threatwatch: is syria's polio a danger to europe?
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4 | NewScientist | 16 November 2013
EUROPE has been warned. A resurgence of polio in Syria may put Europeans in particular danger, as well as imperilling the global drive to eradicate the virus.
Syria rid itself of polio in the 1990s. But the country’s two-year civil war has led to the collapse of vaccination there, and at least 10 young children now have polio. Because the virus causes disease in only one in 200 people infected, that means hundreds of Syrian children are carrying it.
European children receive a killed polio vaccine, rather than the live vaccine used in much of
the world. Killed vaccine is slightly safer, but while it stops vaccinated people getting sick, it does not stop them spreading the virus – unlike the live vaccine. Martin Eichner of the University of Tübingen and Stefan Brockmann of the regional public health office
Polio crisis looms in Reutlingen, Germany, warned last week that if Syria’s polio reaches Europe, it might spread for a year without giving itself away by causing disease – especially in countries with high levels of vaccination. This happened earlier this year in Israel, where a poliovirus was detected in sewage and spread across the country without causing illness.
If such a virus spreads in Europe, it may not be detected for some time, because few European countries test sewage, and surveillance for paralysis is poor, says the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm, Sweden.
But Dina Pfeifer of the World Health Organization says Europe is not at more risk from polio in Syria than from polio circulating elsewhere – as long as the outbreak is contained quickly. The WHO is spearheading a drive to give 1.7 billion doses of live vaccine to children across the Middle East in coming weeks. But it warned that manufacturers of the vaccine will feel the strain if Europe needs more emergency rations.
India Mars trip fearFANS of India’s Mars mission, keep your nerve. The nation’s fledgling Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) suffered a glitch on Monday, while moving to a higher orbit around Earth. Existing fears about the trip – a first for India – intensified, but its space agency has now returned MOM to the correct altitude and velocity.
“This is not a big deal, but rather typical of a complex mission being attempted for the first time,” says John Logsdon,
formerly of the Space Policy Institute in Washington DC.
MOM is scheduled to make several Earth orbits before setting off for Mars at the end of the month. Its orbit will be raised again this week, and it should reach Mars in September 2014.
In the meantime, MOM fans better get used to minor glitches. “The road to Mars is a long one and a number of mission-critical manoeuvres still have to happen,” says Pascal Lee of the Mars Institute at the NASA Ames Research Center in California.
–Yeb Saño’s home city was destroyed–
Fasting for climate actionNO WONDER he’s frantic. As global climate change negotiations began again on Monday, the Philippines’ chief negotiator Yeb Saño made a tearful speech begging the rest of the world to take firm action on the issue. Just days before, typhoon Haiyan devastated his family’s home city, Tacloban.
He made a similarly emotional speech during the previous round of negotiations last year, after typhoon Bopha struck his country. He has now begun fasting for the duration of the conference in an attempt to urge action on climate change.
Despite Saño’s passion, it is unlikely that much will happen at this year’s talks. The world’s governments are aiming to sign a global deal in 2015, and the meeting this week in
Warsaw, Poland, is only a stepping stone towards that.
What’s more, Australia’s new government is planning to abandon the country’s carbon pricing system, demolishing one of the world’s flagship projects to tackle climate change. And the country plans to throw out its commitment to reducing emissions by between 5 per cent and 25 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020.
Just one major thing is supposed to happen in Warsaw: the details of a mechanism to address loss and damage from climate change. That means if a country suffers harm from climate change that it had not been able to adapt to, for instance from an extremely severe typhoon, other countries would be obliged to help in some way.
“Global manufacturers of polio vaccine will feel the strain if Europe suddenly needs emergency rations”
CHOOSE carefully where you live in London, the air is toxic. In almost half of London boroughs, the proportion of deaths from air pollution rose between 2010 and 2011, according to Public Health England.
Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of the Greater London Authority, says that 360,000 extra vehicles burning diesel between 2000 and 2011 are partly to blame. This is because they emit particles which aggravate lung and heart conditions. In the
Pollution, a blight on London lifeA
15 boroughs where death rates rose, percentages attributed to pollution were highest in Westminster, up from 8.30 to 8.32 per cent in 2011. England’s average is 5.36 per cent.
“The climate-change linked policy of favouring diesel over petrol has really backfired for Europe because of the increased pollution,” says Frank Kelly of King’s College London.
“We need more electric vehicles,” says Jones, “but the simplest solution is to reduce the traffic on our roads.”
131116_N_p4_5_Upfront.indd 4 12/11/13 17:05:15