2012-2013 influenza season has arrived, plans to stay awhile

U.S. flu outbreak: Boston declares health emergency: “With flu cases in Boston up tenfold from last year, the mayor declared a public health emergency on Wednesday as authorities around the United States scrambled to cope with a rising number of patients.

U.S. health authorities say the flu arrived about a month earlier than usual this year, and the flu strain making most people sick – H3N2 – has a reputation for causing fairly severe illness, especially in the elderly.

As a result, hospitals around the country have been forced to find additional space to treat the ill, and some have had to turn people away.

[...] As of last Friday, the proportion of people visiting their doctor with flu symptoms had climbed from to 5.6 percent, up from 2.8 percent a month earlier.

That compared with 2.2 percent at the peak of last year’s mild flu season and 7.7 percent at the peak of the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.”

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Tuesday morning’s 6 questionably interesting things

1) YOUR 21ST CENTURY REPUBLICAN PARTY:

  • Lindsey Graham on Afghanistan Civilian Massacre: ‘These Things Happen’ - “No, I believe, one, this is tragic and will be investigated, and that soldier will be held accountable for his actions under the military justice system. Unfortunately, these things happen in war. You had an Israeli soldier kill worshippers by the Dome of the Rock mosque. You just have to push through these things.” Yeah, I’m sure if an Afghan national walked into a shopping mall and slaughtered 16 Americans — including 9 children — Graham’s response would be, “Well, sh*t happens. Onward.”
  • Mississippi and Alabama: is this where brain cells go to die? - In Mississippi only 12% of voters think Obama’s a Christian to 52% who think he’s a Muslim and 36% who are not sure. In Alabama just 14% think Obama’s a Christian to 45% who think he’s a Muslim and 41% who aren’t sure. [...] In Mississippi …only 54% of voters think [interracial marriage] should be legal, while 29% believe it should be illegal. [...] Finally there’s considerable skepticism about evolution among GOP voters in both Alabama and Mississippi. In Alabama only 26% of voters believe in it, while 60% do not. In Mississippi just 22% believe in it, while 66% do not.
  • Real Time with Bill Maher correspondent, Alexandra Pelosi interviews Mississippi residents.
  • Why the former half-term governor matters - In a new video released by the Obama team, viewers are reminded of comments Palin made on the air last week. If you missed the clip, Palin’s scathing criticism of the president was blisteringly stupid, even for her, with the argument that the president is “bringing us back … to days before the Civil War.” Yes, Palin seriously expected Fox News viewers to believe the nation’s first African-American president wants to roll back the clock 150 years, to the days when slavery was legal. [...] I wouldn’t be too surprised if Republican leaders and the Romney campaign ask Palin to take a much lower profile in the coming months. Whether Palin honors the request is another matter. WATCH:


2) MITT ROMNEY

  • Romney will not enroll in Medicare - According to BuzzFeed, Romney, who has advocated for the wealthiest Americans to take lower public insurance benefits, announced through his campaign that he would not be apart of the entitlement program. The former Massachusetts governor and his team have repeatedly stated inaccurate information on Medicare throughout the course of the campaign, including claiming Medicare is going “bankrupt” and accusing President Obama of cutting benefits for seniors through the Affordable Care Act. Romney wants to raise the Medicare’s eligibility age up from 65 by one month per year and eventually tie the age to life expectancy.
  • Mitt Romney May Not Need Medicare, But Seniors Do

  • Romney Rules Out Santorum as Veep - Mitt Romney told Fox News that he would not pick Rick Santorum as his running mate because he’s not conservative enough. Said Romney: “Well, that would preclude, of course, Rick Santorum. Because, I mean, look at his record. I find it interesting that he continues to describe himself as the real conservative. This is the guy who voted against right-to-work. This is the guy who voted to fund Planned Parenthood. This is the person who voted to raise the debt ceiling five times? … Rick Santorum is not a person who is an economic conservative to my right.” [image: phroyd]

3) RICK SANTORUM:

  • Santorum’s war on teleprompters - “See, I always believed that when you run for president of the United States, it should be illegal to read off a teleprompter. Because all you’re doing is reading someone else’s words to people. You’re voting for someone who is going to be the leader of our government. It’s important for you to understand who that person is in their own words, see them, look them in the eye…hear what’s (in their) heart. You’re choosing a leader. A leader isn’t just about what’s written on a piece of paper.” || [MB]: Video of Rick Santorum using a teleprompter last month. [TP]: Santorum’s campaign, like those of almost every other politician, employs speechwriters to help draft his public remarks. So he is likely often “reading someone else’s words.”
  • Santorum co-chair: Romney should ‘renounce his racist Mormon religion’ - At a press conference on Monday, Rev. O’Neal Dozier, who is an honorary chairman of Santorum’s Florida campaign, said that he was speaking out to “foster and maintain good race relations here in America.” “The Mormon religion is prejudiced against blacks, Jews and native Americans,” Dozier insisted, adding that Romney’s nomination would widen the racial divide because “the Republican Party would be viewed as a racist political party.” “Romney’s nomination would cause the erroneous view that has long existed in the minds of black people that the Republican Party is prejudiced to become a reality. Why? Because Romney will become the face and the leader of the Republican Party.”
  • Santorum: Endangered Species Act puts ‘critters above people’ - “I know that from personal experience in Pennsylvania, and look at the Central Valley of California. There are so many places that we put critters above people. It’s a radical ideology that says we are here to serve the Earth instead of man having dominion over the Earth to serve him and to be a good steward of that Earth. …I accept the fact that the president’s a Christian. I just said when you have world view that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth like things that are not scientifically proven like the politicization of the whole global warming debate.”
  • “The dangers of carbon dioxide? Tell that to a plant, how dangerous carbon dioxide is,” says Rick Santorum.

4) F&%KING RUSH LIMBAUGH

  • exodusWhat hath Rush wrought? - Limbaugh has become so toxic, major advertisers want to avoid him and other shock jocks who might be as offensive as he is. As John Avlon noted over the weekend, “Rush Limbaugh made the right-wing talk-radio industry, and he just might break it.” [T]he irony is that the same market forces that right-wing talk-radio hosts champion are helping to seal their fate. Advertisers are abandoning the shows because they no longer want to be associated with the hyperpartisan — and occasionally hateful — rhetoric. They are finally drawing a line because consumers are starting to take a stand. [...] When big money starts shifting, it is a sign of a deeper tide that is difficult to undo, even if you are an industry icon like Rush Limbaugh. It is a sign that the times are changing. The free market at work.
  • Corporate America Turns Its Back On Rush Limbaugh - Watching advertisers flee Limbaugh at an alarming rate last week, Beck must have felt a sense of déjà vu regarding the cavalcade of television sponsors who abandoned him after he insulted the president as a “racist.” (Not to mention a socialist -Marxist -Nazi.) It was an advertising exodus that eventually cost Beck his job at Fox News. Like Beck before him, Limbaugh has announced the mass migration is no big deal. Yet like Beck before him, Limbaugh last week learned the overdue lesson that there are real-world consequences for trafficking in hate speech. The talk titan learned there are free-market penalties, such as when companies like Carbonite and AOL walked away from their existing ad commitment to Limbaugh’s show. [...] Imagine how painful the sting must feel for Limbaugh who practically worships at the alter of big business, to know corporate America, via the beloved free marketplace, has spoken so loudly and so clearly about Limbaugh’s creepy, misogynistic taunts of Sandra Fluke.



  • BREAKING: Rush Limbaugh Syndicator Suspends National Ads For Two Weeks - Radio-Info.com reports that Premiere Networks, which syndicates the Rush Limbaugh show, told its affiliate radio stations that they are suspending national advertising for two weeks. Rush Limbaugh is normally provided to affiliates in exchange for running several minutes of national advertisements provided by Premiere each hour. These ads called “barter spots.” These spots are how Premiere makes its money off of Rush Limbaugh and other shows it syndicates. But without explanation, Premiere has supended these national advertisements for two weeks. Radio-Info.com calls the move “unusual.” The development suggests that Rush Limbaugh’s incessant sexist attacks on Sandra Fluke have caused severe damage to the show.

5) WOMEN:

  • N.C. County Kills Family-Planning Funds - The commissioners didn’t think it was right to use taxpayer money to pay for women who want to have sex for non-procreative purposes. From the Star-News: Chairman Ted Davis said he thought it was a sad day when “taxpayers are asked to pay money for contraceptives” for women having sex without planning responsibly. “If these young women are being responsible and didn’t have the sex to begin with, we wouldn’t have this problem to begin with,” Davis said. The New Hanover County decision comes amid a growing debate about contraception and family planning in North Carolina and nationally. Last year, North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature became one of a handful to try and ban state funding for Planned Parenthood.
  • Democrats leading GOP by 25 points among women - A Washington Post survey released Monday found that Democrats are perceived as caring more about issues that are important to women by 25 points, 55 percent to 30 percent. The poll also showed that a large majority of all voters support the idea that businesses should be required to cover the “full cost” of contraception for female employees. Among all voters, 61 percent supported a mandate for birth control coverage, while 35 percent did not. Of those who said contraception should be included in insurance coverage at no cost, 79 percent agreed that religious institutions should not be exempted from the mandate. Overall, 3 percent more voters sided with Obama administration’s policy requiring religious institutions to include birth control in their insurance plans than those who did not. As MSNBC’s Steve Benen noted, 53 percent of voters were women in 2008.

6) MISC

  • South Korean and Russian scientists join to clone woolly mammoth - The South Korean foundation said it would transfer technology to the Russian university, which has already been involved in joint research with Japanese scientists to bring a mammoth back to life. “The first and hardest mission is to restore mammoth cells,” another Sooam researcher, Hwang In-Sung, told AFP. His colleagues would join Russian scientists in trying to find well-preserved tissue with an undamaged gene. By replacing the nuclei of egg cells from an elephant with those taken from the mammoth’s somatic cells, embryos with mammoth DNA could be produced and planted into elephant wombs for delivery, he said. Sooam will use an Indian elephant for its somatic cell nucleus transfer. The somatic cells are body cells, such as those of internal organs, skin, bones and blood. “This will be a really tough job, but we believe it is possible because our institute is good at cloning animals,” Hwang In-Sung said.
  • The Winter That Wasn’t, Part II - This year’s non-winter means an early explosion in bug infestations such as ants, termites, and Lyme disease carrying ticks. But worse than that, it may have wreaked havoc upon the honeybees.
  • CDC Seasonal Flu update - Nine states reported widespread influenza activity (an increase from six states last week). Regional influenza activity was reported by 21 states (an increase from 18 states last week). Twelve states reported local influenza activity (a decrease from 13 states last week). Eight states (a decrease from 12 states last week), the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico reported sporadic influenza activity. The U.S. Virgin Islands reported no influenza activity.

Monday morning’s 9 barely interesting things

1) Obama At AIPAC  | Andrew Sullivan - For the worldview of Cheney and Netanyahu to prevail, Obama must be defeated. That is clearly the agenda of the current Israeli government, and what the NYT delicately but accurately calls “Israel’s backers” in the US. My worry is that once the Likudniks begin to realize Obama may not be defeated by the GOP at home, the current Israeli government would launch a war without warning to create a crisis to humiliate the president, rally end-times evangelicals to vote, send oil prices soaring, and force the US president to coopt a war he does not want and does not yet believe is necessary. If that helps the GOP nominee, so much the better. Every GOP candidate is now committed to the most extreme positions of the Likudnik Israeli right – and are to the bellicose right of most Israelis. I hope that the Israeli government is not that reckless or extreme. But ask yourself when thinking about Netanyahu: what would Cheney do? These individuals are radicals. They turned the US into a torturing nation and regarded that decision as a “no-brainer.” A “wag-the-dog” scenario in which Netanyahu creates a war to wound and weaken a US president before an election is, sadly, not unthinkable. And he will have the GOP as his critical back-up.

2) Should We Be More Scared Of Pandemics? - “Worst case for a severe pandemic would certainly be in the millions [of deaths] in the U.S. alone,” says John Barry. He has advised the last two U.S. presidents on the flu virus and wrote The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History. … When the so-called Spanish flu struck in 1918, it resulted in 500 million infections and 50 million to 100 million deaths, in a world with a population of about 1.8 billion people. That’s equivalent to around 385 million deaths—only a little less than the current population of South America—if extrapolated out to today’s population. “Because of the mildness of the 2009 pandemic, I would say most people underestimate the threat,” says Barry.

3) And Breitbart goes out not with a bang but a whimper - Apparently the big expose Breitbart promised before his death has been released at one of the Big Morons sites, and the shocking revelation is… Obama attended a play 14 years ago that was about Saul Alinksy. || And THIS is the “damning information” that caused Breitbart’s “assassination” by Obama, according to conspiracy theorists. lol.

 4) David Frum: HBO’s ‘Game Change’ Charts Sarah Palin’s Revenge - The professionals soon discover their mistake. “I don’t even like to say this, but has it occurred to you guys that she might be mentally unstable?” asks one staffer about the woman the McCain campaign proposed to put next in line to America’s nuclear codes. As they come to know Palin, the campaign professionals begin to feel an awakening of conscience: first qualms, then fears, and finally revulsion—not for the campaign, not for their careers, but for their country. They supported McCain because they saw him, in Schmidt’s words, as a statesman and national hero running against a celebrity with no major life accomplishments. In hopes of reversing adverse poll numbers, they yoked a great man to a running mate who was not merely unworthy, but dangerous. Some of the best acting in the film is in the looks of unspoken dread that flit about the faces of Sarah Paulson’s Wallace and Harrelson’s Schmidt as they react to Palin’s wilder and wilder provocations. What have they done? And if this campaign somehow wins—and Palin is put within reach of the presidency—what might they have done?

If ever there were a scenario in which Godwin’s Law was apropos, Sick Rantorum is it.5) Santorum: Contraception ‘a grievous moral wrong’ - “The Blunt amendment was broader than that. It was a conscience clause exception that existed prior to when President Obama decided that he could impose his values on people of faith, when people of faith believe that this is a grievous moral wrong. [...] I’m reflecting the views of the Church that I believe in. We used to be tolerant of those beliefs. I guess now when you have beliefs that are consistent with the church, you are somehow out of touch with the mainstream. And that to me is a pretty sad situation when you can’t have personally-held beliefs.” || I find it “pretty sad” that, as president, Santorum would like to impose his personal religious beliefs on the entire country.

motherjones:Context: Rick Santorum pledges to repeal 130,000 legally recognized same-sex marriages if elected president.6) Santorum backs nullifying existing gay marriages - There are 18,000 married gay and lesbian couples in California and at least 131,000 nationwide according to the 2010 census, conducted before New York state legalized same-sex marriage in July. Rick Santorum says he’ll try to unmarry all of them if he’s elected president. Once the U.S. Constitution is amended to prohibit same-gender marriages, “their marriage would be invalid,” the former Pennsylvania senator said Dec. 30 in an NBC News interview.

7) 99% of Republicans expect their kids to go to college, according to Pew report. - No matter what political beliefs they hold, nearly all parents—99 percent of Republicans, 96 percent of Democrats, and 93 percent of independents—expect their children to go to college, the survey found. That resounding endorsement makes clear that Santorum is all but alone in his opinion that only snobs encourage all kids to go to college. || And there you have it: 99% of Republicans are snobs.

8) Chris Wallace: Fox News covers contraception for female employees - During a discussion about women’s health issues on Sunday, Fox News host Chris Wallace revealed that the insurance provided by the conservative news network included oral contraceptives. “Before coming on today, I checked with the women here at Fox News and it turns out that Fox News health coverage does cover — there’s a co-pay — but it does cover contraception,” Wallace explained. “When it comes to contraception, you know the idea that — and we’re not talking about religious institutions. According to the Blunt amendment, any — U.S. Steel, as I said, Fox News, any company could simply decide, we are not going to offer that. An insurance company could decide, one that has no ties to any religious organization.” || There’s an FYI for Limbaugh and his zombie hoard — the “sluts” at Fox News have the health insurance benefit that Sandra Fluke was talking about. 

9) You might wonder: how are Limbaugh’s hoards in the wingnut blogosphere handling the advertising exodus from the barren land of El Rushbo? Like this:  SLUTGATE: CONTACT CARBONITE – DROP ED SCHULTZ!!!!! – A 30-year-old poses as a 23-year-old, chooses a Catholic University to attend at $65,000 per year and can not afford ALL the birth control pills she needs… so she wants the US taxpayers to pay for her rampant sexual activity. By all accounts she is banging it five times a day. She sounds more like a prostitute to me. She must have an gyno bill to choke a horse (pun intended). Slut was a softball. Obama calls her and tells Sandra Slut Fluke that her parents should be so proud of her. He’s a pimp. As for Rush calling a spade a spade, or in this case, a slut a slut, advertiser Carbonite is playing selective outrage. Contact Carbonite here and demand that they drop their ads from Ed Schultz’s program. || That’s courtesy of a woman, Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs. Who better to casually throw around such pejoratives about another woman than a true lady like Geller? 

Influenza update: H5N1 and H1N1

Bird flu researchers suspend study of deadlier mutations - Researchers studying a potentially deadlier, airborne version of the H5N1 influenza virus, or bird flu, have voluntarily suspended their research for 60 days, according to a letter published in the journals Nature and Science on Friday.

China Reports 2nd H5N1 Bird Flu Death in Month - Both of the deaths in China were notable because neither victim reported any contact with birds in the month preceding his illness. The virus is known to spread through contact with infected birds, eggs or bird feces, but experts said a pandemic could occur were it to mutate into a form that was more easily spread.

Related: 

Swine flu death toll hits nine in Mexico as cases almost double - Nine people have died from an outbreak of swine flu in Mexico, with the number of cases almost doubling in a week. Health officials have identified 573 cases of A (H1N1), up from 333 instances on Thursday. The strain represents 90 per cent of influenza cases in the country, the health ministry said in a statement yesterday. Authorities brushed aside suggestions of a new health emergency.

That’s an increase of 240 cases in four days! 

Meanwhile in the U.S. — Colorado is not well, apparently:

Deaths from H5N1 avian influenza in Cambodia

Remember the story in November about a super-flu virus that was created in The Netherlands, and how the scientists wanted to write a paper explaining to the world how they’d created it?

Pandemic H5N1 influenza virus created

NOV 23, 2011: ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS—Locked up in the bowels of the medical faculty building here and accessible to only a handful of scientists lies a man-made flu virus that could change world history if it were ever set free.

The virus is an H5N1 avian influenza strain that has been genetically altered and is now easily transmissible between ferrets, the animals that most closely mimic the human response to flu. Scientists believe it’s likely that the pathogen, if it emerged in nature or were released, would trigger an influenza pandemic, quite possibly with many millions of deaths.

In a 17th floor office in the same building, virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center calmly explains why his team created what he says is “probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make”—and why he wants to publish a paper describing how they did it…

Bottomline: this Dutch strain became “airborne” between ferrets after 10 generations. Now I’m reading that there are deaths in Cambodia from H5N1:

Cambodian toddler dies from bird flu: WHO

PHNOM PENH — A two-year-old Cambodian boy has died from bird flu, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, in the country’s first fatality from the virus this year.

The child, from northwestern Banteay Meanchey province, fell ill on January 3 and was taken to hospital where he tested positive for H5N1 avian influenza. He died on January 18, the WHO said on Thursday.

“The boy is the 19th person in Cambodia to become infected with the H5N1 virus; to date, 17 of these cases have died from complications of the disease,” the UN health agency said on its website. [...] the WHO said in a joint statement that the patient had been exposed to sick poultry prior to becoming ill.

So this H5N1 strain causing deaths in Cambodia is still not transmissible human to human — I’m guessing. Apparently it’s still bird to human, so that’s the difference between the Dutch strain and Cambodia’s.

Meanwhile, publication of the airborne ferret to ferret H5N1 pandemic strain is still being discussed:

WHO to lead talks on controversial H5N1 studies

Jan 17, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – A World Health Organization (WHO) official said the agency will play a role in leading discussions on issues related to controversial H5N1 avian influenza transmission studies, as more experts called for a further global discussion of the issues.

Dr Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general of health security and environment at the WHO, said the WHO will organize international talks to define the issues concerning the H5N1 studies and begin resolving them, the Canadian Press (CP) reported on Jan 15.

Two papers that describe mutant forms of H5N1 that were easily transmissible among ferrets have been submitted to journals, and the scientific and biosecurity communities have been at odds over whether the complete details should be published. The concern is that publication of the full papers could lead to the unleashing of a highly dangerous virus either through criminal activity or a lab accident.

Fukuda told the CP that the WHO is the right agency to ensure that discussions reflect balanced perspectives that take into account technical, scientific, public health, and political considerations. The WHO itself has voiced concern that H5N1 research like the two studies now at issue could threaten a new virus-sharing agreement that took effect in May 2011.

“It’s genuinely a set of difficult and very important questions,” Fukuda said.

One of the as-yet-unpublished H5N1 studies, by a team led by Dr. Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University in the Netherlands, was submitted to Science. The other, led by Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin and the University of Tokyo, was submitted to Nature.

The US government has asked the journals to omit key details, following a recommendation by its advisory panel, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB). The journals have said they might go along with the recommendation if a mechanism can be found to share the full details with responsible scientists.

RESPONSIBLE” SCIENTISTS! Really! How will that be determined?

Flu

I has it.

And apparently I’m not the only one. The geographic spread of the flu (below) shows that most states are brown or “widespread.” This map is for Week 8, ending Feb. 26, 2011.  There is no Week 9 map yet.