Thursday, May 9, 2013

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Extreme Storms Might Be The New Normal For The American Northeast - Towns, Cities Built For The Wrong Century Are Not Prepared!

May 09, 2013 - UNITED STATES - “I’d never seen the river that high,” says Susan Hammond. “But I was pretty certain the bridge wasn’t going anywhere.”

She was wrong.

On Aug. 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene’s rains swelled the Williams River, smashing dams, flooding homes and carrying off the historic Lower Bartonsville Covered Bridge.This wasn’t just another 1-in-500-years event.

Rather, experts see it as the new normal across the Northeast, the latest in a series of calamitous weather events occurring because of, or amplified by, climate change.

From valleys staggered by Irene, to coasts battered by Superstorm Sandy, to 24-hour outbursts of rain and snow, “extreme precipitation” has increased by 74 percent in the past six decades there, according to January’s draft of the federal National Climate Assessment report.

A rock hauler fords the White River in Bethel in 2011. Heavy flooding from Tropical Storm Irene is undermining aging bridges and overwhelming drainage systems.  AP File.

Such storms have become the signature of climate change across the Northeast, afflicting older cities and towns built at a time of more modest rainfall. This heavy flooding is undermining aging bridges, eroding roads and overwhelming drainage systems.

USA Today traveled to the birch- and maple-dappled hills of Vermont as the third stop in a year-long series to explore places where climate change is already changing lives.

“I grew up here. I live here now,” Hammond said, standing on the gravel road leading to the covered bridge’s crossing. “The bridge has always been here.”

Soggy misfortune

That bridge, and hundreds more like it, were damaged in the storm, along with dams, roads, houses and most everything in sight. Three people died and more than $700 million in damage was sustained in Vermont alone. Before trailing off into Canada, Irene killed 49 people and caused $10 billion in damages, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That was only a warm-up for last year’s Superstorm Sandy, which delivered even more crippling blows, killing more than 130 people nationwide and causing $75 billion in damage.Hammer blows such as these storms are consistent with climate change’s expected effects on the Northeast, said climatologist Cameron Wake of the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

“It’s not just those two storms,” he said. “We are suddenly seeing many extreme precipitation events, ones that have led to several 100-year floods across the region just in the last 15 years.”

The soggy misfortune of these extreme events has reached well beyond the Northeast. From the Upper Midwest, suffering from recent flooding, to the desert Southwest, where flash floods are more likely even amid sparser rain overall, high-intensity storms are more frequent. But nowhere is the increase as pronounced as in the Northeast, where already-moist air means more “extreme precipitation.”

The more intense rainfall is a direct impact of warmer air temperatures tied to climate change juicing the weather cycle, according to the federal assessment report. Average temperatures in the region — the home of 64 million people stretching from Washington, D.C., to Portland, Maine — have increased 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century, with most of the increase coming in the past three decades.

The increase largely results from heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted into the air by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels, boosting temperatures to spur increases seen worldwide in this century.

Changing everything

Amid trees just starting to bud with spring, Vermont 121 follows the twisting course of the Saxtons River. Along the way, Timothy Cullenen, who was municipal manager of nearby Rockingham during Irene, points out wrecked homes and condemned, covered bridges with sidewalls beaten out and replaced.

“We had roads washed out, people trapped in homes,” Cullenen said, recounting how firefighters had to boat people out of homes inundated by a river suddenly stuffed with battering-ram-sized trees and hissing propane tanks with broken valves.

The frequency of these storms “changes everything for us, from what size culverts we build, to where people can live,” Cullenen said.What’s causing the additional rain? It’s simple. Warmer air causes more evaporation from streams, lakes and seas. Warmer air also holds more moisture. So, when it falls, it really unloads — thus, more extreme storms.

“Increased extreme precipitation in the Northeast is one of the clearest signals of climate change that we can see nationwide,” said climate expert Donald Wuebbles of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

“It’s not just more rain, but more rain falling in buckets over long periods of time,” he said.

In the hills of the Northeast, heavy rains are funneled into valley streams and rivers, carrying timber and sand downstream. “Bridges become dams when the water rises and this stuff slams into them,” said FEMA historic preservation expert Peter Thomas.

“Streams and rivers scoured out by floods just become race tracks for the next flood,” Thomas said. “They won’t have as much time to naturally restore themselves if climate change is making floods more common.”

Bridge crumbles

“I never had been able to see the river from my window in August before,” Hammond said of the day the bridge washed out. Recording a video of the flooding, she captured the terrible creaking of the century-old structure and sight of it rolling off its abutments into the water below. The wood tumbled in the river for a half-mile.

Hammond’s video and heartfelt “Oh, my God” response to the bridge’s disappearance went viral on YouTube, seen by more than a half-million people.

The bridge had been in place since 1870. Now its wreckage sits, three rows of timber in Rockingham’s winter gravel dump, joined by stumps, trees and junk pulled from the river by the town at a cost of $450,000.

“We used to have an emergency fund. And then we had an emergency. Now it is gone,” Cullenen said.

Cities struggle

Towns and cities across the Northeast are built for the wrong century — the last one — said civil engineer Paul Kirshen of Climate Solutions New England.“We’ve seen the ‘once in a century’ storm’s water level increase,” he said. Where a storm with a 1 percent chance of happening every year used to dump 6 inches of water (162,924 gallons per acre), that same storm now delivers 8 inches (217,232 gallons per acre), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

That means street drains aren’t big enough and wastewater facilities can’t handle floods. Culverts, the large pipes that carry water under roads, are increasingly being washed out across the region, according to a 2009 Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology study. Expensive sewer systems built for last century’s specifications are too small to handle the extra water.

For cities such as Philadelphia and Exeter, N.H., one solution has been to try “low-impact” development: planting more greenery in a bid to soak up rainwater before it hits the drains. Another change has been “flexible” development, in which reservoirs and seawalls are designed so that additions can be made, if needed.

“That’s a total change in engineering,” civil engineer Kirshen said. “In the past, we built to specifications for now, and walked away.”

A longer-term solution, Wake points out, is “putting less greenhouse gas in the air.”

Depending on future emissions, average yearly temperatures will increase anywhere from 3 to 10 degrees by the 2080s, according to the draft federal National Climate Assessment report.

New England's essence
Standing on the gravel road leading to her Vermont hamlet, Hammond looks at the rebuilt Lower Bartonsville Covered Bridge, its spruce sides gleaming blond in the sunlight. The new bridge, built to historical standards, now exceeds its original length by 17 feet to stretch 168 feet across the Williams River. It rests on concrete abutments with pilings driven 40 feet into the ground — not the stone causeways that were undermined in the 2011 flood.

“A covered bridge is part of what New England is, and it connected us to the world,” Hammond said. “Maybe you have to live here to understand it. It really was quite a blow to see it pulled away.”

The new bridge is designed to last 75 years, taking it almost to the end of the century, when it will face a very different New England.“Unless something happens again,” Hammond said. - Burlington Free Press.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: H7N9 Bird Flu - China Boils Baby Chickens Alive As Country Is Totally Engulfed By Panic Over Continuing Outbreak Of New Strain Of Bird Flu; Up To 30,000 Chickens Boiled Alive Every Day At ONE FARM Alone!

May 09, 2013 - CHINA - Tens of thousands of baby chicks are being boiled alive in China as panic grips the country over the current outbreak of a mysterious new strain of bird flu.

Four more people have died from the new strain, bringing to the total number of deaths from the H7N9 virus to 32, Chinese health officials revealed yesterday.

Meanwhile, the number of infections has risen by two to 129, with health experts saying that the disease is probably being spread by poultry.

Quick and easy: A crate of newborn chicks is tipped into a pot of boiling water as the mass extermination of poultry continues in China triggered by the current outbreak of H7N9 bird flu in the country.

Desperate measures: Four more people have died from the new strain, bringing to the total number of deaths from the H7N9 virus to 31, Chinese health officials revealed yesterday.

Boiled alive: The number of infections caused by the new virus has risen by two to 129, with health experts saying that the disease is probably being spread by poultry.

Chicken farms facing official demands to dispose of as many birds as possible have now resorted to to killing off newborn chicks by plunging them in boiling water.

These photographs were taken at a poultry farm in Qingyuan city, in Guangdong province, south-east China, where as many as 30,000 new born chicks were dumped into boiling water to be killed every day.

Farm spokesman Fai T'ien said: 'Before this virus outbreak we were hatching around 100,000 chicks a day. We have now cut that down to 50,000 and it is still too many and we are having to kill most of them.

'We are putting a few aside to be vaccinated and sold onto the market but most are having to be killed by boiling them.'

Farmers say that boiling is the easiest and quickest way to kill the chicks but there has been criticism by animal-rights activists who say that has to be a better way to deal with the problem.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) has said it has no evidence that the new strain of bird flu, which was first detected in patients in China in March, is easily transmissible between humans.

Desperate to live: These photographs were taken at a poultry farm in Qingyuan city, in Guangdong province, south-east China, where as many as 30,000 new born chicks a day were dumped into boiling water to be killed.

Grim work: A worker fishes dead birds from the bubbling pot, as thousands more packed in crates behind him wait to meet their fate. The Chinese government has ordered the mass extermination of birds.

Not much better in store for this lot: Farm spokesman Fai T'ien said some of the newborn chickens were being put aside for vaccination and sale for slaughter, but most of their birds are having to be boiled alive.

Chinese scientists have confirmed that the H7N9 strain has been transmitted to humans from chickens. But the WHO has said 40 per cent of people infected with H7N9 appear to have had no contact with poultry.

The Chinese government provided only scant details about the latest victims of H7N9.

Two occurred in the eastern province of Jiangsu; one was from eastern Zhejiang; while another was from central Anhui, based on a Reuters analysis of the data provided by Chinese health authorities on Monday.

The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the current strain of bird flu cannot spark a pandemic in its current form.

He added, however, that there is no guarantee it will not mutate and become more dangerous. - Daily Mail.

MASS BIRD DIE-OFF: Disaster Precursors - Over 100 Dead Birds Found In Danville & Pittsylvania County, Virginia?!

May 09, 2013 - UNITED STATESThe Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has been bombarded with reports of dead bird sightings throughout the Southside. Most of the birds were found Tuesday in Danville and Pittsylvania County.

Barbara Scott was shocked when her business's parking lot became a graveyard for more than 100 birds.

"That freaked me out," said Scott, manager of Penny-Wise Cleaners.

Scott says first she noticed feathers stuck to the front door, before she learned that was just the start.

"I was thinking this was crazy. How in the world did the bird fly into the door is what I was thinking," said Scott.

The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries received several reports of dead birds littering that parking lot and a number of others throughout Danville and Pittsylvania County.

"It's kind of a rare occurrence for song birds to end up being found dead from a natural incident," said Dan Lovelace, Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Still, Lovelace suspects the deaths can be attributed to the strong storms mixed with the bird's migration patterns.

"This time of year, the warblers and other birds are migrating at night so it's a good chance it is a weather related phenomena," said Lovelace.

Lovelace explains they have no reason to believe the deaths were caused by a toxin and at this point, people should not be concerned.

WATCH: Over 100 Dead Birds Found In Danville & Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

"I feel better but there still there is the question of why, how?" said Scott.

While most of the birds have now been cleaned up from the lot, Scott just hopes this will never happen again. After all, she says it can't be good for business.

Lovelace collected several birds from different locations and sent them to a lab to be tested. He says he cannot know the exact cause of death until he gets those results back. - WSET.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Major Solar System Disturbance - Large Meteor Spotted In Night Sky Over England And Wales!

May 09, 2013 - UNITED KINGDOMA meteor has been spotted travelling across the night sky by people in many parts of England and Wales.

Sightings of the celestial body were reported on Twitter in areas such as Cornwall, Hampshire, Lancashire, south Wales and Worcestershire.

The meteor was captured on CCTV by the BBC in Cardiff.

Suzy Buttress, of Basingstoke, described witnessing the meteor as a "once in a lifetime thing".

Space scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock said the phenomenon was likely to have been debris from Halley's Comet.

'Ball with tail'

Ms Buttress, who was driving home on the M3 when she saw the heavenly object, told the BBC: "It was amazing, so big, bigger than a shooting star. It had a strange greenish tinge to it, with a definite tail behind it.

"This was definitely a ball with a tail. It took its time going across the sky. It went behind a cloud, then came out the other end.

"At first I hoped it wasn't an aircraft crashing. It's a once in a lifetime thing."

Richard Escott, a security supervisor for the BBC in Cardiff, explained what he saw.

"I was standing outside having a bit of fresh air and as I turned round I saw this very bright blue light which was dimming," he said.

"It was coming very steadily, progressing across the night sky, but it was at sort of building level and then died out to nothing. I saw it for about five, 10 seconds."

'Caught attention'

Dr Aderin-Pocock explained what could have caused the spectacle.

"Unfortunately I didn't see this meteor myself, but I think what's unusual is the size of this one. With meteor showers people will see a number of meteors over an hour, so let's say six or 10 an hour.

"It seems that this one was particularly large and particularly bright, which is why it's caught so much attention.

"It's quite likely to be part of the Eta Aquarids, which is the debris left by Halley's Comet.

"And twice a year we pass through the debris left behind by the comet and when this happens we see more of these shooting stars but there must have been a large lump left behind which is what caused such a bright meteor to be seen." - BBC.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Disaster Precursors - Arizona Man Found Dead Hanging From Cliff In Climbing Gear Killed By AFRICAN Killer Bees, Along With His Loyal Dog!

May 09, 2013 - UNITED STATES - A climber and his faithful dog have perished in Arizona after they appear to have been attacked by killer bees as he scaled a cliff.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office says that 55-year-old Steven Johnson, a counselor with some 30 years experience hiking and climbing was found dead, hanging 70-feet from the ground in his climbing gear in the Santa Rita Mountains on Monday night.

A swarm of African honeybees: The rise of Africanized bees across the United States has led to education
programs in how to react to encountering the territorial animals.

The cause of death has not been determined yet, but officials said that Johnson was covered in bee stings when he was found while his dead dog was discovered at the top of the cliff.

Johnson was last seen Friday when he went hiking, and friends became worried when he didn't go to work on Monday.

Sheriff's Lt. Raoul Rodriguez says Johnson may have disturbed bees by hammering a spike into the cliff.

Rodriguez of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office said the 55-year-old man was found hanging from his climbing gear on a cliff near Mount Hopkins.

'He had anchored himself to the wall as he was going down so he was actually anchored and he must have been attacked and was not able to climb back up or go back down,' said Rodriguez.

He said Johnson's dog had also been attacked by bees and was found dead nearby.

Johnson is described as a father, climber and friend, who was well-liked throughout the climbing community in Southern Arizona.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office says 55-year-old Steven Johnson (pictured) was found in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson late Monday.

'It's devastating news for the Tucson community, for sure, he was a very prolific climber in Tucson,' said John Mavko, who works at Rocks & Ropes, a climbing facility that was frequented by Johnson.

Deputies of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department and its search and rescue unit found Johnson’s body Monday at 6:30 p.m.

The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office will conduct an autopsy on Wednesday to determine the cause of his death.

Killer bees have become a problem in the south west of the country, especially in cities like Phoenix and Tuscson which have programs to destroy them for public safety.

However, despite their fearsome reputation, Dr. May Berenbaum, a professor and department head at the University of Illinois' Department of Entomology and one of the country's leading bee experts said that public information is the key to limiting fatalities.

'When bees sting, it's always in defense. They're not cruising the neighborhood to make trouble,' said Berenbaum. 'They're not kamikaze, intent on their own destruction. They sting if they perceive a threat on their own home.'

However, Berenbaum's description of an African bee attack to ABC News makes for disturbing reading.

Once stung, the bee releases a pheromone that attracts other bees to attack - which is why most African bee attacks are in swarms.

Search and rescue teams found both Johnson and his dog dead in the Santa Rita Mountains on Monday night.

Killer Bees in Arizona: Africanized bee attacks on the rise

  • Africanized bees, also known as killer bees are hybrids of the African honey bee which are a hostile and invasive species.
  • They arrived in America in 1957 when a stand-in bee-keeper accidently released 26 Tanzanian queen bees and drones which were being used for research purposes.
  • After the accidental released, the bees started to breed with the Brazilian bees and produced what we now know as Africanized honeybees or killer bees.
  • The Africanized honey bee or AHB is similar in physical characteristics to European honey bees - the major difference being in their defensive behavior.
  • They swarm to attack and sting in large numbers when they detect any threat from 50 feet away.
  • Every year around a dozen swarm attacks are atributed to Africanized honey bees in the south west of the country.
  • In 2011, a 95-year-old man was out walking in Phoenix when he was attacked and stung 600 times - remarkably surviving.
  • Scientists estimate as general rule of thumb that ten stings per pound of body weight equals a fatality.
  • So a person weighing 150 pounds would need to be stung roughly 1,500 times to be killed.

- Daily Mail.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Major Solar System Disturbance - Asteroid 1988 TA Will Approach Within 0.0336 AU Of Planet Earth On May 10 And Has Been Classified As "Potentially Hazardous"!

May 09, 2013 - SPACE(360191) 1988 TA was discovered by J. Phinney and J. Mueller during the second Palomar Sky Survey on Oct 5, 1988.

The asteroid's physical characteristics are effectively unknown except for its absolute magnitude of 20.8,which suggests a diameter within a factor of two of about 0.2 km. This asteroid has been associated with the C-class by Binzel et al. (2003, Asteroids III), but we did not find an original source of measurements that would provide a direct link to a dark optical albedo.

G. Kronk (WGN, vol. 17, 1989) suggested that the orbit of 1988 TA resembles two streams in the Virginid meteor shower.

This asteroid will approach within 0.0336 AU (13.1 lunar distances) on May 10.

NASA JPL Orbit Diagram - May 8, 2013.

NASA JPL Orbit Diagram - May 9, 2013.

NASA JPL Orbit Diagram - May 10, 2013.

NASA JPL Orbit Diagram - May 11, 2013.

1988 TA should be a moderately strong radar target at Goldstone and a strong radar target at Arecibo.

Imaging may be possible at Goldstone if 1988 TA is a relatively slow rotator. At Arecibo, the signal-to-noise ratios should be strong enough for imaging with 7.5 m resolution.

Five tracks are scheduled at Goldstone from May 7-12 and at Arecibo from May 7-11.

1988 TA will be a good optical target for about two weeks from the end of April to the middle of May when it will reach 16th magnitude at favorable solar elongations.

Lightcurves obtained prior to the radar observations would be particularly helpful.

1988 TA has been classified as a "Potentially Hazardous Asteroid" (PHA) by the IAU's Minor Planet Center.

Orbital and Physical Characteristics 
orbit type Apollo
semimajor axis  1.541 AU
eccentricity    0.479
inclination  2.5 deg
perihelion distance     0.803 AU
aphelion distance    2.279 AU
absolute magnitude (H)   20.8
diameter    200-400 m
rotation period   unknown
pole direction unknown
lightcurve amplitude unknown
spectral class  unknown, possibly C (Binzel et al, Asteroids III)

- Goldstone Radar Observations Planning.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: H7N9 Bird Flu - United States Invokes Emergency Act To Keep H7N9 At Bay As Another Death In China Raises H7N9 Fatalities To 32!

May 09, 2013 - UNITED STATES - The US government has declared that H7N9 bird flu "poses a significant potential for a public health emergency", and has given "emergency use authorisation" for diagnostic kits for the virus.

This means tests can be used that haven't gone through the usual lengthy approval process by the US Food and Drug Administration.

 This illustration from the US Centers for Disease Control shows an influenza virus making contact with the respiratory tract of a human, in the very beginning stages of an influenza (flu) infection.  Image: CDC.

They are right to be concerned. H7N9 could be a tough adversary: New Scientist has learned that it provokes a weaker immune response than most flu, making vaccines hard to produce.

Although H7N9 is not, so far, transmissible between humans, it does cause severe disease in people, is easier to catch than other bird flu strains, and may need only a few mutations to go pandemic.

The UK has already given doctors instructions on when to test people for H7N9, and how to manage any with the virus.

The US's emergency authorisation will allow the use of a kit that looks for flu genes using a polymerase chain reaction test, which has been made specific for H7N9.

The kit has had preliminary tests but would normally need more exhaustive tests to be approved. Innovative new diagnostics should eventually be authorised too, says Charles Chiu of the University of California in San Francisco.

Human infection from H7N9 avian influenza. 
Image: Jiangsu Province Health Department Bulletin

This kind of fast, high-throughput screening for pandemic flu, possibly at borders, might allow early cases to be treated with antiviral drugs, potentially slowing the spread of the virus while vaccines are made.

The next emergency authorisation is likely to be for immune-stimulating chemicals called adjuvants to put in those vaccines.

These were used in vaccines in Europe and Canada during the 2009 pandemic, but adjuvants suitable for flu are not currently approved in the US.

Labs are now making "seed" viruses for manufacturers to create H7N9 vaccine. That process faces the same development delays as in 2009, when vaccine arrived too late for most people.

But there is another problem: H7 flu is poor at stimulating immunity. Virologists at the European Flu Summit in Brussels last week told New Scientist that early results show 13 times more H7N9 virus is needed to elicit a protective immune response than is needed for ordinary flu.

That's bad news: the more virus a vaccine requires, the fewer doses that can be grown in a given time.

"H7N9 may be a 'stealth' virus that is able to fly under the immune system's radar," says Anne De Groot of the University of Rhode Island at Providence.

Testing is already under way in China.
Image: Han Suyuan/Color China Photo/APt

That's because its surface protein haemagglutinin doesn't contain many short amino acid sequences – called epitopes – that trigger helper T-cells in the body to stimulate antibody-making cells.

"H7N9 is not very immunogenic, because the epitopes have a very weak signal," says Masato Tashiro, head of flu at Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Tokyo.

People differ genetically in the epitopes their T-cells recognise, and his lab has found that Asian people could be especially vulnerable.

Adjuvants might make vaccines containing less virus more effective, meaning doses can be produced faster. However, children in northern Europe who received adjuvanted flu vaccines in 2009 had slightly higher rates of narcolepsy than normal.

Epidemiological studies so far do not show whether the adjuvant was the cause, says Miriam Sturkenboom of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The US is now funding a large study of countries that used adjuvanted vaccines in 2009 to see if they may have caused narcolepsy. - NewScientist.

Another Death In China Raises H7N9 Fatalities To 32.
Another patient in China has died from an H7N9 influenza infection, raising the number of fatal illnesses to 32, though no new cases were reported today, holding the overall case total to 131.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported the death today in an update based on information from China's National Health and Family Planning Commission.

The report did not contain any details about the patient who died or his or her location, though the WHO said on its Twitter feed that the death was a retrospective one.

The WHO's update on H7N9 cases today also acknowledged the infection of a 79-year-old woman from Jianxi province whose case was first announced by Chinese officials yesterday. The WHO said she started having symptoms on May 3. Yesterday Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said the woman is in stable condition.

In addition, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) today published the second update of its rapid risk assessment on H7N9 influenza but said the overall risk to Europe from the disease hasn't changed. So far nearly all of the cases are sporadic, it said, with no obvious epidemiologic links.

"While occasional human-to-human transmission in the clusters cannot be ruled out, there is certainly no confirmation of sustained human-to-human transmission," the ECDC said.

Influenza experts say the slowed pace of new H7N9 cases over the past several days doesn't suggest that control efforts have removed the threat, and it's not clear if the virus will fade out or continue to circulate at lower levels during warmer months, a pattern sometimes seen with other flu viruses, The Canadian Press reported today.

Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, publisher of CIDRAP News, said that 2 weeks of activity doesn't amount to a trend and that it's impossible to predict if flu activity will wane when the weather warms. He pointed to active transmission of variant H3N2 viruses in connection with US state and country fairs and an August rise in activity during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

Other flu experts worried that the downturn in cases lead to people lowering their guard about the disease. Keiji Fukuda, MD, the WHO's assistant director-general for health security and environment, told the Canadian Press that flu fatigue may make it harder to get the prevention message across, but the WHO and its global partners will press ahead with situational awareness activities.

In other developments, Medicago, a pharmaceutical company based in Quebec, announced today that it has produced a virus-like-particle (VLP) vaccine candidate against the H7N9 virus, according to a company statement.

Medicago obtained the hemagglutinin (HA) sequence for the H7 vaccine from the GISAID database. (Its vaccine does not require the isolate.) It thanked Dr Jun Li and the Hangzhou Center for Disease Control for sharing the sequence of the isolate obtained from a patient in Zhejiang province.

The company is purifying the vaccine to prepare for immunogenicity studies in animals, according to the statement. VLP vaccines mimic the structure of a virus but don't contain any viral DNA or RNA. They can be produced in a variety of platforms; Medicago's is plant based.

Andy Sheldon, Medicago's president and chief executive officer, said in the statement that the platform is poised to dramatically speed the development of an H7 vaccine, compared with traditional egg-based methods that can take up to 6 months. Vaccine production facilities in Canada and North Carolina position the company as a key player in addressing a potential pandemic, he said.

An October report from the CIDRAP Comprehensive Influenza Vaccine Initiative (CCIVI) said VLP vaccines are among the new technologies under development that could make more flu vaccine faster, but it's not clear yet if the new vaccines would be more effective than currently available ones.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its partners are working on an H7N9 candidate vaccine virus and are making plans for vaccine trials, but no decisions have been made to launch an H7N9 vaccine program. The WHO on May 2 said its collaborating centers and other network labs are currently developing high-growth reassortants that could be used in vaccine development, if a vaccine is needed. - CIDRAP.