Science & Health
0 Comments

Coronavirus Pandemic Stifles Dengue Prevention Efforts

To slow the spread of the coronavirus, governments issued lockdowns to keep people at home. They curtailed activities that affected services like trash collection. They tried to shield hospitals from a surge of patients.But the cascading effects of these restrictions also are hampering efforts to cope with seasonal outbreaks of dengue, an incurable, mosquito-borne disease that is also known as “breakbone fever” for its severely painful symptoms.Southeast Asian countries like Singapore and Indonesia have dealt with concurrent outbreaks of dengue and coronavirus this year. In Brazil, where there are more than 1.8 million COVID-19 infections, at least 1.1 million cases of dengue have been reported, with nearly 400 deaths, according to the Pan American Health Organization.Dengue cases are likely to rise soon with the start of seasonal rains in Latin American countries like Cuba, Chile and Costa Rica, as well as the South Asian countries of India and Pakistan.Dengue typically isn’t fatal, but severe cases may require hospitalization. Prevention efforts targeted at destroying mosquito-breeding sites, like removing trash or old tires and other objects containing standing water, are still the best ways to curb the spread of the disease. But coronavirus-era lockdowns and other restrictions have meant that these efforts have been reduced or stopped altogether in many countries.In northwestern Pakistan, plans to disinfect tire shops and markets that had dengue outbreaks in 2019 were shelved due to funds being used for the coronavirus, said Dr. Rizwan Kundi, head of the Young Doctor’s Association.FILE – A laborer cleans a manhole on a sidewalk in Mumbai, India, June 10, 2020.Health workers who would destroy mosquito-breeding sites in India’s capital of New Delhi are also screening people for the virus.Having to identify thousands of virus cases has meant that dengue surveillance has suffered in many Latin American countries, added Dr. Maria Franca Tallarico, the head of health for the Americas regional office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.Experts say that disrupting such prevention efforts is ominous for the global battle against dengue.The World Health Organization says 2019 was the worst year on record for dengue cases, with every region affected, and some countries were hit for the first time.Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that spreads dengue, is most prevalent in cities, and experts warn that increased urbanization and warming temperatures due to climate change means that its range will keep increasing.Experts say that while reduced travel means fewer opportunities for mosquitoes to bite people with dengue to become carriers themselves, the coronavirus pandemic has introduced other variables.Staying home — one way to slow outbreaks of COVID-19, especially in cities — poses greater risks for spreading dengue, said Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA). That’s because the Aedes mosquito bites during the day, and with more people staying home, where mosquito populations are high, the more likely they are to be bitten.The impact is already visible. Singapore recorded a five-fold increase in the mosquito larvae detected in homes and common corridors of residential areas during the two-month coronavirus lockdown period, compared with the previous two months. By July 6, the total of dengue cases in Singapore was more than 15,500. The NEA says the number of cases this year is expected to exceed the 22,170 cases reported in 2013, which at the time was the largest dengue outbreak in Singapore’s history.FILE – A worker fumigates a neighborhood in an effort to control the spread of dengue fever, amid the new coronavirus outbreak in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 17, 2020.Oliver Brady, an associate professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said Central America and the Caribbean were at higher risk due to overlapping outbreaks.Working with communities in Latin America to stop mosquitoes from breeding had been the most successful anti-dengue strategy in recent years, Tallarico said. But with strict limitations on movement, she said they didn’t know whether these measures were still happening, and “this is the big concern for us.”A shortage of protective equipment also means limiting the number of first responders who can check on people with fever or cough, she said.“My concern is that you have (many) more cases of dengue … but the capacity of the system to notify (and) test is limited,” she said.Dengue patients need acute care, and this could lead to a “double whammy” that overwhelms health care systems, said Scott O’Neill, founder and director of the World Mosquito Program.“The health care system is already crumbling. … I am not sure how (India’s) existing health care system will be able to handle this load,” said Dr. S.P Kalantri, a public health specialist.Global research into dengue also will be affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Brady said.At the WMP Tahija Foundation Research Laboratory in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, which has been studying dengue for years, “it became too difficult to enroll patients with the social-distancing measures,” O’Neill said. The facility is now being used as a COVID-19 testing site.Similarly, the National Institute of Malaria Research in New Delhi has stopped all field work after it was converted into a center for validating COVID-19 testing kits, said Dr. R.C Dhiman, who studies mosquitoes and climate change.In Bangladesh, where dengue season is just starting, the launch of a mobile app to help people report their cases was delayed by the pandemic, said Afsana Alamgir Khan, who oversees the country’s dengue program.Experts say such disruptions by the coronavirus will only increase the risks of dengue infections. 

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

Comet Streaking Past Earth, Providing Spectacular Show

A newly discovered comet is streaking past Earth, providing a stunning nighttime show after buzzing the sun and expanding its tail.  Comet Neowise swept within Mercury’s orbit a week ago. Its close proximity to the sun caused dust and gas to burn off its surface and create an even bigger debris tail. Now the comet is headed our way, with closest approach in two weeks. NASA’s Neowise infrared space telescope discovered the comet in March. Scientists involved in the mission said the comet is about 3 miles (5 kilometers) across. Its nucleus is covered with sooty material dating back to the origin of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago. The comet will be visible around the world until mid-August, when it heads back toward the outer solar system. While it’s visible with the naked eye in dark skies with little or no light pollution, binoculars are needed to see the long tail, according to NASA.  Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have already caught a glimpse.  NASA’s Bob Behnken shared a spectacular photo of the comet on social media late Thursday, showing central Asia in the background and the space station in the foreground. “Stars, cities, spaceships, and a comet!” he tweeted from orbit. 
 

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

Brazil to Ban Fires in Amazon for 120 Days

Brazil will ban fires in the Amazon forest for 120 days, heeding the demands of global investors upset over environmental destruction, the government said Thursday. A formal decree banning fires will come next week. Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao made the announcement during a virtual investment conference Thursday with several European firms. He cited a letter signed by 29 firms — some of whom are threatening to cut all investment in Brazil unless the environmental degradation stops. “It’s a positive first step, and we need to continue the dialogue, and hopefully we’ll all see some results on the ground,” said Jeanett Bergan, head of responsible investments for KLP, Norway’s largest pension fund. The investors told Brazilian authorities they monitor deforestation rates, prevention of forest fires, and enforcement of Brazil’s forest code when assessing their investment strategy in Brazil. FILE – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro leaves his official residence of Alvorada palace in Brasilia, May 25, 2020.Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has come under global condemnation for his promise to open the vast Amazon rainforest to development and his opposition to assuring that some parts are reserved for Indigenous peoples. Environmentalists say deforestation in the Amazon reached its highest levels in 11 years last year. Some European Union nations threatened not to ratify a long-negotiated free trade deal with a group of Latin countries that includes Brazil unless Brazil’s attitude changes. Mourao said Brazil has been unfairly criticized and said the Bolsonaro government was handed understaffed environmental agencies by the previous administration. Brazilian officials have said they are working to overcome Brazil’s current image as being indifferent to the Amazon and hostile to those who want to save it from destruction. 

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

NASA Begins Summer Road Trip

NASA embarks on an epic summer road trip tens of millions of miles away. An astronaut who both walked on the moon and reached the deepest point on Earth shares her journey. And a “natural firework” of a comet streaks the French skies. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space.

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

Study Finds Rats, Like Humans, Less Likely to Offer Help When in a Group

A new study using rats suggests that how a person decides whether to step in and help another person who is in distress may be more a factor of biology than psychology and may show why some people show empathy and others do not.A long-held social-psychological concept holds that people in a group are less likely to help someone in need than if those individuals were alone. The idea, known as “the bystander effect,” is often explained by suggesting a larger group “diffuses responsibility.” In other words, an individual might feel less personally responsible for helping.But the study, conducted at the University of Chicago and published Wednesday in the Journal of Science Advances, shows rats, making decisions based purely on biological instincts and not any concept of right or wrong, reacted in a similar way while part of a group.Led by neurobiologist Peggy Mason, the researchers used a small device to restrain a single rat. They then created a group of rats categorized as “bystanders,” giving them an anti-anxiety drug, similar to Valium, to ensure that these rats would not help the one in distress. The goal was to see if a nondrugged rat would still jump in and help the rat in distress, despite guaranteed inactive bystanders.The experiment revealed that when “bystanders” were unhelpful, the nondrugged rats were less likely to help the restrained rat.Mason maintained this showed that the tendency is not a human cultural phenomenon. “This is part of our mammalian inheritance,” she said.   Mason noted that when the “bystander” rats were tested alone and without drugs, they offered aid. “It’s the indifference of these other rats that changes the experience for them,” she added.

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

Researchers Say Climate Change Causing Arctic Spider Population Boom

A new study suggests earlier Arctic springs driven by climate change are providing wolf spiders in the region the opportunity to have more babies. The study, published in the June 24 edition of the biological sciences journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that Arctic wolf spiders are taking advantage of the early spring season by producing more batches of offspring — called clutches — because warmer temperatures extend the season when the spiders are active. Authors of the study, from the Arctic Research Center at Denmark’s Aarhus University, dissected individual egg sacs from the spiders and counted the number of eggs and partially developed juvenile spiders. They compared those egg contents with the size of the mothers and determined that the spiders were producing two separate clutches, something previously only observed in spiders living in lower latitudes. The spiders hatched during the second clutch appeared significantly later in the season. In years when the snowmelt happened earlier, the first clutches occurred earlier, and the second clutches were larger, the study shows. The study provides the first evidence of invertebrates in the Arctic producing additional clutches as a result of global warming. The researchers say this could be a “common but overlooked phenomenon due to the challenges associated with long-term collection of life-history data in the Arctic.”  Researchers say that this effect could also have implications for Arctic ecosystems as a whole because wolf spiders are widely distributed. 
 

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

After US Departure, WHO Looking at Germany    

In the wake of America’s official departure from the World Health Organization, a former senior director at the U.N. health agency predicted that other countries, particularly Germany, would likely step in to fill any void left by the single-biggest financial contributor.   At a briefing on Wednesday morning, Dr. David Heymann, a former assistant WHO director-general and an American, said he was “very disappointed” at the U.S. decision to exit the agency.   He says the U.S. has been behind incredibly important activities at WHO, noting it was the U.S. and its Cold War enemy Russia that spearheaded the global initiative to eradicate smallpox.   Heymann said, however, that WHO would likely just get on with its work.   He says Germany has become an important partner in global health recently and other countries are stepping up as well.   He says: “As much as it would be terrible if the U.S. leaves WHO and leaves [with] that expertise it has provided throughout the years, the WHO would continue to function.”   FILE – World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference organized by Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus.WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had also been scheduled to appear at the briefing, but pulled out moments before it began. Heymann dismissed the idea that Tedros was unwilling to face questions over the U.S. departure. 

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

Tie for Warmest 12-Month Period Globally as Siberia Sizzles

Temperatures soared 10 degrees Celsius above average across much of permafrost-laden Siberia last month, which was tied for the warmest June on record globally, the European Union’s climate monitoring network said Tuesday. The 12-month period to June 2020 was also tied for the warmest to date across the planet, on a par with the ones ending in May 2020 and September 2016, an exceptional El Nino year, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) reported.That means Earth’s average surface temperature for July 2019-June 2020 was 1.3C above pre-industrial levels, the standard benchmark for global warming. The 2015 Paris climate treaty calls for capping the rise in temperature to “well below” 2C.  In 2018, however, the UN’s climate science panel (IPCC) concluded in a landmark report that 1.5C — only two-tenths of a degree above the new 12-month high — is a far safer guardrail. In the Arctic, meanwhile, an hourly temperature record for June — 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — was set on the 21st near Verkhoyansk in northeastern Russia, where a weather station logged a blistering 38C on the same day.    The previously registered Arctic hourly highs in 1969 and 1973 were at least a full degree Celsius cooler. ‘Zombie’ firesFreakishly warm weather across large swathes of Siberia since January, combined with low soil moisture, have contributed to a resurgence of wildfires that devastated the region last summer, C3S reported. FILE – An aerial view shows the Taiga wood burning near the village of Boguchany, about 560 km (348 miles) northeast of Russia’s Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, June 2, 2011.Both the number and intensity of fires in Siberia and parts of Alaska have increased since mid-June, resulting in the highest carbon emissions for the month — 59 million tonnes of CO2 — since records began in 2003. “Last year was already by far an unusual, and record, summer for fires in the Arctic Circle,” said Mark Parrington, senior scientist at the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), warning of “intense activity” in the coming weeks. Copernicus has said that “zombie” blazes that smouldered through the winter may have reignited. Globally, June 2020 was more than half a degree Celsius warmer than the 1981-2010 average for the same month, and on a par with June 2019 as the warmest ever registered. Siberia and the Arctic Circle are prone to large year-on-year temperature fluctuations, but the persistence of this year’s warm spell is very unusual, said C3S director Carlo Buontempo.  “What is worrisome is that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world,” he said in a statement. Across the Arctic region, average temperatures have risen by more than two degrees Celsius since the mid-19th century, twice the global average. Despite lower-than-average temperatures in its western reaches, the whole of Siberia — larger than the United States and Mexico combined — was more than 5C above normal for June, according to C3S satellite data. Permafrost ‘carbon bomb’The softening of once solid permafrost — stretching across Siberia, Alaska and northern Canada — has upended indigenous communities and threatens industrial infrastructure, especially in Russia. A massive diesel spill into rivers near the city of Norilsk, Russia, resulted when a tank at a power plant built on melting permafrost collapsed in late May. “Widespread permafrost thaw is projected for this century,” the UN’s climate science panel, the IPCC, said in a landmark report last year on the world’s cryosphere, or frozen zones. “The majority of Arctic infrastructure is located in regions where permafrost thaw is projected to intensify by mid-century.” Soils in the permafrost region across Russia, Alaska and Canada hold twice as much carbon — mostly in the form of methane and CO2 — as the atmosphere, more than 1.4 trillion tonnes.  One tonne of carbon is equivalent to 3.65 tonnes of carbon dioxide. 
 

0