Saturday, February 1, 2014

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Cruise Virus Outbreak In The Caribbean Sickens Nearly 700 People - One Of The Worst In 20 Years, CDC Says?!

February 01, 2014 - CARIBBEAN - Federal health officials confirmed on Friday that norovirus was the culprit that sickened nearly 700 people on a cruise ship this week, and said it was one of the biggest norovirus outbreaks in 20 years.


The Explorer of the Seas outbreak was caused by norovirus, one of the worst outbreaks in 20 years, the CDC said.
The Explorer of the Seas cruise ship returns to port after hundreds of passengers became ill. John Makely / NBC News

But the source of the outbreak on the Royal Caribbean ship Explorer of the Seas, which returned early to New Jersey on Wednesday, may never be known, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

"CDC has been investigating the outbreak since last Sunday but no particular source has been identified and it’s quite possible a source won’t be identified," the CDC said in a statement.

The report comes after passengers streamed off the Caribbean Princess Friday morning, the second cruise cut short this week amid reports of illness on board.

The ship, operated by Princess Cruises, returned to Houston a day early with a confirmed outbreak of norovirus. "The ship was forced to return to Houston one day early because we were informed that dense fog was expected to close the port for much of the weekend," the company said in a statement.

"The ship did not return early because of the increased incidence of norovirus on board, despite some media reports."

At least 178 people on board became ill during the cruise, according to the cruise line and the CDC. Sick patients were quarantined to their rooms, and other passengers said they no longer had access to buffet tongs as crew members handed out hand sanitizer.

CDC health officials met the Caribbean Princess at the Bayport Cruise Terminal in Pasadena, Texas. The vessel launched on a seven-day cruise to the western Caribbean on Jan. 25 and had been scheduled to return on Saturday.


A man passes the Caribbean Princess cruise ship, which reported an outbreak of norovirus on board.
Toby Melville / Reuters / REUTERS

Princess Cruises said the outbreak was over by the time the ship returned to Houston. "As a result of our actions, case numbers declined significantly and by the end of the cruise there were no passengers with active symptoms," the company said. "Over the course of the 178 passengers (5.7 percent) and 11 crew (1 percent) reported ill to the Medical Center."

CDC officials also helped Royal Caribbean clean up the Explorer of the Seas, and said it had been approved to go back out again with a new batch of passengers Friday afternoon. Royal Caribbean officials say they cleaned the ship, which carried more than 3,000 passengers, three times.

It's the third cruise ship outbreak to occur this year. A Norwegian Cruise Line ship, the Norwegian Star, reported that 130 passengers and 12 crew members became ill on two-week cruise that launched Jan. 5 from Miami.

About 20 million passengers take cruises in the U.S. each year, fueling a $37.8 billion annual industry, according to the American Association of Port Authorities. There were nine vessel outbreaks in 2013 and 16 in 2012, according to the CDC.

Norovirus is a common culprit in outbreaks on cruise ships, in nursing homes and other confined places. It is a fast-moving gut bug typically spread by infected people or contaminated food or water. Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the U.S., resulting in about 21 million illnesses, between 56,000 and 71,000 hospitalizations and as many as 800 deaths, the CDC says.

The virus lingers on surfaces and spreads very easily. Thorough handwashing with hot water and soap and meticulous environmental cleaning can help stop the spread.

CDC says it's the season for norovirus. "Norovirus outbreaks wit high attack rates are common during this time of year," the agency said. "Most outbreaks occur between January and April." - NBC News.



MONUMENTAL MASS FISH DIE-OFF: "They Play A Key Role In The Ecosystem On The West Coast" - Mass Sea Star Deaths Off The United States West Coast Puzzle Scientists?!

February 01, 2014 - WEST COAST, UNITED STATES - Starfish have been mysteriously dying by the millions in recent months along the US west coast, worrying biologists who say the sea creatures are key to the marine ecosystem.


Starfish have been mysteriously dying by the millions in recent months along the US west coast,
worrying biologists who say the sea creatures are key to the marine ecosystem.
(AFP Photo/Mustafa Ozer)


Scientists first started noticing the mass deaths in June 2013. Different types of starfish, also known as sea stars, were affected, from wild ones along the coast to those in captivity, according to Jonathan Sleeman, director of the US Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center.

"The two species affected most are Pisaster ochraceus (purple sea star or ochre starfish) and Pycnopodia helianthoides (sunflower sea star)," he wrote in a statement in December.

The sunflower sea star is considered among the largest starfish and can span more than a meter in diameter.

The most commonly observed symptoms are white lesions on the arms of the sea star. The lesions spread rapidly, resulting in the loss of the arm. Within days, the infection consumes the creature's entire body, and it dies.

Entire populations have been wiped out in Puget Sound off the coast of Washington state, in the Salish Sea off Canada's British Columbia as well as along the coast of California. The mortality rate is estimated at 95 percent.

Scientists who have spent decades studying the local ecosystem have yet to identify the cause.

"What we currently think is likely happening is that there is a pathogen, like a parasite or a virus or a bacteria, that is infecting the sea stars and that compromises in some way their immune system," Pete Raimondi, chair of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told AFP.

Then, the creatures become more susceptible to bacteria which is "causing a secondary infection that causes most of the damages that you see."

A barometer of sea health

The 2013 phenomenon has not been observed solely along the West Coast; a smaller outbreak also killed East Coast sea stars last year.

Previous cases were believed to be associated with warmer waters -- sea stars have sensitive skin and prefer cooler water -- but this was not the case in 2013.

And when the die-offs happened previously, the geographic span of the infections was much smaller, and far fewer sea stars were affected.

In 1983, an epidemic nearly wiped out the Pisaster ochraceus from tidal pools along the southern coast of California.

Another, smaller die-off in 1997 may have been caused by warmer waters in an El Nino year, scientists said.

Sea stars are important because "they play a key role in this ecosystem on the West Coast," Raimondi said.

Sea stars eat mussels, barnacles, snails, mollusks and other smaller sea life, so their health is considered a measure of marine life on the whole in a given area.

When sea stars decline in number, "the mussel population has the potential to dramatically increase, which could significantly alter the rocky intertidal zone," according to Sleeman.

While sea stars make up an important component of the base of the ocean food chain and are considered a top predator, they are in turn eaten by other starfish, shorebirds, gulls, and sometimes sea otters.

In an effort to find out what is causing the mass deaths, scientists are collecting reports from the public, taking specimens to the lab for analysis and doing genetic sequencing to find out whether a toxin or an infection may be to blame. - Yahoo.



PLANETARY TREMORS: Strong 6.1 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Southwest Of Visokoi Island In The Scotia Sea!

February 01, 2014 - SCOTIA SEA - Another strong earthquake has just struck the Scotia Sea region, between the furthest tip of South America and Antarctica.


USGS earthquake location.


Today's quake, which was registered by U.S. Geological Survey as a strong 6.1 magnitude on the Richter scale, jolted the South American region, and was felt as far away as Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands.

The quake was centred at13 km (8 miles) southwest of Visokoi Island; 2543 km (1580 miles) southeast of Ushuaia, Argentina; 2750 km (1709 miles) southeast of Rio Gallegos, Argentina; 2775 km (1724 miles) southeast of Punta Arenas, Chile;  and 2053 km (1276 miles) southeast of Stanley, Falkland Islands.


USGS earthquake shakemap intensity.


The tremor had a depth of 126.6 km (78.7 miles) and the epicentre was located at 56.810°S 27.273°W.


The Pacific Tsunami Centre issued a bulletin stating that there was no threat of a destructive tsunami based on historical data.