls are becoming infected at alarming rates.

Next up, water woes, first via the Associated Press:

Drought leaves California homes without water

Hundreds of rural San Joaquin Valley residents no longer can get drinking water from their home faucets because California’s extreme drought has dried up their individual wells, government officials and community groups said.

The situation has become so dire that the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services had 12-gallon-per person rations of bottled water delivered on Friday in East Porterville, where at least 182 of the 1,400 households have reported having no or not enough water, according to the Porterville Recorder (http://bit.ly/1rsgwsZ ).

Many people in the unincorporated community about 52 miles north of Bakersfield also have been relying on a county-supplied 5,000-gallon water tank filled with non-potable water for bathing and flushing toilets, The Recorder said.

Motherboard offers a grim prognosis:

There’s a Good Chance the Southwest Will See a 35-Year Megadrought This Century

This probably isn’t what residents of the parched American Southwest want to hear right now, but there’s a good chance that the region is headed for a decades-long megadrought.

As if climatologists’ forecasts for a warming world weren’t dire enough, a new paper published in the American Meteorological Society concludes that current climate models “underestimate the risk of future persistent droughts.”

The study, spearheaded by Cornell’s Toby R. Ault, suggests that there is an 80 percent chance the region will be hit with a decade-long drought by the end of the century, a 20-50 percent chance it will weather a 35 year megadrought, and that the prospect of a severe dry spell afflicting the region for half a century is, I quote, “non-negligible.”

While the Guardian covers water woes in Old Blighty:

Abandoned landfills polluting UK rivers, research finds

  • More than 27 tonnes of ammonium leaches from an Oxford wetland into the River Thames every year, reports the Natural Environment Research Council

Abandoned landfill sites throughout the UK routinely leach polluting chemicals into rivers, say scientists.

At Port Meadow, on the outskirts of Oxford, about 27.5 tonnes of ammonium a year find way from landfill into the River Thames. The researchers say it could be happening at thousands of sites around the UK.

In water, ammonium breaks down into nitrogen. The extra nitrogen can trigger excessive plant growth and decay, damaging water quality and starving fish and other aquatic organisms of the oxygen they need to survive.

And ditto from Down Under with RT:

Danger to food chain? Microplastic contaminates found in Sydney Harbor

Scientists in the first study of its kind have found microplastic contamination at the bottom of Sydney Harbor, which may pose a threat to the food chain, Australian media reported.

The research by the Sydney Institute of Marine Science tested 27 sites across the harbor, with researchers finding up to 60 microplastics per 100 milligrams of sediment. This was a higher volume than expected even in the cleanest and best-flushed reaches.

Microplastics are tiny fragments and threads of plastic, which are less than five millimeters long. Professor Emma Johnston from the Sydney Institute, who leads the study, told ABC Australia microplastics represent the “emergence of a new contamination in our harbors.”

After the jump, a call for old school ag, sacrificing grain for oil, mercury troubles, Mexican mining anxieties, Icelandic eruption, California nuclear opposition, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

From the Hubble telescope: The Cone Nebula


BLOG Nebula

Via NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day:

The Cone Nebula from Hubble
Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA Processing & Licence: Judy Schmidt Explanation: Stars are forming in the gigantic dust pillar called the Cone Nebula. Cones, pillars, and majestic flowing shapes abound in stellar nurseries where natal clouds of gas and dust are buffeted by energetic winds from newborn stars. The Cone Nebula, a well-known example, lies within the bright galactic star-forming region NGC 2264. The Cone was captured in unprecedented detail in this close-up composite of several observations from the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. While the Cone Nebula, about 2,500 light-years away in Monoceros, is around 7 light-years long, the region pictured here surrounding the cone’s blunted head is a mere 2.5 light-years across. In our neck of the galaxy that distance is just over half way from the Sun to its nearest stellar neighbor, the Alpha Centauri star system. The massive star NGC 2264 IRS, seen by Hubble’s infrared camera in 1997, is the likely source of the wind sculpting the Cone Nebula and lies off the top of the image. The Cone Nebula‘s reddish veil is produced by glowing hydrogen gas.