Pandemics—the uncontrolled spread of highly contagious diseases across countries and continents—are a modern phenomenon. The word itself, a neologism from Greek words for “all” and “people,” has been used only since the mid-nineteenth century. Epidemics—localized outbreaks of diseases—have always been part of human history, but pandemics require a minimum density of population and an effective means of transport. Since “Spanish” flu burst from the trenches of World War I in 1918, infecting 20 percent of the world’s population and killing upward of 50 million people, fears of a similar pandemic have preoccupied public health practitioners, politicians, and philanthropists. World War II, in which the German army deliberately caused malaria epidemics and the Japanese experimented with anthrax and plague as biological weapons, created new fears.
In response, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), founded in 1946 to control malaria domestically, launched its Epidemic Intelligence Service in 1951 to defend against possible biological warfare, an odd emphasis given the uncontrolled polio epidemics raging in the 1940s and 1950s in the United States and Europe. But in the world of public health, the latest threat often takes precedence over the most prevalent.
According to the doctor, writer, and philanthropist Larry Brilliant, “outbreaks are inevitable, pandemics are optional.” Brilliant, a well-known expert on global health, ought to know, since he has had much to do with smallpox eradication. Smallpox, arguably the worst disease in human history, caused half a billion deaths during the twentieth century alone. The strain called Variola major—the most lethal cause—killed one third of all infected and permanently scarred all survivors. In 1975, Rahima Banu, a two-year-old Bangladeshi girl, became the last case of V. major smallpox. Two years later, Ali, a twenty-three-year-old hospital cook in Somalia, became the last case of V. minor. Rahima and Ali survived. Smallpox did not.
Forty years later, smallpox is still the only disease affecting humans ever to have been eradicated. (Rinderpest, a virus affecting cows—literally “cattle plague”—was eradicated in 2011.) There is optimism that polio and guinea worm may soon follow. Meanwhile, dozens of new infectious diseases have emerged, including the pathogens behind the twenty-first-century “pan-epidemics”—a term coined by Dr. Daniel Lucey to describe SARS, avian flu, swine flu, MERS, Ebola, and now Zika.
The fear, fascination, and financial incentives that these new diseases create divert attention and resources from ancient diseases like cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis, which infect and kill far more people. Ebola has caused relatively few deaths, while TBinfects 9.6 million people each year and kills 1.5 million, and malaria infects more than 200 million, killing nearly half a million. (Ali, smallpox’s last survivor, later succumbed to malaria.)
Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda in monkeys bitten by forest mosquitoes. In recent years, monkeys have sought food outside the forests, and Zika virus has diversified: its carriers now include Aedes aegypti, a tough mosquito with a preference for human blood and urban environments, and it has spread to the Americas.A. aegypti also carries dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile virus, but it is the evolving pan-epidemic of catastrophic birth defects that makes Zika particularly terrifying. In Brazil there have been 1,271 confirmed cases of microcephaly—babies born with severely stunted brains, blindness, and other congenital defects. Cases identified in Colombia, French Polynesia, Panama, Martinique, and Cabo Verde provide advance notice of the likely scale of the damage being wreaked.
Jessica Desvarieux talks to investigative journalist Barbara Koeppel who is the author of a recent article in the Washington Spectator which examines how the U.S. is getting away with using radioactive weapons that are causing spikes in birth defects and cancer in both Iraqi citizens and U.S. veterans. (The Real News)
- Irradiated Iraq
- Iraqi Doctors Call Depleted Uranium Use “Genocide”
- How the WHO covered up Iraq’s nuclear nightmare
- Questions raised over Iraq congenital birth defects study
- Really? Anticipated Study Finds No Evidence of Iraqi Birth Defects
- Iraq records huge rise in birth defects
- U.S. Army shells pose cancer risk in Iraq
‘When I told people earlier this month that I was off to West Africa again to cover the Ebola outbreak, the resounding response was, “Isn’t that over yet?”
The short answer is no, but there is a lot more to it than that.
The outbreak has been “nearly over” for months. So while “Ebola fatigue” is understandable, it’s also potentially extremely dangerous.
There are still around 20-30 new cases a week in the three worst-affected countries.
Before this outbreak, those numbers would have constituted a major epidemic, but we live in very changed times.
At the height of the outbreak, West Africa was seeing hundreds of new infections a week.
But it only takes one new infection to spark a massive epidemic.’
- Sierra Leone faces Ebola setback; 500 under quarantine
- Ebola cases fall to year low but WHO warns of trouble ahead
- Life after Ebola: Liberia’s invisible babies
- Ebola: Mapping the outbreak
- Guinea’s president on global aid push: ‘Ebola forced us to change completely’
- Ebola in graphics: The toll of a tragedy
‘More than 20,000 people have been infected by Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea since the outbreak of the virus began, the World Health Organisation has said. Gregory Hartl, from the WHO, says urgent work will have to be done to bring down the number of cases.’ (Al Jazeera English)
- Roche wins FDA emergency approval for Ebola test
- Efforts to stop Ebola are gaining ground, but the fight isn’t won
- Surviving Ebola: ‘It was the best Christmas present ever: the gift of life’
- US ‘Ebola czar’ defends CDC procedures in light of technician’s potential exposure
- Ebola case confirmed in Glasgow hospital
‘The World Health Organization is warning that the number of new Ebola cases in West Africa is growing faster than relief workers can manage. The organization says that thousands are at risk of contracting the virus in the coming weeks and more medical professionals are urgently needed to help contain the outbreak. So far, Ebola has claimed some 2,400 lives and continues to ravage Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. It is the worst outbreak since the virus was discovered in 1976. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone has lost a fourth doctor to Ebola after efforts to transfer her abroad for treatment failed. The loss is a major setback for the impoverished country, which is already suffering from a shortage of healthcare workers. Since the Ebola outbreak began, approximately 144 healthcare professionals have died while serving affected populations. We speak to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations.’ (Democracy Now!)
- Laurie Garrett: We Could Have Stopped This
- We Could Have Stopped This, CDC Expert Says
- World Health Organization: West Africa Ebola cases could double every 3 weeks
- WHO: $1 billion needed to keep Ebola infections within the ‘tens of thousands
- Ebola: ‘In decades of humanitarian work, I’ve never seen such suffering’
- Stabbing With Syringe in Nigeria Raises Concerns of Ebola as Weapon
- Main Ebola Treatment Centre In Liberia Turning Away Sick People
- Why the World Health Organization Doesn’t Have Enough Funds to Fight Ebola
- New Ebola vaccine approved for human trials
- Sierra Leone’s planned Ebola lockdown could ‘spread disease further’
- Liberia doctors strike, UN warns of food shortages due to Ebola
- Major quarantine and experimental vaccines to curb Ebola
- The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance (Book)
‘The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned the number of Ebola cases could rise to 20,000 as doctors in Liberia say the deadly virus is now spreading so rapidly they can no longer deal with the crisis.
The UN health agency said the outbreak is accelerating in west Africa, where the death toll has now reached 1,552, and it believes the numbers who have been hit by Ebola could be two to four times higher than the current 3,069 cases currently reported.’
- GSK to start production of Ebola vaccine as tests on humans begin
- Patient Zero Believed to Be Sole Source of Ebola Outbreak
- Scientists found the origins of the Ebola outbreak — by tracking its mutations
- West Africa travel bans to be lifted
- Ebola epidemic takes toll on business in quarantine zones and across Africa
- Ebola seals Ivory Coast off from infected neighbours
- British Ebola patient Will Pooley taking experimental drug ZMapp
- Divergent approaches to treating Ebola
- Fear and false alarms as Ebola puts Europe on alert
- Airlines cancel more flights to affected countries
- Police open fire, use tear gas on crowds as Liberia struggles to contain deadly Ebola
- World leaders ‘failing to help’ over Ebola outbreak in Africa
- Sierra Leone’s Ebola-related deaths pinned on one healer
- Follow the Money: A Lesson of the Ebola Epidemic
‘The Ebola outbreak which has resulted in over 930 deaths in West Africa has officially been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation. The outbreak has been placed in the category of “public health emergencies of international concern” at an emergency meeting in Geneva.
WHO officials called the spread of the disease an “extraordinary event” and said the possible global consequences were “particularly serious”, the BBC reports. The announcement will trigger a “coordinated international response” which will aim to contain and control the deadly outbreak. However, action would stop short of a widespread ban on travel or trade.
Containment of the disease is becoming “impossible for these governments to handle themselves”, Stephen Morrison, the director of the Global Health Policy Centre at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies told Newsweek. While health officials at the WHO said the threat was serious, they also said “it is an infection which can be controlled”. Much of the blame of the spread of the disease has been placed on the region’s poor public health infrastructure.’
- 2012: Growing concerns over ‘in the air’ transmission of Ebola
- Ebola: Fears and Presumptions about Pandemics
- 5 Diseases That Are Scarier Than Ebola
- Five Myths About The Ebola Virus
- CDC Issues Highest-Level Alert For Ebola
- Liberia Declares State Of Emergency To Tackle Ebola Outbreak
- Report On The Worsening Situation In Liberia
- 35 countries one flight away from Ebola-affected countries
- DoD may send personnel to Africa to help fight Ebola
- Inside The Plane Carrying Ebola Patients To U.S.
- London Hospitals Prepare For Ebola
- NHS can deal with threat to UK, says Philip Hammond
- Ebola Forcing Volunteers Out Of Africa
‘Resistance to antibiotics is a growing phenomenon and has become one of the world’s most serious public health concerns. Antibiotic resistance is a form of drug resistance where some bacteria are able to survive the administration of one or more antibiotics. This phenomenon is a consequence of misuse and overuse of antibiotics in medicine and in livestock feed. As a result of this, there is a growing presence of superbugs, as are called microorganisms -mostly bacteria- that carry several antibiotic-resistance genes.
The seriousness of the problem is underscored by the World Health Organization (WHO), which in a recent report has called this phenomenon a ‘global threat.’ The WHO report follows a 2013 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report which showed that two million people in the U.S. are infected annually with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and 23,000 people die each year from them. Last year, Dr. Sally Davies had called the problem a “ticking time bomb” and said that it probably will become as important in the magnitude of its effects as climate change.
As a result of antibiotic resistance and the increasing number of superbugs, common infections that could be treated without major problems have become untreatable. In 2012, the WHO reported 450,000 cases of tuberculosis in 92 countries where multiple drugs used to treat them were found ineffective.’
- A Superbug Resistant to ‘Last-Resort’ Antibiotics Has Made Its Way into the Food Supply
- WHO: Antibiotic Resistance Worse Health Crisis Than AIDS
- Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are officially a global threat
- Antibiotics Are Becoming Ineffective All Over the World, Why? Interview with Martin Khor
- Outbreak Of Drug-Resistant Bacteria Linked To Lutheran General Hospital
- Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Lead to 23,000 Deaths a Year, C.D.C. Finds
- Probiotics May Protect Against Drug-Resistant Superbug, Study Finds
- A Brief History of the Antibiotic Era: Lessons Learned and Challenges for the Future
‘The World Health Organization has designated the spread of polio in Asia, Africa and the Middle East a global public health emergency requiring a coordinated “international response.” Three countries pose the greatest risk of further spreading the paralyzing virus: Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria. In an unusual step, the W.H.O. recommended all residents of those countries, of all ages, to be vaccinated before traveling abroad. The organization also said another seven countries — Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria and Somalia — should “encourage” all their would-be travelers to get vaccinated. Until recently, polio had been nearly eradicated thanks to a 25-year campaign that vaccinated billions of children. In Pakistan, the increase in polio is being linked to a secret CIA ploy used in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. With the help of a Pakistani doctor, the CIA set up a fake vaccination campaign in the city of Abbottabad in an effort to get DNA from the bin Laden family. The Taliban subsequently announced a ban on immunization efforts and launched a string of deadly attacks on medical workers. We are joined by two guests: Rafia Zakaria, a columnist for DAWN, Pakistan’s largest English newspaper, who has been covering the rise of polio in Pakistan since the bin Laden raid; and one of Pakistan’s leading polio experts, Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta.’ (Democracy Now!)
The World Health Organisation published its World Cancer Report… It is a hefty document of 800 pages which warns of a “tidal wave” of cancer facing the world over the next 20 years… The report identifies several major sources of preventable cancer; they include smoking, infections, alcohol, obesity, radiation and air pollution. Of those sources, infections, radiation and air pollution have been set aside and discussion has zeroed in on the narrow subset of what are being described as “lifestyle choices”. Because to talk about air pollution or infections or radiation would require a discussion of wealth inequalities, of living conditions, of asymmetry of information, of destructive environmental choices. And all that is too difficult.
…In an environment where more and more of us are living in tiny hutches within urban environments, breathing in polluted air, working longer and longer hours of sedentary jobs, with poor access to quality information, exercise space or fresh produce, bombarded 24/7 by advertising telling us to eat and drink the wrong thing, it is a ludicrous position to say that multi-billion corporations and the state can wash their hands of all consequences by telling us “you should have been healthier, you know”.
A radical UN recommendation to halve sugar intake will not be implemented in Britain says a Whitehall adviser on nutrition who has worked for Mars and Coca-Cola. Professor Ian MacDonald, head of a panel of health experts in charge of drawing up guidelines on sugar, said it will ‘not act’ on the World Health Organisation’s proposal.
The move led to fury yesterday as senior doctors and MPs accused officials of ‘immense arrogance’ for ignoring the suggested limit of six teaspoons a day, in the face of an obesity crisis that threatens to overwhelm the NHS. And campaigners last night accused Professor MacDonald – who only recently left the pay of the two fast food giants – of being ‘in the pocket’ of the sugar industry.
He is one of six scientists on the panel of eight who have links to manufacturers of sugary foods, including the world’s largest chocolate maker and fizzy drinks producers. The row comes amid growing concern over the high levels of sugar in everyday foods, which experts believe is a major contributor to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Abby Martin speaks with Dr. Roberto De Vogli, lead author of a recent report in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization that concludes that stronger government intervention is needed to slow and possibly even reverse the problem of obesity. (Breaking the Set)
Last month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a long awaited document summarising the findings of an in-depth investigation into the prevalence of congenital birth defects (CBD) in Iraq, which many experts believe is linked to the use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions by Allied forces. According to the ‘summary report’:
“The rates for spontaneous abortion, stillbirths and congenital birth defects found in the study are consistent with or even lower than international estimates. The study provides no clear evidence to suggest an unusually high rate of congenital birth defects in Iraq.”
Jaffar Hussain, WHO’s Head of Mission in Iraq, said that the report is based on survey techniques that are “renowned worldwide” and that the study was peer reviewed “extensively” by international experts.
But the conclusions contrasted dramatically from previous statements about the research findings from Iraqi Ministry of Health (MOH) officials involved in the study. Earlier this year, BBC News spoke to MOH researchers who confirmed the joint report would furnish “damning evidence” that rates of birth defects are higher in areas experiencing heavy fighting in the 2003 war. In an early press release, WHO similarly acknowledged “existing MOH statistics showing high number of CBD cases” in the “high risk” areas selected for study.
The World Health Organisation is set to recommend a cut in the amount of sugar in our diets in the coming months, following reviews of the scientific evidence of the link with obesity – but any proposed lower limit for sugar will have to overcome scepticism among scientific advisers to the British government.
Next year, the government’s scientific advisory committee on nutrition (SACN) will report on carbohydrates, including sugar, in people’s diet. Its members, some of whom receive funding from industry, are thought to be sceptical that the sugar is a cause of obesity.
The chairman of the SACN working group on carbohydrates, Professor Ian Macdonald, from Nottingham University, has been on the Mars and Coca-Cola European advisory boards, although he has stepped down from both for the duration of the inquiry.
The professor is the academic lead for his university’s “strategic relationship” with Unilever, which owns ice-cream brands as well as margarine and weight-loss products. Unilever’s Dr David Mela sits with him on the SACN carbohydrate group and the two are also on the government’s calorie reduction expert group, which advises food companies and health groups involved in the Department of Health’s Responsibility Deal, aimed at improving public health in England.
Macdonald does not believe his links to Mars and Coca-Cola are a problem. “I have explained my associations with industry to the Department of Health and they are quite happy with the relationships,” he said. “I think it’s a more balanced view than some of the views of my nutritional colleagues and also than some of the industrial views. Some of the industrial people can’t see what they’re doing wrong. That’s not right – they do need to start helping people to consume sensible amounts of food and be less sedentary than they are at the moment.”
OTHER SUGAR RELATED NEWS: