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Friday:  August 15, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Monday
Aug202012

Super Bacteria Found in New Mexico Cave

(PHOTO: A researcher stands near the "Pearlsian Gulf" in the Lechuguilla caves, NM/Max Wisshak)(HN, 4/11/12) - Lechuguilla Cave, a subterranean tunnel stretching for 130 miles through Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, US  may just hold the key to the growing global problem of antibiotic resistance to current modern viruses. Deep in the cave's most arid depths, amid no sunlight, no water - a lush garden of bacteria grows untouched by humans for 4 million years.  These strains of bacteria thrive on harsh minerals of the geological formations to which they cling & fend off other life forms that would prey on them.  Hazel A. Barton, a spelunker & microbiologist at the University of Akron in Ohio collected about 500 strains of bacteria from 3 sites in the cave. Of the 93 strains that were chosen for evaluation, all were resistant to at least 1 of the current antibiotics used to fight bacterial infections & some were resistant to at least 14. Virtually all of the 26 antibiotics tested - from natural products like vancomycin to synthetics such as ciprofloxacin & linezolid - proved useless in killing at least 1 of the strains of bacteria collected.

 (GRAPH: A bacteria breaking down an antibiotic/TextbookofBacteriology)What does this mean?  Try as you might to kill them, infectious diseases gain the upper hand against medicines eventually & the process cannot be stopped.  The study appeared on the same day the US Food & Drug Administration asked drug makers & veterinarians to reduce the widespread use of antibiotics in commercial livestock.  In 2010, nearly 29 million pounds of antibiotics were fed to animals, accelerating bacteria's adaptation to drugs.  Scientists have long believed the ability of disease-causing bacteria to outwit antibiotics was a man-made phenomenon that made many bacteria's less vulnerable to drugs used to fight tuberculosis, malaria, gonorrhea, influenza, pneumonia &  AIDS.  The findings make it clear that humans will always have to contend with antibiotic resistance, no matter what steps are taken to prevent it; but the study's findings should help scientists to develop antibiotics for future use.  (Read more at NATGEO) 

Monday
Aug202012

United Airlines Ends Vaccine Support to Pacific Islands

 (PHOTO: ScienceBuzz)(HN, 4/24/12) - Flu vaccines may not arrive as expected in 6 Pacific islands beginning this year after United Airlines discontinued the service of shipping them for free from the US Department of Defense,  as was the carriers practice.  Pacific Island Health Officers Association's Michael Epp relayed the message to its members  which include American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, & Palau, in a letter last week. The annual practice was started by Continental Airlines in 2007; United bought Continental in May, 2010Hawaiian Airlines & Continental Micronesia are also partners with DOD but only fly to some countries.   Even with more than 26,000 flu doses sent last year, most of the islands are still short. In its letter to DOD United's regional sales manager for southwest region, Bill Conrad, indicated that "while I do believe this is a worthy cause, unfortunately is does not align with our overall corporate efforts and strategies,” adding that it will not able to extend any gratis support for this movement. (Read more at Saipan Tribune)

Monday
Aug202012

Bird flu can transmit in mammals, study finds

(PHOTO: A mutant flu virus became more transmissible passing between lab ferrets/NATURE)(HN, 5/2/12) - After months of debate about how to release the findings publicly, a report published in Nature finds that, Avian H5N1 influenza viruses in the wild may be 1 small step away from spreading effectively between mammals (humans). That is the sobering message from a controversial study by Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. In the words of a virologist from Columbia University in New York. “It does not disappoint.” 

(GRAPH: How the virus works/NEWSCIENTIST)H5N1, commonly known as `bird flu', is highly pathogenic & often lethal in humans, but it cannot yet spread efficiently between people & animals. Kawaoka & his team mutated a gene, which produces the protein the virus uses to stick itself to host cells.  Researchers combined this gene with 7 others from a highly transmissible flu virus, the H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic in 2009 -  & found the hybrid virus could spread between ferrets in separate cages after acquiring just 4 mutations. What's worrying to scientists is that some Middle Eastern H5N1 strains, notably found in Egypt, can already recognize human receptors & the study suggests the virus could be just 1 stabilizing mutation away from being able to spread to & between humans.

(PHOTO: Florida chicken coop/Larry Rana, USDA)Corroborating  experiments have been conducted by a team at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands & they have just received approval to publish their paper in an upcoming Science edition. Such a hybrid virus could emerge naturally; both H5N1 & H1N1 have been found in pigs, but the hybrid virus evolved further after Kawaoka’s team gave it to ferrets - the best animal model for human influenza - which saw the virus spread between ferrets for the 1st time; some in nearby cages by airborne spread. (Read more at NATURE)

Tuesday
May082012

Malaria Resistance Increasing on Thai-Burma Border

(PHOTO: Microscopic magnification shows Plasmodium falciparum-the most virulent of the 4 malaria parasites that infect humans, destroying red blood cells in the liver. It digests a cell's hemoglobin, multiplies inside to the point of rupturing the cell, & rapidly spreads a new generation of infection/NatGeo)Malaria parasites resistant to the last, best drug treatment, called artemisinin combination therapy, or ACT, are infecting people along the border of Thai-Burmese reports the latest Lancet from physicians treating patients there. The proportion of patients with the slowest response to treatment in western Thailand has increased from less than 1% in 2001 to 20% in 2010. The focus on ACT-resistant strains has recently been in Cambodia - but this is a new resistance - meaning it arose independently from the Cambodian type rather than spreading from there. Malaria experts have been holding their breath, hoping it wouldn't happen. But it did.

(Video Al Jazeera)

If drug-resistant strains spread worldwide, public health officials will once again need to develop new drugs. The biggest fear is that resistant forms of malaria will emerge in sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria afflicts & kills more people than anywhere else. Widespread resistance to chloroquine, the drug of choice for fighting malaria from the 1950s through 1980s, led to a major resistance development from the disease, especially among children.

(GRAPH: Malaria symptoms/Wikipedia) Additionally, researchers report in Science they've zeroed in on changes in the parasite's genes which drive the new strain of resistance.  Artemisinin-based therapies are a big reason why the hope of eliminating malaria has been rising; including wide distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets & last fall's announcement that the first large field trial of a malaria vaccine reduced infections by 55%. More than 600,000 people die of malaria each year around the world tho that number has been falling.

Monday
Mar052012

Bird flu among humans more prevalent but less deadly: Study

(PHOTO: In 2007 a bird flu virus was traced to chickens on a small farm near Corwen, North Wales/DailyMail) More people may have been infected by the virus that causes bird flu or avian flu, AKA H5N1, than previously thought, & the number of deaths from infection may also have been "overestimated," conclude New York scientists in a study published in the journal Science. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has documented fewer than 600 cases of H5N1 flu A infection & the WHO's stringent criteria for confirming bird flu in humans is often based on whether the symptoms are severe enough for hospitalisation or death. The research suggests, the fatality rate of 50 to 90% is probably "overestimated" & is based on 12,500 participants in 20 studies worldwide. Data includes people who work in poultry & those who don't. According to WHO figures 2003-2011, H5N1 strain has infected 573 & killed 336, notably in Indonesia (hit hardest as recently as January 2012), Egypt, China, and Cambodia(Read more at the Malaysia Star)