Sharp Rise In MERS Cases May Mean The Virus Is Evolving NPR

OSTERHOLM MichaelMERS should be on the front pages, lead every news report… (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome)

Total cases jumped 100%+ in two weeks… mortality 42% or worse, no vaccine (though 5 major pharmas are working on one)

“It took us over a year to get the first hundred cases of this viral infection,” Dr. Michael Osterholm tells NPR. “Now in just the last two weeks, we’ve had a hundred cases. … There’s a major change occurring that cannot just be attributed to better case detection. Something’s happening…

“When humans readily transmit [a virus] to humans, that’s what will cause a worldwide outbreak,” Osterholm says. “We are very concerned that … with what we’ve seen over the last two weeks … we may be at that point now.”

“It’s time for the world to wake up and demand that the Middle East do the kind of job that we need done to stop this transmission [of MERS],” he says, “and to protect the rest of the world.”

The spike in cases, especially among health care workers, could be a signal that the virus has reached a tipping point and could be ready to spread out of the region, says Osterholm, who directs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota (CIDRAP).


H5N1 tweaks that boost airborne spread could kill half the planet

(Ed note: CIDRAP buried the lead – if modified h5n1 escaped the result could well be catastrophic. And my alarmist headline doesn’t do justice to just how horrendous the event could be. There are better ways to do this work and ways that don’t involve creating Frankenstein variants.)

From CIDRAP News Study: H5N1 tweaks that boost airborne spread

Filed Under: Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) Biosecurity Issues Dual-Use Research Robert Roos | News Editor | CIDRAP News

Apr 14, 2014

Influenza Virion CDC 1

Image: Transmission electron micrograph shows the ultrastructural details of an influenza virus particle. CDC / Erskine Palmer, PhD, & M.L. Martin

In a controversial study published 2 years ago Dutch scientists described a lab-modified strain of H5N1 influenza virus that was capable of airborne transmission among ferrets. Now the same researchers say they have identified five specific mutations that gave the virus this ability, a claim that is renewing debate about the risks of conducting and publishing such experiments.

Writing in Cell, the scientists said they identified two combinations of five mutations that affected specific characteristics of the virus and collectively enabled it to spread by air. They assert that the findings will help in the effort to detect early warning signs of flu strains that could cause a pandemic.

But other experts question the scientific value of the findings and argue that they are not worth the risks involved in conducting such experiments and publishing the full details. They assert that the research poses a risk of either accidental or intentional release of dangerous viruses.

Building on 2012 study

The new study builds on a US-government funded study that was published in June 2012 in Science. In that case, Ron Fouchier, PhD, of Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands and colleagues described how they used a combination of genetic engineering and serial infection of ferrets to create a mutant H5N1 virus that could spread among the animals without direct contact. Continue reading

Canada vastly underestimated the tar sands’ cancer-causing toxins

“Our study shows that emissions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons estimated in environmental impact assessments conducted to approve developments in the Athabasca oil sands region are likely too low. This finding implies that environmental concentrations in exposure-relevant media, such as air, water, and food, estimated using those emissions may also be too low. The potential therefore exists that estimation of future risk to humans and wildlife because of surface mining activity in the Athabasca oil sands region has been underestimated.”
PNAS [Proceedings of
the National Academy of Science

The way Canadian Harper government has behaved one could fairly assume the underestimation was deliberate and that the authors of this research exposing the danger will face retaliation. It takes guts to be a scientist.

things that make you go incandescent… from The Pump Handle

[[WHAT COULD GO WRONG… those pushing this
are evil fools…]

Reality check on USDAs claims about its plan to privatize poultry inspection

Posted by Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH of George Washington University School of Public Health & Health Services on January 28, 2014

Several recent newspaper editorials have gotten under USDAs skin. Editors at the Charlotte Observer, , Bellingham (WA) Herald and are skeptical that the USDAs plan to modernize the poultry slaughter inspection process is a wise move.

In Feds proposed shift in poultry rules troubling, the Charlotte Observers editorial board wrote this on January 20:

Warning horns should blast full force around the Obama administration approving a change in federal law to replace most federal inspectors on poultry processing lines with company workers who would watch for problems. Worker advocates concerns that such a change would be a risk to both food and worker safety have considerable merit. A 2008 Observer series about working conditions in the poultry industry highlighted the problems of allowing companies to self-report on injuries at their plants. Our series found employers failing to report injuries that they should, and workers afraid theyd be fired if they reported such injuries. This change could have both following the same pattern with troubling consequences for all of us.

On Janaury 24 in Dont let poultry-processing industry police itself, Bellinghams editors wrote:

Somewhere in that proposal is a joke about letting foxes guard henhouses. Well leave that to the Jon Stewarts of the world, but theres nothing funny about what the proposed changes could mean for American consumers. Many workers in the industry suffer from repetitive-motion conditions and other work-related injuries but often are reluctant to report them because they need the job so badly. Speeding up processing lines is likely to exacerbate that problem.

The acting Under Secretary for Food Safety, Brian Ronholm, quickly responded with a letter to the editor. Each of his statements appear below, broken up by my offering of a reality check.

Ronholm: The Observer falsely asserts that USDAs proposal to modernize poultry inspection would reduce federal oversight of food safety at the expense of consumers and workers.

Reality check: For the last several years, the Obama Administrations proposed budget for USDA would eliminate 800 poultry inspectors. How does that not reduce federal oversight of food safety?

Ronholm: A 15-year pilot program demonstrates that the proposal would enhance oversight, prevent at least 5,000 food-borne illnesses per year, and not adversely impact worker safety.

Reality check: In August 2013, the Government Accountability Office chastised USDA for asserting that its pilot project demonstrates its proposed changes will be more effective than the current system. GAO found that USDA didnt even collect and analyze its data to draw such a conclusion. GAO launched the same criticism at USDA in a 2001 report.


Reality check: USDA ignores the evidence about the harsh and dangerous conditions experienced by poultry plant workers. Musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, plague poultry workers, and line speeds in the plants are a key contributor for these injuries. USDAs proposal will allow production line speeds to increase from 140 to 175 birds per minute.

Ronholm: It would require industry to prevent contamination and conduct testing at two points to ensure pathogens such as Salmonella are being controlled; currently there are no such requirements.

Reality check: USDAs plan is for the poultry industry to come up with its own standards for testing pathogens. The industry will even make the decision on how much salmonella is acceptable. On top of that because the standards will be voluntaryUSDA would have no authority to enforce them.

Ronholm: This enhanced inspection process would allow USDA inspectors to focus on critical food safety tasks that would result in lower prevalence of contamination and greater compliance with sanitation requirements.

Reality check: USDA still has not explained how this enhanced inspection process is going to occur. How many more sanitation checks will occur per eight hour shift? How many more samples will be taken for food borne pathogens? How many USDA inspectors will be assigned in each plant per shift to perform these additional tasks? Will USDA have the authority to take action against the plant for violating voluntary food safety and wholesomeness standards?

I know the views of newspaper editors may not sway the White House into telling the USDA to ditch its plan. But perhaps the Obama Administration will be convinced by such calls from the Congressional Black Caucus. The groups chair, Marcia Fudge (D-OH), made clear their position on USDAs plan. Quoted in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Fudge said:

Most of the people who work in these plants are women, and they are primarily women of color. We care most about the health of the employees. Right now, it is bad. It will just get worse if they increase the line speed.


2009 H1N1 Flu Pandemic Deaths > 400,000

… much worse than previously thought, and 400,000 is probably way low cuz of poor info from Africa and S and SE Asia…

…median age about 40…

…the death rate in Mexico was estimated at 5.2 per 100,000 population, versus 0.4 per 100,000 in Australia, 0.3 in France, and 2.8 in the United States…

…Osterholm noted that the mean age of people who died in the H1N1 outbreak was 40, at a time when life expectancy was 79 years… a flu death in a person who has a number of co-morbidities (other diseases) at age 78 is very different than that of a young, pregnant woman otherwise healthy at age 22… One should be dealing with years of life lost…