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Ebola has 'upper hand' says US health official

Ebola has 'upper hand' says US health official — Ebola still has the "upper hand" in the outbreak that has killed more than 1,400 people in West Africa, but experts have the means to stop it, a top American health official said during a visit to the hardest-hit countries.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was in Liberia on Tuesday and later planned to stop in Sierra Leone and Guinea. Nigeria also has cases, but officials there have expressed optimism the virus can be controlled.

"Lots of hard work is happening. Lots of good things are happening," Frieden said at a meeting attended by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday. "But the virus still has the upper hand."

Even as Liberia has resorted to stringent measures to try to halt Ebola's spread, frustration mounted over the slow collection of bodies from neighborhoods of Monrovia. A group of residents attached plastic ties to the wrists and ankles of one suspected Ebola victim and dragged his corpse to a busy street.

Authorities have decreed that all the dead must be collected by government health workers and cremated because contact with bodies can transmit the virus.

There is no proven treatment for Ebola, so health workers primarily focus on isolating the sick. But a small number of patients in this outbreak have received an experimental drug called ZMapp. The London hospital treating a British nurse infected in Sierra Leone, William Pooley, said he is now receiving the drug.

It was unclear where the doses for Pooley came from. The California-based maker of ZMapp has said its supplies are exhausted.

Two Americans, a Spaniard and three health workers in Liberia have received ZMapp. It is unclear if the drug is effective. The Americans have been released from the hospital, but the Spaniard died, as did a Liberian doctor.

Liberian soldiers patrol Dolo Town, quarantined two weeks ago to limit the spread of Ebola (AFP Photo/Dominique Faget)
Ebola outbreak in West Africa
An experimental Ebola vaccine similar to one being developed by GlaxoSmithKlineis effective for at least five weeks in lab monkeys but requires boosting with an additional vaccine to extend its protection to 10 months, according to a study published on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014.
In Nigeria, two more Ebola patients were declared to have recovered and were released from hospital, Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said Tuesday. Five people have died of the disease in Nigeria, while a total of seven have recovered. One person remains in the hospital in an isolation ward, Chukwu said.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization announced that it is pulling out its team from the eastern Sierra Leonean city of Kailahun, where an epidemiologist working with the organization was recently infected. Daniel Kertesz, the organization's representative in the country, said that the team was exhausted and that the added stress of a colleague getting sick could increase the risk of mistakes.

Also, Canadian health officials late Tuesday said in a statement that they would evacuate a three-member mobile laboratory team in Sierra Leone after people in their hotel were diagnosed with Ebola.

The outbreak is the largest on record. Doctors took a long time to identify it, it is happening in a region where people are highly mobile, it has spread to densely populated areas, and many people have resisted or hid from treatment. The disease has overwhelmed the already shaky health systems in some of the world's poorest countries.

"Ebola doesn't spread by mysterious means. We know how it spreads," Frieden said in remarks carried on Liberian TV. "So we have the means to stop it from spreading, but it requires tremendous attention to every detail."

Liberian officials have sealed off an entire slum neighborhood in the capital. Sirleaf also has declared a state of emergency and ordered all top government officials to remain in the country or return from any trips.

Late Monday, her office said in a statement that any officials who defied the order had been fired. The statement did not say how many or who had been dismissed.

According to WHO, the Ebola outbreak has killed over half of the more than 2,600 people sickened. The U.N. agency said an unprecedented 240 health care workers have been infected.

The agency attributed the high number of infections among health workers to a shortage of protective gear, improper use of such equipment, and a shortage of staff to treat the tremendous influx of patients.

In the current outbreak, as many as 90,000 protective suits will be needed every month, according to Jorge Castilla, an epidemiologist with the European Union Commission's Department for Humanitarian Aid. He did not say how many suits were lacking.

The outbreak also desperately needs more workers to trace the people the sick have come into contact with and more centers where patients can be screened for the disease in a way that contains any Ebola infections, Castilla said.

An Ebola outbreak emerged over the weekend in Congo, though experts say it is not related to the West African epidemic. Doctors Without Borders, which is running many of the treatment centers in the West Africa outbreak, said it is sending experts and supplies to Congo but warned that the charity's resources are stretched thin. ( Associated Press )

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US official warns Ebola outbreak will get worse

US official warns Ebola outbreak will get worse — A third top doctor has died from Ebola in Sierra Leone, a government official said Wednesday, as a leading American health official warned that the outbreak sweeping West Africa would get worse.

The disease has already killed more than 1,400 people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, and Doctors Without Borders warned that the tremendous influx of patients in Liberia, in particular, is overwhelming their treatment centers there.

"I wish I didn't have to say this, but it is going get worse before it gets better," Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said of the outbreak at the end of a visit to Liberia, where he described the situation as dire.

Liberia has recorded the highest number of cases and deaths of any of the four countries. Doctors Without Borders said in a statement that a new treatment center recently opened in the country's capital with 120 beds filled up almost immediately.

The tremendous number of patients means that the medical charity is not able to provide those patients with intravenous treatments, a primary way doctors keep people who are losing a tremendous amount of fluid alive.

The group did not mention Frieden's visit or recent U.N. ones, but it said discussions happening now about international coordination are coming too late and that there are countries that could make a dramatic difference if they provided more expertise and resources. It did not name the countries.

"This is not only an Ebola outbreak — it is a humanitarian emergency, and it needs a full-scale humanitarian response," Lindis Hurum, the group's emergency coordinator in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, said in the statement.

Frieden travels next to Sierra Leone, where the loss of a third senior doctor has raised concerns about the country's ability to fight the outbreak.

Dr. Sahr Rogers had been working at a hospital in the eastern town of Kenema when he contracted Ebola, Sierra Leonean presidential adviser Ibrahim Ben Kargbo said Wednesday.

Rogers' death marks yet another setback for Sierra Leone, a country still recovering from years of civil war, where there are only two doctors per 100,000 people, according to WHO. By comparison, there are 245 doctors per 100,000 in the United States.

Health workers have been especially vulnerable because of their close proximity to patients, who can spread the virus through bodily fluids. WHO has said that at least 240 health workers have been infected in this outbreak, more than in any other. One of those is an epidemiologist working with the WHO in Sierra Leone, who has been evacuated for treatment in Germany.

"The international surge of health workers is extremely important and if something happens, if health workers get infected and it scares off other international health workers from coming, we will be in dire straits," said Christy Feig, director of WHO communications.

A team of two experts was sent Tuesday to investigate how the Senegalese epidemiologist became infected, said Feig. In the meantime, WHO has pulled out its team from Kailahun, where he was working.

The epidemiologist had been doing surveillance work for the U.N. health agency, said Feig. The position involves coordinating the outbreak response by working with lab experts, health workers and hospitals, but does not normally involve direct treatment of patients.

There is no proven treatment for Ebola, so health workers primarily focus on isolating the sick. But a small number of patients in this outbreak have received an experimental drug called ZMapp.

Health officials in Liberia said two recipients of ZMapp in Liberia — a Congolese doctor and a Liberian physician's assistant — have recovered. Both are expected to be discharged from an Ebola treatment center on Friday, said Dr. Moses Massaquoi, a Liberian doctor with the treatment team.

The drug has never been tested in humans, and it is unclear if it is effective. Only a handful of people have received ZMapp in this outbreak, and some have recovered while others have died.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said it was notified Tuesday of an unrelated Ebola outbreak in Congo. The agency said Wednesday that 13 of the 24 people sickened there have died. ( Associated Press  )

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Dengue outbreak affects at least 22 in Japan

Dengue outbreak affects at least 22 in Japan - An outbreak of dengue fever in Japan -- the first since World War II -- has affected at least 22 people, the government said Monday, with all cases believed to be linked to a Tokyo park.

The health ministry said 19 new infections have been confirmed since last week.

All are believed to have visited Tokyo's Yoyogi Park or its environs, one of the major green lungs of the metropolis, popular with residents and tourists alike.

The park, one of the largest open spaces in central Tokyo, is believed to be the source of the mosquito-borne disease.

The first three sufferers, who were found to be infected last week, had also visited the park, where Tokyo officials have now sprayed about 800 litres (210 US gallons) of pesticide in a bid to kill off the insect colony.

None of those found to have contracted dengue had travelled overseas recently, the health ministry said. None is in a life-threatening condition, officials have said.
A worker sprays insecticide at Yoyogi Park, believed to be the source of a dengue fever outbreak, on August 28, 2014 (AFP Photo/Jiji Press)

The last domestic infection of dengue fever was in 1945, although there are around 200 cases annually among Japanese who have travelled abroad, mainly in Southeast Asia. 

Dengue fever is not transmitted directly from person-to-person and symptoms range from mild fever to incapacitating high temperatures, according to the World Health Organization.

There is no vaccine or any specific medicine to treat dengue and patients should rest, drink plenty of fluids and reduce the fever using paracetamol, it says.

The disease is carried by the tiger mosquito, which is endemic to Japan.

Meanwhile, shares in home pesticide maker Fumakilla were up 22.85 percent at 430 yen on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. That follows a nearly 25 percent rise one day last week. ( AFP )

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Resentment grows in nearby Japanese city

Fukushima fallout: Resentment grows in nearby Japanese city - Like many of her neighbours, Satomi Inokoshi worries that her gritty hometown is being spoiled by the newcomers and the money that have rolled into Iwaki since the Fukushima nuclear disaster almost three and a half years ago.

"Iwaki is changing - and not for the good," said Inokoshi, 55, who echoes a sentiment widely heard in this town of almost 300,000 where the economic boom that followed the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl has brought its own disruption.

Property prices in Iwaki, about 60 km (36 miles) south of the wrecked nuclear plant, have jumped as evacuees forced from homes in more heavily contaminated areas snatch up apartments and land. Hundreds of workers, who have arrived to work in the nuclear clean-up, crowd downtown hotels.

But long-time residents have also come to resent evacuees and the government compensation that has made the newcomers relatively rich in a blue-collar town built on coal mining and access to a nearby port. Locals have stopped coming to the entertainment district where Inokoshi runs a bar, she says, scared off by the nuclear workers and their rowdy reputation.

"The situation around Iwaki is unsettled and unruly," said Ryosuke Takaki, a professor of sociology at Iwaki Meisei University, who has studied the town's developing divide. "There are many people who have evacuated to Iwaki, and there are all kinds of incidents caused by friction."

A girl lights candles during a candlelight memorial held in remembrance of victims of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture, March 9, 2014. The event takes place ahead of the third-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which killed thousands and set off a nuclear crisis. (REUTERS/Toru Hanai)             


Residents across Fukushima prefecture hailed the first wave of workers who arrived to contain the nuclear disaster in 2011 as heroes. Cities like Iwaki also welcomed evacuees from towns closer to the meltdowns and explosions.

At the time, Japan's stoicism and sense of community were praised around the world for helping those who survived an earthquake and tsunami that killed nearly 19,000 and triggered explosions at the nuclear plant.

But that solidarity and sense of shared purpose has frayed, according to dozens of interviews. Many Iwaki residents say they have grown weary of hosting evacuees in temporary housing.

And the newcomers themselves are frightened, says Hideo Hasegawa, who heads a non-profit group looking after evacuees at the largest temporary housing complex in Iwaki.

People buy fish at a market in the Iwaki town, south of the tsunami-crippled Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture in this September 19, 2013 file photo. Property prices in Iwaki, about 60 km (36 miles) south of the wrecked nuclear plant, have jumped as evacuees forced from homes in more heavily contaminated areas snatch up apartments and land. Hundreds of workers, who have arrived to work in the nuclear clean-up, crowd downtown hotels. But long-time residents have also come to resent evacuees and the government compensation that has made the newcomers relatively rich in a blue-collar town built on coal mining and access to a nearby port. (REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/Files)             

"When they move in to an apartment, they don't talk to neighbours and hide," said Hasegawa, who works from a small office located between rows of grey, prefabricated shacks housing the evacuees. "You hear this hate talk everywhere you go: restaurants, shops, bars. It's relentless."

The 2011 nuclear crisis forced more than 160,000 people in Fukushima prefecture to evacuate and leave their homes. Half of them are still not allowed to return to the most badly contaminated townships within 20 kms (12.4 miles) of the destroyed plant known as the exclusion zone.

Since April, the government has allowed some residents to return to parts of the evacuation zone. But the area remains sparsely populated and riddled with hot spots where radiation is as much as four times the government’s target for public safety.

Work crews in white decontamination suits have poured radiation-tainted topsoil and debris into black-plastic bags piled at improvised storage sites on roadsides and public parks awaiting a shift to a more permanent nuclear waste dump.

By contrast, Iwaki has prospered. On a recent Saturday, parking lots near downtown were packed – along with restaurants near Taira, the city's downtown. 

Local residents walk along a street which was devastated by the March 11, 2011 tsunami and earthquake in Iwaki, south of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Fukushima prefecture in this May 27, 2013 file photo. (REUTERS/Issei Kato/Files)             

Chuo-dai Kashima, a newly developed area in Iwaki where many of the temporary housing units have been built, saw an almost 12 percent rise in land prices in the past year, according to government data. That was among the highest increases across Japan and behind only Ishinomaki, Miyagi, a coastal city that was destroyed by the 2011 tsunami and has only just begun to rebuild.


At the heart of the tensions is an unresolved debate about how much people across Fukushima should be compensated for the suffering, dislocation and uncertainty that followed the nuclear accident.

Some Iwaki residents grumble they are being forced to shoulder the burden of hosting evacuees who receive far more compensation from the government and do not have to pay rent on their government-provided prefab temporary homes.

In January 2013, vandals threw paint and broke windows on cars parked in evacuee housing at multiple locations. Less than a month earlier, someone had painted graffiti reading, "Evacuees Go Home" at the entrance to a city office.

Crane units are installed over the spent fuel pool inside the No.4 reactor building at the tunami-crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, in this photo released by Kyodo November 6, 2013. (REUTERS/Kyodo)             

Tokyo Electric Power, the operator of the Fukushima plant, has paid almost $41 billion in compensation as a result of the nuclear accident. Payments vary depending on the amount of radiation recorded in a particular area, a system that evacuees have complained appears arbitrary.

A family of four in one part of an evacuated town might receive $1 million, while a similar family in a less contaminated part of the same evacuated town would get just over half of that amount, according to data from Japan's trade ministry.

The radioactive plume that erupted after a partial meltdown at the Fukushima plant travelled northwest, missing Iwaki. Most of Iwaki's residents evacuated for a while, but most then returned. Their compensation was also limited: the majority received about 120,000 yen ($1,200) each.

Many established residents in Iwaki complain government payouts to the newcomers have been frittered away on luxury cars and villas, locally dubbed "disaster relief mansions."

"The food the evacuees eat and the clothes they wear are different," said Hiroshi Watahiki, 56, a chiropractor in Iwaki. "They can afford it from their compensation funds. They have time and money to go gambling since they're not working."

A poll in January by Takaki showed residents had conflicting feelings about the evacuees. More than half of those surveyed expressed sympathy for them, but 67 percent also said they "feel envious of their compensation."

The tensions are unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

The government is planning to build 3,700 permanent apartments to replace the temporary units for evacuees, most of them in Iwaki. The first 1,600 apartments, however, are nine months behind schedule and will not be ready until 2017, officials say. (Reuters)

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Five things to know about earthquake faults

Five things to know about earthquake faults — The 6.0-earthquake that damaged buildings and left scores of people injured in California's wine country was the largest temblor to hit the San Francisco Bay Area since the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.

Loma Prieta occurred on the extremely active San Andreas Fault. Seismologists say Sunday's quake near Napa occurred on the lesser-known West Napa Fault, which has not been well-mapped.

"If you had put a bunch of seismologists and geologists together in a room and asked them where the next magnitude-6.0 quake would occur in the Bay Area, this would likely be the fifth fault they would name or the sixth," said Jack Boatwright, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "The amount we don't know is overwhelming."

Here are five things to know about faults in California:


— Faults are fractures between two blocks of rock that form the Earth's crust. A big earthquake can result when the blocks move. But faults can be difficult to discover when there is nothing on the surface such as visible fissures to indicate their presence. At least part of the West Napa Fault falls into this category, according to Boatwright. An earthquake such as the temblor that struck Sunday can help scientists spot and study faults. The speed at which one side of the fault slides past the other determines earthquake activity. The fastest moving faults have more and larger earthquakes.
An earthquake damaged home sits on officers row on Mare Island, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, in Vallejo, Calif. Most of the historic row homes had fallen chimneys and were sealed off. The historic blue-collar town of Vallejo is a short distance but a far cry from the touristy Napa Valley's vineyards and quaint towns, but when Sunday's big earthquake struck, it was not spared. It was the latest blow to a town that has weathered years of bankruptcy and is now beset by gangs and crime. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

— There are several hundred known faults in the state and others that are not known, said Lucy Jones, a seismologist with the USGS. About 200 are considered potentially hazardous, according to the state Department of Conservation.


— Scientists consider an active fault to be one that has ruptured in the past 11,000 years, Jones said. The San Andreas is extremely active and produces a big earthquake every 100 to 200 years. It is blamed for the 1906 quake that led to devastating fires in San Francisco and leveled much of the city.


— A magnitude-5.0 earthquake that also caused damage occurred in the Napa area in 2000.


— Yes, but the pressure can be distributed to other parts of the fault, which can then produce other quakes. So Sunday's temblor does not mean the West Napa Fault, which is thought to stretch about 20 miles, won't see another quake of some significance. There are not enough small quakes to adequately relieve pressure and prevent big ones, Boatwright said. ( Associated Press )

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Iceland volcano alert at red after small eruption, no ash detected

Iceland volcano alert at red after small eruption, no ash detected - Iceland raised its alert warning level to maximum on Friday after what it called a small eruption in the Bardarbunga volcano system but said there was no sign of ash that could affect air travel in Europe.

In 2010, an ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, in a different region of Iceland, closed much of Europe's air space for six days.

Iceland's largest volcanic system, which cuts a 190-km (118-mile)-long and up to 25-km-(15.5-mile)-wide swathe across the North Atlantic island, has been hit by thousands of earthquakes over the last two weeks and scientists have been on high alert in case of an eruption.

Reykjavik's Meteorological Office said that just after midnight an estimated 1-km-long fissure eruption began in a lava field north of the Vatnajokull glacier, which covers part of Bardarbunga system.

The risk of an ash cloud is highest in case of a sub-glacial eruption. 

"The Icelandic Met Office has raised the aviation colorcode over the eruption site to red and the Icelandic Air Traffic Control has closed down the air space from the earth up to 18,000 feet," the National Crisis Coordination Centre said in a statement.

Red is the highest alert level on a five-color scale and indicates that an eruption is imminent or under way, with a risk of ash.

"No volcanic ash has been detected with the radar system at the moment....Seismic eruption tremor is low indicating effusive eruption without significant explosive activity," the crisis center said.

The eruption is at the tip of a magma dyke around 40 km from the main Bardarbunga crater and activity subsided to relatively low levels after peaking between 2020 and 2200 ET (Thursday), Iceland Met Office seismologist Martin Hensch said.

He said that it was impossible to say how the eruption would develop.

"One of the concerns is that the fissure opens into the glacier but presently there is no sign of that happening," he said, adding that the eruption was 6-8 km from the glacier.

Nick Petford, a vulcanology expert at the University of Northampton in Britain, said fissure eruptions were often spectacular, but relatively low key and often died out in a couple of days. "If it carries on like this, it is very unlikely it will constitute any major hazard to aircraft."

But there could be a sting in the tail, he said.

"Exactly the same thing happened in 2010 with the Eyjafjallajokull volcano," Petford said. "The main eruption was in April, but in March there was a fissure eruption which was a precursor to the much larger eruption."

The Eyjafjallajokull eruption was particularly disruptive because it pushed ash up to just the elevation used by transatlantic aircraft, while prevailing winds propelled the cloud into European air space. The ash was also particularly sticky due to its chemical composition.

Petford said that if the current eruption subsided, scientists would be looking for signs of more quakes deeper under the volcano, which would suggest more magma was welling up, and for any swelling of the volcano that could be measured using GPS.

"Those are pretty clear evidence that large amounts of magma are being stored within the volcano and that's a good indication it will explode." (Reuters)

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Heavy equipment falls into Fukushima reactor pool

Heavy equipment falls into Fukushima reactor pool - A 400-kilogramme (880-pound) machine part fell into a nuclear fuel pool at Japan's crippled Fukushima plant Friday, the operator said.

Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), said it had not detected any significant changes in radiation readings or in the level of pool water at the No. 3 reactor.

A massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 ravaged Japan's northeastern coast and wrecked the plant, sparking meltdowns at three of its six reactors.

Friday's incident occurred shortly after noon during a remotely controlled operation to remove debris from the fuel pool at the unit where the broken reactor still lies untouched. The pool contains 566 fuel rods, most of which are spent.

The operating console of the fuel handling machine slipped loose and fell into the pool as it was about to be lifted by a crane, TEPCO said in a statement.

The console weighed 400 kilogrammes and measured 160 centimetres (63 inches) by 90 cm by 100 cm, a TEPCO official said.

Radioactivity readings at the pool remained unchanged at 3.2 millisieverts per hour after the incident, the statement said.

"The operation was being remotely controlled and there were no injuries caused to workers," the official said.

The meltdowns at Fukushima were the world's worst nuclear mishap since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, and forced hundreds of thousands of local residents to evacuate nearby areas.

In a vivid reminder of the fragility of the area, a magnitude-5.0 quake struck off the Fukushima coast hours after Friday's incident.

But there were no fears of tsunami and no immediate reports of damage. ( AFP )

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