We begin with an Indian outbreak, via BBC News:
Swine flu: India health minister urges calm
Indian Health Minister JP Nadda has urged the public not to panic, as the number of deaths so far this year from swine flu passed 900 from 16,000 cases.
Rajasthan and Gujarat are among the worst affected states. Officials in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, have announced restrictions on public gatherings as a precautionary measure.
The current outbreak, which began in December last year, is India’s deadliest since 2010.
A parallel development from Outbreak News Today:
Hong Kong adult flu deaths near 300, more H7N9 reported on the mainland
With the additional six influenza related fatalities reported in Hong Kong adults during the past day brings the total deaths in the city to 295, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health reported Friday.
Since the beginning of the year, Hong Kong has seen a 398 severe influenza cases requiring hospitalization, including the 295 deaths.
The vast majority of cases, nearly 96 percent, were A(H3N2) seasonal influenza.
In related news, the Health and Family Planning Commission of Anhui Province on Mainland China reported two additional human cases of avian influenza A(H7N9).
From the U.N. News Center, a call for help with a new outbreak:
Humanitarian community must move quickly to halt cholera spread in Malawi – UN
With 39 cases of cholera in the last two weeks, including two deaths, the United Nations children’s agency in Malawi is on high alert for spread in southern border areas where highly-populated camps for people displaced by the floods are located, according to a press statement released today.
With Malawi’s Ministry of Health having confirmed the cases – the first in the last three years – there are serious concerns that a rapid spread of infection could lead to a larger outbreak that already over-burdened health services may not be able to contain.
“As humanitarian actors in Malawi, we need to move quickly to stop any further spread of this disease,” said UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Malawi, Mahimbo Mdoe. “These displaced populations are extremely vulnerable, particularly those with low-immunity, such as malnourished children.
UNICEF is working to support the Government with mobile health services, as well as safe water, sanitation and hygiene services, which are critical factors in preventing the spread of cholera.”
The New York Times covers a vaccination crackdown:
Pakistani Officials Issue Arrest Warrants Over Refusals of Polio Vaccine
Determined to curb Pakistan’s polio crisis, police officials in the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa said Friday that they had issued hundreds of arrest warrants for parents for refusing to vaccinate their children.
“We had 13,000 to 16,000 refusal cases,” the deputy police commissioner for Peshawar, Riaz Khan Mahsud, said in an interview. “There is total determination on our part. We shall convince parents of the good of vaccinating their children, but if they refuse, we shall detain them. There is no leniency.”
The police in other districts of the province also reported issuing warrants, though no official total was released.
And BBC News conforms a diagnosis:
Distinct stages to chronic fatigue syndrome identified
Distinct changes in the immune systems of patients with ME or chronic fatigue syndrome have been found, say scientists.
Increased levels of immune molecules called cytokines were found in people during the early stages of the disease, a Columbia University study reported. It said the findings could help improve diagnosis and treatments.
UK experts said further refined research was now needed to confirm the results.
From BBC News again, the human condition:
Leukaemia mutations ‘almost inevitable’, researchers say
It is “almost inevitable” that your blood will take the first steps towards leukaemia as you age, researchers show.
The cancer is often associated with children, but some types become more common with age.
The study, published in the journal Cell Reports, showed 70% of healthy people in their 90s had genetic errors that could lead to leukaemia. The researchers warn that the number of cases could soar as life expectancy increases.
China Daily covers a crusade:
Former celebrity TV anchor on crusade against pollution
A former celebrity TV presenter has released a self-funded documentary about smog, inspired by her sick daughter.
Chai Jing’s one-year project, Under the Dome, marks a comeback for the former presenter and journalist with China Central Television following the birth of her child. It adds a sentimental touch to a matter of public interest with Chai not only an independent observer but also a concerned mother.
After ending a decade with the state broadcaster early last year, Chai shunned public attention to focus on taking care of her daughter, who was diagnosed with a tumor as a fetus and underwent surgery as a new-born baby.
“I saw smog through my daughter’s eyes,” Chai said while presenting her film. She recounted how the little girl was confined indoors, patting the window to vent her frustration at being unable to play outside.
From CCTV America, a related story:
Chinese government investigation uncovers high polluting factories
Officials from China’s environment protection agency said they’ve carried out a series of undercover investigations. They sought-out high levels of pollution discharged by factories across the country. CCTV’s Jie Bai reported on the startling results they uncovered.
From Al Jazeera America, the impact of skepticism:
In the war over GMO labeling, Big Food loses the PR battle
- Analysis: Food industry efforts to quash labeling initiatives further hurt genetically modified foods’ image
Despite two decades of assurances from biotechnology firms, food processors, federal regulators and even a substantial share of scientists that GMO foods are safe, ballot initiatives and citizen petitions seeking labels on GMO foods are springing up as quickly as the industry can pay — or sue — to defeat them. Meanwhile, sales of foods labeled GMO-free have been steadily gaining ground on consumer shopping lists, and polls suggest that more Americans than ever favor labels that identify GMO foods.
This has even some supporters of genetic engineering wondering if it’s time to rethink the labeling question. “If you give people a choice and value, that wins,” said David Ropeik, a risk-communication consultant. He has begun calling on the industry to let go of its “fear of fear” and embrace GMO labeling, which is required in at least 64 other nations, including Japan, Australia, Russia, Brazil and more than a dozen European countries.
A related story from the Guardian:
Trans-Pacific Partnership could prevent clearer food labelling – health advocates
- Under the free trade deal, a foreign company could sue the government if sales dropped after labelling was introduced, says the Public Health Association
Australia’s Pacific free-trade deal could stand in the way of clear country-of-origin labelling being considered by the Abbott government in the wake of the hepatitis A outbreak linked to imported frozen berries.
Michael Moore of the Public Health Association said under the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) a foreign company may be able to sue the Australian government for loss of revenue as a result of Australian products being given an “unfair advantage”.
The agreement, which is being negotiated in secret, includes Australia, New Zealand, the US, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan. The deal would bring down the trade and legal barriers between member countries as well as their foreign corporations.
From the Los Angeles Times, public disservants:
LAFD failed to inspect hundreds of hazardous sites, state says
The Los Angeles Fire Department has failed to properly inspect hundreds of hazardous sites scattered across the city, exposing the public to increased risks from potential spills and mishandling of toxic substances, according to a state report released Friday.
The 24-page California Environmental Protection Agency study found breakdowns in numerous aspects of the LAFD’s oversight and monitoring of chemical factories, laboratories and other storage facilities that deal with dangerous substances.
“Their program has fallen apart,” said Jim Bohon, head of the state unit that conducted the review. “They are failing in environmental management in a very gross way.”
Another firefighter crackdown, via BBC News:
Argentina fire chief sacked over Patagonia blaze
The head of Argentina’s national fire control agency has been sacked as a huge forest fire threatens to engulf a renowned national park in Patagonia.
Jorge Barrionuevo was sacked during a visit to the region by the government chief of staff.
The fire is advancing towards Los Alerces National Park, which is home to larch trees dating back more than 1,000 years. The flames have already destroyed 200sq km (77 sq miles) of forest.
From the New York Times, hopefully better late than never:
Mexico Moves to Save Endangered Porpoise
The Mexican government is making a final effort to save the vaquita, a tiny porpoise that has been driven to the edge of extinction as a result of illegal fishing for another endangered species that is served as a delicacy in China.
Scientists say that fewer than 100 of the vaquita, a marine mammal, remain in its habitat, the northern Gulf of California. Several thousand fishermen working there depend on the yearly shrimp catch for a modest living.
The fishermen’s gillnets, stretching for miles across the sea, have long been a lethal threat to the vaquita, which become entangled in them and die. But over the past few years a new threat has emerged: illegal fishing for a large fish called the totoaba whose swim bladder is dried and cooked in soup in China, where some consumers believe it has medicinal properties. The vaquitas are also caught and killed in the nets set for totoaba.
On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with a bureaucratic beatdown from the Asahi Shimbun:
Nuclear watchdog takes TEPCO to task for delay in leakage report
The nation’s nuclear watchdog body slammed Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Feb. 27 over its failure to disclose information on the leakage of radioactive rainwater into the sea from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Plant operator TEPCO disclosed many months later that a drainage ditch near the wrecked reactors showed high concentrations of radiation and rainwater had leaked into the sea outside the enclosed harbor.
“TEPCO must reflect seriously (on the delay). We are concerned that the company’s efforts to secure a safe environment will be unable to obtain trust (from the people),” said NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka during a meeting in Tokyo that TEPCO President Naomi Hirose attended.
Next, a visitor, via Kyodo News:
Abe views Fukushima site for radioactively contaminated waste
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday viewed a site in Fukushima Prefecture for interim storage facilities for radioactively contaminated soil and other waste generated in cleanup work following the 2011 nuclear disaster.
“I hope to speed up the decontamination work to ensure reconstruction,” Abe said as he looked at the facilities under construction from the roof of the Futaba town hall under the guidance of Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa.
The mayor asked Abe for constant support for the town’s reconstruction given that the local authorities took the bitter decision to host the facilities.
From the Asahi Shimbun, a hot zone drive-through, complete with a roadside radiation meter:
Entire Joban Expressway set to open with completion of Fukushima stretch
A major artery connecting Tokyo to the coastal Tohoku region will open March 1, with the completion of the final stretch that runs past the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The final 14.3-kilometer section connecting the Joban-Tomioka interchange with the Namie interchange, both in Fukushima Prefecture, is to open after prolonged construction delays due to the nuclear disaster that unfolded in March 2011.
However, along one stretch, running 8 km, radiation levels are high enough that residents are not permitted to return to their homes for the foreseeable future.
Finally, from NHK WORLD, something else to worry about:
IAEA: Japan needs more anti-nuclear terror steps
Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency have acknowledged overall improvements in anti-terror measures at nuclear facilities in Japan. But they say more needs to be done to safeguard them.
The IAEA team, comprising 8 experts from the US and 5 other countries, stayed in Japan for 2 weeks through Friday.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority says the experts heard about anti-terror legislation and resources from officials with the authority, the National Police Agency and related ministries and agencies.
The experts also visited the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizokuka Prefecture and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s research center in Ibaraki Prefecture to see what’s being done to make them safe from terrorism.