Thursday, July 31, 2014

Surf's up! Playful dolphins put pros to shame as they ride the waves during prestigious surfing competition in South Africa

  • Almost a dozen animals put on the show during the J-Bay Open earlier this month in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa

  • The Eastern Cape is famous for its dolphins and for its surfing, but it's a lucky treat to see both happen at once
  •  Photographer Stan Blumberg: 'I have surfed and scuba dived and I have never seen dolphins surf like this before'
These playful dolphins stole the show when they gatecrashed one of the world's top surfing competitions to ride the waves themselves.
The animals turned up as global surfing legends descended on Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, for the latest stop on the Association of Surfing Professionals world tour.
The 12-day J-Bay Open saw surfers compete for dominance off the shores of the Eastern Cape, famous for its dramatic waves and large numbers of bottlenose dolphins. 
But things took a surprise twist when a school of almost a dozen dolphins set out to show they were the undisputed kings of the sea in these images captured by 62-year-old Stan Blumberg.
'Two surfers were in the water at the time when a few pods of dolphins swam past and a few surfed the waves as they usually do, without breaking the surface,' he said - then they broke through and put on their show.
He added: 'In my 62 years of living at the coast, I have surfed, scuba dived, been a member of a surf lifesaving club and can honestly say that I have never before seen dolphins surf like this before.'

Surf's up! These dolphins gatecrashed one of the world's top surfing contests in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, to put on an impressive wave-riding show of their own
Surf's up! These dolphins gatecrashed one of the world's top surfing contests in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, to put on an impressive wave-riding show of their own
Awe: The Eastern Cape is famous for its prime surfing and schools of bottlenose dolphins, but it's a lucky treat to see both happening at the same time
Awe: The Eastern Cape is famous for its prime surfing and schools of bottlenose dolphins, but it's a lucky treat to see both happening at the same time
Breaking with convention: The dolphins swam close to the shore during the J-Bay Open, part of the Association of Surfing Professionals world championship tour
Breaking with convention: The dolphins swam close to the shore during the J-Bay Open, part of the Association of Surfing Professionals world championship tour
Preparing for their big moment: Photographer Stan Blumberg said he had lived on the coast for 62 years and never seen such an impressive dolphin surfing display
Preparing for their big moment: Photographer Stan Blumberg said he had lived on the coast for 62 years and never seen such an impressive dolphin surfing display
Build-up: Human surfers spend years honing their skills, but things came a little more naturally to these dolphins swimming off the coast of South Africa's Eastern Cape
Build-up: Human surfers spend years honing their skills, but things came a little more naturally to these dolphins swimming off the coast of South Africa's Eastern Cape
Catch them if you can! Dolphins are known for their playfulness in the wild, where they play games such as leaping as high as they can out of the water
Catch them if you can! Dolphins are known for their playfulness in the wild, where they play games such as leaping as high as they can out of the water

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Can embattled gray whale make it home?

The Big Blue Ocean Exploration

Young, undernourished mammal was discovered entangled off Southern California, but has been freed and is inching slowly toward Arctic home waters

gray whale

Gray whale dragging kelp and perhaps a rope off Mission Beach; photo via Facebook
For those who like to root for the underdog, a young gray whale off California is struggling mightily, yet against strong odds, to reach its Arctic home waters.
Last Thursday the 25-foot juvenile whale was spotted off Mission Beach and La Jolla in San Diego County. It was entangled with rope—possibly a commercial fishing line—and kelp, and was clearly encumbered (see top image).
Most gray whales have already reached their Arctic feeding grounds, after spending the winter and part of spring in Baja California nursing and mating grounds. This straggler was swimming at about the same pace a person walks.

gray whale

Gray whale, no longer entangled, is spotted Saturday off Huntington Beach; photo courtesy of John Minar
A disentanglement team did not reach the whale before nightfall Thursday, but a group of surfers experienced a close and unforgettable encounter with what was most likely the same whale, just before dusk.
Alex Rennie posted this recollection on Facebook: “Kid you not—today I got a foot massage … from a WHALE!! I surfed with Rick and Victor at Tourmaline’s today … and I noticed there was a whale circling around me. Its back was barnacled, so I first thought it was a rock until it started moving and breached—exhaling. I yelled to the guys and Victor paddled over. The whale proceeded to bump Victor from under his board lifting him about a foot upward.

gray whale

Gray whale investigates Cabrillo Marina; last three photos are courtesy of ©Diane Alps/Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
“After it put him down it circled under me and rubbed it’s body underneath my feet as I sat on my board, (sort of cat-like) lifting me upward too. (So I kinda surfed the whale).
“He was about 20+ feet long—where the barnacles ended—his skin was smooth and dark grey (and felt nice on my feet!) I thought I saw seaweed or something dangling off his tail—so the only downer to it is that he may have been seeking our help.”
Was the whale seeking help? Only the whale knows.
But this whale looked thin and undernourished, and was covered with an inordinate amount of lice (whale lice is normal, but too much whale lice is a sign of poor health).


But the whale pushed on, and received significant help from somebody, or some group, on the weekend.
A whale of similar size and with similar markings—almost undoubtedly the same whale—was spotted Saturday off Orange County. And it was no longer entangled.
David Anderson of Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari posted on Facebook that he had located the whale, ready to help disentangle the mammal, but that job had already been accomplished by “a lifeguard.”
NOAA, which is supposed to be notified before any disentanglement effort is made, has not said who or what group freed the whale, or whether this was even the same whale. But unofficially, it’s the same whale.


On Saturday, the cetacean made an appearance near the lineup at the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach. On Sunday it was seen inside Cabrillo Marina, within vast Los Angeles Harbor, swimming in and out of boat slips.
Diane Alps, programs coordinator at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, captured the last three images accompanying this story. On Monday she posted this update on Facebook:
“Yesterday we got a visit from a juvenile gray whale, approx 25ft long, in the Cabrillo Marina—not just in the LA Harbor, but way up in the Marina! Worried that it might have been the entangled whale that was reported off of La Jolla, I called John Calambokidis, (a trained and authorized disentangler) who was nearby, readying to depart for a research project.
“Once we found the whale, we were able to confirm that it was not entangled (yea!) There is still great concern though, as this whale is slow moving, and WAY behind its feeding schedule.”
There are about 22,000 Pacific gray whales, which spend the summer gorging on small crustaceans, such as amphipods, that are concentrated in Arctic waters.
The juvenile whale off Southern California is probably hungry, but there’s hope along those lines. Gray whales are highly opportunistic and feed on more items than any other species of whale, including krill, which is presently blooming off Southern and Central California.
Wrote Alisa Schulman-Janiger on Facebook: “Note the heavy infestation of orange whale lice and the large post-cranial dip (depression behind the blowholes), indicating that this whale is underweight and not in good health. It was moving up the coast at a very slow rate of just over about one mile an hour; gray whales typically swim at three to five miles per hour.
“Please watch for this ailing whale as it passes through the South Bay and up the coastline!”
So the watch continues, and the best news is that the whale is no longer encumbered, so maybe that will provide this underdog with the boost it needs to prevail.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Struck At Just The Wrong Time, New Study Suggests

Posted: Updated:


Just before a large asteroid slammed into the Earth 66 million years ago, the diversity of plant-eating dinosaur species declined slightly, a new study suggests. That minor shift may have been enough to doom all dinosaurs when the space rock hit.
The scarcity of plant-eaters would have left them more vulnerable to starvation and population collapse after the impact, with consequences that rippled all the way up the food chain.

“The asteroid hit at a particularly bad time,” says Stephen Brusatte, a palaeontologist at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “If it had hit a few million years earlier or later, dinosaurs probably would have been much better equipped to survive.”

Brusatte and his colleagues describe this nuanced view of the famous extinction in Biological Reviews.

Palaeontologists have argued for decades about whether dinosaurs were doing well when the asteroid hit, or whether they were experiencing a worldwide drop in the number of species. To explore this question, the study pulled information from a database on global dinosaur diversity, including hundreds of fossils found in the past decade.
Localized decline

The scientists used analytical methods to account for the fact that some fossil-bearing rock formations are well-studied and others are not, which could distort the apparent number and distribution of dinosaur species. They found most dinosaurs thriving right up until the impact. “If we look at the global picture, we don't see evidence for a long-term decline,” says team member Richard Butler, a palaeontologist at the University of Birmingham, UK. “In no sense were dinosaurs doomed to extinction and the asteroid just kind of finished them off.”

But in North America, in the last 8 to 10 million years before the asteroid hit, two major groups of herbivores — duck-billed dinosaurs and the group of horned dinosaurs that included Triceratops — did decline slightly. In some places multiple species shrank to just one species. That may be because cooler climates changed the types of vegetation available to eat, says Michael Benton, a palaeontologist at the University of Bristol, UK. Plenty of dinosaur groups had recovered from such small population drops before, but not this time.

A 2012 study that modelled ancient food webs may help to explain why, says Butler. Computer simulations suggested that just a small change in dinosaur diversity made ecosystems much more likely to collapse after big environmental perturbations — such as widespread climate change brought on by an asteroid impact. Plants would have withered up; plant-eating dinosaurs would have starved; and meat-eating dinosaurs would have had little to prey on.

What if?

The latest study rounds up many of the discoveries of recent years, says David Archibald, a palaeontologist at San Diego State University in California. “From my reckoning much of it is pretty much spot on,” he says. “It is almost certainly the impact that kills off the dinosaurs.” But he disagrees with some of the data. In a review in press with the Geological Society of America, Archibald compares several rock formations from near the end of the time of dinosaurs, in Canada and the United States. He finds that the two-legged, primarily meat-eating dinosaurs known as theropods were also declining.

Brusatte says that the differences boil down to how researchers account for how well-studied or well-preserved various fossil-bearing rocks are. “It’s really only now with all these new dinosaur discoveries that people are able to even think about the nuances in any kind of detail,” he says.

The extinction set the stage for the modern world, Butler notes. Although one lineage of dinosaurs survived as modern birds, mammals began their rise only after the dinosaurs were out of the picture. ”That may never have happened if dinosaurs had never gone extinct,” says Butler. ”I think it's very likely that if the asteroid hadn't hit, we would still have dinosaurs around today.”
This story originally appeared in Nature News.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

HIV establishes viral reservoirs with surprising speed

Medical ResearchScientific ResearchHIV - AIDSHarvard Medical SchoolJohns Hopkins University
Early treatment may not be enough to prevent formation of HIV reservoirs, study says
Study suggests HIV virus can establish persistent reservoirs in just three days
In a sobering discovery, researchers say that rapid treatment of HIV-like infections in monkeys failed to prevent the establishment of persistent viral reservoirs in as little as three days.
The study, published Sunday in the journal Nature, comes on the heels of news that the so-called Mississippi Baby -- a child once considered functionally cured of HIV due to antiretroviral drug treatment hours after her birth -- had in fact been infected with the virus all along.
While researchers had begun to hope that there was a window in which the virus could be prevented from establishing a permanent foothold within its host, that possibility now seems much less likely.
"We show that the viral reservoir can be seeded substantially earlier than previously recognized," wrote lead study author and Harvard Medical School virologist James Whitney, and colleagues.
HIV attacks CD4 white blood cells -- critical components of the body's immune system. The virus then uses the cells to manufacture copies of itself, destroying the blood cell in the process and steadily eroding the body's internal defenses.
However, in some cases, the virus will lay dormant within a white blood cell, only to begin reproducing itself at a later date. The virus cannot be killed in this dormant state -- either by the body's immune system or by antiretroviral drugs -- and this latent reservoir of infection has proved to be the biggest obstacle to finding a cure.
In the latest study, researchers infected 20 adult rhesus monkeys with simian immunodeficiency virus, or SIV, the simian equivalent of HIV, the disease that causes AIDS.
Some of the monkeys were treated with a cocktail of antiretroviral drugs three days after infection, yet prior to when the virus could be detected in the monkeys' bloodstream. Other monkeys received the drug treatment at seven, 10 and 14 days after infection, when evidence of the illness could be detected.
In each case, antiretroviral therapy was stopped after 24 weeks. While researchers had hoped the virus would not reappear in the monkeys that were treated in three days, it in fact rebounded in all of the animals.
The researchers, however, did note that it took about three weeks for the virus to rebound in the monkeys that received drug treatment after three days, where it took only one or two weeks in the other monkeys.
In an accompanying News & Views article, Kai Deng and Dr. Robert Siliciano, both HIV researchers at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, noted that further research was needed to confirm the study's results.
"Substantial differences exist between SIV infection in rhesus macaques and HIV-1 infection in humans," the pair wrote.
Nonetheless, they called the paper's findings "striking," as they argued that still newer medical approaches are needed to eradicate HIV.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Warm Weather Stirs Up Brain-Eating Amoeba Warning

Good Morning America
Kansas health officials are urging swimmers to take extra care in warm freshwater, which could be home to millions of microscopic killers.
A 9-year-old Johnson County girl is the latest victim of Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating amoeba that lurks in warm, standing water. The girl died July 9 from primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, an extremely rare but almost invariably fatal brain infection.
“We are very saddened to learn of this unfortunate circumstance, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends during this difficult time,” state health officer Dr. Robert Moser said in a statement. “It is important for the public to know that infections like these are extremely rare and there are precautions one can take to lower their risk – such as nose plugs.”
Brain-Eating Amoeba Victim Shows Signs of Recovery
Fla. Boy Dies After Battling Brain-Eating Parasite
Naegleria fowleri enters the body through the nose, causing a severe frontal headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Early symptoms give way to seizures, confusion and hallucinations as the amoeba migrates through the nasal cavity to the brain.
“After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within about five days,” the CDC website reads.
Of 132 people infected with Naegleria fowleri in the United States between 1962 and 2013, only three have survived, according to the CDC. One survivor, a 12-year-old girl infected in 2013, was diagnosed early and treated with “therapeutic hypothermia” and the experimental drug miltefosine.
“Her recovery has been attributed to early diagnosis and treatment,” the CDC website reads.
But spotting the signs of the infection is tricky, because tests to detect the rare infection are “available in only a few laboratories in the United States,” according to the CDC.
“Because of the rarity of the infection and difficulty in initial detection, about 75 percent of diagnoses are made after the death of the patient,” the agency’s website reads.
The infection is most common in 15 southern-tier states, “with more than half of all infections occurring in Texas and Florida,” the CDC’s website reads. Three-quarters of all U.S. cases have been linked to swimming in freshwater lakes and rivers, but infections have also been associated with slip-n-slides, bathtubs and neti pots, according to the agency.
The infection is not contagious and can’t be contracted from a properly chlorinated pool or saltwater, according to the CDC.
The agency recommends the following tips for summer swimmers:
- Avoid getting water up your nose by holding your nose shut, using nose clips or keeping your head above water when swimming or splashing in warm freshwater.
- Avoid submerging your head in hot springs and other untreated thermal waters.
- Avoid stirring up sediment in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

Elephant abuse is widespread in Asia

Raju, an elephant in India that cried when rescued after 50 years of cruelty, was not an isolated incident; more than 2,000 elephants endure similar torture

Raju snacks on fresh greens after his recent rescue from 50 years of cruelty. Elephant abuse is rampant in Asia. Photo is from Wildlife S.O.S.'s Facebook page
Raju snacks on fresh greens after his recent 
rescue from 50 years of cruelty. Elephant 
abuse is rampant in Asia. Photo is from

Raju, the abused elephant that cried when he was rescued by New Delhi-based Wildlife S.O.S. after enduring 50 years of cruelty, understandably touched a nerve with those who read his story.
Angry readers were incensed over the elephant abuse and many wanted to know if the abusive owner would be charged and punished.
So we set out to find an answer, and received a heavy dose of reality.
Sadly, Raju’s case was not a lone incident but part of an epidemic of elephant abuse by uncaring owners who are simply seeking to make money.
Moti Prasad Kha, chained, starved and beaten for 50 years, shed similar streak of tears as Raju when it was recently released into a chain-free corral. Photo from Elephant Aid International
Moti Prasad Kha, chained, starved and beaten for 50 years, shed similar streak of tears as Raju when it was recently released into a chain-free corral. Photo from Elephant Aid International

Raju’s case is just the tip of the iceberg in India, and the news gets worse. Similar abuse is occurring in Nepal and several other Asian countries. Clearly elephant poaching in Africa for the ivory trade isn’t the only problem elephants face worldwide.
“Yes, Raju is the tip of the iceberg,” Nikki Sharp, the executive director for Wildlife S.O.S. in the U.S., told GrindTV Outdoor in an email. “I do not have the numbers to prove this fact, but from those I have spoken with, it is estimated that up to 2,000 elephants in India live similarly to Raju. They are chained, beaten and neglected. Most will die in chains. Raju is one of the lucky ones who was rescued and enabled to experience some freedom.
“Again, without the numbers to prove it because nobody has done a full census, I would not be surprised if there are more elephants living in chains in India than the rest of Asia combined. It is a problem that exists throughout Asia, including Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma and others.”
Carol Buckley, founder of Elephant Aid International focused on Nepal, told GrindTV Outdoor that Sharp’s numbers are underestimated.
“I know of only a handful of elephants not living a similar life to Raju in India, Thailand and Nepal,” Buckley said. “In the tiny country of Nepal, hundreds of elephants are enslaved for the entertainment industry. Legs shackled together, pegged to the ground for decades.
“Elephants suffer from heat exhaustion, overwork, malnutrition and beatings. Nearly every captive-held elephant in Nepal suffers from daily abuse and festering wounds.”

Raju shed tears when it realized it was being rescued. Elephant abuse is common in India. Photo from Wildlife S.O.S.'s Facebook page
Raju shed tears when it realized it was being rescued.
 Elephant abuse is common in India. Photo from

So why don’t the governments do something about elephant abuse and charge cruel owners? It’s complicated, Sharp told GrindTV Outdoor.
“It is a combination of people not knowing what the laws are to intervene, corruption, and being unsure of what to do with an elephant if they move forward to confiscate him,” she said. “We have the only chain-free elephant rescue center and we are limited in what we can take in due to financial restraints. It is a combination of these three that create a situation where the government looks away and justice for the elephants rarely come.”
Buckley said the practice of elephant abuse is so widespread that authorities would have to change an entire industry to stop the suffering.
“People who own elephants are many times the most powerful people in the community,” Buckley said. “They enslave the elephants and the mahouts [elephant keepers]. It is insidious and preventable. We still see the same treatment of circus elephants in the U.S.
“Money appears to be the motivator.”
Raju enjoys a recent shower. Photo from Wildlife S.O.S. Facebook page
Raju enjoys a recent shower. Photo from  

The problem is, Sharp added, that there is a high demand for elephants for all sorts of different purposes including ceremonial, the tourist industry, living in temples, circuses, and begging.
“Although many people see elephants as gods in India, it does not save them from the wrath of being chained and beaten and living a very lonely life,” Sharp said.
what to do with chain
Wildlife S.O.S. wants suggestions on what to do with the spiked chain that was used on Raju. Photo from Wildlife S.O.S. Facebook page

Thankfully there is a bit of good news to report. Elephant Aid International completed Phase 1 of its Chain Free Means Pain Free Project to free 63 working elephants from chains in Nepal, meaning in four months, 30 elephants which had been shackled for decades were released to wander freely in their personal jungle.
Both Sharp and Buckley are hopeful that the story of Raju’s rescue by Wildlife S.O.S. will raise awareness of elephant abuse and spark a worldwide movement to solve the issue.
In the meantime, we’re happy to report that Raju is receiving plenty of love and medical treatment at Wildlife S.O.S.’s Elephant Center in Mathura, India. Raju has even found a new friend, Phookali.
On a serious note, Wildlife S.O.S asked on Facebook for suggestions on what do to with the spiked chain that held Raju for 50 years. Donate it to a museum? Use it to raise money for the care of its elephants? Other suggestions?
Della Calise-Worley wrote what is no doubt the sentiment of most: “Put it around Raju’s ex-owner’s neck.”
NOTE: To help with Raju’s care, Wildlife S.O.S. is asking for a $10 monthly pledge. Those interested can go online or use a smartphone and text “raju” to 41444. Visit the website of Elephant Aid International to help further.

Giant African snails seized at Los Angeles airport

Associated Press
This undated photo provided by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) showing one of the snails from an air cargo shipment of 67 live snails that arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on July 1, 2014. Officials said that the 35 pounds of snails arrived from Nigeria along with paperwork stating they were for human consumption. Officials say the snails were intercepted and were subsequently identified after a sample was sent to U.S. Department of Agriculture specialists in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/USDA, Greg Bartman)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Inspectors at Los Angeles International Airport seized an unusually slimy package — 67 live giant African snails that are a popular delicacy across West Africa.
The snails — which are prohibited in the U.S. — arrived from Nigeria and were being sent to a person in San Dimas, said Lee Harty, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border protection.
The snails were confiscated July 1 and a sample was sent the next day to a federal mollusk specialist in Washington, D.C., who identified them as a prohibited species, Harty said.
The mollusks are among the largest land snails in the world and can grow to be up to 8 inches long. They are native to Africa and can live for up to 10 years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture incinerated the snails after they were inspected, Harty said. The animals are prohibited in the U.S. because they can carry parasites that are harmful to humans, including one that can lead to meningitis.
The snails are also agricultural pests, said Maveeda Mirza, the CBP program manager for agriculture.
"These snails are seriously harmful to local plants because they will eat any kind of crop they can get to," Mirza said.
The person the snails were destined for is not expected to face any penalties, Mirza said. She said authorities are investigating why a single person would want so many snails.
"We're investigating what happened, but it doesn't seem like there was smuggling involved. When someone doesn't know a commodity is prohibited under USDA regulations there is usually no punishment," she said.
Although the agency has found one or two snails that may have accidentally gotten into a traveler's luggage in Los Angeles, this is the first time that they have confiscated the snails in such a large quantity, Mirza said.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Girl hoped to have been cured of HIV has relapsed

Associated Press
FILE - In this undated file image provided by Johns Hopkins Medicine in 2005 Dr. Deborah Persaud, a pediatric HIV expert at Johns Hopkins' Children's Center in Baltimore, holds a vial. On Thursday, July 10, 2014, doctors and officials at the National Institutes of Health said new tests last week showed that a Mississippi girl born with the AIDS virus is no longer in remission. The girl is now back on treatment and is responding well, doctors said. (AP Photo/Johns Hopkins Medicine, File)
A Mississippi girl born with the AIDS virus and in remission for more than two years despite stopping treatment now shows signs that she still harbors HIV — and therefore is not cured. The news is a setback to hopes that very early treatment with powerful HIV drugs might reverse an infection that has seemed permanent once it takes hold.
The girl is now nearly 4. As recently as March, doctors had said that she seemed free of HIV though she was not being treated with AIDS drugs. That was a medical first.
But on Thursday, doctors said they were surprised last week to find the virus in her blood, and there were signs that it was harming her immune system. She is now back on treatment and is responding well, they said.
The news is "obviously disappointing" and will affect a federal study that had been about to start testing early, aggressive treatment in such cases, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Doctors had been considering stopping treatment if no signs of infection could be detected after two years.
"We're going to take a good hard look at the study and see if it needs any modifications," either in terms of length of treatment or because of ethical concerns over raising false hopes about an approach that now has suffered a setback, Fauci said. At a minimum, consent forms to join the study must be revised, he said.
Most HIV-infected moms in the U.S. get AIDS medicines during pregnancy, which greatly cuts the chances they will pass the virus to their babies. The Mississippi baby's mom received no prenatal care and her HIV was discovered during labor. Because of the baby's great risk of infection, doctors started her on unusually powerful treatment 30 hours after birth, even before tests could determine whether she was indeed infected.
The girl was treated until she was 18 months old, when doctors lost contact with her. Ten months later when she returned, they could find no sign of infection even though the mom had stopped giving her AIDS medicines.
Tests repeatedly showed no detectable HIV until last week, when copies of the virus were measured in her blood. Doctors say they don't know why the virus rebounded when it did, and said it raises profound questions about what they know about HIV's hideouts in the body.
"We are still very much in the early discovery phase of trying to achieve a sustained virological remission and perhaps even a cure. There is much, much more to learn and we remain committed to doing so," Fauci said.
The girl's experience still suggests that early, aggressive treatment can limit the size of the reservoir of dormant virus in the body and help control infection, said one specialist involved in the case, Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore.
"What we've learned from this case is really quite amazing," said Jeffrey Safrit, research chief at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. "They were able to suppress virus for a very long time without therapy. We need to take the positive aspects of this case and learn from them to move forward" with the federal study, he said.
In March, doctors revealed that a second baby born with HIV may have had her infection put into remission by very early treatment — in this case, four hours after her birth in suburban Los Angeles in April 2013. Nearly a year later, very sophisticated tests at multiple times suggested she had completely cleared the virus, but she remains on treatment so there is no way to know for sure.
Only one other person is thought to have been cured of HIV infection — a San Francisco man who had a bone marrow transplant in 2007 from a donor with natural resistance to HIV. He showed no sign of infection more than five years later.
AIDS information:

Ebola in Africa: Can we dodge a global pandemic?

CDC/ Cynthia Goldsmith

Right now, a fight for survival is taking place in the West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Ebola, one of the most lethal diseases on the planet, is on a killing rampage.  In Guinea, 303 people have died. In Sierra Leone, 99 have perished, and in Guinea, 65 lives have been claimed.
Within a few days, these figures will be higher. And the disease appears to just be getting warmed up. Spread by contact with bodily fluids, Ebola is flourishing in West Africa, and could be coming soon to a place near you.
When the outbreak began in Guinea in April, the mortality rate was higher than it is now. But the virus is still an extreme hazard, and health workers must work in full bio-hazard suits in order to keep themselves from being infected by the patients they are serving. The protective suits are extremely hot in the sweltering West African climate. They are like little mobile sauna units, slowly cooking the doctors, nurses and aids working inside them.
Named after the Ebola River, the virus was first discovered in 1976 in what was then Zaire and is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. A viral disease, Ebola starts out like a bad flu, exhibiting initial symptoms of fever, weakness, headache and muscle pain – but that’s where the similarities end.
The more severe symptoms commence as early as two days after contact with the virus. Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever, meaning it causes the rupturing of blood vessels throughout the body.  Victims may bleed from the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, anus and genitals, as well as through skin ruptures. The liver, lungs, spleen and lymph nodes can be overcome by Ebola, leading to massive organ failure, and an agonizing death can follow.
There are five strains of Ebola: Zaire, Sudan, Reston, Cote d’Ivoire, and Bundibugyo. Of these, four are known to cause the disease in humans, whereas Reston does not appear to do so.  The disease is transmitted from animals to humans. Fruit bats, monkeys, and wild game may host the virus and spread it to humans, but bats in particular are on the radar of health officials. They are known as reservoir species, carrying the virus without becoming sick from the disease.
Despite urgent, high level attention from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ebola has no specific treatment, no vaccine, and no effective medicines. Bed rest and remaining hydrated appear to be as effective as any course of treatment, with a disease whose mortality rate can be as high as 90 percent. In clinics, Ebola patients are kept isolated as much as possible, and any utensils used to diagnose them must be fastidiously sterilized. Health workers take a huge risk tending to the Ebola infected, and only bio-hazard suits afford enough protection. Still, even one accidental prick from a dirty needle can lead to infection. It is very risky business.
Now, we don’t have to worry, right? Ebola is, after all, over in Africa, far removed from us. Nothing could be further from the alarming truth.
Imagine this scenario: A health worker tends to Ebola patients in Guinea, and remains healthy due to good sanitation practices. Eventually, that health worker needs to travel to the United States or Europe, and he or she boards a plane. Unknowingly, they are infected but symptom-free so far. On the long flight home, they start to feel some aches and chills, and at one point, they sneeze, sending thousands of viruses into the air through the atomized mucus expelled from the nose. Other passengers breathe that air, taking in a few viruses here and there, and they become infected.
And a global pandemic starts to roll.
This is neither a far-off scenario nor science fiction. It is a real possibility. And this is why health officials are so gravely concerned about the current Ebola outbreak. Unlike previous smaller outbreaks which have occurred in rural locations, this one is happening in hot, humid cities where crowds are dense and sanitation is sketchy; where basic hygiene is often hard to manage and many people eat wild game that might be infected. It is a perfect recipe for a massive, uncontrolled outbreak. Infecting another person is as easy as a sneeze, a kiss, cleaning up after someone, making contact with mucus, urine or feces.
The question, then, is what can you do? Except for staying away from anyone infected, you can’t do much. Right now it’s up to the health workers laboring in excessively hot bio-hazard suits, and to officials who are working hard on containment. This situation in West Africa could in fact be the start of a global disaster, or it may be another near-miss. The threat is real, and the disease is on the move. Will we dodge the Ebola bullet? Right now, all we can do is watch and wait.
Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Man diagnosed with rare pneumonic plague in Colorado


By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado man diagnosed with pneumonic plague, a rare form of the disease that is also the most life-threatening, is the state's first confirmed human case of the illness in a decade, officials said on Wednesday.
The man was found to have the disease after the family dog died unexpectedly, and a necropsy concluded the animal was afflicted with pneumonic plague, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a statement.
The unidentified man and his dog were believed to have contracted the disease in an eastern Colorado county. There was no word on the man's condition.
The bacteria that causes plague occurs naturally in the western United States, particularly in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The plague is transmitted by fleas to rodents, usually prairie dogs. When an infected animal dies, the disease is spread when the fleas find another host.
Pneumonic plague is the same bacteria that causes bubonic plague, but it infects a person's lungs. Symptoms include fever, headaches, shortness of breath, chest pains and a cough.
It is the most serious form of the disease, Colorado health officials said, adding that it is the only form of plague that can be transmitted person-to-person, usually through infectious droplets from coughing.
Since 1957, 60 human cases of pneumonic plague have been identified in Colorado, and nine were fatal, the health department said.
"Although human cases occur infrequently, plague is severe and potentially life-threatening if not detected and quickly treated with common antibiotics," the department said.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)

Here's How Humans Could Create The Next Deadly Pandemic

Business Insider
Emergency_hospital_during_Influenza_epidemic,_Camp_Funston,_Kansas_ _NCP_1603
U.S. Army photographer
Emergency hospital during 1918 influenza epidemic, Camp Funston, Kansas.

On July 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that vials containing smallpox were discovered in a cold storage room in an unauthorized National Institutes of Health facility in Maryland. The disease is so infectious and dangerous that an international agreement mandates that only two labs in the world can possess it.
Nobody could say what the smallpox was doing in Maryland or how it had evaded detection for so many years. Just a month earlier, the CDC had revealed another alarming breach of protocol, announcing that they might have accidentally exposed more than 75 employees to anthrax.
Fortunately, it seems that no one was inadvertently infected during either of those events. But both those potential exposures reveal one important thing: Even at the safest, most secure labs in the country, something can go wrong.
We're lucky, some researchers say, that these slip-ups didn't happen with a flu virus — like the one that killed roughly 50 million people in 1918.
That strain of influenza, and others like it, are being actively studied at multiple labs in the U.S. and around the world. A mistake at any one of those labs, some researchers say, would be a real disaster.
Human Error If a researcher had caught anthrax, that would have been tragic — but it almost certainly wouldn't have spread further, as anthrax is generally not considered contagious. Smallpox is more contagious, but with vaccination and antiviral drugs, even that could be much more easily than an accidental influenza release, according to Michael Osterholm, the director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
Flu viruses that are both deadly and highly transmissible are not only being studied but are also being created in labs with increasing frequency.
The H1N1 influenza virus was responsible for the deadliest pandemic in modern human history. That same virus was first re-created in a lab in 2005 in order to understand what made that pandemic so deadly.
At the time, critics argued that re-creating the virus and making the genetic sequence available online would make it more likely that other labs would copy that virus or engineer similar influenza pathogens, increasing the number of potential sites where an accidental release could potentially occur.
No such accident has occurred, but that prediction by critics was right. More researchers have indeed begun to engineer similar deadly influenza viruses, according to Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard School of Public Health.
"Most of the labs that are doing this are among the very safest labs in the world," Lipsitch told Business Insider. "But so is the biosafety level three lab at the CDC where they were doing the anthrax work. Safety isn't all about machines or ventilation, it's also about human judgment." Because of that, he argued, even the strictest containment protocols are vulnerable to human error.
And as more institutions in more countries begin similar research, there's no guarantee that the same high containment standards will be followed.
The Value of Dangerous Research Lipsitch's argument is not that this research won't reveal important science — all experiments can provide new insight, both in terms of what researchers are looking for and in what they discover that they weren't looking for.
Instead, he says the rationale used to create these influenza pathogens doesn't justify the risk incurred by creating them.
We've been able to create vaccines to protect against existing influenza viruses without first creating the viruses themselves in the past, and so there's no indication that developing a new virus is necessary to improve vaccination research.
As for genetic sequencing, some of these viruses have had their genomes sequenced already, and Lipsitch argues we are no more prepared to stop a pandemic as a result. In the cases of active viruses currently out in the world, like H7N9, genetic sequencing hasn't led to action to stop its spread.
Some of the researchers creating these viruses say that doing so and having access to their genomes will help us understand how they become so transmissible and deadly. But even in cases where we can pinpoint some of the genes involved in transmission, we can't necessarily predict what that information means for viruses in the wild. We're still learning how to interpret the thousands of characters that make up the genetic sequence for any virus.
Of particular concern to critics of flu research are "gain of function" studies, where researchers take deadly new influenza viruses that people don't have immunity to and make them even more contagious.
Studies of this nature are currently happening in the Netherlands and in Wisconsin. The scientists creating these viruses say that this research is essential for understanding how viruses adapt to become transmissible in mammals.
A Worrisome History
Incidents similar to the anthrax one — and worse — have happened before.
In 2004, a Maryland lab sent live anthrax to a California children's hospital. In a New York Times op-ed on the risks of some current flu studies, Lipsitch points out that "between 2003 and 2009, there were 395 'potential release events' and 66 'potential loss events' in American labs involving select agents, a category that includes many of the most lethal bacteria and viruses."
Considering whether such mistakes could actually lead to widespread infection is not just hypothetical. In fact, the best current explanation for a 1977 H1N1 outbreak in China and Russia is that the virus escaped from a lab.
As recent news events demonstrate, sometimes human error can defeat the most stringent safety protocols. Even though it's extremely unlikely, an accident could happen with a lab-grown flu virus, too.
If it does, we'll have to ask ourselves if it was worth it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

US-based scientist makes potent version of H1N1 flu

H1N1 virus. Credit: C. S. Goldsmith and A. Balish, CDC
A US-based Japanese scientist said Wednesday he has succeeded in engineering a version of the so-called swine flu virus that would be able to evade the human immune system.
The research on the 2009 H1N1 virus at a high-security lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison has not yet been published, but was first made public July 1 by the Independent newspaper in London.
The article described virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka, as "controversial" and said "some scientists who are aware of (the experiment) are horrified."
Kawaoka confirmed to AFP that he has been able to make changes in a particular protein that would enable the 2009 H1N1 virus to escape immune protection.
"Through selection of immune escape viruses in the laboratory under appropriate containment conditions, we were able to identify the key regions would enable 2009 H1N1 viruses to escape immunity," he said in an email.
However, he described the Independent's story—which called his research "provocative" because it sought to create a deadly flu from which humans could not escape—as "sensational."
"It is unfortunate that online news outlets choose to manipulate the message in this way to attract readers, with sensational headlines, especially in regard to science and public health matters," he said.
Kawaoka said the reason for the research was to find out how the flu virus might mutate in nature and help scientists devise better vaccines against it.
He also said he has presented his initial findings to a World Health Organization committee and it "was well received."
Controversy erupted in 2011 and 2012 over research on the H5N1 bird flu, after a Dutch and a US team of scientists each found ways to engineer a virus that could pass easily among mammals.
Concerns were raised over the potential to create a deadly pandemic like the Spanish flu of 1918-1919 that killed 50 million people.
A key worry was that bioterrorists could find a way to recreate and release such a virus, or that it could accidently escape from a research lab.
Scientists stopped their work for a time but the details of the experiments were eventually published in major scientific journals.

5 truly weird fish caught off Baja

The Big Blue Ocean Exploration

You never know what you might hook or find while out on the water, but you'd never expect to encounter these bizarre-looking denizens

Baja California Sur is paradise for anglers. Whether on the Pacific side of the peninsula, or in the Sea of Cortez, beautiful marlin, tuna, and other game fish abound. But Baja waters also serve up more than their share of peculiar, bizarre-looking, or downright otherworldly denizens. Some fairly recent examples are provided below.
Five truly weird fish caught off Baja:
fish caught off Baja
Jen Wren Sportfishing crew with blotchy roosterfish; photo courtesy of Mark Rayor
Speckled roosterfish (pictured above)
This is atop the list only because it’s the most recent example. Roosterfish are among the most photogenic game fish caught off Baja, but last week the crew of Jen Wren Sportfishing reeled in a rooster that was blotchy instead of striped, and with an odd-shaped head, and a worn tail. Mark Rayor, who with his wife, Jennifer, owns the Jen Wren fleet at the East Cape, said he had never seen anything like it. Another roosterfish with similar markings was caught in the same area a few years ago. A prominent La Paz-based scientist could not immediately offer a theory as to what might have caused the odd coloration, but locals guess that it could have something to do with the spawning season. (Click on the link posted above see what a roosterfish ought to look like.)
fish caught off Baja
Albino one-eyed cyclops shark; photo courtesy of Pisces Sportfishing
Albino one-eyed cyclops shark
Nothing is likely to top this freakish 2011 discovery. Commercial fishermen pulled the albino fetus from a pregnant dusky shark (originally believed to be a bull shark) they caught off La Paz in late June. It was among nine pups inside the mother shark, which was found dead on a hook set the previous day. The fetus looked so unreal that many cried hoax after seeing the photo. Even scientists were skeptical at first; one researcher jokingly referred to the fetus as “Cycloptomus.” Scientist Felipe Galván-Magana authored a paper in which he described cyclopia as “a rare congenital malformation, resulting from the division of the embryonic brain that leads to fusion of the eyes to form a single, central eye.” Folks in the region are still talking about this bizarre find.
fish caught off Baja
Oarfish on Medano Beach in Cabo; photo courtesy of Pisces Sportfishing
Alien-like oarfish
These serpent-like deep-sea creatures rarely but occasionally wash or swim ashore on Baja beaches, either dead or near-death. Anglers have no chance of catching one on hook-and-line, and little chance of seeing one. But when one is spotted, it becomes a spectacle. The 15-foot oarfish in the photo washed ashore, barely alive, on bustling Medano Beach in October 2012. An attempt to revive the oarfish failed, and after it died, marine park officials dumped its carcass at sea, rather than collect it for scientific study. Oarfish, with their slender, ribbon-like bodies and mane-like dorsal fins, are believed to have spawned sea monster myths in the times of ancient mariners. They can reach lengths of about 35 feet.
fish caught off Baja
Powder-blue dorado caught near La Paz; photo by Dave Maynard
Powder-blue dorado
Dorado, or mahi-mahi, are generally a brilliant greenish-gold when swimming after bait or fighting on the hook. (The term dorado translates to “golden one.”) However, they sometimes they come aboard in odd colors. The fish in the photo was caught last October by Dave Maynard, host of “Fish the Baja.” His group was fishing near La Paz in the Sea of Cortez, and landed 154 dorado in four days. At least six were blue, Maynard said. Added Mark Rayor of Jen Wren Sportfishing: “Once in a while, we get a silver one that looks really cool.
fish caught off Baja
Mysterious ratfish caught off Cabo San Lucas; photo courtesy of Pisces Sportfishing
Rare (and ugly) ratfish
The fish in the photo was caught off Cabo San Lucas in 2009, prompting Tracy Ehrenbergh, manager of Pisces Sportfishing, to remark that the mysterious denizen looks “like a seal, crossed with a baby marlin, that swallowed a chicken … it has feet.” It was such a rare catch that most of the captains, who spent most of their lives at sea, had no idea what had surfaced. It was ultimately identified as a ratfish, or a type of chimaera, and considered initially to be a type that was new to science. A smaller ratfish, though a different type, was caught off Cabo in 2011. Both of these denizens, which bottom feed at lightless depths on invertebrates, were turned over to scientists.