Tuesday, 30 August 2011

UN agency warns of new stain of Avian flu

A major warning has been issued by the United Nations` Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) about the possibility of a "major resurgence"  of avian flu, after a mutant strain of the virus was detected in Vietnam and China.

 The mutant strain H5N1, which seems resistant to vaccines, is thought to have spread by wild bird migrations, to previously virus free countries including Bulgaria , Israel, Romania, Mongolia and Nepal, according to FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth.

The death of a six year old Cambodian girl last week by the H5N1 strain was confirmed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This brings the death toll this year in Cambodia, by this virus to eight - all cases discovered in the county in 2011 have proved fatal.

WHO figures show the H5N1 virus  has infected 565 people since 2003 when it first appeared, killing 331 of them. In 2006 at its peak, a total of 63 countries were affected by avian flu.
This has also resulted in the culling of more than  400 million domestic poultry causing an estimated $20 billion in economic damage worldwide.

Vietnam has suspended its springtime poultry vaccination campaign this year, and most of the northern and central parts of the country (where H5N1 is endemic) have been invaded by the new virus strain, known as H5N1 –, reports FAO

Vietnam's veterinary services are on high alert and reportedly considering a novel, targeted vaccination campaign this fall. Virus circulation in Vietnam poses a direct threat to Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia as well as endangering the Korean peninsula and Japan further afield. Wild bird migration can also spread the virus to other continents.

"The general departure from the progressive decline observed in 2004-2008 could mean that there will be a flareup of H5N1 this fall and winter, with people unexpectedly finding the virus in their backyard," Lubroth said.
"Preparedness and surveillance remain essential," Lubroth underlined. "This is no time for complacency. No one can let their guard down with H5N1."

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Astronomers find a new planet made entirely of diamond

Astronomers have discovered a new planet five times the size of Earth - and seemingly made of diamond.The previously unknown planet orbits a "pulsar" - a small, burnt-out  neutron star known as J1719-1438 some way towards the center of the Milky way from us on Earth. Composed mainly of carbon , the density of the planet  makes scientists believe it must exist in the form of a great diamond. 

“The evolutionary history and amazing density of the planet all suggest it is comprised of carbon – ie a massive diamond,” Matthew Bailes, of Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology, said. However, the planet is around 4,000 light years away from Earth, which probably means we won’t be chipping chunks off it any time soon.According to the New Scientist, the unnamed planet is around 60,000km in diameter – around five times the size of Earth, which is 12,756km across. And yes, it glitters. Travis Metcalfe, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, told the magazine: “It’s highly speculative, but if you shine a light on it, I can’t see any reason why it wouldn't sparkle like a diamond.”

Mosquito`s dissapearing in some parts of Africa

Scientists have been left baffled as to why malaria- carrying mosquito's are disappearing in some parts of Africa.Controls such as anti-mosquito bed nets are having a significant impact on the incidence of malaria in some sub-Saharan countries figures show. However the incidence of mosquito's are also declining in areas with few controls as reported by Malaria journal researchers. It is unclear whether mosquito's are being eradicated completely or if their decline is due to environmental factors and they will then return. 

Data from Eritrea, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia shows the fast declining prevalence of mosquito's.Researchers are attributing this to effective implementation of control programmes such as  the deployment of bed nets treated with insecticide.However teams of Danish and Tanzanian scientists say this that this is not the whole story. For over 10 years their research teams have been collecting and counting the number of mosquito's caught in thousands of traps in Tanzania, with over 5,000 caught in 2004. This figure has dropped to just 14 in 2009. These figures reflect collections carried out in villages where bed nets are not used. 

Climate change has been considered as a major possibility for the major decline in numbers. Notably rainfall patterns were more chaotic in these regions of Tanzania and occurred outside rainfall season, which may have disrupted the natural cycle of mosquito development.Leading author of the study Professor Dan Meyrowitsch from  the University of Copenhagen is not convinced that changing climate is the only reason.

"It could be partly due to this chaotic rainfall, but personally I don't think it can explain such a dramatic decline in mosquitoes, to the extent we can say that the malaria mosquitoes are almost eradicated in these communities."What we should consider is that there may be a disease among the mosquitoes, a fungi or a virus, or they're may have been some environmental changes in the communities that have resulted in a drop in the number of mosquitoes"

The research team also found anecdotal evidence that their discovery was not an isolated case.Prof Meyrowitsch added: "Other scientists are saying they can't test their drugs because there are no children left with malaria."They observed this in communities with no large interventions against malaria or mosquitoes. It may be the same scenario that the specific mosquitoes that carry malaria are declining very fast now"

 Researchers are now unsure if mosquitoes will return to these regions. If they do, one particular cause for concern is the young people who have not been exposed to malaria over the past five or six years since the mosquitoes began to decline.

"If the mosquito population starts coming up again" says Professor Meyrowitsch "and my own assumption is that it will, it is most likely we will have an epidemic of malaria with a higher level of disease and mortality especially amongst these children who have not been exposed."

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

New Superdrug could cure all viral infections

MIT scientists in the US claim to have solved the problem of killing viral infections usually resistant to antibiotics.

The common cold, the`flu and more serious haemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola are amongst the viruses that currently can`t be cured.

DRACO a new drug designed by US scientists is able to identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus , then zeroes to kill the infection , writes MIT News. It should work against all viruses and has already proven effective against 15 viruses , including polio, stomach viruses and dengue fever.

MIT`s Double-stranded RNA Activated Capase Oligomerizers (DRACO) is an anti-viral therapy, which causes cells to commit suicide, thus preventing the spread of infection. 

Time magazine explains that the drug works by using both a cell`s natural defence mechanism, and the virus`s attack mechanism. In this way it is able to find and disable the virus. 

It is thought that this new technology may even be used to work against new infections, like respiratory syndrome SARS, which caused a near-pandemic in 2002/2003. Popular science says the new treatment could be as effective as antibiotics fighting bacteria – a development that could revolutionize infectious disease medicine.
All of the testing has so far been carried out in mice, but the scientists behind DRACO are hoping to be licensed for trials in larger animals, and eventually in humans.