Canada will expand flu vaccinations to older children a la U.S.A

Vaccinating children aged two to four years against seasonal influenza resulted in a 34% decline in flu-like illnesses, found a study in Canadian Medical Association Journal. Preschool-aged children have influenza infection rates of 25%-43%, higher than other age groups. Vaccinating healthy children can help prevent spread of infection in the home and the community.

In 2006 through 2007, the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices expanded its recommendations to give the seasonal flu vaccine to children beyond the current target group of 6 months to 23 months of age. However, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization did not, allowing a comparison of vaccination practices between the two countries.

Researchers from the Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and McGill University and the Montreal Public Health Department in MontrĂ©al, Quebec evaluated the impact of the expanded US policy on influenza-related visits to the emergency department at the Children’s Hospital Boston compared with Montreal Children’s Hospital. They looked at visits to the emergency department in 2000/2001 through 2008/2009 at the two hospitals…

The researchers analyzed the visits associated with flu-like illnesses and found that “both hospitals had strong seasonal fluctuations in visits related to influenza-like illness in younger age groups, with more subtle seasonal patterns in older pediatric age groups and similar seasonal epidemic increases, declines and peak timing of the epidemic curve,” write Drs. John Brownstein and Anne Hoen, Children’s Hospital Boston, with coauthors.

“Following the policy change in the United States, we observed a decline in the rate of emergency department visits for influenza-like illness at Children’s Hospital Boston relative to the Montreal Children’s Hospital in the target age group, children two to four years old,” they state.

They also saw declines of 11%-18% in other nontarget age groups (ages 0-1 year, 2-4 years, 5-9 years and 10-18 years), which may be related to an overall reduction of influenza in transmission at home and in the community because of vaccination of two to four year olds…

“…Our findings provide evidence that, in our US study community (i.e., Boston), the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to routinely vaccinate preschool-aged children against seasonal influenza is improving pediatric influenza-related outcomes,” conclude the authors.

Not only seems reasonable; but, overdue. I have no idea why it’s taken either nation so long to get round to this level of vaccnation – but, I’m glad they finally did.

After all, half my North American kinfolk live in the GWN. 🙂

Wild birds in Oz are picking up English from escaped pet birds

Across parts of Australia, reports have been pouring in of strange voices chattering high in the treetops — mysterious, non-sensical conversations in English. But while this phenomenon is certainly quite odd, its explanation isn’t paranormal. It turns out that escaped pet birds, namely parrots and cockatoos, have begun teaching their wild bird counterparts a bit of the language they picked up from their time in captivity — and, according to witnesses, that includes more than a few expletives.

Jaynia Sladek, an ornithologist from the Australian Museum, says that some birds are just natural mimickers, able to acquire new sounds based on things they hear around them. For birds kept as pets, these sounds tend to mirror human language — but that influence doesn’t cease even after said birds escape or are released back into the wild.

Once back in their natural environments, these chatty ex-pets eventually join with wild birds who, in turn, start picking up the new words and sounds. The remnants of that language also eventually gets passed along to the escaped birds’ offspring, much like it does for humans…

The next part we have to wonder and worry about is – of course – have they been perpetuating an oral history of humans [or humanoids] previously keeping them as pets.

Or were the humans [or humanoids} the pets. Bwa-ha-ha.

Thanks, Ursarodina

Brazil cattle ranching changes slow Amazon deforestation

Cassio Carvalho do Val is about to invest nearly $2 million to add 10,000 cattle to his ranch on the edge of the Amazon. But instead of burning down forest for his growing herd to graze freely he will break with tradition, reducing his pastureland and adding grain to their diet.

Val is one of a growing number of farmers betting on so-called integrated farming by diversifying production and revenue. His move epitomizes a quiet and fragile revolution that marks a departure from Brazil’s slash-and-burn past.

It is a trend that may also help ease the felling of the world’s largest rain forest.

Soy growers are rotating fields with more corn and cotton, planting forest and raising cattle. Ranchers are planting corn to supplement their herd’s traditional diet of grasses.

This tends toward greater and more efficient output while easing pressure for expanding area, and bodes well for the consumers struggling worldwide with higher food prices, as well as conservationists who see Brazil as a crucial battlefield…

Val, a Sao Paulo University-educated sociologist, is one of a growing number of farmers taking a more scientific view of production. He has hired consultants to help acquire a whole new set of skills in grain farming…

The keystone to large-scale integrated farming in Brazil is cattle, especially as far as preservation of the Amazon and other tropical biomes are concerned…

Inevitably, leaders in Brazilian agriculture and ranching will throw out numbers about the 137,000 square miles of pasture in Brazil that can be easily converted into farmland “without having to cut a single tree.” Brazil currently plants 66,875 square miles to crops and commercial forest.

But converting pasture into planted area is not simple. It raises the question of where the cattle will graze.

Brazil’s beef production is grass-fed, unlike in the United States and Europe where grain on feedlots is used mostly. Brazil could double or triple the cattle per hectare from the present average of nearly 1 head/ha simply by introducing grain to their diet, better breeding practices and fertilizing and replanting grasses in pastures, beef analysts say.

Then, there is the question of which sort of beef actually is healthiest for consumers? Grain-fed or grass-fed? The healthiest meat-eating cultures are France and Italy – where grass-fed is preferred.

After all, the choice for grass-fed vs. grain-fed around the world is an economic one, e.g., the cost of getting final product to market. Health hasn’t a damned thing to do with it.

Now, the trends in Brazil introduce a completely different accomplishment. Slowing the destruction of forest. Contradictions abound.

Countrywide protected fraudsters, silenced whistleblowers


Eileen Foster

In the summer of 2007, a team of corporate investigators sifted through mounds of paper pulled from shred bins at Countrywide Financial Corp. mortgage shops in and around Boston.

By intercepting the documents before they were sliced by the shredder, the investigators were able to uncover what they believed was evidence that branch employees had used scissors, tape and Wite-Out to create fake bank statements, inflated property appraisals and other phony paperwork. Inside the heaps of paper, for example, they found mock-ups that indicated to investigators that workers had, as a matter of routine, literally cut and pasted the address for one home onto an appraisal for a completely different piece of property.

Eileen Foster, the company’s new fraud investigations chief, had seen a lot of slippery behavior in her two-plus decades in the banking business. But she’d never seen anything like this. “You’re looking at it and you’re going, Oh my God, how did it get to this point?” Foster recalls. “How do you get people to go to work every day and do these things and think it’s okay..?”

One executive, Foster says, sent an email to dozens of workers in the Boston region, warning them the fraud unit was on the case and not to put anything in their emails or instant messages that might be used against them…Her team was not allowed to interview a senior manager who oversaw the branches. Instead, she says, Countrywide’s Employee Relations Department did the interview and then let the manager’s boss vet the transcript before it was provided to Foster and the fraud unit.

In the end, dozens of employees were let go and six branches were shut down. But Foster worried some of the worst actors had escaped unscathed. She suspected, she says, that something wasn’t right with Countrywide’s culture — and that it was going to be rough going for her as she and her team dug into the methods used by Countrywide’s sales machine.

By early 2008, she claims, she’d concluded that many in Countrywide’s chain of command were working to cover up massive fraud within the company — outing and then firing whistleblowers who tried to report forgery and other misconduct. People who spoke up, she says, were “taken out.”

By the fall of 2008, she was out of a job too. Countrywide’s new owner, Bank of America Corp., told her it was firing her for “unprofessional conduct.”

Foster began a three-year battle to clear her name and establish that she and other employees had been punished for doing the right thing. Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor ruled that Bank of America had illegally fired her as payback for exposing fraud and retaliation against whistleblowers. It ordered the bank to reinstate her and pay her some $930,000.

Bank of America denies Foster’s allegations and stands behind its decision to fire her. Foster sees the ruling as a vindication of her decision to keep fighting.

“I don’t let people bully me, intimidate me and coerce me,” Foster told iWatch News during a series of interviews. “And it’s just not right that people don’t know what happened here and how it happened.”

This is the intro to Part 1 of Eileen Foster’s tribulations as whistleblower on Countrywide Financial. The single company that can assume credit for the Great Recession over any other. Add to it the continued attempts by present owners Bank of America to paper over the crimes committed, fraud perpetrated.

Part 2 appears today. Just click the link above and follow the slime trail.

Brain imaging communicates what you’re watching


Image reconstructed from fMRI image captured while the subject watched video clip

Scientists are a step closer to constructing a digital version of the human visual system. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed an algorithm that can be applied to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) imagery to show a moving image a person is seeing.

Neuroscientists have been using fMRI to study the human visual system for years, which involves measuring changes in blood oxygen levels in the brain. This works fine for studying how we see static images, but it falls short when it comes to moving imagery. Individual neuronal activity occurs over a much faster time scale, so a few years ago the researchers behind the current study set out to devise a computer model to measure this instead. The study shows that this new approach is not only successful but remarkably accurate.

The study, which appears in Current Biology this week, marks the first time that anyone has used brain imaging to determine what moving images a person is seeing. It could help researchers model the human visual system on a computer, and it raises the tantalizing prospect of one day being able to use the model to reconstruct other types of dynamic imagery, such as dreams and memories…

There are two main caveats to the study. So far. The researchers used fMRI data from only one area of the visual system—the V1 area, also known as the primary visual cortex. And the models were customized to each subject. Trying to design a model that would work for everyone would have been too difficult, says Gallant, although he suspects a more generalized model could be developed in the future.

This is especially for the paranoid among you. You know who you are.

So do we. 🙂