Category Archives: Environment

EnivroWatch: Illness, pols, climate, water, nukes


We begin with the latest measles update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, first with the numbers:

BLOG Measles graf

Then the distribution:

From January 1 to February 27, 2015, 170 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles [AZ (7), CA (113), CO (1), DC (2), DE (1), GA (1), IL (15), MI (1), MN (1), NE (2), NJ (2), NY (3), NV (8), PA (1), SD (2) TX (1), UT (2), WA (7)]†. Most of these cases [125 cases (74%)] are part of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California.

From January 1 to February 27, 2015, 170 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles [AZ (7), CA (113), CO (1), DC (2), DE (1), GA (1), IL (15), MI (1), MN (1), NE (2), NJ (2), NY (3), NV (8), PA (1), SD (2) TX (1), UT (2), WA (7)]†. Most of these cases [125 cases (74%)] are part of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California.

From the United Nations News Center, another global health tragedy:

Over 5 billion people worldwide lacking access to essential medicines, says UN Report

Three quarters of the world population has no access to proper pain relief treatment, according to a report by the United Nations body charged with overseeing Governments’ compliance with international drug control treaties, which was released in London today.

Around 5.5 billion people still have limited or no access to medicines containing narcotic drugs such as codeine or morphine the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says in its Annual Report for 2014, which went on to point out that around 92 per cent of all morphine used worldwide is consumed by only 17 per cent of the world population, primarily living in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

The report, which calls on Governments to address the discrepancy in order to comply with International Drug Control Conventions, notes that natural disasters and armed conflicts around the world can further limit access to essential medicines and the Board stressed that in cases of emergency medical care, simplified control measures can be applied.

For example in the Philippines following the destruction by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the Board pointed out to all countries as well as to providers of humanitarian assistance the simplified procedures for the export, transportation and delivery of medicines containing substances under international control.

In its Report, the INCB notes that drug control measures do not exist in a vacuum and that, in their implementation of the drug control conventions, States must also comply with obligations under other treaties, including international humanitarian law and their international human rights obligations, such as allowing civilians to have access to medical care and essential medicines during armed conflicts.

Additionally, the INCB noted that States were charged with deciding specific sanctions for drug-related offences, but should avoid application of the death penalty for such cases.

Newswise covers a question of costs:

U.S. Spends More on Cancer Care, Saves Fewer Lives than Western Europe

  • Dartmouth study finds costly U.S. cancer care may provide less value than previously thought

Despite sharp increases in spending on cancer treatment, cancer mortality rates in the United States have decreased only modestly since 1970, Samir Soneji, PhD of Dartmouth’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice has found. Refuting previous studies, Soneji published his paper “New Analysis Reexamines the Value of Cancer Care in the United States Compared to Western Europe,” today in the March issue of Health Affairs.

“Our results suggest that cancer care in the U.S. did not always avert deaths compared to Western Europe and, when it did avert deaths, it often did so at substantial cost,” explained Soneji. “The greatest number of deaths averted occurred in cancers for which decreasing mortality rates were more likely to be the result of successful prevention and screening rather than advancements in treatment.”

U.S. cancer mortality rates decreased by 12 percent since 1970, compared to a 62 percent decrease for heart disease. Such findings have raised questions about the additional value of U.S. cancer care derived from the additional spending, in comparison to the situation in other high-income countries. This study compared U.S. and Western European spending between 1982 and 2010 for 12 of the most common cancers.

Compared to Western Europe, the U.S averted 67,000 breast cancer deaths, 265,000 colorectal cancer deaths, and 60,000 prostate cancer deaths between 1982 and 2010. The U.S. experienced 1,120,000 excess lung cancer deaths in this study period compared to Western Europe. The ratio of incremental cost to quality-adjusted-life-years saved equaled $402,000 for breast cancer, $110,000 for colorectal cancer, and $1,979,000 for prostate cancer. These amounts exceed most accepted thresholds for cost-effective medical care. The U.S. lost quality-adjusted-life-years despite additional spending for lung cancer where the cost was negative $19,000 per quality-adjusted-life-year saved.

From the Washington Post, a medical enigma:

Mystery paralysis in children is perplexing parents — and researchers

For most of the children who fell ill last year during an outbreak of enterovirus, the symptoms were relatively mild — fever, runny nose, coughing and sneezing.

But then there was this mystery: More than 100 kids suffered an unexplained, polio-like paralysis that struck quickly but even now continues to stump researchers and upend the lives of the families across the country.

For Priya Duggal and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, the biggest puzzle is why those children became paralyzed while their brothers and sisters, who also were exposed to the virus, escaped largely unscathed.

From the Times of India, tallying an outbreak’s toll:

40 more dead as swine flu toll climbs to 1,115

Swine flu claimed the lives of 40 more people in the country as the toll from the disease reached 1,115 while the total number of cases breached the 20,000 mark.

The Health Ministry said that 1,115 persons have succumbed to the H1N1 virus while the number of those affected by it stands at 20,795 on March 1.

With heavy rainfall lashing Delhi and other parts of the north, health officials said it was difficult to ascertain whether the rains will have any effect on the incidence of swine flu.

However, the officials said that, during monsoon, the virus increases and it was possible that whatever decline was being seen over the last few days in the intensity of the disease may not continue. They said that there will be no decrease in the virus due to the rains and added that high temperatures are a deterrent for the virus.

Outbreak News Today covers an online virus of another sort:

Colorado: Craigslist kitten turns out rabid, 20 people get rabies prophylaxis

A 6-month-old kitten obtained on Craigslist has turned out positive for the nearly 100 percent lethal virus, rabies, requiring nearly two dozen people to receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

The family of four from northeast Colorado Springs named the kitten Jello. The owners said the cat was fine for 2 weeks and then the black cat “took a turn for the worse” and got very sick. The family’s two other dogs and a cat had to be put down since they were exposed.

El Paso County Public Health officials say the kitten tested positive for rabies late last week.  The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Laboratory performed the initial test and the CDC is in the process of determining the type of rabies the kitten had.

Another group of Liberian healthcare workers asks for hazard pay, via the Liberian Observer:

Health Workers at TB Annex Demand Hazard Benefits

At least 101 workers at the TB Annex Hospital are demanding payment of hazard benefits owed them by the Ministry of Health for the past six months.

The patients at the hospital, located directly behind the Health Ministry in Oldest Congotown, are infected with tuberculosis which is a very highly contagious disease.

The health workers told this paper that their benefits are due for the period September 2014 to February 2015.

They stated that during the heat of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) crisis, they did not close the hospital but remained there at their own risk, taking care of hundreds of TB patients who came in daily when most other health centers and hospitals were closed.

GMOoooos, via BBC News:

Scientists produce TB-resistant cows

Scientists in China have produced a herd of genetically engineered cows that are better able to ward off bovine TB infection.

The long-term goal of the research is to avoid the need to cull livestock by breeding disease resistant cattle.

Bovine TB is a risk in many areas, including New Zealand, England and Wales, and parts of Africa and Asia. In the UK over 26,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2013 at a cost to taxpayers of £100m.

Politically cowed, via the New York Times:

Indian State Passes Beef Ban Championed by Right-Wing Hindus

The western state of Maharashtra this week became the first Indian state to ban the possession and sale of beef, imposing fines and up to five years in prison for violations.

The ban, which was passed on Monday, came as an amendment to a 1972 law prohibiting the slaughter of cows, which has been expanded to ban the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and calves. The slaughter of water buffaloes will still be allowed under the new law, subject to permission from the authorities. The populous western state includes Mumbai, the Indian financial capital.

The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, championed by right-wing Hindu organizations, was first passed in 1995 but languished for two decades under a governing coalition between the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a clear majority in state elections last October, after Narendra Modi, the party’s leader, took office as prime minister in May.

Cognitive pollution, via  Medical Daily:

Air Pollution Slows Cognitive Development In Children Due To Brain Inflammation

Schools that are located near busy roads may be more dangerous than remote schools due to the increased levels of air pollution generated by passing cars, a new study finds.

Toxic chemicals found in the air pose a growing concern for scientists studying brain health, especially among adolescents. Experts call them neurotoxicants, and they’ve been linked with a higher risk of suicide, autism, and the myriad direct physical effects of breathing in harmful air, such as asthma and diseases of the lungs.

“From animal studies we know that ultrafine particles cross the blood brain barrier, interact with the microglial cells, which in turn affects neurons,” said Dr. Jordi Sunyer, lead author of the recent study from the University of Barcelona. This can result in chronic low-grade brain inflammation, he added, which delays brain maturation.

And from EcoWatch, Oedipus Bush:

Jeb Bush Trashes Father’s Clean Air Legacy to Woo Far Right-Wing

Jeb Bush trashed the Clean Air Act last week. He was speaking to the far right-wing Club for Growth, notorious for mounting mostly unsuccessful challenges from the right against Republican candidates during congressional primaries.

The Clean Air Act is estimated to achieve almost $2 trillion in yearly benefits to the American people by 2020. These vast benefits are delivered in the form of “significant reductions in air pollution” related premature death and illness, improved economic welfare of Americans, and better environmental conditions.” The estimated annual costs to achieve these benefits will be about $65 billion by 2020.

So this staggering Bush senior achievement is one that Bush junior singles out for condemnation. It’s bewildering. One might even say it takes one’s breath away.

After the jump, endless drought woes for the Golden State, a rich California coastal city looks to desalination, an Environmental Protection Agency disclosure fail rebuked, air pollution kills hundreds of thousands of Europeans a year, China hopes for an air pollution reprieve, mineral water home delivered as Sao Paulo taps run dry, a Mexican mine hit with a river pollution fine, a call for Costa Rican shark protection, prison-farmed fish for sale at Whole Foods, a new threat from the DEA — Utah rabbits dazed on legal weed, a key African food staple lags behind growing populations, and the FBI comes a-knockin’ at the doors of Keystone Pipeline foes, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with another year’s radioactive water cleanup delay, an Olympic Fukushima food fare bid, and corporate payouts continue, plus Mount Everest grows a crown of human feces. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: Euroenvironmental woes


From SOER 2015 — The European environment — state and outlook 2015 [PDF], a major new report from the European Environment Agency on the deteriorating state of Europe’s, land, rivers, oceans, biota, and more:

The European environment — state and outlook 2015: synthesis

EnviroWatch: Vaccines, toxins, fracking, nukes


We begin with a vaccine crackdown, via the Mainichi:

Pakistan police arrest parents refusing kids’ polio vaccine

Hundreds of parents in northwest Pakistan were arrested and jailed on charges of endangering public security after refusing to give their children polio vaccinations, officials said Monday.

Parents targeted by police starting this past weekend were not arrested if they agreed to vaccinate their children, said Shakirullah Khan, a senior police officer in Peshawar.

Feroz Shah, a spokesman for the district administration in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said 471 people were jailed in the city and surrounding villages under government orders.

From Al Jazeera America, accommodation:

Most doctors agree to alter kids’ vaccine schedules

  • Physicians give in to parents’ wishes in order to build trust with families, study finds

Pediatricians are facing increasing pressure from parents to delay vaccinating their children — and most of them are complying despite concerns that they are putting the children at risk for contracting preventable illnesses such as measles and whooping cough, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

In a national survey of 534 pediatricians and family doctors sent out via email and mail in 2012, 93 percent of the doctors reported that the parents of children under age 2 asked them to spread out or delay the child’s vaccination schedule. And 21 percent of the doctors reported that at least 10 percent of the parents asked to delay the vaccine schedule, according to the survey conducted by Children’s Hospital Colorado, the University of Colorado and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most doctors said they agreed to do so, even though 87 percent of them thought that delaying the vaccine schedule was putting the children in danger of catching a vaccine-preventable illness. They complied either “often” or “always” 37 percent of the time and “sometimes” 37 percent of the time, while 26 percent of the doctors said they did so “rarely.”

Tallying up another outbreak, via Outbreak News Today:

Malaysia dengue death toll up to 62

With 25,000 cases of dengue fever reported in Malaysia during the first two months of 2015, the country appears on a trajectory to see more cases than last year’s 100,000.

In addition, the Malaysia Health Ministry has put the death toll due to dengue at 62, up eight in less than a week.

In 2013, Malaysia reported 79 fatalities, while last year, at least 189 deaths were counted.

Selangor continues to report the most cases in the country at nearly 15,000, or six out of 10 cases nationwide.

From Science, a reasonable move:

Escape of dangerous bacterium leads to halt of risky studies at Tulane

The apparent escape from a high-security lab of a dangerous bacterium that led federal officials last month to suspend research on certain high-risk pathogens at Tulane University has left questions about an ongoing investigation of the incident and broader risks.

According to a lengthy 1 March news article in USA Today, two rhesus macaques at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Covington, Louisiana, that fell ill in early November later tested positive for infection with Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is found naturally in soil and water in Southeast Asia and northern Australia. Center researchers had been working with rodents on a vaccine for the bacterium, which can cause a sometimes serious illness called melioidosis in animals and people. The two macaques, which later had to be euthanized, and two other rhesus macaques that tested positive for the bacterium may have been exposed while being treated at the center’s hospital.

Adding to concerns, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigator who visited the site in late January fell seriously ill a day later and tested positive for Burkholderia pseudomallei. It is not clear whether the investigator, who has since recovered, was infected at Tulane or earlier during travel abroad, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in February. The agency said it had suspended all studies at the center involving select agents, a list of dangerous viruses, bacteria, and toxins that are tightly regulated. That includes about 10 projects, USA Today reports.

Science covers a call for more:

More environmental action needed, European agency says

The latest big-picture analysis of the state of the environment in Europe finds that although the continent is making progress in energy efficiency, it is falling short in protecting biodiversity and natural resources. In some areas, the financial recession led to improvements in trends, but the gains may be short-lived, the report warns.

Every 5 years since 1995, the European Environment Agency provides a broad assessment of status and trends. The refrain is familiar to Andrew Jordan, an environmental policy analyst at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. “They’ve continuously said the same thing: We’re not moving as rapidly toward sustainable development as we should.”

Among the bad news:

  • Biodiversity is still declining: 60% of protected species have a conservation status that is unfavorable.
  • 91% of fish stocks assessed in the Mediterranean Sea were overfished in 2014.
  • Air pollution leads to 400,000 premature deaths annually.

From the Ecologist, meat hunger devastates Chinese ecology:

Meat boom propels China’s ecosystems into total collapse

  • China’s farming boom has massively increased food production, writes John Dearing – especially of meat. But it has come at a massive cost: the wholesale pollution and destruction of core ecosystems.

China’s push for more intense farming has kept its city dwellers well-fed and helped lift millions of rural workers out of poverty. But it has come at a cost.

Ecosystems in what should be one of the country’s most fertile region have already been badly damaged – some beyond repair – and the consequences will be felt across the world.

This is part of a long-running trade-off between rising levels of food production and a deteriorating environment, revealed in recent research I conducted with colleagues from China and the UK.

After the jump, mapping global pesticide runoff, a battle against Amazonian forest destruction, climatic causation for war in Syria, an offshore drilling vote in Southern California, Venezuelan anti-fracking campaigners target the U.S., the Dutch government issues a fracking apology, on to Fukushimapocalypose Now!, starting with evacuee return reluctance, uncertainty haunts restart plans for another nuke plant, Another city vows to eschew nuclear power, and a deadly Africna nuclear legacy lingers on. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Global warming causation


Who is more likely to belief humans play a role, via the Pew Research Center:

Global warm

InSecurityWatch: Stalkers, hacks, war, spies, law


From the Observer, the worst of both worlds:

Spyware and malware availability sparks surge in internet stalking

  • Domestic violence experts warn malicious software is increasingly being used to compromise victims’ computers and phones

Domestic violence experts have warned that the use of specialist technology that enables abusers to stalk victims online and via mobile phones is growing at an alarming rate.

A series of parliamentary answers has revealed that, in the 12 months up to April 2014, police received 10,731 reports of computers being compromised by spyware and malware (malicious software). Both can be used by abusers to gather information from someone’s computer or phone. They can allow abusers to view documents, photographs or passwords – and even turn on a device’s camera or microphone. Mobile spyware can also reveal a person’s location.

The real number of victims is likely to be considerably higher. “As most victims are unaware that they are being watched or are too scared to come forward, the real number of incidents could be up to 10 times that,” said Harry Fletcher, criminal justice director of the Digital-Trust, a new charity set up to help victims of cyber abuse.

A spy with conviction, via BBC News:

Ex-Colombian spy chief Maria del Pilar Hurtado convicted

The former head of Colombia’s secret police, Maria del Pilar Hurtado, has been found guilty of spying on politicians, judges and journalists. The Supreme Court said Hurtado’s sentence would be announced in 15 days.

Those targeted in the spying, which occurred between 2007 and 2008, were all political opponents of Alvaro Uribe, who was president at the time.

His former chief of staff has also been convicted but Mr Uribe denies any knowledge of the illegal intercepts.

Cold War 2.0 expostulation, via the Guardian:

Former MI6 chief warns over Russian threat

John Sawers says defence spending needs to increase to counter Vladimir Putin’s actions and Europe needs to find a new way to coexist with Russia

Russia has become a greater threat to Britain, and defence spending needs to increase to counter Vladimir Putin’s actions, the former MI6 chief has warned.

Sir John Sawers, who stepped down in 2014 after five years of running the Secret Intelligence Service, said the threat posed by Moscow was “not necessarily directly to the UK but to countries around its periphery”.

“The real problem is how we live with a Russia which feels very exposed. Putin’s actions are ones of a leader who believes his own security is at stake,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday.

And from the New York Times, Cold War 1.0:

Cuba’s Designation as a Sponsor of Terrorism Snarls Negotiations With U.S.

More than a year ago, the State Department held a meeting with bankers and Cuban officials to deliver an unusual request: please accept Cuba’s money.

The one bank that did business with Cuban diplomats in Washington, M & T Bank of Buffalo, had announced that it would no longer serve foreign missions. Cuba could hardly shop around for a replacement, not least because it is on the American government’s list of nations that support terrorism — forcing Cuban diplomats in Washington to carry out many of their transactions with bundles of cash.

Now, Cuba’s spot on the American list of states that sponsor terrorism is emerging as a major sticking point in the effort to restore diplomatic ties with the United States and reopen embassies that have been closed for nearly five decades.

And so it continues, via the McClatchy Foreign Staff:

UN cites 2 ‘credible’ reports of torture at U.S. facilities in Afghanistan

The United Nations reported Wednesday that it had uncovered two credible accounts of torture at U.S. military facilities in Afghanistan in recent years during an investigation into the treatment of detainees.

The report, which was devoted primarily to mistreatment of prisoners held in Afghan custody, said the “credible and reliable” accounts came from two detainees who’d been held “in a U.S. facility in Maydan Wardak,” a province whose capital of Maidan Shar lies about 20 miles west of Kabul, and “a U.S. special forces facility at Baghlan,” a province that lies north of the Afghan capital.

The report quoted the prisoners as saying the mistreatment in Baghlan occurred in April 2013 and at Maydan Wardak in September 2013.

Torture as part of the U.S. war on terror has been a controversial issue. A recent report by the Senate Intelligence Committee outlined 20 cases of mistreatment of suspected terrorists held in secret CIA prisons, and U.S. soldiers have been accused of torturing Afghan prisoners, with the most notorious case being the death of Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver who died after he was hung from the ceiling of his cell by his wrists and beaten in 2002.

But there have been few verified reports in more recent years, though Afghan authorities have accused Americans of abusing prisoners.

The New York Times covers the defense:

‘Jihadi John’ Stirs Britain to Defend Spy Agencies

After disclosures that the man who posed in videos of the murder of Western hostages was known to British intelligence, Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday defended the security services, saying they faced tough decisions and had prevented deadly attacks.

“All of the time, they are having to make incredibly difficult judgments, and I think basically they make very good judgments on our behalf,” Mr. Cameron said at a news conference.

“I think while we are in the middle of this vast effort to make sure British citizens are safe, I think the most important thing is to get behind them,” he said.

And from WMC Action News 5 in Memphis, a target:

Mid-South professor targeted by ISIS

A Mid-South professor is being targeted by ISIS, a group known for its gruesomeness.

“ISIS does not represent my faith, their actions are in contradiction to my faith, and I’m appalled at what they are doing in the name of my faith,” said Rhodes College professor of religious studies, and the Resident Scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center Yasir Qadhi.

ISIS is using its propaganda magazine in the name of Islam to call for the assassination of Qadhi.

“I was one two clerics that they targeted in their latest magazine, two American clerics, and basically called for my assassination,” said Qadhi. “And they have said this is an act of of worship…..that if somebody kills me, God is going to reward them.”

BBC News covers a designation:

Egypt court puts Hamas on terrorist list

An Egyptian court has listed the Palestinian group Hamas as a terrorist organisation, accusing it of supporting an insurgency in northern Sinai.

The ruling comes a month after a different court labelled the armed wing of Hamas as a terrorist group. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood – itself designated as a terrorist organisation in 2013.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi was ousted that year. The court ruling on Saturday effectively bans Hamas within Egypt, a wider verdict that January’s censure of its armed wing.

From the New York Times, agitation:

Online, American Helps Fuel Attacks in Egypt

Writing from an online perch in Istanbul, he calls on Egyptians to start off-hour attacks against KFC restaurants, banks, mobile phone shops and other corporate outposts. He urges assaults on the military’s commercial interests instead of its security checkpoints.

Nonviolent protests are worse than “futile,” he says, just an opportunity “to get arrested or shot in an exercise in crowd control training for the police.”

This Internet provocateur is an American convert to Islam, Shahid King Bolsen, a college dropout who speaks only rudimentary Arabic and has barely set foot in Egypt. He has nevertheless emerged as the unlikely apostle for a distinctive blend of anti-globalization sloganeering and Islamist politics that is fueling a new wave of violence against businesses across the country.

From the Independent, a Saudi blogger’s fate worsens:

Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face the death penalty

Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger whose punishment of 1,000 lashes has prompted international condemnation, may now face the death penalty.

Mr Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, told The Independent in a series of messages that judges in Saudi Arabia’s criminal court want him to undergo a re-trial for apostasy. If found guilty, he would face a death sentence.

She said the “dangerous information” had come from “official sources” inside the conservative kingdom, where Mr Badawi has already been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes – administered at a rate of 50 per week – for criticising the country’s clerics through his liberal blog.

After the jump, terror porn and fundamentalist eBayism, China alleged to spy on nuclear power plants, Aussie women head off to ISIS, China’s Muslims increasingly targeted, Pegida marchers outnumbered by foes in Britain, a looted Iraqi museum reopens, more U.S. drone kills in Yemen, Cameroonians stage an anti-Boko Haram rally, a former Peruvian leader charged in a journalist’s killing, terror fears raise a free speech crackdown on the U.K. campus, civil libertarians fear Canada’s anti-terror legislation, and new Turkish laws evoke the police state specter, South Korea pushes Japan for Comfort Women resolution, a partisan challenge to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s security state push, and a call for cybersecurity coordination. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, GMOs, toxins, nukes


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

Program notes:

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.

BLOG FufuksignThe 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.

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, water woes, food, nukes


The Guardian the latest measles hot spot:

Las Vegas confirms three new cases of measles linked to casino restaurant

  • Two staff members and patron of seafood restaurant at MGM Grand affected
  • Cases not linked to Disneyland outbreak that began in December

Three new cases of measles have been confirmed in Las Vegas, in people believed to have been infected by a contagious worker at an upscale MGM Grand Hotel and Casino seafood restaurant, Nevada public health officials said on Friday.

The newly diagnosed patients, two staff members and a patron of Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at the MGM Grand, bring to nine the total number of measles cases reported in Clark County, the Southern Nevada health district spokeswoman, Jennifer Sizemore, said.

None of those cases are believed to be linked to an outbreak of measles that began at Disneyland in December, she said.

And from the Oakland Tribune, a measles alert about one of esnl’s favorite local eateries:

Person with measles dined at Berkeley restaurant, health officials warn

A person infected with measles dined at La Mediterranee restaurant in Berkeley last week, exposing hundreds of fellow diners to the infectious virus, a city health spokeswoman said Thursday.

The adult, a San Mateo resident, visited the popular Berkeley restaurant Feb. 20, between 6:45 p.m. and 8 p.m. Health officials said the person had not developed the telltale rash and was unaware of the infection. Symptoms can develop between 7 and 21 days after exposure to the virus.

Also on Thursday, BART officials warned that more than 1,000 riders may have been exposed to measles when an infected person rode the train last week, getting on a Richmond-bound train at Millbrae and getting off at Civic Center. The person was also described as a San Mateo resident, although privacy laws make it impossible to know if it is the same one.

From the Associated Press, fingering a Bosnian culprit:

Experts blame anti-vaccine lobby for Bosnia measles outbreak

Medical experts warned Friday the anti-vaccination lobby is growing in Bosnia, using scientifically discredited arguments to stoke parental fears in the worst-affected country in Europe’s measles outbreak.

This trend — combined with a generation that could not be immunized because of lack of vaccines during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war — has led to 5,340 measles cases in Bosnia, according to the World Health Organization.

“I am increasingly hearing from parents about their fears due to the stuff they read on the Internet,” Dr. Gordana Banduka, a pediatrician from Pale, near Sarajevo, told The Associated Press.

Bosnia’s immunization rate has fallen to just 87 percent, chief epidemiologist Jelena Ravlija said, below the 95 percent rate needed to prevent outbreaks.

Some good news about another lethal virus, via Medical News Today:

Researchers identify antibodies to fight Marburg virus

Two new studies have demonstrated how human antibodies can neutralize the Marburg virus, a highly lethal virus related to Ebola.

Antibodies have been found to bind to the surface of the virus, which could lead to future antibody treatments and vaccines to target Marburg and other viruses in the family.

Marburg virus is up to 90% lethal. Just like the Ebola virus, it can cause hemorrhaging and organ failure. An outbreak of the virus in Angola in 2005 was responsible for the deaths of 329 people, and the worry is that an even bigger outbreak could occur in the future.

“The good news is, humans do make antibodies when they are infected that can kill these viruses… which suggests that vaccines should work,” says Dr. James Crowe, lead author of one of the two studies published in Cell.

From the New York Times, and they’re surprised?:

U.S. Push for Abstinence in Africa Is Seen as Failure Against H.I.V.

The $1.3 billion that the United States government has spent since 2005 encouraging Africans to avoid AIDS by practicing abstinence and fidelity did not measurably change sexual behavior and was largely wasted, according to a study presented on the last day of an AIDS conference here.

The study, done by a second-year student at Stanford Medical School for a professor with an expertise in cost-benefit analyses, caused a major stir in the room where it was presented.

The researcher, Nathan Lo, analyzed records showing the age of people having sex for the first time, teenage pregnancy and number of sexual partners in international health surveys that have been paid for by the State Department since the 1970s.

And then there’s another health threat, via the Guardian:

Three cases of leprosy in eastern Florida ‘linked to armadillos’

  • Experts stress public has little cause for alarm
  • ‘There’s more interaction with armadillos than you might think’

Health officials on the east coast of Florida have diagnosed three cases of leprosy in the last five months, linking two of the cases to contact with armadillos. The small armored mammals are known to harbor the disease in the southern US.

The cases were confirmed in Volusia County, Florida, which is home to about 500,000 people and tourist cities such as Daytona Beach. Health officials believe the three cases developed independently.

Though such a cluster of cases of leprosy is uncommon, experts say the general public has little to worry about. About 95% of the population is not susceptible to leprosy, also called Hansen’s disease, which can be cured with antibiotics. Also, only the nine-banded armadillo carries leprosy. The common five-banded armadillo does not.

Another epidemic spreads, via Outbreak News Today:

Diphtheria surge in Sumatra city prompts vaccination drive

Health officials with the West Sumatra Health Agency have reported a surge of the very serious vaccine-preventable disease, diphtheria, in the city of Padang over the past month prompting a mass vaccination campaign.

“During the last four weeks, 28 cases of children with suspected diphtheria have been found, six of which tested positive for the diphtheria bacteria,” West Sumatra Health Agency head Rosnini Savitri said to the Jakarta Post.

In addition, two of the 6 confirmed cases died from the disease.

The health agency is targeting 254,000 children and adolescents aged between 2 months and 15 years for vaccination against diphtheria, the report notes.

Latin Correspondent covers a war declared against Big Food:

To fight diabetes crisis, Mexican civil society takes aim at junk food, Coca-Cola

With one-third of Mexican children likely to develop diabetes during their lifetime, a group of civic associations known as the Alliance for Healthy Food have called for the removal of junk food and related marketing from children’s lives.

The Alliance for Healthy Food’s mass media campaign, entitled “What did your children eat today?” aims to raise awareness of this health crisis, which is being fueled largely by excessive consumption of junk food and sugary drinks.

The campaign is targeted at parents, to encourage them to make better dietary choices for their children, and at lawmakers, to persuade them to pass more stringent legislation against junk food and sugary drink advertising that targets Mexican children.

Al Jazeera America covers an American economic health threat:

Suicides among middle-aged spiked after 2007, tied to economic downturn

  • Study shows that financial and legal troubles were increasingly a factor in US suicides after Great Recession

A sharp increase in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans in the years after 2007 is linked to economic troubles brought about by the financial crisis, according to a study published Friday in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The number of Americans age 40 to 64 who take their own lives has risen by 40 percent since 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And suicide rates for the age group have picked up markedly since the onset of the Great Recession, according to the report.

The increase comes despite the number of suicides leveling off over the same time frame for other age groups.

From JapanToday, Big Pharma behaving badly once again:

Novartis Japan hit with suspension failing to report drug side effects

Japanese health authorities said Friday that they have ordered the local unit of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis to temporarily suspend its operations for failing to report drug side effects.

The health ministry’s 15-day suspension—reportedly a first for a pharmaceutical firm operating in Japan—means the company will not be able to sell most of its drugs during that period, which is to start from March 5.

Tokyo-based Novartis Pharma KK in December admitted it failed to promptly report more than 3,000 cases of adverse effects from about two dozen company drugs. Drugmakers are required to report serious side effects to the ministry within 15 to 30 days.

After the jump, a drug wars plan would deny a critically needed Third World medicine, another down side to digital media [What’s that? We can’t hear you. . .], California farmers denied water as drought drags on and what ground water there is faces illegal fracking and oil drilling waste contamination, Olympic-sized water woes in Rio, Americans see the climate change as a moral cause, the challenge of separating natural cycles from human causation in climate change, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with soaring levels of radiation in the latest leaks, irradiated dirt transfers to commence, high radiation levels find in ocean fish near the site, and Kyoto signs a pact over a reactor restart, plus an avian threat to a Dutch town. . . Continue reading