Now the prairie dogs are out to get us

I think it's fair to say at this point that the earth is rising up in self defense and will soon devour every last one of us. Read the rest

Ebola outbreak declared a public health emergency of international concern

Hey! Remember last month when the World Health Organization was like 'nah, let's not declare this outbreak of a viral hemorrhagic fever that's killed over 1,000 people this time around a public health emergency of international concern'? They were afraid that the flow of aid could be impeded into the outbreak's hot zone, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as nations around the world closed their borders to flights in and out of the disease and civil war-addled nation. Welp, screw that: earlier today, the WHO back-peddled on their nah, transforming it into a slightly panicked Yeah.

From The World Health Organization:

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus today declared the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

“It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts. We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system,” said Dr. Tedros. “Extraordinary work has been done for almost a year under the most difficult circumstances. We all owe it to these responders -- coming from not just WHO but also government, partners and communities -- to shoulder more of the burden.”

At the time that this post was well, posted, the count for the number of individuals known to have died due to Ebola had risen to 1676 deaths (1582 confirmed, 94 probable) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What made the WHO change their minds on declaring an emergency? Read the rest

Sock sniffer suffers from fungal infection in lungs

A man only identified as Peng, 37, from Zhangzhou, China, was admitted to the hospital with chest pains and coughing bouts. He eventually confessed to being a dirty sock sniffer. He reportedly jonesed for the stink of his own hosiery and the daily practice led to a fungal infection in his lungs. From Science Alert:

...While it's difficult to prove his strange habit was the definite source of his chest infection, doctors concluded it was the most reasonable explanation – exacerbated by a lack of sleep that may have compromised his immunity.

"The infection could also be attributed to the patient's lack of rest at home as he had [been] looking after his child, leading to a weaker immune system," one of his doctors, Mai Zhuanying from Zhangzhou's 909 Hospital, explained to Pear Video.

Once the infection was diagnosed, Peng was hospitalised and treated for the condition. Fortunately, the sock-sniffer is expected to make a full recovery.

Asked by Live Science to comment on the case, Vanderbilt University infectious disease expert William Schaffner says the news report seems "dubious" but certainly not impossible. In any case, he says, it "reinforces the notion that one ought to launder ones socks frequently rather than trying to make a daily assessment as to whether you want to put them on again for the seventeeth time." Read the rest

A CRISPR-based hack could eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitoes

A research team from Imperial College London have published promising results of an experiment in which Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes -- responsible for the spread of malaria -- were genetically modified with a stable, gene-drive-based CRISPR modification that caused them to go extinct in the lab. Read the rest

'No one should be sleeping well tonight': WHO encourages fear of Ebola

The Democratic Republic of Congo continues to fight off the worst Ebola outbreak in years. Butembo, a major regional hub of 1 million people, has now had a confirmed death.

The World Health Organization is worried, and recommends you worry too.

Via HuffPo:

The Democratic Republic of Congo has confirmed its first Ebola death in the eastern city of Butembo, a trade hub with Uganda that is home to almost a million people. This first urban death, combined with ongoing violence in the northeastern outbreak area in DRC and some community resistance, is worrying experts that the slowing outbreak could still escalate.

Having already killed 87 people, this outbreak is close to becoming the eighth-largest Ebola outbreak in history. While officials have been pleased with the decreasing pace of cases and a successful vaccination and contact tracing campaign, this new case in an urban setting is worrisome, Peter Salama, the World Health Organization’s emergency response chief, told HuffPost.

“When you have an Ebola case confirmed in a city with 1 million people, no one should be sleeping well tonight around the world,” Salama said.

The patient traveled from the current outbreak hotspot, the town of Beni, 35 miles southwest, to Butembo after disregarding medical advice, Salama said. The patient died at a health facility there.

While WHO team members are on site and working to quickly trace and vaccinate those with whom the patient came into contact, the potential for further spread could “change the trajectory of the outbreak,” Salama said.

Read the rest

Aid workers use computer model to help stop cholera in Yemen dead in its tracks

Last year in Yemen, cholera ran rampant. In a single week, the United Nations reported 50,000 new cases of the diarrhea and vomit-inducing illness. In 2018, thanks to computer modeling, the number of individuals that have succumb to the virus have dropped to an average of 2,500 cases over a seven-day period.

From The BBC:

The Met Office [the UK government's meteorological authority,] produces a rainfall forecast for Yemen. Using its supercomputers, it is to determine the specific amount of rain that will fall and pinpoint the areas it will hit within a 10km (six-mile) radius.

These are important because downpours overwhelm the sewerage system and spread the infection.

The forecasts are used in conjunction with a computer model developed by Prof Rita Colwell, at the University of Maryland, and Dr Antar Jutla, at West Virginia University.

Once in the numbers pulled from the Met forecast and the computer model are available, the information is cross-referenced with factors such as the suspected outbvreak area's population density, what access to clean water there may be in the area (cholera is spread, rapidly by ingesting contaminated water,) and the seasonal temperature in the region as the virus LOVES it when it's warm... like, warm for Yemen warm.

According to The BBC, by referring to all of the available data, scientists have been able to accurately predict large scale cholera outbreaks up to four weeks in advance. This provides aid workers, hospitals and what health authorities are able to operate in the war-torn country to vaccinate locals in the target area. Read the rest

Ebola in a war zone: what could go wrong?

A few days after skipping out on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ebola decided, ‘nah,’ cropping back up in a town of around 60,000 potential carriers called Mangina, located in Congo’s North Kivu province. Since the latest outbreak was identified, four people have died of the hemorrhagic fever. The World Health Organization is hoping that the strain of Ebola that’s shown up in North Kivu province is the same as the one that Congolese health workers and an international team of medical professionals were able to put down, this past July: they have a vaccine for that particular strain and it works fabulously. The WHO plans on giving the vaccine a go with this new outbreak—fingers crossed! Unfortunately, in addition to the possibility that the vaccine might not work for this Ebola outbreak, those tasked with stemming the spread of the disease are facing a threat that doesn’t involve contracting a virus: Working in an active war zone.

From The New York Times:

But North Kivu Province, the volatile region in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the new outbreak is centered, creates security complications that health officials did not confront in the outbreak they just defeated in northwest Équateur Province, 1,550 miles away. The World Health Organization is worried about the safety of medical workers in North Kivu and their access to areas controlled by militants.

“This new cluster is occurring in an environment which is very different from where we were operating in the northwest,” said Dr. Peter Salama, the deputy director general of the health agency and the head of its emergency response unit.

Read the rest

World Health Organization: Ebola's back, baby!

So… remember a few days ago when the World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo as having come to an end. Well, the disease is back on its bullshit again with a brand-new outbreak in the same damn country.

From Al Jazeera:

Four cases of the virus were confirmed in northeastern North Kivu province, the DRC's health minister said in a statement on Wednesday, though there was no indication they were linked to the country's previous - and ninth - Ebola outbreak in northwestern Equateur Province.

"Although we did not expect to face a tenth epidemic so early, the detection of the virus is an indicator of the proper functioning of the surveillance system," Health Minister Oly Ilunga said.

However, it might be impossible to use a vaccine to tackle the new outbreak, Peter Salama, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official, said.

Yeah, that’s right: the vaccine that worked a miracle this past go-around with Ebola may not be able to do anything for anyone during the latest outbreak of the disease. Experts currently believe that the iteration of Ebola that Congo is currently facing could be one of three strains Zaire, Sudan or Bundibugyo. If it’s the Zaire strain of the disease? Party time: the vaccine developed by Merck should work a treat on it. Unfortunately, if one of the other two possible strains is responsible for the latest outbreak, The WHO admits that there may not be a vaccine option for them to undertake. Read the rest

Vaccinations against Ebola begin in Congolese town of Bikoro

Last week, officials in charge of stemming the latest outbreak of Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo began the process of inoculating healthcare workers and other individuals who may have come in direct contact with infect individuals, in the Congolese city of Mbandaka. According to The Globe & Mail, inoculations are now also being doled out in Bikoro, a town in the northwest of Congo, where 5 of the 12 confirmed cases of Ebola are believed to have originated.

It’s believed that there are at least 56 cases of the Ebola: 35 cases have been confirmed, leaving 13 probable cases and 13 suspected cases for doctors to deal with and patients to fret over.

From The Globe & Mail:

Amid worries of the spread of Ebola, several schools in the Iboko health zone, about 180 kilometres (112 miles) southeast of Mbandaka, have been closed, according to reports by U.N.-backed Radio Okapi.

Many residents in one of the Iboko localities told Radio Okapi that they prefer to stay at home to avoid infection, following the death of a woman who had Ebola in the nearby Bobala area.

One resident said that what they first thought were rumours were becoming reality with the death and that they were very scared to interact. Four confirmed Ebola deaths have taken place in the Iboko health zone, according to Congo’s health ministry.

Given that the hemorrhagic fever-causing virus has up to a 90% chance of killing those that it infects, to say that such precautions and the fear that those living in areas where the virus has cropped up during this most recent outbreak are reasonable would be an understatement. Read the rest

Two late-stage Ebola patients break quarantine, the number they may have infected is unknown

Last week, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s latest Ebola outbreak was confirmed to have spread to Mbandaka, a transportation hub, home to over one million people. As of the time that this post was written, 31 cases of the disease have been confirmed in the west African nation. Of those confirmed to have been afflicted, nine have died.

Oh, and three individuals confirmed to have contracted the disease, two of which who were showing significant symptoms, managed to escape quarantine and mingle with an unknown number of people.

From the Washington Post:

In a briefing in Geneva, Jean-Clement Cabrol, a doctor who had just returned from Congo, said "the patients were in the active phase of the disease, vomiting" when their families removed them from the hospital, put them on motorcycles, and took them to a religious gathering of 50 people. Ebola is contagious through bodily fluids, and both patients, who were at an acute phase of the illness, died within hours.

Those two were among the three Ebola patients who left a hospital isolation ward and reentered the general population, according to the Doctors Without Borders mission in the Congolese city of Mbandaka.

That two of the patients, at the height of their power to infect others, opted to leave the quarantine that they’d been put under reads like something monstrous. But it couldn’t be more human. In their final hours, the pair, knowing that death couldn’t have been closer, turned to the comfort of their families and their faith, hoping that it would be a balm against the unspeakable misery that they must have been in. Read the rest

Ebola outbreak in Congo has spread to city of one million people

The latest Ebola outbreak in Congo has moved from the rural area in which is was first discovered to Mbandaka: a city home to approximately one million people. That the disease has spread to an area with such a dense population is extremely troubling all on its own. Add to this the fact that Mbandaka is a major transportation hub with an airport, river traffic and direct transport options to Kinshasa, Congo's capital city, and you've got a scenario with the potential to keep World Health Organization personnel awake at night.

From the BBC

Forty-two people have now been infected and 23 people are known to have died.

Confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola have been recorded in three health zones of Congo's Equateur province, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

The WHO's Peter Salama said health workers had identified 430 people who may have had contact with the disease and were working to trace more than 4,000 contacts of Ebola patients, who had spread across northwest Congo.

As part of efforts to stem the spread of the often deadly disease, drug manufacturer, Merick, shipped 4,000 doses of an unlicensed Ebola vaccine to Congo that was proven to have been effective in a previous outbreak of the disease in West Africa. There's just one problem: the vaccine needs to be stored between -60 and -80 Celsius. In a first world country, that mightn't be an issue--we've the facilities and infrastructure to make chilling the vaccine to those temperatures a piece of cake. Read the rest

Can you spot the ticks in this poppy seed muffin?

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention tweeted this image with the question: "Can you spot all 5 ticks in this photo?" Of course ticks generally don't hang out in pastries. The point was just to show how difficult it can be to spot ticks. But apparently the thought (and image) of a tick-infested muffin grossed out many Twitter users. The CDC apologized with, of course, a pun about ticking people off.

Anyway, here is the CDC's guide to "Avoiding Ticks."

Read the rest

Supermarket chickens have a "superbug" problem

If you enjoyed British supermarkets' bleach-dipped rotten turkeys, perhaps you like to try their antibiotic-resistant superbug-infested chickens.

The FSA has also noted that the proportion of campylobacter-infected chickens which showed resistance to key antibiotics, in this case ciprofloxacin, “has increased significantly” compared with a previous survey of chickens sold at retail 10 years ago. More than 4,000 samples were tested, then samples of smaller numbers exhibiting campylobacter infections retested to detect whether they carried bacteria resistant to the key antibiotics. Ciprofloxacin resistance was identified in more than half of the samples of one form of campylobacter tested, 237 out of 437 tests on Campylobacter jejuni, and in nearly half (52 out of 108) of another strain, Campylobacter coli.

The results were taken by experts to show that the use of antibiotics to treat farm animals is giving rise to the spread of resistant bacteria, which can have major effects on human health because one of the main methods of transmission to many strains of resistant bacteria is through contact with livestock in the food chain. While proper hygiene practices and thorough cooking can kill the bugs, any lapses can result in serious infection.

The paper: "A Microbiological survey of campylobacter contamination in fresh whole UK produced chilled chickens at retail sale".

Post-Trump/Brexit omni-deregulation shall be a splendid affair.

Photo: Bertie Charman Read the rest

Drones to airdrop hundreds of thousands of mosquitos to fight disease

One approach to fight mosquito-borne diseases is to introduce huge numbers of sterilized male mosquitos to beat out the wild males in competition for female mosquitos. The challenge is that it's expensive to airdrop the mosquitos from airplanes and often difficult to traverse developing nations by ground. Now, WeRobotics has prototyped a drone that carries hundreds of thousands of mosquitos and releases them at just the right moment. The first experiments in South or Central America will take place in the next few months. From IEEE Spectrum:

The goal is to pack as many mosquitoes as possible into the drone. However, clumping is a problem because the insects form “a big collection of legs and wings,” he says. The trick, according to Klaptocz, is to keep them inside a precooled container: “Between 4 °C and 8 °C, they’ll fall asleep, and you can pack them up fairly densely.”

It’s also important to control the release of the mosquitoes, rather than dumping them out all at once. “We tried different systems to get the mosquitoes out of the holding canister, including vibrations and a treadmill,” he says. “Right now, we’re using a rotating element with holes through which individual mosquitoes can fall.” Once the mosquitoes fall out of the canister, they spend a few seconds in a secondary chamber warming up to the outside air temperature before exiting the drone, to make sure they’re awake and ready to fly.

Read the rest

All about the Black Death flea that killed 100 million people

Oriental Rat Flea

(Xenopsylla cheopis)

SIZE: Up to 1/6 in (4 mm)

FAMILY: Pulicidae

HABITAT: Near rats, their primary food source

DISTRIBUTION: Worldwide, particularly tropical and subtropical climates, but some temperate zones as well

MEET THE RELATIVES: The cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, is a relative, as is the dog flea C. can is—but in the United States, it is primarily the cat flea that preys on both cats and dogs. They are known to transmit tapeworms.

Excerpted from Wicked Bugs (Young Readers Edition): The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth by Amy Stewart, illustrated by Briony Morrow-Cribbs. © 2017 by Amy Stewart. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Young Readers. All rights reserved. Available from Amazon.

On an autumn day in 1907, two brothers in San Francisco found a dead rat in the cellar. Inspired by their father, an undertaker, they decided to find a coffin for the rat to give it a proper funeral.

When they ran home for dinner that night, the boys brought along a souvenir of their adventures—bloodthirsty fleas, starved for a meal after their rat host had died. Along with the fleas came a deadly disease—the plague.

The rat flea would prefer to leave humans, cats, dogs, and chickens alone, but when rat populations experience a massive die off—as they do during epidemics of the plague—the fleas turn to other warm-blooded creatures for their food. This is exactly what happened to those two unfortunate boys. Within a month, the plague had killed their parents but spared the boys, leaving them orphans. Read the rest

Remember ebola? Media-inflamed health scares, quantified

Just how overblown was the media panic over ebola? This interactive chart compares media coverage of a dozen health scares, from mad cow disease to zika. Read the rest

Star-shaped polymer kills superbug strains without antibiotics

Shu Lam, a 25-year-old PhD student at the University of Melbourne's School of Engineering, has developed a polymer that rips apart the cell walls of superbug strain bacteria.

From Science Alert:

The polymers - which they call SNAPPs, or structurally nanoengineered antimicrobial peptide polymers - work by directly attacking, penetrating, and then destabilising the cell membrane of bacteria.

Unlike antibiotics, which 'poison' bacteria, and can also affect healthy cells in the area, the SNAPPs that Lam has designed are so large that they don't seem to affect healthy cells at all.

"With this polymerised peptide we are talking the difference in scale between a mouse and an elephant," Lam's supervisor, Greg Qiao, told Marcus Strom from the Sydney Morning Herald. "The large peptide molecules can't enter the [healthy] cells."

Read the rest

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