Deliberate disinformation aids ignorant measles outbreaks

❝ A large measles outbreak in Washington state shows no sign of abating.

According to the State Department of Health, there are now at least 54 cases of the illness, all but one of which were located in Clark County, Washington, just across the river from Portland, Oregon. Directly to the south, the Oregon Health Authority has reported at least four cases. Within Clark County, the vast majority of diagnoses are of children 10 years old or younger.

❝ Measles — an airborne virus that can lead to lung infections, brain damage, and death in the worst cases — was responsible for thousands of deaths in the U.S. each year prior to the discovery of a vaccine in 1963. Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but in the last year, there has been a worldwide resurgence of the virus, with cases increasing 30 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). One of the main drivers of this trend is a growing reluctance to vaccinate children, so much so that the WHO listed the anti-vaccination movement as one of its top ten threats to global health in 2019…

❝ According to a 2018 study by the American Journal of Public Health, combating the problem has been made even more difficult by Russian trolls spreading disinformation on the subject. As ThinkProgress has previously documented, Kremlin-backed disinformation agents have specifically focused on wedge issues designed to divide Americans — like Black Lives Matter and immigration issues. Anti-vaccination, it seems, has also fallen into that category.

Ignorance ain’t bliss, folks. It can kill your children and the kids around them. RTFA!

I grew up in the age when the only vaccine available for regular childhood vaccination was for diphtheria. It was common practice every spring among my playmates to gather in the schoolyard first nice day we were allowed outdoors at recess and see who didn’t make it through the winter. We lost one or two kids every winter. Even though measles could and would land in our factory town any time in the year, winter was always the most worrisome. Flu was a big killer. And, yes, we worried as much about polio in the summer. Still, the number one killer in our neighborhood was measles.

Push to Restore Net Neutrality Weakened by Democrats With Telecom Cash


AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Net neutrality proponents now have less than two weeks to convince 38 House lawmakers to support an effort to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality. Seventeen of those votes could come from Democrats who have yet to sign on—all of whom have received significant contributions from internet service providers such as Comcast.

And that says it all for me. Nice middle-of-the-road folks active in electoral politics get pissed-off at me when I say, “A plague on both their houses” – the Dems and Republican Party. Aside from the minority of progressive activists who survive the electoral shuffle, pretty much everyone else has their hand out to corporate and wealthy donors. That’s who owns their guts. That’s who calls the tune they dance to.

They often require as much arm-twisting to support positive progressive legislation as overt bigots and populist pimps.

Love the Good Ol’ Days? Middle of the 6th Century Really Sucked!

❝ It’s easy to look back on the past through rose-tinted glasses, as the saying goes, but new research suggests that the mid-sixth century was definitely a time to forget.

A team of historians and scientists has identified A.D. 536 as the beginning of a terrible sequence of events for humankind.

❝ A massive volcanic eruption spewed a huge cloud of ash that shrouded the Northern Hemisphere in darkness and caused a drop in temperatures that led to crop failure and starvation…

Then the misery was compounded in A.D. 542 as cold and hungry populations in the eastern Roman Empire were struck by the bubonic plague.

Scientists have finally figured out where the volcanic eruption happened. Hey, that’s one of the questions answered,

Penny Ante Shake-Up at Democratic National Committee

A shake-up is underway at the Democratic National Committee as several key longtime officials have lost their posts, exposing a still-raw rift in the party and igniting anger among those in its progressive wing who see retaliation for their opposition to DNC Chairman Tom Perez.

The ousters come ahead of the DNC’s first meeting, in Las Vegas, Nevada, since Perez took over as chairman with a pledge this year to unite a party that had become badly divided during the brutal Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton 2016 primary race…

The Democratic Party concept of unity is thoroughly mired in personalities and individual histories – as I would expect from a party scared witless of more than lip service opposition to bigotry, absolutely unwilling to confront foreign policy dedicated to replacing the Brits as imperial ruler of the world all the way back to Harry Truman. A party that thinks useful education is determined by classroom size.

❝ The DNC denied any retaliation, saying that the changes were an effort to diversify and freshen the party’s leadership and that all the party’s officers had a chance to offer input…”This year’s slate of at-large DNC member nominees reflects the unprecedented diversity of our party’s coalition,” said DNC spokesperson Michael Tyler.

And if they “behave themselves” and don’t rock the boat, they’ll get their turn to lead in another decade or so. If the Dems believe in one thing, it’s that you will get your turn – if you just wait while the folks at the head of the line are served. Qualified, capable or not.

Is humanity getting better?

London, 1665. The capital smelled of death in its last large outbreak of the Plague, the worst since the Black Death of the 14th century. The diarist Samuel Pepys mourned, “Every day sadder and sadder news of its increase. In the City died this week 7,496; and of all of them, 6,102 of the Plague. But it is feared that the true number of the dead this week is near 10,000 — partly from the poor that cannot be taken notice of through the greatness of the number.”

As the deaths mounted and the streets filled with waste, Londoners noticed that dogs and cats were everywhere in the city. And so the order went out from the Lord Mayor.

Kill the dogs and cats.

The Chamberlain of the City paid the huntsmen, who slaughtered more than 4,000 animals. But the dogs and cats were chasing the rats that were feeding on the waste — and the rats were carrying the fleas that transmitted the Plague. Now spared from their predators, the rats spread the affliction even more fiercely. The medical advice from London’s College of Physicians — to press a hen hard on the swellings until the hen died — did not slow the disease. In the end, the Plague of 1665 is thought to have killed almost 20 percent of London’s population…A great fire then consumed a third of the city.

Many humans and animals died in this crisis of ignorance. Now that we understand the Plague bacterium, we know what procedures and medicines will keep the disease from becoming epidemic. Ignorance, we might say, no longer plagues us.

Today, pestilence threatens us not because of our ignorance but because of the success of our systems. Our transportation networks are now so fast and far-flung that they transmit diseases worldwide before cures can catch up. The next epidemics will play on our strengths, not our weaknesses — fighting them will mean canceling flights, not killing fleas. This Horseman of the Apocalypse has dismounted and now travels coach.

The introduction to an intelligent essay.

RTFA. Click the link.

Leif Wenar holds the chair of philosophy and law at King’s College London. He is the author of “Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules that Run the World,” from which this essay was adapted.

My favorite owls won’t give you plague

Even though they have fleas.


Click to enlargehawksaloft.org

Plague! The word conjures images of horrors past, piles of festering medieval dead overrun by rats. It’s not a disease of the past though; the bacteria that causes plague can be found in the United States, and a few cases of human bubonic plague happen every year.

The animals that carry plague in the US are mostly rodents—rats, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs—and their fleas can pass plague bacteria to humans if they decide to bite us. Good news, though: The adorable little owls that live in burrows alongside those plaguey rodents seem to be immune. Although the owls have fleas capable of carrying plague, they are not infected—and their immunity could provide some interesting information to scientists studying the disease.

Western burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) nest underground, often re-using rodent burrows. Working with these predatory birds is not for the faint of heart; even small owls have powerful beaks and claws. Burrowing owls live in areas where you are just as likely to stick your hand in a burrow and and pull out a rattlesnake as an extremely irate little raptor.

Dr. Jim Belthoff of Boise State University has spent years sticking his arm into nest tunnels in search of owls—often past piles of excrement. In addition to being very cute and fluffy, these owls have an endearing habit of decorating their nests with turds. Not their turds, mind you; they collect and bring mammal dung back to their front doorstep. It’s thought the poo attracts insects that the owls snack on.

Adding to the grossness, Belthoff noticed burrowing owls seemed to have lots of fleas. “We considered the fleas a nuisance, as they would jump on us as we captured and banded the owls, and they would infest our field vehicles.” This made him wonder: Do the fleas affect the owls? And what kind of fleas were they?…

His team collected thousands of fleas from burrowing owl nests during banding and health checks…Good news, though! They found no evidence of the plague bacteria in owl fleas they collected, or in the blood of the owls. They also did not find antibodies to plague in owl blood, which would be expected if owls were regularly exposed. “There are no public health concerns related to burrowing owls,” says Belthoff. “All our test results were negative to plague—in antibodies, in the fleas and in the blood of the owls.”

One possibility was that fleas were just hitching a ride on the owls, and not feeding on them. Additional tests determined the fleas did contain burrowing owl DNA in their guts, so they were drinking owl blood. The owls just weren’t getting infected with plague.

No answers, yet; but, since these delightful raptors are seriously endangered and a diminishing species, hopefully, more effort will be made to protect them – and find out why they aren’t passing along plague.

NYC subway cultures drug resistant bacteria, DNA from Anthrax, Plague


Click to enlargeHeatmap of the Pseudomonas genus

The study, published in Cell Systems, demonstrates that it is possible and useful to develop a “pathogen map” — dubbed a “PathoMap” — of a city, with the heavily traveled subway a proxy for New York’s population. It is a baseline assessment, and repeated sampling could be used for long-term, accurate disease surveillance, bioterrorism threat mitigation, and large scale health management for New York, says the study’s senior investigator, Dr. Christopher E. Mason…

The PathoMap findings are generally reassuring, indicating no need to avoid the subway system or use protective gloves, Dr. Mason says. The majority of the 637 known bacterial, viral, fungal and animal species he and his co-authors detected were non-pathogenic and represent normal bacteria present on human skin and human body. Culture experiments revealed that all subway sites tested possess live bacteria.

Strikingly, about half of the sequences of DNA they collected could not be identified — they did not match any organism known to the National Center for Biotechnology Information or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These represent organisms that New Yorkers touch every day, but were uncharacterized and undiscovered until this study. The findings underscore the vast potential for scientific exploration that is still largely untapped and yet right under scientists’ fingertips.

WTF? They’re under everyone’s fingertips.

“Our data show evidence that most bacteria in these densely populated, highly trafficked transit areas are neutral to human health, and much of it is commonly found on the skin or in the gastrointestinal tract,” Dr. Mason says. “These bacteria may even be helpful, since they can out-compete any dangerous bacteria.”

But the researchers also say that 12 percent of the bacteria species they sampled showed some association with disease. For example, live, antibiotic-resistant bacteria were present in 27 percent of the samples they collected. And they detected two samples with DNA fragments of Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), and three samples with a plasmid associated with Yersinia pestis (Bubonic plague) — both at very low levels. Notably, the presence of these DNA fragments do not indicate that they are alive, and culture experiments showed no evidence of them being alive.

RTFA to see why the researcher say we shouldn’t worry. Certainly, the diversity of microorganisms is a positive activator for our immune systems.

Interesting how they went about the research – and what this presents as a baseline for future evaluations. And an added plus is the unique – and still closed – station shuttered since Superstorm Sandy. Marine species still alive and stable in what should be an abnormal environment for them.

Thanks, Helen

Scientists crack the genetic code of the Black Death plague


Skeletons of the plague dead in London’s East Smithfield Cemetery
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Scientists have mapped out the entire genetic map of the Black Death, a 14th century bubonic plague that killed 50 million Europeans in one of the most devastating epidemics in history.

The work, which involved extracting and purifying DNA from the remains of Black death victims buried in London’s “plague pits,” is the first time scientists have been able to draft a reconstructed genome of any ancient pathogen.

Their result — a full draft of the entire Black Death genome — should allow researchers to track changes in the disease’s evolution and virulence, and lead to better understanding of modern-day infectious diseases.

Building on previous research which showed that a specific variant of the Yersinia pestis bacterium was responsible for the plague that ravaged Europe between 1347 and 1351, a team of German, Canadian and American scientists went on to “capture” and sequence the entire genome of the disease.

“The genomic data show that this bacterial strain, or variant, is the ancestor of all modern plagues we have today worldwide. Every outbreak across the globe today stems from a descendant of the medieval plague,” said Hendrik Poinar, of Canada’s McMaster University, who worked with the team…

For this study Poinar’s team analysed skeletal remains from Black Death victims buried in London’s East Smithfield “plague pits,” which are located under what is now the Royal Mint…

Poinar, whose work was published in the journal Nature, said the team found that in 660 years of evolution, the genetic map of the ancient organism had only barely changed. “The next step is to determine why this was so deadly,” he said.

Pathogens and pandemics aren’t about to disappear. Levels of preparedness afforded by modern medicine, vaccination and hygiene are constantly challenged by ignorance and superstition. Indeed, in the United States significant resistance to well-proven methods flows like a river of political pus from the combination of religious nutballs and opportunist populists.

Living in a state that confronts deaths from plague every year, there is currency to the contemplation of historic tragedy. Living in a state where parents can refuse a vaccine for their children on religious grounds thereby endangering other children by the hundreds – research that supports greater depth of response to the dangers of pandemic is a necessity.