As New York City grapples with tracing the contacts of Craig Spencer, a young physician infected with the Ebola virus, It’s worth drawing attention to two worthy efforts to tamp down unreasoned fears — President Obama’s White House embrace of Nina Pham, the Dallas nurse who contracted Ebola while treating a dying patient, and David Ropeik’s fine piece on the perils posed by Ebola fears, published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Here’s an excerpt from the piece by Ropeik, who’s the author of“How Risky is it, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts”:
There is no question that America’s physical, economic, and social health is far more at risk from the fear of Ebola than from the virus itself. Yet health care leaders from the US president down are pouring resources and attention into managing Ebola far beyond what is required to keep the disease from spreading beyond sporadic cases. Controlling Ebola in the United States requires thorough isolation of symptomatic victims and rigorous attention to personal protective equipment and protocols for health care workers. But it does not require the appointment of an “Ebola Czar,” a promise to call up the National Guard if necessary, or the cancellation of a presidential fund-raising trip in order to convene a two-hour emergency meeting with every top federal official involved in public health and safety.
U.S. health leaders are communicating reasonably well. Constant, honest, humble risk communication is a vital part of establishing trust, which is especially crucial for managing public concern during crises. When mistakes are made, they admit them. When new developments happen—like a Texas Presbyterian health care worker who had to be isolated but was already on a cruise ship—they report them. While perhaps sounding too confident as they claim they can keep Ebola from becoming a public epidemic, they are avoiding un-keepable promises of absolute safety, acknowledging that there may well be more sporadic cases.
But officials are up against the inherently emotional and instinctive nature of risk-perception psychology. Pioneering research on this subject by Paul Slovic, Baruch Fischhoff, and others, vast research on human cognition by Daniel Kahneman and colleagues, and research on the brain’s fear response by neuroscientists Joseph LeDoux, Elizabeth Phelps, and others, all make abundantly clear that the perception of risk is not simply a matter of the facts, but more a matter of how those facts feel. [Please read the rest.]
The most legitimately scary thing about this virus is its tendency to target caregivers like Spencer and other medical personnel and so many family members — particularly women — in affected regions in West Africa. For more on this chilling aspect of the outbreak, please read Ben Hale’s recent piece in Slate: “The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola: The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.”
Found at NYT.
Inside the 4 U.S. Biocontainment Hospitals That Are Stopping Ebola [Video]
Four small but well-equipped wards across the U.S. provide a front line of treatment for highly infectious diseases and bioterrorism attacks
When a new, highly infectious disease lands on U.S. shores, four unique treatment centers stand ready to contain and treat it. Sprinkled across the east coast, Midwest and Rocky Mountain west, these “biocontainment units” inside larger facilities have been funded and tapped by the federal government to take patients who could otherwise fuel a devastating epidemic.
These centers made the news in August asEbola patients began to arrive in the U.S. Of these, three patients have been treated at Emory University Hospital (Kent Brantly, Nancy Writebol and a doctor who remains unidentified) and two at Nebraska Medical Center (Rick Sacra and Ashoka Mukpo)—and all have survived. But these units weren’t designed with Ebola in mind.
Containing Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever virus that is spread via contact with bodily fluids, should be a relatively simple undertaking for these specialized units. The centers were made to contain and treat highly infectious as well as contagious deadly diseases, such as those that can easily spread through the air. (Ebola is highly infectious in that patients displaying symptoms shed many virus particles but it is not considered highly contagious, given that it can only be spread through bodily fluids of symptomatic patients.) Among the scary diseases these highly specialized facilities can handle are bird flu (avian influenza), drug-resistant tuberculosis, monkeypox, plague, SARS, smallpox and tularemia. “Right now they’re the best we have,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “They serve as the very foundation in the U.S.” for fighting highly infectious diseases. They have, he notes, the best equipment, the right protocols and the properly trained personnel to confront diseases for which most other hospitals would be unprepared.
“Highly infectious patients are really their forte,” says Amy Ray, an assistant professor focusing on infectious disease at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and chair of the University Hospitals System Infection Control Committee. “This is really what these centers were built for.”
So how do these centers deal with patients who show signs of rare, highly virulent or unknown pathogens? Here are the vitals on each facility.
Continue reading this HERE.
Ten Species That Are Evolving Due to the Changing Climate
From tropical corals to tawny owls, some species are already being pushed to evolve—but adaptation doesn’t guarantee survival
Climate change is poised to become a serial killer. With rapid temperature swings around the world, ecosystems have been thrown into flux, exacerbating problems such as habitat loss that have already pushed many plant and animal species to the brink. Some biologists argue that Earth is on the verge of another major extinction event. The big question is whether plants and animals can adapt quickly enough to outpace climate change.
We often think of evolution as something that happens slowly, but that’s not always the case. If the selection pressures are strong enough, evolution can happen over mere decades. For instance, an experiment growing brewer’s yeast in environments with deadly concentrations of salt showed that the microbe population took a hit but then bounced back thanks to rapid changes in a couple genes over just 25 generations.
Identifying genetic adaptations in response to climate change can be tricky. Long-term data sets can tell us the most about whether a species is truly evolving, but it’s hard to tell if any genetic differences were selected for climate reasons alone. What’s more, not all genetic adaptations may be beneficial in the long term. And some species may not even need to evolve to survive. Physical or behavioral modifications made during an individual’s lifetime may help enough members within a species thrive in a changing world.
Here are 10 species that may already be adapting to climate change—for better or worse:
Continue reading HERE.
Procter & Gamble is dumping Duracell.
The consumer goods giant plans to split off the battery brand, one of the world’s largest by market share. It’s likely the biggest part of a plan to shed as many as 100 sluggish product lines, slim down the company, and focus on businesses with growth potential.
Resentment and economic envy in Europe.
Think tank Open Europe has a good explainer of the controversy over EU budget contributions. Its conclusion:
While this does not necessarily seem to be a political stitch up from the EU there is no doubt that it is unreasonable and politically irresponsible. Retroactively taxing someone over 20 years is fundamentally unfair. The fact that the UK and Netherlands are being punished for doing better than expected and better than others almost encapsulates everything that is wrong with the EU’s approach – particularly when the Eurozone economy is struggling to find any growth.
Small Drones: The IEDs of the Next War
Non-state actors could soon have air forces
They are cheap, readily constructed from items lying around the garage and gardening shed, come in every imaginable shape and size and can be triggered in a myriad of ways. I am referring to improvised explosive devices or IEDs. This was the one tactical threat the U.S. didn’t plan for when it went into Iraq and Afghanistan, and it nearly lost us the war. It cost the military and local civilians dearly in terms of lives, lost and individuals injured, often horribly. Responding to the IED threat also cost this country tens of billions of dollars to design and acquire fleets of specially-armored and protected vehicles, electronic jamming systems, advanced sensors and robots. The Pentagon stood up an entirely new command, the Joint IED Defeat Organization, just to combat this threat.
In the next insurgency, U.S. and coalition forces could find themselves facing a new equally dangerous and disruptive threat: unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), often called drones. I am not referring to the large, high-flying, long-range and sophisticated unpiloted aerial vehicles such as the U.S. Reaper or Global Hawk or the Israeli Heron. Rather, I am speaking of relatively small and very simple drones that would fly low, have limited range and carry a payload measured in pounds.
In its recent conflicts, the U.S. military deployed several highly effective small UAVs that were built out of plastic parts, employed commercially available sensor systems and avionics and whose launch and recovery systems were constructed from parts available at Home Depot.
To date, there have been relatively few cases of other countries and, more importantly, non-state actors, employing drones. But they are coming. All the relevant technologies are proliferated around the world. The airframe can be made from cheap materials. They can be powered by battery-driven electric motors found in gardening implements. They need no better guidance system than the GPS that can be found in the average cell phone. But if you want command guidance you can get a small video camera almost anywhere and route the feed through that same cell phone connected to the local communications network. They can be built in a garage and launched from the driveway.
The proliferation of drones could radically alter the tactical battle space. For the first time, non-state adversaries would have an air force. Obviously, if they were equipped with cameras, drones could provide terrorists and insurgents with critical intelligence and targeting information. Loaded with even a few pounds of explosives, drones are precision-guided weapons able to be used against fixed and even mobile targets, something our adversaries lack in their current inventories of rockets and missiles. Deployed on ships, drones would provide our adversaries with a low-cost “aircraft carrier.”
Small drones pose three distinct challenges to advanced militaries different than either manned aircraft or missiles. The first is the engagement envelope. Because these drones are small, fly low and are very quiet, they would be difficult to detect and engage with existing air defense systems. There might be no warning of an attack. Missile defenses would be equally ineffective.
The second challenge drones pose is to the defenses’ magazines. Simply put, the defense is more likely to run out of interceptors before the insurgents run out of drones. If drones were employed in swarming attacks, the defense might not be able to shoot fast them down enough, even if it has the right number of interceptors, to stop the attack.
The third challenge, possibly the most difficult, is the cost-exchange ratio between cheap drones and relatively expensive defensive weapons. We have known for a long time that it was prohibitively expensive to buy enough conventional interceptor missiles to shoot down all incoming rockets and ballistic missiles. The key to the very successful Israeli Iron Dome defense is that it only engages those weapons that are heading for populated areas or infrastructure targets. An attack by drones employing advanced guidance systems would require the defense to intercept all the inbound UAVs. The cost-exchange ratio would be prohibitively expensive.
The U.S. military, in general, but the Army in particular, needs to accept the reality that this threat is coming and get in front of it. This means dealing with all three of the challenges posed by small, low flying drones.
First, new sensors, probably airborne or on aerostats, are needed in order to allow existing systems such as the Navy’s Close in Weapons System or machine guns to be effective.
Second, new weapons are needed in order to increase ammunition stocks and reverse the cost exchange ratio. This means tactical lasers or microwave weapons. The Army has a tactical laser demonstrator program that has demonstrated real effectiveness against drones.
Finally, a combination of electronic warfare and passive defenses will be required to defeat the drones’ sensors and guidance systems.
Make no mistake, this threat is coming. The recent conflict in Gaza taught the world’s terrorists and insurgents about the limited utility of even massive arsenals of unguided rockets and missiles. They will be looking for an alternative weapon. All the components needed to build a small, precision-guided, weaponized drone are available at ISIS’s equivalent of Radio Shack.