We begin with the latest measles update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, first with the numbers:

Then the distribution:

From January 1 to February 27, 2015, 170 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles [AZ (7), CA (113), CO (1), DC (2), DE (1), GA (1), IL (15), MI (1), MN (1), NE (2), NJ (2), NY (3), NV (8), PA (1), SD (2) TX (1), UT (2), WA (7)]†. Most of these cases [125 cases (74%)] are part of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California.

From the United Nations News Center, another global health tragedy:

Over 5 billion people worldwide lacking access to essential medicines, says UN Report

Three quarters of the world population has no access to proper pain relief treatment, according to a report by the United Nations body charged with overseeing Governments’ compliance with international drug control treaties, which was released in London today.

Around 5.5 billion people still have limited or no access to medicines containing narcotic drugs such as codeine or morphine the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says in its Annual Report for 2014, which went on to point out that around 92 per cent of all morphine used worldwide is consumed by only 17 per cent of the world population, primarily living in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

The report, which calls on Governments to address the discrepancy in order to comply with International Drug Control Conventions, notes that natural disasters and armed conflicts around the world can further limit access to essential medicines and the Board stressed that in cases of emergency medical care, simplified control measures can be applied.

For example in the Philippines following the destruction by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the Board pointed out to all countries as well as to providers of humanitarian assistance the simplified procedures for the export, transportation and delivery of medicines containing substances under international control.

In its Report, the INCB notes that drug control measures do not exist in a vacuum and that, in their implementation of the drug control conventions, States must also comply with obligations under other treaties, including international humanitarian law and their international human rights obligations, such as allowing civilians to have access to medical care and essential medicines during armed conflicts.

Additionally, the INCB noted that States were charged with deciding specific sanctions for drug-related offences, but should avoid application of the death penalty for such cases.

Newswise covers a question of costs:

U.S. Spends More on Cancer Care, Saves Fewer Lives than Western Europe

Dartmouth study finds costly U.S. cancer care may provide less value than previously thought

Despite sharp increases in spending on cancer treatment, cancer mortality rates in the United States have decreased only modestly since 1970, Samir Soneji, PhD of Dartmouth’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice has found. Refuting previous studies, Soneji published his paper “New Analysis Reexamines the Value of Cancer Care in the United States Compared to Western Europe,” today in the March issue of Health Affairs.

“Our results suggest that cancer care in the U.S. did not always avert deaths compared to Western Europe and, when it did avert deaths, it often did so at substantial cost,” explained Soneji. “The greatest number of deaths averted occurred in cancers for which decreasing mortality rates were more likely to be the result of successful prevention and screening rather than advancements in treatment.”

U.S. cancer mortality rates decreased by 12 percent since 1970, compared to a 62 percent decrease for heart disease. Such findings have raised questions about the additional value of U.S. cancer care derived from the additional spending, in comparison to the situation in other high-income countries. This study compared U.S. and Western European spending between 1982 and 2010 for 12 of the most common cancers.

Compared to Western Europe, the U.S averted 67,000 breast cancer deaths, 265,000 colorectal cancer deaths, and 60,000 prostate cancer deaths between 1982 and 2010. The U.S. experienced 1,120,000 excess lung cancer deaths in this study period compared to Western Europe. The ratio of incremental cost to quality-adjusted-life-years saved equaled $402,000 for breast cancer, $110,000 for colorectal cancer, and $1,979,000 for prostate cancer. These amounts exceed most accepted thresholds for cost-effective medical care. The U.S. lost quality-adjusted-life-years despite additional spending for lung cancer where the cost was negative $19,000 per quality-adjusted-life-year saved.

From the Washington Post, a medical enigma:

Mystery paralysis in children is perplexing parents — and researchers

For most of the children who fell ill last year during an outbreak of enterovirus, the symptoms were relatively mild — fever, runny nose, coughing and sneezing.

But then there was this mystery: More than 100 kids suffered an unexplained, polio-like paralysis that struck quickly but even now continues to stump researchers and upend the lives of the families across the country.

For Priya Duggal and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, the biggest puzzle is why those children became paralyzed while their brothers and sisters, who also were exposed to the virus, escaped largely unscathed.

From the Times of India, tallying an outbreak’s toll:

40 more dead as swine flu toll climbs to 1,115

Swine flu claimed the lives of 40 more people in the country as the toll from the disease reached 1,115 while the total number of cases breached the 20,000 mark.

The Health Ministry said that 1,115 persons have succumbed to the H1N1 virus while the number of those affected by it stands at 20,795 on March 1.

With heavy rainfall lashing Delhi and other parts of the north, health officials said it was difficult to ascertain whether the rains will have any effect on the incidence of swine flu.

However, the officials said that, during monsoon, the virus increases and it was possible that whatever decline was being seen over the last few days in the intensity of the disease may not continue. They said that there will be no decrease in the virus due to the rains and added that high temperatures are a deterrent for the virus.

Outbreak News Today covers an online virus of another sort:

Colorado: Craigslist kitten turns out rabid, 20 people get rabies prophylaxis

A 6-month-old kitten obtained on Craigslist has turned out positive for the nearly 100 percent lethal virus, rabies, requiring nearly two dozen people to receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

The family of four from northeast Colorado Springs named the kitten Jello. The owners said the cat was fine for 2 weeks and then the black cat “took a turn for the worse” and got very sick. The family’s two other dogs and a cat had to be put down since they were exposed.

El Paso County Public Health officials say the kitten tested positive for rabies late last week.  The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Laboratory performed the initial test and the CDC is in the process of determining the type of rabies the kitten had.

Another group of Liberian healthcare workers asks for hazard pay, via the Liberian Observer:

Health Workers at TB Annex Demand Hazard Benefits

At least 101 workers at the TB Annex Hospital are demanding payment of hazard benefits owed them by the Ministry of Health for the past six months.

The patients at the hospital, located directly behind the Health Ministry in Oldest Congotown, are infected with tuberculosis which is a very highly contagious disease.

The health workers told this paper that their benefits are due for the period September 2014 to February 2015.

They stated that during the heat of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) crisis, they did not close the hospital but remained there at their own risk, taking care of hundreds of TB patients who came in daily when most other health centers and hospitals were closed.

GMOoooos, via BBC News:

Scientists produce TB-resistant cows

Scientists in China have produced a herd of genetically engineered cows that are better able to ward off bovine TB infection.

The long-term goal of the research is to avoid the need to cull livestock by breeding disease resistant cattle.

Bovine TB is a risk in many areas, including New Zealand, England and Wales, and parts of Africa and Asia. In the UK over 26,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2013 at a cost to taxpayers of £100m.

Politically cowed, via the New York Times:

Indian State Passes Beef Ban Championed by Right-Wing Hindus

The western state of Maharashtra this week became the first Indian state to ban the possession and sale of beef, imposing fines and up to five years in prison for violations.

The ban, which was passed on Monday, came as an amendment to a 1972 law prohibiting the slaughter of cows, which has been expanded to ban the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and calves. The slaughter of water buffaloes will still be allowed under the new law, subject to permission from the authorities. The populous western state includes Mumbai, the Indian financial capital.

The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, championed by right-wing Hindu organizations, was first passed in 1995 but languished for two decades under a governing coalition between the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a clear majority in state elections last October, after Narendra Modi, the party’s leader, took office as prime minister in May.

Cognitive pollution, via  Medical Daily:

Air Pollution Slows Cognitive Development In Children Due To Brain Inflammation

Schools that are located near busy roads may be more dangerous than remote schools due to the increased levels of air pollution generated by passing cars, a new study finds.

Toxic chemicals found in the air pose a growing concern for scientists studying brain health, especially among adolescents. Experts call them neurotoxicants, and they’ve been linked with a higher risk of suicide, autism, and the myriad direct physical effects of breathing in harmful air, such as asthma and diseases of the lungs.

“From animal studies we know that ultrafine particles cross the blood brain barrier, interact with the microglial cells, which in turn affects neurons,” said Dr. Jordi Sunyer, lead author of the recent study from the University of Barcelona. This can result in chronic low-grade brain inflammation, he added, which delays brain maturation.

And from EcoWatch, Oedipus Bush:

Jeb Bush Trashes Father’s Clean Air Legacy to Woo Far Right-Wing

Jeb Bush trashed the Clean Air Act last week. He was speaking to the far right-wing Club for Growth, notorious for mounting mostly unsuccessful challenges from the right against Republican candidates during congressional primaries.

The Clean Air Act is estimated to achieve almost $2 trillion in yearly benefits to the American people by 2020. These vast benefits are delivered in the form of “significant reductions in air pollution” related premature death and illness, improved economic welfare of Americans, and better environmental conditions.” The estimated annual costs to achieve these benefits will be about $65 billion by 2020.

So this staggering Bush senior achievement is one that Bush junior singles out for condemnation. It’s bewildering. One might even say it takes one’s breath away.

After the jump, endless drought woes for the Golden State, a rich California coastal city looks to desalination, an Environmental Protection Agency disclosure fail rebuked, air pollution kills hundreds of thousands of Europeans a year, China hopes for an air pollution reprieve, mineral water home delivered as Sao Paulo taps run dry, a Mexican mine hit with a river pollution fine, a call for Costa Rican shark protection, prison-farmed fish for sale at Whole Foods, a new threat from the DEA — Utah rabbits dazed on legal weed, a key African food staple lags behind growing populations, and the FBI comes a-knockin’ at the doors of Keystone Pipeline foes, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with another year’s radioactive water cleanup delay, an Olympic Fukushima food fare bid, and corporate payouts continue, plus Mount Everest grows a crown of human feces. . .

From the Washington Post, California affliction:

California’s terrifying climate forecast: It could face droughts nearly every year

Unlike other climate studies that sound an alarm for impact far into the future, the Stanford University study led by associate professor Noah Diffenbaugh pored through historical data from the U.S. National Climatic Data Center to explain current conditionsand concluded that California should get used to it. It was published Monday afternoon in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Diffenbaugh and two graduate students at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy an Environmental Sciences explored the role temperature has played in California’s drought for 120 years. Between 1896 and 1994, climate patterns in the state created a 50 percent chance that a year of extremely warm temperatures would merge with a year of moderately dry conditions. But between 1995 and 2014, extreme temperature years were so common that their chance of combining with dry years increased to 80 percent.

The forecast is negative, but not necessarily the outlook, the authors said. California has opportunities to manage its risks with smart water policies that use precipitation to bank ground water so that farms, which use 77 percent of the state’s water, can survive. The statewide water use is similar to what it was 40 years ago, meaning that even though the population has exploded to 33 million, Californians share about as much water now as they did in the 1970s.

A rich California coastal city looks to desalination, via the Los Angeles Times:

Santa Barbara working to reactivate mothballed desalination plant

California’s four-year drought created the statewide mantra: “Conserve, conserve, conserve.” But this coastal city can soon add another word to its water-related lexicon: desalinate.

Santa Barbara owns a mothballed plant — built more than 20 years ago during another severe drought — that can turn seawater into drinking water. But it was never used beyond a tryout phase before steady rain began falling again. Now, officials are working to press the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Facility back into service as the city’s reservoirs continue to diminish.

The city plans to spend up to $40 million to modernize and reactivate the plant, which was closed in 1992 when the last drought ended. It is among a number of desalting projects being considered along the California coast, including in Huntington Beach and the Monterey Peninsula.

An Environmental Protection Agency disclosure fail rebuked, via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Judge chastises EPA for FOIA failures

A federal judge on Monday chastised the Environmental Protection Agency for its “mishandling” of Freedom of Information Act requests.

In a bluntly worded opinion, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth declared that the EPA “either intentionally sought to evade” FOIA requests filed by the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation, or “demonstrated apathy and carelessness” toward the requests.

“Either scenario reflects poorly on the EPA and surely serves to diminish the public’s trust in the agency,” Lamberth wrote.

Technically, Lamberth ruled against the Landmark Legal Foundation, which sought sanctions against the agency. Rhetorically, though, the tart-tongued Lamberth emphasized his “discontent with EPA’s continued disregard for its FOIA obligations.”

From the Guardian, air pollution kills hundreds of thousands of Europeans a year:

Air pollution will kill thousands in Europe, EEA warns

EU environment watchdog blames governments for failing to act on air pollution warnings saying it will lead to premature deaths across the countries

Hundreds of thousands of Europeans will suffer a premature death in the next two decades as the result of governments’ failure to act on air pollution, Europe’s environmental watchdog has warned.

In 2011, the latest year for which figures have been reliably collated, more than 400,000 are estimated to have died prematurely as a result of breathing toxic fumes, despite recent improvements in some countries

The UK has been one of the worst offenders, with government figures showing that European Union regulations on air quality will not be met in cities including London, Birmingham and Leeds until 2030.

China hopes for an air pollution reprieve, via Reuters:

China hopes novice environment chief will be breath of fresh air

One year after “declaring war” on pollution, China has appointed an inexperienced outsider as its new environment minister tasked with breathing life into a massive clean-up campaign that even optimists say will take decades to complete.

Beijing has vowed to reverse the damage done to its skies, rivers and soil during China’s three-decade dash for growth, putting its under-resourced environment ministry under pressure to deliver results.

Leading that drive will be Chen Jining, 51, an environmental scientist and president of China’s prestigious Tsinghua University, who was appointed the country’s Minister of Environmental Protection on Friday.

From the Los Angeles Times, mineral water home delivered as Sao Paulo taps run dry:

In drought-stricken Sao Paulo, some rely on mineral water deliveries

Water bicycle deliverymen have long been a common sight in central Sao Paulo, risking life and limb to deliver agua to restaurants, offices and apartment buildings. In normal times, tap water here is drinkable, but most Brazilians prefer to run it through home filters or buy big bottles of mineral water, brought in from outside the strained water systems that serve the 20 million people in the metropolitan area.

Since the middle of last year, a majority of residents here say their taps have run dry at one time or another, and many say their supply is interrupted every night. The problem has only worsened during the current rainy season, and the government recently announced the possibility of a radical rationing plan — two days of water, five days without — if the problem persists.

For now, bicycle deliveries are essential to some, who have turned to businesses such as the small San Lucas water delivery service, operated by Kleber Prado from a small garage space. Prado, who purchases his supply from a mineral water firm in a city outside Sao Paulo, says he can’t keep up with demand.

A Mexican mine hit with a river pollution fine, via Mexico News Daily:

Buenavista copper mine fined 23mn

Profepa levies fines for copper sulphate spill among other infractions

A copper mine in Sonora, property of Mexico’s largest mining company, has been fined nearly 23 million pesos, or US $1.5 million, for a toxic spill that released 40,000 cubic meters of copper sulphate solution into two rivers last year, along with other infractions.

The Buenavista del Cobre mine in Cananea, owned by Grupo Mexico, was found guilty by the environmental protection agency Profepa of 55 infractions.

The fines result from 55 irregularities, from the copper sulphate spill into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers on August 6 to atmospheric issues, and are in addition to the 2 billion pesos the company has agreed to pay into a trust whose funds will pay for clean-up efforts, medical attention to those who suffered health effects and financial compensation to farmers and others who have suffered economically.

From the Tico Times, a call for shark protection:

Environmentalists demand Costa Rica block exportation of hammerhead shark fins

Costa Rican environmentalists and officials are at loggerheads over what to do with more than 1,200 kilograms of shark fins — the equivalent of about 2,000 hammerhead sharks — allegedly caught as bycatch and set to be exported to Asia.

The disagreement extends to regulations published in February that environmentalists contend further threaten dwindling and endangered shark populations by a country that has worked hard in international forums to protect them.

On Monday, a collection of environmental groups, including the ocean conservation group Pretoma, the Costa Rican Federation for Environmental Conservation (FECON) and Bloque Verde, asked for public support of a petition to block the export of the shark fins.

Prison-farmed fish for sale at Whole Foods, via Grist:

Whole Foods is selling you fish farmed by prisoners

Ah, Whole Foods: Where we go to spend $12.00 on a jar of small-batch organic pickles and hate ourselves a little bit for it. Don’t get us wrong — the fact that a major national chain has a mission to promote organic foods and encourage people to eat healthfully is great, especially now that they’ve made a push to make certain staple items more affordable. But like any other supermarket, the organic mega-grocer looks to cut costs where it can — and, like many other supermarkets, that can mean using very, very cheap labor where possible.

Case in point: The market touts a strict list of requirements for all of the seafood that passes through its doors and declares on its blog: “We know exactly where our farmed seafood comes from and who is doing the farming.”

OK — but who exactly is that? Well, according to a recent investigation by Pacific Standard, your tilapia may have come from a federal prison in Cañon City, Colo.

The DEA warns of Utah rabbits dazed on legal weed, via the Independent:

DEA warns of stoner rabbits if Utah legalises weed: ‘They have developed a taste for it’

We’re used to hearing worries over the prospect of widespread criminality and lethargy with marijuana legalisation (neither of which are real incidentally, just ask Colorado), but a Drug Enforcement Administration agent has unearthed a new problem: rabbits might trip balls and not have the energy to hop around anymore.

“I deal in facts, I deal in science,” special agent and member of the ‘marijuana eradication’ team in Utah Matt Fairbanks told a senate panel last week. His colleagues recently raided a retiree’s back garden and seized several okra plants.

He went on to explain to the panel, which was debating whether to legalise edible forms of cannabis for patients with debilitating conditions, how at mountainside grow sites he had seen “rabbits that had cultivated a taste for the marijuana.

A key African staple lags behind growing populations, via the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Yields of key cassava crop not keeping pace with Africa population growth

Yields of cassava, a key crop feeding millions of people across Africa, are not keeping pace with population growth despite its tolerance for climate change, a leading scientist said.

More than half the world’s cassava, a high-energy root crop, is grown in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is often the cheapest source of calories for poor people, said Clair Hershey, programme leader at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

“More than 200 million people rely on cassava as a basic food crop,” he said during a lecture at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) late on Monday.

And the FBI comes a-knockin’ at the doors of Keystone Pipeline foes, via Public Radio International:

Keystone XL opponents find the FBI at their doors

The pipeline, which would have carried heavy crude from southern Alberta to the Texas coast, drew numerous opponents, many of whom were already protesting against fracking and tar sands oil development. Their activities drew attention from the FBI, which in October 2014 began contacting at least a dozen people to ask questions about their actions and their colleagues.

That move recalls the agency’s snooping into anti-war protesters during the Vietnam era. “The FBI’s historical response to dissent on the left … is to try and stop it by intimidation and by force,” says Larry Hildes, an attorney in Bellingham, Washington. He believes there’s little reason to believe the government’s surveillance activities in the 1960s and 1970s have stopped.

Hildes was pulled into the issue after reporter Becky Kramer of The Spokesman-Review, based in Spokane, Washington, spoke with several people who were contacted by the FBI regarding their involvement with environmental groups.

Then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with another year’s radioactive water cleanup delay, via the Mainichi :

Purification of contaminated water to be delayed by a year at Fukushima plant

The planned completion of the purification of highly radioactive water stored at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is expected to be pushed back to sometime around May next year, more than a year later than initially planned, it has been learned.

Naohiro Masuda, chief decommissioning officer at the Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination & Decommissioning Engineering Co., disclosed the anticipated delay during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun. The company was established by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. to handle reactor decommissioning and contaminated water at the crippled plant.

While the purification process had initially been scheduled to be wrapped up by the end of this month, company officials gave up on achieving that goal in January following a series of malfunctions of the water purification system, called Advanced Liquid Processing System, or ALPS.

An Olympic Fukushima food fare bid from JapanToday:

Fukushima makes pitch for 2020 Olympic baseball and local food

Fukushima, stricken by one of the world’s worst-ever nuclear disasters in 2011, wants to host baseball and softball games at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics—and hopes to convince athletes to eat the local food.

The sports were dropped from the Olympic program after 2008 but are tipped to be voted back in by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) next year, given their popularity in Japan.

“If baseball and softball return to the Olympics, and preliminary games are played outside Tokyo, then we hope to be able to stage games,” Fukushima city official Hiroaki Kuwajima told AFP. “We are still in the process of recovery from the disaster and it would be a dream to have world-class athletes play here.”

And from the Mainichi, corporate payouts continue:

Gov’t, TEPCO to put off plan to end compensation payments to Fukushima firms

The central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) have decided not to abide by a draft plan for the time being to stop paying damages to business operators mainly in evacuation zones in Fukushima Prefecture, it has been learned.

The draft plan stipulated that the government and TEPCO, the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, will stop paying compensation for business damages caused by the 2011 nuclear disaster to the business operators in February 2016. The government and TEPCO have decided to postpone the original plan because it has been pointed out that many business operators will be forced out of business if they discontinue compensation payments.

The government and TEPCO will also shelve their plan to terminate compensation payments one year later to business operators outside the evacuation zones for damages caused by harmful rumors related to the nuclear disaster.

Finally, from the Guardian, Mount Everest grows a crown of human feces:

Too much human poo on Mount Everest, says Nepal

Waste from the 700 climbers and guides a year who attempt to scale the mountain is becoming a health hazard

Human waste left by climbers on Mount Everest has become a problem that is causing pollution and threatening to spread disease on the world’s highest peak, the chief of Nepal’s mountaineering association said Tuesday.

The more than 700 climbers and guides who spend nearly two months on Everest’s slopes each climbing season leave large amounts of faeces and urine, and the issue has not been addressed, Ang Tshering told reporters.

He said Nepal’s government needs to get the climbers to dispose of the waste properly so the mountain remains pristine.

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