Friday, June 27, 2014

Risk of Ebola spread in West Africa, WHO warns

Staff of the "Doctors without Borders" medical aid organisation carry the body of a person killed by viral haemorrhagic fever, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, Guinea on April 1, 2014

Geneva (AFP) - The World Health Organization has warned that Ebola could spread beyond hard-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to neighbouring nations, but insisted that travel bans were not the answer.
"We want other countries in west Africa to be ready," WHO Ebola specialist Pierre Formenty said on Friday.
"I'm talking about bordering countries like Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau," he told reporters.
Those countries are among 11 nations due to attend WHO-brokered Ebola talks in Ghana next week.
To date, there have been 635 cases of haemorrhagic fever in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, most confirmed as Ebola.
A total of 399 people have died, 280 of them in Guinea.
The outbreak is the first in west Africa, and the largest since Ebola first emerged in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ebola is believed to be carried by animals hunted for meat, notably bats.
Formenty said highways appeared to be key to the virus's spread from a forested region between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
"Of course there are some controls, but we all know that all these borders are quite porous," he said.
But Formenty said draconian measures on travel would not help.
"We are not recommending any travel or trade restrictions to be applied to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone," he underlined.
"If we try to institute measures that are going to be seen as restrictive by the population, we are going in fact to fuel the outbreak," he said.
"We favour dialogue with the affected families, the affected villages, the affected districts, rather than trying to be a sort of sanitary police."
- "Not out of hand" -
Last week, Formenty told AFP that a recent surge in cases was partly because efforts to contain the virus were relaxed too quickly after the outbreak appeared to lose pace in April.
"This failure of the system has created a clandestine chain of transmission that explains why we are where we are today," he said.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders has warned the outbreak is out of control. But Formenty played that down.
"This is not out of hand," he said. "We have been able to control this outbreak in a number of places. In some other places it's been more difficult."
Ebola can fell victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhoea -- and in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.
It is deadly in up to 90 percent of cases, and there is no vaccine.
It spreads via bodily fluids including sweat, meaning you can get sick from simply touching an infected person, and patients have to be isolated.
Funeral rites involving touching corpses also pose a threat. Formenty noted it had been difficult to push that message, because the passing of a loved one was such a sensitive time.
"The only way we will succeed is when the people will understand clearly how dangerous it is for their lives to conduct unsafe burials during an outbreak of Ebola," he said.

Tiger leaps onto boat, snatches man in east India

Associated Press
In this Saturday, April 26, 2014, photo, a Royal Bengal tiger prowls in Sunderbans, at the Sunderban delta, about 130 kilometers (81 miles) south of Calcutta, India. An Indian fisherman says a tiger has snatched a man off a fishing boat and dragged him away into a mangrove swamp. (AP Photo/Joydip Kundu)
KOLKATA, India (AP) — A Bengal tiger snatched a man off a fishing boat in eastern India, dragging him away into a mangrove swamp as his children looked on in horror, the man's son said Friday.
The attack happened Thursday as Sushil Manjhi and his son and daughter were crab fishing in a stream in the Sunderbans National Park. The tiger leaped aboard the boat and clamped its jaws on Manjhi's neck, said Sushil's son, Jyotish.
The tiger "quickly flung my father on his back and gave a giant leap before disappearing into the forest," Jyotish said by telephone from his village of Lahiripur in West Bengal state. He said he and his sister tried to beat the animal with sticks and a knife, but the thrashing had no effect. His father was dragged away and was presumed dead.
The attack underlines the difficult existence of millions of poor Indians who make a living by scavenging in forests and rivers, often at risk from wild predators. Many villagers fish for crabs in the Sunderbans — even though it's illegal in the protected reserve — because they fetch a good price at markets in nearby towns.
The national park is one of the largest reserves for the royal Bengal tiger. Thursday's attack was the fourth deadly assault by a tiger this year in the Sunderbans, wildlife officials said.
India has more than half of the 3,200 tigers believed to be left in the wild in the world. But as the country undergoes breakneck development to accommodate the growth of its 1.2 billion people, tiger habitats have been shrinking.
The big cat's numbers have also dwindled because of rampant poaching to feed a flourishing market for tiger organs and bones in China.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Man killed in shark attack while fishing in Hawaii

By Carma Hassan and Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 11:24 AM EST, Tue December 3, 2013
Watch this video

CNN Explains: Shark attacks

  • The man was fishing from a kayak when a shark bit his dangling foot
  • His companion tried to save him, but he died on the way to shore
  • This is the 13th shark incident in Hawaii so far this year, authorities say
(CNN) -- A man fishing from a kayak off a Hawaiian island has died after being bitten by a shark, authorities said Monday. The incident was the latest in an alarming spate of shark attacks in the state this year.
The attack took place Monday morning half a mile off a point near Little Beach in Makena State Recreation Area on the island of Maui, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) said.
The victim's companion, who was also on a kayak, told the department that his friend was fishing for baitfish with artificial lures when a shark bit one of his feet, which was dangling over the edge of the boat.
Shark victim's foot dangled over boat
The man's companion, who was about 500 yards away when the attack took place, paddled over to him, tied a tourniquet to try to stem severe bleeding and called on a tour boat in the vicinity for help, authorities said.
The tour boat brought the man to shore, and he was then taken to the hospital. But authorities believe he died of his injuries during the boat journey, said Rod Antone of the Mayor's Office of the County of Maui.
The man was in his 40s, but authorities are unsure if he was a local resident or a tourist, Antone said. The identities of the man and his companion have not been disclosed.
High number of shark incidents
"We offer our condolences to the family of the victim. Our thoughts and prayers are with them," said William J. Aila, Jr., the DLNR chairman.
Authorities say they have closed the waters off Makena State Recreation Area following the attack. Beaches in the area remain open, but the DLNR said people are advised to stay out of the water.
The area will reopen at noon Tuesday if no more sharks are seen in the vicinity, the department said.
The attack is the 13th shark incident reported in Hawaii so far this year, and the eighth on Maui, authorities said.
That's well above the state's average of four unprovoked shark attacks per year over the past 20 years. The 10 incidents reported in 2012 were unprecedented at the time, the DLNR said.
"We are not sure why these bites are occurring more frequently than normal, especially around Maui," Aila said. "That's why we are conducting a two-year study of shark behavior around Maui that may give us better insights."
Aila said that authorities hope and expect "that numbers of incidents will return to a more normal range in the near future."
In August, a German tourist died after being bitten by a shark while she was vacationing in Hawaii.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Doctors Without Borders: Ebola 'out of control'

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa is "totally out of control," according to a senior official for Doctors Without Borders, who says the medical group is stretched to the limit in its capacity to respond.
The current outbreak has caused more deaths than any other on record, said another official with the medical charity. Ebola has been linked to more than 330 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, according to the latest numbers from the World Health Organization.
International organizations and the governments involved need to send in more health experts and increase public education messages about how to stop the spread of the disease, Bart Janssens, the director of operations for the group in Brussels, told The Associated Press on Friday.
"The reality is clear that the epidemic is now in a second wave," Janssens said. "And, for me, it is totally out of control."
The outbreak, which began in Guinea either late last year or early this year, had appeared to slow before picking up pace again in recent weeks, including spreading to the Liberian capital for the first time.
"This is the highest outbreak on record and has the highest number of deaths, so this is unprecedented so far," said Armand Sprecher, a public health specialist with Doctors Without Borders.
According to a World Health Organization list, the highest previous death toll was in the first recorded Ebola outbreak in Congo in 1976, when 280 deaths were reported. Because Ebola often touches remote areas and the first cases sometimes go unrecognized, it is likely that there are deaths that go uncounted, both in this outbreak and previous ones.
The multiple locations of the current outbreak and its movement across borders make it one of the "most challenging Ebola outbreaks ever," Fadela Chaib, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, said earlier in the week.
The outbreak shows no sign of abating and that governments and international organizations were "far from winning this battle," Unni Krishnan, head of disaster preparedness and response for Plan International, said Friday.
But Janssens' description of the Ebola outbreak was even more alarming, and he warned that the governments affected had not recognized the gravity of the situation. He criticized the World Health Organization for not doing enough to prod leaders and said that it needs to bring in more experts to do the vital work of tracing all of the people who have been in contact with the sick.
"There needs to be a real political commitment that this is a very big emergency," he said. "Otherwise, it will continue to spread, and for sure it will spread to more countries."
The World Health Organization did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But Tolbert Nyenswah, Liberia's deputy minister of health, said that people in the highest levels of government are working to contain the outbreak as proved by the fact that that Liberia had a long period with no new cases before this second wave.
The governments involved and international agencies are definitely struggling to keep up with the severity of the outbreak, said Krishnan of Plan, which is providing equipment to the three affected countries and spreading information about how people can protect themselves against the disease. But he noted that the disease is striking in one of the world's poorest regions, where public health systems are already fragile.
"The affected countries are at the bottom of the human development index," he said in an emailed statement. "Ebola is seriously crippling their capacities to respond effectively in containing the spread."
The situation requires a more effective response, said Janssens of Doctors Without Borders. With more than 40 international staff currently on the ground and four treatment centers, Doctors Without Borders has reached its limit to respond, he said.
"It's the first time in an Ebola epidemic where (Doctors Without Borders) teams cannot cover all the needs, at least for treatment centers," he said.
It is unclear, for instance, if the group will be able to set up a treatment center in Liberia, like the ones it is running in in Guinea and Sierra Leone, he said. For one thing, Janssens said, the group doesn't have any more experienced people in its network to call on. As it is, some of its people have already done three tours on the ground.
Janssens said this outbreak is particularly challenging because it began in an area where people are very mobile and has spread to even more densely populated areas, like the capitals of Guinea and Liberia. The disease typically strikes sparsely populated areas in central or eastern Africa, where it spreads less easily, he said.
By contrast, the epicenter of this outbreak is near a major regional transport hub, the Guinean city of Gueckedou.
He said the only way to stop the disease's spread is to persuade people to come forward when symptoms occur and to avoid touching the sick and dead.
"There is still not a real change of behavior of the people," he said. "So a lot of sick people still remain in hiding or continue to travel. And there is still news that burial practices are remaining dangerous."
Associated Press video journalist Bishr Eltouni in Brussels and writer Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia, contributed to this report.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

West Africa Ebola death toll hits 337: WHO

Doctors without Borders remove the body of a person killed by the Ebola virus in Guekedou, on April 1, 2014
Geneva (AFP) - The death toll in west Africa's three-nation Ebola outbreak has risen to 337, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, making it the deadliest ever outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever.
Fresh data from the UN health agency showed that the number of deaths in Guinea, the hardest-hit country, has reached 264, while 49 had died in Sierra Leone and 24 in Liberia.
The new toll marks a more than 60-percent hike since the WHO's last figure on June 4, when it said 208 people had succumbed to the deadly virus.
Including the deaths, 528 people across the three countries have contracted Ebola, one of the deadliest viruses known to man, the WHO said.
A majority of cases, 398 of them, have surfaced in Guinea, where west Africa's first ever Ebola outbreak began in January.
Sierra Leone has registered 97 cases in total, while Liberia has seen 33.
WHO has described the epidemic as one of the most challenging since the virus was first identified in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
That outbreak, until now the deadliest, killed 280 people, according to WHO figures.
Ebola is a tropical virus that can fell its victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea -- in some cases shutting down organs and causing unstoppable bleeding.
No medicine or vaccine exists for Ebola, which is named after a small river in the DRC.
Aid organisations have said the current outbreak has been especially challenging since people in many affected areas have been reluctant to cooperate with aid workers and due to the practice of moving the dead to be buried in other villages.
West African authorities have also been struggling to stop mourners from touching bodies during traditional funeral rituals.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Study: Early Human Ancestors Got Herpes From Chimpanzees

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File photo of chimpanzees. (credit: SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)
File photo of chimpanzees. (credit: SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)

ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) — A new study finds that early human ancestors got herpes from chimpanzees.

According to LiveScience, researchers at the University of California, San Diego found that the “herpes simplex virus 1 infected hominids before their evolutionary split from chimps 6 million years ago.” In comparison, the herpes simplex 2 virus was transferred from chimps to human ancestors nearly 1.6 million years ago.
“Before we were human, there was still cross-species transmission into our evolutionary lineage,” Joe Wertheim, study author and assistant research scientist at the university’s AntiViral Research Center, told LiveScience.
Wertheim noted in his study that herpes simplex virus 2 was caused by “cross-species transmission” from modern chimp ancestors to humans, while the herpes simplex virus 1 is a split between the chimp and human viruses.
“Understanding how and when we acquired viruses that currently infect us can give us perspective on future, potential cross-species transmission events that would lead to the introduction of new human viruses,” Wertheim told LiveScience.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people infected with herpes do not know they have it and there is currently no cure for the disease.
Wertheim’s study was published in the Molecular Biology and Evolution journal.

News U.S. Officials Keep Close Eye On ‘Miserable’ Mosquito-Borne Chikungunya Virus

CDC: Cases Confirmed In 15 States, Including N.Y., With 25 In Florida Alone
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — First there was West Nile virus. Now health experts are warning about another virus carried by mosquitoes.
The chikungunya virus — or “chik-v” — has sickened tens of thousands of people throughout the Caribbean with high fever and severe pain. Now Americans are coming down with it, too, and there’s fear that it will spread, CBS 2′s Kristine Johnson reported.
“This is not a fatal infection; it’s just a miserable infection,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of Vanderbilt University’s Department of Preventive Medicine.
Cases of the mosquito-borne virus have been confirmed in 15 states, including New York. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 cases have been reported in Florida alone.
“The chikungunya fever will last for three, four, five days,” Schaffner said. “You’re miserable. Then you’ll get better. We can treat you symptomatically.”
So far, all of the infected Americans have contracted the virus in parts of the world where it is common. But researchers are worried that mosquitoes in the U.S. could pick up the disease by biting infected people.
“There’s a concern that people from the United States who go to the Caribbean might be bitten by infected mosquitoes and then bring this illness, this virus, back to the United States,” Schaffner siad. “We have the kind of mosquito that will transmit this virus here in the U.S.”
Prior outbreaks have occurred in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Late last year, the virus was found for the first time on the Caribbean islands, where more than 100,000 people have been sickened.
“So far, we have no evidence that there are U.S.-bred mosquitoes that have become infected,” Schaffner said.
There is no vaccine to prevent the virus, which is rarely fatal.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dengue-like chikungunya virus reported in El Salvador

Employees of the Dominican Ministry of Public Health stick posters on a wall during an information campaign to prevent the spread of the mosquito which transmits the Chikungunya virus in Santo Domingo on May 30, 2014
Employees of the Dominican Ministry of Public Health stick posters on a wall during an information campaign to prevent the spread of the mosquito which transmits the Chikungunya virus in Santo Domingo on May 30, 2014 (AFP Photo/Erika Santelices)
San Salvador (AFP) - Salvadoran health authorities confirmed Saturday that a dengue-like disease that has been spreading across the Caribbean has now appeared in the Central-American country.
Health Minister Violeta Menjivar said at least 1,200 people have been formally diagnosed with the chikungunya viral disease, although the positive testing must still be confirmed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Menjivar, interviewed by state-run Channel 10 television, said that cases were found on the outskirts of the Ayutuxtepeque municipality just outside the capital San Salvador.
In that area at the end of May, the ministry's epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists detected an outbreak of a rare viral disease that caused fever and skin rash, which they said affected at least 181 people.
She said suspected cases were also found in residents in two other area on the edge of northern San Salvador.
The mosquito that transmits chikungunya -- the Aedes aegypti -- is the same one that spreads dengue.
The health ministry has asked people "to eliminate breeding sites" at their homes.
There is no vaccine or treatment for chikungunya, which has infected millions of people in Africa and Asia since the disease was first recorded in 1952.
It has also spread to southern Europe -- with an outbreak in Italy in 2007 and southern France in 2010 -- and arrived in the Caribbean last year, appearing in Martinique and Saint Martin.
Chikungunya produces symptoms similar to dengue, including high fever, joint pain and skin rash.
The disease's name is derived from an east African word meaning "that which bends up," referring to the way that patients are stooped over in pain.

Whooping Cough Epidemic in California as Cases Surge

California’s whooping cough outbreak has reached epidemic levels, with 800 new cases in the last two weeks, according to the state’s public health agency.
There have been 3,458 cases of the respiratory infection, formally known as pertussis, in California as of June 10, the state’s Department of Public Health reported. That’s more than were reported in all of 2013. Most at risk are newborns, and two have died in California so far this year.
“Our biggest concern is always infants,” Stacey Martin, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division of bacterial diseases, said in a telephone interview. “There’s a gap in coverage between birth and the first vaccine.”
Whooping cough carries different symptoms at different ages. For children, a case can begin with a cough and runny nose before the cough worsens, characterized by a whooping sound that gives the disease its nickname. Infants don’t always have a cough but their faces may turn red or purple.
More than 900 of California’s cases occurred in April and May, a fivefold increase on the typical number seen in non-peak years, said Corey Egel, a spokesman for state health department.
The high number of cases isn’t unexpected because of the cyclical nature of the disease. California last had a widespread outbreak, or “peak,” in 2010. Martin said the priority is to encourage pregnant women to get the vaccine for pertussis, which the CDC has recommended since 2013.
Vaccinating pregnant women and infants helps prevent the spread of the disease, Ron Chapman, the state’s health department director, said yesterday in a statement.
The CDC recommends infants be vaccinated as early as six weeks after birth, because the effect of a vaccination given to their mother during pregnancy soon wears off, Martin said. The CDC also suggests shots for those spending time with newborns.
Nationwide, there have been three other deaths reported from whooping cough this year, Martin said. In total, 9,964 cases of whooping cough were reported in the U.S. through June 8, compared with 7,573 at the same time last year, the CDC said.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Warm or cold? Dinosaurs had 'in-between' blood

Comparative growth rates in vertebrates. Dinosau rs grew intermediate to endothermic mammals and birds and ectothermic reptiles and fi sh, but closest to living mesotherms.John Grady
Dinosaurs may not have been cold-blooded like modern reptiles or warm-blooded like mammals and birds instead, they may have dominated the planet for 135 million years with blood that ran neither hot nor cold, but was a kind of in-between that's rare nowadays, researchers say.
Modern reptiles such as lizards, snakes and turtles are cold-blooded or ectothermic, meaning their body temperatures depend on their environments. Birds and mammals, on the other hand, are warm-blooded, meaning they control their own body temperatures, attempting to keep them at a safe constant in the case of humans, at about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius).
Dinosaurs are classified as reptiles, and so for many years scientists thought the beasts were cold-blooded, with slow metabolisms that forced them to lumber across the landscape. However, birds are modern-day dinosaurs and warm-blooded, with fast metabolic rates that give them active lifestyles, raising the question of whether or not their extinct dinosaur relatives were also warm-blooded. [Avian Ancestors: Dinosaurs That Learned to Fly (Images)]
Animal metabolism
To help solve this decades-old mystery, researchers developed a new method for analyzing the metabolism of extinct animals. They found "dinosaurs do not fit comfortably into either the cold-blooded or warm-blooded camp they genuinely explored a middle way," said lead study author John Grady, a theoretical ecologist at the University of New Mexico.
Scientists often seek to deduce the metabolisms of extinct animals by looking at the rates at which their bones grow. The method resembles cutting into a tree and looking at the thickness of the rings of wood within, which can reveal how well or poorly that tree grew any given year. Similarly, looking at the way bone is deposited in layers in fossils reveals how quickly or slowly that animal might have grown.
Grady and his colleagues not only looked at growth rings in fossils, but also sought to estimate their metabolic rates by looking at changes in body size as animals grew from birth to adults. The researchers looked at a broad spectrum of animals encompassing both extinct and living species, including cold- and warm-blooded creatures, as well as dinosaurs.
The scientists found growth rate to be a good indicator of metabolic rates in living animals, ranging from sharks to birds. In general, warm-blooded mammals that grow about 10 times faster than cold-blooded reptiles also metabolize about 10 times faster.
When the researchers examined how fast dinosaurs grew, they found that the animals resembled neither mammals nor modern reptiles, and were neither ectotherms nor endotherms. Instead, dinosaurs occupied a middle ground, making them so-called "mesotherms."
Modern mesotherms
Today, such energetically intermediate animals are uncommon, but they do exist. For instance, the great white shark, tuna and leatherback sea turtle are mesotherms, as is the echidna, an egg-laying mammal from Australia. Like mammals, mesotherms generate enough heat to keep their blood warmer than their environment, but like modern reptiles, they do not maintain a constant body temperature. [See Photos of Echidna and Other Bizarre Monotremes]
"For instance, tuna body temperature declines when they dive into deep, colder waters, but it always stays above the surrounding water," Grady told Live Science.
Body size may play a role in mesothermy, because larger animals can conserve heat more easily. "For instance, leatherback sea turtles are mesotherms, but smaller green sea turtles are not," Grady said. However, mesothermy does not depend just on large size. "Mako sharks are mesotherms, but whale sharks are regular ectotherms," Grady said.
Endotherms can boost their metabolisms to warm up "for instance, we shiver when cold, which generates heat," Grady said. "Mesotherms have adaptations to conserve heat, but they do not burn fat or shiver to warm up. Unlike us, they don't boost their metabolic rate to stay warm."
Some animals are what are known as gigantotherms, meaning they are just so massive that they maintain heat even though they do not actively control their body temperature.
"Gigantotherms like crocodiles rely on basking to heat up, so they are not mesotherms," Grady said. "Gigantotherms are slower to heat up and cool down, but if they rely on external heat sources like the sun, then they are not mesotherms. In general, mesotherms produce more heat than gigantotherms and have different mechanisms for conserving it."
Advantages of being a mesotherm
Mesothermy would have permitted dinosaurs to move, grow and reproduce faster than their cold-blooded reptilian relatives, making the dinosaurs more dangerous predators and more elusive prey. This may explain why dinosaurs dominated the world until their extinction about 65 million years ago, Grady suggested.
At the same time, dinosaurs' lower metabolic rates compared to mammals allowed them to get by on less food. This may have permitted the enormous bulk that many dinosaur species attained. "For instance, it is doubtful that a lion the size of T. rex would be able to eat enough wildebeests or elephants without starving to death," Grady said. "With their lower food demands, however, a real T. rex was able to get by just fine."
All in all, Grady suspected that where direct competition occurs, warm-blooded endotherms suppress mesotherms, mesotherms suppress active but cold-blooded ectotherms, and active ectotherms suppress more lethergic sit-and-wait ectotherms
Although mesothermy appears widespread among dinosaurs, not every dinosaur was necessarily a mesotherm, Grady said. "Dinosaurs were a big and diverse bunch, and some may have been endotherms or ectotherms," he said. "In particular, feathered dinosaurs are a bit of a mystery. What do you call a metabolically intermediate animal covered in feathers? Is it like the mesothermic echidna? Or just a low-power endotherm?"
The first bird, Archaeopteryx, "was more like a regular dinosaur than any living bird," Grady said. "It grew to maturity in about two years. In contrast, a similarly sized hawk grows in about six weeks, almost 20 times faster. Despite feathers and the ability to take flight, the first birds were not the active, hot-blooded fliers their descendants came to be."
These findings could help shed light on how warm-blooded animals such as humans evolved.
"The origins of endothermy in mammals and birds are unclear," Grady said. Studying the growth rates of the ancestors of birds and mammals "will shed light on these mysterious creatures."
The scientists detailed their findings in the June 13 issue of the journal Science.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sierra Leone shuts borders, closes schools to fight Ebola

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone shut its borders to trade with Guinea and Liberia on Wednesday and closed schools, cinemas and nightclubs in a frontier region in a bid to halt the spread of the Ebola virus.
Sixteen people have died of Ebola in Sierra Leone, a figure that has doubled in the last week, Ministry of Health figures showed.
Authorities will also mount health checkpoints in the eastern Kailahun district and mandated that all deaths there be reported before burial. Anyone who dies of the virus must be buried under the supervision of health personnel, the Information Ministry said.
The decision to close district schools came after a nine-year-old whose parents died of Ebola tested positive for the virus, Deputy Minister of Information Theo Nicol told Reuters.
"There is more contacts between school-going kids than adults hence the closure of schools in the most affected district," he said. The ban exempted churches and mosques but religious leaders should urge anyone with a fever to go to a clinic, he said.
Local groups welcomed the measures given public concern over the virus, which can be transmitted by touching victims or their body fluids.
The virus initially causes a raging fever, headaches, muscle pain and conjunctivitis, before moving to severe phases that bring on vomiting, diarrhoea and internal and external bleeding.
Some 328 cases and 208 deaths are linked to Ebola in Guinea, according to the World Health Organization, making the outbreak one of the deadliest for years.
More than half of new deaths in Guinea were in the southern region of Gueckedou, epicenter of the outbreak which began in February, near the Sierra Leone and Liberian borders. The town is known for its weekly market which attracts traders from neighboring countries.
(Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Janet Lawrence)

Fingers to Ashes: The Millennial Disconnect with HIV

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It is hard to imagine that it was only 34 years ago when the first case of HIV was first documented in the United States. Shortly after, the virus seemed to spread like wildfire, burning a path of hysteria, frustration and sadness across the U.S. and throughout the world. In a short period of time, and thanks to a series of political blunders from the Reagan administration and many other political figures across the nation, HIV went from hundreds to millions and became the closest we have ever come to a modern plague.
Although there is still no cure for the virus, this plague is now classified as a chronic illness with those who are HIV positive living long and healthy lives. So the obscene terror that lived in the hearts of every gay man in the world merely three decades ago has all but been erased in the mines of the millennial age. In its place now lives a vague but often-impenetrable fear of those who carry HIV and a diluted sense of safety based on the idea that the transmission of HIV is related to a character flaw of promiscuity. This blind faith that the virus is relinquished to "other" types of people has allowed for this disease to continue affecting the millennial generation at staggering rates.
According to the Center for Disease Control's National Progress Report of 2013, an estimated 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States with 50,000 more becoming infected each year. One out of every six people living with the virus are unaware that they are infected, thus continuing the cycle of transmission. And worse, one out of every five gay men are living with HIV, yet the millennial generation often treats the disease as if it is only reserved for the history books.
But beyond the numbers, just what exactly does it mean to live HIV in today's world? For starters, HIV is now officially classified as a chronic disease. Although most people assume that treatment involves a series of toxic cocktails that HIV positive men and women take throughout the day, a person diagnosed today will most likely be on one daily pill to manage the virus. And reports suggest that, given a person is compliant with their medication; they can expect the same estimated lifespan as they did when they were HIV negative.
"A person who is 20-years-old and diagnosed today can expect to live into their 70s, roughly the same lifespan they would expect prior to being diagnosed," says Dr. Gary Blick, HIV Specialist and Founder of World Health Clinicians, an international HIV treatment organization.
However, it isn't all good news. The span of your life may be the same, but your worries certainly are not. People living with the virus run an increased risk of developing other life-threatening diseases such as cancer, heart attack and stroke. Combined with other STI's, these risks are even bigger, making it even more important for a person living with HIV to manage all aspects of their health, not just their pillboxes. However, an HIV positive diagnosis is merely a charge to be drastically more responsible with a person's health instead of an order to make arrangements for a pending funeral.
To many of the people living with the disease, it is also a scarlet branding that induces emotional and psychological symptoms that far outweigh the side effects listed on the side of their medication bottles.
The organizations charged with delivering the message of HIV awareness and prevention have grappled with advancing their messaging with the advancements of modern medicine. Managing HIV is a drastically different animal than it was merely a decade ago, but many still view the virus with the same gravity that they did in the 1990s. The few organizations who have tried to modernize the approach to HIV education have been lambasted for "making light" of the disease, trying to "make HIV cool," or downplaying the severity of living with the virus.
This struggle over messaging has never been more contentious then in the present as institutional juggernauts like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) battles with more progressive activists and organizations over the promotion of PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. This new drug, nicknamed the birth control pill for HIV, now personifies the crux in HIV treatment debate.
PrEP is an Antiretroviral Therapy drug that, if taken correctly by an HIV negative individual, has a 99 percent efficacy rate in preventing the transmission of HIV from someone who is HIV positive. This drug has been on the market since 2012, but several prominent organizations such as AHF, the largest HIV treatment provider in the U.S., have taken an active stance against the HIV prevention pill.
Michael Weinstein, the Executive Director of AHF, has publicly referred to PrEP as a party drug and suggested that the "people who would be taking the drug" could not be trusted to be compliant with their dosage. This stigmatizing rhetoric, combined with the pharmaceutical company, Gilead's, unwillingness to advertise the drug to at-risk populations, has led to a virtual standstill in people seeking a prescription for the prevention pill.
People like J Nick Shirley, a 24-year-old gay man from Dallas, represent the most at risk demographics for HIV transmission, and yet has never heard of PrEP. When asked about the new form of prevention, he was shocked that this was the first time he was hearing about it.
"I just can't believe that we have such a ground-breaking tool at our disposal and so many people don't know about [PrEP]," Shirley said. "I am pretty sure none of my friends know about it. We have never talked about it before."
Long term HIV survivor, activist and former reality T.V star, Jack Mackenroth, is mortified that organizations like AHF have taken on such a damaging approach to PrEP.
"If this were the '90s, people would be lining up down the streets to take PrEP," says Mackenroth. "It is so sad that the fear that we went through has given way to the judgment and stigma from gay men onto other gay men. HIV isn't going anywhere if we don't wake up and realize that condom-only messages don't work."
Which leads us to the use of the problem; organizations using worn out methods of education and prevention, further stigmatizing others looking for prevention methods beyond condoms and leaving the vast majority of millennial, at-risk individuals to believe that HIV is a virus that "other" people get.
Movies like The Normal Heart serve as history lessons, leading young gay men to cry, "Never forget," while failing to realize the dangers they face. LGBT youth are left grappling for connection, because most of the visible reminders of the risk of HIV are only ashes, while the living, more relevant examples prefer to remain in silence for fear of public ridicule and castigation. Sadly, the community that was once unified under the call to fight the virus is now complacent in a pseudo-class system of HIV status that only serves to perpetuate transmission.
But change is on the horizon. Grassroots campaigns such as HIV Equal, The Stigma Project, The Needle Prick and several others have worked to change the climate of HIV stigma for those living with the virus and educate the public on the real vs. perceived danger of HIV transmission. A new wave of young, HIV positive faces, such as Josh Robbins, Cory Lee Frederick and Jake Forth are making their presence known in the public eye, humanizing the virus for the millennial generation while serving as living examples that HIV is still an issue for their age group. And this year, as the Obama Administration unveiled the HIV Care Continuum at the third annual HIV/AIDS Strategy, President Obama's HIV prevention policy recognized Antiretroviral treatment as a valid form of prevention, giving authority to the fact that HIV positive men who achieve undetectable viral load levels are actively preventing the spread of HIV.
While the level of danger has waned over the past three decades, the threat of HIV still remains. Unlike the generations first affected by the virus, the millennial age is now armed a wealth of information and a variety of prevention tools to change the course of HIV for good. And this young generation should take note that these tools came at a very heavy cost.
If you have had sex even once since your last HIV test without a condom, it is worth it educate yourself on PrEP and determine if it is right for you. It only takes one time to transmit the virus, and it only takes one pill a day to stop it. The millennial generation no longer has to face a multitude of limitations when concerning HIV, so there is no excuse to get tested, know your status and pick up the slack in the fight against HIV. After all, most of the heavy lifting has already been done.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

CDC: Texas patient died of mad cow-related disease

Associated Press
DALLAS (AP) — Health officials say a Texas patient is the fourth person in the United States to die of a rare brain disorder that is believed to be caused by consumption of beef products contaminated with mad cow disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in a statement that recent laboratory tests confirmed a diagnosis of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the patient.
The CDC says that in each of the three previous U.S. cases, infection likely occurred outside the U.S. And the center says the Texas patient's history included extensive travel to Europe and the Middle East and suggests the infection occurred outside the country.
The CDC says that worldwide more than 229 variant CJD patients have been reported, with a majority of them in the United Kingdom and France.
The Texas Department of State Health Services says there are no state public health concerns or threats associated with the case. The CDC and DSHS are investigating.
The CDC says there is no known treatment for the disease and it is invariably fatal.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Florida facing threat from two mosquito-borne diseases

ORLANDO Fla. Wed Jun 4, 2014 6:05pm EDT

(Reuters) - Two mosquito-borne diseases - dengue fever and chikungunya - are posing a serious threat to Florida and residents should take steps to control mosquito populations to try to limit the danger, a leading health expert said on Wednesday.
The Florida Department of Health, in its latest weekly report, said that through last week dengue fever had been confirmed in 24 people in Florida and chikungunya confirmed in 18 people. Both are viral diseases spread by mosquito bites.
All of the infected people in Florida have traveled to the Caribbean or South America and could have become infected there, according to Walter Tabachnick, director of the Florida Medical Entomological Laboratory in Vero Beach, which is part of the University of Florida.
Epidemiologists are worried that mosquitoes in Florida may have picked up the diseases by biting infected people, which could kick off an epidemic in the state, Tabachnick said.
"The threat is greater than I've seen in my lifetime," said Tabachnick, who has worked in the field for 30 years.
"Sooner or later, our mosquitoes will pick it up and transmit it to us. That is the imminent threat," he added.
Tabachnick urged the public to eliminate standing water including in buckets and rain barrels where mosquitoes can breed. "If there is public apathy and people don't clean up the yards, we're going to have a problem," Tabachnick said.
Dengue is potentially fatal, and both diseases cause serious and lingering symptoms. The most common symptoms of chikungunya infection are fever and joint pain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tabachnick said the last statewide epidemics in Florida of dengue occurred in the 1930s. Localized epidemics of dengue occurred in 2013 in a small neighborhood in Jensen Beach where 24 people were infected, and in 2009 and 2010 in Key West where 28 people were infected, according to state and federal reports.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency said this week that authorities in 18 Caribbean countries or territories had reported more than 100,000 confirmed or suspected cases of chikungunya.
In the Dominican Republic, where health officials reported more than 53,000 suspected cases, hospitals in hard-hit areas are treating hundreds of new patients per day.
(Additional reporting by Ezra Fieser in Santo Domingo; Editing by David Adams and Will Dunham)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Shark Victim Feared Something Was 'Down There' in Dark Murky Waters

A Florida woman attacked by a shark said today that before she got into the water she told her friends she was uneasy about getting into the dark water "because you can't see what's down there."
What was down there was a shark that ripped into her leg and then swatted her in the face with its fin.
Jessica Vaughn, 22, of Coral Springs, Fla., was attacked Sunday afternoon, but was well enough today to smile through a news conference and even joke about it.
She probably won't get back into the ocean soon, however.
"It was really scary. Before we went out, I said I don’t like going into the water... when I can’t see what’s down there," Vaughn said at the Broward Health Medical Center. She added, "I've always had feelings of something down under there because of the dark murky waters."
Vaughn said, "I feel very lucky. I wouldn't go back in that kind of water anymore."
She was going tubing with friends at the home of Peter Hogge around 1:30 p.m. Sunday. She said she was swimming on her back to the tube when she was attacked by the shark.
"At first I felt like something punched my leg," Vaughn said. "I thought a fish bit me. Then I saw my leg was cut open. I realized it wasn't a fish."
"I thought I would be fine once I get into the tube," Vaughn said.
"It came up from behind her and bit her leg and then kind of smacked its tail and most of its body out of the water, hit her in the face actually, and took off," Peter Hogge told ABC News affiliate WPLG.
RELATED: When Animals Attack
"Her friends immediately pulled her back on the boat and bandaged her," Timothy Heiser, deputy fire chief at Fort Lauderdale Fire Department told ABC News. The deputy chief said Vaughn's friends likely saved her life by putting pressure on her gash.
"They did a really good job," Heiser said. "She could have lost too much blood and died."
Vaughn's friends raced the boat back to a dock where person on the 11th floor of a nearby condo building heard them screaming and called 911, according to Heiser. Paramedics arrived shortly after and brought Vaughn to Broward Health Medical Center.
A picture of Vaughn's wound was tweeted by the Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue and it showed the muscle of Vaughn’s right leg was shredded, exposing the bone.
Vaughn underwent two hours of surgery Sunday evening and is reported to be in good condition, according to the hospital.
"She will be discharged from the hospital in two to three days," said Dr. Zoran Potparic, who performed Vaughn's surgery.
Vaughn is expected to recover within three to four months, Potparic said.
"Infection is the very next thing we have to worry about, especially since the coastal water tends to be very polluted," he said.
Vaughn said she is a waitress at a restaurant and doesn't have insurance. She is thankful that social workers at the hospital are looking to see if the Affordable Care Act could cover some of her surgery costs.
"Shark attacks usually happen in northern Florida," Heiser said. "It's quite uncommon in this area."
"This is really the first shark attack that I've ever heard of," said Brian Hogge, Peter Hogge's cousin who directed Vaughn to the dock. "I've seen sharks before and there are a lot of water skiing activities going on. But this is really the first time (a shark attack happened)."
Peter Hogge has set up a fundraiser on to raise money for his friend's recovery.