Doctors raise blood pressure in patients

Doctors routinely record blood pressure levels that are significantly higher than levels recorded by nurses, the first thorough analysis of scientific data has revealed.A systematic review led by the University of Exeter Medical School, and supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in the South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC), has discovered that recordings taken by doctors are significantly higher (by 7/4mmHg) than when the same patients are tested by nurses.Dr Christopher Clark, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said the findings, published in the British Journal of General Practice, should lead to changes in clinical practice. “Doctors should continue to measure blood pressure as part of the assessment of an ill patient or a routine check-up, but not where clinical decisions on blood pressure treatment depend on the outcome. The difference we noted is enough to tip some patients over the threshold for treatment for high blood pressure, and unnecessary medication can lead to unwanted side-effects. Some patients may be erroneously asked to continue to monitor their own blood pressure at home, which can build anxiety. These inappropriate measures could all be avoided by the simple measure of someone other than a doctor taking the blood pressure recording.””Researchers should also think carefully about how to account for this effect in studies that compare treatment by doctors and nurses. Some studies have concluded that nurses are better at treating hypertension, when in fact those findings could be down to this recording bias.”The phenomenon of doctors recording higher blood pressure is known as the “white coat effect,” and is thought to result from the patient’s physical response to being assessed by a doctor. It has previously been noted in a number of studies, but Dr Clark’s research is the first comprehensive analysis of available data to quantify this effect.The team examined the blood pressure levels of 1,019 individuals whose measurements had been taken by both doctors and nurses at the same visit. Dr Clark said: “Our results were pooled from different settings across ten countries, so we can be confident that they can be generalised to any healthcare environment where blood pressure is being measured. These results were all from research trials — our next task will be to examine data from GP surgeries.”Professor John Campbell, Professor of General Practice and Primary Care at the University of Exeter Medical School and a co-author on the study said: “This interesting study forms part of our portfolio of primary care research examining factors which might need to be considered when doctors and other healthcare professionals undertake assessments of patient’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Increasing doctor’s awareness of factors which might affect the accurate assessment of blood pressure is of great importance since this is one of the commonest clinical assessments undertaken, and one where important decisions regarding a patient health and well-being may follow.”The University of Exeter Primary Care Research Group is part of the Medical School’s Institute of Health Research. …

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DNA from fossils reveal origin of Norwegian lemmings

A new ancient DNA study shows that the Norwegian lemming has a unique history. In contrast to other mammals in Fennoscandia, the Norwegian lemming may have survived the last Ice Age in the far north, sealed off from the rest of the world by gigantic ice sheets. This conclusion is drawn by an international team of researchers in an article published this week in the journal Molecular Ecology.The Norwegian lemming is an iconic small mammal that is unique to the Fennoscandian mountain tundra. Known for its dramatic fluctuations in population size, it is a keystone species in the mountain tundra ecosystem. But its origin has until now remained somewhat of a mystery.Twenty thousand years ago, Fennoscandia was covered by a thick ice sheet. Animals and plants in the region are therefore thought to originate from populations that lived to the south or east of the ice sheet, and colonised Fennoscandia as the ice melted. With this in mind, and international team of scientists, led by researchers at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, set out to investigate from where the Norwegian lemming originated at the end of the last Ice Age. To do this, the researchers retrieved and analysed ancient DNA from lemming populations that surrounded the ice sheet during the last Ice Age.- “We found that even though the populations surrounding the ice sheet were closely related to modern day lemmings, none of them were similar enough to be the direct ancestor of the Norwegian lemming,” says Love Daln, Associate Professor at the Swedish Museum of Natural History.After eliminating these populations as potential sources, the researchers concluded that the only remaining explanation was that the Norwegian lemming originates from a population that survived the last glaciation somewhere locally in Fennoscandia. The exact location where the Norwegian lemming could have survived the last glaciation is not clear, but likely places include coastal areas or mountain plateaus sticking out from the ice sheet.”The Norwegian lemming is the only endemic mammal in Fennoscandia, and its unusual origin is probably the reason why,” says Vendela Lagerholm, lead author on the study.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Expertsvar. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Caravan Firm in Court After Worker Fall

Home » No Win No Fee » Latest Personal Injury News » 2014 » 3 » Caravan Firm in Court After Worker FallCaravan Firm in Court After Worker FallA caravan manufacturer has been fined after a worker was seriously injured in a fall from height.An unnamed 30-year-old from Chingford in Essex, who wishes to remain anonymous, fell from a makeshift platform while he was attaching metalwork cladding to the side of a caravan at the Roma Caravans site in Silsoe, Bedfordshire.ProsecutionThe accident led to the firm’s prosecution, after Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors concluded that Roma Caravans did not have a safe system of work and left its staff members at serious risk of harm when they carried out day-to-day jobs.Although a number of safeguard failings were identified by the HSE investigation, the crux of its case against Roma Caravans was the 30-year-old man’s accident, which indicated a lack of oversight when it came to staff safety.Luton and South Bedfordshire Magistrates’ Court heard that the platform the man stood on comprised a wooden plank placed across a metal frame, something that falls well short of expected standards in the manufacturing sector.FallAs the worker attempted to step off the platform to retrieve his tools, the far end of the plank he was stood on swung up and struck him in the groin.This sent him crashing towards the floor, with the makeshift scaffold collapsing around him.After initial observations it was concluded the man had escaped unscathed and suffered only minor bruising, but two days later he collapsed and was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.This condition is a set of symptoms stemming from brain damage incurred during a head injury and can appear days, or even months, after the original accident took place.HeadachesThe anonymous worker has, since his original injury, suffered from regular, severe headaches and pains to his hip.For its failure to protect its personnel from harm, Roma Caravans, of Amenbury Lane, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £3,527 costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.Speaking after the prosecution, HSE inspector Andrew McGill said, “This incident was entirely avoidable and illustrates the need for duty holders to ensure work of this nature is carefully planned and managed at all times.”By not providing suitable equipment, Roma Caravans put the safety of a worker at risk. Appropriate and stable work platforms should always be used for any work undertaken at height.”Falls from heightFalls from height remain common in the private sector and the HSE has outlined that it wishes to see an improvement in the coming months, otherwise further crackdowns could be ordered against businesses that put their workers at risk.Earlier this month it was revealed that a London-based scaffolding company was fined by the authority after a self-employed decorator suffered a fractured arm and dislocated shoulder by falling off a temporary structure.Beacon Scaffolding, of Gloucester Avenue, was fined £5,000 and told to pay £1,737 after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.By Chris StevensonOr Call freephone 0800 884 0321SHARE THIS

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Dust in the wind drove iron fertilization during ice age

Researchers from Princeton University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have confirmed that during the last ice age iron fertilization caused plankton to thrive in a region of the Southern Ocean.The study published in Science confirms a longstanding hypothesis that wind-borne dust carried iron to the region of the globe north of Antarctica, driving plankton growth and eventually leading to the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.Plankton remove the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere during growth and transfer it to the deep ocean when their remains sink to the bottom. Iron fertilization has previously been suggested as a possible cause of the lower CO2 levels that occur during ice ages. These decreases in atmospheric CO2 are believed to have “amplified” the ice ages, making them much colder, with some scientists believing that there would have been no ice ages at all without the CO2 depletion.Iron fertilization has also been suggested as one way to draw down the rising levels of CO2 associated with the burning of fossil fuels. Improved understanding of the drivers of ocean carbon storage could lead to better predictions of how the rise in manmade carbon dioxide will affect climate in the coming years.The role of iron in storing carbon dioxide during ice ages was first proposed in 1990 by the late John Martin, an oceanographer at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California who made the landmark discovery that iron limits plankton growth in large regions of the modern ocean.Based on evidence that there was more dust in the atmosphere during the ice ages, Martin hypothesized that this increased dust supply to the Southern Ocean allowed plankton to grow more rapidly, sending more of their biomass into the deep ocean and removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Martin focused on the Southern Ocean because its surface waters contain the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus in abundance, allowing plankton to be fertilized by iron without running low on these necessary nutrients.The research confirms Martin’s hypothesis, said Daniel Sigman, Princeton’s Dusenbury Professor of Geological and Geophysical Sciences, and a co-leader of the study. “I was an undergraduate when Martin published his ‘ice age iron hypothesis,'” he said. “I remember being captivated by it, as was everyone else at the time. But I also remember thinking that Martin would have to be the luckiest person in the world to pose such a simple, beautiful explanation for the ice age CO2 paradox and then turn out to be right about it.”Previous efforts to test Martin’s hypothesis established a strong correlation of cold climate, high dust and productivity in the Subantarctic region, a band of ocean encircling the globe between roughly 40 and 50 degrees south latitude that lies in the path of the winds that blow off South America, South Africa and Australia. However, it was not clear whether the productivity was due to iron fertilization or the northward shift of a zone of naturally occurring productivity that today lies to the south of the Subantarctic. This uncertainty was made more acute by the finding that ice age productivity was lower in the Antarctic Ocean, which lies south of the Subantarctic region.To settle the matter, the research groups of Sigman at Princeton and Gerald Haug and Tim Eglinton at ETH Zurich teamed up to use a new method developed at Princeton. …

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Little Foot is oldest complete Australopithecus, new stratigraphic research shows

After 13 years of meticulous excavation of the nearly complete skeleton of the Australopithecus fossil named Little Foot, South African and French scientists have now convincingly shown that it is probably around 3 million years old.In a paper published March 14, 2014 in the Journal of Human Evolution, the latest findings by Professor Ron Clarke from the University of the Witwatersrand and his colleagues refute previous dating claims that suggested Little Foot is younger.The paper is titled: “Stratigraphic analysis of the Sterkfontein StW 573 Australopithecus skeleton and implications for its age,” and is the result of a detailed study of the stratigraphy, micro-stratigraphy, and geochemistry around the skeleton.Little Foot’s StoryThe Sterkfontein caves of Gauteng, South Africa have been world famous since 1936 for producing large numbers of fossils of the ape-man Australopithecus. However, for sixty years, these fossils consisted only of partial skulls and jaws, isolated teeth and fragments of limb bones. These were obtained by blasting or drilling and breaking of the calcified ancient cave infill or by pick and shovel excavation of the softer decalcified infills.Questions arose about the age of these fossils, of how they came to be in the caves, and also of how a complete skeleton would appear. Then in 1997 Ron Clarke, Stephen Motsumi and Nkwane Molefe of the University of the Witwatersrand discovered an almost complete Australopithecus skeleton with skull embedded in hard, calcified sediment in an underground chamber of the caves. They began to carefully excavate this skeleton in order to expose it in place in the cave and to understand the ancient processes that contributed to its burial and preservation.This was the first time that such an excavation of an Australopithecus has taken place in an ancient calcified deposit. During the course of this excavation, it became clear that the skeleton had been subjected to ancient disturbance and breakage through partial collapse into a lower cavity and that calcareous flowstone had subsequently filled voids formed around the displaced bones.Despite this fact being published, some other researchers dated the flowstones and claimed that such dates represent the age of the skeleton. This has created a false impression that the skeleton is much younger than it actually is.A French team of specialists in the study of limestone caves, Laurent Bruxelles, Richard Maire and Richard Ortega, together with Clarke and Dominic Stratford of Wits University, have now, with this research published in the Journal of Human Evolution today, shown that the dated flowstones filled voids formed by ancient erosion and collapse and that the skeleton is therefore older, probably considerably older, than the dated flowstones.Little Foot is probably around 3 million years old, and not the 2.2 million years that has been wrongly claimed by other researchers. The skeleton has been entirely excavated from the cave and the skull, arms, legs, pelvis and other bones have been largely cleaned of encasing rock.Professor Clarke has concluded from study of the skull that it belongs to Australopithecus prometheus, a species named by Professor Raymond Dart in 1948 on fragmentary ape-man fossils from Makapansgat in what is now Limpopo Province.Thus at Sterkfontein, there existed two species of ape-man, Australopithecus africanus (for example, Mrs Ples) and Australopithecus prometheus, many specimens of which have been identified by Clarke from two deposits at Sterkfontein.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of the Witwatersrand. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Tropical grassy ecosystems under threat, scientists warn

Scientists at the University of Liverpool have found that tropical grassy areas, which play a critical role in the world’s ecology, are under threat as a result of ineffective management.According to research, published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, they are often misclassified and this leads to degradation of the land which has a detrimental effect on the plants and animals that are indigenous to these areas.Greater area than tropical rain forestsTropical grassy areas cover a greater area than tropical rain forests, support about one fifth of the world’s population and are critically important to global carbon and energy cycles, and yet do not attract the interest levels that tropical rainforests do.They are characterised by a continuous grass understorey, widespread shade-intolerant plants and the prevalence of fire, which all generate a unique and complex set of ecological processes and interactions not found in other habitats.Dr Kate Parr, from the School of Environmental Sciences, said: “The distinctive evolutionary histories and biodiversity values of these areas needs to be recognised by conservation managers and policy makers.”Whilst it is generally assumed that ‘more trees are better’ in tropical rainforest this is not necessarily the case for tropical grassy ecosystems and so the outcomes of global carbon and conservation initiatives, which include the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism and its Reducing Emissions and Deforestation Forest Degradation schemes, need to be better considered when they are applied to tropical grasslands.”Any changes to the balance between human livelihoods and ecosystem function would have an impact on the use of land, the availability of resources and would affect the way the land functions including its climate.”The vast extent of tropical grasslands and the reliance of human welfare on them means that they deserve far more research and conservation attention than they currently receive.”Grazing, fuel and foodApproximately 20% of the world’s population depend on these areas of land for their livelihoods including their use for grazing, fuel and food. They also store about 15% of the world’s carbon.Tropical grassy ecosystems are associated with savannas and upland grasslands in Africa and savanna-type grasslands in India, Australia, and South America, representing diverse lands from open grassland through to densely canopied savanna.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Liverpool. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Warmer temperatures push malaria to higher elevations

Researchers have debated for more than two decades the likely impacts, if any, of global warming on the worldwide incidence of malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that infects more than 300 million people each year.Now, University of Michigan ecologists and their colleagues are reporting the first hard evidence that malaria does — as had long been predicted — creep to higher elevations during warmer years and back down to lower altitudes when temperatures cool.The study, based on an analysis of records from highland regions of Ethiopia and Colombia, suggests that future climate warming will result in a significant increase in malaria cases in densely populated regions of Africa and South America, unless disease monitoring and control efforts are boosted and sustained.”We saw an upward expansion of malaria cases to higher altitudes in warmer years, which is a clear signal of a response by highland malaria to changes in climate,” said U-M theoretical ecologist Mercedes Pascual, senior author of a paper scheduled for online publication in Science on March 6.”This is indisputable evidence of a climate effect,” said Pascual, the Rosemary Grant Collegiate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. “The main implication is that with warmer temperatures, we expect to see a higher number of people exposed to the risk of malaria in tropical highland areas like these.”More than 20 years ago, malaria was identified as a disease expected to be especially sensitive to climate change, because both the Plasmodium parasites that cause it and the Anopheles mosquitoes that spread it thrive as temperatures warm.Some early studies concluded that climate change would lead to a big increase in malaria cases as the disease expanded its range into higher elevations, but some of the assumptions behind those predictions were later criticized. More recently, some researchers have argued that improved socioeconomic conditions and more aggressive mosquito-control efforts will likely exert a far greater influence over the extent and intensity of malaria worldwide than climatic factors.What’s been missing in this debate has been an analysis of regional records with sufficient resolution to determine how the spatial distribution of malaria cases has changed in response to year-to-year temperature variations, especially in countries of East Africa and South America with densely populated highlands that have historically provided havens from the disease.Pascual and her colleagues looked for evidence of a changing spatial distribution of malaria with varying temperature in the highlands of Ethiopia and Colombia. They examined malaria case records from the Antioquia region of western Colombia from 1990 to 2005 and from the Debre Zeit area of central Ethiopia from 1993 to 2005.By focusing solely on the altitudinal response to year-to-year temperature changes, they were able to exclude other variables that can influence malaria case numbers, such as mosquito-control programs, resistance to anti-malarial drugs and fluctuations in rainfall amounts.They found that the median altitude of malaria cases shifted to higher elevations in warmer years and back to lower elevations in cooler years. The relatively simple analysis yielded a clear, unambiguous signal that can only be explained by temperature changes, they said.”Our latest research suggests that with progressive global warming, malaria will creep up the mountains and spread to new high-altitude areas. And because these populations lack protective immunity, they will be particularly vulnerable to severe morbidity and mortality,” said co-author Menno Bouma, honorary senior clinical lecturer at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.In addition, the study results suggest that climate change can explain malaria trends in both the highland regions in recent decades.In the Debre Zeit region of Ethiopia, at an elevation range of between 5,280 feet and 7,920 feet, about 37 million people (roughly 43 percent of the country’s population) live in rural areas at risk of higher malaria exposure under a warming climate.In a previous study, the researchers estimated that a 1 degree Celsius temperature increase could result in an additional 3 million malaria cases annually in Ethiopia in the under-15 population, unless control efforts are strengthened.”Our findings here underscore the size of the problem and emphasize the need for sustained intervention efforts in these regions, especially in Africa,” Pascual said.

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Plants convert energy at lightning speed

A new way of measuring how much light a plant can tolerate could be useful in growing crops resilient to a changing climate, according to scientists from Queen Mary University of London.”This is the first time we have been able to quantify a plant’s ability to protect itself against high light intensity,” said Professor Alexander Ruban, co-author of the study and Head of the Cell and Molecular Biology Division at Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Science.Professor Ruban added: “A changing climate will lead to fluctuations in temperature, humidity, drought and light. Knowing the limits of how much sunlight a crop can happily tolerate could be valuable information for farmers or people who breed new plants.”Publishing in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B today (Monday 3 March) the scientists demonstrate a novel method that enables them to relate the photoprotective capacity of a plant to the intensity of environmental light by measuring the fluorescence of the pigment chlorophyll, which is responsible for absorbing sunlight.Co-author Erica Belgio, also at Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Science said: “The plants we used to measure the light varied in their capacity to protect themselves against high levels of intensity. We exposed them to gradually increasing levels of light, from the sunlight more common on a rainy day to the light you would find at noon on summer’s day in the south of France and recorded the responses.”The researchers found the plants grown without the ability to respond quickly to high light intensity had a reduced capacity to protect themselves from damage.”The photosynthetic apparatus in the plants is like the retina in human eyes — it is sensitive to how much light can be soaked up,” commented Professor Ruban.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Queen Mary, University of London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Powerful artificial muscles made from fishing line and sewing thread

An international team led by The University of Texas at Dallas has discovered that ordinary fishing line and sewing thread can be cheaply converted to powerful artificial muscles.The new muscles can lift a hundred times more weight and generate a hundred times higher mechanical power than the same length and weight of human muscle. Per weight, they can generate 7.1 horsepower per kilogram, about the same mechanical power as a jet engine.In a paper published Feb. 21 in the journal Science, researchers explain that the powerful muscles are produced by twisting and coiling high-strength polymer fishing line and sewing thread. Scientists at UT Dallas’s Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute teamed with scientists from universities in Australia, South Korea, Canada, Turkey and China to accomplish the advances.The muscles are powered thermally by temperature changes, which can be produced electrically, by the absorption of light or by the chemical reaction of fuels. Twisting the polymer fiber converts it to a torsional muscle that can spin a heavy rotor to more than 10,000 revolutions per minute. Subsequent additional twisting, so that the polymer fiber coils like a heavily twisted rubber band, produces a muscle that dramatically contracts along its length when heated, and returns to its initial length when cooled. If coiling is in a different twist direction than the initial polymer fiber twist, the muscles instead expand when heated.Compared to natural muscles, which contract by only about 20 percent, these new muscles can contract by about 50 percent of their length. The muscle strokes also are reversible for millions of cycles as the muscles contract and expand under heavy mechanical loads.”The application opportunities for these polymer muscles are vast,” said corresponding author Dr. Ray Baughman, the Robert A. …

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Despite unprecedented investment in malaria control, most Africans at high risk of contracting deadly malaria

Despite unprecedented investment in malaria control in Africa over the past decade, about 57% of the population still live in areas where risk of infection remains moderate to high, according to new research published in The Lancet.However, the findings also show that substantial reductions in malaria transmission have been achieved across most of the malaria-endemic countries of Africa between 2000 and 2010, with more than a quarter of the population (around 218 million people) now living in areas with a much lower risk of infection.In this study, researchers from the Kenya Medical Research Institute, University of Oxford, and WHO Regional Office for Africa complied data from the largest ever collection of 26 746 community-based surveys of parasite prevalence covering 3 575 418 person observations from 44 malaria-endemic countries and territories in Africa since 1980. Using model-based geostatistics they estimated the proportion of the population aged 2-10 years old infected with different levels of the parasite Plasmodium falciparum across Africa soon after the launch of the Roll Back Malaria initiative in 2000 and a decade later.They found reductions in the prevalence of malaria infection in children in 40 of 44 countries in Africa between 2000 and 2010.Over the decade, they estimated that the number of people living in high-transmission areas fell from 2186 million to 1835 million (a 16% drop), but the population living in areas where risk of infection is considered moderate to high increased from 1786 million to 2801 million (a 57% increase).Conversely, the population living in areas where risk is regarded as very low increased from 782 million to 1282 million (a 64% increase), and four countries (Cape Verde, Eritrea, South Africa, and Ethiopia) joined Swaziland, Djibouti, and Mayotte at levels of transmission that make elimination a realistic goal.Nevertheless, says Professor Robert Snow from the Kenya Medical Research Institute-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, 57% of people in Africa still live in areas of moderate-to-high transmission intensity. “Almost all (87%) of those in the two highest endemicity classes are living in just 10 countries. Of these, three (Guinea, Mali, and Togo) are not part of the 10 countries that are the focus of the WHO Malaria Situation Room.”*The authors point out that high population growth rates have reduced some of the proportional gains in transmission reduction, with 200 million extra people now living in malaria-endemic regions compared with in 2000.”The international community has invested heavily in malaria control with finance increasing from around $100 million in 2000 to nearly $2 billion in 2013,” explains Dr Abdisalan Mohamed Noor from the Kenya Medical Research Institute-Wellcome Trust Research Programme and University of Oxford.”Previous attempts at measuring the effects of efforts to control malaria have used changes in deaths from malaria or clinical episodes of infection that rely on imprecise and unreliable methods such as verbal autopsy and limited passive case detection. A more robust alternative is to measure changes in malaria parasite infection rates detected by microscopy or a rapid diagnostic test sampled through random community surveys. In the next decade these surveys should continue to be implemented. At the same time concerted efforts should be invested in rapidly expanding the diagnosis and reporting of clinical cases in Africa.”According to Professor Snow, “In a period of global economic recession, these results emphasise the need for continued support for malaria control, not only to sustain the gains that have been made, but also to accelerate the reduction in transmission intensity where it still remains high. If investments in malaria are not sustained, hundreds of millions of Africans run the risk of rebound transmission, with catastrophic consequences.”Writing in a linked Comment, Professor Sir Brian Greenwood from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Dr Kwadwo Koram from the Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research in Ghana say, “Noor and colleagues have shown that, during the past decade, the reductions in malaria transmission that have been achieved in much of sub- Saharan Africa, although encouraging, have been only modest. Also, these gains are threatened by emerging resistance to the pyrethroid group of insecticides and by the potential appearance of artemisinin-resistant malaria parasites in Africa.”They conclude, “More could be done to improve malaria control in high-risk countries by increasing coverage with proven interventions such as insecticide-treated nets and chemoprevention. However, a focus on elimination must not result in a reduction in support for development of new methods (drugs, insecticides, vaccines, and new approaches to vector control), and improved delivery methods, which will be needed in large areas of sub-Saharan Africa before malaria transmission can be reduced to the level at which elimination becomes a credible prospect.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by The Lancet. …

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Valentine’s Day! Chocolate 101

Here’s a brief look at where chocolate comes from, nutritional information, how it’s made, and the ingredients that make chocolate — whether milk, dark or white — a memorable treat.Cocoa Seeds, Not BeansCocoa comes from the cocoa plant grown in the remote areas of West Africa, Asia and South America. While often called cocoa beans, cocoa plants actually are large, brightly colored pods filled with many seeds.Cocoa to ChocolateCocoa seeds are removed from the pod, dried and roasted, giving them a distinct dark color and unique flavor. After roasting, cocoa seeds are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor. The liquor separates into dry cocoa and cocoa butter, or fat.Chocolate IngredientsCocoa is heated and combined with other ingredients, such as sugar and milk, to create chocolate bars and candy. Dark chocolate is at least 35 percent cocoa liquor; and milk chocolate, 10 percent. White chocolate has cocoa butter, but no chocolate liquor. Chocolate contains protein, magnesium, and flavanols (antioxidants). Dark chocolate has caffeine; white chocolate does not. Dairy-based chocolate provides calcium.Chocolate SafetyThe roasting process kills bacteria on the cocoa seeds. Because of the high fat, low moisture content, chocolate generally does not spoil. …

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Growing impact of lethal ‘legal highs:’ U.K. Deaths report

The deadly risk of so-called ‘legal highs’ and other designer drugs, such as the notorious ‘meow meow’, has been confirmed by a huge leap in their links to drug-related deaths in the UK. One expert described experimentation with such drugs as ‘dancing in a minefield.”Meow meow’, officially known as mephedrone and now illegal, is just one of a group of drugs called Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), which also includes the amphetamine-like substances Benzo Fury and PMA, amongst others.According to data published in the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths (NPSAD) report, compiled by experts at St George’s, University of London, NPS are now linked to more drug-related deaths than ever before.The prevalence of these drugs in the post mortem toxicology tests submitted to the report has increased 800% in three years, from 12 in 2009 to 97 in 2012.The number of cases where NPS were identified as the cause of death rose by almost 600% during the same period — from 10 deaths in 2009 to 68 in 2012.In many cases traces of multiple NPS were found, suggesting that drug users are experimenting with combinations of these drugs, as well as alcohol in some cases.These drugs have undergone little or no human testing so their health effects are virtually unknown.Professor Fabrizio Schifano, a spokesman for NPSAD, said: “We have observed an increase in the number and range of these drugs in the post mortem toxicology results and in the cause of death of cases notified to us.”These include amphetamine-type substances, dietary supplements, ketamine derivatives, among a host of others.”The worrying trend is that these type of drugs are showing up more than ever before. Clearly this is a major public health concern and we must continue to monitor this worrying development.”Those experimenting with such substances are effectively dancing in a minefield.”The report also indicates an increase in the proportion of deaths involving stimulants such as cocaine and ecstasy-type drugs, following a decline in 2009 and stabilisation in 2010.In total, the number of drug-related deaths reported to the NPSAD during 2012 was 1,613.Opiates/opioids such as heroin and morphine, alone or in combination with other drugs continued to account for the highest proportion (36%) of reported drug-related deaths in 2012, a 4% increase compared to 2011 — a reversal of the decline in such deaths observed in recent years.Regional Highlights:Hammersmith one of worst areas in UK for drug-related deaths, says reportNew figures reveal that Hammersmith and Fulham recorded one of the highest drug-related death rates across the country in 2012 with 11.34 deaths per 100,000 population.Only Liverpool (12.57) and Blackburn with Darwen (11.45) were higher.The type of drugs related to deaths in London also drew a strong contrast to some other parts of England. As in 2011, London had the highest proportion of cocaine-related deaths in the country (15.2%), contrasting greatly with other regions, such as the Midlands and East of England where cocaine was implicated in just 3.4% of drug-related deaths.However, it is important to note that when taking into account absolute figures, Liverpool alone had more deaths involving cocaine, which was 20, than the whole of the following regions: Midlands and East of England; London; and the South of England.Liverpool overtakes Manchester with highest rates of drug-related deaths in the North West, reveals new reportThe number of drugs-related deaths in Liverpool has risen above those in Manchester for the first time since 2006 according to a new study.For the first time in over five years there were more drug-related deaths in Liverpool, which saw 49 such cases, compared to Manchester with 36.The report, compiled by researchers at St George’s, University of London, also found that Liverpool alone had more deaths linked to cocaine than the whole of the Midlands and East of England region, London and the South of England.Drugs deaths in Northern Ireland buck wider UK trend of lethal heroin useDeaths related to drugs in Northern Ireland show a marked difference from the rest of the UK as fatalities are mostly linked to prescription drugs, says a new report.Whereas the vast majority of drug-related deaths in the UK are linked to opiates such as heroin and morphine, in the province most relate to other drugs.The new research from St George’s, University of London, also shows a small decrease in the overall number of drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland. There were 78 such deaths in 2012 as opposed to 82 in 2011.Northern Ireland contrasts the rest of the UK with higher proportions of deaths attributed to drugs such as tramadol, benzodiazepines and anti-depressants. Northern Ireland also displayed a substantially lower proportion of deaths attributed to heroin/morphine and methadone than other regions of the UK, such as the South of England, the midlands and London.

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Promise for castor crop planting in Florida

Castor, grown in Florida during World War II and currently considered as a component for military jet fuel, can be grown here again, using proper management techniques, a new University of Florida study shows.Those techniques include spacing plants properly and using harvest aids to defoliate the plant when it matures.Growers in the U.S. want to mechanically harvest castor, which is typically hand-picked in other parts of the world, the researchers said. Among other things, the UF/IFAS study evaluated whether the plant would grow too tall for mechanical harvesting machines.Castor oil is used in paints, lubricants and deodorants, among other industrial products, said David Campbell, a former UF agronomy graduate student and lead author of the study. It has not been grown in the U.S. since 1972, because the federal government ceased giving price supports, the study says.At UF research units in Citra and Jay, scientists tested Brigham and Hale, two types of castor that were bred in an arid part of west Texas near Lubbock in 1970 and 2003, respectively. These cultivars are shorter than castor found in the wild, said Diane Rowland, an associate professor of agronomy at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and Campbell’s faculty adviser.Scientists tried to control the growth of the plants even more by spraying them with a chemical, she said. Even though the crop didn’t respond to the chemicals, it did not grow taller than expected. So it appears these types of castor can be harvested mechanically, she said.While yields were lower than those reported in Texas research trials in 1993, results are promising for Florida.“We were concerned that, in this environment, with all the moisture and the good growing conditions, that it would grow too tall. But it didn’t,” Rowland said. “So it shows that shorter genetic types will still work, without the chemical application. …

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Narco-Deforestation Accelerates Loss of Biodiversity

In Central America, drug policies become conservation policies. The Central American isthmus exploded into prominence as a drug trafficking corridor in 2006, when pressure on Mexican cartels pushed smuggling operations to the south and into the remote forest frontiers of Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Since then, vigorous interdiction programs have pushed traffickers into ever more remote zones, back and forth from country to country, bringing money, manpower, and greater opportunities for deforestation.Kendra McSweeney of the Department of Geography at Ohio State University and co-workers dug into the recent comprehensive report by the Organization of American States (OAS), titled The Drug Problem in the Americas, and wrote up their findings in a recent contribution to Science’s Policy Forum. They found that “mounting evidence suggests that the trafficking …

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Seven new genetic regions linked to type 2 diabetes

Seven new genetic regions associated with type 2 diabetes have been identified in the largest study to date of the genetic basis of the disease.DNA data was brought together from more than 48,000 patients and 139,000 healthy controls from four different ethnic groups. The research was conducted by an international consortium of investigators from 20 countries on four continents, co-led by investigators from Oxford University’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics.The majority of such ‘genome-wide association studies’ have been done in populations with European backgrounds. This research is notable for including DNA data from populations of Asian and Hispanic origin as well.The researchers believe that, as more genetic data increasingly become available from populations of South Asian ancestry and, particularly, African descent, it will be possible to map genes implicated in type 2 diabetes ever more closely.’One of the striking features of these data is how much of the genetic variation that influences diabetes is shared between major ethnic groups,’ says Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Professor Mark McCarthy from the University of Oxford. ‘This has allowed us to combine data from more than 50 studies from across the globe to discover new genetic regions affecting risk of diabetes.’He adds: ‘The overlap in signals between populations of European, Asian and Hispanic origin argues that the risk regions we have found to date do not explain the clear differences in the patterns of diabetes between those groups.’Among the regions identified by the international research team are two, near the genes ARL15 and RREB1, that also show strong links to elevated levels of insulin and glucose in the body — two key characteristics of type 2 diabetes. This finding provides insights into the ways basic biochemical processes are involved in the risk of type 2 diabetes, the scientists say.The genome-wide association study looked at more than 3 million DNA variants to identify those that have a measurable impact on risk of type 2 diabetes. By combining DNA data from many tens of thousands of individuals, the consortium was able to detect, for the first time, regions where the effects on diabetes susceptibility are rather subtle.’Although the genetic effects may be small, each signal tells us something new about the biology of the disease,’ says first author Dr Anubha Mahajan of Oxford University. ‘These findings may lead us to new ways of thinking about the disease, with the aim ultimately of developing novel therapies to treat and prevent diabetes. There’s every reason to expect that drugs acting on these biological processes would have a far larger impact on an individual’s diabetes than the genetic effects we have discovered.’Principal investigator Dr Andrew Morris, also of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University, says: ‘The findings of our study should also be relevant to other common human diseases. By combining genetic data from different ethnic groups, we would expect also to be able identify new DNA variants influencing risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer, for example, which are shared across ethnic groups. It has the potential to have a major impact on global public health.’Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oxford. …

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Drop in crime rates are less where Wal-Mart builds, study shows

Communities across the United States experienced an unprecedented decline in crime in the 1990s. But for counties where Wal-Mart built stores, the decline wasn’t nearly as dramatic.”The crime decline was stunted in counties where Wal-Mart expanded in the 1990s,” says Scott Wolfe, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina and lead author of a new study. “If the corporation built a new store, there were 17 additional property crimes and 2 additional violent crimes for every 10,000 persons in a county.”The study, titled “Rolling back prices and raising crime rates? The Wal-Mart effect on crime in the United States,” released last month in the British Journal of Criminology, was co-authored with David Pyrooz, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Sam Houston State University.Wolfe says the commonly known “Wal-Mart effect” is the company’s overwhelming influence on numerous economic and social factors in communities, including jobs, poverty rates and retail prices.The study was not intended to criticize Wal-Mart, he says. Instead, it attempted to answer the unexplored question of whether Wal-Mart could equate with either more or less crime.”There have been dozens of studies on the ‘Wal-Mart effect’ showing the company impacts numerous outcomes closely related to crime. Our objective was to determine if the Wal-Mart effect extended to understanding crime rates during arguably one of the most pivotal historical periods in the study of crime,” Wolfe says.Wolfe and Pyrooz based the study on 3,109 U.S. counties. They focused on Wal-Mart’s expansion in the 1990s, a time of dynamic growth for the company and falling crime rates nationally. During that decade Wal-Mart expanded in 767 of those counties.”There are reasons why Wal-Mart ranks among the most successful commercial enterprises in U.S. history,” Wolfe says. …

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Fires, lazy weekend and brave warrior widows

http://au.news.yahoo.com/vic/a/21343158/vic-braces-for-major-fire-risk/Victorians are bracing for some of the worst fire conditions in five years with dozens fleeing their homes and others warned about out-of-control blazes that may flare up during the night. Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley warns that everyone should keep their mobile phones close to them while they sleep in case emergency warnings are sent out. Several extended heatwaves, followed by the current high temperatures, have pushed the state’s fire danger rating to extreme in six districts, he said. Temperatures are also forecast to remain above 30 degrees overnight, meaning firefighters won’t see a lull in fire activity before temperatures rise again on Sunday morning. “Anywhere in Victoria, fires will run and …

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Toxin in seafood causes kidney damage in mice at levels considered safe for consumption

A chemical that can accumulate in seafood and is known to cause brain damage is also toxic to the kidneys, but at much lower concentrations. The findings, which come from a study appearing in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN), suggest that officials may need to reconsider what levels of the toxin are safe for human consumption.The world’s oceans contain algae that produce certain chemicals that can be harmful to humans and other living creatures. Many of these chemicals are considered neurotoxins because they cause damage to the brain. The neurotoxin domoic acid, also called “Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning,” is a very stable, heat resistant toxin that is becoming more prominent in coastal regions, likely due to environmental changes. It can accumulate in mussels, clams, scallops, and fish, and the FDA has set a legal limit of domoic acid in seafood based primarily on its adverse neurological effects.Because domoic acid is cleared from the body by the kidneys, P. Darwin Bell, PhD, Jason Funk, PhD (Medical University of South Carolina), and their colleagues looked to see if the toxin might also have detrimental effects on these organs. By giving mice varying doses of domoic acid and the assessing animals’ kidney health, the team found that the kidney is much more sensitive to this toxin than the brain.”We have found that domoic acid damages kidneys at concentrations that are 100 times lower than what causes neurological effects,” said Dr. Bell. “This means that humans who consume seafood may be at an increased risk of kidney damage possibly leading to kidney failure and dialysis.” While the findings need to be verified in humans, the researchers would like to see increased awareness and monitoring of domoic acid levels in all seafood. They say that the FDA may also need to reconsider the legal limit of domoic acid in food due to its kidney toxicity.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by American Society of Nephrology (ASN). …

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Hot weather deaths projected to rise 257 percent in UK by 2050s, experts warn

The number of annual excess deaths caused by hot weather in England and Wales is projected to surge by 257% by the middle of the century, as a result of climate change and population growth, concludes research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.The elderly (75+) will be most at risk, particularly in the South and the Midlands, the findings suggest.The research team, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Public Health England, used time-series regression analysis to chart historic (1993-2006) fluctuations in weather patterns and death rates to characterise the associations between temperature and mortality, by region and by age group.They then applied these to projected population increases and local climate to estimate the future number of deaths likely to be caused by temperature — hot and cold — for the 2020s, 2050s, and 2080s.They based their calculations on the projected daily average temperatures for 2000-09, 2020-29, 2050-59 and 2080-89, derived from the British Atmospheric Data Centre (BADC), and population growth estimates from the Office of National Statistics.The calculations indicated a significantly increased risk of deaths associated with temperature across all regions of the UK, with the elderly most at risk.The number of hot weather days is projected to rise steeply, tripling in frequency by the mid 2080s, while the number of cold days is expected to fall, but at a less dramatic pace.At the national level, the death rate increases by just over 2% for every 1ᵒC rise in temperature above the heat threshold, with a corresponding 2% increase in the death rate for every 1ᵒC fall in temperature below the cold threshold.In the absence of any adaptive measures, excess deaths related to heat would be expected to rise by 257% by the 2050s, from an annual baseline of 2000, while those related to the cold would be expected to fall by 2% as a result of milder winters, from a current toll of around 41,000, but will still remain significant.Those aged 85 and over will be most at risk, partly as a result of population growth — projected to reach 89 million by the mid 2080s — and the increasing proportion of elderly in the population, say the authors.Regional variations are likely to persist: London and the Midlands are the regions most vulnerable to the impact of heat, while Wales, the North West, Eastern England and the South are most vulnerable to the impact of cold.Rising fuel costs may make it harder to adapt to extremes of temperature, while increased reliance on active cooling systems could simply end up driving up energy consumption and worsening the impact of climate change, say the authors.Better and more sustainable options might instead include shading, thermal insulation, choice of construction materials implemented at the design stage of urban developments, suggest the authors.While the death toll from cold weather temperatures will remain higher than that caused by hot temperatures, the authors warn that health protection from hot weather will become increasingly necessary — and vital for the very old.”As the contribution of population growth and aging on future temperature related health burdens will be large, the health protection of the elderly will be important,” warn the authors, recalling the social changes that have led to many elderly living on their own — a contributory factor to the high death toll in France in the 2003 heatwave.

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First African study on biodiversity in genetically modified maize finds insects abundant

Previous studies from China, Spain, and the United States on genetically modified (GM) rice, cotton, and maize have concluded that the biodiversity of insects and related arthropods in GM crop fields was essentially the same as that among conventional crops. Now a new study from South Africa shows similar results.The study is described in an article called “Comparative Diversity of Arthropods on Bt Maize and Non-Bt Maize in two Different Cropping Systems in South Africa,” which appears in the February 2014 issue of Environmental Entomology.”The aims of the study were to compile a checklist of arthropods that occur on maize in South Africa and to compare the diversity and abundance of arthropods and functional groups on Bt maize and non-Bt maize,” the authors wrote. “Results from this short-term study indicated that abundance and diversity of arthropods in maize and the different functional guilds were not significantly affected by Bt maize, either in terms of diversity or abundance.”A total of 8,771 arthropod individuals, comprising 288 morphospecies, were collected from 480 plants sampled from Bt maize and non-Bt maize fields over a two-year period. The researchers found no significant differences in abundance or diversity in detritivores, herbivores, predators, or parasitoids.”The results of our study indicate that arthropod diversity, even in high-input farming systems, is as high as in subsistence farming systems” said Dr. Johnnie van den Berg, a professor at North-West University and one of the co-authors of the article. “More recently, surveys of arthropod and plant beta-diversity inside and adjacent to maize fields have been completed during which 30,000 arthropods and 15,000 plant individuals were surveyed along a 1,000 kilometer transect. It seems that maize field diversity is homogenized and field margins had a high beta diversity,” he added.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Entomological Society of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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