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Archive for June, 2014

Ebola outbreak: Virus is ‘totally out of control’ warns Doctors Without Borders medic.

By Kashmira Gander  20th June 2014.          Find Article Here:-

Almost 330 deaths have been linked to the virus.

A senior official for Doctors Without Borders has warned that the Ebola virus is “totally out of control” in west Africa, where an outbreak of the disease has killed more people than ever before.

The current outbreak began in Guinea either between the beginning and end of last year, but had appeared to slow before picking up pace again in recent weeks, including spreading to the Liberian capital for the first time.

Ebola has since been linked to more than 330 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Doctors Without Borders’ director of operations, Bart Janssens, said that the medical group’s resources are becoming increasingly stretched, and urged both the governments of the countries affected and international organisations to send in more health experts.

“The reality is clear that the epidemic is now in a second wave,” Janssens said. “And, for me, it is totally out of control.”

With more than 40 international staff currently on the ground and four treatment centers, Doctors Without Borders has reached its limit to respond, Janssens said. It is unclear if the group will be able to mirror the current treatment centres set up in Guinea and Sierra Leone in newly affected Liberia, he said.

“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.”

Janssens went on to accuse the countries involved of not recognising the gravity of the situation, and criticise the WHO for not doing enough to inspire local leaders to act.

The deadly Ebola virus is spreading through West Africa

The deadly Ebola virus is spreading through West Africa
The UN health agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but Earlier in the week, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said that the multiple locations of the current outbreak and its movement across borders make it one of the “most challenging Ebola outbreaks ever.”

“This is the highest outbreak on record and has the highest number of deaths, so this is unprecedented so far,” Armand Sprecher, a public health specialist with Doctors Without Borders, told reporters.

Ebola causes internal bleeding and organ failure, and spreads through direct contact with infected people. There is no cure or vaccine, so containing an outbreak focuses on supportive care for the ill and isolating them to limit the spread of the virus.

Janssens added that members of the public need to be better educated so they know to come forward when symptoms occur, and to avoid touching the sick and dead.

Tolbert Nyenswah, Liberia’s deputy minister of health, said the highest levels of government are working to contain the outbreak, noting that Liberia had a long period with no new cases before this second wave.

Unni Krishnan of Plan International, which provides equipment to the three countries, claimed that while Governments and international agencies were struggling to contain the disease, he noted that Ebola has struck one of the world’s poorest regions, where public health systems are already fragile.

The highest previous death toll was in the first recorded Ebola outbreak in Congo in 1976, when 280 deaths were reported. But as Ebola often spreads in remote areas where first cases sometimes go unrecognized, it is likely that there are deaths that go uncounted.

Canadian woman who stopped car to help ducks faces life in jail after causing fatal crash.

Emma Czornobaj sentenced over deaths of Andre Roy and 16-year-old daughter Jessie for parking car on busy road after seeing ducklings without their mother.

Emma Czornobaj could receive a life sentence

Emma Czornobaj could receive a life sentence Photo: GRAHAM HUGHES/AP

Dennis Hopper’s Lost Album: life both sides of the lens.

By   15th June 2014.           Find Full Article Here:-

Dennis Hopper spent much of the 60s on the LA art scene obsessively photographing its leading figures and documenting the counterculture of the time. Using original prints he made for a 1970 show, a new exhibition reveals Hopper’s extraordinary eye.

Dennis Hopper’s revealing 1960s photographs – in pictures

dennis hopper the lost album

Dennis Hopper during shooting of his film The Last Movie in 1971. He had spent most of the previous decade taking photographs. Photograph: Snap/Rex Features

Nineteen eighty-six was an eventful year for Dennis Hopper. After a fallow period, his Hollywood career was relaunched with the release of Blue Velvet, in which he played the mysterious gas-inhaling pimp and gangster Frank, with a sense of menace that seemed scarily real. When he was given the script, he told director David Lynch: “You have to let me play Frank because I am Frank.”

Dennis Hopper “The Lost Album”

Royal Academy, Burlington Gardens,London W1S 3ET.

Starts 26th June until 19th October 2014.

Exhibition site

That same year, his photographs were published in book form for the first time in a volume entitled Out of the Sixties. It went relatively unnoticed amid the media attention garnered by Blue Velvet, but it was a significant event for its creator. In a short preface, Hopper wrote: “These are my photos. I started at 18 taking pictures, I stopped at 31. I am 50 now. These represent the years from 25-31… They were the only creative outlet I had for those years until Easy Rider. I never carried a camera again. Thanks, Jack, for the book.”

Easy Rider was the independent film, released in 1969, directed by and co-starring Hopper, that for a time changed the course of Hollywood film-making, signalling the beginning of what we now know as the alternative indie-film industry. Jack was Jack Woody, editor at Twelvetrees Press, who designed and published Out of the Sixties in a limited edition of 1,000 copies. For a long time, it was the only evidence of Hopper’s short, but prodigiously creative, career as a photographer That career began when, following a famous row with director Henry Hathaway on the set of From Hell to Texas in 1958, he became persona non grata in Hollywood.

“He figured he was the greatest young actor in the world,” Hathaway later recalled. “Well, he wasn’t. He was a headstrong kid, full of dope and bullshit. He was a self-styled enfant terrible and a pain in the ass.”

Find Photo Gallery Here:-

Parasitic egg that now infects 200 million people worldwide found in 6,200-year-old skeleton.

By Maria Cheng   20th June 2014.               Find Article Here:-

 

Scientists have found the earliest known evidence of infection with a parasitic worm, that now afflicts more than 200 million people worldwide, in a skeleton more than 6,000 years old.

Archaeologists discovered a parasite egg near the pelvis of a child skeleton in northern Syria and say it dates back to a time when ancient societies first used irrigation systems to grow crops. Scientists suspect the new farming technique meant people were spending a lot of time wading in warm water – ideal conditions for the parasites to jump into humans. That may have triggered outbreaks of the water-borne flatworm disease known as schistosomiasis.

“The invention of irrigation was a major technological breakthrough (but) it had unintended consequences,” said Gil Stein, a professor of Near Eastern archaeology at the University of Chicago, one of the report’s authors. “A more reliable food supply came at the cost of more disease,” he wrote in an email.

People can catch the flatworm parasite when they are in warm fresh water; the tiny worms are carried by snails and can burrow into human skin. After growing into adult worms, they live in the bladder, kidneys, intestines and elsewhere in the body for years. The parasites can cause symptoms including a fever, rash, abdominal pain, vomiting and paralysis of the legs. These days, the disease can be easily treated with drugs to kill the worms.

Stein said there was evidence of wheat and barley farming in the town where the skeletons were found and that irrigation might have also spurred outbreaks of other diseases like malaria by creating pools of stagnant water for mosquitoes to breed.

Piers Mitchell, another study author, said ancient farming societies could have inadvertently launched the global transmission of the flatworm parasites, which sicken millions of people every year. He said modern irrigation systems are still spreading diseases in developing countries.

“In many parts of Africa, someone clever decides to put in a dam or an artificial water source and then 10 years later, everyone’s getting schistosomiasis,” Mitchell said.

The research was published online Thursday in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Other experts agreed it was likely that irrigation spread parasitic diseases beginning in ancient times.

“Egypt along the Nile was a hotspot for generations because people were crammed into the flood plain and there were probably a lot of people who had low-level (flatworm) infections for their entire lives,” said Quentin Bickle, a parasite expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “People would have known there was something weird going on but they wouldn’t have known what to do about it.”

Poachers kill one of the world’s largest elephants in Kenya.

By Zoe Flood  14th June 2014.            Find Article Here:-

Poachers hack the face and tusks off Satao, one of Kenya’s most famous elephants, as conservationists warn elephant poaching “is at least 10 times the official figures”.

Satao, believed to have been the world's largest living elephant

Satao’s enormous tusks classed him among the largest elephants left alive in the world Photo: RICHARD MOLLER/TSAVO TRUST

One of Africa’s last ‘great tuskers’, elephants with ivory weighing over 100lbs, has been poisoned to death by poachers in Kenya after years of adapting his behaviour to hide himself from humans.

The bull, named Satao and likely born in the late 1960s, succumbed to wounds from poison darts in a remote corner of Tsavo National Park where he had migrated to find fresh water after recent storms.

His carcass yesterday lay with its face and great tusks hacked off, four legs splayed where he fell with his last breath, left only for the vultures and the scavengers.

Conservationists told how he moved from bush to bush always keeping his ivory hidden amongst the foliage.

“I’m convinced he did that to hide his tusks from humans, he had an awareness that they were a danger to him,” said Mark Deeble, a British documentary filmmaker who has spent long periods of time filming Satao.

The elephant’s killing is the latest in a massive surge of poaching of the mammals for their ivory across Africa.

Richard Moller, of The Tsavo Trust, who had been monitoring Satao for several months confirmed that the elephant found dead on May 30 was indeed Satao, whom he called “an icon”.

“There is no doubt that Satao is dead, killed by an ivory poacher’s poisoned arrow to feed the seemingly insatiable demand for ivory in far off countries,” Mr Moller said.

“A great life lost so that someone far away can have a trinket on their mantelpiece.”

A soaring demand for ivory in a number of Asian nations has seen poaching reach levels that were last seen in the 1980s before the ivory trade was banned.

“The loss of such an iconic elephant is the most visible and heart-rending tip of this iceberg, this tragedy that is unfolding across the continent,” added Frank Pope of Save The Elephants in Nairobi.

The street value of elephant ivory is now greater than gold, running to tens of thousands of pounds per tusk. Organised criminals are increasingly running poaching gangs and networks, officials have said.

More than 20,000 African elephants were slaughtered in 2013, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has documented the killing of 97 elephants so far this year, but experts dispute the official figures.

Dr Paula Kahumbu, who leads the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign, wrote that – based on the reports she has seen – “elephant poaching in Kenya is at least 10 times the official figures”.

In March this year, renowned conservationist Richard Leakey described poaching in Kenya as a “national disaster” and that poachers were operating with “outrageous impunity”.

“They could not operate with the impunity we are seeing if you did not have some form of protection from law enforcement agencies,” he said, likening the crisis to the mass poaching of the late 1980s.

Mr Leakey disputes official statistics that claim that the number of elephants that have been killed has declined. KWS recorded that 302 elephants were poached in 2013 down from 384 the previous year, of a total estimated population of 38,000 in Kenya.

Earlier this month, police seized more than 200 elephant tusks in a warehouse in the port city of Mombasa, weighing over 4,400lb.

Two men have been charged in connection with the haul.

Nelson Marwa, Mombasa county commissioner, said that the ivory find was linked to terrorism and drug barons in the city.

Mr Leakey cited the Indian Ocean port as a “staging post” for ivory smuggled from countries across the region.

Until recently, poachers in Kenya faced lenient sentences and few were successfully prosecuted.

A study by WildlifeDirect, a Nairobi-based charity that Dr Kahumbu heads, found that over the past five years just four per cent of those convicted of wildlife crimes in 18 of the country’s courts were sent to jail.

There is hope that tough new legislation passed earlier this year will lead to higher conviction rates and tougher sentences.

“Satao was probably one of half a dozen of Kenya’s great tuskers, possibly the largest,” said Mr Deeble, who flew over the elephant’s carcass on Friday.

“It’s a devastating situation. Kenya’s last great tuskers need presidential protection. If Satao’s death can galvanise the focus on what’s actually happening here in terms of poaching, then he won’t have died in vain.”

Earth may have underground ‘ocean’ three times that on surface.

By   13th June 2014.                  Find Article Here:-

Scientists say rock layer hundreds of miles down holds vast amount of water, opening up new theories on how planet formed.

Three-quarters of the Earth's water may be locked deep underground in a layer of rock, scientists say
Three-quarters of the Earth’s water may be locked deep underground in a layer of rock, scientists say. Photograph: Blue Line Pictures/Getty Images

After decades of searching scientists have discovered that a vast reservoir of water, enough to fill the Earth’s oceans three times over, may be trapped hundreds of miles beneath the surface, potentially transforming our understanding of how the planet was formed.

The water is locked up in a mineral called ringwoodite about 660km (400 miles) beneath the crust of the Earth, researchers say. Geophysicist Steve Jacobsen from Northwestern University in the US co-authored the study published in the journal Science and said the discovery suggested Earth’s water may have come from within, driven to the surface by geological activity, rather than being deposited by icy comets hitting the forming planet as held by the prevailing theories.

“Geological processes on the Earth’s surface, such as earthquakes or erupting volcanoes, are an expression of what is going on inside the Earth, out of our sight,” Jacobsen said.

“I think we are finally seeing evidence for a whole-Earth water cycle, which may help explain the vast amount of liquid water on the surface of our habitable planet. Scientists have been looking for this missing deep water for decades.”

Jacobsen and his colleagues are the first to provide direct evidence that there may be water in an area of the Earth’s mantle known as the transition zone. They based their findings on a study of a vast underground region extending across most of the interior of the US.

Ringwoodite acts like a sponge due to a crystal structure that makes it attract hydrogen and trap water.

If just 1% of the weight of mantle rock located in the transition zone was water it would be equivalent to nearly three times the amount of water in our oceans, Jacobsen said.

The study used data from the USArray, a network of seismometers across the US that measure the vibrations of earthquakes, combined with Jacobsen’s lab experiments on rocks simulating the high pressures found more than 600km underground.

It produced evidence that melting and movement of rock in the transition zone – hundreds of kilometres down, between the upper and lower mantles – led to a process where water could become fused and trapped in the rock.

The discovery is remarkable because most melting in the mantle was previously thought to occur at a much shallower distance, about 80km below the Earth’s surface.

Jacobsen told the New Scientist that the hidden water might also act as a buffer for the oceans on the surface, explaining why they have stayed the same size for millions of years. “If [the stored water] wasn’t there, it would be on the surface of the Earth, and mountaintops would be the only land poking out,” he said.

Scientists condemn ‘crazy, dangerous’ creation of deadly airborne flu virus.

By   11th June 2014.           Find Full Article Here:-

Researchers say recreation of Spanish flu strain highlights risk of pandemic, but critics say work puts global population at risk.

Avian virus H5N1 in electron micrograph

The avian flu strain H5N1, seen in gold, grown in Madin-Darby canine kidney cells. It has killed at least 386 people since 2003. Photograph: AP/CDC/C Goldsmith

Scientists have created a life-threatening virus that closely resembles the 1918 Spanish flu strain that killed an estimated 50m people in an experiment labelled as “crazy” by opponents.

US researchers said the experiments were crucial for understanding the public health risk posed by viruses currently circulating in wild birds, but critics condemned the studies as dangerous and called on funders to stop the work.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison used a technique called reverse genetics to build the virus from fragments of wild bird flu strains. They then mutated the virus to make it airborne to spread more easily from one animal to another.

“The work they are doing is absolutely crazy. The whole thing is exceedingly dangerous,” said Lord May, the former president of the Royal Society and one time chief science adviser to the UK government. “Yes, there is a danger, but it’s not arising form the viruses out there in the animals, it’s arising from the labs of grossly ambitious people.”

Influenza viruses circulate freely in wild bird populations. Most remain in chickens, ducks and other birds, but occasionally strains mutate into a form that can infect humans. The H5N1 bird flu strain has killed at least 386 people since 2003, according to WHO figures. The Spanish 1918 flu is thought to have come from birds too.

Writing in the journal Cell Host and Microbe Yoshihiro Kawaoka describes how his team analysed various bird flu viruses and found genes from several strains that were very similar to those that made up the 1918 human flu virus. They combined the bird flu genes into a single new virus, making a new pathogen that was only about 3% different from the 1918 human virus.

The freshly made virus – the first of several the team created – was more harmful to mice and ferrets than normal bird flu viruses, but not as dangerous as the 1918 strain. It did not spread between ferrets and none of the animals died. But the scientists went on to mutate the virus, to see what changes could make it spread. Seven mutations later, they had a more dangerous version that spread easily from animal to animal in tiny water droplets, the same way flu spreads in humans.

Kawaoka, who led the research in a high-security lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the work highlighted how flu viruses found in wild bird populations had the potential to adapt to humans and cause a pandemic.

Follow-up experiments showed that the 2009 swine flu vaccine and the anti-viral drug tamiflu should be effective against the virus. “This is important information for those making decisions about surveillance and pandemic preparedness,” Kawaoka told the Guardian.

The work is the latest in a series of controversial studies that have split the scientific community. On the one side are researchers who create dangerous viruses in secure labs in the hope of learning how existing strains could mutate to make them a potential threat to humans. On the other are scientists who argue the work does little or nothing to help protect people, but instead puts the global population in more danger.

Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, said: “I am worried that this signals a growing trend to make transmissible novel viruses willy-nilly, without strong public health rationale. This is a risky activity, even in the safest labs. Scientists should not take such risks without strong evidence that the work could save lives, which this paper does not provide,” he added.

In an article published last month, Lipsitch argued that experiments like Kawaoka’s could unleash a catastrophic pandemic if a virus escaped or was intentionally released from a high-security laboratory.

But Kawaoka defended the work, saying that critics failed to appreciate the impact of his and others’ work on dangerous viruses. “There were discussions on the usefulness of stockpiling H5N1 [bird flu] vaccines until our H5N1 papers were published. Similarly, this paper strongly supports stockpiling anti-influenza drugs. If this is not a ‘lifesaving benefit’, what is?” he said.

Many of the groups that create dangerous viruses to understand their workings are funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Lord May said he suspected the NIH supported the work because officials there were “incompetent” and believed the justifications that scientists told them. “This is work that shouldn’t be done. It’s as simple as that,” he said.

The experiments show that a 1918-like flu virus could emerge in the wild as bird viruses swap genes and mutate. “Influenza viruses readily swap genes to generate new viruses, so something like this could happen, especially since many of these viruses have circulated in recent years,” Kawaoka said. The viruses “have the potential to become adapted to mammals and possibly cause a human pandemic,” he added.