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Monday, November 17, 2014

Bird flu is back: here's what you need to know

Ducks in cages are seen at a duck farm in Nafferton, northern England on Monday. The European Commission on Monday praised the action taken by Britain and the Netherlands to contain their respective cases of bird flu, saying all protocols had been followed. © Reuters/Phil Noble Ducks in cages are seen at a duck farm in Nafferton, northern England on Monday. The European Commission on Monday praised the action taken by Britain and the Netherlands to contain…
  1. European health officials have been killing off thousands of birds to contain outbreaks of bird flu in several countries that may or may not be related.
  2. Health officials are concerned because any time there's an outbreak in animals, there's the possibility that the virus could infect humans, leading to a flu pandemic.
  3. But you don't need to worry just yet: it seems the outbreaks don't involve H5N1, the bird-flu strain that is most dangerous for humans.

What's going on in Europe?

On Sunday November 16, a case of bird flu was found on a duck-breeding farm near Yorkshire, England.
Confirmation of the particular virus strain will come later this week, but officials so far said it's not the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain that can kill humans.
The news from England came just as Dutch officials announced that they had detected H5N8 bird flu at a poultry farm in the village of Hekendord. This strain is highly contagious and lethal to birds, but has never been found in humans.
Earlier this month, on November 4, the same H5N8 strain was found at a farm in northeastern Germany.
Now, scientists across Europe are collaborating to figure out how and whether these outbreaks are related.
The Dutch government has temporarily banned the transport of poultry and eggs and t he European Commission is expected to introduce other containment measures.

What is bird flu and how deadly is it?

Like humans, birds — from chickens to ducks and other wild poultry— get sick with the flu sometimes. When they do, bird flu virus can spread easily among them by way of respiratory secretions and feces, reaching epidemic proportions very quickly.
The reason experts worry so much about bird flu, however, is because it's an easily transmissible respiratory virus and some strains have managed to infect humans — with deadly outcomes.
Right now, bird flu has only rarely made people sick, and mostly involved very close contact with infected birds, and not human to human spread.
But there's the concern, whenever the virus surfaces,that it could makes the leap into humans and mutate to become more easily passed among people, leading to a pandemic. As the Guardian notes, "Pandemics have occurred every 20 to 30 years, but it has been almost 40 years since the last one happened."
Of all the bird flu strains, H5N1 is the one public-health experts worry about the most. It's believed to be the most dangerous form of bird flu, and it has caused serious outbreaks mostly among animals in Asia and the Middle East, as well as some 650 human cases since 2003.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most human cases of H5N1 virus have turned up in people who had direct contact with infected animals in Asia and 60 percent of those infected later died.

Should I be worried about the outbreaks in Europe?

Probably not. The outbreaks in Europe appear to involve strains of the virus that haven't been deadly in humans. The H5N8 strain in Germany has never infected humans, and health officials confirmed that the bird flu in England — while a form of H5 — is not the deadly H5N1 strain.
As well, officials have been working to contain spread, killing off birds that may have been infected, including some 6,000 ducks in England and, in the Netherlands, some 150,000 chickens.
Still, flu outbreaks can take health officials by surprise and there's still a lot we're learning about bird flu and how it spreads. What's more, the WHO has long warned that a pandemic could start off with just the scenario we're seeing now: infected birds on a farm. 

Modern slavery 'traps 35.8 million people'


Three freed women slaves hug their children after being rescued by authorities as they arrive in the town of Matli, northeast of Karachi, Pakistan, on September 13, 1998 © Provided by AFP Three freed women slaves hug their children after being rescued by authorities as they arrive in the town of Matli, northeast of Karachi, Pakistan, on September 13, 1998
Forced to pick cotton, grow cannabis, prostitute themselves, fight wars or clean up after the wealthy -- some 35.8 million people are currently trapped in modern-day slavery, a new report said Monday.
The 2014 Global Slavery Index (GSI), in its second annual report, said new methods showed some 20 percent more people were enslaved across the world than originally thought.
"There is an assumption that slavery is an issue from a bygone era. Or that it only exists in countries ravaged by war and poverty," said Andrew Forrest, chairman of the Australian-based Walk Free Foundation which produced the report.
The foundation's definition of modern slavery includes slavery-like practices such as debt bondage, forced marriage and the sale or exploitation of children, as well as human trafficking and forced labour.
The report, which covers 167 countries, said modern slavery contributed to the production of at least 122 goods from 58 countries.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates profits from this forced labour are $150 billion (120 billion euros) a year.
"From the Thai fisherman trawling fishmeal, to the Congolese boy mining diamonds, from the Uzbek child picking cotton, to the Indian girl stitching footballs... their forced labour is what we consume," read the report.
- Mauritania tops list -
The biggest offender, with the highest proportion of its population enslaved, remains the west African nation Mauritania, where slavery of black Moors by Berber Arabs is an entrenched part of society.
Mauritania has anti-slavery legislation but it is rarely enforced and a special tribunal set up in March has yet to prosecute any cases, the report said.
In second place was Uzbekistan where, every autumn, the government forces over one million people, including children, to harvest cotton.
Countries like Qatar in the Middle East were a major destination for men and women from Africa and Asia who are lured with promises of well-paid jobs only to find themselves exploited as domestic workers or in the construction industry.
The countries doing the most to combat the problem were the Netherlands, Sweden, the United States, Australia, Switzerland, Ireland, Norway, the United Kingdom, Georgia, and Austria.
- Austerity blamed -
Europe, while at the bottom of the list -- with Iceland and Ireland the best ranked -- has 566,000 people involved in forms of modern slavery, with people trafficked into Ireland to grow cannabis, or forced into begging in France.
"Trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation accounted for almost 70 percent of identified victims while trafficking for forced labour accounted for 19 percent," read the report.
"The global economic crisis and austerity measures of the EU have meant that increasing numbers of Bulgarians and Romanians migrate in search of highly paid jobs. Some of these workers can be tricked or coerced into situations of exploitation."
The highest numbers of modern slaves were found in India with an estimated 14.29 million enslaved.
However the Index said India had recently taken important steps to combat the problem, strengthening its criminal justice framework through legislative amendments and increasing the number of its Anti-Human Trafficking Police Units.
Africa faces some of the biggest challenges, the report said, with armed forces and rebel groups from Somalia to the Central African Republic using child soldiers to mineral-rich Zambia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo forcing children and adults to "labour in dangerous mines."
Nigeria is a major source of human trafficking to Europe. In one example, Nigerian women get trapped in a cycle of debt bondage in the Italian sex industry.
"These findings show that modern slavery exists in every country. We are all responsible for the most appalling situations where modern slavery exists and the desperate misery it brings upon our fellow human beings," said Forrest.

Man pushed to his death under New York subway


People wait for the Subway on October 24, 2014 in New York City © Provided by AFP People wait for the Subway on October 24, 2014 in New York City
A 61-year-old man was killed Sunday in New York when he was pushed onto subway tracks by an unknown assailant, said police, who released a video of the suspect.
The incident took place in the Bronx, where the victim, identified as Wai Kuen Kwok, was waiting for the D train, at the 167th street stop, with his wife. The couple were headed to Chinatown, in lower Manhattan.
The suspect pushed the man from the platform just as a train arrived in the station, shortly before 9:00 am (1400 GMT), as his horrified wife watched helplessly.
The victim and his attacker did not appear to know each other and had not argued, witnesses said.
Police released a video of the suspected killer, who left the scene by bus. On the video, a man wearing a black jacket over a dark t-shirt gets off the bus, goes into a store, and emerges to smoke a cigarette as he ambles away.
A reward of $2,000 was offered for any information that could help the investigation.
Every year, dozens of people are killed by the subway in New York though accident or suicide.
However, this is first known incident of a person being pushed to his or her death on the tracks since December 2012, when two were killed in separate attacks.
On December 28, a woman pushed an Indian immigrant to his death in Queens.
Weeks earlier on December 3, a man was pushed from a stop in Manhattan during a fight with a deranged man.
A New York Post front page picture of the man on the tracks a split-second before he was killed by the oncoming train provoked public fury as to why no one helped him -- and why the tabloid newspaper published the photo.