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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine flu: All humanity at risk

 Global Cases Top 250 n WHO Changes Disease's Name n Mexico Shuts Economy

The number of people confirmed to have swine flu has risen above 250, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday, adding that it would stop using the term "swine flu" to avoid confusion over the danger posed by pigs. Instead the virus will be called Influenza A H1N1.
    The announcement came after the WHO raised its global epidemic threat level to

phase five—the second highest level—in recognition of the growing number of countries affected by the virus.
    Health experts believe it is only a matter of time before the WHO raises the alert to phase six, confirming a pandemic is in progress.
    More than a dozen countries have reported cases of the H1N1 strain, many of them in Europe. The Irish Republic confirmed its first case on Thursday, an adult male who has recently returned from Mexico. The Nether
lands and Switzerland also confirmed their first cases—a three-year-old child and a 19-year-old student respectively— both of whom had travelled to Mexico.
    The Swiss student was mistakenly released from a hospital after test results were misinterpreted and then hastily readmitted. Switzerland has a further 29 "suspicious" cases. In Britain three new cases

were confirmed, bringing the total to eight, while Spain, the worst affected European country so far, raised its confirmed cases to 13, with another 84 under observation.
    In France, medical authorities were conducting tests on 41 people for possible swine flu and said five of those were considered "probable" cases.
    Fran├žoise Weber, head of the state health monitoring agency InVS, said three of the people considered probable cases had been in Mexico.
    Meanwhile, the WHO came
close to ordering production of a pandemic vaccine, a move which has been described as a significant decision as it would mean disrupting the production of seasonal flu vaccines. "We don't have enough evidence to push the pandemic vaccine button," WHO chief Margaret Chan said.
    Chan urged help for developing countries, warning that they faced a potentially greater threat from a flu pandemic than wealthy nations with developed health systems and funding for drugs.
    "We know that influenza may cause mild disease in affluent countries, but more diseases with higher mortality in developing countries," she said.
    "The international community should treat this as an opportunity to ramp up the response. After all, it is really all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic," she added.

    In Mexico, the outbreak's epicentre, President Felipe Calderon told his people to stay home from Friday for a five-day partial shutdown of the economy.
    Calderon ordered government offices and private businesses not crucial to the economy to stop work to avoid further infections from the new virus, which has killed up to 176 people in Mexico.
    "There is no safer place than your own home to avoid being infected with the flu virus," Calderon said in his first televised address since the crisis erupted last week. AGENCIES

US Vice President Joe Biden sparked controversy on Thursday when he said he is advising his own family to stay off airplanes and subways because of the swine flu. "I would tell members of my family—and I have—that I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now," Biden said Thursday. Biden went beyond any precautions recommended by the federal government. In discussing his personal advice to his family, he said simply, "That's me."
The 39-year-old woman who was the first to die in Mexico's swine flu epidemic spent the last eight days of her life going from clinic to clinic to find out what was wrong with her but doctors were baffled. The woman, from the southern state of Oaxaca, died shortly after being admitted to hospital as an emergency case. Experts only identified the virus that killed her 10 days later
Tests confirmed a US Marine has fallen ill with swine flu and about 30 other Marines he came in contact with have been quarantined. The US Centers for Disease Control "confirmed one case of H1N1 here" at the marine base at Twentynine Palms in southern California, the US Marine Corps said on Wednesday
France pressed for a European Union ban on flights to Mexico after the confirmation of the first human-to-human transmission of the virus in Europe

HANGING FOR LIFE: A woman rushes a child suspected of being sick with swine flu into a hospital in Mexico City on Thursday

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Worst health crisis in 90 years?

New Delhi: This could be the worst health crisis facing the world in 90 years. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday raising its alert level to phase five for swine flu—just one step short of seeing a full-blown pandemic affecting at least two regions of the globe—health experts seem to be fearing a situation similar to the 1918 Spanish Flu. H1N1 (the swine flu virus) is the closest so far to the Spanish Flu virus.
    While experts rule out anything akin to the fearsome toll of 1918—at least 50 million people were killed by the Spanish Flu—given the rapid advance of medical science and the quick spread of information and awareness in today's world, WHO was taking no chances. Well aware that the disease is able to spread easily between
humans, it has stepped up the alert level. The Avian Flu (also known as bird flu) had an alert which was two notches lower, which means the danger this time is much higher.
    Worldwide, at least 13 countries have
confirmed cases of swine flu. Switzerland became the fifth European country to report a case of the disease in a 19-year-old student, while the Netherlands soon after became the sixth, reporting the virus in a three-year-old who had recently returned from Mexico.
    In Britain, Germany, France and Austria, the authorities have begun a campaign urging people to sneeze into tissues and to wash their hands after that. The campaign is slugged, 'Catch it, bin it, kill it'. The disease has also spread to Costa Rica and Peru.
    Raising the alert—the second in three days—WHO's director general Dr Margaret Chan asked all countries to activate their pandemic flu plans and called on them to be on high alert for an H1N1 swine flu outbreak.

NRI's nasal samples sent for swine flu test
Although the Union health ministry tried to downplay the swine flu threat, the throat swab and nasal samples of a 27-year-old NRI who arrived in Hyderabad from Texas a couple of days ago and has shown symptoms of swine flu have been sent to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in Delhi for tests. The report is expected in 36 hours. P 12 
'Early treatment of influenza must'
New Delhi: Issuing a swine flu warning, WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan has asked countries across the globe to be on guard. Calling Influenza viruses notorious for their rapid mutation and unpredictable behavior, Dr Chan said, "Influenza pandemics must be dealt with seriously and precisely because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world. New diseases are, by definition, poorly understood. WHO and health authorities in affected countries will not have all the answers immediately, but we will get them.''
    According to Dr Chan, at this stage, effective and essential measures include heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases, and infection control in all health facilities.
    "This change to a higher phase of alert is a signal to governments, to ministries of health and to the pharmaceutical industry that actions should now be undertaken with increased urgency and at
an accelerated pace,'' Dr Chan added.
    Preparedness measures undertaken because of the threat from H5N1 avian influenza were an investment, and we are now benefiting from it, said experts. According to WHO, the biggest question right now is how severe will the pandemic be, especially now at the start? Dr Chan says it is possible that the full clinical spectrum of this disease goes from mild illness to severe disease. "From past experience, we know that influenza may cause mild disease in affluent countries, but more severe disease, with higher mortality, in developing countries. This is an opportunity for global solidarity. It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic," Dr Chan said.
    On phase 5 alert, WHO's assistant director-general Keiji Fukuda said, "Phase 5 indicates the spread of the virus among communities, normal people who haven't visited Mexico or come in contact with travellers''. TNN

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

India’s first swine flu case

NRI from Texas arriving at Hyd may be India's first swine flu case

Hyderabad: An NRI who arrived in Hyderabad from Texas, the US state which reported the first swine flu death outside Mexico, was on Wednesday found to have flu symptoms. The authorities refused to divulge his identity, saying only that he had arrived in the city two days ago and had now been quarantined.
    Special teams of doctors who are screen
ing passengers arriving from the US and other affected countries in the last ten days have also been visiting their homes to conduct health check-ups. It was during one such check that the NRI from Texas was found to have swine flu symptoms.
    The first death in the Texan city of Brownsville, which borders Mexico, was that of a two-year-old Mexican boy who had come across the frontier. The cause of the death, which took place on Mon
day, was pneumonia brought on by the flu virus, which is spreading from human to human. So far, 91 cases have been reported in the US and 2,400 from Mexico, where more than 150 people have died of the flu. The Hyderabad case, if confirmed as swine flu, would be India's first.
    AP principal secretary (health) L V Subramanyam said the patient was brought to the Institute of Preventive Medicine for preliminary tests for respiratory problems,
cold and cough. After this, he was referred to the Government Chest Hospital, which is a quarantine centre. The patient will be kept under observation for ten days. The family members of the passenger did not appear to have any flu symptoms and have not been quarantined.
    Subramanyam said efforts were on to find out if more people had arrived in the city with such symptoms. "Health officials are looking at the records of all in
ternational passengers who landed in the last ten days and tests are being conducted on them,'' Subramanyam said.
    However, the chest hospital denied that any patient had been admitted with swine flu symptoms. "We were informed that a patient would be sent to the quarantine facility but he did not turn up,'' superintendent S V Prasad said.

Travel sector begins to feel the pinch
The travel and hospitality sectors, already reeling under the effects of the slump, could be hit further by the swine flu. The last two days have seen a 2-4% increase in cancellations of tickets for international travel. Meanwhile, India has decided to stock 3 million doses of Tamiflu and Mumbai airport has decided to screen fliers from the US. P 5 & 11 

Global Warming: NYC-sized ice shelf collapses in Antarctica

Tromsoe (Norway): An area of an Antarctic ice shelf almost the size of New York City has broken into icebergs this month after the collapse of an ice bridge widely blamed on global warming, a scientist said.
    "The northern ice front of the Wilkins Ice Shelf has become unstable and the first icebergs have been released," Angelika Humbert, glaciologist at the University of Muenster in Germany, said of European Space Agency satellite images of the shelf, said on Tuesday.
    Humbert said about 700 sq km of ice — bigger than Singapore or Bahrain and almost the size of New York City — has broken off the Wilkins this month and shattered into a mass of icebergs.
    She said 370 sq kms of ice had cracked up in recent days from the Shelf, the latest of about 10 shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula to retreat in a trend linked by the U.N. Climate Panel to global warming.

    The new icebergs added to 330 sq kms of ice that broke up earlier this month with the shat
tering of an ice bridge apparently pinning the Wilkins in place between Charcot island and the Antarctic Peninsula.
    Nine other shelves — ice floating on the sea and linked to the coast — have receded or collapsed around the Antarctic peninsula in the past 50 years, often abruptly like the Larsen A in 1995 or the Larsen B in 2002. The trend is widely blamed on climate change caused by heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels. REUTERS

WARMING DISASTER: (Top) A satellite image of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, taken on April 27, shows icebergs covering an area of 700 sqkm that have broken off this month. (Above) A file picture of the ice shelf

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

‘Swine flu is bigger worry than bird flu’ It Can’t Be Contained, Says WHO

Kounteya Sinha | TNN
 Even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday made the chilling admission that the H1N1 swine flu virus could no longer be contained as it had spread far and wide, India kicked off a massive containment exercise, screening all passengers coming into the country from the US, Canada and Mexico for influenza symptoms.
    While WHO raised the alert level from phase three to phase four—two steps short of declaring a fullfledged global pandemic—India set up eight counters at Indira Gandhi International Airport to scan passengers for cough, cold and upper respiratory tract diseases. Doctors at Delhi's Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) and Safdarjung hospitals were asked to re
main on standby in case a suspected case was found.
    Health ministry sources told TOI, "The official deployment of 32 additional doctors at IGI will begin on Wednesday when passengers from all infected countries will be screened. However, selective screening of pas
sengers from the US, Mexico and Canada began on Tuesday night. Three doctors posted at the airport were in charge of screening.'' Passengers suspected of having the infection will be taken either to Safdarjung or RML, sources added. India to triple Tamiflu stock
New Delhi: The government, which began screening incoming international passengers for the swine flu on Tuesday night, is taking no chances. A health ministry official said, "We're also screening passengers who may have taken a connecting flight coming from the infected countries.''
    Officials of the Indian Council of Medical Research said throat swabs from suspected passengers would first be sent to National Institute of Virology (Pune) and National Institute of Communicable Diseases (Delhi) for confirmation, results of which would be available in 24 to 36 hours.
    India has also decided to triple its stock of Tamiflu, which will cover 30 lakh people in case of a pandemic. At present, India has one million doses of Tamiflu, the only drug known to be effective against H1N1. The threat of H1N1 swine flu virus is serious, considering the H5N1 bird flu virus, believed by scientists for the past
few years to be the most probable candidate to cause a pandemic, had not even crossed a phase two alert, defined "as an animal influenza virus circulating among domesticated or wild animals, known to have caused infection in humans, and so is considered a potential pandemic threat''.
    Phase four of a pandemic alert, as announced by the WHO on Tuesday is characterised by "verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus able to cause community-level outbreaks''.
    Phase five, on the other hand, is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent while phase six is the pandemic phase indicating that a global pandemic is under way. WHO, however, made it clear that global pandemic was not yet inevitable.
    The deadly swine flu virus, which was first documented on April 13 in Mexico, has spread to US, Canada, New Zealand, France, Spain, the UK, Brazil, South Korea and Israel, infecting over 2,000 people
and claiming over 150 lives in Mexico.
    "The change to a higher phase of pandemic alert indicates that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased, but not that a pandemic is inevitable,'' WHO said.
    WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan said, "Given the widespread presence of the virus, containment of the outbreak is not feasible. The current focus should be on mitigation measures.''
    "This is a new influenza virus. And so we aren't still clear how this one will evolve and how diseases related to this will evolve. At present, this virus is too widespread to make containment a feasible consideration,'' WHO assistant director-general for health security Dr Keiji Fukuda said. He warned that in this age of global travel, there is no region to which this virus could not spread.
    According to the WHO, there were three epidemics of influenza in the 20th century, the worst being the Spanish flu in 1918-1919 that killed at least 40 million people.

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Virus spreads to Israel, New Zealand; fear spreads wider

THE new strain of swine flu virus that has killed 149 people in Mexico spread to more countries on Tuesday, raising the specter of a pandemic and hurting financial markets and airline stocks.
    The World Health Organization has raised its alert level to indicate a significantly increased risk of pandemic, or global outbreak of serious illness, but is not recommending travel restriction and border closures.
    But the United States and the European Union advised their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Mexico, and companies adopted travel restrictions for their staff in response to a potential flu pandemic, which would be the first in 40 years.
    Global markets slumped for a second day on Tuesday on fears the flu outbreak could snuff out fragile signs of economic recovery.
    The flu outbreak came at a bad time for airlines, whose shares continued to fall on fears that the drop in traffic could be at least as bad as that of the 2003 SARS crisis.
    The virus is not caught from eating pig meat products but several countries, led by Russia and China, banned US pork imports. The EU said it has no plans to restrict trade with Mexico because of the flu outbreak.
    Health officials confirmed cases in New Zealand and Israel on Tuesday. No one has died outside Mexico but there were also confirmed cases in the United States, Canada, Britain and Spain. Possi
ble cases were reported in Australia, France, Germany, Sweden, Norway and South Korea.
    New Zealand said three of 11 people in a school group that visited Mexico had tested positive and it expected the others would also turn out to be positive when tests were completed.
    The Israeli carrier, a 26-year-old man, had also recently returned from Mexico. A honeymooning Scottish couple who recently returned from Cancun, one of Mexico's biggest beach resorts, were the first people in Britain to test positive for swine flu.
    One of the mysteries of the current
outbreak is why all cases outside Mexico have so far been relatively mild.
    The Geneva-based WHO said the flu was being spread by human-to-human transmission but it did not advise any travel restrictions or border closures.European and Asian stock markets retreated, with airline stocks taking another hit and drug makers posting gains. Investors cut their exposure to riskier currencies. Oil dropped 2%, sinking below $50 a barrel. Britain, France, Germany and the United States issued travel alerts for Mexico, which relies on tourism as a main source of foreign currency. — Reuters

FIGHTING BACK: A worker applies an anti-bacterial spray on the outside of Canyon Creek Elementary School in Austin, Texas. The school closed on Monday for the remainder of the week after it was confirmed that two students tested positive for the swine flu virus. — AP photo

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TOP GOVERNMENT meeting on Tuesday to take stock of India's preparedness to combat the swine flu outbreak ravaging Mexico and parts of US has decided to stock up on antiviral tablets besides stepping up vigil at nine airports and screening foreigners who have entered India in the past 10 days.
    Swine flu, caused by influenza Type A virus, was first detected in Mexico where it has claimed 150 lives so far. It has since spread to parts of the US, Canada and Europe, and on Tuesday, the first confirmation in West Asia came from Israel.
    In India, the antiviral drug Tamiflu, set to bw used worldwide to treat swine flu, is marketed by Swiss company Roche, but its patent application was rejected last month, enabling Indian companies to make its generic version.
    The ministry of health and family welfare will ask drug makers such as Ranbaxy, Cipla, Hetero, Natco Pharmaceuticals and Roche to keep stocks of the antiviral ready to tackle any emergency in the country, a ministry official told ET.
    No case of swine flu infection has been reported in the country, but the government has already stored 1 million tablets and plans to raise it to 10 million in the next 15 days, said the official who didn't want to be named.
    Cipla joint managing director Amar Lulla said his company had resources to make the drug. "It depends how much time we have to supply the medicine," he said.
    Roche MD Girish Telang said a senior official from the department of pharmaceuticals had called to check the availability of the anti-flu drug.
Airports on alert, to screen foreigners
THE government has also asked the civil aviation ministry to be extra vigilant at airports to check any spread of the flu through inbound travellers. The immigration department has been asked to screen all foreign nationals who came to India in last 10 days. A ministry official confirmed the government has identified nine airports including Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, Cochin and Goa for screening foreign visitors.
    Tuesday's meeting, chaired by the health secretary, was attended by representatives of department of pharmaceuticals, ministry of civil aviation, ministry of home affairs, ministry of information & broadcasting, ministry of agriculture and the Drug Controller General of India.
    Health ministry has already issued an advisory to Indians against visiting to the flu-affected areas such as Mexico, US and Europe.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

India Govt on alert for swine flu outbreak

New Delhi: India on Sunday went on an alert after a swine flu outbreak that has killed 81 in Mexico and sickened more than 1,300 others appeared to be spreading to countries like the US and New Zealand.
    The health ministry has called an emergency preparedness meeting of experts from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and the Indian Council of Medical Research on Monday morning to chalk out preliminary containment measures if the virus spreads in Asian countries.
    Informally,checks at airports have been stepped up in India. Health officials told TOI that they were in touch with airlines flying into India from Mexico.
Govt to act on flu after WHO instruction
New Delhi: Indian officials are keeping a close watch for passengers suffering or showing any sort of flu symptoms at the airports in the country as the Centre on Sunday issued an alert on swine flu.
    "In case any passenger shows symptoms, we already have a quarantine centre at the international airport. We also have Delhi government's infectious disease hospital. During SARS, we had created isolation facilities in Safdarjung hospital and RML. We will take action only after WHO instructs us. At present, they've designated the outbreak as Phase III animal to human transmission. They've declared the outbreak a public health concern and a disease that merits international health regulations. Countries will have to report in case a case of infection is reported within its borders," an official told TOI. "We are in touch with CDC Atlanta who have only issued a travel advisory against visiting Mexico right now. WHO will inform us what other nations are doing as part of containment measures. We already have a contingency plan."
    Human to human transmission of the virus is designated by WHO as a phase IV state.
    Officials around the world on Sunday raced to contain the outbreak as potential new cases were reported from New Zealand, Hong Kong and Spain, raising concerns about the potential for a global pandemic. China and Russia have set up quarantines for anyone possibly infected.
    The US has reported seven confirmed human cases of Swine Influenza A/H1N1 (five in California and two in Texas) and nine suspect cases. All confirmed cases had mild influenza-like illness (ILI). No deaths were reported.

A primer on asthmatic kids

 The death from asthma of Aakriti Bhatia, a Class XII student of Modern School, Vasant Vihar, has focused attention on an illness few understand. Asthma is a chronic disease like diabetes and hypertension but can be harmless if monitored and fatal if neglected. How is a parent to judge?
    Dr Vikram Sarbhai, senior consultant, pulmonology at Escorts and Max Hospitals says there is nothing like safe asthma and a wheeze is always bad, and never to be taken lightly. Dr J C Suri, head of Safdarjung Hospital's department of pulmonology, says, "Schools should keep nebulisers, asthma drugs and oxygen handly at all times and have a doctor, preferably."
    In India, 4% of the population is asthmatic, out of which 5-10% are children, says Suri. A primer for parents: Don't let an asthmatic child go to school, his condition can deteriorate suddenly. If he has to go to school, make sure he carries the medication he needs, including inhalers. Make sure your child takes the doctor's prescription to school in case the school/hospital needs it in an emergency. Talk to your child's teacher, explain the problem and leave your contact numbers with her. If sport can't be avoided, tell your child to take 2-3 puffs of his inhaler. Don't stop medication if the child appears normal. Treatment includes low dose cortico-steroids and inhalers. Medicine is used to provide relief and/ or prevent asthma attacks.

More cases of swine flu reported; WHO warns of 'health emergency'

(CNN) -- A potentially deadly new strain of the swine flu virus cropped up in more places in the United States and Mexico on Saturday, in what the World Health Organization called "a public health emergency of international concern."

Women wearing masks wait at a health clinic Saturday in Mexico City.

Women wearing masks wait at a health clinic Saturday in Mexico City.

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The most recent reports Saturday afternoon were of two confirmed cases of the virus in Kansas -- bringing the number of confirmed U.S. cases to 11.

Those joined nine confirmed cases in Texas and California and an apparent outbreak at a private school in New York City, where officials say eight children likely have the virus.

By Saturday night, health officials in Mexico said 81 deaths there were "likely linked" to the swine flu.

Dr. Jose A. Cordova Villalobos, Mexico's Secretary of Health, said viral testing has confirmed 20 cases of swine flu across the country.

President Felipe Calderon on Saturday issued an executive decree detailing emergency powers of the Ministry of Health, according to the president's office.

The order gives the ministry with the authority to isolate sick patients, inspect travelers' luggage and their vehicles and conduct house inspections, the statement said.

The government also has the authority to prevent public gatherings, shut down public venues and regulate air, sea and overland travel.

The WHO's Gregory Hartl said the strain of the virus seen in Mexico is worrisome because it has mutated from older strains.

"Any time that there is a virus which changes ... it means perhaps the immunities the human body has built up to dealing with influenza might not be adjusted well enough to dealing with this new virus," Hartl told CNN.

In Mexico, otherwise young and healthy people have been hit by the virus -- "one of the pieces of the puzzle that is worrying us," he said.

Mexico City has closed all of its schools and universities because of the virus, and the country's National Health Council said all Saturday's soccer games would be played without public audiences. Video Watch an alarmed Mexico City react with face masks, cancellations »

WHO has sent experts to Mexico at the request of the country's government, Chan said.

All of the U.S. patients have recovered or are expected to. Two of the border cases were in Texas, near San Antonio, and seven of the cases were in southern California, the CDC said. Video Watch for more on the U.S. cases »

More than 1,300 people with flu-like symptoms have been admitted to hospitals in Mexico, and officials are trying to determine how many of those patients have swine flu, the country's health minister, Cordova said.

U.S. health officials said Friday that some cases of the virus matched samples of the deadly Mexican virus.

On Saturday, New York's Bureau of Communicable Diseases said preliminary tests from a Queens school suggest that eight out of the nine children tested probably have the swine flu virus.

Dr. Don Weiss said up to 200 students at the school reported feeling ill.

He said the samples will be sent to the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, to determine the subtype of the strain. The results could be known as early as Sunday.

"What's concerning about this is, first, that it's likely swine flu; second is that at this time it is spreading from person to person," said New York City health Commissioner Thomas Frieden.Video Watch news conference with NYC health department spokesman »

When the flu spreads person to person, instead of from animals to humans, it can continue to mutate, making it a tougher strain that is harder to treat or fight off. Video Watch author John Barry discuss potential for a pandemic »

The infected people in Kansas are a man who had recently traveled to Mexico and his wife, officials said. Neither of them was hospitalized, said Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, director of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The United States had not issued any travel warnings or quarantines by Saturday evening.

The Canadian Public Health Agency had issued a travel health notice, saying, "The Public Health Agency of Canada is tracking clusters of severe respiratory illness with deaths in Mexico." Video

Take it to the limit: On speed limits

55 speed limit sign, iStockPhoto

I was babbling about the '70s energy crisis and the nationwide 55 mile-per-hour speed limit at work the other day, and found myself explaining to a group of younger people how you save gas if you drive slower. They had never heard such a thing!

Could you refresh my memory about why 55 is the magic number for saving fuel? They need to hear it in scientificese.

Denton, Texas

Dearest Ruth,

As you well remember, 55 mph was decreed the national speed limit in 1973. It was lifted in rural areas in 1987, but stuck around as federal law until 1995.

Every single "Tips for Saving Gas" list still tells you to drive 55 mph, but very few tell you why. I'll tell you, though: physics. (Well, and politics -- a 35 mph interstate speed limit would not have met with favor.)

Here's the easy version of my physics lesson: Driving slower means less "drag," and thus less effort by the engine. Drag is aerodynamic resistance, basically.

You've felt it if you've ever walked with a banner in a parade or protest, or pushed against a heavy wind in a flapping coat. That's the same drag a car experiences as it pushes forward on the road -- it fights the air, it fights the friction of the road, it fights the urge to pull off and get a Big Mac. And instead of burning lunch to fight drag, it burns gas. The more drag, the more gas.

Now here's the scientificese. Physicists have an equation used to calculate drag on a moving object: D = Cd x r x V2/2 x A. The D is drag, and V is velocity. You see how V is squared? The other letters (which you have my permission to ignore) stay constant as your speed increases, but the V rises. Because it is squared, it has a large impact on D -- i.e., twice as fast is four times as much drag.

The faster you drive, the harder your engine has to work to maintain its speed, and the less efficiently it performs. Miles per gallon fall. (You can learn more from NASA.)

So is 55 the magic number? Well, by many estimates it's pretty darn close, though each vehicle has its own speed of maximum efficiency dependent on engines, car bodies, and driving conditions.

Gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds above 60; boosting your highway speed from 55 to 75 can raise fuel consumption by as much as 20 percent. Driving at steady, reasonable speeds will save both gas and money, and keep you safe and happy.


What the “green collar” economy means for you

Construction workers, iStockPhoto

The economic stimulus plan approved by the House allocates over $100 billion for green projects. While there is sure to be political back and forth in the coming days, one thing is certain, no matter what the ultimate outcome: We're going to be hearing a lot more about "green collar" jobs.

So, what exactly is a "green collar" job, and more importantly, how do you get one? There's no definitive term just yet, but here's the short answer according to Pete Altman at the Natural Resources Defense Council: "A green job is just like a regular job only the result of what you are making or doing is good for the environment."

And, it turns out that what's good for the environment is going to be good for America's workforce. A reportfrom the University of Amherst Massachusetts says that a $100 billion investment in green programs would create about two million jobs over two years. About 750,000 green jobs already exist, according to a 2008 U.S. Conference of Mayors' report.

Many of the so-called "green" jobs are familiar and don't require significant retraining."If you are a machinist building pipeline equipment, you could just as easily be a machinist building wind turbine equipment," says Altman.

Green jobs have the potential to replace jobs in declining sectors such as manufacturing, construction, and auto manufacturing. "The biggest jobs are going to be in maintaining wind turbines and installing solar panels," says Jackie Roberts of the Environmental Defense Fund. In order to bring costs down, solar panels are going to need to be manufactured more like automobiles. The production-line experience of autoworkers will translate well into solar, for example.

Investments in one sector will have widespread effects. A boost in building retrofitting, for example, will create the need for electricians, heating and air conditioning installers, carpenters, roofers, and building inspectors, and others. "You can't send a whole building to China and then bring it back. The work has to be done here," says Altman.

Across the board, we'll see more jobs for the following professions: Engineers, Electricians, Carpenters, Welders, Machinists, Truck Drivers, Sheet Metal Workers. You can get a better sense of specific jobs and salaries in this report from Environmental Defense Fund. It's also worth checking out the website for a Green Jobs Expo that's taking place in Washington DC next week.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tips against Mobile Theft

1. Out of sight

Try to keep your phone hidden, especially when you're not using it.


2. PIN number security

Always make sure your PIN number is activated. This will prevent unauthorized calls being made on your phone if it is stolen


3. Phone Security Code

Remember to use your phone's security lock code. This is an extra PIN number which once activated, will prevent another SIM card working in your mobile. You can make the security code easier to remember by simply adding a '0' to the beginning or end of your existing PIN number.

To set up this option you will need to change the generic security code on your mobile.

Nokia - 12345

Ericsson - 0000

Motorola - 000000

Sony - 0000

Sagem - 0000

Samsung - 00000000

Siemens - No code, just enter your choice


4. Top-up sensibly

Avoid topping up a pay as you go phone in public. It may tell a thief there is credit on the account, making it even more attractive to steal.


5. Leave it and you may lose it

Don't leave your phone unattended in a car, or put it on a shop counter.


6. Be alert, be safe

Avoid using your phone when you're on the street after dark. Sometimes you may feel safer talking on the phone whilst walking but it can be safer to call someone at the beginning of your journey and again when you reach your destination.


7. Note down your IMEI number

Your 15 digit IMEI number is marked on a sticker beneath the battery or appears on the phone screen when you key in *#06#. Make a note of this number and keep it safe.


8. Call Police Help Line if your phone is stolen

If your phone is lost or stolen, immediately call your Service provider to block calls from your account so that no unauthorized calls can be made and also call 15 or CPLC.


9. Contact the police

Report the loss or theft of your phone to the police as soon as possible.


10. Be smart, backup

Losing your phone can be a hassle because it can also mean losing all your numbers, try to take frequent backups of your phone / SIM Card.

Akbar Jiwani

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pakistan disorder 'global threat'

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Taleban are "within hours of Islamabad"

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has accused Pakistan of abdicating to the Taleban by allowing them to control parts of the country.

Mrs Clinton told a congressional panel the situation in Pakistan posed a "mortal threat" to world security.

She said extremists were being allowed to control territory such as the Swat Valley, in north-western Pakistan.

She also called Pakistan's judicial system corrupt, adding that it has only limited power in the countryside.

Earlier this month, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari signed a law implementing Islamic law - or Sharia - in the Swat Valley region as part of a deal to end a two-year Taleban insurgency there.

Once one of Pakistan's most popular holiday destinations, the Swat Valley is now mostly under Taleban control.

Thousands of people have fled and hundreds of schools have been destroyed as a result of a Taleban-led insurgency.

The Swat Valley is only about 100km (62 miles) from Islamabad, and reports suggest the Taleban are trying to expand the area under their control.

'Existential threat'

Giving evidence in Washington to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mrs Clinton said the situation in Pakistan "poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world".

Tribal areas map

"I think the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taleban and the extremists," she said.

She called on the Pakistani people to speak out "forcefully" against their government's policy, in what the BBC's Richard Lister in Washington called an unusual move.

The government's policy was conceding "more and more territory to the insurgents , to the Taleban, to al-Qaeda, to the allies that are in this terrorist syndicate", Mrs Clinton said.

US President Barack Obama has put new emphasis on trying to resolve the security problems in Pakistan, our correspondent says, offering billions of dollars in aid but demanding greater co-operation from the government.

Using stark language, Mrs Clinton said the situation in Pakistan needed urgent attention.

"I think that we can not underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan," she said, describing the rebels as a "loosely-confederated group of terrorists and others seeking to overthrow the Pakistani state".

The presidents of both Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan - where international forces are battling the Taleban - are due to come to Washington for talks next month.

During her hearing Mrs Clinton also answered questions on Cuba and Iran, warning that Tehran faces "very tough sanctions" if it rejects offers of engagement over its nuclear programme.

The US was "laying the groundwork" for such measures if Iran refused dialogue or the process failed, said Mrs Clinton.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

54% Increase in Number of People Affected by Climate Disasters by 2015

54% Increase in Number of People Affected by Climate Disasters by 2015 Could Overwhelm Emergency Responses

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In six years time the number of people affected by climatic crises is projected to rise by 54 per cent to 375 million people, threatening to overwhelm the humanitarian aid system, said international agency Oxfam today.

The projected rise is mainly due to a combination of entrenched poverty and people migrating to densely populated slums which are prone to the increasing number of climatic events. This is compounded by the political failure to address these risks and a humanitarian aid system which is not 'fit for purpose'. In its report, The Right to Survive, Oxfam says the world needs to re-engineer the way it prevents, prepares for and responds to disasters.

Oxfam used the best-available data of 6,500 climate-related disasters since 1980 to project that the number of people affected by climatic disasters will rise by 133 million to 375 million people a year on average by 2015. This does not include people hit by other disasters such as wars, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Just to deal with the increased numbers, the world needs to increase its humanitarian aid spending from 2006 levels of $14.2 billion to at least $25 billion a year. Even this increase – the equivalent of only $50 per affected person – is still woefully inadequate to meet their basic needs.

"The humanitarian system is a post-code lottery on a global scale. The response is often fickle – too little, too late and not good enough. The system can barely cope with the current levels of disasters and could be overwhelmed by a substantial increase in numbers of people affected. There must be a fundamental reform of the system so that those in need are its first and foremost priority," said Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's Chief Executive.

Oxfam says that the international humanitarian system needs to act swiftly and impartially after a disaster, investing money and effort commensurate with the levels of need. Aid is often given on the basis of political or other preferences making it unfair. In 2004, an average of $1,241 was spent for each victim of the Asian tsunami, while an average of only $23 was spent per person affected by the humanitarian crisis in Chad.

The world must change the way it delivers aid so that it builds on the country's ability to prepare and withstand future shocks. National governments, with the help of the international community, need to invest more in reducing the risk of disasters.

As climate change gathers pace, this trend is likely to continue to increase well beyond 2015. Oxfam sees climate change as one of the most pressing issues it has to grapple with and is launching its most ambitious campaign ever, Here and Now, to help tackle the underlying causes of climate change. The campaign aims to raise an additional £40m over five years to help fund Oxfam's climate change work and will mobilise the public's international conscience to lobby for a fairer deal on climate for the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.

The campaign will call on rich countries to commit to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global warming as far below 2°C as possible, and to provide at least $50 billion a year in finance to help poor countries adapt to unavoidable climate change.

"While there has been a steady increase in climate related events, it is poverty and political indifference that make a storm a disaster," said Barbara Stocking.

More people are now living in urban slums often built on land prone to weather shocks. More than 50 per cent of inhabitants of Mumbai, for instance, live in slums, many of them built on reclaimed swamplands. In 2005, widespread flooding in the city caused the deaths of around 900 people, most of them killed by landslips and collapsed buildings.

Hunger is on the increase, caused by drought, population density and an increasing demand for meat and dairy products in emerging economies. People are being driven from their homes – it is estimated up to a billion people will be forced from their homes by 2050 due to climate change, environmental degradation, and conflict. And finally more people are losing their jobs due to the global economic crisis.

However, despite their poverty, some countries such as Cuba, Mozambique and Bangladesh have invested heavily in protecting their people from storms. Following the 1972 super cyclone that killed a quarter of a million people, Bangladesh invested heavily in prevention and protection measures. The death toll from super cyclones in Bangladesh is in the low thousands – still far too high, but much less devastating. The experience of Cuba, Mozambique and Bangladesh shows that with sufficient help, even the world's poorest countries can better protect their citizens.

Climate is an important driver of catastrophes but conflict also is one of the agency's greatest challenges and while the total number of conflicts has reduced over the years, a number remain intractable. "Entire generations of people have been displaced three, four or five times, and know nothing but armed violence and displacement," said Stocking. More than 18 million people could not get enough humanitarian aid because of conflict in 2007, according to UN figures.

Oxfam will continue to be a leading front-line agency that responds to humanitarian crises but it will also be increasing its investment in programmes that help to reduce poor people vulnerability to disasters.

"Climate change is already threatening our work to overcome poverty, increasing the pressure on an already-difficult task of bringing relief to millions. It is crucial that we tackle climate change head-on. We need governments to raise their game. The world must agree a global deal to avoid catastrophic climate change, stop the fickle way it delivers aid, and radically improve how it responds to disasters.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

US joins climate change battle, deems CO2 a health risk

Washington: The US Environmental Protection Agency has shifted course by deeming carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases a health risk, in a landmark turnaround that could impact climate change regulation.
    “After a thorough scientific review ordered in 2007 by the US Supreme Court, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed finding…that greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare,” said an EPA statement posted on its website.
    The move, which could open the door to stronger regulation on greenhouse gas emissions, marks a significant shift on climate change from the previous presidency of George W Bush, which failed to heed EPA warnings on the possibly devastating consequences of inaction.
    “This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations. Fortunately, it follows President (Barack) Obama’s call for a low carbon economy and strong leadership in Congress on clean energy and climate legislation,” said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. AFP


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Friday, April 17, 2009

22 dead in earthquakes in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A pair of moderate earthquakes struck Afghanistan on Friday, killing at least 22 people and destroying 200 homes, an official said.

The quakes hit the Sherzad district of Nangarhar province, about 50 miles southeast of the capital, Kabul, district governor Said Rahman told CNN.

The first, just before 2 a.m. (5:27 p.m. EDT) registered at magnitude 5.5, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The second, centered a few miles away, struck about two hours later and measured magnitude 5.1.

The Afghan army has been deployed to help with rescue efforts, said Gen. Mohammed Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense.

The U.S. military said it will provide humanitarian assistance.

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prediction that there will be another tsunami hitting on July 22 nd

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“Hello there. I just wanted 2 let you know that please stay away from the beaches all around in the month of July. There is a prediction that there will be another tsunami hitting on July 22 nd . It is also when there will be sun eclipse. Predicted that it is going 2 be really bad and countries like Malaysia (Sabah & Sarawak), Singapore, Maldives, Australia, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Philippines are going 2 be badly hit. Please try and stay away from the beaches in July. Better 2 be safe than sorry. Please pass the word around.”


Thursday, April 16, 2009


Energy drawn from solar panels in space could be next new source of clean and renewable energy powering homes in California, within eight years...

 Science fiction writers have long dreamt of the idea of space stations transmitting solar power to Earth. Soon, California’s state energy firm – the Pacific Gas and Electric company (PG&E) – is set to turn science fiction to reality, with the help of a space solar power (SSP) plant.
    “This will be the world’s first SSP plant,” said Gary Spirnak, CEO of Solaren, who is working on the technology with PG&E. “While a system of this scale and exact configuration has not been built, the underlying technology is very mature and is based on existing communications satellite technology.”
    Experts say that harnessing solar power in space has advantages over terrestrial systems, with the primary reason being that space solar arrays are never obscured by clouds or bad weather. Another reason cited is that such cells receive pure sunlight, as opposed to rays filtered by the Earth’s various gaseous layers.
    As for the amount of potential energy: According to a study by the US’ National Space Security Office, a single kilometre-wide band of geosynchronous earth orbit experiences enough solar flux in one year to almost equal the energy contained within all known recoverable conventional oil reserves on Earth today.
    Solaren builds on existing technology in its plans.
    “For over 45 years, satellites have collected solar energy in earth orbit via solar cells, and converted it to radio frequency energy,” Spirnak said. “We use the same energy conversion process for our SSP plant.”
In the Solaren system, the company will send up a solar-power satellite that would consist of mirror arrays up to several kilometres wide, which would focus sunlight onto photoelectric cells.
    The electrical power generated would be converted into a microwave beam directed towards Earth. Once receiving stations on terra firma pick up the beam, they will convert it back into electricity.
    The technology is touted as being carbon-free and safe, as it utilises energy outside of earth’s ecological system and produces no by-products.
    According to the company, the system could generate roughly 1.2 to 4.8 gigawatts of power, at a price comparable to that of other renewable energy sources.
    Solaren has committed to start generating 200 megawatts of power by 2016, Spirnak said. IANS HOW IT WORKS









1. The space satellite has mirror arrays that focus direct sunlight onto its photoelectric cells 2. The electric power generated is converted into microwave energy and beamed towards earth via radio frequency 3. A power grid on Earth then converts these microwave beams back into electrical power 4. The power from the grid can then be used to light up homes and businesses



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