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Japan Plans to Restart Some Nuclear Plants in 2015 After Fukushima Shutdown
Energy Collective
Previously one of the world's largest producers of nuclear-generated electricity, Japan has relied heavily on fossil fuels following the meltdown at Fukushima Dai-ichi and subsequent shutdown of the country's nuclear fleet. In 2013, when almost all of ...

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Sun, Mar 01, 2015
Source: FUKUSHIMA_SUB

Giant Virus Resurrected from Permafrost After 30,000 Years

Giant Virus Resurrected A mysterious giant virus buried for 30,000 years in Siberian permafrost has been resurrected.

The virus only infects single-celled organisms and doesn’t closely resemble any known pathogens that harm humans.

Even so, the new discovery raises the possibility that as the climate warms and exploration expands in long-untouched regions of Siberia, humans could release ancient or eradicated viruses. These could include Neanderthal viruses or even smallpox that have lain dormant in the ice for thousands of years.

“There is now a non-zero probability that the pathogenic microbes that bothered [ancient human populations] could be revived, and most likely infect us as well,” study co-author Jean-Michel Claverie, a bioinformatics researcher at Aix-Marseille University in France, wrote in an email. “Those pathogens could be banal bacteria (curable with antibiotics) or resistant bacteria or nasty viruses. If they have been extinct for a long time, then our immune system is no longer prepared to respond to them.”

(A “non-zero” probability just means the chances of the event happening are not “impossible.”)

Giant viruses

In recent years, Claverie and his colleagues have discovered a host of giant viruses, which are as big as bacteria but lack characteristic cellular machinery and metabolism of those microorganisms. At least one family of these viruses likely evolved from single-celled parasites after losing essential genes, although the origins of other giant viruses remain a mystery, Claverie said.

In the researchers’ hunt for more unknown pathogens, they took a second look at permafrost samples collected from Kolyma in the Russian Far East in 2000. Because the permafrost was layered along steep cliffs, drillers could extract samples from 30,000 years ago by drilling horizontally into the ice, thereby avoiding contamination from newer samples.

An ultrathin section of a Pithovirus particle in an infected Acanthamoeba castellanii cell observed  …

The team then took samples of this permafrost and put them in contact with amoebas (blob-like single-celled organisms) in Petri dishes. The researchers then waited to see what happened.

Some of the amoebas burst open and died. When the scientists investigated further, they found a virus had killed the amoebas.

The ancient virus infects only amoebas, not humans or other animals. This pathogen belongs to a previously unknown family of viruses, now dubbed Pithovirus, which shares only a third of its genes with any known organisms and only 11 percent of its genes with other viruses. Though the new virus resembles the largest viruses ever found, Pandoraviruses, in shape, it is more closely related to classical viruses, which have an isocahedral shape (with 20 triangular-shaped faces), Claverie said.

Pathogens reawakened?

The findings raise the possibility that other long-dormant or eradicated viruses could be resurrected from the Arctic. As the climate warms and sea ice and permafrost melt, oil and mining companies are drilling many formerly off-limit areas in Russia, raising the possibility that ancient human viruses could be released.

For instance, Neanderthals and humans both lived in Siberia as recently as 28,000 years ago, and some of the diseases that plagued both species may still be around.

“If viable virions are still there, this is a good recipe for disaster,” Claverie said. “Virions” is the term used for the virus particles when they are in their inert or dormant form.

But not everyone thinks these viruses spell potential doom.

“We are inundated by millions of viruses as we move through our everyday life,” said Curtis Suttle, a marine virologist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, who was not involved in the study. “Every time we swim in the sea, we swallow about a billion viruses and inhale many thousands every day. It is true that viruses will be archived in permafrost and glacial ice, but the probability that viral pathogens of humans are abundant enough, and would circulate extensively enough to affect human health, stretches scientific rationality to the breaking point.”

“I would be much more concerned about the hundreds of millions of people that will be displaced by rising sea levels than the risk of being exposed to pathogens from melting permafrost.”

The findings were published today (March 3) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Thanks to Climate Change, West Nile Virus Could Be Your New Neighbor

Asian Tiger Mosquitos - West Nile Virus

Asian tiger mosquitoes are a major vector for West Nile virus.

A new study shows how climate change will contribute to the spread of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus

Invasive species aren’t just species—they can also be pathogens. Such is the case with the West Nile virus. A mosquito-borne virus identified in the West Nile subregion in Uganda in 1937—hence the name—West Nile wasn’t much of a concern to people elsewhere until it broke out of Africa in 1999. The first U.S. cases were confirmed in New York City in 1999, and it has now spread throughout much of the world. Though 80% of infections are subclinical—meaning they yield no symptoms—those who do get sick can get very sick.The virus can led to encephalitis—inflammation of the brain and nervous system—and even death, with 286 people dying from West Nile in the U.S. in 2012. There were more than 5,500 cases reported that year, and the scary thing is that as the climate warms, West Nile will continue to spread.

That’s the conclusion of a new study from a team of researchers in the U.S., Britain and Germany, including those at the Center for Tropical Research at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. In a study published in the journal Global Change Biology, the researchers took climate and species distribution data, and created models that try to project the spread of the virus as the globe warms. West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes, and infected insects transmit the virus to human beings with a bite. But birds play a role too—if bitten by an infected mosquito, birds can generate high levels of the virus in their bloodstream, and can then transmit it to uninfected mosquitoes, which in turn can infect people. The biggest indicator of whether West Nile virus will occur is the maximum temperature of the warmest month of the year, which is why the virus has caused the most damage in hot southern states like Texas.

The UCLA model indicates that higher temperatures and lower precipitation will generally lead to more cases of West Nile, as well as the spread of the virus to northern territories that haven’t yet been affected by it. In California alone, for example, more than half of the state will see an increased probability of West Nile in the decades to come, and by 2080 the virus may well be prevalent in parts of southern Canada, and as far north as northern British Columbia, as you can see in this map:

The UCLA model looks only at climate data, and doesn’t take into account the kind of control methods that can be used to combat West Nile on the ground, including pesticide spraying and land-use changes that deny mosquitoes the pools of stagnant water they use as breeding sites. That’s important to remember: while climate change can raise the risk of typically tropical diseases like West Nile or malaria, smart control efforts can offset at least some of that dnger. (Malaria used to be common throughout much of the South—which is easily warm enough in the summer for the disease—before steps were taken to eliminate it, a process that led to the creation of the Centers for Disease Control.) But the UCLA study underscores the fact that climate change operates as a threat multiplier for tropical diseases, one that that will allow pathogens to invade new territory—and ultimately, us.

Influenza Claims Hundreds in California

Flu Vaccine as Hundreds die in CaliforniaThe current flu season has taken a heavy toll on those in California.  The number of patients under the age of 65 that have succumbed has been confirmed at 302.  Comparatively, at this time last year only 34 flu deaths had been reported.  The hundreds of lives that influenza has claimed this season in California is almost ten times the number of victims from last year.

The particular flu strain, H1N1, is not just causing deaths in California.  The strain is seen nationwide.  The influenza strain involved in these deaths is more widespread and severe in people between 25 and 64 years old.  Physicians believe that many older people have a greater immunity to this strain because there were similar outbreaks decades ago.

This continues to be a severe flu season and the death toll continues to rise.  The H1N1 strain first surfaced in the United States in 2009 and California had hundreds more victims claimed by that influenza outbreak.  The year 2009 has been recorded as the first global pandemic in over four decades, causing 539 deaths in California alone.  The CDC had no vaccine for this particular flu.

It has not yet been determined whether these cases are indicative of other state counts around the United States or if California simply has a higher than average mortality rate.  The data is collected according to state-by-state regulations.  States are not required to report influenza deaths to the Center for Disease Control.  While the CDC does not have hard figures to determine whether the percentages in California are similar to other states, the agency does receive information on the general causes for visits to the doctor and whether a patient is hospitalized with the flu.  Those numbers appear to indicate that the 2013-2014 flu season will continue to be hard hitting.

A release issued by the California Department of Public Health indicates that the flu season is continuing.  They are maintaining a stance that it is still not too late to get a vaccination.  The influenza vaccine continues to be available.  Typically the flu season lasts until the end of April.

Physicians state that people with the highest risk factors, such as pregnant women, people with health conditions, the elderly and infants should seek immediate medical attention when they exhibit signs of the flu.  The earlier medical attention is sought, the more effective the treatment may be.  Influenza symptoms include body aches, fatigue, headache, cough, fever, and sore throat.

The highest number of deaths has been in Los Angeles where they have a current total of 44 confirmed fatalities.  San Diego has reported 25 fatalities and has the second highest flu related death count in the state.  To compare, at this time last year there had been a total of only 34 influenza fatalities.  By the end of the 2012-2013 season, the state had a total of 106 deaths, approximately one third of the state’s current count.  Influenza has already claimed hundreds in the state of California this year and the flu season is expected to continue for about two more months.  The end result may rival the totals from the 2009 year of the pandemic.

By Dee Mueller

Polio-like disease appears in California children

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — An extremely rare, polio-like disease has appeared in more than a dozen California children within the past year, and each of them suffered paralysis to one or more arms or legs, Stanford University researchers say. But public health officials haven’t identified any common causes connecting the cases.

The illness is still being investigated and appears to be very unusual, but Dr. Keith Van Haren at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University warned Monday that any child showing a sudden onset of weakness in their limbs or symptoms of paralysis should be immediately seen by a doctor.

“The disease resembles but is not the same as polio,” he said. “But this is serious. Most of the children we’ve seen so far have not recovered use of their arm or their leg.”

But doctors are not sure if it’s a virus or something else, he said. Van Haren said he has studied five cases from Monterey up through the San Francisco Bay Area, including two that were identified as the disease enterovirus-68, which is from the same family as the polio viruses. He said there have been about 20 cases statewide.

“We want to temper the concern, because at the moment, it does not appear to represent a major epidemic but only a very rare phenomenon,” he said, noting similar outbreaks in Asia and Australia.

But for some children, like Sofia Jarvis, 4, of Berkeley, rare doesn’t mean safe.

In this photo taken with a mobile phone, Jeff Jarvis …

In this photo taken with a mobile phone, Jeff Jarvis of Berkeley, Calif., holds his 4-year-old daugh …

She first developed what looked like asthma two years ago, but then her left arm stopped moving, and it has remained paralyzed ever since.

“You can imagine. We had two boys that are very healthy, and Sofia was healthy until that point,” said her mother, Jessica Tomei. “We did not realize what we were in store for. We did not realize her arm would be permanently paralyzed.”

Van Haren, who diagnosed Sofia, said polio vaccines do not protect children from the disease, but he stressed that it is still important for children to receive that vaccine.

Dr. Jane Seward of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said Monday that the research is still underway in California, and there are a variety of infectious diseases that can cause childhood paralysis.

Any of a number of illnesses could be at work, and it’s possible some of the cases had one infection and some had another. Regarding the presence of EV-68 in at least two cases, “it could be an incidental finding,” Seward said.

In this photo taken with a mobile phone, Jessica Tomei …
In this photo taken with a mobile phone, Jessica Tomei holds her 4-year-old daughter, Sofia Jarvis,  …

Until officials get more information, Seward said they are not looking around the country for similar cases of EV-68.

The California Department of Public Health has not identified any common causes that suggest that the cases are linked, said Dr. Gil Chavez, the deputy director of the Center for Infectious Disease and state epidemiologist.

“Physicians and public health officials who have encountered similar illnesses have submitted 20 reports to CDPH, and CDPH has conducted preliminary tests on 15 of these specimens,” he said. “Thus far, the department has not identified any common causes that suggest that the cases are linked.”

University of California, San Francisco, neurology professor Emmanuelle Waubant said doctors believe, but don’t have proof, that it’s a virus that for most children shows up only as a benign cold. She said a few children, due to their biological makeup, are having much more serious symptoms and she hoped doctors would look for them.

“For a lot of the neurologists who have trained in the last 30 years, it’s extremely rare to see polio or polio-like syndrome,” she said.

Confirmed case of typhus in Manhattan Beach – Los Angeles

Typhus Fever Los Angeles

Santa Ana police animal services supervisor Sondra Berg, center, and other officers carry traps to be placed around Willard Intermediate School to capture feral cats that might have fleas infected with typhus.

Los Angeles County public health officials say they have confirmed a case of endemic typhus fever in Manhattan  Beach, in the neighborhood around Polliwog Park, officials said in a statement Thursday.

Officials did not release any information about the patient’s identity or condition. It was also unclear whether this was a new case of typhus. In December, Manhattan Beach officials said county public health officials had contacted residents in the same neighborhood regarding a case of typhus and handed out brochures about how to take precautions against the disease.

Typhus is spread by bacteria-infected fleas, found on cats, opossums and rats. Infected people suffer from fever, headaches, chills and body aches. Though typhus often requires hospitalization, it is usually treatable with antibiotics.

Flu season hitting working-aged adults hardest

Disease strikes younger peopleAt 6 foot 3 and 350 pounds, Tim Allen was an imposing figure. A man’s man, the Texan carved wood for fun and operated heavy construction equipment for a living.

So it came as a surprise when the flu quickly claimed the 52-year-old’s life in late December.

“If you looked at Tim, he always seemed like a big bear,” said Randal Allen, his older brother. “You think it takes a lot to bring down a bear, but it doesn’t. It takes a little germ. In less than a month, he went from the flu to death.”

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this flu season has been particularly bad for young people and middle-aged adults like Tim Allen.

People between the ages of 18 and 64 have accounted for 61 percent of influenza hospitalizations, the CDC reported. Last flu season, that age group represented only about 35 percent of flu-related hospitalizations.

Exact numbers aren’t known, but flu deaths are believed to be significantly higher too. The CDC estimates that people ages 25 to 64 have accounted for about 60 percent of flu deaths this season. That’s compared with 18 percent, 30 percent and 47 percent for the three previous seasons.

This year’s dramatic rise is being linked to a resurgence of the H1N1 virus, the so-called swine flu responsible for a global pandemic in 2009.

“It’s back this year, and it’s hitting younger people hard,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said Thursday.

Tim Allen, 52, of Texas died in December after being hospitalized with the H1N1 flu virus. (Family p …

Frieden said the fact that only 1 in 3 young adults is getting vaccinated against the flu is to blame for the higher hospitalizations and deaths.

“It’s too low,” he said, noting the vaccination rate for seniors and children is nearly is two-thirds. “Any preventable death is a tragedy.”

Officials said the low vaccination rate among young people and middle-aged adults is consistent with previous years, but that many people that age are at greater risk because they have no immunity to a virus like H1N1.

Being vaccinated has reduced the chance of having to go to the doctor for the flu by about 60 percent this season, the CDC reported.

Allen doesn’t know for sure, but said he doubts his brother got a flu shot.

“Knowing my brother, I would suspect that he did not,” he said. “He was worse than the rest of us about going to the doctor.”

The CDC said that 85 percent of working-age people hospitalized with the flu often have another underlying health concern. Allen said his brother’s death certificate lists obesity and congestive lung failure along with H1N1. He said decades of not wearing a mask on construction sites proved to be harmful for his brother.

“He definitely contributed to his poor health,” Allen said. “When he got the flu, he couldn’t fight everything off. The virus just kind of did him in.”

While this season’s outbreak is only a fraction of what it was when H1N1 emerged in 2009, the CDC says the flu is killing at epidemic levels and remains widespread in 24 states. The season is expected to last for several more weeks.

“Influenza can make anyone very sick very fast, and it can kill,” Frieden said. “Vaccination is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself against the flu.”

A warning Allen hopes others heed.

“Tim would do for other people what he wouldn’t do for himself, that’s part of the issue,” he said. “We take our health far too casual. Preventive maintenance is definitely what we should all be seeking.”