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Sunday, August 30, 2009

UN warns over swine flu in birds



Science reporter, BBC News

Turkeys - AP
Turkeys have caught swine flu in Chile

The discovery of swine flu in birds in Chile raises concerns about the spread of the virus, the UN warns.

Last week the H1N1 virus was found in turkeys on farms in Chile. The UN now says poultry farms elsewhere in the world could also become infected.

Scientists are worried that the virus could theoretically mix with more dangerous strains. It has previously spread from humans to pigs.

However, swine flu remains no more severe than seasonal flu.

Safe to eat

Chilean authorities first reported the incident last week. Two poultry farms are affected near the seaport of Valparaiso.

Juan Lubroth, interim chief veterinary officer of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said: "Once the sick birds have recovered, safe production and processing can continue. They do not pose a threat to the food chain."

Chilean authorities have established a temporary quarantine and have decided to allow the infected birds to recover rather than culling them.

It is thought the incident represents a "spill-over" from infected farm workers to turkeys.

Canada, Argentina and Australia have previously reported spread of the H1N1 swine flu virus from farm workers to pigs.

Dangerous strains

The emergence of a more dangerous strain of flu remains a theoretical risk. Different strains of virus can mix together in a process called genetic reassortment or recombination.

So far there have been no cases of H5N1 bird flu in flocks in Chile.

However, Dr Lubroth said: "In Southeast Asia there is a lot of the (H5N1) virus circulating in poultry.

"The introduction of H1N1 in these populations would be of greater concern."

Colin Butter from the UK's Institute of Animal Health agrees.

"We hope it is a rare event and we must monitor closely what happens next," he told BBC News.

"However, it is not just about the H5N1 strain. Any further spread of the H1N1 virus between birds, or from birds to humans would not be good.

"It might make the virus harder to control, because it would be more likely to change."

William Karesh, vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who studies the spread of animal diseases, says he is not surprised by what has happened.

"The location is surprising, but it could be that Chile has a better surveillance system.

"However, the only constant is that the situation keeps changing.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

‘H1N1 could kill up to 90,000 Americans by year-end’


Washington: The Obama administration's advisory group on science and technology has said that the H1N1 virus could cause as many as 90,000 deaths in the US by the end of the year. 
    The deaths would be concentrated among children and young adults, said the report. "By the end of 2009, 60 to 120 million Americans would have experienced symptomatic infection; nearly one to two million would have been hospi
talised, with 150,000-300,000 cared for in ICUs; and between 30,000 and 90,000 people would have died,'' said the report on 'US preparations for 2009-H1N1 Influenza'. In contrast, the typical seasonal flu kills around 35,000 annually. AGENCIES 
Sandeep Gaikwad (28), a resident of Chandivli who was the first swine flu patient to be put on the ventilator in the city, succumbed at Powai's Hiranandani Hospital on Tuesday, taking Mumbai's H1N1 toll to 9 till now.

Monday, August 24, 2009

‘It’s time to catch the solar energy wave’

CHARLES F Gay has spent over three decades in the solar energy industry. His work has spanned developing solar panels for satellites to creating individual solar systems for rural homes. Dr Gay, president, Applied Solar, the solar energy unit of the $8-billion Applied Materials Santa headquartered in Santa Clara, California, sees an opportunity in both areas in India. In an interview with Shelley Singh, Dr Gay talks about the trends that could help increase adoption of solar energy technology in India. Excerpts: 


Applied Materials makes equipment that helps make semiconductors, flat monitors, TV display screens and so on. What is the focus of Applied Solar? 
Applied Materials has been doing that for 42 years and about three years back started the solar business, Applied Solar. I joined when the solar business started. Globally, Applied Materials employs 14,000 (that includes over 1,000 in India) and the solar business is part of the business that helps make solar photovoltaic cells and energy related products and services. 
Solar has been talked for very long as a clean alternative to bringing electricity to rural areas. But it doesn't seem to go beyond pilot projects. 
A good part of my life has been spent working in rural areas that have no electricity or might have had 
some wires but there are no electrons in those wires. Today, individual solar home systems are an ideal solution. What's exciting now is that the cost of solar has come down. 
How much will it cost? 
It takes about 70 watts of electricity to power a rural home. With this, people will 
be able to run light five hours a night, TV and fans. One 70-watt solar panel, a truck battery, a controller and sometimes an invertor (that takes DC electricity from solar panels and converts to AC). The average selling price of a solar panel is less than $2 per watt. 
That's very expensive for a rural household. Also 70 watt would barely light a bulb. 
Actually, there's a whole lot you can do with it. With 70 watts solar panel you could run 3-4 energy efficient lights for 6 hours a night, a TV set for 3-4 hours a night and a fan. Even if you put a 70 watt solar panel 
where there is just five hours of sunlight you get 350 watt hour of energy to run the house. At $2 per watt, that's $140 for solar panel and an equal amount for the other stuff. So, for less than $300, I meet electricity needs of a typical rural home. 
Do you have a workable model in India? 
In Andhra Pradesh, about 125 km outside Hyderabad, we put power into a panchayat at Mehboobnagar. We also got internet to the village. And this experiment, done via a foundation I run, Greenstar, has gone beyond just providing electricity and internet. We recorded the music of the area and via the internet marketed it to companies like Disney in the US! Companies who buy the music pay a licence fee. There is royalty going back to the village. 
But what about long-term viability of solar power, beyond the models? 
Now is the time to catch the solar energy wave. Not because climate change is a hot topic, but because solar is already cost effective for meeting peak power requirements like running air conditioners in hot summer afternoons or electrifying rural areas.



State seeks Rs 13k cr to fight drought


JUSTIFIES AMOUNT BY HIGHLIGHTING LOSSES FROM A DISASTROUS KHARIF SEASON

IN A pointer to the gravity of drought affecting parts of the state, the Maharashtra government has demanded a hefty assistance of Rs 13,400 crore from the Union government for relief measures. The funds would primarily be used to tackle scarcity of water and fodder, for works under the employment guarantee scheme, and to ensure availability of essential commodities and foodgrain through the public distribution system. 

    The state Cabinet last week approved a comprehensive plan to contain the fallout of the drought, but decided to rope in the Union government as well. In its representation to the Centre for assistance, the state has also taken into account the possible drop in its kharif and rabi yields due to scanty rains. 
    "On the face of it, the Central assistance we are seeking may look huge, but we have got to make a provision for future losses as well. Much of the kharif season is over, and a revival of monsoon, if it happens, won't make a big
difference now," said an official with the agriculture department, who requested anonymity. 
    Meanwhile, the number of villages in the crisis zone continues to rise. The state has declared another 48 tehsils scarcity-hit. With this, of the 353 tehsils in the state, 221 have been placed in the scarcity-zone. A majority of the 48 tehsils are in Amravati, Akola, 
Washim, and Buldana districts of Vidarbha. Villages in Nashik and Ahmednagar districts have also been added to the list. 
    A less-than-average rainfall and a drop in water storage levels in state-owned reservoirs have created an alarming situation in several regions of the state. Marathwada represents the crisis, with six tehsils in Aurangabad division receiving less than 50% of their normal rainfall, another nine getting less than 60%, and seven 
registering between 60% and 80% rainfall. All these tehsils constitute the kharif crop region in Aurangabad, thus making it clear that the division faces a steep drop in yields. 
    The scenario in Marathwada's Latur division is even grimmer. Of its 35 kharif tehsils, as many as 28 have recorded less than 50% rainfall. Another four have received only 50% to 60% rains. In Amravati division of Vidarbha, 16 of the 56 kharif tehsils are critical, and nine others are on the periphery of the danger mark. Only four tehsils in Amravati have got in excess of 100% rains. 
    Both in Marathwada and Vidarbha deficient rains have put in jeopardy the estimated returns from the cash crops, cot
ton and soyabean. "In addition, there are other kharif and rabi crops which, though not as commercial as cotton and soyabean, may suffer due to lack of adequate rains. Damage to the other crops is also serious, since farmers turned to them after they realised that cotton and soyabean were going to take a hit," the official quoted earlier said. 
TAKING STOCK 

221 
TEHSILS IN STATE DECLARED DROUGHT-HIT 

AURANGABAD TEHSILS FACING SEVERE DROUGHT 

16 
CRITICAL TEHSILS IN AMRAVATI DIVISION 
28 
KHARIF TEHSILS IN LATUR FACING SEVERE DROUGHT



Friday, August 21, 2009

Buses get 15 days to install 2 doors


Police Will Seek Prison Term For Driver, RTO Rules Were Flouted

Prafulla Marpakwar | TNN 


Mumbai: A day after 20 students of CKT School, New Panvel, were injured when a minibus caught fire on the Sion-Panvel Highway, the transport department on Friday directed bus operators to ensure that their vehicles have two doors. "We have asked them to provide two doors to school buses within 15 days. We are issuing revised guidelines, and our officers will ensure that the orders are implemented,'' said C S Sangitrao, transport secretary. 
    As the bus had only one door, students sitting behind could not escape easily due to a stampede-like situation up front, said Sangitrao, adding that in many school buses, the emergency exit doors are either sealed or not functioning. 
    The accused driver and bus contractor, V M Phadtare (24) and the cleaner Anil Yadav (20) have been remanded to police custody till August 24. The RTO in Navi Mumbai has registered a case against both men under Section 192(a) of the Motor Vehicles Act. According to Sangitrao, the RTO has filed a case directly before the first class judicial magistrate. Under the Act, whoever drives a motor vehicle without a permit 'shall be punishable with a fine and for subsequent offence, with imprisonment of one year or with fine'. The accused have also been booked under Sections 287 (neglect with respect to machinery endangering life), 337 and 338 (causing hurt and grievous hurt, thereby endangering lives) and 114 (abetment) of the Indian Penal Code. "We will press for imprisonment of the owner,'' Sangitrao added. 
    The operator had a permit to ferry college students, which he had surrendered on August 13, and applied for a fresh permit for plying school children. The application had been re
jected. What residents are now asking is how the bus was allowed to operate without a valid permit. "It's a case of connivance between the Pen transport officials and bus operators,'' a school teacher said. 
    A transport department official said that its Pen office is in a mess, as most of the officers posted there are loitering in Mantralaya. "Rarely will you find our officials in the Pen office. There is not even a routine check of transport vehicles,'' he said. 
    Meanwhile, the transport secretary said his department has asked the forensic science laboratory to submit its report within 48 hours; the Panvel police has been urged to give a preliminary report in 24 hours. 
    With inputs from 
    Vijay Singh 

Road to recovery 
    
Eighteen children who suffered severe burns are still undergoing treatment. Two students at Masina Hospital, Byculla, are in the ICU under observation. Rhea Gupte (11) who is being treated for 60% burns is she is still in a lot of pain "The doctors are keeping her under strict observation,'' said her brother Ameya. Kaustubh Puranik (10) who suffered 40% burns is stable, but he is still under observation. In Airoli, one of the six children at the National Burns Centre is critical with 70% burns. 
Heroes felicitated 
For their heroic rescue effort, three cops and a civilian were felicitated by the Navi Mumbai commissioner of police, Gulabrao Pol. Police subinspector (traffic) S M Kharbas, traffic constable G Dhole, constable M M Choudhary and Pravin Angre were awarded certificates. They rescued 38 kids who were trapped in the bus



BLATANT VIOLATIONS: 
(Above) Often, already overloaded autos are fitted with planks to ferry more children (Left) In the wake of the accident, RTO officials in Navi Mumbai launched a drive to check the fitness of school buses


Thursday, August 20, 2009

‘In oceans, plastics break up to pose new toxic threat’

DEEP THREAT

Washington: Environmentalists have long denounced plastic as a pollutant that does not break down. A new study indicates that in the oceans, plastic does decompose with surprising speed, but says that is not a good thing either. 

    Thousands of tons of plastic debris wind up in the oceans every year, some of it washing up on coasts, some being swirled by currents into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. "Plastics in daily use 
are generally assumed to be quite stable," said Katsuhiko Saido, a chemist at Nihon University, Chiba, Japan. 
    "We found that plastic in the ocean actually decomposes as it is exposed to the rain 
and sun and other environmental conditions, giving rise to yet another source of global contamination that will continue into the future," said Saido. 
    Saido reported that the decomposing plastics release potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A and PS oligomer, which can disrupt the functioning of hormones in animals. AP

Saturday, August 15, 2009

10 home remedies to avoid swine flu

Are the rising swine flu casualties giving you jitters? Not sure how you can avoid falling prey to the growing epidemic ? First and foremost,there is absolutely no need to panic

Watching television to keep tabs on the progress of H1N1, particularly in the badly affected areas like Pune, is all right. But don't let the hysterical anchors get under your skin and start wearing a mask each time you step out of the house, unless you are visiting a very crowded area. Then too, the mask will protect you only for a specified period. 

Without giving in to the swine flu panic and creating a stockpile of Tamiflu and N-95 masks at home and enriching pharma companies, there are a number of other measures you can take to ensure that the virus is not able to get you, irrespective of which part of the world you are in. 

It is essential to remember that all kinds of viruses and bacteria can attack you when your immune system is weak, or they can weaken it easily. Hence, building your own defences would be a better, more practical, long-lasting and much more economical idea. 

Here are some easy steps you can take to tackle a flu virus of any kind, including swine flu. It is not necessary to follow all the steps at once. You can pick and choose a combination of remedies that suit you best. However, if you are already suffering from flu, these measures can help only up to an extent. And, if you have been infected by H1N1, visiting a hospital and staying in solitary confinement is a must. 

1. Have five duly washed leaves of Tulsi (known as Basil in English; medicinal name Ocimum sanctum) everyday in the morning. Tulsi has a large number of therapeutic properties. It keeps throat and lungs clear and helps in infections by way of strengthening your immunity. 

2. Giloi (medicinal name Tinospora cordifolia) is a commonly available plant in many areas. Take a one-foot long branch of giloi, add five to six leaves of Tulsi and boil in water for 15-20 minutes or long enough to allow the water to extract its properties. Add black pepper andsendha (salt used during religious fasts), rock or black salt, or Misri(crystalised sugar like lumps to make it sweet) according to taste. Let it cool a bit and drink this kadha (concoction) while still warm. It will work wonders for your immunity. If giloi plant is not available, get processed giloi powder from Hamdard or others, and concoct a similar drink once a day. 

3. A small piece of camphor (kapoor) approximately the size of a tablet should be taken once or twice a month. It can be swallowed with water by adults while children can take it along with mashed potatoes or banana because they will find it difficult to have it without any aides. Please remember camphor is not to be taken everyday, but only once each season, or once a month. 

4. Those who can take garlic, must have two pods of raw garlic first thing in the morning. To be swallowed daily with lukewarm water. Garlic too strengthens immunity like the earlier measures mentioned. 

5. Those not allergic to milk, must take a glass of hot or lukewarm milk every night with a small measure of haldi (turmeric). 

6. Aloe vera (gwarpatha) too is a commonly available plant. Its thick and long, cactus-like leaves have an odourless gel. A teaspoon gel taken with water daily can work wonders for not only your skin and joint pains, but also boost immunity. 

7. Take homeopathic medicines — Pyrogenium 200 and Inflenzium 200 in particular — five tablets three times a day, or two-three drops three times a day. While these are not specifically targeted at H1N1 either, these work well as preventive against common flu virus. 

8. Do Pranayam daily (preferably under guidance if you are already not initiated into it) and go for morning jog/walk regularly to keep your throat and lungs in good condition and body in fine fettle. Even in small measures, it will work wonders for your body's resistance against all such diseases which attack the nose, throat and lungs, besides keeping you fit. 

9. Have citrus fruits, particularly Vitamin C rich Amla (Indian gooseberry) juice. Since fresh Amla is not yet available in the market (not for another three to four months), it is not a bad idea to buy packaged Amla juice which is commonly available nowadays. 

10. Last but not the least, wash your hands frequently every day with soap and warm water for 15-20 seconds; especially before meals, or each time after touching a surface that you suspect could be contaminated with flu virus such as a door handle or a knob/handle, especially if you have returned from a public place or used public transport. Alcohol-based hand cleaners should be kept handy at all times and used until you can get soap and warm water..


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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

108 operators deal sensitively with two problems put before them by Mumbai Mirror

BMC's Disaster Management helpline number 108 promises to answer all queries and doubts relating to swine flu. Mumbai Mirror decided to put the civic body's service to test. We made two phone calls and presented two different problems. The people at the other end sounded concerned and their response was quick. Even more heartening was that the suggestions and solutions offered were spot on. 

(Dialled from a landline, call answered in two rings) 
Mumbai Mirror: Hello Sir. My school-going son has tested positive for H1N1. I don't know what to do. Can you please help me? 
BMC: Is he undergoing treatment? 
MM: Yes, at Kasturba hospital. 
BMC: Ok. In that case, the hospital authorities must have already told you about the precautions to be taken. Anyway, please speak to our doctor (hands over phone to a doctor). 
Doc: If the hospital has asked you to take Tamiflu, then you must. Remember to wear a mask and wash hands properly before you eat or drink anything. Heat food before you eat and drink extra water, as it is good for your body. Avoid roaming around Kasturba hospital when you come to meet or give food to your son because you risk contracting the virus. 
(Dialled from mobile phone, call answered in three rings) Mumbai Mirror: Hello Sir. My neighbour and my close friend have been diagnosed with H1N1, but are refusing to step out of their houses. How best to help them and also keep 
our families safe? BMC: (sounding concerned) If they are unwilling to get treated at hospitals, then it's risky for them. You must convince them to visit the nearest hospital. Where do they stay? MM: At Dadar. BMC: In that case, you must rush them to KEM or Hinduja hospital where they will be cured within eight to 10 days. But remember to wear a good mask and keep hands and feet clean. If you are meeting them, wear hand gloves too for added safety. Nobody gets cured by staying at home. It is always better to visit a hospital for treatment.

Not only did the people at the other end sound concerned, but their response was also quick


A quick guide to the H1N1 virus and what you should do during the current epidemic

H1N1: Facts On The Flu

WHAT IS H1N1? 

Swine flu is a respiratory disease caused by a new strain of the influenza virus type A. The strain is known as H1N1 and is the same as the one found in seasonal flu outbreaks, except that it contains genetic material found in birds, humans and pigs. It is now a wholly human virus 
How does it spread? 
Flu viruses are spread through droplets that fall from your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze. These particles can be inhaled or transferred to others via hard surfaces, such as door handles, phones, keyboards and remote controls 
How concerned should I be? 
In most cases, symptoms of the virus are relatively mild. The majority who have caught it have made a full recovery within a week, many without medical treatment and some without knowing they were infected Laboratory-confirmed cases of swine flu reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) show a mortality rate of 0.4%, in line with seasonal flu. In India, there were 1,078 positive cases till Tuesday and 11 deaths, resulting in a mortality rate of 1% As with all forms of flu, there is a chance of the virus mutating into a stronger strain, building a resistance to antiviral medicine and causing more severe symptoms. As yet there is no evidence to suggest this has happened 
WHO ARE MOST AT RISK? 
Pregnant women People aged 65 and over Under-5s And people with: Chronic lung disease Chronic kidney disease Chronic heart disease Neurological diseases (including motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's) Lowered immune systems Diabetes A history of being treated for asthma in the past three years People in the above groups should seek 
immediate medical attention if they display symptoms of the flu 
    Among certain groups, primarily those with underlying health problems, there is an increased risk of complications. Where complications do occur, they tend to be when the virus has entered the lungs and further infections, such as pneumonia, occur 
If I am pregnant? 
Pregnant women have a lower immune system, especially In the third trimester (weeks 27-40). If you are pregnant and experience symptoms, immediately contact a medical professional who can prescribe you antiviral medication 

    REDUCING THE RISK 
Preventing the spread of germs is the most effective way of fighting the virus. Observing basic hygiene practices will not only reduce your risk of catching flu, but also the risk of passing it to others 

If you trash it, you can kill it Being prepared 
You could establish a circle of friends who could help you if you fall ill Stock up on paracetamol-based cold remedies Keep a thermometer handy 
DO I HAVE IT? 
The symptoms of the illness are broadly the same as normal flu, but they can be more severe and cause complications that are more serious 
Do you have? 
A fever (temperature of 38 C or 100.4 F or above) And two or more of the following symptoms? 
If so, you should seek medical advice immediately 
IF I HAVE THE SYMPTOMS 
Stay at home You can call the toll-free helpline 108 You can also visit the website http://mohfw.nic.in and see the swine-flu section 
The established protocol is 
Visit your GP If s/he thinks you are an H1N1 suspect, he will send you to the nearest public/private hospital of your choice for a screening If the hospital thinks you have H1N1, they will take a throat swab sample If a sample is taken, Tamiflu will be immediately administered Serious cases could be quarantined immediately In case you are H1N1-positive, then hospital or home quarantine will follow Those who have been in contact with you will also be tested
TREATMENT OPTIONS 
    Paracetamol 
    
Most people will respond well to 
    plenty of rest and paracetamolbased remedies. These should 
    help reduce body temperature 
    and alleviate symptoms 
Antivirus 
The WHO has recommended only Tamiflu as the drug for treatment. Tamiflu is being dispensed to anyone with symptoms suggestive of swine flu. It is not a cure, but may shorten the duration of illness, reduce the risk of complications such as pneumonia, and make you less contagious if taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Antivirals are new medicines that don't kill viruses, but keep them from multiplying. Flu viruses are known to die within a week 
Antibiotics 
These have no effect on the virus that is responsible for swine flu but may be prescribed if you develop a secondary bacterial infection, like severe tonsillitis or a chest infection 
Vaccine 
Globally, two vaccines are in the pipeline and are in the final stages of testing. They should 
be ready toward the end of 2009, but bulk orders have already been placed by the United States and Europe. Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has promised an indigenous vaccine by January 2010 SOME FAQS 
What should I do if I am in contact with someone who has swine flu? 
Carry on as normal, unless you have symptoms. If you develop symptoms within 7 days of the contact, see a doctor 
Should I go to work if I live with someone with swine flu? 
Yes, but if you develop symptoms go see a doctor 
After swine flu, when should I go back to work or school? 
Kasturba Hospital keeps adults for 5 days after they first develop symptoms. Children are usually told to wait for 7 to 10 days after the symptoms begin. Usually, a person should wait for 7 to 10 days to recover. You should stay away from work or school until the majority of your symptoms have subsided 
Can I get swine flu twice? 
Once you have had a virus, your body develops an immunity to it, so unless there is a significant mutation of swine flu you should not get it again 
When will this pandemic end? 
It is impossible to predict, but from past experiences the pandemic is likely to continue for 6 to 12 months, after which the virus will circulate as any seasonal flu unless it mutates









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