brad brace

2/20/2017

H7N9

I-RISE

Bird flu is back. Chinese authorities are closing live poultry markets as H7N9 courses through the country, infecting 192 and killing 79 in January alone.

So far, this strain of avian flu appears to have been transmitted only through contact with live poultry, but there’s always a fear it will mutate and start passing between humans. That’s what really scares experts: the possibility of a sudden change that triggers faster spread between humans and leads to a pandemic.

A disease doesn’t count as a pandemic until it spreads worldwide – Ebola killed more than 11,000 people across West Africa before it was brought under control, and that was just an epidemic. The most modern pandemics include the Spanish influenza, circa 1918 (as many as 50 million killed), and HIV/AIDS (35 million dead).

As Chinese officials attempt to stem the latest bird flu outbreak, global public health officials are racing to get ahead of what they call the next “big one”: a disease that will kill tens of millions. It’s all about preparedness, and a large part of that is spotting outbreaks early, so action can be taken to contain any situation before it spirals out of control.

It’s anyone’s guess when and where the next major epidemic – or pandemic – might emerge. It could be a mutated version of avian flu, or perhaps something completely unseen before, like the mysterious illness with Ebola-like symptoms that struck out of the blue in South Sudan last year.

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever

When a patient in Madrid died last September of a disease called Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, there was no shortage of headlines about the “new” deadly virus. But the disease has actually been around for years – it got the first part of its name when first reported in Crimea in 1944, and the second thanks to a 1969 spotting in Congo.

The last two words of the disease, abbreviated as CCHF, speak to the symptoms: fever, muscle aches, nausea, diarrhoea, bruising and bleeding (the list goes on), and eventually death in the second week of illness – about 30 percent of patients (sometimes more) succumb to the virus.

CCHF is found pretty much everywhere south of the 50th parallel north: Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East, and Asia. Humans tend to contract the virus through contact with the blood of an infected animal (itself having been bitten by infected ticks) – vets, people working in slaughterhouses, and farmers are typically most at risk.

Once in humans, the virus can be spread through contact with blood, secretions, bodily fluids, and the like. It has been contracted in hospitals thanks to poor sterilisation of equipment and reuse of needles.

The virus bothers researchers and doctors for a number of reasons, one of them cultural: it’s endemic in some Muslim countries where large-scale animal slaughter is part of celebrating (and feasting) for the holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Doctors in Pakistan, for example, have warned of a potential health catastrophe unless slaughtering practices change, as the feasting holiday will be in the summer for the next 10-15 years, coinciding with tick season and CCHF prevalence.

There are similar concerns in Afghanistan, where public health officials have been warning the public about using gloves and other protective clothing when handling animals.

There is no vaccine for Crimean-Congo, and there is no cure, although antiviral drugs have shown some promise. Nipah virus Tackling drought with emergency aid is not the answer

This one’s got a Hollywood hook: The 2011 film Stephen Soderbergh film Contagion is reportedly based on it. Spoiler alert. In the movie, Nipah causes a global pandemic. In reality, we’re far from that.

But the way Nipah got going in real life is paralleled in the film: Thanks to drought, deforestation and wildfire, large fruit bats that carry the virus found their natural habitats in Malaysia destroyed. So they moved to fruit trees that happened to be in fairly close proximity to pig farms.

The pigs ate fruit contaminated by bat urine and saliva, the virus spread quickly among livestock, and again farm workers were the first hit. This first outbreak in Malaysia in the late 1990s saw the country cull more than one million pigs: a major hit to the economy.

In its first appearance, Nipah killed 105 of 256 known infected people.

But humans can also get Nipah by drinking raw palm date sap, a delicacy in Bangladesh. It is believed to be the cause of regular seasonal outbreaks in that country. When the sap is harvested, it has already been infected by bats in the trees.

Nipah scares researchers because it kills quickly – nausea, fever, and vomiting, patients progress to a coma within 24-48 hours, and then die. It has also spread swiftly from rural areas to cities.

Once in humans, the virus is found in saliva, so it can kill caregivers and family members who share utensils and glasses, or hug and kiss their sick family members. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)

Bandied about as the next pandemic possibility for a while, MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, although looking back researchers believe there were cases the same year in Jordan.

It’s deadly – a reported 36 percent of patients die – and looks to have come to humans via bats, again. There’s a pattern here: Bats carry a long list of killer viruses and likely triggered the Ebola outbreak as well as SARS and others.

MERS causes fever, cough, shortness of breath, and in more than one third of patients, death. A 2015 outbreak in South Korea killed 36, and caused serious panic. Thousands of schools were closed, and many businesses were hit hard as people were wary even of going outside, and many others were quarantined.

While MERS is deadlier than its cousin SARS, it is also less contagious. It is spread through close contact with an infected person, and most transmissions have been in healthcare settings. There’s no real evidence that it’s gone airborne – that’s always a major fear – but the possibility hasn’t been completely ruled out.

For now, there’s no reason to panic about MERS, but it’s always a worry during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia, which sees some two million people converge in the country with the most cases.

Like the other diseases mentioned here, there’s no vaccine and there’s no treatment – it’s all about hygiene.

There are plenty of other scary killers out there, and researchers are both tracking the movement of viruses between species and attempting to figure out a key plot point: why exactly a virus goes airborne. One last top tip: keep a particular eye on influenza. It’s not exotic and everyone knows its name, but some form of the flu could easily become the next “big one”. Oh yes, and be careful of bats.

8/26/2016

Made in the U.S.A.

cluster

Cluster munitions are dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground or sea, opening up in mid-air to release tens or hundreds of submunitions, which can saturate an area up to the size of several football fields. Anybody within the strike area of the cluster munition, be they military or civilian, is very likely to be killed or seriously injured. The horror, the shame.

The fuze of each submunition is generally activated as it falls so that it will explode above or on the ground. But often large numbers of the submunitions fail to work as designed, and instead land on the ground without exploding, where they remain as very dangerous duds.

A cobalt bomb is a theoretical type of “salted bomb”: a nuclear weapon designed to produce enhanced amounts of radioactive fallout, intended to contaminate a large area with radioactive material. The concept of a cobalt bomb was originally described in a radio program by physicist Leó Szilárd on February 26, 1950. His intent was not to propose that such a weapon be built, but to show that nuclear weapon technology would soon reach the point where it could end human life on Earth, a doomsday device.

139 financial institutions worldwide are investing over US$24 billion in companies producing cluster munitions: investment in the producers of this deadly weapon by banks, pension funds and other financial institutions around the world. Cluster munitions have recently been used against civilians in Syria. These weapons have killed and injured thousands of people for decades, which is why the majority of the world’s nations have banned them. Syria has not joined the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. Syria’s use of cluster munitions should be a wake-up call for governments and financial institutions of the severe and real consequences of this indiscriminate weapon. Financial institutions have invested in cluster munition producers since June 2010. The majority of these investments come from financial institutions in states that have not yet joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The ‘Hall of Shame’ includes 22 financial institutions from 6 countries that are part of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions: Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

4/9/2016

Panama Papers

panamapapers

The Panama Papers reportedly cover more than 40 years of Mossack Fonseca’s operations on behalf of a who’s-who list of the global elite, including numerous important politicians and current or former heads of state, international criminals and star athletes, along with any number of less charismatic but equally wealthy corporations and individuals. Close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin appear in the Mossack documents (although Putin himself is not named), as do the father of British Prime Minister David Cameron, members of the Saudi royal family, the president of Ukraine and the prime minister of Pakistan. The Icelandic prime minister, named as a Mossack client with offshore holdings, was forced to resign on Tuesday, before apparently reversing himself on Wednesday. It’s safe to say the ripple effects of these revelations will be felt for years, if not decades. Mossack evidently created some 214,000 anonymous offshore companies for its moneyed clientele–“shell firms” with sham directors and phony boards of directors, reports the SZ, designed such that their “true purpose and ownership structure is indecipherable from the outside.” In most of these cases, “concealing the identities of the true company owners was the primary aim,” and the documents suggest that Mossack routinely engages in business practices that “potentially violate sanctions, in addition to aiding and abetting tax evasion and money laundering.” They’re just the tip of a really big iceberg. That’s true in several senses. First of all, although Mossack Fonseca is a major player in the lucrative international industry of helping the rich get richer, it’s only one company among the network of bankers and lawyers and honey-tongued advisers competing to grovel before the world’s elite caste and make safe their massive wealth. Perhaps the rich still believe they deserve to be rich, and too many of the non-rich believe it too. But their desperate attempts to hide their wealth beneath armies of lawyers and nests of imaginary companies and mailing addresses on distant islands suggest otherwise. They’re afraid that the illusion may be crumbling. They’re afraid that one of these days we’ll figure out how they got that money and decide to take it back.

5/22/2013

MERS-CoV

Filed under: disease/health,india,malaysia,saudia arabia,tunisia — admin @ 4:05 am

A 66-year-old Tunisian man has died from the new coronavirus following a visit to Saudi Arabia and two of his adult children were infected with it.

His sons were treated and have since recovered but the rest of the family remains under medical observation. The cases are the first for Tunisia and indicate that the virus is slowly trickling out of Saudi Arabia, where more than 30 coronavirus cases have been reported. There have been at least 20 deaths worldwide out of 40 cases.

The Tunisian fatality, a diabetic, had been complaining of breathing problems since his return from the trip and died in a hospital in the coastal Tunisian city of Monastir. Many previous coronavirus patients have had underlying medical problems, which WHO said might have made them more susceptible to getting infected. There is no specific treatment for the disease, but the agency has issued guidelines for how doctors might treat patients, like providing oxygen therapy and avoiding strong steroids.

The new virus has been compared to SARS, an unusual pneumonia that surfaced in China then erupted into a deadly international outbreak in early 2003. Ultimately, more than 8,000 SARS cases were reported in about 30 countries and over 770 people died from it.

The new coronavirus is most closely related to a bat virus and is part of a family of viruses that cause the common cold and SARS. Experts suspect it may be jumping directly from animals like camels or goats into people, but there isn’t enough proof to narrow down a species yet. The virus can cause acute respiratory disease, kidney failure and heart problems.

The Saudi Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina will receive millions of pilgrims from around the world during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which falls in July and August this year.

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona virus (MERS-CoV), which was first reported in Saudi Arabia and is now slowly spreading to other countries like the U.K., Jordan, France, and Tunisia.

Strange enough, despite the fact that Kerala has a lot of women working in the health sector in the Middle East and that there is good traffic between the Middle East and Kerala, active surveillance for the illness has not yet been launched.

The infection is still being reported in small clusters, even outside Middle East countries and hence no screening at airports has been advised by WHO. Yet, given Kerala’s widespread links to the Middle East and the fact that so many Malayalis live in very crowded environs in these countries, it is very much possible that the virus could come into Kerala.

Human-to-human transmission of the virus has been confirmed with many cases being reported among family members and through hospital-acquired (nosocomial) infections. The virus has so far resulted in 40 confirmed cases of severe respiratory disease, including 20 deaths.

The MERS-CoV belongs to the same family as the SARS virus, which had erupted as a major global outbreak in 2003. The novel CoV, however, though more lethal than SARS virus, does not spread from humans as easily as SARS.

Till now, all the confirmed cases of MERS-CoV has had some link to the Middle East – persons who travelled to the destination, their close family members, or health workers who came into contact with confirmed cases in hospitals.

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