Bees, Bats, Frogs….Why are they going away?

An interesting story at the Yale environment360 project, looking at the three different mass die-offs (Amphibians, Bats and Bees) which might be connected by a common thread:

07 Jan 2010: Report
Behind Mass Die-Offs,
Pesticides Lurk as Culprit

In the past dozen years, three new diseases have decimated populations of amphibians, honeybees, and — most recently — bats. Increasingly, scientists suspect that low-level exposure to pesticides could be contributing to this rash of epidemics.
by Sonia Shah

Ever since Olga Owen Huckins shared the spectacle of a yard full of dead, DDT-poisoned birds with her friend Rachel Carson in 1958, scientists have been tracking the dramatic toll on wildlife of a planet awash in pesticides. Today, drips and puffs of pesticides surround us everywhere, contaminating 90 percent of the nation’s major rivers and streams, more than 80 percent of sampled fish, and one-third of the nation’s aquifers. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fish and birds that unsuspectingly expose themselves to this chemical soup die by the millions every year.

Reminds me of Lem’s Chain of Chance, where several man-made compounds end up having a totally unforeseen effect, when combined.

Bees, Bats, Frogs….Why are they going away?

The tape that recalled 10,000 cows

Well, as I’d noted earlier, the tape made in Chino, CA at a meat packing plant had some public health implications, implications that were not lost on the USDA, who quickly and properly issued a meat recall for 143 million pounds of beef, the largest recall in history. That’s about 2 patties for every man, women and child in the USA:

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The tape that recalled 10,000 cows

Mad Cow Disease–Web 2.0 to the rescue

A story about someone secretly taking video inside a slaughterhouse, documenting the mistreatment of cattle. Those who shot the video, probably with a very small camera, seem to have been acting mainly from the perspective of reducing cruelty to animals (certainly a good thing to do) but there is also a public health perspective to this as well:

USDA extends meat ban at Calif slaughterhouse

Westland Meat Co. voluntarily suspended operations last week after the release of undercover video taken by the Humane Society of the United States was released. The video showed, among other things, ramming of cattle with forklifts, and workers kicking, shocking and otherwise abusing “downed” cows – considered too sick or injured to walk – to force them into the federally inspected slaughterhouse.

“Downed Cows” or “downers” are known to be possible carriers of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy aka Mad Cow Disease) and the few documented case of BSE are perhaps the tip of the iceberg. But remember that when one beef producer wanted to test all of their cows for BSE, the Bush administration sued to prevent them from doing that, on the grounds that if one producer did that they would “disparage” the quality of the rest of the beef. So much for market forces and freedom of the press!

This is just another example, as noted here and here, of the advantages that accrue to those NFP players who are seeking to further the public good under Web 2.0. (Note that those NFP’s that are seeking to further special or corporate interests don’t do so well under Web 2.0, as noted here*.) This is, of course, in addition to the other advantages the NFP sector had already been accruing during the 1990’s which I’ve written about here.

The link to the video and more below the fold:

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Mad Cow Disease–Web 2.0 to the rescue

Congress shall make no law…abridging…the right of the people…to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

There has been a general realization that Web 2.0, infused with user-generated content as well as connectivity unmediated by traditional gate keepers and limitations (e.g., social institutions, geographic limits), is different than the web that preceded it. This will affect politics, but in ways that aren’t clear right now. This idea of an interactive and a more participatory democracy are embedded in interesting places, for example the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Of course, standing in the light of such famous freedoms (of the press, to peaceably assemble, establishment of religion being prohibited) the freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances has not shown out very much. There have been very few interpretations by the court of what that means and very few challenges to existing laws based on the ‘right of the people to petition the government for redress of grievances’ but, given the potential of Web 2.0 to connect formerly disparate people and create communities of interest, I think that’s about to change. And there is a recent story from Holland that shows how this is developing.

Continue reading “Congress shall make no law…abridging…the right of the people…to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Congress shall make no law…abridging…the right of the people…to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

A New Animal Pathogen?

A potential outbreak with certain parallels to prion diseases, but other differences as well. Similar in that that those affected worked in the department that rendered pork brains, and their initial symptoms seem to be neurological. However, having 12 cases in less than a year suggests something faster spreading, perhaps a virus, or also a neurotoxin is still something to look into. There’s not a lot of information in the initial reports. So go to work public health reporters!

Recall that the first cases of SARS have also been traced to animal renderers, although that was in China, so this item didn’t appear in newspapers until several months after the outbreak started. And there’s some health issues in China that are not being subjected to very much scrutiny, like this outbreak of strange neurological symptoms and this outbreak among swine. As the Chinese leadership apparently mis-learned the lesson from SARS, which for them unfortunately was: do a better job of covering up disease outbreaks.  Highly recommended here is Karl Taro Greenfeld’s book The China Syndrome.

If there is one point of the posts on this site regarding Public Health it is this: the quality of public health reporting will infinitely affect your lives, much more than 99.9% of the other stuff carried in most newspapers today.  And the scope of that high quality public health reporting, due to our highly globalised flows of people and food, has to be international, not just local. 

But the US still has a relatively free press, recent developments not withstanding, so we still get a disease monitoring system for free, and here it is at work:

Continue reading “A New Animal Pathogen?”

A New Animal Pathogen?

Writing between the lines

A great piece of public health reporting, which I have come across in the book The China Syndrome by Karl Taro Greenfeld. I rather like the book which is a good starter for anyone interested in the intersection of public policy/human rights, the public health infrastructure, and epidemiology. It could, however, have a different title, as the lessons can be generalized outside of China. And there was another book or movie by that name, about some lose Chinese nukes or some such nonsense.

At the intersection of science, freedom of the press and political power a lot of very interesting things happen, and it is enlightening to see how people resolve their competing allegiances. A similar dynamic is now playing out in the reporting of global warming, with some saying, basically “Global Warming is only a rumor,” and others showing some evidence, which is being largely ignored by Bush & Co. (Another example of Convergence?)

The book is about the SARS epidemic, with a special focus on how it got started and and personalities involved. In this case, a reporter in China who is aware his work will be censored, still manages to get out all the essential information. This is one of the very first stories about what would later be named SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and the reporter does an excellent job, being caught between the reality of government censors and his responsibility to provide information about a matter of overwhelming public iimportance:

From the Heyuan Daily:

Continue reading “Writing between the lines”

Writing between the lines

What you can do about antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Here’s some of links to articles about the growth of MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Quite a lot of interest in this given the recent paper by Dr. Monina Klevens et al at the CDC which concluded:

“Based on 8,987 observed cases of MRSA and 1,598 in-hospital deaths among patients with MRSA, we estimate that 94,360 invasive MRSA infections occurred in the United States in 2005; these infections were associated with death in 18,650 cases..”

And remember, this was in 2005–today the number is probably much higher.

Not any coverage of one of the most important causes of this phenomena, though. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have arisen so quickly largely because of the widespread use of antibiotics for veterinary uses, chiefly in the giant food factory farms. In these farms, animals are crowded together in disease-promoting conditions, so the only way to keep the animals from getting sick is to constantly feed them antibiotics. The bacteria that these animals are exposed to then become resistant to antibiotics, and through the process of horizontal genetic transfer, the germs that infect humans get the genes that they need to protect them against antibiotics. (See my previous post on this issue)

So, the AMA warned before against the use of the newer generation of antibiotics in animals, and is, along with 12 other health organizations, warning about this again, now that the pharmaceutical industry has asked the government for permission to use the very newest class of antibiotics on animals. These are our last-ditch antibiotics, and if bacteria become resistant to these, the number of fatal infections will increase, warns the AMA.

So the government is going to look out for the interests of its citizens and NOT approve the request by the pharma industry to make these last ditch antibiotics available to the cattle industry, right? Think again:

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What you can do about antibiotic-resistant bacteria