June 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm By Roz Potter
From the Wall Street Journal: Link , and a earlier related article in the UK Telegraph: Link
TOKYO—Japan’s recent discovery of tea leaves contaminated with radioactive material far from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has cast a spotlight on how the country tests for fallout from the accident—and has sparked a backlash from local officials and tea growers who say too-rigid scrutiny could unnecessarily harm sales of the iconic product.
The controversy erupted last week when Shizuoka prefecture, which produces more than 40% of the green tea consumed in Japan, announced that a sample of dry tea leaves from a producer about 355 kilometers from the nuclear plant contained 679 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. That level exceed the maximum allowable amount of 500 becquerels set just this month by the government.
The prefecture requested the leaves’ producer halt shipments and is now testing other samples from the same area.
The announcement follows concerns since the March 11 accident about contamination to other staples of the Japanese diet, from the prospect of fish poisoned by the heavy amounts of radioactive material dumped into the sea off the country’s northeastern coast, to produce laced with radioactive material in one of the nation’s historic farming areas.
The reports of tea contamination so far from the nuclear plant have sparked worries over the seemingly broadening scope of contamination three months after the accident. But it also fueled an argument from the tea-growing region and opposition lawmakers in the national parliament over whether Japan’s testing is giving consumers an unnecessarily escalated sense of danger.
To read more… Link
June 12, 2011 at 11:13 am By Roz Potter
From the NYT: Link
The deaths of 31 people in Europe from a little-known strain of E. coli have raised alarms worldwide, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Our food often betrays us. (editor’s note: in Europe, more than 3283 people have confirmed cases and at least 100 of these need kidney transplants, due to severe damage to their kidneys from the Shiga toxin-producing bacteria. Many more who have been sickened are not in the official count, for a variety of reasons).
Just a few days ago, a 2-year-old girl in Dryden, Va., died in a hospital after suffering bloody diarrhea linked to another strain of E. coli. Her brother was also hospitalized but survived.
Every year in the United States, 325,000 people are hospitalized because of food-borne illnesses and 5,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s right: food kills one person every two hours.
Yet while the terrorist attacks of 2001 led us to transform the way we approach national security, the deaths of almost twice as many people annually have still not generated basic food-safety initiatives. We have an industrial farming system that is a marvel for producing cheap food, but its lobbyists block initiatives to make food safer.
Perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of our agricultural system — I say this as an Oregon farmboy who once raised sheep, cattle and hogs — is the way antibiotics are recklessly stuffed into healthy animals to make them grow faster.
The Food and Drug Administration reported recently that 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States go to livestock, not humans. And 90 percent of the livestock antibiotics are administered in their food or water, typically to healthy animals to keep them from getting sick when they are confined in squalid and crowded conditions.
The single state of North Carolina uses more antibiotics for livestock than the entire United States uses for humans.
This cavalier use of low-level antibiotics creates a perfect breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant pathogens. The upshot is that ailments can become pretty much untreatable.
June 9, 2011 at 12:29 pm By Roz Potter
From a June 9, 2011 NHK World report, which includes a video, Link
From Mainichi News, Link
Also see my April 12, 2011 post on radioactive Strontium that was found 90 km from Fukushima at that time, Link
Strontium-90 is generated during the fission of uranium in fuel rods in reactors.
With a comparatively long half-life of 29 years, the radioactive substance poses a risk of accumulating in the bones if inhaled, because its properties are similar to those of calcium. If this happens, it could cause cancer.
The ministry says the survey revealed that strontium was detected even in the city of Fukushima about 60 kilometers from the plant, suggesting wide-spread contamination.
It says higher doses of strontium were spread northwestward from the plant, along with other radioactive substances, because of the prevailing winds.
The Nuclear Safety Commission says the detected doses of strontium were minimal, compared with those of cesium found in the region. It says the substance does not pose any immediate health threat.
Doctor Osamu Saito is a radiation expert at a hospital in Fukushima City. He says even though only small quantities of strontium-90 were detected in the survey, it still poses a high health risk because it can accumulate in the bones.
He is urging the government to increase the number of observation points throughout the prefecture, so as to help ease public anxiety.
The ministry says it is considering taking samples from additional locations in the next survey.
June 9, 2011 at 9:36 am By Roz Potter
From the NPR health blog, Shots: Link
Dr. Christopher Braden, the chief of food- and waterborne diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doesn’t expect the Escherichia coli bug causing serious illness in northern Europe to leapfrog the Atlantic anytime soon.
Still, Braden tells Shots, “I am concerned about something similar that could happen in the United States.”
That’s because the U.S. already sees “quite a few infections every year” from Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli. That’s the dangerous kind that can destroy blood cells, clog arteries, cause intestinal bleeding and lead to kidney failure and death.
Officials estimate that at least 100,000 Americans suffer E. coli infections from toxin-producing organisms every year, sending thousands to the hospital and killing about 80 people. That’s a much bigger toll than the current German-centered outbreak — more than 2,400 cases, including more than 600 cases of kidney failure, and 23 deaths. But most cases occur one-by-one, not in big outbreaks.
There’s controversy over why the European bug is so bad.
Some experts think it’s not really more dangerous than earlier strains. It’s just that more people got exposed to it, or perhaps there was an unusually high level of contamination on whatever foods affected people ate.
Another hypothesis: Perhaps some of the most seriously ill cases were treated with antibiotics. Paradoxically, some think that can make matters worse. Some say that’s because more toxin is released from the E. coli that are killed off. Others think, in the case of a highly antibiotic-resistant bug like O104:H4, antibiotics kill off other intestinal flora but not the E. coli, leaving them a clear field.
University of Wisconsin infectious disease specialist Dr. Dennis Maki dismisses these theories. He has treated lots of people with bad E. coli infections over the years, and he says this one is clearly different.
Earlier strains were far less likely to put victims in the hospital with severe anemia and kidney failure, Braden says, with “rarely over 10 percent” of patients affected.
By contrast, Maki notes the European strain is hospitalizing about a third of its victims. “That’s extraordinary,” he tells Shots. “This is an extraordinarily virulent strain of E. coli. I think that’s becoming clear.”
Maki predicts that “we will see U.S. cases” of the European bug as it gets carried back to North America by travelers. “We could have a big outbreak with this strain in a year or two or three,” he says. “It’s not out of the question at all.”
Osterholm agrees that the bug will get around. “Are there going to be more outbreaks like we see in Germany right now occurring around the world?” he says. “I bet you there will be.”
That’s why experts want to learn everything they can about the European bug – how it got there, why it’s so deadly, and above all, how it gets into food.
“For a number of years, almost all of the strains of this kind of E. coli were that O157:H7,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen a very sizable increase in the number of non-O157:H7 strains.”
That’s thought to be due in large part to improvements food safety aimed at detecting and eliminating O157 strains from the food supply. But that has opened a path for other types of toxin-producing strains — of which there are hundreds.
It’s unclear how many of these non-O157 strains are involved in U.S. food-borne infections because they’re harder to test for. “But when we do studies looking for them, they make up well over half of all the hemorrhagic E. coli illnesses out there,” Osterholm tells Shots. “And we think that number is actually increasing, not decreasing.”
To read the full article, Link
June 8, 2011 at 10:06 am By Roz Potter
From the UK’s Guardian, Link
Molten nuclear fuel in three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant is likely to have burned through pressure vessels, not just the cores, Japan has said in a report in which it also acknowledges it was unprepared for an accident of the severity of Fukushima.
It is the first time Japanese authorities have admitted the possibility that the fuel suffered “melt-through” – a more serious scenario than a core meltdown.
The report, which is to be submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said fuel rods in reactors No 1, 2 and 3 had probably not only melted, but also breached their inner containment vessels and accumulated in the outer steel containment vessels.
The report comes a day after Japan’s nuclear safety agency said the amount of radiation that leaked from Fukushima Daiichi in the first week of the accident may have been more than double that initially estimated by Tepco.
June 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm By Roz Potter
World Health Organization update #6 Link
Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy from the Univ of Minnesota: Link
June 2011 update from Eurosurveillance: Link
From H5N1 blog: a translation of an article from the German Ärzte Zeitung: EHEC: Early neurological therapy recommended, Link
The count of cases (some severely ill with renal failure and serious neurological symptoms) and deaths in Europe’s Escherichia coli outbreak pushes higher daily, with official case counts of around 1700, with many others likely uncounted. The epidemic has been traced to Hamburg, Germany but the exact source remains unknown. Many who are infected attended a 2 day Festival in Hamburg.
A WHO expert, Donato Greco, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica: “The virus is found in intestines of cattle and therefore usually in raw meat such as tartar or poorly cooked hamburgers.” He said he had never yet seen such dangerous intestinal bacteria on fruits and vegetables.
There are two types of infection, one,with fewer victims involves hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), or potentially fatal kidney failure. A number of victims are on dialysis.
The German Society of Neurology (DGN) has reported that about half of patients with hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) may also suffer from severe and sometimes irreversible neurological disorders.
Two Hamburg neurologists, Professor Joachim Roether and Professor Christian Gerloff, say that is is alarming that the neurological condition in spite of early plasmapheresis does not improve or even deteriorates.
Gerloff is director of neurology at the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), Roether is Chief of Neurology at the Asklepios Clinic Altona.
Espeically striking is the early appearance of neurological symptoms, says Gerloff. “It can develop simultaneously with renal and gastroenterological symptoms.”
Crucial features of HUS are bloody diarrhea, hemolysis, and renal dysfunction. In the neurological symptom complex in HUS, the first are confusion, reduced vigilance, irritability and delirium. There are also many cases of aphasia and apraxia, and disturbances of the brain stem functions. In severe cases, patients develop myoclonic seizures and sometimes that can lead to coma.