Daily Archives: August 19, 2009

Polio surge in Nigeria after vaccine virus mutates

AP | Aug 14, 2009

By MARIA CHENG

LONDON – Polio, the dreaded paralyzing disease stamped out in the industrialized world, is spreading in Nigeria. And health officials say in some cases, it’s caused by the vaccine used to fight it.

In July, the World Health Organization issued a warning that this vaccine-spread virus might extend beyond Africa. So far, 124 Nigerian children have been paralyzed this year — about twice those afflicted in 2008.

The polio problem is just the latest challenge to global health authorities trying to convince wary citizens that vaccines can save them from dreaded disease. For years, myths have abounded about vaccines — that they were the Western world’s plan to sterilize Africans or give them AIDS. The sad polio reality fuels misguided fears and underscores the challenges authorities face using a flawed vaccine.

Nigeria and most other poor nations use an oral polio vaccine because it’s cheaper, easier, and protects entire communities.

But it is made from a live polio virus — albeit weakened — which carries a small risk of causing polio for every million or so doses given. In even rarer instances, the virus in the vaccine can mutate into a deadlier version that ignites new outbreaks.

The vaccine used in the United States and other Western nations is given in shots, which use a killed virus that cannot cause polio.

So when WHO officials discovered a polio outbreak in Nigeria was sparked by the polio vaccine itself, they assumed it would be easier to stop than a natural “wild” virus.

They were wrong.

In 2007, health experts reported that amid Nigeria’s ongoing outbreak of wild polio viruses, 69 children had also been paralyzed in a new outbreak caused by the mutation of a vaccine’s virus.

Back then, WHO said the vaccine-linked outbreak would be swiftly overcome — yet two years later, cases continue to mount. They have since identified polio cases linked to the vaccine dating back as far as 2005.

It is a worrying development for officials who hope to end polio epidemics in India and Africa by the end of this year, after missing several earlier deadlines. “It’s very disturbing,” said Dr. Bruce Aylward, who heads the polio department at the World Health Organization.

This year, the number of polio cases caused by the vaccine has doubled: 124 children have so far been paralyzed, compared to 62 in 2008, out of about 42 million children vaccinated. For every case of paralysis, there are hundreds of other children who don’t develop symptoms, but pass on the disease.

When Nigerian leaders suspended polio vaccination in 2003, believing the vaccine would sterilize their children and infect them with HIV, Nigeria exported polio to nearly two dozen countries worldwide, making it as far away as Indonesia.

Nigeria resumed vaccinations in 2004 after tests showed the vaccine was not contaminated with estrogen, anti-fertility agents or HIV.

Experts have long believed epidemics unleashed by a vaccine’s mutated virus wouldn’t last since the vaccine only contains a weakened virus strain — but that assumption is coming under pressure. Some experts now say that once viruses from vaccines start circulating they can become just as dangerous as wild viruses.

“The only difference is that this virus was originally in a vaccine vial,” said Olen Kew, a virologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The oral polio vaccine used in Nigeria and elsewhere contains a mild version of the live virus. Children who have been vaccinated pass the virus into the water supply through urine or feces. Other children who then play in or drink that water pick up the vaccine’s virus, which gives them some protection against polio.

But in rare instances, as the virus passes through unimmunized children, it can mutate into a strain dangerous enough to ignite new outbreaks, particularly if immunization rates in the rest of the population are low.

Kew said genetic analysis proves mutated viruses from the vaccine have caused at least seven separate outbreaks in Nigeria.

Though Nigeria’s coverage rates have improved, up to 15 percent of children in the north still haven’t been vaccinated against polio. To eradicate the disease, officials need to reach about 95 percent of the population.

Nigeria’s vaccine-linked outbreak underlines the need to stop using the oral polio vaccine as soon as possible, since it can create the very epidemics it was designed to stop, experts say. WHO is researching other vaccines that might work better, but none is on the horizon.

Until a better vaccine is ready, WHO and U.S. CDC officials say the oral vaccine is the best available tool to eradicate polio and that when inoculation rates are nearly 100 percent it works fine.

“Nigeria is almost a case study in what happens when you don’t follow the recommendations,” Kew said.

Since WHO and partners began their attempt to rid the world of polio in 1988, officials have slashed the disease’s incidence by more than 99 percent.

But numerous deadlines have been missed and the number of cases has been at a virtual standstill since 2000. Critics have also wondered whether it is time to give up, and donors may be sick of continuing to fund a program with no clear endgame.

“Eradication is a gamble,” said Scott Barrett, an economist at Columbia University who has studied polio policies. “It’s all or nothing … and there is a very real risk this whole thing may fall apart.”

Aside from Nigeria, polio persists in a handful of other countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Chad, Angola and Sudan.

Aylward agreed the Nigeria situation was another unwelcome hurdle, but was confident eradication was possible. “We still have a shot,” he said. “We’re throwing everything at it including the kitchen sink.”

FBI: Arm Boston Police With Assault Rifles in Preparation for Terrorist Attack

thebostonchannel.com | Aug 18, 2009

BOSTON — An FBI official said Boston police officers should be armed with assault rifles to make the city more prepared for a terrorist attack.

An FBI official says Boston police officers should be armed with assault rifles to make the city more prepared for a terrorist attack. Is this a good idea?

Warren Bamford, the special agent in charge of the FBI in Boston, said Tuesday that he is baffled by opposition to a proposal to give some neighborhood police officers the semiautomatic weapons.

In May, Boston Mayor Tom Menino criticized a proposal to arm up to 200 officers with M-16s that the police department had ordered from the U.S. military. Menino said only specially trained units should have the guns.

Bamford said he believes more officers should have access to the guns in the event Boston becomes the target of a terrorist attack like the one that killed 166 people in Mumbai, India in November.

Woman who drank beer at resort fined $1400 and sentenced to six lashes

Kartika-Sari-Dewi-_1465183c

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno: The mother-of-two who lives in Singapore with her husband, paid a fine of £860  Photo: AFP

Muslim model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno has become the first woman in Malaysia to be sentenced to a caning after being caught drinking beer in a beach resort.

Telegraph | Aug 19, 2009

Model who drank beer to be first woman caned in Malaysia

By Ian MacKinnon in Bangkok

The 32-year-old will receive six lashes at a woman’s prison next week in what is being viewed as an example of the growing influence of Islamic hardliners on the country.

The mother-of-two who lives in Singapore with her husband, paid a fine of £860, but declined to lodge an appeal so she could get the punishment over with and put the episode behind her.

The harsh sentence has provoked anger among women’s rights groups who fear it is another sign of the creeping influence of conservative Islam on Malaysian society.

In the northern backwater state of Kalentan ruled by the hardline Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, authorities have decreed that supermarkets must have separate checkout queues for men and women and beaches be segregated.

Young couples caught sitting too close together on park benches in the state capital, Kota Baru, are hunted down by the city’s moral enforcers and fined up to £285 in Sharia courts.

The Islamic alcohol prohibition laws in Malaysia’s eastern Pahang state date back more than two decades. But Malaysian-born Kartika, who now has Singaporean citizenship, is the first woman to fall foul of them.

She was arrested in July last year in a hotel nightclub in the beach resort of Cherating during a raid by the state’s religious department and admitted drinking beer.

An Islamic court fined her and ordered her to be caned at Kajang women’s prison next week, but spared her a jail term of up to three years.

She received word of the sentence from her father and said she would be returning to Malaysia from Singapore.

“I accept the punishment,” she said. “I am not afraid because I was ready to be punished from day one. [The authorities] hope to use my case as a way to educate Muslims. So go ahead. I want to move on with my life.”

Prosecutor Saiful Idham Sahimi said: “This is the first case in Malaysia. It is a good punishment because under Islamic law a person who drinks commits a serious offence.”

Muslims make up about 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 28 million people and are governed by Sharia courts for all civil and religious matters.

Non-Muslims, mainly Chinese and Indians, are governed by civil courts, which impose caning sentences for serious offences such as rape. The lashes administered to the buttocks, break the skin and leave scars.

But in Kartika’s case the rattan cane will be lighter than those used to punish men. Sharia law dictates it be no thicker than the little finger and the cane cannot be lifted so high the arm is away from the armpit. The court ordered the jail’s female governor administer the sentence.

Kartika has been ordered to report to the jail next Monday, where she will be given a medical check-up to ensure she is fit to receive the punishment.

She could then be held for seven days, but will be released immediately after the caning.

Climate Change department keep air-conditioning rather than open windows

Plans to switch off the air-conditioning and instead open windows at the Department for Energy and Climate Change have been scrapped after staff complained about the noise.

Telegraph | Aug 19, 2009

By Chris Irvine

The department is housed in a late Victorian Grade II-listed building in Whitehall Place in London. It is ranked in the lowest “G” category for energy efficiency.

The trial was abandoned after three days because staff at the department complained about noise from construction works, “the wrong kind of breeze” and the potential security risk.

An internal memo to all staff said: “Concerns have been raised about higher temperatures, reduced air flow, noise from the building works and security concerns. We have therefore decided to revert to air-conditioned cooling for the building.”

Environmental campaigners said the decision by the department, responsible for cutting Britain’s carbon footprint, sent the wrong message.

“Opening the window is the cheapest, most climate friendly way of cooling a building,” said Jenny Jones, a London Assembly member for the Green Party. “Government organisations just don’t have that sense of urgency about climate change.”

A spokesman for the department said: “We’re serious about doing all we can to reduce our impact on the environment which is why we have pledged to reduce our emissions by 10 per cent by March next year.

“As part of our efforts to save energy we decided to turn off the air conditioning and open the windows. It’s right we gave it a go – the scale of the climate change challenge means we have to try these things out. In this case we had to suspend the trial, chiefly because of security concerns around open windows but also the affect on working conditions.

“We will keep working on ways to save energy including more energy efficient lighting, promoting behaviour change across the Department and making changes to the heating and air conditioning systems.“

Cold summer, thick ice enjoyed by polar bears

polar bears

A mother Polar Bear rests on the frozen tundra with her cubs waiting for the Hudson Bay to freeze over in this file photo outside Churchill, Manitoba. The cooler-than-usual summer produced thicker ice on Hudson Bay, giving the area’s polar bear population several extra days to feed on tasty ringed seals. Photograph by: Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images

Winnipeg Free Press | Aug 18, 2009

Colder summer good news for polar bears

By Aldo Santin

WINNIPEG — Too many cool, wet days resulted in a lousy summer — but you won’t find any polar bears complaining.

The cooler-than-usual summer produced thicker ice on Hudson Bay, giving the area’s polar bear population several extra days to feed on tasty ringed seals.

“This is the time of year when polar bears eat the most, and the ringed seals are so full of fat and energy,” said Daryll Hedman, the northeast regional wildlife manager for Manitoba Conservation.

Hedman said polar bears stay on the Hudson Bay ice for as long as possible so they can feed, adding this year the ice was so thick that the bears stayed out for an extra two weeks.

That’s resulted in fatter, healthier bears this summer, Hedman said. He added, however, the development is not likely a long-term trend.

“It’s probably a blip,” Hedman said of the thicker ice and cooler temperatures.

He said polar bears that wandered into the northern Manitoba community of Churchill this season appeared fatter and healthier than in past years.

“Every bear we handled (in Churchill) was in amazing good shape,” Hedman said.

Climate change and the melting polar ice cap are putting dire pressure on polar bear populations, depriving them of the ice cover they need to hunt seals.

Last month, the Polar Bear Specialist Group — a group of 19 scientists from Denmark, Norway, Russia, the U.S. and Canada — passed a resolution to urge the governments of nations with polar bear populations to take the animals into consideration when planning Arctic development.

In a statement following the meeting, the PBSG said the “greatest challenge to conservation of polar bears is ecological change in the Arctic resulting from climatic warming,” noting that both 2007 and 2008 were years of unprecedented ice cap reduction.

The PBSG, a member of the United Nations’ International Union for the Conversation of Nature, said the number of decreasing polar bear subpopulations has grown from five to eight since 2005, the last time the group met.

Of the 19 polar bear subpopulations around the Arctic, one group was increasing, three were stable and eight were decreasing.

Melbourne mayor tells citizens concerned about the rise of Big Brother, tough luck

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle

When asked about potential objections about the surveillance, Mr Doyle replied: “There will be groups that say this is Big Brother. I say ‘bad luck’.

Mr Doyle said they were at fixed locations, but were flexible, and could “recognise” a face from up to a kilometre away.

“People should know that these cameras are here. They should know that they are going to be under scrutiny,” he said.

The Age | Aug 19, 2009

‘Big Brother’ Doyle increases CBD’s CCTV cameras

by Peter Gregory

Civil libertarians have questioned the dramatic increase in the number of CCTV cameras operating in Melbourne’s CBD, saying they could potentially invade the privacy of citizens.

The Melbourne City Council today released a map of the 54 CCTV cameras placed in city troublespots in a bid to deter and capture footage of violence.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said the cameras would be an important part of efforts by the council and Victoria Police to lessen city crime.

When asked about potential objections about the surveillance, Mr Doyle replied: “There will be groups that say this is Big Brother. I say ‘bad luck’. The city’s safety comes first.”

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He said protocols controlled the use of the vision, and public access to it.

According to the council, 31 of the cameras have been installed over the last year.

Mr Doyle said they were at fixed locations, but were flexible, and could “recognise” a face from up to a kilometre away.

In 2007, the then 23 city cameras recorded 2000 incidents, he said. Vision from about 1200 of them was referred to police, and more than 500 arrests were made as a result.

Mr Doyle said the council used police mapping and intelligence to help place and operate the cameras.

He said they cost $1.8 million to install. Another $1 million would be spent each year to maintain them, and have trained staff checking the images that they generated.

“People should know that these cameras are here. They should know that they are going to be under scrutiny,” he said.

“Now, is that going to stop the drug-affected or alcohol-impaired person doing the wrong thing? Probably not, because they have lost control. But, as I have said, then it makes very good evidence.”

Council rules say the footage is kept for 30 days, then destroyed if no request has been made to view it.

Police, alleged victims of offences, and lawyers acting for individuals and authorities can ask to see or copy a videotape or photograph of incidents.

Liberty Victoria president Michael Pearce said the cameras undoubtedly helped with law and order, particularly in hotspots such as King Street and other parts of the city.

“We can see there is a legitimate law enforcement objective in using them for that,” he said.

Mr Pearce said the downside was the potential for invasion of privacy.

He called for comprehensive privacy law that enshrined the right to privacy, and allowed citizens to sue if they were embarrassed when shown publicly on security camera footage while acting legally.

Mr Pearce said a person caught in a compromising position – but still acting lawfully – currently had no ability to sue if the relevant CCTV footage was posted on the internet.

“If somebody’s caught on footage committing a crime, then there’s no problem about using that information,” he said.

“Now that the ability (to publish information) is widespread and far-reaching, if we want to maintain any semblance of privacy, which I think most people do, the law really needs to respond.”

Doctors demand more money to deliver mass vaccinations

London Times | Aug 19, 2009

by David Rose

Family doctors are expected to demand up to £300 million from the Government to carry out swine flu vaccinations, health officials said yesterday.

The British Medical Association (BMA) will resume negotiations with the Government today, asking for additional funding to deliver the mass vaccination programme.

The doctors’ union has been lobbying for several weeks to receive extra payments to deliver a two-shot vaccine against the H1N1 pandemic flu strain, which is likely to be given alongside a seasonal flu jab.

It comes as an NHS agency warned that widespread illness this winter could cause a shortage of blood donations.

Ministers announced plans last week to inoculate more than 13 million people against the illness, with patients suffering from chronic health conditions and all pregnant women being given priority from October. Two vaccines for swine flu are being tested and a decision on licensing is expected at the end of next month.

Doctors want the equivalent of £6.92 per patient for delivering the jabs; less than the £7.51 that GPs receive for each seasonal flu vaccination, but the jab against the pandemic strain could be offered to the entire population eventually, meaning that payments could run into hundreds of millions of pounds.

Doctors are understood to be seeking payments for all their registered patients who are eligible for a priority vaccination for swine flu, even if these patients are not actually immunised. The BMA is also asking for GPs’ performance-related pay to be protected if routine targets such as measuring patients’ blood pressure are affected.

A Whitehall official, who disclosed the requests, told The Times: “It’s time GPs didn’t see every health crisis as an opportunity to make money and got back to their priority of patient care.”

Susie Squire, political director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, added: “It is the job of GPs to provide frontline healthcare — and they are well paid by taxpayers. To pay them extra to administer swine-flu injections is ludicrous. As doctors they should understand that sometimes there are epidemics or accidents that have to be dealt with, and this can mean unpaid overtime.”

A spokesman for the BMA said talks were ongoing. Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GPs’ committee, said: “We are negotiating amicably.”

Health officials will call today for the number of blood donations to increase by 50 per cent to address an expected shortfall because of flu this winter. Blood supplies normally decline during the winter but the extent depends on several factors, including the level and timing of seasonal flu. Lynda Hamlyn, chief executive of NHS Blood and Transplant, asked donors to encourage others to give blood.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency warned yesterday that Tamiflu could put patients on blood-thinning medication at increased risk of stroke. It said it had received reports of cases in which the vaccine seemed to have reacted with warfarin, and could put patients at risk of uncontrolled bleeding and lead to a stroke.

The Government is planning mass graves in the event of a deadly epidemic of swine flu in the winter, according to newspaper reports last night. Whitehall officials and council leaders met last month to discuss emergency plans, it was claimed.

The Home Office said: “Dealing with significant numbers of deaths is just one aspect of the work the Government has done with Local Resilience Forums to ensure that they are ready for any extra measures needed.”