Archive for November, 2011

Russia Considers Blocking NATO Supply Routes.

November 29, 2011 3 comments

By ALAN CULLISON  November 28th 2011.   Find Article Here:-

MOSCOW—Russia said it may not let NATO use its territory to supply troops in Afghanistan if the alliance doesn’t seriously consider its objections to a U.S.-led missile shield for Europe, Russia’s ambassador to NATO said Monday.

Russia has stepped up its objections to the antimissile system in Europe, threatening last week to deploy its own ballistic missiles on the border of the European Union to counter the move. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization says the shield is meant to thwart an attack from a rogue state such as Iran, that it poses no threat to Russia, and that the alliance will go ahead with the plan despite Moscow’s objections.

If NATO doesn’t give a serious response, “we have to address matters in relations in other areas,” Russian news services reported Dmitri Rogozin, ambassador to NATO, as saying. He added that Russia’s cooperation on Afghanistan may be an area for review, the news services reported.

Threats to the NATO supply line through Russia come at an awkward time for the alliance. NATO has become increasingly reliant on the Russian route as problems in Pakistan—its primary supply route—have escalated. Over the weekend, Pakistan closed its border to trucks delivering supplies in response to coalition airstrikes Saturday that killed 25 Pakistani soldiers.

NATO began shipping its supplies through Russia in 2009, after the so-called reset in relations between Moscow and the U.S., allowing the alliance a safer route for supplies into Afghanistan. But U.S.-Russian relations have been strained lately by the approach of elections in both countries. In the past week, the Kremlin has sharply stepped up its anti-Western rhetoric ahead of parliamentary elections on Dec. 4.

Ivan Safranchuk, deputy director of the Moscow-based Institute of Contemporary International Studies, said Russia is unlikely to cut off the flow of NATO supplies to Afghanistan as an immediate response to missile-defense decisions. But Russia does want its objections to the missile shield to be taken more seriously, he said.

“If the U.S. is not responsive, then a cutoff could be a reality at some point,” Mr. Safranchuk said. “Russia would like the U.S. to be more serious about Russian concerns.”

Categories: News of the moment

Antibiotic-resistant infections spread through Europe.

Friday 18th November 2011.  by Jeremy Laurance.   Find Article Here:-

Experts blame overuse of medicines for huge rise in bacteria that are almost impossible to treat.

The world is being driven towards the “unthinkable scenario of untreatable infections”, experts are warning, because of the growth of superbugs resistant to all antibiotics and the dwindling interest in developing new drugs to combat them.

Reports are increasing across Europe of patients with infections that are nearly impossible to treat. The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) said yesterday that in some countries up to 50 per cent of cases of blood poisoning caused by one bug – K. pneumoniae, a common cause of urinary and respiratory conditions – were resistant to carbapenems, the most powerful class of antibiotics.

Across Europe, the percentage of carbapenem-resistant K. pneumoniae has doubled from 7 per cent to 15 per cent. The ECDC said it is “particularly worrying” because carbapenems are the last-line antibiotics for treatment of multi-drug-resistant infections.

Marc Sprenger, the director, said: “The situation is critical. We need to declare a war against these bacteria.”

In 2009, carbapenem-resistant K. pneumoniae was established only in Greece, but by 2010, it had extended to Italy, Austria, Cyprus and Hungary. The bacterium is present in the intestinal tract and is transmitted by touch.

Resistant strains of E.coli also increased in 2010. Between 25 and 50 per cent of E.coli infections in Italy and Spain were resistant to fluoroquinolones in 2010, one of the most important antibiotics for treating the bacterium.

In the UK, 70 patients have been identified carrying NDM-1-containing bacteria, an enzyme that destroys carbapenems. Separate research has shown that more than 80 per cent of travellers returning from India to Europe carried the NDM gene in their gut.

Researchers speak of a “nightmare scenario” if the gene for NDM-1 production is spread more widely.

The UK Health Protection Agency warned doctors last month to abandon a drug usually used to treat a common sexually transmitted disease because it was no longer effective. The agency said that gonorrhoea – which caused 17,000 infections in 2009 – should be treated with two drugs instead of one and warned of a “very real threat of untreatable gonorrhoea in the future.”

Discovering new medicines to treat resistant superbugs has proved increasingly difficult and costly – they are taken only for a short period and the commercial returns are low. The European Commission yesterday launched a plan to boost research into new antibiotics, by promising accelerated approval for new drugs and funding for development through the the Innovative Medicines Initiative, a public-private collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry.

An estimated 25,000 people die each year in the European Union from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. Countries with the highest rates of resistant infections, such as Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria, also tended to be the ones with the highest use of antibiotics.

World Health Organisation scientists warned two years ago that overuse of antibiotics risked returning the world to a pre-antibiotic era in which infections did not respond to treatment. The warnings have been ignored.

Professor Laura Piddock, president of the British Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, said politicians and the public had been slow to appreciate the urgency of the situation. In The Lancet, she writes: “Antibiotics are not perceived as essential to health, despite such agents saving lives.” Global action to develop new antibiotics is required, she says.

The Department of Health published guidance aimed at curbing the overuse of antibiotics in hospitals, by avoiding long treatment and replacing broad-spectrum antibiotics with those targeted at the specific infection. Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer, said: “Many antibiotics are prescribed… when they don’t need to be.”

Case study: Holiday fever that took two months to control

In August 2010, Paolo, 55, a university professor in Rome, was on holiday on the island of Ponza, when he fell ill with a fever and shaking chills. He had a urinary tract infection and his brother-in-law, a doctor, prescribed a commonly used antibiotic called ciprofloxacin.

Three days later he was no better and still feverish but continued with the drugs for a week. He returned to the mainland where his urine was tested and found to be infected with a strain of E.coli resistant to many antibiotics including ciprofloxacin.

He was prescribed a different antibiotic, which he took for four weeks. He got better but four days after stopping the treatment, his symptoms returned and he became feverish again.

He then called a friend, an infectious disease specialist, who suggested a third antibiotic which he took for 21 days. Two months after he began treatment, that finally cured his infection.

US Supreme Court Blocks Government Plan To Claim Ownership Of DNA.

Collecting and storing every newborn’s blood violates Genetic Privacy Act.

Steve Watson  November 18th, 2011.  Find Full article Here:-

Supreme Court Blocks Government Plan To Claim Ownership Of DNA 020508babyneedle

In a long running case, a Supreme Court has ruled to limit the use of blood samples collected from newborns by the government.

The case has exposed the fact that there is an ongoing semi-covert movement by state and federal governments to claim ownership of every newborn baby’s DNA for the purpose of genetic research without the consent of individual citizens.

The Minnesota Court ruled Wednesday that the Minnesota Department of Health is violating the law in storing, using and disseminating newborn screening test results and newborn DNA.

Overruling a lower court’s decision, the state Supreme Court found that the samples are “Genetic Information” under the State Genetic Privacy Act, and held that “unless otherwise provided, the Department must have written informed consent to collect, use, store, or disseminate [the blood samples].”

In 2003, The Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom (CCHF), formerly known as The Citizens’ Council on Health Care (CCHC), discovered that The Minnesota Department of Health had been indefinitely storing the blood of newborns since the mid 1980s, and using the samples for purposes beyond the State’s newborn screening program since 1997.

The state treated the activity as an “opt out” program, whereby if the parents of the newborn infant do not specifically opt out of the process, the state presumes its has “informed consent” and that the parents have opted in.

Consequently, the DNA of nearly a million children is considered government property under Minnesota law.

Without the knowledge or consent of the person or their parents, the government has been selling the DNA for genetic research purposes.

In 2008, state Health Department officials began seeking exemption for the so called “DNA Warehouse” from Minnesota privacy law.

Essentially this would mean that eventually every person’s DNA would be collected at birth, warehoused by the state in what is known as a “genomic biobank”, and sold or given away to private or governmental genetic researchers, who may manipulate, alter or splice the DNA in any way they see fit. Hundreds of samples have already been used in government comissioned studies.

Such information would represent a goldmine to employers, insurance companies, medical institutions, and big pharma.

Under such conditions we are faced with the prospect of a society that is literally the mirror image of the nightmarish vision outlined by Aldous Huxley in his 1932 novel Brave New World, where individuals are categorized in a social hierarchy according to their genetic traits.

UK Defence cuts: the facts.

The latest redundancies revealed today in the Telegraph are the latest in a series of defence cuts made by the Government.   November 12th 2011.            Find Article Here:-

The Strategic Defence and Security Review, published last October, outlined plans to cut the military budget by 7.5 per cent over five years.

In last years Strategic Defence and Security Review the Army was to reduce by 7,000 soldiers from 102,000 by 2015.

This was quietly increased by a further 5,000 earlier this year but the paper shown to the Telegraph shows that without any public debate the MoD has decided that by April 2015 a total of 16,500 soldiers will be axed.

While those serving in Afghanistan are temporarily safe from compulsory redundancy men from the same battalions left behind doing invaluable “rear party” work such as looking after bereaved and wounded will be vulnerable.

The classified memo reveals that 2,500 wounded soldiers – including 350 who have lost their limbs in bomb explosions and roadside ambushes – will not be exempt from the cull.

The Army will be slashed to its smallest size since the Boer War, 131 years ago. Experts believe that as many as eight battalions could cease to exist.

Critics have said the cuts will leave Britain reliant on a “Dad’s Army” of reservists.

While the review revealed the RAF will be cut by 5,000 from 44,000 to 39,000 personnel, each as part of a cost-cutting exercise which also saw the cancellation of equipment including Nimrod MRA4 reconnaissance planes.

The Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal was also earmarked to be scrapped along with its fleet of Harrier jump-jets

Former defence Secretary Liam Fox announced in September that spending on equipment would increase by 1 per cent above inflation each year after 2015 to pave the way for the so-called Future Force 2020.

But the Defence Committee said it was “not convinced that, given the current financial climate and the drawdown of capabilities arising from the SDSR, UK armed forces will be able do what is asked of them after 2015”.

The Gurkhas have also been hit hard, with over a hundred infantrymen from the historic Nepalese brigade making up most of those in the army who will be told that they have been selected for compulsory redundancy.

However today’s memo shows the cuts to personal are likely to go further than has been publicly announced.

The Government has rowed back on some aspects of the Defence Review.

In October defence chiefs said they would allowed service personnel to keep their children at public schools, despite pledging to slash millions from Armed Forces allowances.

They said scrapping the £180 million – a – year Continuity of Education Allowance would affect the “operational effectiveness” of personnel.

It also emerged that defence cuts and the war in Libya have left the Navy unable to provide a warship to guard Britain’s home waters for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Earlier this month MoD adviser Prof Andrew Dorman wrote to the new Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to ask him to reopen the defence review.

Prof Dorman, who holds a senior position at Nato, said the Armed Forces remain “critically ill” and recent proposals amount to “little more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

Publicly, both the MoD and Downing Street have insisted the review will not be reopened. But some insiders have insisted that changes will almost certainly have to be made because the MoD’s 2011–12 budget allocation is about £1 billion short of the department’s commitments.

The Ministry of Defence has scrapped nearly £1 billion of spare equipment. The Royal Navy alone disposed of £570 million worth of material, Peter Luff, the defence minister, has disclosed in response to a written parliamentary question.

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Dweezil Zappa: My debt to my Dad.

By Adam Sweeting  16th November 2011.   Find Full Article Here:-

Frank Zappa and son Dweezil in 1982

Frank Zappa and son Dweezil in 1982 Photo: REX

Though he died in 1993 aged only 52, Frank Zappa recorded more than 80 albums which covered an astonishing amount of musical turf. Jazz-fusion, progressive rock, musique concrète, scatalogical satire, movie soundtracks and orchestral compositions all figured in Zappa’s teeming aural universe, and he is regarded as one of the most stubbornly individualistic artists of the late 20th century.

But nobody ever accused him of being easy listening, and it’s difficult to imagine an artist less attuned to our blaringly commercialised pop era. In 2006, his son Dweezil decided it was high time Zappa’s legacy made itself known to new generations of listeners who had never had their brain cells nuked by its spiky wit and wilful complexity.

“I felt Frank’s music was under-appreciated and misunderstood, and his contributions were too great for them to be allowed to disappear in my lifetime,” says Dweezil. “I noticed that, if you said to people younger than me, ‘Hey, what do you know about Frank Zappa?’ they’d say, ‘Who?’ I thought, if I’m going to do something about this, I need to make the effort now.”

Thus he conceived the idea of Zappa Plays Zappa, a band devoted to sustaining Frank’s legacy by performing his music for younger listeners who were unaware of it, as well as for Zappa’s surviving fans. The unit arrives for an extensive British tour this week, following a one-off appearance at the Roundhouse a year ago to celebrate what would have been Frank’s 70th birthday, and once again it will perform his 1974 album Apostrophe in its entirety alongside a selection of his other works.

However, in order to pick up the baton from his dad, Dweezil first had to learn how to play the music himself. He was already an accomplished rock guitarist, with a particular fondness for the hyper-blitzkrieg playing style of Eddie van Halen, but his father’s work demanded a different order of expertise and musical understanding altogether.

“The challenges were great and numerous,” says Dweezil. “I’d spent more than 30 years playing guitar, but I had to change how I did everything. It was like getting a lobotomy and then training for the Olympics. I’d be practising the same tiny part for eight hours a day, until the technique became something I didn’t have to think about.

“I’d always learned everything by ear, and I didn’t have a strong background in musical theory, but that was vital to be able to learn Frank’s music. Even more importantly, I had to be able to communicate with my other musicians in a language that made sense.”

Frank Zappa’s music is crammed with complex rhythms, difficult key changes and baffling time signatures –in fact, it’s strange that he tends to get pigeonholed under “rock” because he had more in common with composer Edgard Varèse or jazzman Thelonious Monk than he did with Aerosmith – and he insisted on using state-of-the-art technology to ensure that every nuance of sound was rendered with fanatical clarity. He was also extremely specific about how his precisely scored music should be performed.

UK’s battle with HIV goes into reverse, prompting calls for more testing.

HIV 1 virus

The HIV 1 virus. The numbers infected with HIV within the UK are on the rise, the Health Protection Agency says. Photograph: Institut Pasteur/AFP/Getty Images

More than 100,000 people in Britain are predicted to be living with HIV by the end of this year, according to an official report that warns that the virus is on the rise again in the UK.

While there is a continuing drop in new cases among people who have acquired HIV abroad, the numbers infected within the UK are on the rise, the Health Protection Agency says in the report on Tuesday. New diagnoses of HIV in men who have sex with men have hit a record high.

New infections of the virus, which eventually causes Aids if not kept in check by drugs, had been falling in the UK but that trend seems to have levelled off, according to the agency’s annual HIV report. At the end of 2010, there were an estimated 91,500 people with HIV in the UK, up from 86,500 the previous year. The figure includes estimates for those who have not had a test and do not know they are infected – thought to be around a quarter of the total.

In 2010, according to the HPA’s data, there were 3,000 new infections among men who have sex with men, 81% of which occurred in the UK. Most of the men were white (83%) and two-thirds (67%) were born in the UK. Some had been HIV-positive for years without knowing, but a third of those who were recently infected were under 35. The figures suggest that one in 20 gay men are living with HIV, the ratio rising to one in 12 in London.

When the epidemic began 30 years ago, people with HIV swiftly became sick, developed Aids and died of infections such as pneumonia that their bodies could not fight off. Today, combinations of antiretroviral drugs keep people alive and healthy and can give them a normal lifespan as long as they stay on the medication. That means the number living with the virus continues to rise.

Of the 91,500 people estimated to have HIV in the UK, just over 40,000 of the total are men who have sex with men. Around 2,300 are injecting drug users. Of the 47,000 infected through heterosexual sex, around 19,300 were African-born women and 9,900 African-born men. The prevalence rate in the black African community is one in 32 among men and one in 15 women.

Half of those who are diagnosed with HIV have gone to a doctor years after infection, at the point when they have fallen ill. Those people have a much worse prognosis: they are 10 times more likely to die within a year of diagnosis than people who were diagnosed earlier.

In 2010, 680 HIV-positive people died, 510 of them men. Two-thirds were people who had been diagnosed late. Most died within a year of being tested.

People who have not been diagnosed risk infecting others. The HPA says that there is a need to introduce routine HIV tests around the country beyond the traditional confines of sexually transmitted infection and antenatal clinics.

There have been pilot projects in the last two years in London, Brighton, Leicester and Sheffield. Testing was successfully introduced in two general practices, the acute care units of three hospitals and two community settings without opposition from staff or patients.

Greater efforts to test people and prevent infection would save the NHS money, because treating people is expensive, the HPA says. Because HIV has become a chronic, manageable condition instead of a fatal illness, the costs of providing specialist treatment and care are substantial and accelerating.

“It is difficult to calculate the true expenditure on HIV in the UK. However, of the £1.9bn spent by the Department of Health on infectious diseases in England in 2009-10, an estimated 40% was allocated to the treatment of HIV and Aids. This total does not include the costs of psychosocial care or HIV testing, so in fact the total amount spent on HIV treatment is much higher,” the report says.

The amount spent on prevention, the HPA adds, was £2.9m, just 1% of the overall HIV budget in 2010. The report says: “Investing in prevention should be a priority because of its potential for cost savings. We estimate that each infection prevented would save between £280,000 and £360,000 in lifetime treatment costs.

“If the 3,640 UK-acquired HIV diagnoses made in 2010 had been prevented, between £1bn and £1.3bn lifetime treatment and clinical care costs would have been saved.”

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Norovirus present in 76% of British oysters, research finds.


Three out of every four oysters grown in Britain contain traces of norovirus, the study for the Food Standards Agency found. Photograph: Regis Duvignau/ REGIS DUVIGNAU/Reuters/Corbis

More than three-quarters of British-grown oysters contain norovirus, research has found.

The study, conducted on behalf of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), discovered that 76% of oysters tested from UK oyster growing beds had traces of the infectious bug.

Low levels of the virus, which causes symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea, were found in 52% of the positive samples, according to the data.

The FSA said it was difficult to assess the potential health impact of the findings, as researchers were unable to differentiate between infectious and non-infectious norovirus material in the shellfish.

However, it said the results of the study would be used as part of a review by the European food safety authority, which is to advise the European commission on what a legal safe level for norovirus in oysters should be.

Currently a safe limit for the highly infectious virus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug, has not been established.

Andrew Wadge, chief scientist at the FSA, said: “This research is the first of its kind in the UK. It will be important to help improve the knowledge of the levels of norovirus found in shellfish at production sites.

“The results, along with data from other research, will help us work with producers to find ways to reduce the levels of norovirus in shellfish, and work within Europe to establish safe levels.”

As part of the study, scientists from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) took samples from 39 oyster harvesting areas across the UK.

David Lees, the lead investigator at Cefas, said: “Norovirus is a recognised problem for the sector, and this study provides important baseline data to help the industry and regulators to focus on the key risks.”

Between 600,000 and 1 million people in the UK catch norovirus every year.

Categories: News of the moment