Archive for May 14, 2008

Mutations of Bird Flu Virus Resistant to Tamiflu

A report in Nature – an international weekly journal of science – has found common mutations of the H5N1 bird flu virus that have emerged in human influenza are resistant to the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

However, they are still “strongly inhibited” by an alternative drug Relenza.

Both drugs are commonly stockpiled but governments both in Australia and around the world have favoured the more convenient Tamiflu pill over the inhaled medicine Relenza.

Report co-author Alan Hay, from the UK’s National Institute for Medical Research, says Tamiflu is useless against the mutations.

“The mutations cause resistance to Tamiflu but not Relenza,” Dr Hay told ABC Radio.

“It’s quite clear that there is greater potential for Tamiflu resistant viruses to emerge than was previously thought.

“Relying on a single drug is somewhat foolhardy when more than one drug is available.”

Australia has stockpiled about 6.9 million courses of Tamiflu compared with just 1.8 million courses of Relenza, the ABC reports.

Dr Hay says one implication of the new research is that governments should stockpile greater courses of Relenza.

Although the H5N1 virus mainly affects birds, it has killed more than 200 people since 2003.

Scientists say it is the most likely source of the next deadly flu pandemic in humans as it may soon mutate into a form transmitted easily from person to person.

Source: The Australian

Very bad news to countries with huge stockpiles of Tamiflu to combat possible bird flu infection.

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2 Siblings Die of Suspected Bird Flu in Jakarta

JAKARTA, May 14 (Xinhua) — Two teenagers from the same family have died within 10 days because of suspected bird flu in Jakarta, prompting health officials to take blood test of the rest family members, local press said Wednesday.

Istiqomah, 16, died four days after being admitted to the Persahabatan Hospital in the Indonesian capital on May 8 with laboratory test later confirming she had the avian flu virus.

She had been treated at the isolated room exclusively for bird flu patients but doctors failed to save her life, reported leading news website Detikcom.

Ten days before her death, brother Ahmad Rizki, 15, died after a brief treatment at another hospital with symptoms similar to bird flu.

“The symptoms were just the same: high fever, cough and faint. We thought it was the common flu so he didn’t stay at the hospital, but then he died,” Mahfud, the father of the ill-fated teenagers, said of Rizki.

But it cannot be confirmed that bird flu had caused Rizki’s death as he didn’t take a blood test.

The family live in a densely populated neighborhood where a nearby house grows chickens.

Apart from the two cases, Indonesia has so far confirmed 133 bird flu cases in human with 107 deaths since the virus was first reported in 2003.

Source: Xinhua

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Introducing “Orange Bulldog”

Statesboro, GA — Move over ‘Longface’, ‘Spooktacular’ and ‘Trickster’ – there’s a new face in the pumpkin patch. Welcome ‘Orange Bulldog’, a new variety of the familiar fall fruit that may soon be available to consumers and wholesale pumpkin growers. Researchers at the University of Georgia recently introduced the new, virus-resistant pumpkin, specifically developed for ornamental fall and Halloween displays.

Dr. Gerard Krewer from the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, collected pumpkin seeds in remote areas of Brazil in 1996. The Brazilian seeds were then planted in laboratories, hybridized, and ultimately used to develop ‘Orange Bulldog’.

Dr. George Boyhan, Assistant Professor and Extension Horticulturist at the University of Georgia and lead author of the study published in the October 2007 issue of HortScience, explained that pumpkins have not been readily available in southern states because conventional pumpkins are highly susceptible to viruses and often die before they produce fruit. The research team set out to develop a virus-resistant pumpkin with bright orange color and an open cavity that would be suitable for Halloween carving. According to Boyhan, ‘Orange Bulldog’ seeds “consistently produced fruit during fall production, whereas commercial pumpkin cultivars often succumb to severe virus infections before fruiting.”

Although ‘Orange Bulldog’ is not yet available to growers or the public, Boyhan’s team hopes that a commercial supplier will soon handle the seeds and make the new pumpkin available to pick-your-own pumpkin growers and consumers.

Source: Eurekalert

Oooooh, I like that. My pumpkin vines usually succumb to disease (or animal predation) before pumpkins occur.

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Bird Snatcher Zapped by High Voltage Jolt

Plucking birds from their nests sometimes brings Cameron Fritzson a few bucks. This week, it almost cost him his life.

Fritzson, 20, was in critical condition Tuesday, a day after nearly being electrocuted while trying to capture monk parakeets from atop a Florida Power & Light tower in Pembroke Pines.

He jumped a fence surrounding the substation and then climbed onto electrical equipment as he positioned himself to grab the birds from their nest, police said.

A high-voltage jolt sent Fritzson falling 20 feet to the ground. He was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital with severe burns and other injuries.

Pembroke Pines police are considering charging Fritzson with trespassing — which is likely the only law he broke.

Trapping monk parakeets and selling them to pet stores is not illegal in Florida because they are considered a nonnative species, said Judy LaRose, senior director of animal services at the SPCA Wildlife Care Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Native species, like blue jays and mockingbirds, are not allowed to be caught.

”All animals are protected by cruelty laws, but if someone is trapping them humanely, then unfortunately they’re not breaking any law,” LaRose said.

Bird trapping happens with some regularity in South Florida, said Brian Rapoza of the Tropical Audubon Society. Some hard-core trappers hide under the cover of darkness, using night-vision goggles to help them zero in on nests, Rapoza said.

Small, green-and-yellow monk parakeets, also known as quaker parrots, are widely found throughout the United States and in at least 52 Florida counties, according to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Bird lovers like them as pets because they’re small and smart enough to learn to repeat an impressive range of words.

”They are very good talkers, they are very smart and they are cute,” said Neva Barnes, who works in the Little Bird Room at the Aviary Bird Shop and Garden in Goulds. “People really like them.”


Outside of homes, monk parakeets are more commonly spotted nesting in royal palm trees, oak trees, melaleucas — and on electrical lines.

From April to August, monk parakeets use twigs to construct massive nests, some the size of small cars, where a few dozen birds make homes in separate compartments.

For reasons unknown to bird researchers, monk parakeets like to build nests among power lines and electrical equipment.

Utility companies have long tried to find ways to discourage the birds from nesting in their substations — it can cause outages and equipment damage — including full-out eradication efforts.


An FPL spokeswoman acknowledged that nesting parakeets are a nuisance but would not say how the company deals with them.

But when they’re taken by bird catchers and sold to pet stores, they are often hand-fed until they are sold. The cost of one bird varies from about $40 to $200 — providing a handsome profit for shop owners who buy them from trappers for $20.

Fritzson, who lives in Hollywood, is a known bird catcher.

He regularly stops in at stores like The Birdhouse and Bill’s Birds in Davie, trying to hawk baby monk parakeets, which the owners said he carries in a plastic container.

Charlie Hong, owner of The Birdhouse, 7160 Stirling Rd., says a few weeks ago, he paid Fritzson about $300 cash for 15 baby birds.

”He was just begging and begging and I didn’t want him to end up killing the birds,” Hong said.

Bill Kalichman, owner of Bill’s Birds at 4122 SW 64th Ave., said bird catching is ”big business” in South Florida because there are so many birds in the wild.

Kalichman said he hasn’t bought from Fritzson but knows him well enough not to be surprised he had taken a gamble around power lines to capture birds.

”He’s a daredevil,” Kalichman said. “That’s pretty stupid.”

Source: Miami Herald

Now there’s a bird that knows how to ADAPT. And that there is a career field of which I had been previously unaware: Birdnapping. Considering that I’d actually earn more money in 3 days holding up a stupid sign in front of a restaurant, I think I might have to pass on the birdnapping business.

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Crews Battle Glades Fire to Try to Save Endangered Bird

Struggling to protect a tiny endangered bird, firefighters battled a sprawling East Everglades wildfire on Wednesday from the air and the ground.

Normally the fire would be allowed to burn itself out, said Bridget Litten, a spokeswoman for Everglades National Park. Fires are a part of the natural growth cycle of the Everglades.

But the flames were threatening a known habitat of the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow.

And so, two helicopters were dipping buckets into a nearby canal and dumping water onto the flames, each sortie aimed at halting the eastward advance of the fire. The blaze covered 1,000 acres and was visible from 12 miles away.

The fireline stretched from Southwest 216th Street to 240th Street, around 225th Avenue, filling the sky with billowing black and white smoke. The flames were fanned by 15 mph winds out of the east.

The location is west of the farming area that is adjacent to the Redland.

The National Park Service, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and the division of forestry were all involved in efforts to halt the fire.

The fire was one of two significant blazes in South Dade Wednesday afternoon. The other, around Southwest 117th Avenue and 237th Lane, was considerably smaller and was nibbling at the yard of a stately, two-story columned home. It was also a couple of blocks from a town house development.

Source: Miami Herald

So, we’re going to interrupt the natural life cycle of the ‘glades in order to attempt to “save” an endangered sparrow? If the fire is prevented this time, the next fire will be more destructive.

MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION: Cape Sable seaside sparrows are adapted to life in vegetation that burns periodically (Kushlan et al. 1982). Timing of the fires, however, is critical. Fires that occur late in the dry season or during and immediately after nesting threaten eggs and newly fledged young. If burned too frequently, an area may never support a vigorous population of nesting sparrows. Prescribed fires and natural wet season fires can enhance marsh habitat and retard the invasion of native shrubs and trees into the prairies occupied by sparrows. A natural fire regime resulting in a burn mosaic is compatible with protecting sparrow habitat (Kushlan
et al. 1982).

This late in the dry season, the sparrows would *probably* be working on their third brood of the season.

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3 Mexican Police Chiefs Seeking U.S. Asylum

WASHINGTON — Three Mexican police chiefs have requested political asylum in the United States as violence escalates in the Mexican drug wars and spills across the U.S. border, a top Homeland Security official told The Associated Press.

In the past few months, the police officials have shown up at the U.S. border, fearing for their lives, according to Jayson Ahern, the deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

”They’re basically abandoned by their police officers or police departments in many cases,” Ahern told AP.

Ahern said the Mexican officials — whom he didn’t name — are being interviewed and their cases are under review for possible asylum.

In the most recent high-level assassination, a top-ranking official on a local Mexican police force was shot more than 50 times and killed. Drug-related violence killed more than 2,500 people last year alone in Mexico.

”It’s almost like a military fight,” Ahern said Tuesday. “I don’t think that generally the American public has any sense of the level of violence that occurs on the border.”

As the cartels fight for territory, this carnage spills over to the United States, Ahern said — from bullet-riddled people stumbling into U.S. territory to rounds of ammunition coming across U.S. entry ports.

U.S. Humvees retrofitted with steel mesh over the glass windows patrol parts of the border to protect agents against gun shots and large rocks regularly thrown at them. At times agents are pinned down by sniper fire as people try to illegally cross into the United States.

Mexico’s drug cartels have long divided the border, with each controlling key cities. But over the past decade, Mexico has arrested or killed many of the gangs’ top leaders, creating a power vacuum and throwing lucrative drug routes up for the taking.

President Felipe Calderón, who took office in December 2006, responded by deploying more than 24,000 soldiers and federal police to areas where the government had lost control. Cartels have reacted with unprecedented violence, beheading police and killing soldiers.

In general, violence along the U.S. border has gone up over the years. Seven frontline border agents were killed in 2007, and two so far in 2008. Assaults against officers have also shot up from 335 in fiscal 2001 to 987 in fiscal 2007.

There have been 362 assaults against officers during the first four months of 2008, according to Border Patrol statistics. The pattern has been that when more security resources are deployed along the U.S. border, violence against officers spike in response.

Most assaults are along the San Diego and Calexico, Calif., border, as well as the Arizona border near Yuma and south of Tucson.

Now, about 14,000 U.S. border agents work on the southern border, up from more than 9,000 in 2001.

The Bush administration has requested $500 million to fight drug crime in Mexico. Congress is currently considering the proposal.


Everybody living on the border knows about the ongoing violence. Hell, in the early 90s I had to carry a firearm while out hiking for self-protection, and the situation has deteriorated for our citizens.

I’m sick and tired of do-nothing politicians that are more concerned about possibly snagging the vote of illegal aliens than they are about protecting U.S. citizens from a foreign invasion and violence.

I will no longer vote for any politician that is not strong on border protection AND a rational energy policy that includes finding and exploiting our OWN natural resources and oil, not one that throws tax dollars into something incredibly stupid like carbon caps.

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Arrest Made in Brevard County Wildfires

PALM BAY, Fla. — Authorities have arrested a man who police said sparked a small blaze early Wednesday in a town where wildfires have gutted homes and scorched thousands of acres.

Officials were waiting to question Brian Crowder, 31, about that fire and larger wildfires that have found ample fuel in developments on Florida’s Atlantic coast where the state has not held controlled burns to cut back vegetation. He has not been charged with arson or any crime connected with the fires, said Palm Bay spokeswoman Yvonne Martinez.

Since the fires began Sunday about 20 homes have been destroyed and 140 other structures damaged. The damage was estimated at approximately $3.5 million, said Palm Bay City Manager Lee Feldman, who said homes and outbuildings were among the damaged structures. Officials had earlier reported 40 homes destroyed.

Efforts to contain the fires that have burned about 15 square miles were improving, officials said. Still, major highways in the area were being intermittently closed because of smoke and the proximity of the flames.

“We had pretty good weather last night, so the fire laid down and let us catch up a bit,” said Todd Schroeder, spokesman for the state’s Division of Forestry.

A resident alerted police after seeing Crowder throw an object from his car that sparked a small fire in the woods, Palm Bay Detective Ernie Diebel said.

The object was a glass bottle containing an accelerant, Palm Bay Police Chief Bill Berger said.

The resident described a dark car, and officers stopped Crowder’s vehicle shortly afterward. Crowder got out of his car and fled, Diebel said.

Officers tracked Crowder through the woods with the help of other residents who spotted him running past their homes, police said.

A woman who answered the phone at a telephone listing for Crowder’s mother refused to speak to a reporter. According to arrest reports, Crowder has lived at various addresses in Palm Bay. Neighbors of Crowder’s most recent residences, including a group home run by a church, said the homes were frequently rented by different people, and they did not know anything about Crowder.

Records show, however, that he has drug, burglary and automobile theft convictions dating from 1996. He was charged Wednesday with six probation violations. He was being treated at a hospital for minor injuries caused by a police dog when officers took him into custody, Berger said.

Authorities have said they believe the wildfires burning in Palm Bay and neighboring Malabar were set by an arsonist or arsonists. Two classic Florida phenomena have fueled the flames: rampant development and a year-round growing season.

A firefighter was among the residents trying to pick through charred remains of their homes for belongings on Wednesday.

Allen Civita’s three-bedroom Palm Bay home burned to the ground on Monday, leaving only metal bedsprings, melted wine glasses and the blackened hulk of the stove. A stranger kicked open the front door to grab photographs from the living room, kitchen and a bedroom before the flames took everything, said the firefighter and paramedic for the St. Lucie County Fire District.

“Thanks to that guy, we have some pictures that were in the house of us and the kids,” he said. “I don’t know if he lived through it before or if he had the good common sense to think, ‘These people are losing everything, let me see what I can do to make some memories for them.”‘

Meanwhile, in north Florida, firefighters were also working on fires in uninhabited areas of Franklin and Liberty Counties, west of Tallahassee. Both fires were in the Apalachicola National Forest and no people or homes were in danger.


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