We’re all hosts on a viral planet: Trillions upon trillions of viruses fall from the sky each day

When a stoned Carl Sagan used to do his TV bit and talk about billions and billions of galaxies, I turned my world inward, to the trillions and trillions of viruses.

I tell daughter Sorenne, I don’t care which you focus on, but get one of them right.

According to Jim Robbins of the New York Times, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain, an international team of researchers set out four buckets to gather a shower of viruses falling from the sky.

Scientists have surmised there is a stream of viruses circling the planet, above the planet’s weather systems but below the level of airline travel. Very little is known about this realm, and that’s why the number of deposited viruses stunned the team in Spain. Each day, they calculated, some 800 million viruses cascade onto every square meter of the planet.

Most of the globe-trotting viruses are swept into the air by sea spray, and lesser numbers arrive in dust storms.

“Unimpeded by friction with the surface of the Earth, you can travel great distances, and so intercontinental travel is quite easy” for viruses, said Curtis Suttle, a marine virologist at the University of British Columbia. “It wouldn’t be unusual to find things swept up in Africa being deposited in North America.”

The study by Dr. Suttle and his colleagues, published earlier this year in the International Society of Microbial Ecology Journal, was the first to count the number of viruses falling onto the planet. The research, though, is not designed to study influenza or other illnesses, but to get a better sense of the “virosphere,” the world of viruses on the planet.

Generally it’s assumed these viruses originate on the planet and are swept upward, but some researchers theorize that viruses actually may originate in the atmosphere. (There is a small group of researchers who believe viruses may even have come here from outer space, an idea known as panspermia.)

Whatever the case, viruses are the most abundant entities on the planet by far. While Dr. Suttle’s team found hundreds of millions of viruses in a square meter, they counted tens of millions of bacteria in the same space.

Mostly thought of as infectious agents, viruses are much more than that. It’s hard to overstate the central role that viruses play in the world: They’re essential to everything from our immune system to our gut microbiome, to the ecosystems on land and sea, to climate regulation and the evolution of all species. Viruses contain a vast diverse array of unknown genes — and spread them to other species.

Last year, three experts called for a new initiative to better understand viral ecology, especially as the planet changes. “Viruses modulate the function and evolution of all living things,” wrote Matthew B. Sullivan of Ohio State, Joshua Weitz of Georgia Tech, and Steven W. Wilhelm of the University of Tennessee. “But to what extent remains a mystery.”

We’re all hosts on a viral planet.

I didn’t understand this until fourth-year university, and it was only then I became interested in learning.

Until then, I was bored.

Researchers recently identified an ancient virus that inserted itDNA into the genomes of four-limbed animals that were human ancestors. That snippet of genetic code, called ARC, is part of the nervous system of modern humans and plays a role in human consciousness — nerve communication, memory formation and higher-order thinking. Between 40 percent and 80 percent of the human genome may be linked to ancient viral invasions.

Viruses and their prey are also big players in the world’s ecosystems. Much research now is aimed at factoring their processes into our understanding of how the planet works.

“If you could weigh all the living material in the oceans, 95 percent of it is stuff is you can’t see, and they are responsible for supplying half the oxygen on the planet,” Dr. Suttle said.

In laboratory experiments, he has filtered viruses out of seawater but left their prey, bacteria. When that happens, plankton in the water stop growing. That’s because when preying viruses infect and take out one species of microbe — they are very specific predators — they liberate nutrients in them, such as nitrogen, that feed other species of bacteria. In the same way, an elk killed by a wolf becomes food for ravens, coyotes and other species. As plankton grow, they take in carbon dioxide and create oxygen.

One study estimated that viruses in the ocean cause a trillion trillion infections every second, destroying some 20 percent of all bacterial cells in the sea daily.

Viruses help keep ecosystems in balance by changing the composition of microbial communities. As toxic algae blooms spread in the ocean, for example, they are brought to heel by a virus that attacks the algae and causes it to explode and die, ending the outbreak in as little as a day.

While some viruses and other organisms have evolved together and have achieved a kind of balance, an invasive virus can cause rapid, widespread changes and even lead to extinction.

 

This is a thing: FDA issues warning about snorting chocolate

For a while last year, snorting chocolate was a thing. It was peddled to folks in the club scene as an alternative to doing illegal drugs. Now, federal regulators have issued a warning to a company that distributes chocolate to be used for snorting (right, someone who looks creepily like Chapman, who would know as much about snorting anything as Woody Allen did in Annie Hall).

Known as Coco Loko, this is a powder mixed with other ingredients usually found in energy drinks. While not referring specifically to Coco Loko, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned that inhaling chocolate powder can cause vocal cord spasms that make it hard to speak or breathe and may induce or aggravate asthma. It can also cause tightening of the muscles that line the airways in the lungs. Two of the ingredients — taurine and guanine — have not been evaluated for use through inhalation.

The powdered chocolate, sold by Orlando-based Legal Lean, debuted in mid-2017. The company’s website promises that Coco Loko will provide a blast of the feel-good chemical serotonin — similar to the euphoria produced by the club drug ecstasy. The company’s website cautions users to consume it responsibly, and that is isn’t intended for children or pregnant women.

Where will it end up? Poop train rolling again

Valarie Bauerlein of The Wall Street Journal writes that about 200 shipping containers of rotting sewage from New York City have been removed from a rural Alabama town, putting an end to three months of legal challenges, the mayor there said Thursday.

The waste had been sitting on train tracks adjacent to the small town of Parrish, stalled on the way to the nearby privately owned Big Sky Landfill. Parrish Mayor Heather Hall said the waste was taken by Big Sky to its landfill gradually over the past two weeks, with the last containers removed this week.

Ms. Hall said she was grateful the company was finally able to haul them all away and hopes no more take their place. “Alabama is a beautiful state,” she said. “We’d like to keep it that way.”

Big Sky didn’t respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection said the city had “no plans at the current time” to resume sending biosolids to Alabama.

New York City has multiple contracts for shipping biosolids to landfills in states including Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania as well as upstate New York. The city has set a goal of eliminating landfill disposal by 2030, perhaps by converting biosolids into energy or compost.

The thing that wouldn’t leave from topo morto on Vimeo.

Hipsters beware: Rare tickborne disease found in Austin-area caves

This has nothing to do with food, but is so cool because of the bugs involved – and that they prey on Austin, Texas, hipsters who sleep in caves.

A rare tickborne disease commonly associated with sleeping in rustic mountain cabins has shown up in caves around Austin, Texas, potentially placing cave workers and the public at risk for infection.

According to researchers, three people working in caves in the Austin area were diagnosed with tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF) last year, and two more tested positive for antibodies against the Borrelia bacteria that cause the disease.

The infections were identified by Austin Public Health (APH) and occurred mostly in people who had given guided cave tours, according to Stephanie B. Campbell, DVM, MPH, CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, and colleagues.

Campbell summarized an investigation into the infections during a presentation at the annual EIS conference in Atlanta. She told Infectious Disease News that TBRF has been documented before in Texas caves, though it is unclear whether it has ever been reported in Austin-area caves.

The disease is rare, generally occurring in people who are bitten during the night by Ornithodoros ticks while sleeping in rodent-infested cabins or other rustic buildings where rodents have built nests, according to the CDC. The soft-bodied ticks — different from hard-body ticks like the ones that cause Lyme disease — live among rodents, feeding on them as they sleep. Tick and animal species were not collected as part of the investigation, so the report by Campbell and colleagues did not include which ticks may have been involved and what animals they were feeding on. But Campbell said O. parkeri ticks are found in Texas.

Campbell SB, et al. Evaluating the risk of tickborne relapsing fever among occupational cavers — Austin, TX, 2017. Presented at: Epidemic Intelligence Service conference; April 16-19, 2018; Atlanta.

UK woman who threw vomit over neighbour’s fence sent to prison

A woman who threw vomit over a neighbour’s garden fence and broke glass outside her front door has been sent to prison for 42 days by Truro magistrates.

Susan Karen Northey, aged 42, of Whym Kibbal Court, Wesley Street, Redruth, pursued a course of harassment towards another woman, which also included playing music loud enough to cause her partition wall to shake.

She admitted the offence and also to damaging a black Chevrolet Kalios to the value of £300.

Poop makeup in California

Never got the make-up thing: My partners always looked great without it.

CBS Sacramento reports, buyers beware! Sometimes when you spot a good makeup deal, it’s too good to be true.

The Los Angeles Police Department says it confiscated counterfeit makeup that tested positive for high levels of bacteria and animal waste.

The department seized $700,000 worth of bootleg cosmetics on Thursday after raiding 21 locations in Santee Alley, a Los Angeles fashion district, said LAPD Capt. Marc Reina.

“Those feces will just basically somehow get mixed into the product they’re manufacturing in their garage or in their bathroom — wherever they’re manufacturing this stuff,” Detective Rick Ishitani told CNN affiliate KABC.

One of the brands being knocked off was Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics. Kim Kardashian West, Jenner’s sister, took to Twitter to respond to the raid:

“Counterfeit Kylie lip kits seized in LAPD raid test positive for feces. SO GROSS! Never buy counterfeit products!”

Other prominent makeup brands that were faked included Urban Decay, MAC and NARS.

The LAPD was tipped off by the brand-name companies, which received complaints from consumers who said they had rashes and bumps after using their products. The complainants had one thing in common: They bought the product in the Los Angeles fashion district.

The packaging of the bogus products looks like the real deal, but the prices are way too low.

Falconry as an option for pest control on farms

I’m a fan of the creative approach to using falcons to control wild pests on farms; with the caveat of balancing tradeoffs.

Back when I was doing on farm food safety stuff in greenhouses in Ontario (that’s in Canada) I had many farmers tell me that cats controlled the mice. They often asked what what’s worse – cat poop and feline tracking pathogens on their feet, or rodents everywhere. I never really had a good answer (and suggested traps for the the rodents). Today I saw an article form New Food Economy on using falcons as pest control on ranches and farms, with the click-worthy headline of ‘Could falcons prevent the next salmonella outbreak?’

Not if it’s linked to chicken eggs.

Maybe there’s some merit to the controlling-the-wild-with-the-trained approach, but in the absence of falcon diapers (as Don Schaffner suggested on Twitter) what’s the risk benefit tradeoff related to adding falcon poop into the mix. Maybe vaccination is the key (but I don’t know).

Wildlife biologist Paula Rivadeneira knows feces can be funny. Informally known as Paula the Poop Doctor (@PaulaThePoopDr on Twitter), she’s no stranger to the poop-based pun. Her SCATT lab—that’s Super Cool Agricultural Testing and Teaching lab to you—is a mobile research center inside a bus-sized RV, one she uses in Arizona’s crop fields to makes scat (animal droppings) scat (go away). But she also knows when poop stops being funny: if it gets into the food supply.

A simple, everyday fence can help dispel rodents and ground-based mammals. But how do you keep wild birds away from the open, vast expanse of a crop field? Over the years, farmers have struggled to find workable, cost-effective methods. Netting is too expensive and cumbersome. Chemical repellants can have taste and human health implications. A range of options exist to frighten birds away, from old-fashioned scarecrows and taped distress calls to deafening noise cannons, “exploders,” and sirens, but none are consistently reliable.

Which is where Rivadeneira comes in. As a specialist for the University of Arizona’s cooperative extension, it’s her job to find new ways to keep crop fields safely poop-free. Recently, she’s been at the forefront of a surprising new food safety initiative, one that—somewhat counterintuitively—entails bringing more birds onto agricultural lands. Rather than barricade, poison, or blast interlopers away, she’s helping farmers police their fields with the aid of an unusual ally: trained falcons.

Disease outbreak at Texas cat café leads to kitty quarantine, investigation

I was walking Ted the Wonder Dog the other morning — which I try to do every day but often fail because I’m human, dammit, and Ted would rather sleep beside me all day, and then party at 2 a.m. — and we passed the new cat café in Annerley, Brisbane.

I never had indoor cats until the townhouse rules in Brisbane forced us so. Same with the tiny dog. Now we have our own inner city million-dollar property (in Monopoly money) the cats go in and out, and the dog won’t shut-up.

Cuteness overload was supposed to be the number one item on the menu at San Antonio’s first cat cafe, but now the owner is facing an investigation from local authorities.

City of San Antonio Animal Care Services seized two cats last week and ordered the remaining 54 cats in the 1,000-square-foot San Antonio Cat Cafe to be quarantined from the public on Monday, according to WOAI.

“You are not going to get the sick cats better in that environment and unfortunately you are likely to spread those ailments to the other animals that are currently healthy,” Shannon Sims, the assistant director of Animal Care Services, told the station.

The ailments that he’s talking about allegedly include ringworm and FIP, a viral disease that tends to attack the cells of the intestinal wall and is usually fatal in domestic cats, according to WebMD. Animal Care Services spokeswoman Lisa Norwood told KENS that the investigation thus far had revealed that up to three dozen cats that did not have rabies shots and that sick cats were often mixed with healthy cats.

Leah Taylor, a former cafe employee, who is studying to become a veterinary technician, told KENS she filed a complaint against owner Casey Steuart with Animal Care Services after witnessing four cats die there during her four months on the job.

“A lot of the cat care wasn’t maintained,” Taylor told KENS. “There were animals that should have been on medicine. There were animals that needed to see a vet for medical attention that weren’t tended to. There was a lot of ringworm and upper respiratory, which is very contagious not only to people but also to other animals.”

Cas Moskwa, another former Cat Cafe employee, posted a series of photos on Facebook Sunday, detailing what she called “the reality of the cafe and the poor state it currently is in.” She claimed that Steuart waited for weeks at a time before taking sick cats there to a veterinarian and left at least one sick and dying cat, named Decoy, out in the public lounge during his last agonizing days.

Her post includes photos of cats with crusted eyes and allegations that Steuart brought in a cat infected with ringworm into the facility’s kitten coop, resulting in three different litters becoming infected. She said in a separate post that a cat she took home from the cafe was one of them that had been infected.

According to KSAT, though, Steuart disputes the reports from Moskwa and other former employees, blaming “a lack of communication and misinterpretations.” She specifically disputed the reports of ringworm, a skin infection that can be transmitted to humans, in the cafe.

She also told the San Antonio Express News that three cats did die at the cafe, but none from neglect. One, she said, was 17 years old.

My super-smart partner and I meet: Prion disease in Algerian camels

Amy says I shouldn’t cut-and-paste so much and that I’m better when I just write my own stuff.

Howard Stern’s wife said that to him, at least according to the movie version in Private Parts, 1997, but I counter with I only cut-and-paste the really interesting stuff.

Algeria, French and prions, we’re in a zone.

Everyone else is recall.net, where the copy is provided by 100K-a-year hacks who write and vomit press releases.

Journalism used to be a viable activity.

No worries, story-telling about the Tom-Wolfe-styled-vanities of the food safety privileged retain currency. And those stories are what I have been working on,

I’ll go with a Paul Giamatti,-style, who I am enjoying in Billions and was great in John Adams, Cinderella Man, American Splendor, and so on.

Everyone needs a Paul.

Or an Amy.

Her accomplishments over the seven years since we moved to Australia, including caretaking me and Sorenne, have been extraordinary.

Much love.

Prion disease in Dromedary camels, Algeria

6 June 2018

Emerging Infectious Diseases Vol 24, no 6

Baaissa Babelhadj, Michele Angelo Di Bari, Laura Pirisinu, Barbara Chiappini, Semir Bechir Suheil Gaouar, Geraldina Riccardi, Stefano Marcon, Umberto Agrimi, Romolo Nonno, and Gabriele Vaccari

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/24/6/17-2007_article

Prions cause fatal and transmissible neurodegenerative diseases, including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, scrapie in small ruminants, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

After the BSE epidemic, and the associated human infections, began in 1996 in the United Kingdom, general concerns have been raised about animal prions.

We detected a prion disease in dromedary camels (Camelus dromedarius) in Algeria. Symptoms suggesting prion disease occurred in 3.1% of dromedaries brought for slaughter to Ouargla abattoir in 2015–2016. We confirmed diagnosis by detecting pathognomonic neurodegeneration and disease-specific prion protein (PrPSc) in brain tissues from 3 symptomatic animals.

Prion detection in lymphoid tissues is suggestive of the infectious nature of the disease. PrPSc biochemical characterization showed differences with BSE and scrapie.

Our identification of this prion disease in a geographically widespread livestock species requires urgent enforcement of surveillance and assessment of the potential risks to human and animal health.

 

 

Australian man experiences thunderclap headaches after eating world’s hottest pepper

I grew up with hot peppers, love them, only thing is I can’t tolerate them. I remember going to these massive Italian weddings when I was younger and my dad used to bring his own hot dried peppers from home, stuff them in his pocket and when the pasta came out so did the heat. The heat on these peppers was nothing like the one an Australian man ate at a hot eating pepper competition.

James Gorman of the The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

If you eat a really hot chilli pepper, you expect pain. A lot of pain.
In addition to the feeling that you have just put a live coal in your mouth, you may weep, vomit and wonder where in your life you took a wrong turn.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
You don’t expect a headache so intense and immediate that it sends you to the emergency room. But that’s what happened to a 34-year-old man who turned up at a New York hospital with what clinicians call a thunderclap headache.
His problems began when he ate a whole Carolina Reaper — the hottest chilli pepper in the world, according to Guinness World Records — while participating in hot-pepper-eating competition.
He immediately started experiencing dry heaves — not unknown in the hot-pepper-eating world. But then a pain in his neck and head came on like … a thunderclap.
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It passed, but over the next few days he experienced more thunderclap headaches — that is the clinical term — so he sought medical attention.
Scans of his head and neck showed the kind of constriction in some arteries that can cause intense headaches, doctors reported in BMJ Case Reports. The scientific term for this temporary narrowing of arteries is reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome.
Dr Kulothungan Gunasekaran, one of the report’s authors, now at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, said that for some reason the man must have been particularly sensitive to capsaicin, the heat-producing ingredient in peppers. The Carolina Reaper is a popular pepper, and many people eat them and experience nothing worse than the desire to cut out their own tongues.
“I was discussing the case with a nurse who had eaten three Carolina Reapers,” Dr Gunasekaran said.
The Reaper has been measured at more than 2 million Scoville heat units, the accepted scale for how hot peppers are. Measurements vary, but a really hot habanero might come in at 500,000 Scoville units.
The patient was fine, with no lingering damage, but thunderclap headaches are not to be dismissed. For one thing, there is the pain, which seems to surpass even the normal effect of the peppers.
Dr Lawrence C. Newman, a neurologist and director of the headache division at NYU Langone Health, said: “On a 1 to 10 scale, it’s off the charts.” And it can indicate the kind of stroke that results from bleeding in the brain.
It happens instantaneously. If that kind of headache hits you, it makes sense to seek medical attention “whether you’ve bitten into a pepper or not,” Dr Newman said.
The new study does suggest that capsaicin, being investigated for its role in alleviating pain and lowering blood pressure, can have unexpected effects on certain people.
Cayenne pepper pills and a capsaicin patch, sold in China and Turkey, have been blamed in medical reports for two non-fatal heart attacks in young men, the result of spasms in arteries.
But “we are not advising anything against the Carolina Reaper,” Dr Gunasekaran said.
The Reaper was bred to reach record levels of heat. Reached by telephone at the PuckerButt Pepper Company in Fort Mill, South Carolina, the Reaper’s creator, Ed Currie, offered mixed advice on pepper consumption.
On the one hand, he said, “people who eat whole Reapers are just being stupid”. But “Smokin’ Ed”, as he calls himself, also gave the impression that was not such a bad thing. “We eat them all the time,” he said, with no ill consequences beyond pain.
Mr Currie indulges in other competitions of suffering. For instance, he said, he had recently taken the Death Nut Challenge, which involves eating insanely hot peanuts. He has a partnership with a company that produces them.
“I knew beforehand I shouldn’t do it,” Mr Currie said. “I was in pain for two hours.”
For the average person interested in spice, not suffering, he advised using small amounts of any really hot pepper in food preparation, as they were intended.
So if you happen to go beyond your limits — having, say, entered a hot-pepper-eating competition?
“Citric acid seems to work the best to alleviate the pain,” he said. “Don’t chug milk because you’ll just throw it up.”