Category Archives: Science

From ABC Australia: Earth on fire


A chilling documentary from ABC Australia [itself the target of fossil-fuel addicted neoliberal Aussie ire and pending major budget cuts], this July documentary presents a chilling [er, scorching] vision of the future, in which vast fires sweep across landscapes around the globe.

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Catalyst – Earth of Fire

From the transcript:

NARRATION: Earth is the only planet in our solar system that burns … and there’s one main reason why. Plants.

Since they first evolved more than 400 million years ago, land plants have changed the world, from the soil to the atmosphere.

Even the origin of fire is tied to the origin of plants. Fire couldn’t exist here until the fuel and oxygen from land plants made this planet flammable. So for nearly half a billion years, the Earth has been in flames. In turn, fire shapes the patterns of life, the climate, and ultimately, our own survival. But fire is changing.

Over the past decade, every forested continent has seen an alarming surge in large, uncontrollable fires. Mega-fires.

Prof David Bowman: The sort of metaphoric equivalent of an atomic bomb, that’s what a mega fire is, it’s muscular, it’s mean, it’s big, it’s aggressive.

Prof Tom Swetnam: Really fast burning fires. And their local intensity is just amazing.… these are extraordinary fire events.

NARRATION: So extraordinary, they demolish the very ecosystems that have thrived with fire for millennia.

Anja Taylor: Here in the Southwest US, the fires have become so large and so intense that whole forests are transforming into entirely different landscapes.

NARRATION: No longer can we count on what we thought we knew about fire.

Mark Horstman: In Australia, catastrophic megafires are tearing landscapes apart. It means we all have to rethink how to live on this flammable continent.

Image of the day: The colors of light from space


From NASA Earth Observatory:

BLOG Lux

Explanation:

The Many Colors of Electric Lights

As anyone who has stood in a hardware store knows, light bulbs come in a wide range of types and colors. Incandescent bulbs have a warm glow similar to sunlight, while more energy efficient gas-discharge bulbs come in a variety of shades.

Some of the differences in artificial lighting are visible in photographs taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. For instance, several distinct colors of electric light are visible in this image of the Tsushima Strait, the shallow body of water that separates southern Japan and South Korea. A member of the Expedition 37 crew took this photograph on October 11, 2013.

A cluster of fishing boats is the source of the bluish light near the center of the image. The fisherman are likely luring Todarodes pacificus—a species known as the Japanese flying squid—to the surface with bright xenon bulbs. The city lights on the Korean side of the strait tend to have an orange glow, while those on the Japanese side are greener. The difference is related to the distribution of mercury vapor, metal halide, and high-pressure sodium lamps—the bulb types most often used for street and outdoor lightning. Mercury vapor lights tend to be green, high-pressure sodium is orange, and metal-halide lamps are bright white.

Astronaut photograph ISS037-E-12066 was acquired on October 11, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 50 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 37 crew. It has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Adam Voiland.

EbolaWatch: Fear, czar, alarms, meds, Africa


And a whole lot more, given the pace at which the outbreak is moving.

We begin with this from JapanToday:

World fears mount that Ebola battle being lost

The World Bank warned Friday the fight to stop Ebola was being lost, as the U.N. pleaded for more money to combat the escalating epidemic and global travel fears mounted.

As the death toll from the world’s worst-ever outbreak of the virus shot past 4,500, a glimmer of hope came from Senegal, which was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization.

The United States, meanwhile, named an “Ebola czar” to coordinate its response, after criticism of how a Texas hospital handled a Liberian victim, with two nurses who treated him now infected.

And a researcher at British pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline said a vaccine may not be ready for commercial use until late 2016.

“We are losing the battle,” World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim warned, blaming a lack of international solidarity in efforts to stem the epidemic. “Certain countries are only worried about their own borders,” he told reporters in Paris.

And a continuing alarm from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: No impact from pledges of help, MSF says

International pledges of deployments and aid for Africa’s Ebola-hit regions have not yet had any impact on the epidemic, a major medical charity says.

Christopher Stokes of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the disease was still out of control. He said it was “ridiculous” that volunteers working for his charity were bearing the brunt of care in the worst-affected countries.

The disease has killed about 4,500 people so far, mostly in West Africa.

MSF runs about 700 out of the 1,000 beds available in treatment facilities Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The BBC’s Mark Doyle, at the UN Ebola logistics base in Ghana, says it is generally agreed that at least three times that number are needed.

Shanghai Daily covers a concession:

WHO admits it botched response to Ebola outbreak in West Africa

THE World Health Organization has admitted that it botched attempts to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, blaming factors including incompetent staff and a lack of information.

“Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall,” WHO said in a draft internal document, noting that experts should have realized traditional containment methods wouldn’t work in a region with porous borders and broken health systems.

The UN health agency acknowledged that, at times, even its own bureaucracy was a problem. It noted that the heads of WHO country offices in Africa are “politically motivated appointments” made by the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo, who does not answer to the agency’s chief in Geneva, Dr Margaret Chan.

Dr Peter Piot, co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, said WHO acted far too slowly, largely because of its Africa office. “It’s the regional office in Africa that’s the frontline,” he said. “And they didn’t do anything. That office is really not competent.”

Piot also questioned why it took WHO five months and 1,000 deaths before the agency declared Ebola an international health emergency in August.

And Kyodo News covers a summit:

Asian, European leaders pledge at Milan summit to stop Ebola

Asian and European leaders wrapped up a two-day summit Friday, highlighting in the chair’s statement their determination to stop the Ebola virus from spreading.

“The spread of the Ebola virus constitutes a serious threat to global health and security,” the leaders of 51 countries attending the Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, said in the statement released after the 10th biennial summit in Milan, Italy.

“They acknowledged the efforts by ASEM partners in providing aid to affected areas and called for further urgent action and greater national, regional and international collaboration to end the Ebola outbreak in a comprehensive and coordinated manner including an exchange of best practices,” the statement said.

From Britain comes another alarm, this one from the Tory-in-chief, via the London Telegraph:

Ebola is the ‘biggest health threat to our world in a generation’ – David Cameron

  • Prime Minister tells other world leaders to ‘look to their responsibilities’” in fighting ebola as Royal Navy sets sail for West Africa

Ebola is the “biggest health problem facing our world in a generation”, David Cameron has said, as he urged foreign leaders to “step forward” with more resources to fight the crisis.

The Prime Minister urged other leaders to “look to their responsibilities” to help tackle the Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa.

Britain, he said, was “leading the way” in providing assistance to the region as he backed a call by United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon for other countries to deliver more funding.

Speaking as he arrived at the Asia Europe summit in Milan, Italy, he said: “This is the biggest health problem facing our world in a generation. It is very likely to affect a number of the countries here today.”

The New York Times crowns a czar:

Ron Klain, Chief of Staff to 2 Vice Presidents, Is Named Ebola Czar

President Obama on Friday named Ron Klain, a seasoned Democratic crisis-response operative and White House veteran, to manage the government’s response to the deadly virus as public anxiety grows over its possible spread.

Mr. Klain, a former chief of staff for Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joseph R. Biden Jr., is known for his ability to handle high-stakes and fast-moving political challenges. He was the lead Democratic lawyer for Mr. Gore during the 2000 election recount, and was later played by Kevin Spacey in the HBO drama “Recount” about the disputed contest.

“Obviously right now, the news is dominated by Ebola, and we’ve got an all-hands-on-deck approach across government to make sure that we’re keeping the American people safe,” Mr. Obama said on Friday at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he was announcing new antifraud measures for government-issued debit cards.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau backgrounds:

Obama’s Ebola czar is a government insider with no medical background

“He is a brilliant strategist and is known for his ability to manage large, complex operations,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs.

But Klain’s lack of medical expertise also drew complaints.

“I think it’s a pretty pathetic gesture to appoint a non-medical person to be in charge of this response, which has already been dangerously futile,” said Richard Amerling, president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and associate clinical professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

“This guy knows nothing about Ebola,” said Robert Murphy, director of the Center for Global Health and a professor of medical and biomedical engineering at Northwestern University. “He’s probably a smart insider political guy. He has no credibility in the field of public health and he has no credibility in Africa, where the Ebola crisis began. . . . I really think that this is a very inappropriate choice.”

From the Guardian, presidential backtracking:

Obama not ruling out travel bans as experts watch for more cases

  • President considers further interventions and appointing crisis leader, while concern grows over infected woman’s air travel

Barack Obama has hinted at possible policy shifts in US efforts to contain Ebola, revealing he is considering fresh leadership to co-ordinate the federal response and is open to implementing travel bans if expert advice on its merits were to shift.

Speaking to reporters at the White House after his second two-hour meeting with advisers in as many days, the president also said extra disease control specialists were being sent to Ohio amid fears that a second nurse infected with the disease may have been contagious for longer than originally suspected.

“It is very important that we are monitoring and tracking anyone who was in close proximity to this second nurse,” said Obama, who earlier spoke with the Ohio governor about sending more experts from the Centers for Disease Control to the Cleveland area.

Others disagree, via the New York Times:

Experts Oppose Ebola Travel Ban, Saying It Would Cut Off Worst-Hit Countries

Fear of Ebola is spreading faster than the disease itself, and the growing paranoia in the United States is fueling calls to impose a travel ban on people coming from the three West African nations struggling with the outbreak.

In a politically tense climate, with the Nov. 4 elections just weeks away, the issue is being supercharged by partisan considerations with prominent Republicans calling for a ban, including John Boehner, the House speaker.

But public health officials say a travel ban would be ineffective and difficult to carry out and would not entirely prevent people in Ebola-hit countries from entering the United States.

Ultimately, health specialists said, a ban would do more harm than good because it would isolate impoverished nations that are barely able to cope with the outbreak, and possibly cut them off from the international aid workers who provide critical help to contain the disease.

Bans legislation tabled from The Hill:

Texas lawmakers to introduce Ebola travel ban legislation

Two Texas Republican lawmakers plan to introduce legislation banning travel between the U.S. and Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa.

The Friday announcement from Reps. Kenny Marchant and Sam Johnson was made the same day the White House disclosed President Obama would appoint Democratic operative Ron Klain to oversee the interagency response to Ebola.

Marchant said the U.S. is “behind the curve” for combatting the spread of the deadly virus and called the pair’s bill, dubbed the Stop Ebola Act, a “proactive approach” to preventing more cases of Ebola in the U.S.

From Science, another surprise Obama move:

U.S. halts funding for new risky virus studies, calls for voluntary moratorium

The White House today stepped into an ongoing debate about controversial virus experiments with a startling announcement: It is halting all federal funding for so-called gain-of-function (GOF) studies that alter a pathogen to make it more transmissible or deadly so that experts can work out a U.S. government-wide policy for weighing the risks. Federal officials are also asking the handful of researchers doing ongoing work in this area to agree to a voluntary moratorium.

The “pause on funding,” a White House blog states, applies to “any new studies … that may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route.” The government also “encourages those currently conducting this type of work—whether federally funded or not—to voluntarily pause their research while risks and benefits are being reassessed.” Research and testing of naturally occurring forms of these pathogens will continue.

An accompanying document describes plans for a two-stage “deliberative process” to determine the risks and benefits of GOF experiments and to develop a U.S. policy for approving new studies. It will begin next week when the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), an advisory group that has not meet for 2 years, convenes on 22 October to begin designing a study to assess the risks and benefits of GOF research. The National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC) and Institute of Medicine (IOM) will also hold a symposium to discuss the scientific issues, then later review the NSABB’s recommendations, which are due within 6 months.

And from the New York Times, the fury:

Amid Assurances on Ebola, Obama Is Said to Seethe

Beneath the calming reassurance that President Obama has repeatedly offered during the Ebola crisis, there is a deepening frustration, even anger, with how the government has handled key elements of the response.

Those frustrations spilled over when Mr. Obama convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate. It was unclear which Ebola patients belonged in which threat categories.

“It’s not tight,” a visibly angry Mr. Obama said of the response, according to people briefed on the meeting. He told aides they needed to get ahead of events and demanded a more hands-on approach, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “He was not satisfied with the response,” a senior official said.

From The Hill, a false alarm in Washington on sensitive ground:

Woman rushed to hospital from Pentagon does not have Ebola

A woman who was rushed to the hospital Friday after vomiting in a Pentagon parking lot has been cleared for Ebola, Arlington Country official Mary Curtius confirmed Friday.

The hospitalization of the woman, whom officials believe had recently traveled to Africa, set off a chain reaction of preventive measures by Pentagon and Arlington County officials.

Pentagon officials confirmed reports that the woman, a civilian, had briefly boarded a bus with Marines on their way to a change-of-command ceremony for the Marine Corps commandant, where Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was expected to be in attendance.

From ABC News 2 in Baltimore, a condition report on America’s first homegrown Ebola patient:

Condition of nurse treated in Maryland for Ebola updated to ‘fair but stable’

The Ebola patient recovering here in Maryland was downgraded to fair condition today.

Nina Pham is a nurse from Dallas. Overnight, she was flown to Frederick Airport and driven to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda.

When Pham left Texas, she was listed in good condition. Now, she’s in fair but stable condition.

And from USA Today, more allegations about the hospital where she contracted the disease:

Dallas nurse blasts her hospital’s Ebola response

Program notes:

A Dallas nurse is coming forward to describe the “extreme chaos” following the death of her hospital’s first Ebola patient. She’s now monitoring herself for Ebola symptoms and worried for her colleagues.

A denial from the Washington Post:

Mexico fails to grant access to cruise ship carrying Texas health worker

The cruise ship carrying a Texas health-care worker who “may have” handled lab specimens from Dallas Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan is headed back to the United States after Mexican authorities failed to grant permission for the ship to dock off the coast of Cozumel, according to a Carnival spokeswoman.

The Carnival Magic had been waiting off the Mexican coast since Friday morning for its scheduled port visit. Mexican authorities still hadn’t given clearance by noon, so the ship continued to its home port of Galveston, Tex., where it was due back on Sunday, according to Carnival.

The health worker, a lab supervisor who has not been named, has shown no symptoms of the disease but remains on board and in voluntary isolation, according to Carnival. “We greatly regret that this situation, which was completely beyond our control, precluded the ship from making its scheduled visit to Cozumel and the resulting disappointment it has caused our guests,” read a statement from Carnival.

From the Los Angeles Times, the American Ebola watch list:

Ebola in the U.S.: 1,000 people under some level of watch

Whether by land, sea or air, the fear of Ebola has been spreading at a pace far faster than the growth in the number of people diagnosed with the disease.

In recent days, the number of people who have been asked to monitor themselves for symptoms has been steadily growing, especially among healthcare workers who were involved in the original treatment of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian who died from Ebola on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

As of Friday, a pool of about 1,000 people are being watched for symptoms, have been asked to monitor themselves or have been urged to check with a counselor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The group includes a handful of people who have been ordered into quarantine, a larger group that is being closely watched with temperatures taken at least daily and a much larger group of travelers who may haven flown on a Frontier Airlines jetliner used at some point by an Ebola patient traveling with a low-grade fever.

The Guardian covers a condolence call:

Ebola: Liberian president phones Dallas mayor about infected nurses

Exclusive: Mike Rawlings said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had said she felt accountable for the situation in the Texan city

The president of Liberia telephoned the mayor of Dallas and apologised for the fact that the Ebola virus had transferred from her country to his city and infected Americans, the mayor said during a conference call with religious leaders in Texas on Friday.

The mayor, Mike Rawlings, said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had said she felt accountable for the situation in the Texan city, where a man who had recently returned from Liberia infected two nurses who treated him before he died, according to two people on the conference call.

“The mayor said that there was a call to him personally, and that the Liberian president had mentioned apologies, and, in his words, a little bit of responsibility that this was even happening,” Rex Howe, a pastor at Scofield Memorial church, told the Guardian.

And right here on San Francisco Bay, via the Oakland Tribune, the nurses who cared for esnl are marching over perceived lack of training and equipment at the same hospital where we lost bladder and prostate to cancer:

Nurses march in Oakland to demand greater safety for treating Ebola

Kaiser Permanente nurses marched Thursday morning in downtown Oakland to call for increased resources and training to treat Ebola patients.

Zenei Cortez, co-president of the California Nurses Association, said nurses are asking for the same kind of safety and training provided to hazardous materials workers who treat Ebola infected homes.

Following recent reports of nurses who became infected with ebola after treating a patient, nurses are asking for hands-on interactive training in how to handle possible Ebola cases, rather than the classroom training Kaiser is currently offering, Cortez said. They want to learn how to safely put on and take off gear, and the protocol to properly dispose of contaminated gear.

And if a hospital gets a patient, nurses want enough staff to be present to monitor the nurses to keep them safe, Cortez said.

The Washington Post covers a surprising case of Ebolaphobia:

Syracuse University disinvites Washington Post photographer because he was in Liberia 3 weeks ago

Washington Post photojournalist Michel du Cille, who returned from covering the Ebola epidemic in Liberia 21 days ago, has been disinvited by Syracuse University from participation in a journalism workshop this weekend.

Du Cille and his wife, Nikki Kahn, both Pulitzer prize-winning Post photojournalists, were scheduled to take part in portfolio reviews and critique sessions at the university’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. The school’s dean, Lorraine Branham, said a student who was researching du Cille prior to the workshop found out he had recently returned from Liberia and expressed concern. Provost Eric Spina spoke with health officials and made the call.

“It’s a disappointment to me,” du Cille said. “I’m pissed off and embarrassed and completely weirded out that a journalism institution that should be seeking out facts and details is basically pandering to hysteria.”

CBC News covers another one:

Ebola outbreak: diagnosis delayed after Air Canada refuses to transport blood sample

  • Lab tests were not completed for more than 24 hours after being collected in Edmonton

Air Canada refused to fly a blood specimen from a patient suspected of Ebola from Edmonton to Winnipeg last weekend, CBC News has learned.

Officials are blaming poor communication and unclear protocols for the delay of more than 24 hours between when the sample was collected in Edmonton and when it finally arrived in Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Lab.

Sources tell CBC News the patient in question came in to the emergency room of an Edmonton-area hospital midday last Saturday.

A British extension from BBC News:

Ebola screening extended to Manchester and Birmingham airports

Passenger screening for Ebola is to be extended to Manchester and Birmingham airports, Public Health England says.

Staff at the two airports will begin checking passengers from at-risk countries after it is introduced at Gatwick and Eurostar next week.

Screening of arrivals from West Africa, where 4,500 have died in the outbreak, started at Heathrow on Tuesday.

And the Russian screens are nearly up, via RT:

Russian govt orders extra airport facilities to prevent Ebola

Airports in Russia will be equipped with extra facilities to prevent the Ebola virus from spreading, the government’s press service reported on Friday. Over a thousand African students are already under special medical control.

Cabinet discussed the Ebola outbreak with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday. As the result of the meeting, Russian airports will soon receive special equipment to be installed, to prevent any possible spread of the deadly virus in the country.

According to press service, Russia’s top officials also discussed the vaccine development and medicine for extreme preventive care. Head of Russia’s Rospotrebnadzor health watchdog reported on the work of its special team in Guinea.

After jump, a Canadian vaccine heads for trials, a production push [assisted by Bill Gates] for another drug, a stark prognosis for India, false alarms in Costa Rica and Spain, on to Africa and a celebrity video campaign, a grim food warning for the hot zone, a Rwandan medical assist, East Africa promises medics and money, more Latin American assistance promised, medical staff recruitment problems remain, hot zone religious succor sought, South Sudan takes precautions, WHO outlines plans for African countries thus far spared, the plight of hot zone children, athletes stigmatized, on to Liberia and a stricken family, American/Liberian military bonding as the opening all promised treatment centers is delayed, numbers for one treatment unit, and heightened political divisions. . . Continue reading

Celestial arrivals, both ancient and new


Two remarkable celestial encounters to cover, the first a sight that we see today as it existed a very long time ago, the other very close and and happening Sunday.

First from the ODN [previously ITN] YouTube channel, and a long time coming:

NASA’s space telescope spots distant galaxy 13 billion light-years away

Program notes:

If you peered through a giant cosmic magnifying glass, you’d be able to spot a tiny, faint galaxy – one of the furthest galaxies ever seen. Spotted by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the object is estimated to be more than 13 billion light-years away. The galaxy measures merely 850 light-years across — 500 times smaller than our Milky Way galaxy — and is estimated to have a mass of only 40 million suns. The Milky Way, in comparison, has a stellar mass of a few hundred billion suns. Report by Claire Lomas.

And a report on that Sunday encounter from NASA Goddard:

Observing Comet Siding Spring at Mars

Program notes:

Follow Comet Siding Spring at #MarsComet

On October 19, Comet Siding Spring will pass within 88,000 miles of Mars – just one third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon! Traveling at 33 miles per second and weighing as much as a small mountain, the comet hails from the outer fringes of our solar system, originating in a region of icy debris known as the Oort cloud.

Comets from the Oort cloud are both ancient and rare. Since this is Comet Siding Spring’s first trip through the inner solar system, scientists are excited to learn more about its composition and the effects of its gas and dust on the Mars upper atmosphere. NASA will be watching closely before, during, and after the flyby with its entire fleet of Mars orbiters and rovers, along with the Hubble Space Telescope and dozens of instruments on Earth. The encounter is certain to teach us more about Oort cloud comets, the Martian atmosphere, and the solar system’s earliest ingredients.

Sugar not only fattens you, it makes you older


In the upcoming election, both Berkeley and San Francisco voters will decide ballot measures to impose a tax on sugared drinks designed as a public health measure to combat obesity and all its attendant ills.

Big Ag is resolutely opposing both measures, and supersizing the fight with millions of dollars earned by fattening us up.

Now a new study from the University of California, San Francisco, adds weight [as it were] to their arguments, exposing yet another medical threat posed by sugar [or high fructose corn syrup, in the case of most commercial soft drinks].

From Newswise:

Sugared Soda Consumption, Cell Aging Associated in New Study

  • UCSF Scientists Find Shorter Telomeres in Immune Cells of Soda Drinkers

Sugar-sweetened soda consumption might promote disease independently from its role in obesity, according to UC San Francisco researchers who found in a new study that drinking sugary drinks was associated with cell aging.

The study revealed that telomeres — the protective units of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes in cells — were shorter in the white blood cells of survey participants who reported drinking more soda. The findings were reported online October 16, 2014 in the American Journal of Public Health.

The length of telomeres within white blood cells — where it can most easily be measured — has previously been associated with human lifespan. Short telomeres also have been associated with the development of chronic diseases of aging, including heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.

“Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence disease development, not only by straining the body’s metabolic control of sugars, but also through accelerated cellular aging of tissues,” said Elissa Epel, PhD, professor of psychiatry at UCSF and senior author of the study.

“This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness,” Epel said. “This finding held regardless of age, race, income and education level. Telomere shortening starts long before disease onset. Further, although we only studied adults here, it is possible that soda consumption is associated with telomere shortening in children, as well.”

EnviroWatch: Drought, critters, crime, nukes


We being with the latest California drought development from the Los Angeles Times:

Amid drought, Mayor Garcetti directs L.A. to cut water use 20% by 2017

Mayor Eric Garcetti on Tuesday challenged Los Angeles residents, businesses and city agencies to cut water use by 20% over the next 21/2 years and warned of new water restrictions if conservation targets aren’t met.

In announcing the plan, Garcetti said the city’s already significant reductions in water use were inadequate given the seriousness of the drought.

“The ongoing drought has created a water crisis second to none. We need bold action,” the mayor said.

From the Guardian, a deadly nexus:

Fossil fuel industry supported by a ‘toxic triangle’ that puts 400 million at risk

  • Political inertia, financial short-termism and vested fossil fuel interests threaten to push up global temperatures, says Oxfam

Political inertia, financial short-termism and vested fossil fuel interests have formed a “toxic triangle” that threatens to push up global temperatures, putting 400 million people at risk of hunger and drought by 2060, Oxfam said on Friday, a week before a European Union summit to finalise a new climate and energy policy framework.

In its Food, Fossil Fuels and Filthy Finance report, Oxfam warned that EU leaders must resist pressure from the fossil fuel industry, which spends at least €44 million (£35m) a year on lobbying the European bloc, and commit to cuts of at least 55% in carbon dioxide emissions, energy savings of at least 40% and an increase in the use of sustainable renewable energy to at least 45% of the energy mix.

EU leaders meet in Brussels on October 23-24 to agree on targets for emissions cuts by 2030, deployment of renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. The meeting comes ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris next year. The leaders are expected to agree an emissions cut target of 40% over 1990 levels, but Oxfam said this would not be enough if Europe was to make a fair contribution to tackling climate change. The European Union emits about 10% of global carbon dioxide.

Another deadly entity from Science:

Deadly virus striking European amphibians

A virus that has slipped into several European countries is alarming herpetologists, as it ravages amphibians. A type of ranavirus (RV) is being blamed for gruesome deaths and declining populations of a wide range of species in the Picos de Europa National Park in northern Spain, according to research published today in Current Biology. “This is the best example to date of RV being a serious threat to amphibian populations,” says Karen Lips of the University of Maryland, College Park, who was not involved in the research.

The virus adds to the woes of the world’s amphibians, which have been declining at a worrying rate. A major culprit, the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has afflicted a wide range of species since it was discovered in 1998. In particular, it has apparently driven many species of frogs extinct in the tropics. The new RV, in contrast, seems to be a problem for temperate species.

Unusual amphibian deaths in the Spanish park were first noticed in 2005. With help from Jaime Bosch of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, park biologists have kept close tabs on six common species of amphibians that live there. They’ve been seeing sick animals with necrotic tissue, open sores, and internal hemorrhages. Some vomit blood. “It’s not a pretty sight,” says Stephen Price, a molecular biologist at University College London.

Bearing arms against bears from the Guardian:

Romanian politician calls for the army to help control bear population

Csaba Borboly has called for military assistance and for culling quotas to be lifted following a spate of cases involving brown bears damaging property in Romania

In the depths of Transylvania, Romania, a war against one of Europe’s largest brown bear populations is looming.

Following a string of cases involving damage to private property from bears in recent months, Csaba Borboly, a senior politician from the Transylvanian region, has called for the army to be brought in. “The [bear] problem needs the involvement of specialised state institutions such as the police, the paramilitary and even the army.”

Borboly’s remarks follow on the heels of a decision made in late September by the Romanian government to raise the bear hunting quota by the largest margin in recent history. The new quota allows for 550 bears to be killed over the next 12 months, up two-thirds from the 2012 quota.

Some good news for a magnificent endangered critter from Punch Nigeria:

Interpol issues arrest warrant for Kenya’s ivory kingpin

International Police Organisation (Interpol) on Thursday issued a warrant to arrest Mombasa businessman Feisal Ali Mohammed, suspected dealer in poaching syndicate in East Africa region.

Interpol has sent out a Red Alert to member countries to assist in the arrest of Feisal, who is wanted for alleged engaging in wildlife trophies trade in Kenya.

Police say Feisal is wanted in connection to last year’s seizure of three tonnes of ivory found in a yard in Tudor in Mombasa. Interpol is expected to send the Red Alert to member countries, notifying officials it is a priority to pass along any information on his whereabouts.

A source within the police indicated that Interpol will increase information exchange, support intelligence analysis and assist national and regional investigations, to apprehend kingpins in wildlife poaching.

Questions about another critter under deep threat from KCST in Seattle:

Is Alaska Safe For Sea Stars?

Program notes:

A deadly disease has been wiping out West Coast starfish for more than a year. One place that has held off the disease the longest is Alaska. Researchers recently traveled there to search for new clues.

“Almost everywhere we’ve looked in the last year, we’ve seen catastrophic losses of sea stars,” says Pete Raimondi, a biology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has been studying an alarming epidemic that’s been killing starfish by the millions.

Raimondi’s team has been tracking the spread of the disease. They noticed signs of the disease in Sitka in the summer of 2013, but there hasn’t been a mass die-off until now. Scientists believe that warming water or an infectious pathogen, like a bacteria or virus, may be to blame, but no one knows for certain.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now! with the Asahi Shimbun:

Plans to remove cover over damaged Fukushima reactor draws concern

Amid local concerns of the further spread of radioactive materials, Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced plans to start dismantling the canopy installed over the destroyed Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant’s No. 1 reactor building.

The operation, announced by TEPCO on Oct. 15, will remove the cover that was erected in October 2011 over the building to prevent radioactive materials from entering the atmosphere.

The structure’s walls and roof were destroyed in a hydrogen explosion that occurred after the plant was struck by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami

The Japan Times covers political resistance:

More answers about Fukushima disaster needed before reactor restarts, Niigata governor says

Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida said Japan should not restart any nuclear plants until the cause of the Fukushima meltdowns is fully understood and nearby communities have emergency plans that can effectively respond to another major disaster.

Izumida, whose prefecture is home to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, said on Wednesday that regulators look at equipment but don’t evaluate local evacuation plans.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to restart two reactors in Kagoshima Prefecture that last month were the first to be approved under stricter safety requirements introduced after the Fukushima disaster started. Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has called the new standard one of the world’s highest.

And from the London Telegraph, Britain’s just-approved nuclear power complex hits a stumbling block:

Hinkley Point nuclear energy deal under investigation by National Audit Office

  • Spending watchdog quietly began probe a year ago, it emerges

The National Audit Office has been quietly investigating the subsidy deal for the proposed Hinkley Point nuclear plant for the past year, it emerged on Thursday.

In recent days both the Labour Party and the Commons Environmental Audit Committee have urged the spending watchdog to examine the deal, which commits consumers to pay up to £17bn in subsidies to developer EDF over a 35-year period.

But the NAO confirmed on Thursday night that an investigation was in fact already well underway. It announced the move in a little-noticed statement on its website on October 21st last year, the day the headline terms of a subsidy contract with the Government were unveiled.

The statement said the watchdog would investigate the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)’s “commercial approach to securing this deal and the proposed terms of the contract” and would “report to Parliament on value for money and the resulting risks which the Department must manage”.

More nuclear questions raised, via Al Jazeera America:

Former workers, whistleblowers shed light on nuclear site safety setbacks

  • Former employees at Hanford, the country’s most contaminated nuclear waste site, discuss its disturbing safety culture

On the banks of the Columbia River, miles of open land sit undeveloped behind barbed wire fences. A handful of mysterious structures dot the landscape, remnants from the early days of the Cold War. Passing by the old Hanford nuclear production complex can feel like a journey into the past.

Known simply as Hanford, workers here produced plutonium for the world’s first atomic bomb and for many of the nation’s current nuclear warheads. The site was first developed in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project and ceased plutonium production nearly 50 years later, leaving behind 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste. Spanning 586 square miles, it is now ground zero for the largest cleanup project in America.

For 27 years, Mike Geffre was part of that effort, working in an area known as the tank farms: 177 massive underground storage tanks, which hold up to 1 million gallons each of the country’s most toxic nuclear waste.

Fracking foe intimidation from the Guardian:

Anti-fracking activist faces fines and jail time in ongoing feud with gas firm

  • Company claims the Pennsylvania woman showed ‘blatant disregard’ for injunction banning her from being near well sites

An oil and gas company is seeking fines and jail time for a peaceful anti-fracking activist in Pennsylvania, according to court documents.

In a motion filed this week, lawyers for Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation, one of the biggest operators in Pennsylvania, asked the Susquehanna County court to find longtime activist Vera Scroggins in contempt of an injunction barring her from areas near its well sites.

The row between Cabot and Scroggins became notorious in environmental and human rights circles after the company sought last year to ban the activist from an area of about 310 sq miles (803 sq km) – or about half the entire county. The scope of that ban was later reduced

Finally, from Science cold [shouldered] fusion:

U.S. fusion plan draws blistering critique

Many U.S. fusion scientists are blasting a report that seeks to map out a 10-year strategic plan for their field, calling it “flawed,” “unsatisfactory,” and the product of a rushed process rife with potential conflicts of interest. One result: Last week, most members of a 23-person government advisory panel had to recuse themselves from voting on the report as a result of potential conflicts.

“The whole process was unsatisfactory,” says Martin Greenwald of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Plasma Science and Fusion Center in Cambridge.

Achieving fusion—nuclear reactions that have the potential to produce copious, clean energy—requires heating hydrogen fuel to more than 100 million degrees Celsius, causing it to become an ionized gas or plasma. Huge and expensive reactors are needed to contain the superhot plasma long enough for reactions to start. The largest current fusion effort is the ITER tokamak, a machine under construction in France with support from the United States and international partners. But no fusion reactor has yet produced more energy than it consumes.

EbolaWatch: Alarms shriek, British worries, Africa


And much, much more as events accelerate ominously. . .

First, from the Guardian:

Ebola outbreak a threat to world peace, says UN security council

  • Group unanimously backs emergency resolution as UN secretary general calls for $1bn aid effort to tackle virus

The UN security council has called the Ebola outbreak “a threat to international peace and security” and urged the world to provide health experts, field hospitals and medical supplies.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the UN’s most powerful body at an emergency meeting with an unprecedented 130 countries as co-sponsors reflected the rising global concern at the outbreak.

It was only the second time that the security council has addressed a public health emergency, the first being the HIV/Aids pandemic.

The UN health chief, Dr Margaret Chan, said the “deadly and dreaded Ebola virus got ahead of us” and it was time to urgently catch up. “This is likely the greatest peacetime challenge that the United Nations and its agencies have ever faced,” she said.

The Guardian again, with context:

Ebola: government cuts to the WHO aided delays in dealing with outbreak

  • Health organisation suffered from global austerity, needs urgent overhaul and sounded the alarm too late, experts say

Cuts in government funding to the World Health Organisation contributed to critical delays in responding to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, which allowed the epidemic to spin out of control, disease experts say.

The UK, US and other European governments reduced contributions to the organisation because of global austerity, and also failed to implement much-needed structural reforms, they said. The WHO needs urgent reform, if future global health crises are to be avoided.

The first cases of Ebola occurred in December last year in Guinea, but it was not until late March that the ministry of health notified the WHO of what the Africa regional office described as “a rapidly evolving outbreak of Ebola virus disease in forested areas of south eastern Guinea”. By that time, there had been just 49 cases and 29 deaths.

It took three months to confirm the outbreak because Guinea, having never had a case before, was totally unprepared. “First of all, nobody expected Ebola to pop up in west Africa – you only find what you are looking for,” said Prof Peter Piot, head of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “Then, health information systems in Guinea are extremely poor, as they are in Liberia and Sierra Leone.”

And another alarm from BBC News:

Ebola is ‘entrenched and accelerating’ in West Africa

  • US public health director Thomas Frieden: “This is controllable and this was preventable”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Ebola is now entrenched in the capital cities of all three worst-affected countries and is accelerating in almost all settings.

WHO deputy head Bruce Aylward warned that the world’s response was not keeping up with the disease in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The three countries have appealed for more aid to help fight the disease.

The outbreak has killed more than 3,860 people, mainly in West Africa. More than 200 health workers are among the victims.

The Hill sounds another warning for the U.S.:

HHS: There may be more Ebola cases

More cases of the Ebola virus could be found in the United States, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sylvia Burwell warned Thursday.

“We had one case and I think there may be other cases, and I think we have to recognize that as a nation,” Burwell said at a news conference sponsored by the journal Health Affairs and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Burwell said her agency supports the new airport procedures, but called exit screenings that are already happening in West African airports more crucial.

“The most important place with regard to taking care of screening is actually at the point of departure,” Burwell said. Those screenings have stopped at least 80 people from boarding flights, she said.

More from Reuters:

Fears grow in United States over Ebola’s spread outside West Africa

Fears are growing in the United States about Ebola with about 200 airline cabin cleaners walking off the job in New York and some lawmakers demanding the government ban travelers from the West African countries hit hardest by the virus.

“The nation is frightened, and people are frightened of this disease,” the U.S. cabinet secretary for health, Sylvia Burwell, said on Thursday, a day after the death in Texas of the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell told a news conference that people were frightened because Ebola “has a very high mortality rate. They’re frightened because they need to learn and understand what the facts are about that disease.”

From the Associated Press a Latin American alarm sounds:

Hagel to discuss Ebola with South America leaders

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says that he will discuss the growing threat from the Ebola virus with Central and South American leaders when they meet in the coming days.

Hagel’s comments Thursday came amid concerns expressed by the top U.S. commander for Central and South America about the potential for the Ebola virus to spread into countries there.

U.S. Marine Gen. John Kelly earlier this week said some countries in the Western Hemisphere don’t have the capabilities to deal with Ebola. If there is an outbreak, he said people may try to flee into the United States.

Hagel says the world is getting more interconnected, and the virus can travel quickly, so military leaders must plan and prepare for any possibilities.

And from Want China Times, another shrieking alarm:

Ebola could hit China within three weeks without action: US experts

American experts warn that the lethal Ebola virus could reach China in three weeks and from there spread to Hong Kong and Macau, reports our Chinese-language sister paper Want Daily.

Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control said there have been no confirmed cases in China and Taiwan and it has been exchanging information with its foreign counterparts to contain the spread of the virus, the paper said.

The experts with the Northeast University in Boston made the report after cross referencing data between airline routes around the world and Ebola’s route of transmission. The virus could spread to Hong Kong and Macau quickly from China and the thousands of airliners entering and exiting the areas, which are major international transit terminals, if the two did not adopt any preventative measures.

And now, the first serious indication that the virus may have reached Britain, via the Guardian:

Briton dies in Macedonia of suspected Ebola – reports

  • If confirmed it would be the first death of a UK national from disease

Foreign Office officials are investigating reports that a British national has died in Macedonia of suspected Ebola.

If confirmed it would be the first death of a UK national from Ebola, although British nurse Will Pooley was cured of the virus last month.

The news came as Downing Street said enhanced screening for Ebola will be introduced at Heathrow and Gatwick airports and Eurostar terminals following advice from the chief medical officer.

The London Telegraph takes another approach:

Ebola crisis: disease may already be in Britain as man dies on business trip

  • The death of a businessman in Macedonia from suspected Ebola has led to fears that the disease may already be in Britain

Ebola may already be in Britain, it was feared on Thursday night, after a businessman who had travelled to Macedonia became the first Briton to die from the disease.

Macedonian officials confirmed that the 57-year-old, who has not been named, had been suffering from fever, vomiting and internal bleeding and that his condition had deteriorated rapidly.

“These are all symptoms of Ebola, which raises suspicions with this patient,” said Dr. Jovanka Kostovska of the health ministry’s commission for infectious diseases.

And the Independent:

Ebola: ‘British man dies of deadly virus in Macedonia and one other taken ill’

Officials are urgently investigating reports that a British man has died of Ebola in Macedonia and another has contracted the disease.

The Britons, who are believed to be friends, had travelled to the country from the London on 2 October, according to a spokesman for the Macedonian Foreign Ministry who confirmed the death.

The Macedonian authorities said the dead man was 57 and his friend is 72.

The patients had been staying at a hotel in the capital, Skopje, when they fell ill. The now-deceased man was admitted to the city’s Clinic for Infectious Diseases at around 3pm local, according to a Macedonian government official. He died around two hours later.

Finally, the London Daily Mail offers a comparatively subdued take:

Briton dies of suspected Ebola in Macedonia – despite NOT having been to Africa: Armed guards outside hotel after virus ‘claims first British victim’

  • The unnamed man is the first UK victim of Ebola, if disease is confirmed
  • The epidemic has killed 3,800 and infected at least 8,000 so far
  • Macedonian authorities confirmed the dead man’s nationality this evening
  • Health officials have also quarantined his friend, who has symptoms
  • The friend said the two travelled to Skopje directly from Britain
  • This raises the terrifying prospect that they contracted it in the UK
  • Paramedics and staff at Skopje hotel where men stayed also in quarantine

From thinkSPain, a report on the first European to catch the illness on the continent:

Ebola update: Teresa ‘critical’ as her organs start to fail

MADRID nurse Teresa Romero’s organs are failing and she is on an artificial breathing machine due to lung problems, reveals her brother.

José Ramón Romero Ramos says there is little hope and that her life is in ‘grave danger’.

“Is there a chance? It’s possible, but the doctor says there’s not much hope, it’s very complicated at the moment,” he told a Galicia TV station mid-afternoon today.

More from the Los Angeles Times:

More people quarantined after Ebola fears in Spain, officials say

Four more people have been placed under quarantine at a Madrid hospital as officials there try to stop the spread of Ebola beyond one confirmed case.

That case, a nursing assistant who was infected after helping care for 69-year-old Manuel Garcia Viejo, was the first known transmission of the disease outside of West Africa in the current outbreak.

The nursing assistant, identified in news reports as Teresa Romero Ramos, was diagnosed Monday and is being treated at the Carlos III Hospital in Madrid. Her husband has also been quarantined there.

In addition to Romero and her husband, one man and one woman, both nurses, were hospitalized Wednesday and are exhibiting “mild symptoms,” officials say. The nurses were part of the team that helped treat Viejo.

A video report from euronews:

Health of Spanish Ebola patient deteriorates

Program notes:

The health of the Spanish nurse being treated for Ebola has deteriorated, according to the Madrid hospital where she is being treated.

Another person, the doctor who first tended to her, has been placed in isolation bringing to seven the number of people in quarantine.

The patient, Teresa Romero, is the only one to have tested positive for the virus.

Authorities insist that the contamination was a result of human error.

From El País, isolation and outrage:

ER doctor who treated Ebola victim taken into isolation for monitoring

  • In his official report, Juan Manuel Parra complains that protective clothing was too small

When Spanish Ebola patient Teresa Romero was taken to her local hospital in Alcorcón on Monday, Doctor Juan Manuel Parra was in charge of her care. Before she was diagnosed with the virus and taken to the Carlos III Hospital, the 41-year-old was the sole person responsible for saving the life of the nursing assistant, who is the first person to be infected with the virus outside of West Africa.

rom 8am on Monday until after midnight the same day, the emergency room doctor took on the risk of dealing with a patient whose status got progressively worse, with symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and chesty coughing.

Doctor Parra had to put on and remove his protective clothing as many as 13 times during the day, but it was not until 5pm that he donned the highest-level protective suit available in the hospital – a suit that, what’s more, was not his size, leaving his bare skin exposed.

“At all times the sleeves were too short,” the doctor wrote in a report. The document, to which EL PAÍS has had access, covers all of the events of those 16 hours and was sent to his superiors.

More from El País:

Nursing staff resign from their posts to avoid treating Ebola cases

  • Workers at Carlos III Hospital in Madrid argue safety measures are not adequate

Carlos III Hospital in Madrid, the health center where Ebola victim Teresa Romero is being treated, is having to draft in extra staff given that nurses are refusing to work with cases – or suspected cases – of the virus, claiming that safety conditions are not adequate.

A number of other patients are being monitored in the hospital after having come into contact with Romero, although none so far has been confirmed as having contracted the virus.

“There are members of staff who are canceling their contracts so that they don’t have to enter [rooms with Ebola cases],” explains Elvira González, provincial vice-secretary of the SAE nurses’ union.

Still more from the New York Times:

Spain Quarantines 3 More in Bid to Contain Ebola

The Spanish health authorities said Thursday that the condition of an auxiliary nurse infected by Ebola had worsened, three days after she became the first person to test positive for the disease in Europe.

The deterioration in the nurse’s condition came as the authorities announced that one more medical staff member had been quarantined, in addition to three others who were isolated overnight at the same hospital.

Altogether about 80 people are being monitored to see if they develop symptoms of Ebola as Spain seeks to prevent the virus from spreading. Seven people are now quarantined at the hospital, Carlos III, that Spain has designated to handle Ebola cases.

And from TheLocal.at, another virus, this one mental:

‘Increase in racism’ due to Ebola fear

The Austrian Red Cross is warning that black people are being unnecessarily stigmatised in Austria because of fears of an Ebola outbreak.

It points to anecdotal evidence such as black children being sent home from school if they have a cough, or neighbours panicking if a black person in their apartment block complains of a fever, according to Die Presse newspaper.

Gerry Foitik, an Austrian Red Cross rescue commander, said their fears are completely unfounded as the virus is transmitted by direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, and people are only at risk of catching it if they have been in West Africa or had contact with someone who had Ebola. The incubation period can last from two days to three weeks.

More on the lack of urgency in the initial global response from Al Jazeera English:

Ebola-hit states say world response is slow

  • World Bank chief says “perhaps even Africa” is at risk, as more cases of infection are diagnosed worldwide

Leaders of West African nations plagued by Ebola said the deadly virus is outpacing the world’s response to it, jeapordising the future of “perhaps Africa.”

“Ladies and gentleman, unless we quickly contain and stop the Ebola epidemic, nothing less than the future of not only West Africa – but perhaps even Africa is at stake,” Jim Yong Kim, President of World Bank, said on Thursday at a meeting on the Ebola response.

“Our people are dying,’‘ Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma said on Thursday by videoconference at the meeting. Koroma said the world is not responding fast enough as doctors and nurses continue to die.

A Uganda-born doctor, John Taban Dada, died early on Thursday of Ebola at a treatment centre on the outskirts of Liberian capital, Monrovia. He is the fourth doctor to die in the West African country since the outbreak. Over ninety health workers, including nurses and physician’s assistants, were killed by the virus.

And from Associated Press, stating the need:

UN chief: 20 times more Ebola aid needed

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a 20-fold surge in international aid to fight the outbreak. “For those who have yet to pledge, I say please do so soon,” Ban said. “This is an unforgiving disease.”

At the meeting here, President Alpha Conde of Guinea asked for money, supplies, medicine, equipment and training of health care workers.

“Our countries are in a very fragile situation,” Conde said through a translator. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia also appeared by videoconference to seek a rapid increase in aid.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim praised pledges from the United States and the European Commission to evacuate health care workers who become infected while responding to the crisis in West Africa, to encourage doctors and nurses to risk their lives to help.

Here in the U.S., Congress finally loosens the purse strings, via the Associated Press:

Lawmakers approve $700 million to fight Ebola

The Republican chairmen of House panels that oversee the Pentagon signed off Thursday on an additional $700 million to pay for the military mission to help fight Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak.

Thursday’s action by Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon and Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers would permit a total of $750 million in funds leftover for fighting in Afghanistan to be used to provide logistical help for health care workers in West Africa. The first $50 million was released last month.

The administration originally requested $1 billion to send up to 4,000 troops to Africa. In briefings this week, McKeon said Pentagon officials estimate $750 million would cover a six-month mission that would include airlifting personnel, medical supplies, protective suits and equipment such as tents to house Ebola victims and isolate people exposed to the virus.

And another comparison, via BBC News:

Ebola challenge ‘biggest since Aids’

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is unlike anything since the emergence of HIV/Aids, top US medical official Thomas Frieden has said.

A fast global response could ensure that it did not become “the next Aids,” the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

Dr Frieden described Ebola as one of the biggest crises he had seen in his career. “I would say that in the 30 years I’ve been working in public health, the only thing like this has been Aids,” he said.

CBC News covers an advocate:

Ebola virus co-discoverer says ‘we have to push through’ on vaccine

  • Canada has been Ebola research ‘pioneer’ but could do more on the ground, says Dr. Peter Piot

The co-discoverer of the Ebola virus says researchers must “push through” with the full development of drugs and vaccines even after the last patient in the current outbreak “has survived or died” and attention has faded.

Dr. Peter Piot tells CBC’s Jeff Semple he initially thought the current outbreak would remain in a small town or rural area and come under control after a couple of months. He says he knew he was wrong in June, when three countries were affected and the disease was appearing in capital cities.

“You can contain small Ebola outbreaks by isolating the patients, giving them care, quarantining all the contacts,” he says. “You can do that in a small town or so. But at the scale of a whole country, that’s far more difficult.”

A companion video report from CBC News:

Dr. Peter Piot, Ebola co-discoverer

Program notes:

CBC’s Jeff Semple talks to the microbiologist about the Ebola epidemic.

The New York Times covers action in Europe:

European Leaders Scramble to Upgrade Response to Ebola Crisis

When the Ebola virus was first identified in March as the cause of a series of mysterious deaths in the remote forests of Guinea, Europe moved quickly to battle a disease that has now infected more than 7,000 Africans and already killed around half of those. It mobilized more money and health workers than the United States, China or anyone else for West Africa.

But, proud of its long record as the world’s biggest donor of humanitarian aid, Europe has since suffered a blow to its self-image of can-do generosity. Its own efforts to contain the lethal virus have been overshadowed  by President Obama’s announcement last month that he was sending  3,000 troops to West Africa to build hospitals and otherwise help in the fight against Ebola.

While a few left-wingers sneered at the American deployment as yet another example of Washington’s taste for military intervention — and praised Cuba for sending more than 100 doctors to West Africa — many European officials and politicians welcomed the move and wondered why what had been a European-led international effort to contain the virus had clearly not worked.

From the Guardian, following up on the nation’s most prominent fatality:

Quarantined family of Texas Ebola victim left to mourn in isolation

  • Vigil for Eric Duncan at Dallas church turns to memorial after news of his death, but family members forced to stay at home

It had been planned as a vigil, but the service quickly turned into a memorial once the news broke that Ebola had killed Eric Duncan, the virus’s first victim in the US.

Before his condition worsened and he died in a Dallas hospital at 7.51am local time on Wednesday, eight days after his diagnosis was confirmed, Duncan’s last words were spoken to a nurse from the bed in his isolation room: a request to see Karsiah, the son he last saw 16 years ago when the boy was three.

That final hope went unfulfilled. A student in San Angelo, 250 miles away, Karsiah was staying in Dallas and preparing to head to Texas Health Presbyterian hospital in the hope of seeing Duncan at about 9am when his mother called him to tell him his father had died.

The sense of disconnection and distance, even from relatives in the same city, was replicated at Wilshere Baptist church on Wednesday evening at a service that was mainly for Duncan’s close friends and family, but necessarily took place without them.

And they have questions, reports the London Telegraph:

Ebola victim in US’s family: why did white patients live while black patient died?

  • Dallas hospital denies allegations of racial discrimination in the treatment of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first first to die from the disease on US soil

The Dallas hospital that treated the Ebola patient who died this week tried to fend off accusations that it initially turned him away because he was a poor African immigrant without insurance.

An experimental drug called ZMapp, a cocktail of three antibodies that has been used on American patients infected with Ebola while in West Africa, was not used on Duncan because it was not available, the hospital said.

A serum transfusion used on an Ebola patient airlifted from West Africa to a hospital in Nebraska was not used on Duncan either because his blood type did not match the treatment.

From USA Today, costly containment:

Bill for cleanup of Ebola-tainted apartment: over $100K

Hazardous-cleanup companies get a lot of odd requests, but nothing prepared the crew at CG Environmental for this past week.

A 15-person team spent the weekend decontaminating the Dallas apartment where Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, 42, had stayed since coming Sept. 20 to the United States from Liberia. Duncan was hospitalized Sept. 28 but started showing Ebola symptoms four days earlier; he died Wednesday.

“We were the first in, and we really had no clue what we were getting into,” employee Dan Lee said.

Texas anxiety allayed, via Sky News:

Ebola Scare: Tests Negative For Texas Deputy

  • Doctors say a deputy who entered the US ebola victim’s apartment is in good condition after being put in isolation out of caution

A sheriff’s deputy who entered the apartment where the US ebola victim was living does not have the deadly virus, health officials have said.

Michael Monnig remains in good condition a day after he was rushed by ambulance to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas out of an “abundance of caution”.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) confirmed on Thursday that Mr Monnig’s blood samples came back negative for ebola.

Preparations from the Guardian:

US hospitals sending actors with mock Ebola symptoms into emergency rooms

In wake of Dallas patient death, health providers across US are reinforcing and testing infection control procedures

Public hospitals in New York City are so concerned about Ebola, they’ve secretly been sending actors with mock symptoms into emergency rooms to test how well the triage staffs identify and isolate possible cases.

A small Ohio hospital has hung up signs imploring patients to let nurses know immediately if they have traveled recently to west Africa.

And across the US, one of the nation’s largest ambulance companies has put together step-by-step instructions for wrapping the interior of a rig with plastic sheeting.

More of the same across the pond, via the Guardian:

Ebola outbreak simulations to be tested in UK hospitals

  • Department of Health confirms weekend real-time response tests in unnamed hospitals in the north and south of England

War game-style simulations to test Britain’s ability to cope with an outbreak of Ebola will be staged this weekend in hospitals in the north and south of England.

Officials at the Department of Health are drawing up details of at least two simulations which will involve people posing as victims of the deadly virus to assess the real-time response of hospitals, the ambulance service and local authorities. The exercise will take place on either Saturday or Sunday and details of which hospitals will be chosen to handle the mock cases are being kept confidential to minimise disruption to the exercise, an official said.

They may include the Royal Free hospital in north London which has an isolation unit and a dedicated team of nurses, doctors and laboratory staff specialising in dealing with infectious diseases. The Royal Liverpool, Royal Hallamshire hospital in Sheffield and the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne also have infectious disease units that are expected to receive cases. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has acknowledged that it was “entirely possible” Ebola could reach Britain.

And from Reuters, a plane old job action:

Airline cleanup crews walk off job in New York over Ebola concerns

About 200 airline cabin cleaners walked off the job at New York’s LaGuardia Airport on Thursday to protest what they say is insufficient protection from exposure to Ebola for workers whose jobs include cleaning up vomit and bathrooms.

Picket lines were set up overnight by non-unionized Air Serv cleaners outside Terminal D at LaGuardia for a one-day strike prompted by fears about the deadly virus, forcing airline crews to clean the planes themselves. Some signs read “Air Serv exposes us to vomit, blood and feces without protection” and “Air Serv puts worker safety at risk.”

The workers, who are trying to join Service Employees International Union, the largest service workers union in the United States, briefly left the strike line to attend an infectious disease training session organized by the union.

The Canadian Press watches the aerial borders:

Ebola screenings to take place at airports in 6 Canadian cities

  • Screenings, more staff for Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Ottawa, Calgary

Canada will step up border screening to try to prevent an Ebola importation to this country, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose says.

“Our government will be taking the additional step of taking targeted temperature screens,” she told the House of Commons on Wednesday, though she offered no detail about what that would mean or whether it would be only at airports or all border crossings.

The Canadian Press requested an interview with an official of the Public Health Agency of Canada to get clarification on Canada’s plans, but one was not granted. However, several hours after Ambrose made her remark in the Commons, the agency issued a press release providing some detail of what increased screening will look like.

The same, but closer to home from the Christian Science Monitor:

Ebola: Are US airport screenings more about controlling fear than disease?

A new poll found that more than half of Americans are worried about the possibility of an Ebola outbreak. On Thursday, cabin cleaners at LaGuardia Airport walked off the job, citing Ebola fears and concerns about not having proper equipment.

New Ebola screening procedures being put in place at US airports may be designed primarily to calm a jittery public, health officials say, given the low risk of an epidemic.

Health officials have emphasized that the risk of Americans’ contracting Ebola is extremely low – more difficult than catching the flu, experts say. The virus is not airborne and is passed on only through contact with the bodily fluids of those showing symptoms of the disease, making the risk of an epidemic breaking out in the US minuscule.

But a new poll found that more than half of Americans are worried about the possibility of an outbreak. And on Thursday, cabin cleaners at LaGuardia Airport in New York walked off the job, citing Ebola fears and concerns about unsanitary conditions on airplanes.

BBC News covers Britain’s efforts:

UK Ebola screening for arrivals from affected countries

The UK is to introduce “enhanced screening” for Ebola for arrivals from affected countries.

Downing Street said passengers arriving at Gatwick, Heathrow and on Eurostar would face questions and potentially a medical assessment.

Earlier ministers had ruled out screening, saying the UK was following World Health Organisation advice.

And from the London Telegraph:

How the UK will prepare Ebola screening

Program notes:

Defence secretary Michael Fallon and Ebola medical experts shed light on the UK’s strategy for keeping the virus out of the country

From The Hill, congressional panic as the Midterm election nears::

Dems call for Ebola flight ban

A growing number of Democrats are pressuring President Obama to ban flights to Ebola-ravaged countries despite repeated warnings from global health leaders that closing borders could accelerate the crisis.

A group of 27 lawmakers, including three Democrats, signed a letter Wednesday urging Obama to ignore health officials and immediately halt flights from the West African countries worst-affected by Ebola.

The lawmakers accused Obama of attempting to “pass the buck” onto organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), which have advised against travel bans. Obama has said he would not ban travel unless the WHO reversed its position.

But as National Journal notes, some legislators are taking even more extreme stances:

These Politicians Want to Close the U.S.-Mexico Border Because of Ebola

Some lawmakers fear that the virus could enter through the country’s southern border

In a WIRC talk radio interview in August, Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., referenced a conversation he had with Rep. Larry Buschon, R-Ind., in which the pair discussed their concerns that migrant children from South America could bring Ebola to the U.S. In a Tuesday debate with North Carolina Senate hopeful Kay Hagan, Rep. Thom Tillis attacked his opponent for her weak stance on undocumented immigrants. Tillis claimed that “we’ve got an Ebola outbreak, we have bad actors that can come across the border; we need to seal the border and secure it.”

Some lawmakers, like Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, have called for a ban on all travel from West African countries, where the Ebola outbreak is concentrated.

The CDC has repeatedly warned that closing off the U.S. borders won’t help. “I wish we could get to zero risk by sealing off the border,” CDC Director Tom Frieden told Fox News earlier this week. “But we can’t.”

From TheLocal.fr, a false alarm:

Suspected Ebola case near Paris a false alarm

UPDATED: A building belonging to French health authorities was cordoned off on the outskirts of Paris on Thursday after a suspected case of Ebola was reported. Around sixty people were effectively quarantined but authorities later confirmed it was a false alarm.

Ditto in Italy from TheLocal.it:

Suspected Ebola victim tests negative for virus

Italy’s health minister Beatrice Lorenzin on Thursday said that a 53-year-old doctor, who is currently being treated in Rome after coming into contact with a colleague infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone in September, has tested negative for the virus.

After the jump, the crisis accelerates in Africa, UN orders food aid for hard-hit countries, a suspected case in another African country, an African country steps up, tracing the course of infection, a continent on the tipping point, Guinea under stress, on to Liberia with American planes arriving, concern over a presidential big to suspend constitutional rights, elections suspended, orphans abandoned, a battle over bodies, and the Fourth Estate marks its fallen, then on to Sierra Leone and Swedish medics promised, the world’s leaders in public health emergencies are on the scene, a DJ wages his own war on the air as teachers closed school turn to the radio to conduct classes, the UN designates its Sierra Leone point man, the diaspora pitches in, and another form of trauma care pledged, Angola calls for vigilance, Another musician cops out, a soccer player heeds his team’s fears, Silicon Valley joins the fray, and good newqs for a Japanese drug maker. . . Continue reading