Sunday, February 17, 2013

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: For The First Time Ever, Weather And Climate Change On Federal Risk List; Scientists Describe Severe & Costly Future Impacts Of Climate Change; January 2013 Was Warmer And Wetter Than Average In US; National Hurricane Center Upgrades Super Storm Sandy To Category 3 In Reanalysis And Affirms Changes Needed For Warnings!

February 17, 2013 - UNITED STATES - The federal government is facing significant financial risks related to extreme weather events, and states and cities can no longer depend on it for extra help after such events occur, the Republican chairman of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said Friday. The warning from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., came at a press conference about the release of a new report by the Government Accountability Office, which identified “climate change” on its 2013 list of items presenting high risk to the federal government. The report said the federal government faces financial challenges from climate change, including the costs of weather-related damage to property it owns, losses through flood insurance and crop support programs, and costs of emergency aid in disasters.

In this aerial photo, people walk amid the destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, on
Oct. 31 in Seaside Heights, N.J. Mike Groll / AP file.
For The First Time Ever, Weather And Climate Change On Federal Risk List.
“These events are primarily the responsibilities of the cities and states,” Issa said at the news conference. “And I will point out that we can no longer assume that the federal government will come in with an emergency supplemental [funding] every time there is an [extreme weather] occurrence. We have a responsibility to be proactive: Proactive in asking the states and the cities to be prepared to meet more of these requirements.  Proactive in making sure that we withhold the funds, either through insurance funds or through actual appropriations, that are appropriate for the real anticipated events.”  The GAO noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is on the hook for more than $80 billion in aid for disasters declared during the 2004-2011 fiscal years -- and the White House asked for more than $60 billion in aid to help the East Coast recover from Hurricane Sandy.

Read the GAO report in PDF form

And yet, the report says, the government has not been coordinating a response to climate change among its agencies --- partly a problem of the complexity of the issue. The report advises that a strategic plan be developed, directed at common goals for all federal agencies. The report is a biennial assessment of government operations it deems at high risk for fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement or as otherwise "needing broad-based transformation." Some of its other recommendations:
  • Develop a better understanding of how a changing climate will affect the large federal flood and crop insurance programs. For instance, the report said, sea-level rise and long-term erosion should be considered when flood maps are updated.
  • Develop a federal approach to providing climate data to state and local governments so they can make better decisions.
  • Develop better criteria for FEMA to assess a jurisdiction's ability to recover on its own after a disaster.
In a related issue, the report also says looming gaps in coverage by polar-orbiting weather satellites could affect forecasts and "warnings of extreme events."  The satellites provide a global perspective each morning and afternoon. The report said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has acknowledged there could be a gap of 17 to 53 months between the time the current afternoon satellite fails and the time a new one can be launched to replace it.   The report also noted that the risk of a gap exists in coverage by the satellite in the morning orbit -- if the Department of Defense's next satellites don't work as intended.  The report said NOAA officials believe these gaps "would result in less accurate and timely weather forecasts and warnings of extreme events, such as hurricanes, storm surges and floods." After the report’s release, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a news conference at which both Democrats and Republicans acknowledged the government’s significant fiscal exposure as a result of weather related disasters.  Issa called it a “nonpartisan” issue, while ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., labeled the GAO report “a wake-up call” for Congress to start paying attention to impacts of climate change.  In total, the GAO report listed 30 federal programs and operations on its high-risk list. Climate change risk and the weather satellite gap were both new additions. Management of interagency contracting and IRS business systems modernization both were removed from the list because the GAO decided that sufficient progress had been made to address past vulnerabilities. - NBC News.

Scientists Describe Severe And Costly Future Impacts Of Climate Change.
In a probable scenario for climate change, New Orleans will no longer exist. Neither will Atlantic City, N.J. Boston will look much like it did in the 17th century, before the city was dredged up to build a port. And Florida will no longer keep its distinct appendage shape. These geographical changes due to sea-level rise are only the beginning, scientists bluntly stated at a briefing yesterday convened by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).  "Today's talk underscored what I already knew, but gives me more facts," said Boxer. "We have to act because our children and our grandchildren need us to act."  Storms are likely to travel in different patterns than they did before, much like Superstorm Sandy did. Increasing temperatures are changing the cycles of plants and trees and extending the pollination period to exacerbate allergies. In the hottest cities, it will be uncomfortable to step outside during the day. And limited agricultural growth will severely strain the world's ability to feed itself, said a panel composed of two atmospheric scientists, one public health expert and one biological oceanographer.  "These two years [2011 and 2012] have had the largest number of billion-dollar events," said Donald Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois.  Heat waves and precipitation patterns have changed dramatically, and it's due to human causes. The Texas heat wave of 2011 was 20 times more likely to be tied to human-induced warming than to natural causes, said Wuebbles. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared 2012 the warmest year on record late last year.  The worst-case scenarios predict a 14- to 15-degree-Fahrenheit increase by the end of the century, said Wuebbles. Chicago would feel like Birmingham, Ala.  While many skeptics assert that climate change is a natural process, previous warming and cooling took place over thousands of years, said J. Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society and director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia.

Photo by kateywhat.
Rolling the dice with Mother Nature 
People are asking the wrong questions about climate change, said Shepherd. Instead of asking whether a single extreme weather event is linked to climate change, one should ask whether humans are increasing the probability of that event.  "If we think about the weather and we roll this pair of dice here," said Shepherd, with a pair of dice in his hand, "and we come up with a six two times, that would be a storm like Sandy. Climate change is like we're adding a six to the die. We're loading the die towards more of these events."  He added, "In other words, we're speaking of probabilistic risks."  Rising temperatures will increase human exposure to mold, microbial pathogens and infectious diseases, said John Balbus, senior adviser for public health at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Studies are indicating that the greatest heat-related harm come may not from extreme exposure but rather from the lower but more frequent stress of increasingly hot summer days.  "We've seen the geographical range of ticks that cover Lyme disease shift northward, and is predicted to shift further northward in the United States and in Canada," said Balbus, adding that there are limited studies on the actual incidence of Lyme disease.  Melting ice is causing heat exchanges between the oceans and the atmosphere that were not possible before, said James McCarthy, a professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University.  "Storms like Superstorm Sandy that begin in the tropics and escape the tropics [now] because of the exceptionally warm surface water remain intense until landfall," he said. "When that storm hits, as it did, we have unprecedented potential for disruption."  With projected sea level rise of 3 to 6 feet, some cities will simply drown. "New Orleans is gone. Atlantic City is gone," he said.  All four hold leading roles in publishing scenarios for the outcomes of climate change. McCarthy, Wuebbles and Shepherd have worked on U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, and Balbus is a lead author on the U.S. Global Change Research Program's 2013 National Climate Assessment chapter on human health.  This year's National Climate Assessment, a report issued every four years, will be "very different," said Wuebbles.  "This is a report that really attempts to speak to people in a language that is much plainer," he said. "The more that we can get the language plainer, the more people can relate to, that will also help." - Accu Weather.

January 2013 Warmer And Wetter Than Average In US.
January was both warmer and wetter than average for the contiguous United States this year, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The January average this year was 32 degree F, 1.6 degrees F above the 20th century average. This temperature tied with 1958, making January 2013 the 39th warmest January on record. In addition to being warm, January saw above average precipitation. The nationally averaged precipitation total for the month capped off at 2.36 inches, placing it 0.14 inches above the long-term average.  Wetter-than-average conditions stretched from the Southern Plains to the mid-Atlantic, according to NOAA.

Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Michigan and Virginia each placed January 2013 among their 10 wettest Januarys on record.  Most areas suffering from extreme drought, however, such as the central and southeastern United States, did not receive much relief.  States that received below-average precipitation totals included California, Connecticut and Florida.  Meanwhile, drier-than-average conditions occurred along the West Coast, the central Rockies and parts of the Northern Plains, southeast and northeast. - Accu Weather.

National Hurricane Center Upgrades Super Storm Sandy To Category 3 In Reanalysis And Affirms Changes Needed For Warnings.
The National Hurricane Center released their final analysis of Hurricane Sandy this week. At 157 pages and 14 Mb, it's by far the largest tropical cyclone report NHC has ever released (previous record: 55 pages from Hurricane Ike of 2008.) NHC upgraded Sandy to a Category 3 hurricane in post-analysis. Data from the Hurricane Hunters showed that Sandy had 115 mph sustained winds at landfall in Cuba, making Sandy the second major hurricane of the 2012 season (Michael was the other.) NHC's report reaffirmed that Sandy was not a hurricane when it made landfall in New Jersey, having transitioned to a post-tropical cyclone when it was 2.5 hours and 50 miles away from landfall. Sandy officially made landfall in New Jersey as a post-tropical cyclone with sustained 80 mph winds and a central pressure of 945 mb. However, Sandy did bring hurricane force sustained winds to the coast before transitioning to a post-tropical cyclone. Great Gull Island, New York, between Long Island and Fishers Island, measured a 1-min mean wind of 75 mph at an elevation of 18 m (59') at 4:35 pm EDT on 29 October, about 25 minutes before Sandy lost its status as a hurricane. NHC noted: This observation suggests that sustained hurricane-force winds likely occurred onshore over a limited area while Sandy was still a hurricane.
Hurricane Sandy at 10:10 am EDT October 28, 2012. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.
Sandy was responsible for 72 direct deaths in the U.S., the second highest toll from a U.S. hurricane since Hurricane Agnes of 1972 (Hurricane Katrina of 2005 was the highest, with at least 1500 direct deaths.) Sandy's storm surge was responsible for most of the U.S. deaths--41 of the 72 fatalities (57%). Falling trees during the storm killed twenty people, a rather high number that again highlights that hazard in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, even in locations experiencing winds of less than hurricane force. At least 87 deaths, an even greater number than for direct deaths, were indirectly associated with Sandy or its remnants in the United States. About 50 of these deaths were the result of extended power outages during cold weather, which led to deaths from hypothermia, falls in the dark by senior citizens, or carbon monoxide poisoning from improperly placed generators or cooking devices.

Sandy by the numbers: some statistics from NHC's final report on Sandy:

Death toll: 147 (72 in the U.S., 54 in Haiti, 11 in Cuba)

U.S. Damage: $50 billion, second costliest hurricane of all-time

Cuban Damage: $2 billion, fourth costliest hurricane of all-time

Haitian Damage: $0.75 billion, costliest hurricane of all-time

Homes damages/destroyed: 945,000 (650,000 in U.S.)

Power outages: 8.5 million U.S. customers, 2nd most for a natural disaster behind the 1993 blizzard (10 million)

Maximum sustained winds measured: 93 mph at Cabo Lucrecia, Cuba

Maximum U.S. sustained winds measured: 75 mph at Great Gull Island, New York

Peak U.S. wind gust: 95 mph at Eaton's Neck, Long Island, NY (24 m elevation)

Maximum U.S. storm surge: 12.65', King's Point, NY, west end of Long Island Sound

Maximum U.S. Storm Tide (measured above MLLW): 14.58', Bergen Point, NJ

Maximum Storm Tide at The Battery in New York City: 14.06'. This is 4.36 ft higher than the previous record set in December 1992, and 4.55 ft higher than in Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Maximum significant wave height: 33.1' at the buoy east of Cape Hatteras, NC (2nd highest: 32.5' at the Entrance to New York Harbor)

Maximum rainfall: 28.09", Mill Bank, Jamaica

Maximum U.S. rainfall: 12.83", Bellevue, MD

Maximum snowfall: 36", Richwood, WV and Wolf Laurel Mountain, NC

Minimum pressure: 945.5 mb, Atlantic City, NJ at 7:24 pm EST, October 29, 2012. This is the lowest pressure measured in the U.S., at any location north of Cape Hatteras, NC (previous record: 946 mb in the 1938 hurricane on Long Island, NY)

Destructive potential of storm surge: 5.8 on a scale of 0 to 6, highest of any hurricane observed since 1969. Previous record: 5.6 on a scale of 0 to 6, set during Hurricane Isabel of 2003.

Maximum diameter of tropical storm-force winds: 1000 miles, highest for any Atlantic tropical cyclone on record, going back to 1988.

Diameter of ocean with 12' seas at landfall: 1500 miles.

Snowfall from Superstorm Sandy hit 36" at locations in West Virginia and North Carolina.
Image credit: NOAA/HPC.
Questions on NHC's handling of warnings for Sandy
In the Sandy report, NHC documents that their forecasts of Sandy's track, intensity, and storm surge were all excellent, largely beating the average error margin for forecasts for tropical cyclones made during the previous five years. However, NHC has been criticized for electing not to issue hurricane warnings in advance of Hurricane Sandy for the U.S. Sandy was expected to transition to a non-tropical system before landfall, and NHC opted days in advance to issue high wind warnings and not hurricane warnings for the U.S. It is quite possible that NHC's decision not to put up hurricane warnings cost lives, since the public pays far more attention to hurricane warnings than any other type of wind warning (except tornado warnings.) In the Sandy report, NHC argues that "Intentionally misrepresenting Sandy as a hurricane would have severely damaged the credibility of the NWS and undermined its ability to serve the public for years to come." Another option to properly call Sandy post-tropical but put up hurricane warnings for the coast was also considered, but "a procedure for disseminating post-tropical advisories with tropical warnings had never been developed, tested, or publicized, and the NWS feared that hurriedly crafting and implementing untested procedures could easily break automated vendor software and disrupt the flow of information to users at a critical moment." The report acknowledges that due to the unique situation posed by Hurricane Sandy, a change to the hurricane warning definition is needed. They propose: The hurricane warning definition would be broadened to apply to systems after their tropical cyclone stage has ended, thus allowing hurricane or tropical storm watches and warnings to remain in effect for post-tropical cyclones. In addition, the NWS would ensure the continuity of service in any situation by allowing the NHC to issue advisories through the post-tropical cyclone stage as long as the system poses a significant threat to life and property. A second proposal: "set a target date of 2015 for NOAA to implement explicit storm surge watches and warnings, a goal NOAA has been working toward for several years. Multiple studies have shown significant confusion on the part of the public regarding their storm surge risk, and highlighted the need for improved communication of this hazard. With the implementation of a storm surge warning, the NWS will warn explicitly for the phenomenon that presents the greatest weather-related threat for a massive loss of life in a single day." Both of these changes are ones I hope get adopted as soon as practical, as the warning information given to the public during Sandy could have been much better, potentially saving lives and property. - Wunderground.

FIRE IN THE SKY: "Bigger Than The Sun" - More Information And Videos On The Massive Fireball Over Cuba!

February 17, 2013 - CUBA - An object fell from the sky over central Cuba on Thursday night and turned into a fireball "bigger than the sun" before it exploded, a Cuban TV channel reported Friday, citing eyewitnesses.

Some residents in the central province of Cienfuegos were quoted as saying that at around 8 p.m. local time Thursday (0100 GMT Friday) they saw a bright spot in the sky comparable to a bus in size, China's Xinhua news agency reported citing the Cuban TV station.   

The object then turned into a fireball "bigger than the sun," said the witnesses, adding that several minutes later they heard a loud explosion.   

One resident told the TV station that his house shook slightly in the blast.   

Cuban experts have been dispatched to the area to look for possible remains of the meteor-like object, said the report.   

It remains unknown whether the reported phenomenon in Cuba is related to Friday's meteor strike in central Russia, which set off a shockwave that shattered windows and left some 1,000 people injured. - New Strait Times.

WATCH: Fireball over Cuba.

This is ANOTHER meteor which exploded in the sky - just two hours before a space rock crash-landed in Russia injuring 1,000 people.

The fireball - reportedly followed by a loud explosion some minutes later - was spotted above Cuba at 1am GMT yesterday.

That's 6,000 miles away from Chelyabinsk where a meteor left a 20ft crater and caused a devastating sonic boom at 3.20am GMT.

China's Xinhua news agency
reported the bright spot in the sky was spotted in the Cienfuegos area, in central Cuba.

One eyewitness said his house shook slightly in the blast and officials are scouring for any remnants of the object.

Some meteorites can be very valuable, selling for up to £433 per gram depending on their exact composition.

Scientists do not believe the space activity was linked to last night’s 150ft wide asteroid 2012 DA14, which passed within 17,000 miles last night.

The 10-tonne fireball in Russia entered the Earth’s atmosphere faster than the speed of sound.

It caused a devastating sonic boom that ripped through buildings and exploded windows, injuring 1,000 people including 82 children.

The immense pressure of the wave also tore the roof off a factory while some 170,000 square metres of shattered glass will need to be replaced.

Meteors are pieces of space rock, usually from larger comets or asteroids, that burn up on entering Earth’s atmosphere.

Bits that survive are called meteorites.

The largest known meteorite to hit in recent times was the Tunguska event in 1908.

The blast levelled 2,000sq km of forest in Siberia but no one was hurt.

European Space Agency spokesman Bernhard von Weyhe said experts around the globe are looking at ways to spot potential space threats sooner.

He said: “It’s a global challenge and we need to find a solution.

"But one thing’s for sure, the Bruce Willis ‘Armageddon’ nuclear bomb method won’t work.” - Mirror.

WATCH: Fireball over Cuba.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Mudflows From Indonesian Volcano Pose Threats - Kills One On Mount Merapi!

February 17, 2013 - INDONESIA - One of Indonesia’s most dangerous volcanoes is posing a new threat, this time due to the tons of volcanic debris left over from a series of deadly eruptions in 2010.

Heavy rains in recent days have mixed with tons of volcanic debris that spewed from central Java’s Mount Merapi several years ago, creating huge mudflows along a number of the mountain’s rivers.

On Tuesday, one flow hit a group of sand miners on the banks of the Gendol River, killing one person, injuring another and sweeping away several trucks.

Merapi, about 25 kilometers north of the university town of Yogyakarta, is Indonesia’s most seismically active volcano.

Its eruption in 2010 released poisonous gases and blanketed the region, populated by millions of people, in a layer of fine ash. More than 300 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

“The danger on Merapi right now is only related to rain [mixing with] all the material that erupted in 2010,” Agus Hendratno, a geologist and lecturer at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, told The Wall Street Journal on Friday.

“An early warning system was developed for the threat of mudflows, but sand miners often pay little heed to the warning.”

Hundreds of laborers work along the mountain’s rivers each day to gather sand for cement production. Many excavate by hand.

Merapi is one of more than 100 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which sits along a series of major fault lines dubbed “the ring of fire.”

The United Nations cites Merapi as one of 16 volcanoes worldwide that pose especially serious threats because of their activity and vicinity to major population centers.

The governor of Yogyakarta, Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, warned people to stay away from Merapi’s rivers after the death this week.

“There’s no more forest on the upper parts of the mountain,” he told local media. “Mudflows and boulders can roll down like they’re on a highway.” - WSJ.

Volcanic Mudflow Kills One On Mount Merapi.
A volcanic mudflow along the Gendol River that originated on Mount Merapi swept away trucks and their cargoes of sand, killing one truck driver and injuring a worker late Tuesday afternoon in Manggong village, Sleman, Yogyakarta.

“The trucks were queuing to leave the river when the mudflow came,” Heru Saptono, the head of the Sleman Disaster Mitigation Agency’s disaster mitigation and prevention division, said on Wednesday.

The previous day’s continuous heavy downpours over Mt. Merapi, according to Heru, had triggered the mudflow as layers of volcanic ash from the volcano’s 2010 eruption still covered rivers originating on the slopes of one of the world’s most active volcanoes. - Jakarta Globe.

MASS ANIMAL DIE-OFF: 100 Turtles Wash Ashore Dead In Andhra Pradesh, India And Fish Kill In The Periyar River, India?!

February 17, 2013 - INDIA - Nearly 100 carcasses of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles were washed ashore under mysterious circumstances, baffling scientists and locals, at the coast of Appikonda beach in Andhra Pradesh state.

According to reports, this is one of the highest death tolls of Olive Ridleys in Vizag district after a span of four years.

The Olive Ridley turtles, which are listed as an endangered species, land up in thousands on Indian shores between the months of November and March.

100 Turtles Wash Ashore Dead In Andhra Pradesh, India.
The head of the environmental science department, E.U.Bhaskar Reddy, said the cause of the deaths of the turtles is yet to be ascertained.

"Some of the species in the population might be growing older, some may have become sick and some may after death, natural death the worse thing will be throwing them out and these carcasses will be coming to the shore and we have to verify whether these turtles they are coming to the shore in a complete dead state or sick state, then only we can comment," said Reddy.

In February 2008, nearly 700 Olive Ridleys were declared dead on the beaches of Appikonda, Tantadi, Mutyallammapalem and Tikkavanipalem.

Not only turtles, but even territorial fish are becoming victims of the unchecked pollution.

A biopsy was conducted in 2008 on the dead turtles and the reports suggested the presence of nitrates in abnormally high quantity in the guts, indicating that not only the water but even the feed had turned toxic in the area which was the home to these turtles.

After the incident, environmentalists had raised a hue and cry over the issue, and the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board also promised to take some measures to prevent a repeat of these deaths.

Olive Ridleys migrate from the coast of Mexico to the Andhra Pradesh coast for breeding and nesting each year between the months of November and March.

Many of them die along the Visakhapatnam coast after getting trapped in the double-filament gill nets that are used by trawlers and now pollution is another major problem. (ANI) - News Track India.

Fish Kill In The Periyar River, India.
Allegations and counter-allegations continue to fly after yet another fish kill was reported in the upstream of the Periyar river in Pathalam recently. The Irrigation Department and environmentalists strongly suspect industrial units situated nearby of dumping effluents in to the river leading to frequent fish kills in the area.

However, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board has stuck to its earlier claim that poor water flow in the Pathalam stretch resulted in sudden drop in the dissolved oxygen level which led to the fish kill. The Pollution Control Board had asked the Irrigation Department last week to immediately lift the shutters at Pathalam to increase the water level in the stretch.

M. S. Mythili, Chief Environmental Engineer of the board at Ernakulam, said the dissolved oxygen level at Pathalam bund was 1.6 mg/litre. She said aquatic life would be put under stress, if the oxygen level was below 2 mg/litre.

Findings rejected
A senior official of the Irrigation Department, however, has rejected the board’s findings. He pointed out that despite poor water flow in Manjummel and Purapallikavu stretches of the river, fish kills were not reported near these bunds.

“It is common sense that the industrial units near the Pathalam stretch dump toxic effluents in to the river triggering fish kills. But board officials do not confirm this as they do not want to receive the wrath of the political leadership for being anti-industry,” the official said.

The Irrigation Department officials also clarified that the shutters were downed for three days after the discharge rate from Bhootatankettu dam came down considerably over the past few weeks.

Purushan Eloor, spokesperson of the Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithi, supported the views expressed by the Irrigation Department by stating that reduced levels of dissolved oxygen was a clear indicator of high pollution in the Pathalam stretch.

Blaming the nearby industrial units for letting untreated effluents in to the river, Mr. Purushan held the board responsible for not acting against the violators.

“According to the board the dissolved oxygen level near the Pathalam bridge where the fish kill happened is 4.7 mg/litre. This is above the minimum limit prescribed by the board,” he said. - The Hindu.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: United Nations Warns Of Risk Of Further Disastrous Bird Flu Outbreaks - A Bird Flu Death In China Sparks Fear Of Human-Transmitted H5NI Strain; Bird Flu Outbreak Hits 582,000 Chickens In Mexico; Thousands Of Chickens Killed Due To Avian Flu In Kathmandu, Nepal; Over 144,000 Birds Killed Due To Avian Flu In Bangladesh; 100s Of Birds Dead From Bird Flu In Jhapa, Nepal; 14,000 Ducks Slaughtered At German Farm Due To Bird Flu?!

February 17, 2013 - CHINA - A woman diagnosed with the H5N1 strain of the bird flu last week, has died in southwest China. Health authorities in Guiyang, Guizhou province, announced that the 21-year-old woman, Shuai Pengyue, died on Wednesday due to multiple organ failure as a result of the flu. Shuai was one of two women reported in the area to have contracted the new strain of the avian influenza. Health officials have investigated the two of them and concluded that neither patient was in contact with poultry before showing symptoms of the illness. Victim proximity is important to note because typically, the bird flu is contracted by being in contact with poultry. In this case, health officials worry this could be signs that the H5N1 strain can now be transmitted between humans. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, a 3-year-old girl has become the sixth person to die from the bird flu in the country this year.

The current strain of H5N1 (bird flu) is highly pathogenic and kills most species of birds and up to
60 percent of the people it infects. (Photo: Reuters)
 Bird Flu Death In China Sparks Fear Of Human-Transmitted H5NI Strain.
The Cambodian Health Ministry and the World Health Organization released statements saying that the child was in contact with poultry recently in the southern province of Kampot. Cambodia has already reported seven human cases of the H5N1 virus this year, all of them fatal except one. Health officials and scientists have feared that the virus could mutate into a highly contagious strain which could be transmitted from human to human. Scientists in the Netherlands and the U.S. have been working on an artificially mutated version of the flu that is easily transmissible among humans in an attempt to do research for prevention or a cure. Research was halted until recently due to fears of a deadly global pandemic if the virus was accidentally removed from the controlled environment. Now, researchers are making a push to resume investigation of the deadly virus, especially in light of the new cases. Leo Poon Lit-man, an associate professor at the University Of Hong Kong School Of Public Health, told the South China Morning Post that he supports the controversial research. “The only way… to control the virus and come to a prevention plan is to allow the research to go forward,” Poon said. Adding, “the H5N1 is still a threat to humans, and it is true that the research may pose some risk. But we may also benefit from it, as we need further understanding of the virus to ensure a better response in case of an outbreak.” The mortality rate for the avian flu was as high as 60 percent during the 2003 outbreak in Southeast Asia. Most of the victims caught the disease from birds. - IBT.

Bird Flu Outbreak Hits 582,000 Chickens In Mexico.
Mexico's animal health agency says a bird flu outbreak at seven farms in central Mexico has affected as many as 582,000 chickens.  The Agriculture Department says more than a half million birds were exposed, but the number that will have to be slaughtered has yet to be determined.  An outbreak of the H7N3 bird flu virus in western Mexico in 2012 led to the slaughter of more than 22 million hens and caused price increases in chicken and egg products.  But the department said Friday that the current outbreak has not affected the supply of chicken products.  It said tests were continuing to determine the exact strain of virus involved in the outbreak, but said it did not affect humans.  Mexico's nationwide flock amounts to 137 million birds. - AP.

Thousands Of Chickens Killed Due To Avian Flu In Kathmandu, Nepal.
The rapid response team deployed by the District Veterinary Clinic, Kathmandu on Saturday culled all the remaining 2,610 chickens following confirmation of H5N1 virus in the poultry farm owned by Kishor Tandukar of Jitpurfedi- 1 Kathmandu.  The team that comprises vets and technicians also destroyed 1,000 kg of chicken feeds stored in the farm. ] The outbreak is the fourth in the last one-and-a-half months in the district, said the Directorate of the Animal Health (DoAH).  “Of the 4,000 chickens in the farm, the rapid response team has culled 2, 610,” said Dr Narayan Prasad Ghimire, senior veterinarian at DoAH, adding, “The remaining chickens died of infection.”  The Central veterinary Laboratory under DoAH confirmed on Friday that the chickens had contracted the virus.

Following the confirmation, the district co-ordination committee led by Chief District Officer (CDO) Chudamani Sharma had taken the decision to cull the infected chickens. “We have responded on time,” he added.  A surveillance team had brought the samples on Friday morning for the analysis. Tandukar had informed the veterinary officials after scores of chickens started to die in his farm.  Dr Ghimire said that the risk of H5N1 virus spread is high during winter and hence the need for extra precaution. The directorate has urged all poultry farmers to take good care of the fowls. Fowls avoiding feed, standing still with head down and excreting saliva could be symptoms of H5N1 virus infection, said Ghimire.  DoAH said that the team has also completed first phase of disinfection at the farm. It has also urged poultry farmers to immediately inform vet officials if chickens started to die. DoAH, Kathmandu said it has intensified surveillance.  Earlier in December last year, the disease was confirmed in a poultry farm at Ramkot and Sitapaila VDCs of the district. The virus was detected in poultry farms in Dhading and Nuwakot, the adjoining districts of Kathmandu.  Meanwhile, DoAH has said that people can consume chicken and eggs without any hesitation, as all the infected chickens have been culled. The office has also appealed people to cook the chicken properly before eating. - Republica.

144,968 Birds Killed Due To Avian Flu In Bangladesh.
The Bangladeshi veterinary authorities have reported another outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) at a commercial poultry farm in Dhaka.The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) received follow-up report no. 4 on 5 February. Out of 153,477 susceptible birds, 8509 cases were reported. The remaining 144,968 birds were destroyed. The source or origin of the outbreaks remains inconclusive. Several control measures have been applied to control the spread of the disease in the country. - The Poultry Site.

Hundreds Of Birds Dead From Bird Flu In Jhapa, Nepal.
Bird flu has been confirmed on fowls at a farm of a farmer at Anarmani VDC-1 in Jhapa district.A test carried out at the Central Livestock Lab, Kathmandu, confirmed the bird flu on the fowls of the farm of Bhim Mukhiya as some 200 fowls started to die from the past few days. According to Chief at the District Livestock Office, Dr. Dilip Sapkota, the report sent from the Lab on Sunday proved the bird flu. A team comprising eight members including specialist doctor destroyed the remaining 30 fowls, carried out cleanliness of the coop and sprayed medicines this morning, said Sapkota. - The Himalayan.

14,000 Ducks Slaughtered At German Farm Due To Bird Flu.
About 14,000 ducks at a German farm are being slaughtered following a bird flu outbreak.  A federal laboratory confirmed Friday the H5N1 virus was detected at the farm near Seelow, east of Berlin — the first such finding in Germany in more than three years.  On Saturday, officials started slaughtering the farm's ducks. Local council spokesman Tobias Seyfarth told news agency dpa that all poultry within a one-kilometer (half-mile) radius of the facility will be kept under observation for the next 21 days, with owners told to keep their birds where they are and report any symptoms.  The H5N1 virus normally spreads between sick poultry, but it can sometimes spread from poultry to humans. Bird flu has killed 367 people worldwide since surfacing in 2003, the World Health Organization says. - SF Gate.

WATCH: Scientists Say H5N1 Bird Flu Could Spread Among Humans.

United Nations Warns Of Risk Of Further Disastrous Bird Flu Outbreaks.
Initial tests confirm H5N1 avian influenza (bird flu) infection in a duck farm in Brandenburg, eastern Germany, authorities announced today. Environment Ministry officials say that H5N1 was initially suspected when the poultry farm, which was carrying out its own tests, had positive results for avian influenza. Environment Minister Anita Tack said: "All the necessary measures to contain and control (the H5N1 spread) have been initiated." Samples were sent to counter-check to the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute (FLI) on the Baltic island of Riems. The duck farm has been cordoned off and all its livestock will be culled, officials said. The German government has ordered a full investigation. Experts do not know how the poultry became infected. At the moment, the H5N1 bird flu virus is circulating in Indonesia, Cambodia and China. Some cases of infected birds among European wild bird populations have been reported. On January 29th, 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations warned that there is a serious risk of a repeat of the disastrous 2006 bird flu outbreaks if surveillance and control for H5N1 and other dangerous animal diseases is not strengthened. FAO Chief Veterinary Office, Juan Lubroth, said: "The continuing international economic downturn means less money is available for prevention of H5N1 bird flu and other threats of animal origin. This is not only true for international organizations but also countries themselves. Even though everyone knows that prevention is better than cure, I am worried because in the current climate governments are unable to keep up their guard." It is vital that strict vigilance continues, Lubroth added, because large reservoirs of the H5N1 virus are still in existence in some Asian and Middle Eastern countries, where bird flu has become endemic. If proper controls are not maintained, avian influenza could spread around the globe and affect 63 countries as it did seven years ago.

It makes economic sense to invest more on bird flu prevention, given the massive toll a full-scale pandemic can inflict. From 2003 to 2011, over 400 million domestic chickens and ducks were either killed by the disease or culled, costing the global economy approximately $20 billion. Between 2003 and 2011, H5N1 infected over 500 humans, of whom over 300 died, says the World Health Organization. Lubroth said: "I see inaction in the face of very real threats to the health of animals and people. This is all the more regrettable as it has been shown that appropriate measures can completely eliminate H5N1 from the poultry sector and thus protect human health and welfare. Domestic poultry are now virus-free in most of the 63 countries infected in 2006, including Turkey, Hong Kong, Thailand and Nigeria. And, after many years of hard work and international financial commitment, substantial headway is finally being made against bird flu in Indonesia."

What might happen if the H5N1 bird flu virus mutated?
It is still very hard for a human to become infected with the H5N1 avian influenza virus, and even rarer for one person to infect another. Scientists, doctors and public health officials worry that if a human who is already infected with normal seasonal human flu becomes infected with avian flu, the avian flu virus may exchange genetic data with the human flu virus and acquire its ability to become easily transmissible from person-to-person. A bird flu virus that is easily human-transmissible could have devastating consequences. Avian influenza has a very high death rate, up to 50% of infected people who get ill die. If bird flu became a pandemic, the death toll could be enormous. The H5N1 virus strain has to get deep into the lung to infect a human. This feature makes it both more deadly and less transmissible. If a person has an infection deep down in the lungs, fewer viruses are emitted when they cough and sneeze (compared to those with upper respiratory tract infections).
Seasonal human flu (H1N1) infects the upper respiratory tract. Bird flu (H5N1) infects the lower
respiratory tract, making it more lethal but less human transmissible.
If a mutated bird flu virus managed to infect the upper respiratory tract as well, infected people's sneezes and coughs would emit more viruses into the air, making it easier to infect others. People nearby would get ill more easily, because the virus would not need to go deep into the lung to cause illness. Two papers, published in May/June 2012, showed the pandemic potential of H5N1. One paper identified four genetic changes a virus would need to undergo in order to become easily human transmissible, the other paper identified five. Another paper suggested that some of these changes are already occurring. If bird flu outbreaks can be kept to a minimum, the likelihood of H5N1 coming into contact with H1N1 and mutating is smaller. WHO says that "controlling bird flu outbreaks and eliminating them as soon as possible is a top priority for public and global health." - Medical News Today.

WATCH: H5N1 Research Discussion.