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Monday, November 28, 2011

Man-made super-flu could kill half humanity

A virus with the potential to kill up to half the world’s population has been made in a lab. Now academics and bioterrorism experts are arguing over whether to publish the recipe, and whether the research should have been done in the first place.

The virus is an H5N1 bird flu strain which was genetically altered to become much more contagious. It was created by Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, who first presented his work to the public at an influenza conference in Malta in September.

Fouchier said the strain circulates in animals, particularly birds, but rarely affects humans.
In the ten or so years since bird flu first emerged in Asia, fewer than 600 cases have been reported in humans. But the H5N1 strain is particularly vicious, killing roughly half of patients diagnosed with it. What stops it from becoming a major threat to public health is that it does not readily transmit from human to human. Or at least it didn’t – until now.

Researchers in Fouchier’s team used ferrets – test animals which closely mimic the human response to influenza – and transmitted H5N1 from one to another to make it more adaptable to new hosts. After 10 generations, the virus had mutated to become airborne, which means ferrets became ill from merely being near other diseased animals.

A genetic study showed that the new, dangerous strain had only five mutations compared to the original one, and all of them were earlier seen in the natural environment – just not all at once. Fouchier’s strain is as contagious as the human seasonal flu, which kills tens of thousands of people each year, but is likely to cause many more fatalities if released.

"I can't think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one," Paul Keim, a microbial geneticist who has worked on anthrax for many years, told Science Insider. "I don't think anthrax is scary at all compared to this."

Now Keim, who chairs the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), and other members of the body, have a very difficult decision to make. Fouchier wants his study to be published. So does virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka, who led similar research in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Tokyo, and reached comparable results. And it is up to NSABB to give them the green light.

Many academics and biosecurity experts are naturally cautious about releasing information which could provide any bioterrorist with a ready recipe to hold the world to ransom. Some argue that such work should never have been done in the first place and call for international monitoring of potentially harmful research.

"It's just a bad idea for scientists to turn a lethal virus into a lethal and highly contagious virus. And it's a second bad idea for them to publish how they did it so others can copy it," believes Dr. Thomas Inglesby, a bioterrorism expert and director of the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

However the very same data, if made available to the scientific community, could potentially allow humanity to prepare for an H5N1 pandemic, which Fouchier’s study has shown to be far more probable than was previously believed. Clamping down on freedom of information in the scientific domain may in the end leave us defenseless against the flu, should it arise naturally.
NSABB plans to issue a public statement soon, says Keim, and is likely to issue additional recommendations about this type of research. "We'll have a lot to say," he says.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Radioactive contaminated Japanese vegetable in Singapore!

SINGAPORE - SINGAPORE said on Thursday its authorities had found low levels of radioactive contaminants in four samples of vegetables imported from Japan.

It said samples of wild parsley, rapeseed plant, mustard and perilla leaf were found to have elevated levels of radiation, although an adult would have to consume 3.5kg of these vegetables to receive a similar amount of radiation as one X-ray.

The contaminated samples were imported from the affected prefectures of Tochigi and Ibaraki, as well as Chiba and Ehime which are outside the affected areas.

Earlier on Thursday, Singapore suspended the import of milk, meat and produce from areas near Japan's crippled nuclear power plant due to worries of radiation contamination.

Source: The Straits Times

Friday, March 18, 2011

No radiation in Malaysia for now. Don't worry :)

DENGKIL, March 17 (Bernama) -- The government assured that Malaysia is not affected by radiation wafting over Japan from the damaged power plant at the Daiichi nuclear complex in Fukushima, 240km north of Tokyo.

The assurance was given by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili in response to fears among the public over the risk of radiation following the incident (explosion) on Monday.

"The Malaysian public need not worry and should not believe rumours or SMSes disseminated to them on the matter," he said after visiting the Atomic Energy Licensing Board, here, Thursday.

Ongkili said the Environmental Emergency Response Mechanism activated by the World Meteorological Association to monitor, among others, the radio-active particles leaked from the damaged Japanese nuclear reactors showed the particles moving south-east towards the Pacific Ocean.

"It is not possible for the radiation, which is at a low level, to reach us here," he said.

Ongkili said the control mechanism for the entry of radioactive materials through cargo or people was by using the radiation portal monitors at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and the country's other international airports.

"All passengers arriving in this country will be screened through this device and so far, no passenger has been detected to be exposed to radiation."

He said this in response to an international agency news report saying that three Japanese were detected to have radiation readings at unsafe levels during checks at the Incheon International Airport, South Korea.

Ongkili said screening was also being carried out at Tanjung Pelepas and Klang ports for radiation-affected goods from foreign countries, especially Japan.

Source: Bernama news

Friday, March 11, 2011

Again in Malaysia?

KUALA LUMPUR: Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai confirmed today the influenza outbreak at the Kuala Lumpur Police Training College (Pulapol) is not H1N1.

He said a team of medical experts had been despatched to the training college yesterday to carry out investigation after 39 of its trainees reported to suffer from influenza-like illness (ILI).

"The situation there is under control," he said.

The first batch of 22 police trainees were down with influenza-like symptoms on Saturday, and 17 more on Sunday, with four being were warded in the intensive care unit, he told reporters after attending the opening of the first meeting of the fourth term of the 12th Parliament by Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin at the Parliament House here today.

Liow said none of the cases were confirmed to be either H1N1 or leptospirosis.

"We suspected it could be viral infection. All the patients showed influenza-like illnesses such as flu and fever. We will continue to monitor the situation," he said.

Liow said although H1N1 pandemic was over last year, the people should continue to stay vigilant and take care of their health.

He said those who suffer from ILI should also limit contact with others and maintain high level of hygiene.

Source: NST Malaysia

The flu still exist!

Hong Kong reports another flu A/H1N1-related death

HONG KONG, March 10 -- Hong Kong reported another flu A/H1N1-related death case and two newly confirmed influenza cases, the Hong Kong Hospital Authority (HA) said Thursday.

According to the HA, a 21-year-old female patient died Thursday due to continued deterioration of clinical condition.

As of 2 p.m. Thursday, two more cases of flu A/H1N1 have been confirmed, including a 67-year-old male patient and a 24-year-old female patient, both in critical condition.

To date, nine influenza patients are still staying in the intensive care units of public hospitals in Hong Kong, including the newly confirmed cases.


School closed after suspected A/H1N1 flu detected

KUALA LUMPUR, March 2 -- A school in Malaysia has been temporarily closed on Wednesday after 166 students developed symptoms of the A/H1N1 flu.

The students were found to have sore throats and coughs Wednesday morning, and were asked to receive medical treatment and rest at home, reported China Press, a local Chinese Daily.

According to the newspaper, the secondary school ordered all co- curricular activities to be stopped, but changed its decision later at noon to close the school for the rest of the day.

The school was quoted as saying that two teachers from the school had been hospitalized. While the daughter of one of the teachers was said to have been tested positive for A/H1N1, the saying was yet to be confirmed.

The daily also reported that a form four student from the school, who had earlier returned from an overseas trip, died on her way to the hospital after she fainted at school recently.

However, the brother of the deceased clarified that his sister had succumbed to bacterial lung infection.

Malaysian Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai had earlier assured members of the public that the fatal disease was well controlled, and was not spreading.

There was also no indication that the second wave of A/H1N1 flu was imminent in the country, added Liow.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Malaysia first superbug case

GUA MUSANG: One case of antibiotic-resistant superbug infection was detected in Malaysia last month, Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said today.

Although the woman patient had fully recovered and posed no danger to the public, the ministry would continue taking precautionary measures to ensure that the bacteria did not spread, he added.

"She has been discharged from Ampang Hospital but is still on medication. She has another illness, leukaemia... the superbug did not cause any lasting harm to her," he told reporters at the nomination centre for the Galas state by-election here.

he said that she did not infect anyone because "the bacteria only colonises the body of the carrier," he added.

Liow said that overuse of antibiotics was one cause of superbug infection.

The ministry therefore instructed all doctors in the country not to prescribe more antibiotics than were necessary, he added.

The superbug infection was first detected in 2008, with cases reported in India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. - BERNAMA


Recently, China found three cases of bacteria carrying the New Delhi metallo-lactamase-1 (NDM-1) gene, known as a superbug for resistance to antibiotics, on three mainland patients, two newly-born babies and one old patient. Now, the old patient is dead due to lung cancer, according to CCTV's report.

The superbugs were found from those collected and preserved bacteria in a joint inspection by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Chinese Academy of Military Medical Sciences. Two of the superbugs belonged to two newly-born babies in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and another belonged to an old patient in Fujian Province.

The two babies were low-birth0weight infants, and they started suffering diarrhea and respiratory infection two or three days after they were born. Now the two babies have been cured and are in good condition.

The old patient in Fujian Province had already died because of terminal lung cancer on Jun. 11. However, whether the influence of superbug existed or how it affected the patient's sickness is not sure now.

By Wang Hanlu, People's Daily Online