Thursday, April 30, 2009
On Thursday, April 30, 2009, the House Commerce Subcommittee of the U.S. Congress held a hearing on the N1H1 Swine Flu outbreak. This is just one of several recent hearings about the recent flu outbreak. As with other recent congressional hearings, the focus by most members of Congress was to attempt to elicit statements to protect U.S. agricultural outbreaks. Many members of Congress insisted that the recent N1H1 swine flu outbreak did not originate and have any connection with animals. One congressman ridiculed the idea of people wearing face masks to protect themselves and insisted that all travel on planes, buses and trains was totally safe. Testifying for the govenment were: Rear Admiral Craig Vanderwagen, MD, deputy Administrator of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Rear Admiral Anne Schuchat, MD, Interim Science and Public Health Deputy Director of the CDC; and Dr. Josh Sharfstein, Acting FDA Administrator. While attempting not to antagonize members of Congress, they nevertheless did not agree to Congressional pressure to minimize the seriousness of the N1H1 swine flu outbreak. As an example, Rear Admiral Craig Vanderwagen discussed how the recent N1H1 swine flu outbreak emphasizes the need to better understand how diseases in animals can jump to humans. Also, Dr. Schuchat described how the current flu outbreak is not just the typical human NIH1 flu - but rather is a new flu consisting of genetic materials from four sources, including swine flu and asian flu. She also refused to agree to insistence that all reference to the swine flu be deleted from CDC websites, insisting that the efforts of the CDC was to properly the public and health professionals. This hearing emphasizes the different priorities of health officials and Congress. Health officials do not want to create a panic, but they nevertheless want to inform the public and encourage individuals to take the individual action appropriate on their part to help contain the outbreak. Congressional focus thus far, however, has been to try to minimize the seriousness of the outbreak so as to not affect the economy. Meanwhile, what seems to be lacking in the public information from both Congress and public health officials is how the N1H1 swine flu outbreak presents different risks for different people. Clearly, given the number of confirmed cases in New York City and the fact that people travel via subways and other mass transit as their primary means of transportation, wearing face masks might be an appropriate strategy for residents of New York City. Furthermore, in communities where the recent outbreak of the flu has been confirmed in a local school, face masks might also be appropriate. And, in fact, public health and school officials have determined it appropriate to close over 300 schools nationwide in 11 states across the country. As a consequence, one can ask whether Congress is serving the public interest when it holds hearings as it has and where individual Congressmen trying to minimize the outbreak and belittle local and individual efforts to curb the outbreak. As an example, is it not appropriate for a person with an immunity deficiency or respiratory problems to avoid crowded public places or to wear a face mask in such places. Yet, at the House Commerce Subcommittee hearing on the Swine Flu Outbreak, at least one congressman belittled people that wore a face mask -- and seemed to belittle people in Mexico wearing protective face masks. Is this the role of Congress -- i.e. to attempt to dictate health and science policy to health officials and scientists based upon concerns that sharing information about the outbreak might negatively affect the economy. Also, is it the role of Congress to belittle individuals with special circumstances that makes them more vulnerable to the flu, and thus to mock all individuals who wear a face mask, no matter what their individual circumstances. Finally, is this appropriate - for Congressmen to mock parents who feel the need to keep their children home from school, and to mock school districts who have felt it appropriate to close schools. Do we want a society where public health policy is dictated by the commerce committee of Congress, as opposed to scientists and public health officials - and the public's own common-sense and awareness of their own individual circumstances?
Posted by Rick Hopper at 6:52 PM
At 7:10 pm Thursday evening NBC News has reported that there are now 130 confirmed cases of the H1N1 swine flu in 18 states in the U.S. and 11 countries overseas, and that 300 schools in 11 states across the country are closed as a precaution because of the swine flu -- keeping between 172,000 and 250,000 children home.
A Washington, DC office worker who is employed at the World Bank has been identified as having recently recovered from the swine flu. The World Bank has asked the employee to work from home pending additional advice from health officials.
Vice President Biden tells morning news television show that "I would not go anywhere in confined places now." The CDC has raised the number of confirmed cases of swine flu in the U.S. to 109. Mexico's President has urged all Mexicans to stay home over the coming four day holiday. Mexico has reported that most deaths have come with people in the 20 to 40 year old age group. Montgomery County, Maryland in the Washington, D.C. suburbs has reported a suspected case of swine flu. Many parents are keeping their children home from school as a precaution to avoid their children catching the swine flu. Health officials have said that individuals with impaired respiratory and weakened immune systems need to take special precautions and to avoid crowded places.
The White House has announced that an Energy Department staffer who accompanied President Obama to Mexico along with three of his family members have come down with the swine flu.
Health researchers are perplexed at what they consider the unprecedented and alarming rate that the swine flu is spreading. The Director-General of the World Health Organization has stated that the swine flu pandemic threatens all of humanity. Cases of the swine flu have now been confirmed in 12 countries. In Mexico, the country where the outbreak first manifested itself, the government has now ordered the shutdown of all nonessential PUBLIC AND PRIVATE activities/functions. Like the 1918 worldwide flu epidemic that killed 100 million people, in Mexico the swine flu epidemic has affected healthy teenagers and young adults the hardest.
Posted by Rick Hopper at 3:05 AM
The City of Fort Worth, Texas has announced that it is closing all of its public schools until the end of May because of the swine flu outbreak.
Posted by Rick Hopper at 2:29 AM
In today's Washington Post online, the Washington Post has reported that the Governor of Maryland has announced 6 probable cases of the swine flu in the Washington, DC and Baltimore regions. All are in Maryland, with Virginia and the District of Columbia yet to report any confirmed cases. Virginia, however, has set up a swine flu crisis management center.
Posted by Rick Hopper at 2:23 AM
Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organization, has raised its pandemic health alert to Level V (out of a scale from 1 to 6). She said that it is time for the drug companies and business to immediately take steps adjust to the inevitable world-wide swine flu epidemic. At the same time, Switzerland joined the list of countries reporting swine flu cases - stating that 29 swine flu cases have been confirmed in Switzerland.
The College Board has announced the cancellation of SAT tests at a large number of locations. It is not clear whether this is because of concern about the swine flu or for other reasons.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Despite the closing of all schools in Mexico and President Obama recommending that schools be closed where a student has been identified as having the swine flu, the Governor of Maryland has said that all schools in Maryland will remain open. This is despite the fact that Maryland's Governor has acknowledged six probable cases of the swine flu in Maryland, including two students in two different schools. School officials have said that they have disinfected the schools, but parents are already protesting that if there is one infected student in a school, then there are likely other students that have been exposed and have yet to come down with the more severe symptoms. Also, the University of Delaware has reported several probable cases of the swine flu. University officials, however, have said that all they are doing is setting up a voluntary screening unit in the gym. The question is whether the current outbreak of the swine flu is more severe than normal strains of the flu? On average, the CDC has stated that there are approximately 35,000 deaths nationwide annually from normal strains of the flu. Most deaths occur among the young, the elderly, and those with impaired immune or respiratory systems. In Mexico, however, the recent swine flu outbreak has followed the pattern of the 1918 flu pandemic in causing more deaths among healthy young adults. Health officials have stated that there is no clear pattern established yet in the U.S., but that the swine flu virus infecting individuals in the U.S. is the same virus that has caused the swine flu deaths in Mexico. All of this has parents concerned about sending students to school. Also, there is the question whether the current approach of not closing schools in the U.S. is fair to students that have respiratory problems such as asthma? While most students infected with swine flu will recover, is it proper public health policy to knowingly expose students with asthma and other respiratory problems to potential swine flu infection - until we know more about how lethal the current outbreak and virus are? What we do know is that the current outbreak has caused over 150 deaths thus far in Mexico and is rapidly spreading throughout the world in just a short period of time.
During a speech on Wednesday night, President Obama recommended the closing of schools in the United States in cases where a student has been identified as having the swine flu in order to help present the spread of the swine flu outbreak. At the same time, the World Health Organization has announced that it is considering raising its pandemic alert level.
The Washington Post has reported 10 probable cases of the swine flu at the University of Delaware.
Posted by Rick Hopper at 10:27 PM
While not yet confirmed by the CDC, the Washington Post has reported six probable cases of the swine flu in the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan area. All are in Maryland. A student in Folger McKinsey elementary school in Severna Park, Maryland is one of the reported cases. According to Maryland Governor O'Malley, the six probable cases of swine flu in Maryland include the student in Severna Park and two family members, and a high school student and two other people in Baltimore County, Maryland.
Following is the latest assessment of the severity of the swine flu outbreak by the CDC: "The outbreak of disease in people caused by a new virus of swine origin continues to grow in the United States and internationally. Today, CDC reports additional confirmed infections, hospitalizations, and the nation's first confirmed fatality from this outbreak. The more recent illnesses and the reported death suggest that a pattern of more severe illness associated with this virus may be emerging in the U.S. Most people will not have immunity for this new virus and, as it continues to spread, more cases, more hospitalizations, and more deaths are expected in the coming days and weeks. CDC has implemented its emergency response." (Report as of April 29, 2009, 9:45 pm).
To obtain the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control about the swine flu outbreak, see http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu
To learn more about the swine flu and what precautions you can take, see
Posted by Rick Hopper at 9:57 PM
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
There is now no doubt that the swine flu outbreak has become a global pandemic. U.S. health officials have predicted that there will be U.S. deaths from the outbreak. How deadly the outbreak will be in the U.S., however, is still uncertain. Thus far no deaths have been traced to the swine flu in the U.S. The number of confirmed swine flu cases in the U.S. rises daily, with a case now reported in Indiana along with the previous cases reported in New York, New Jersey, California, Texas, Ohio, South Carolina, and Kansas. New York City continues to be the location in the U.S. with the greatest number of swine flu cases.
Posted by Rick Hopper at 8:21 PM
Swine flu cases have now also been reported in New Jersey (has five reported cases) and in South Carolina, where an entire high school has had to be shut down. Totally, eight states have now reported cases of the swine flu. Of concern is the fact that many students are still in the processing of returning fro Spring Break in Mexico. In the U.S. patients are being treated wit Tamaflu, but Mexico has run out of its supply. Mexico has run out of masks that can help prevent the spread of this respiratory illness. This has caused a panic in Mexico, where all sports and other social events are being cancelled. Meanwhile, around the world, many airports have installed heat detectors to screen passengers to try to screen passengers that might be running a flu. Thus far, the estimated mortality rate for this swine flu rate appears to be between 6-8 percent. This compares to a 1-2 percent mortality rate for the 1918 worldwide flu epidemic. Even though the 1918 epidemic had a lower mortality rate, it nevertheless killed over 100 million people worldwide - more than all the people killed from World War I,
Monday, April 27, 2009
The World Health Organization has issued a Level 4 alert (just one level below a world-wide pandemic alert) as world-wide health officials attempt to determine how to deal with the health emergency caused by the swine flu outbreak in North America. In addition to the U.S. and Mexico, Canadian officials now also report cases of the swine flu in Canada. Already, the European Union has recommended the cancelling of all non-essential travel to the U.S. and Mexico has one case of the swine flu has been reported in Spain and two in Scotland, all from individuals who had travelled to Mexico. Officials in Russia, Hong Kong and elsewhere are also discussing restricting travel to North America and/or quarantining individuals who show any potential symptoms.
The European Union has recommended the cancelling of all non-essential travel to the United States and Mexico because of the swine flu outbreak - so as to avoid a worldwide pandemic such as occurred in 1918 where over 100 million people died worldwide. This was after a man in Spain and two people in Scotland came down with the swine flu after traveling to Mexico. This action by Europe to recommend the cancelling of all non-essential travel to the U.S. and Mexico occurred on the same day that President Obama declared a national health emergency in the U.S. and Mexico ordered all of its schools nationwide because of the swine flu outbreak.
At 1:00 pm on April 27, 2009, President Obama spoke at the National Science Foundation and announced that the U.S. had declared a national health emergency to deal with the recently discovered outbreak of swine flu in the U.S. and Mexico. On the same day, Mexico ordered all of its schools nationwide to be closed and confirmed that there had been 149 confirmed deaths and 1,995 people hospitalized from the swine flu thus far in Mexico. No one is sure how many people in Mexico have been infected or how virulent this outbreak is. It could be that one million people in Mexico have been infected, or only 100,000, or only 10,000. Also of concern is the fact that the swine flu in Mexico appears to have mutated and to be resilent to drug treatment. In the U.S. thus far, there have been 28 confirmed swine flu cases in New York City, 7 in California, 2 in Kansas, 2 in Texas, and 1 in Ohio. The first case of swine flu involved a boy in Texas. Subsequently, there were several cases in California. But the real outbreak has been in Mexico. At the end of the normal flu season in Mexico, health officials had noticed an increase in the amount of flu cases, but it wasn't until deaths began to occur that people realized it was the swine flu. The swine flu is like the 1918 flu that killed over 100 million people worldwide in that it tends to attack healthy adolescents as opposed to infants or the elderly. The problem is that for healthy persons, there body tends to overreact in its immune response and fill the lungs with fluid. The swine flu is also of concern for individuals with a depressed immune system. Health officials are scrambling to understand the nature of the current swine flu and whether it represents the type of pandemic that health officials have long been afraid of -- as a repeat of the type of pandemic that occurred during the 1918 flu. Until more is known, health officials have recommended not traveling to Mexico except in cases of necessity, avoid large gatherings of people, immediately report to your doctor any flu like symptoms, and to take the normal precautions to prevent colds and the flu such as washing your hands often. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies are looking whether a specific vaccine can be developed to deal with this new variation of swine flu. This current national health emergency and swine flu outbreak highlights one of the major problems (and perhaps the greatest problem) of our new modern, globalized society - in that given the international travel today, any health pandemic can rapidly spread throughout the world. Such a pandemic is even more likely to occur in the event of global warming and displaced of large populations of people, since health epidemics are more likely to occur in poor refugee populations. This demonstrates how we need to understand that, given today's modern globalized world, we are more interconnected with all the people and life on our fragile planet earth than ever.
It is estimated that 80 percent of the world's biodiversity is contained in the earth's tropical rain forests. Coffee, chocolate, bananas, mangos, avocados, papaya and sugar cane are all agriculture products originally grown in tropical rain forests. Much of the plant and insect life of tropical rain forests is believed to yet to be discovered and to offer one of the best sources for new drugs. Unfortunately, in modern times, the rain forests have increasingly been cut down for agriculture purposes. This is despite the soil of the rain forests is poor for most agriculture. Above is a picture of the Amazon River cutting through the South American rain forest. Also, it is believed that global warming could lead to the drying up and thus elimination of all rain forests.
Marshs and wetlands are not only a great source of wildlife and are critical to the marine environment, but they also provide a filtering mechanism for soil and other run-off to keep our estuaries and rivers clean. Unfortunately, until recently, marshes and wetlands were allowed to be filled in and used as land for development. This, in turn, has led to increased pollution of our estuaries and rivers -- and the ocean marine environment. An example of where human activity to fill in marshes and wetlands has adversely affected the environment is the case of the Chesapeake Bay. In this example, the expansion of urban sprawl and the filling in of marshes and wetlands has led to the significant degradation of the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in North America and once a source of what seemed unlimited wildlife and fish. This is no longer the case as state and federal officials fight to save the bay.
Desert ecosystems are inherently fragile environments. Unfortunately, with the invention of air-conditioning, society has increasingly diverted scarce water to development cities such as Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas, Neveda in the desert. Scarce water has also been used to generate electricity through hydroelectric projects and to water agriculture fields planted in the desert. All of this has strained the capacity the Colorado and other rivers to deliver water to downstream sources, with the result that the lower parts of such rivers have become increasingly salty and unable to support life. Meanwhile, droughts and increasingly population put a strain on water supplies used to provide water and electricity to desert cities.
Savanna ecosystems such as the Serengeti in Africa are areas of diverse wildlife that depend upon limited water supplies to survive from one rainy season to the next. Global warming, however, threatens the availabiity of the limited year-long water supplies necessary to support wildlife. Meanwhile, another threat to the wildlife of the savannas is increased poaching and killing of wildlife by settlements on the edge of national park and wildlife preserve. All of these threaten the very survival of such animals as the African lion, elephants etc.
The ecosystem of the Appalachian Mountains in North America is second only to the tropical rain forests in its biodiversity, with the Appalachians containing more variety of trees than all of Europe combined. This is because during the time that the continents were combined into one giant continent called Pangea, the Appalachian region was located on the ecuador. It was only as a result of plate tectonics that Applachian is now located in the Northern Hemisphere. Evidence of its tropical past, however, can be discovered in the numerous ferns that exist in Appalachia and in the large coal deposits that were formed by the geological compression of its once tropical vegetation. In the coal deposits, one can see fossils of the tropical vegetation and fish that once existed in Appalachia when it was a tropical rain forest. When one thinks of Appalachian, one tends to think of endless forests - but this once was not true. At the end of the 1800's and early 1900's, over 95 percent of the forests of Appalachia were clear cut in one of the large examples of the human transformation of the natural environment. It was only the creation of state and national parks and forests that have allowed the forests in those areas to grow back. But sustained forest management is still an issue throughout Appalachia. Meanwhile, the exploitation of another natural resource continues to have a more permanent negative impact on Appalachia. This is coal mining. Underground coal mines continue to pollute streams and rivers as leachate leaks out of abandoned mines. An even greater problem is strip mining of coal. This involves literally cutting off the top of the mountains to get to the coal, leaving the strip-mined land without topsoil and vegetation. New regulations reguire the re-planting of strip mined areas, but it is difficult to grow anything on the cut-off mountain tops without top soil.
Carrying-capacity is perhaps the key concept for the protection of our fragile planet. Carrying capacity is the measure of a ecosystem to support life. It is dependent upon the balance between animal and plant populations that take up and use the resources of the eco-system and the waste that the produce, and the amount of available resources of an eco-system. An ecosystem where its carry-capacity is said to be in balance is a sustainable ecosystem. An unbalanced ecosystem, however, is not sustainable over the long term.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Desertification occurs from climate change and human activities. It occurs primarily to semi-arid areas where the natural vegetation is stripped, thus causing the desert to expand. An example of desertification is the expansion of the Gobe desert in Mongolia. As the Gobe desert expands, it blows large dust clouds over parts of China and impacts on the total world's climate. One of the causes of the expansion of the Gobe desert is the raising of sheep in Mongolia in order to provide the demand for cashmere wool clothing. This is an example of how what seem to be insignificant human activities can, in fact, have large regional and world-wide impacts.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Hydrogen fuel cell cars are not the only innovative design for automobiles of the future. Another approach that has been developed are compressed air engines that can allow a lighter designed car to travel 200 miles without refueling. And when one refuels, the fuel that one uses is -- air!