Stories tagged epidemic

Here is an update on my post about California's whooping cough epidemic.

A ninth baby has died in California from whooping cough, health officials said Thursday.
All nine infants were under three months of age.
As of Tuesday, the state has recorded more illnesses due to whooping cough (4,017) than in any year since 1955. CNN

What is safest for newborns? Getting vaccinated or not getting vaccinated?


Is this the face of a pandemic threat?
Is this the face of a pandemic threat?Courtesy The Pug Father
No need to put down your pork chops, as health officials are quick to remind us: you can't get swine flu from eating products made from pigs. In fact, health officials have yet to find a pig with this particular strain of the virus. According to the CDC, the virus that's been making headlines this week contains not only pig, but also human and bird flu DNA. Viruses are complicated and mutate as they go from one host to the next, so it's difficult to tell just where novel strains originate. All of this has left many people to question whether it's appropriate to call the virus "swine flu" at all?

Pork producers say: leave pigs out of this!

They're afraid that the name "swine flu" will cause demand for their products to plummet, and have asked government officials and the news media to call the virus by it's scientific name, H1N1, which refers to the serotype of the virus - its particular chemical make-up. It's a rational fear on their part. Some countries have already banned meat and pork products from Mexico and parts of the US due to fear over the spread of the disease.

What do you think? Would a flu by any other name...smell like meat? When it comes to novel viruses like this one, what's in a name?


Pandemic prevention in Mexico City
Pandemic prevention in Mexico CityCourtesy Chupacabras

No mass at Cathedral of Mexico City Sunday

In addition to churches, Mexico closed schools, museums, libraries and theaters, hoping to contain the outbreak of a swine flu variety that is killing people. Officials say as many as 81 people have died and more than 1,300 others are sickened from a new type of flu.

The virus contains genetic pieces from four different flu viruses; North American swine influenza, North American avian influenza, human influenza A N1H1, and swine influenza viruses found in Asia and Europe.

Swine flu symptoms

Symptoms of the flu-like illness include a fever of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius), body aches, coughing, a sore throat, respiratory congestion and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea. Click this link for more key facts about swine influenza (swine flu).

Global swine flu alert

China, Russia and Taiwan plan to put anyone with symptoms of the deadly virus under quarantine. Ten students from New Zealand who took a school trip to Mexico "likely" caught this swine flu. Four possible cases of swine flu are currently under investigation in France. More than 100 students at the St. Francis Preparatory School, in Queens, New York recently began suffering a fever, sore throat and aches and pains. Some of them had recently been in Mexico.

"The United States government is working with the World Health Organization and other international partners to assure early detection and warning and to respond as rapidly as possible to this threat," Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, said during a Friday afternoon press briefing.

How to track illnesses globally

There are several useful online resources that track health information and disease outbreaks.

  1. The World Health Organization (WHO) has an Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response (EPR) webpage.

    As of 26 April 2009, the United States Government has reported 20 laboratory confirmed human cases of swine influenza A/H1N1 (8 in New York, 7 in California, 2 in Texas, 2 in Kansas and 1 in Ohio).

  2. HealthMap is a website that aggregates news feeds from the WHO, Google News, ProMED, and elsewhere to map out all of the disease outbreaks. (Click the box in front of influenza under "Diseases, last 30 days" to see just flu cases.)

What is a pandemic?

The WHO's pandemic alert level is currently up to phase 3. The organization said the level could be raised to phase 4 if the virus shows sustained ability to pass from human to human. Phase 5 would be reached if the virus is found in at least two countries in the same region.

"The declaration of phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short," WHO said. Associated Press

Phase 6 would indicate a full-scale global pandemic.



Mountain pine beetle: download brochure by clicking on Forest Service
Mountain pine beetle: download brochure by clicking on Forest ServiceCourtesy US Forest Service

Why are all the trees dying?

Last summer I spent a week in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain National Park. One question was repeatedly being asked by visitors, "Why are all the trees dying?" In many places every lodgepole pine over five inches was dead as far as the eye could see. From the Mexican border all the way up into Canada millions and millions of acres of mountain pine forest are dead or dying.

Mountain Pine Beetles

A black, hard-shelled beetle called Dendroctunus, which means tree killer, drills through pine bark and lays its eggs in the sweet, rich cambium layer that provides nutrients to the tree. They also inject a fungus to stop the tree from moving sap, which could drown the larvae. Officials claim that this is the largest known insect infestation in the history of North America.

Why is this happening now?

Mountain Pine Beetles used to be mostly killed off by -30 to -40 degree below temperatures. That has not happened for about ten years. Eight years of drought also has weakened the trees and their ability to flush out invaders with sap flow.

Dead trees create problems

Dead trees will eventually fall down. This means removing millions of trees near homes and along roads and trails.

At Vail Ski Resort, for example, which has been particularly hard hit, workers have removed thousands of dead trees and planted new ones. In Yellowstone the beetles are killing the white-barked pine trees, which grow nuts rich in fat that are critical to grizzly bears in the fall. In Colorado and Wyoming, officials have closed 38 campgrounds for fear trees could fall on campers. They have reopened all but 14.

Wildfire is the biggest threat. Many homes and communities are surrounded by dry, dead trees. The Forest Service and logging companies are clear-cutting “defensible space” so firefighters have a place to fight fires. The amount of dead wood is overwhelming, though. Hopefully entrepreneurs will find ways to use it. I am afraid that what is left behind is not going to be very "scenic" for a long time.

Learn more about the mountain pine beetle infestation

Source article: New York Times
Video: Americas disappearing forests
US Forest Service: Regional bark beetle information
Denver Post editorial by Merrill Kaufmann: Battling the pine beetle epidemic
32 page teacher packet (pdf): Mountain Pine Beetle Mania


Corrupted Blood ravages the WoW: Don't worry though. If you use protection, it's very unlikely that your blood will be corrupted. I recommend mithril armor.  (Image from Wikipedia Commons)
Corrupted Blood ravages the WoW: Don't worry though. If you use protection, it's very unlikely that your blood will be corrupted. I recommend mithril armor. (Image from Wikipedia Commons)
If only real life were more like computer games. We could go around casting spells (zap!) and slaying monsters, and then search through their bodies for gold and potions and stuff. Kicking over trashcans and searching them for valuables isn’t nearly as fun, even if you are dressed as a night elf (although that helps a little). I can’t seem to level up, no matter how many hours I put into life, and as often as refer to myself as Pussywillow Bloodtalon, my mother still insists on calling me JGordon.

Yeah, real life could stand to be a little more like videogames. It seems ironic, then, that epidemiologists have recently been turning to computer games to see how they could be like real life.

These epidemiologists (scientists who study the factors effecting health and illness of populations) have proposed using “massively multiplayer online role-playing games,” like World of Warcraft, to simulate the spread of serious diseases through large populations, and to see what might be done to effectively control them. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, World of Warcraft, and other online role-playing games, allow thousands of players to interact with each other in the same game world. There are monsters and swords and things too.)

The idea surfaced back in 2005, when the developers of World of Warcraft created a new area for the game. In this area, players’ characters could catch a disease called “Corrupted Blood.” Corrupted Blood would rapidly drain a character’s health, and the idea was that weaker characters would be “killed” by the disease, while stronger, more experienced characters could keep themselves alive until the condition passed. However, the disease was programmed so that it could be passed from character to character if they got too close, or from a player-controlled character to a non-player controlled character, or to a pet, who could then pass it on again to other players (just like influenza or the plague, which can be spread by animals). Before long, the Corrupted Blood disease left its original area, and moved into large cities in the game, carried there by players and their pets. The cities were rendered uninhabitable (as far as one can inhabit a virtual city), and players began avoiding any area with large groups of other players, for fear of their character becoming infected. The game developers attempted to set up quarantine areas to halt the spread of the plague, but ultimately had to shut down the game servers and reboot them with the disease changed so that it was unable to spread between players.

Epidemiologists, who have largely had to rely on mathematical models to predict the spread and “behavior” of serious diseases, are fascinated to see how people actually react to a plague like this (even if it was just a virtual plague for virtual people). The Corrupted Blood scenario, and others like it, could help show how people might actually react to a quarantine, and to what extent they would be willing to cooperate when scared.

Skeptics have argued that people would probably treat a real epidemic much more seriously than one confined to a game. Others argue that, with the amount of time and effort players put into their gaming alter-egos, they become emotionally invested in protecting their characters, and would therefore still be useful for modeling behavior during a real outbreak.

As I suggested earlier, I think the scientists have it completely backwards. Their effort would be better spent developing more effective life potions and healing spells. And, as horrifying as the prospect of catching Corrupted Blood may be, the epidemiologists are ignoring the very real threat of dragons and rogue level 70 players. Far be it from me to pass judgment, though. I’m about done here anyway – I’ll be starting a quest to the bathroom in a moment. It promises to be a tooth whitening adventure.


Mumps outbreak concerns U.S. health officials

Some 515 cases (of mumps) have been reported in Iowa, plus 43 in Nebraska, 33 in Kansas, and single digits in Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

"Why Iowa, and why now? We really don't know," said William Bellini of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "There are a lot of unknowns." Officials speculate that the epidemic might have been set off by someone from Britain, which has been experiencing a large mumps outbreak for several years.

Experts hope the relatively high U.S. vaccination rates will contain the outbreak. The tens of thousands of cases in Britain have been blamed on problems with that country's vaccination program, and concerns among some parents that childhood vaccines may increase the risk of autism, which left a significant proportion of the population unvaccinated.   (from San Francisco Chronicle)

Of the 245 patients this year, at least 66 percent had had the recommended two-shot vaccination, while 14 percent had received one dose, the Public Health Department said.

"The vaccine is working," Quinlisk said. "The vaccine certainly was made to cover this particular strain, because it's a fairly common strain of mumps." Quinlisk said the vaccine overall is considered about 95 percent effective.  (from Yahoo News)

Information about mumps by Mayo Clinic Staff

The mumps virus spreads easily from person to person through infected saliva. A person is considered contagious from three days before symptoms appear to about four days after. In general, you're considered immune to mumps if you've previously had the infection or if you've been immunized against mumps.

To stop the spread of the disease, those with mumps should not return to child care, school or work until five days after symptoms began or until they are well, whichever is longer. Individuals with known exposure to someone with mumps should have their immunization status checked. Those who have not received two doses of the MMR vaccine should be vaccinated.

Complications of mumps are rare but include:

  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Hearing loss
  • Inflammation of the testicles (orchitis)
  • Inflammation of the ovaries

In addition, mumps infection in the first trimester of pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage.

If you have unexplained swelling in your jaw and neck, or you have these symptoms after a known exposure to someone who has the mumps, call your doctor promptly.    by Mayo Clinic Staff

Want updates or have questions

Since the first report of mumps to IDPH, the state health department has monitored, communicated and educated health care providers and the public about the increase in numbers of cases. Mumps resources, including twice-weekly case updates, can be viewed on IDPH's Web site.

The Iowa Department of Public Health answers freqently asked questions about mumps here.

Mumps information in Wikipedia