Yesterday, the Qatari Ambassador to the United States, Mohammed Jaham Al Kawari, spoke to a packed house at the New World Landing as the Tiger Bay Club gathered to hear how little Qatar is exerting big influence in the world peace-making arena.
The ambassador has an impressive biography, and in appearance very polished, very French. He isn’t afraid to tackle the tough questions, and presents Qatar’s position in a way that people can hear and understand.
Thank you, John Mueller, for this fascinating article from Science NOW:
Middle Eastern Virus More Widespread Than Thought
It’s called Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, after the region where almost all the patients have been reported. But the name may turn out to be a misnomer. A new study has found the virus in camels from Sudan and Ethiopia, suggesting that Africa, too, harbors the pathogen. That means MERS may sicken more humans than previously thought—and perhaps be more likely to trigger a pandemic.
MERS has sickened 183 people and killed 80, most of them in Saudi Arabia. A couple of cases have occurred in countries outside the region, such as France and the United Kingdom, but those clusters all started with a patient who had traveled to the Middle East before falling ill.
Scientists have uncovered more and more evidence implicating camels in the spread of the disease. They found that a large percentage of camels in the Middle East have antibodies against MERS in their blood, while other animals, such as goats and sheep, do not. Researchers have also isolated MERS virus RNA from nose swabs of camels in Qatar, and earlier this week, they showed that the virus has circulated in Saudi Arabian camels for at least 2 decades.
Malik Peiris, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Hong Kong, and colleagues expanded the search to Africa. In a paper published last year, they showed that camels in Egypt carried antibodies against MERS. For the new study, they took samples from four abattoirs around Egypt; again they found antibodies against MERS in the blood of 48 out of 52 camels they tested. But the most interesting results came from taking nose swabs from 110 camels: They found MERS RNA in four animals that had been shipped in from Sudan and Ethiopia.
Peiris cautions that it is unclear whether the infected camels picked up the virus in Sudan and Ethiopia or on their final journey in Egypt. Abattoirs could help spread MERS just like live poultry markets do for influenza, he says. “You cannot point the finger exactly at where those viruses came from,” he says. “But I would be very surprised if you do not find the virus in large parts of Africa.”
If so, that changes the picture of MERS considerably. No human MERS cases have been reported from Egypt or anywhere else in Africa, but if camels are infected, they may well occur, says Marion Koopmans, an infectious disease researcher at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “It would be important to look systematically into that,” she writes in an e-mail. “Health authorities really need to test patients with severe pneumonia all across Africa for MERS,” Peiris says.
The researchers were able to sequence the virus of one of the camels almost completely, and it is more than 99% identical with viruses found in people. “I would be very surprised if this virus cannot infect humans,” says Christian Drosten, a virologist at the University of Bonn in Germany. But the virus also shows a few intriguing differences from known camel samples, he says. “We have to analyze this carefully in the next few days, but it looks like this sequence broadens the viral repertoire found in camels,” he says. If the viruses found in camels show more genetic variation than those isolated from humans, that is further strong evidence that camels are infecting humans and not the other way around.
Anthony Mounts, the point person for MERS at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, says that it is very likely that human MERS cases occur in Africa. “Wherever we find [infected] camels, there is a good chance we’ll find [human] cases if we look closely,” he says. And humans may be exposed to camels in Africa much more often than in the Middle East: There were about 260,000 camels in Saudi Arabia in 2012, but almost a million in Ethiopia and 4.8 million in Sudan, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. The more human cases there are, the higher the risk that the virus will one day learn how to become easily transmissible between people, which could set off a pandemic.
The researchers also looked at the blood of 179 people working at the camel abattoirs for antibodies against MERS virus, but found none. That shows that the virus is only rarely successful in infecting human beings, Peiris says. “What we need to find out now is the reason for these rare transmissions.”
Journalists are tough, and snarky. All the photos and stories coming out of Sochi about the orangey brown water coming out of the taps, doors kicked down so new TVs can be installed (better late than never) etc. These are things we take for granted when we go to other countries, especially when they are undergoing rapid construction. There are times when deadlines are not met and things do not go smoothly. (I will never forget the look on the face of our building care-taker, who had sworn to me, over and over, he had no key to my apartment, but who walked in one day when my car was at the dealership for repairs, and he thought I was gone, too.) Things happen.
But one journalist on NPR (National Public Radio) cracked me up totally talking about the opening ceremony, and how beautiful it was until the climax, and the five snowflakes morphed into five Olympic rings – or at least that was the plan. “Four rings – and one lonely little snowflake! This is the memory of the Sochi games!” he chortled, and I found myself laughing, too, at that one lonely little snowflake.
I would hate to be the person responsible for that snowflake, or any of the hotel problems. It may be modern day Russia, but heads can still roll 😦
As it turns out, the Russians never saw that. They saw a doctored tape from the rehearsal, when all went as scored:
Report from Huffpost via AOL:
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Smoke and mirrors? Russian state television aired footage Friday of five floating snowflakes turning into the Olympic rings and bursting into pyrotechnics at the Sochi Games opening ceremony. Problem is, that didn’t happen.
The opening ceremony at the Winter Games hit a bump when only four of the five rings materialized in a wintry opening scene. The five were supposed to join together and erupt in fireworks. But one snowflake never expanded, and the pyrotechnics never went off.
But everything worked fine for viewers of the Rossiya 1, the Russian host broadcaster.
As the fifth ring got stuck, Rossiya cut away to rehearsal footage. All five rings came together, and the fireworks exploded on cue.
“It didn’t show on television, thank God,” Jean Claude-Killy, the French ski great who heads the IOC coordination commission for the Sochi Games, told The Associated Press.
Producers confirmed the switch, saying it was important to preserve the imagery of the Olympic symbols.
The unveiling of the rings is always one of the most iconic moments of an opening ceremony, and President Vladimir Putin has been determined to use the ceremony as an introduction of the new Russia to the world.
Konstantin Ernst, executive creative director of the opening ceremony, told reporters at a news conference that he called down to master control to tell them to go the practice footage when he realized what happened.
“This is an open secret,” he said, referring to the use of the pre-recorded footage. The show’s artistic director George Tsypin said the malfunction was caused by a bad command from a stage manager.
Ernst defended his decision, saying that the most important part was preserving the images and the Olympic tradition: “This is certainly bad, but it does not humiliate us.”
NBC was to air the ceremony in the U.S. on tape delay later Friday.
Glitches are not uncommon at Olympic opening ceremonies.
There was a minor controversy over trickery involving the fireworks at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, after it was revealed that some of the display featured prerecorded footage.
Fireworks bursting into the shape of gigantic footprints were shown trudging above the Beijing skyline to the National Stadium near the start of the ceremony. Officials confirmed that some of the footage shown to TV viewers around the world and on giant screens inside the stadium featured a computer-generated, three-dimensional image.
In addition, a tiny, pigtailed 9-year-old girl in a red dress who sang “Ode to the Motherland” was lip-synching. The real voice belonged to a 7-year-old girl who was replaced because she was deemed not cute enough by a member of China’s Politburo.
At the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Luciano Pavarotti’s performance was prerecorded. The maestro who conducted the aria, Leone Magiera, said the bitter cold made a live performance impossible.
Associated Press writers Stephen Wilson and Oskar Garcia contributed to this report.
KUWAIT: Traffic police in the area of Hawalli have set a record by booking 995 drivers and motorcycle riders in a one-day campaign to fight chaos on the roads. “A large team of traffic policemen was deployed in the area to check the extent of discipline and compliance with the law on the roads,” security sources told local daily Al-Rai. “The policemen detained 20 people and impounded their cars. Among them, there were five people who did not have a driving licence, seven who were utterly reckless in their driving, three who staged a race and five who did not have licences to ride their motorcycles,” the sources said. According to the figures he revealed, 23 cars and five motorbikes were impounded in the crackdown conducted on Friday.
Lesser violations included uninsured vehicles, tinted windows, not wearing seat belts and parking in areas for people with special needs, the sources said. Traffic officers in Kuwait have been actively engaged in relentless campaigns to restore order in a sector plagued by a high toll of accident fatalities, reckless driving and non-compliance with administrative procedures. Foreigners who repeatedly broke the law have been deported for endangering lives while citizens have been deprived of their vehicles or licences.
Abdul Fattah Al Ali, assistant undersecretary for traffic and the force behind the campaigns, who had come under attack, mainly from the opposition, for his strong approach towards foreign drivers who commit several traffic offences, said that the trend to end the chaos and impose road discipline would continue.
“I am not an abusive person, but I do apply the law and assume my responsibilities to save lives and protect people from reckless drivers,” he said. “The expatriates who do not respect the law should be sent home. We will deport the irresponsible expatriates who do not respect the laws of the country,” he said. “We have also extended the vehicle impounding period from two to four months and drivers can now be held for 48 hours for the sake of the investigation and the normal procedures.”
The crackdown led the authorities to discover that 20,000 forged driving licences had been issued since 2010. “We have withdrawn 7,000 forged licences, and we are working on tracking down and cancelling all the others,” Al-Ali has said.
He added that expatriates summoned to the traffic directorate should come forth and hand their licences, assuring them that there would be “no questions asked”. However, those who fail to show up to hand back the licences will face forgery charges and will be deported, he said.
Comment: 20,000 forged licenses??? 20,000???
This totally cracked me up; the Qatar Gulf Times publishes an article about how smoothly traffic flowed on the day the Indian schools opened, noting that Arab and Independent schools will open on succeeding days. They published this photo with the article:
This is a shock; thank you Hayfa for this up-to-the-minute article from the New York Times. Contrary to all we’ve believed for many years, taking some vitamins – including C and E – shortens your lives. Who knew??
PHILADELPHIA — LAST month, Katy Perry shared her secret to good health with her 37 million followers on Twitter. “I’m all about that supplement & vitamin LYFE!” the pop star wrote, posting a snapshot of herself holding up three large bags of pills. There is one disturbing fact about vitamins, however, that Katy didn’t mention.
Derived from “vita,” meaning life in Latin, vitamins are necessary to convert food into energy. When people don’t get enough vitamins, they suffer diseases like scurvy and rickets. The question isn’t whether people need vitamins. They do. The questions are how much do they need, and do they get enough in foods?
Nutrition experts argue that people need only the recommended daily allowance — the amount of vitamins found in a routine diet. Vitamin manufacturers argue that a regular diet doesn’t contain enough vitamins, and that more is better. Most people assume that, at the very least, excess vitamins can’t do any harm. It turns out, however, that scientists have known for years that large quantities of supplemental vitamins can be quite harmful indeed.
In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1994, 29,000 Finnish men, all smokers, had been given daily vitamin E, beta carotene, both or a placebo. The study found that those who had taken beta carotene for five to eight years were more likely to die from lung cancer or heart disease.
Two years later the same journal published another study on vitamin supplements. In it, 18,000 people who were at an increased risk of lung cancer because of asbestos exposure or smoking received a combination of vitamin A and beta carotene, or a placebo. Investigators stopped the study when they found that the risk of death from lung cancer for those who took the vitamins was 46 percent higher.
Then, in 2004, a review of 14 randomized trials for the Cochrane Database found that the supplemental vitamins A, C, E and beta carotene, and a mineral, selenium, taken to prevent intestinal cancers, actually increased mortality.
Another review, published in 2005 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that in 19 trials of nearly 136,000 people, supplemental vitamin E increased mortality. Also that year, a study of people with vascular disease or diabetes found that vitamin E increased the risk of heart failure. And in 2011, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association tied vitamin E supplements to an increased risk of prostate cancer.
Finally, last year, a Cochrane review found that “beta carotene and vitamin E seem to increase mortality, and so may higher doses of vitamin A.”
What explains this connection between supplemental vitamins and increased rates of cancer and mortality? The key word is antioxidants.
Antioxidation vs. oxidation has been billed as a contest between good and evil. It takes place in cellular organelles called mitochondria, where the body converts food to energy — a process that requires oxygen (oxidation). One consequence of oxidation is the generation of atomic scavengers called free radicals (evil). Free radicals can damage DNA, cell membranes and the lining of arteries; not surprisingly, they’ve been linked to aging, cancer and heart disease.
To neutralize free radicals, the body makes antioxidants (good). Antioxidants can also be found in fruits and vegetables, specifically in selenium, beta carotene and vitamins A, C and E. Some studies have shown that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower incidence of cancer and heart disease and live longer. The logic is obvious. If fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, and people who eat fruits and vegetables are healthier, then people who take supplemental antioxidants should also be healthier. It hasn’t worked out that way.
The likely explanation is that free radicals aren’t as evil as advertised. (In fact, people need them to kill bacteria and eliminate new cancer cells.) And when people take large doses of antioxidants in the form of supplemental vitamins, the balance between free radical production and destruction might tip too much in one direction, causing an unnatural state where the immune system is less able to kill harmful invaders. Researchers call this the antioxidant paradox.
Because studies of large doses of supplemental antioxidants haven’t clearly supported their use, respected organizations responsible for the public’s health do not recommend them for otherwise healthy people.
So why don’t we know about this? Why haven’t Food and Drug Administration officials made sure we are aware of the dangers? The answer is, they can’t.
In December 1972, concerned that people were consuming larger and larger quantities of vitamins, the F.D.A. announced a plan to regulate vitamin supplements containing more than 150 percent of the recommended daily allowance. Vitamin makers would now have to prove that these “megavitamins” were safe before selling them. Not surprisingly, the vitamin industry saw this as a threat, and set out to destroy the bill. In the end, it did far more than that.
Industry executives recruited William Proxmire, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, to introduce a bill preventing the F.D.A. from regulating megavitamins. On Aug. 14, 1974, the hearing began.
Speaking in support of F.D.A. regulation was Marsha Cohen, a lawyer with the Consumers Union. Setting eight cantaloupes in front of her, she said, “You would need to eat eight cantaloupes — a good source of vitamin C — to take in barely 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C. But just these two little pills, easy to swallow, contain the same amount.” She warned that if the legislation passed, “one tablet would contain as much vitamin C as all of these cantaloupes, or even twice, thrice or 20 times that amount. And there would be no protective satiety level.” Ms. Cohen was pointing out the industry’s Achilles’ heel: ingesting large quantities of vitamins is unnatural, the opposite of what manufacturers were promoting.
A little more than a month later, Mr. Proxmire’s bill passed by a vote of 81 to 10. In 1976, it became law. Decades later, Peter Barton Hutt, chief counsel to the F.D.A., wrote that “it was the most humiliating defeat” in the agency’s history.
As a result, consumers don’t know that taking megavitamins could increase their risk of cancer and heart disease and shorten their lives; they don’t know that they have been suffering too much of a good thing for too long.
Paul A. Offit is the chief of the infectious diseases division of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the author of the forthcoming book “Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.”