Zika is no longer an international public health emergency, says WHO

November 22, 2016 by  
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The World Health Organization (WHO) declared on Friday that Zika virus is no longer a global public health emergency . The mosquito-borne illness, which has also proven to be sexually transmitted, causes a severe birth defect called microcephaly and thousands of cases have been reported in South and Central America. Although WHO is downgrading the severity of the Zika threat, the agency also warned the virus is not going away. With this update, the WHO ends the warning originally issued in February 2016 , which identified Zika as an international public health emergency. That acknowledgment came after Zika cases were reported in Central America, following ongoing large outbreaks in Brazil and Colombia throughout 2015. As the end of mosquito season draws near in many parts of the world, WHO recognizes a reduction in transmission. However, when the weather warms again and the Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes that carry Zika begin reproducing faster in the spring, the Zika cases could increase once more. Related: Brazil unleashes millions of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat Zika The WHO “should be prepared to re-examine the decision if, in fact, we have a resurgence of Zika in South America as we enter into the summer months of January and February in the Southern Hemisphere,” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Despite the WHO declaration, health agencies need to continue research and efforts to control the virus. “It remains crucially important that pregnant women avoid traveling to areas with local transmission of Zika, because of the devastating complications that can occur in fetuses that become infected during pregnancy,” said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a statement. Via NYT Images via Wikipedia and  PAHO/Flickr

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Zika is no longer an international public health emergency, says WHO

Researchers design cheap mercury-free LED foil to purify water

November 22, 2016 by  
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Utilizing light to purify water isn’t a new idea, but Ohio State University researchers recently developed a portable, cheap way to cleanse water with light anywhere in the world. Their LED foil prototype has the potential to revolutionize water purification with deep-ultraviolet (UV) light. Deep-UV lights are already used to purify medical equipment and water, but such light usually comes from cumbersome mercury lamps. By putting LED lights on metal foil, the Ohio State researchers may have avoided the problems usually associated with purifying water with deep-UV light. They designed their LEDs to glow with that sterilizing deep-UV light, and when their flexible prototype is folded around objects and energized, it could kill dangerous microorganisms. Related: Groundbreaking affordable, paper-thin filter removes viruses from water Roberto Myers, materials science and engineering associate professor at Ohio State, said in a statement, “Right now, if you want to make deep ultraviolet light, you’ve got to use mercury lamps. Mercury is toxic and the lamps are bulky and electrically inefficient. LEDs, on the other hand, are really efficient, so if we could make UV LEDs that are safe and portable and cheap, we could make safe drinking water wherever we need it.” The LED foil could offer a more environmentally friendly light to purify water. The researchers are confident they will be able to scale up their prototype; their goal is to transform nanophotonics, a study centered around how objects just nanometers big interact with light, into a profitable industry. “People always said that nanophotonics will never be commercially important, because you can’t scale them up,” said Myers. “Well, now we can. We can make a sheet of them if we want.” The journal Applied Physics Letters published the researcher’s paper on the LED foil. The researchers will continue working to make the LEDs shine brighter. Via New Atlas Images via Brelon J. May courtesy of The Ohio State University and Wikimedia Commons

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Researchers design cheap mercury-free LED foil to purify water

Brazil unleashes millions of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat Zika

October 31, 2016 by  
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Mosquitoes are an annoyance to nearly everyone who encounters them, and the little buzzers are responsible for spreading diseases like malaria, yellow fever and, of more recent note, Zika virus . Now scientists in Brazil are fighting back by releasing millions of genetically modified mosquitoes that, ideally, will mate with their wild counterparts and produce offspring with very short lifespans, thus causing disease-carrying family lines to die out within a few generations. Since mosquitoes only live a short time, this could greatly reduce the population of mosquitoes spreading infectious diseases in just a few weeks. British biotech firm Oxitec is the company leading the charge on the development of genetically modified male mosquitoes belonging to the Aedes aegypti species, which are responsible for the spread of a slew of diseases. The company launched the Friendly Aedes aegypti project in April 2015 in the town of Piracicaba, where some 60,000 people live under daily threat of diseases like dengue fever and Zika virus . Oxitec has been releasing its “self-limiting” mosquitoes across the city, and reporting huge reductions in cases of diseases those mosquitoes spread. After being released into the wild, the male mosquitoes breed with disease-carrying females and produce offspring that die quickly. The company reports that this technique can bring mosquito populations down by 90 percent, according to the results of five field tests conducted between 2011 and 2014. Related: Zika virus found in US mosquitoes for the first time Despite that good news, there were early concerns that releasing genetically modified mosquitoes may somehow contribute to the spread of viruses like Zika, rather than combat it. Many people blamed Oxitec for the recent Zika epidemic in Brazil, claiming that the aforementioned field tests actually caused the problem. However, experts at the World Health Organization have dismissed that notion in part because the field tests were not conducted in the same region as the Zika hotspot and, while the strategy is controversial, many epidemiologists believe this is the fastest and most effective way to reduce the spread of mosquito-born diseases. Oxitec is still waiting for approval from the Brazilian government to release their next batch of genetically modified mosquitoes, which would number in the millions. The company contracted with the town of Piracicaba in a $1.1 million deal, and erected what it claims is the “first and biggest factory” for genetically modified mosquitoes there, producing 60 million GM mosquitoes per week. (That’s three times the output of China’s largest mosquito factory, which is working on a similar project.) While Piracicaba is Oxitec’s only customer in Brazil, the company has worked in other parts of the world, doing exactly the same thing in an effort to stamp out mosquito-born diseases that are difficult to treat and, sometimes, deadly. Earlier this year, millions of the company’s little buzzers were released in the Cayman Islands and in Florida as well, two other places where Zika has spread. Via Gizmodo Images via Shutterstock and Oxitec

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Brazil unleashes millions of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat Zika

CDC issues historic Zika virus warning for northern Miami

August 2, 2016 by  
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Fourteen cases of Zika virus have been reported in the Miami area, leading Center for Disease Control (CDC) officials to issue a health alert for pregnant women and their partners living and traveling in that area of Florida . Although the mosquito-borne virus can go virtually undetected in most people, contracting the illness during pregnancy can lead to microcephaly , a severe birth defect that results in children needing lifelong care. Several other countries, including the United Kingdom, have already issued travel advisories for pregnant women traveling to south Florida. On Monday, officials announced that 10 new cases of Zika virus had been identified, adding to four previously known cases. The diagnosed cases are concentrated, leading health officials to believe the highest risk centers around a one-square-mile zone north of downtown in the Wynwood neighborhood. CDC officials believe these Zika cases all began when individuals contracted the disease locally, rather than while traveling overseas. This marks the first locally transmitted occurrence of the Zika virus within the continental United States. Related: The number of pregnant women in the U.S. with Zika virus just tripled The travel warning applies to women who are currently pregnant as well as those who may become pregnant in the near future, as contracting Zika could cause birth defects even after the fact. “Women who were in this area and left this area recently should wait at least eight weeks before trying to get pregnant,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden at a news conference on Monday. Officials continue to warn residents to take action to discourage mosquitoes , such as getting rid of standing water inside homes and backyards, as well as using insect repellant when outside. Widespread pest control attempts by local agencies haven’t had much of an impact on the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the Zika virus, so additional precautions are now necessary. Health officials also noted that the mosquitoes do not travel more than 150 meters in their lifetime, which means the risk is confined to a small geographic area. Via ABC Images via Wikipedia and CDC

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CDC issues historic Zika virus warning for northern Miami

Mother trees recognize kin and send them "messages of wisdom"

August 2, 2016 by  
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More information continues to surface that trees may be far more connected than we thought. Forest ecologist Suzanne Simard of The University of British Colombia gave a TED talk in June, during which she detailed research that shows mother trees recognize their kin. At a time when an increasing number of people are disconnected from the natural world, Simard hoped to persuade the audience to think differently about forests . In the talk Simard said, “…we set about an experiment, and we grew mother trees with kin and stranger’s seedlings. And it turns out they do recognize their own kin. Mother trees colonize their kin with bigger mycorrhizal networks. They send them more carbon below ground. They even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids. When mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings…so trees talk.” Related: Researchers believe trees may have their own living Internet Trees send each other carbon through mycelium , or fungal threads, and it looks like the sending process isn’t simply random. According to Simard’s research, mother trees prioritize their offspring when it comes to providing them with key nutrients and other resources. Trees can send not only carbon through mycorrhizal networks, but also nitrogen, water, defense signals, phosphorous, and allele chemicals. Simard says mycorrhizal networks have “nodes and links.” Fungi act as links, and trees as the nodes. The busiest nodes she calls mother trees. Mother trees can sometimes be connected to hundreds of trees, and the carbon they pass to those trees is said to increase seedling survival by four times. Her findings are incredibly relevant for conservation . If too many mother trees are cut down, “the whole system collapses.” Simard thinks we’d be more careful about cutting down trees if we were aware of the deep connections between their “families”. You can watch her whole TED talk here . Via Treehugger Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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Mother trees recognize kin and send them "messages of wisdom"

Miami Catches First Case of Dengue Fever in 50 Years

November 15, 2010 by  
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photo: Wikipedia For the first time in half a century a person in Miami-Dade County, Florida has been diagnosed (and recovered from…) a case of dengue fever that had been acquired locally ( Palm Beach Post ). This follows 24 cases of locally-caught dengue being discovered in Key West over the summer.

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Miami Catches First Case of Dengue Fever in 50 Years

Green Gift Guide: The Kid (Slideshow)

November 15, 2010 by  
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Photo: TreeHugger When it comes to holiday shopping, the kids should be the most fun to buy for — but fighting other parents for the hottest toy only to see it break before breakfast on the day it’s opened is hardly the way you want to spend your season. Instead, choose from these durable, timeless toys that will bring your little ones hours of playtime — all of which are made from eco-friendly materials and non-toxic paints — so you can sit back and enjoy the season, too

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Green Gift Guide: The Kid (Slideshow)

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