Sunday, February 14, 2016

WORLD WAR Z: Plagues & Pestilences - Experts Are Warning The United States To Prepare For "GUERRILLA WARFARE" With Zika-Carrying Mosquitoes, Says HOUSE-TO-HOUSE Method Is Needed To Fight Virus; WHO Reports That The Guillain-Barre Neurological Disorder Is On The Rise In The Outbreak In Several Latin American Countries!

Army soldiers set a banner that reads in Portuguese "A mosquito is not stronger than a whole country" at the Central station, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

February 14, 2016 - AMERICAS - It was standing room only at the annual conference of the American Mosquito Control Association this week.

In a chilly convention center ballroom here, the leading lights of mosquito control gathered, as they do every year, to talk about bugs and new ways to get rid of them. But this year an ominous urgency infused the session. Mosquitoes in this hemisphere have an unpredictable new weapon, the Zika virus — a threat that left the participants comparing notes like field commanders before summer battle.

Nearly a year after the first cases of Zika were diagnosed in Brazil, the virus, which is suspected to cause birth defects and other neurological problems, is bearing down on American shores. It is already in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. There have been more than 50 cases of Americans infected abroad, and most experts believe that by summer, the continental United States will have some of its own homegrown cases, meaning that domestic mosquitoes will have the virus.

“It’s like preparing for a hurricane,” said Dennis Moore, director of mosquito control in Pasco County, Fla. “You know it’s coming from across the Gulf, but where it’s going to land, we just don’t know.”

Scientists say an explosive spreading of Zika is extremely unlikely in the continental United States. But Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries the virus, is tenacious and relatively impervious to broad outdoor spraying. Techniques for tracking it are outdated and underfunded. Experts interviewed here this week said fighting Zika will require a major shift in this country’s approach to mosquito control, namely more door-to-door action, a painstaking and expensive practice that many say is a tall order in an era of shrinking budgets and wariness of government intrusion.

 Patti Sprague, a field inspector for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, shifted some standing water where mosquitoes were breeding.
Credit Max Reed for The New York Times

“This guerrilla warfare house-to-house method is still very new and I’m not convinced that many places are prepared for it,” said Michael Doyle, the head of mosquito control for the Florida Keys, a district that used such tactics during an outbreak of the dengue virus in 2009 and 2010, one of the first major outbreaks in the United States since the 1930s.

The traditional technique of spraying from trucks and planes “is like fighting Al Qaeda with an old-fashioned army,” he said.

The United States’ best defense against Zika is its air-conditioning and window screens, scientists said. Yellow fever and malaria killed tens of thousands of Americans through the end of the 19th century, but higher living standards helped stop it. Screens and round-the-clock air conditioning block virus transmission by keeping healthy mosquitoes from biting infected people and spreading the virus. They also prevent infected mosquitoes from biting healthy people.

“You won’t see anything like what you see in the tropical countries,” said Scott Ritchie, a medical entomologist at the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine, sitting among booths here displaying insecticide blowers and mosquito bait that uses date juice. (A mosquito wine stopper was given away in a conference raffle.) “Americans have hermetically sealed, air-conditioned houses. Explosive transmission with aegypti only takes place in these tropical areas that have a lot of unscreened housing.”

Even so, businesses in the United States have been rattled. And some experts are worried that some poor neighborhoods, where air-conditioning is less ubiquitous, may be more vulnerable.

“There’s big concern,” said Dan Ariaz, who was displaying wares from his Las Vegas company, Arro-Gun Spray Systems, in the back of a 1934 Chevrolet pickup. His phone has been ringing off the hook, including calls from resorts needing advice. “We tell them not to panic,” said Mr. Ariaz, whose shirt collar was embroidered with the words, “Bite Me.”At first glance, Aedes aegypti may not seem like a formidable foe. It has traditionally stayed in a corner of the American South, rarely venturing farther north than South Carolina. It does not fly farther than a city block, and usually lives less than two weeks.

“It’s the cockroach of mosquitoes,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It lives indoors around people and hides in dark places.”

That makes it much harder for droplets sprayed from airplanes or trucks to come into contact with it to kill it. (Floodwater mosquitoes, the ones that bother Americans on summer nights, rarely spread disease. Spraying works on them because they are often flying.)

“There’s going to be a lot of pressure for districts to go out and spray, but that is not very likely to work against these mosquitoes,” said Joseph Conlon, a retired Navy entomologist who is a technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association.

One key test of Americans’ ability to fight this mosquito came in 2009, when it brought the dengue virus into the homes of people on Key West. Within hours, a SWAT team of 30 mosquito experts was going house to house, dumping standing water from flowerpots, ashtrays, children’s swimming pools, recycling containers, bottle caps and trash cans. They worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, for six weeks, marking their progress on maps.

The effort was scrupulous because “you need remarkably few mosquitoes to keep up transmission,” said Mr. Doyle. “One recalcitrant neighbor will grow enough adult mosquitoes to cause an outbreak for the whole neighborhood.”

In all, Key West had at least 85 cases of dengue in 2009 and 2010. The virus never spread beyond the island and the outbreak eventually died out. The district spends $1 million a year just on fighting the Aedes aegypti mosquito, about a tenth of its mosquito control budget and as much as some counties spend in total. Miami-Dade, with a far larger population, has a budget of just $1.8 million.

Some departments get creative. The mosquito control team in New Orleans got firefighters to help knock on doors when cases of West Nile virus began surfacing in 2012.

“Manpower, that’s the main thing,” said Claudia Riegel, director of the city’s Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board.

Tracking the mosquito is critical, but the country’s ability to do that is spotty. Mosquito control departments, often called districts, range from “the enormously sophisticated to the sanitation guy spraying a few places when he thinks about it,” Dr. Frieden said. Mr. Conlon estimates there are about 700 across the country with the ability to track mosquitoes and another 1,100 smaller ones that probably cannot afford to.

 Zane McCallister, left, talked with Scott Monsen at the annual conference of the American Mosquito Control Association in Savannah, Ga., on Wednesday.
Credit Rich Burkhart for The New York Times

Mosquito control for Chatham County, which includes Savannah, traps extensively, with records going back years. But Jeffrey Heusel, its director, said it is unusual: Of about 60 counties in Georgia that once had some ability to trap, now only about six do. According to the C.D.C., epidemiology and laboratory funding for so-called vector-borne diseases (those spread by mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and other creatures) dropped to just $9.5 million in 2015 from about $24 million in 2004.

The aegypti maps that the C.D.C. uses are outdated and part of the $1.8 billion that President Obama requested for Zika this week would go to improving them, Dr. Frieden said.

“The first thing you have to do is monitoring so we know where they are,” he said.

The Zika-carrying mosquito will come out in full in the United States in summer. Dr. Frieden said the C.D.C. planned to put together teams of experts to help states handle clusters of cases. The agency has shipped an ample national supply of material the states can use to test a sick person’s blood for Zika. The more complex test, to detect whether someone was sick months ago, is taking more time, and sufficient supply may take a few more weeks or even months, he said. Still, he was hopeful that Congress would act quickly.

“Are we ready? That’s the question of the hour,” Dan Strickman, a medical entomologist at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told an eager crowd at the conference. “When we apply ourselves to a particular mosquito problem, we can overcome it.” - NY Times.

Guillain-Barre Is On the Rise in Zika-Affected Countries

A rare neurological disorder is on the rise in several Latin American countries that are also seeing an outbreak of the Zika virus, the World Health Organization said Saturday.

The U.N. health body in Geneva said in a weekly report that Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), which can cause temporary paralysis, has been reported in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Suriname and Venezuela.

The increase in Guillain-Barre cases is appearing in conjunction with the spread of the Zika virus to 34 countries and also with increasing cases of microcephaly, a rare condition in which infants are born with abnormally small heads.

However, the health agency said "the cause of the increase in GBS incidence ... remains unknown, especially as dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus have all been circulating simultaneously in the Americas."

While "no scientific evidence to date confirms a link between Zika virus and microcephaly or GBS," the agency pointed out that GBS was also observed during the 2013-14 Zika virus outbreak in French Polynesia.

In Brazil, which has been hardest hit by the current Zika outbreak, the state of Bahia in July reported 42 cases of GBS, 26 of them in patients with a history of symptoms consistent with Zika virus infection. In November, seven patients in Brazil presenting GBS were confirmed by laboratory tests to have a Zika virus infection, WHO reported.

"In 2015, a 19 percent increase in GBS cases was reported in comparison to the previous year" in the state of Bahia, the WHO said.

According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Preventions, GBS symptoms include muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. In the most serious cases, the muscle weakness can affect breathing and patients may need a breathing tube.

The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes and the current outbreak has affected 34 countries, including 26 countries in the Americas, WHO said. Brazilian authorities estimate up to 1.5 million cases of Zika virus infection have occurred since the outbreak began, the agency said. - USNEWS.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Zhupanovsky Volcano Erupts In Russia - Explosions Send Ash Plumes Over 26,000 FEET HIGH; Aviation Alert Code Is ORANGE As Activity Could Affect Low-Flying Crafts! [VIDEO]

The plume of the Zhupanovsky on February 13. Image: NASA Worldview EODIS

February 14, 2016 - KAMCHATKA, RUSSIA - In Kamchatka, neighboring volcanoes Karymsky  and Zhupanovsky have been animated in recent days, and emit ash plumes detected by KVERT/Volcano Observatory Notification to Aviation (VONA).

In Zhupanovsky, a beautiful sequence shows a plume of ash and gas on February 10, amounting to 8,000 meters asl. The explosive activity continued on  the 13th in the morning, with a plume amount to more than 10,000 meters and dissipating about 300 km to the east.

Advisory maps of the movement of ash cloud from Zhupanovsky from February 13th to 14th.
Image: VAAC Tokyo

Later in the afternoon, according to satellite data by KVERT, ash plume extended up to 1 km, about 288 km to the east from the volcano.

Moderate explosive eruption of the volcano continues with ash plume rising up to 19,700-26,240 feet (6-8 km).

Ongoing activity could affect international and low-flying aircraft. The aviation alert code is orange and many previsonal opinions about the movement of the ash cloud are issued by the VAAC Tokyo.

WATCH: Nocturnal activity of Zhupanovsky.

A new VONA will be issued if conditions change significantly or the Aviation Color Code is changes. VONAs are posted at

In Russia, KVERT, on behalf of the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (IVS) FED RAS, is responsible for providing information on volcanic activity to international air navigation services for the airspace users. - KVERT. [Edited]

WAR DRUMS: Escalating Tensions On The Korean Peninsula - U.S. Pentagon Raises North Korea Nuclear Threat Level As Pyongyang Shifts Policy To Building Nuclear Arsenal!

Photo: AP

February 14, 2016 - PENTAGON, UNITED STATES - North Korea poses an increasing danger of using long-range missiles capable of striking the United States with nuclear warheads and is fielding new road-mobile and submarine-launched missiles, the Pentagon said in a report to Congress made public Friday.

The Pentagon is working with South Korea, Japan and other countries to counter “the continued and growing threat from North Korea, its nuclear and missile programs, and its proliferation of related technology,” the report said, adding that the U.S. provides “extended deterrence” through both nuclear and conventional forces.

On the nuclear threat, the report singled out missile programs as a major worry.

“North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear technology and capabilities and development of intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile programs underscore the growing threat it poses to regional stability and U.S. national security,” the 30-page report states.

“North Korea’s pursuit of a submarine-launched ballistic missile capability also highlights the regime’s commitment to diversifying its missile force, strengthening the missile force’s survivability, and finding new ways to coerce its neighbors.”

North Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) program was first disclosed by the Washington Free Beacon. In January, the first successful ejection test of the developmental SLBM was carried out.

Bruce Bechtol, a former Defense Intelligence Agency expert on North Korea, said the SLBM poses an increasing threat of nuclear attack against the United States.

“The SLBM program is scary to me because it has the new, Golf-class submarine, and the ‘new’ SSN-6 missile to successfully threaten American bases and territory,” said Bechtol, a professor at Angelo State University in Texas.

“To discount this ongoing development is to discount the national security of the United States,” he added.

The report said North Korea possesses one submarine-launched missile system, along with less than 100 short-range Scud missiles and fewer than 50 800-mile-range Nodong missiles. An intermediate-range missile also is deployed.

The North Koreans possess an unknown number of long-range TD-2 missiles like the one test-fired last weekend. Additionally, the North Korean military has at least six KN-08 road-mobile missiles. The missile has been ground-tested extensively but has not been flight tested.

Both the Taepodong and KN-08 are assessed as having ranges greater than 3,400 miles.

The regime’s missile forces were upgraded recently with the creation of the North Korean Strategic Rocket Forces.

“North Korea also continues to develop the TD-2, which could reach the continental United States if configured as an [intercontinental ballistic missile],” the report said.

North Korea has said the TD-2 is a space launcher that placed a payload into orbit on Sunday. The report said that without a reentry vehicle capable of surviving the heat of reentry “North Korea cannot deliver a weapon to target from an ICBM.”

The regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also has developed offensive cyber warfare capabilities that are used to “collect intelligence and cause disruption in South Korea and other adversaries including the United States.”

The North Koreans were behind the November 2014 cyber attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment that shut down employee access and deleted data, the report said.

North Korea’s national strategy announced by Kim in 2013 is aimed at building up both its economy and its nuclear forces.

The North is believed to have an arsenal of between 10 and 20 nuclear warheads and has boasted of the capability of launching long-range nuclear missiles.

In September, North Korea announced that nuclear facilities at Yongbyon had been restarted for a nuclear forces buildup.

“The strategic goal of the regime is to ensure Kim family rule in perpetuity,” the report said, adding that Kim, 33, has solidified his grip on power since taking control after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il in late 2011.

North Korea’s pattern of conducting provocative small-scale military attacks combined with its nuclear and missile developments and its arms proliferation “pose a serious threat to the United States, the region, and the world,” the report concluded.

Despite outdated military equipment and arms, the one million-strong army can “inflict serious damage” on South Korea, using thousands of artillery guns and rockets capable of reaching the South Korean capital of Seoul.

The country’s space program appears to be “a veneer” intended to mask the long-range ballistic missile program. The government also announced plans to deploy weather and geostationary satellites.

The test Sunday placed a payload in a polar orbit that nuclear experts say could be used by North Korea to develop a space-based nuclear blast designed to disrupted all electronics in the United States with an electromagnetic pulse.

According to the Pentagon, North Korea does not trust China and Russia and claims to be under imminent threat from outside the country.

The “garrison state worldview” is used to justify draconian security controls and large military expenditures.

“Despite resource shortages and aging equipment, North Korea’s large, forward-positioned military can initiate an attack against the ROK with little or no warning, minimizing the logistics strain it would incur if deploying forces from further away,” the report said.

The regime is unlikely to conduct a large-scale military attack that would invite counterattacks but is willing to use smaller, asymmetric warfare strikes, like the DMZ mining and the Sony cyber attack.

Smaller attacks using special operations forces, growing artillery, and missile forces could rapidly escalate to a larger conflict.

The report said North Korea state-run media revealed an unmanned aerial vehicle that appears to be a copy of the Raytheon MQM-107 Streaker target drone.

“North Korean press coverage of the event described the UAV as being capable of precision strike by crashing into the target,” the report said.

In addition to nuclear forces, North Korea also has biological and chemical weapons arsenals.

On arms proliferation, the report said Pyongyang has continued to sell conventional arms and ballistic missiles that provide a source of hard currency for the internationally isolated regime.

“North Korea uses a worldwide network to facilitate arms sales activities and maintains a core, but dwindling group of recipient countries including Iran, Syria, and Burma,” the report said.

“North Korea has exported conventional and ballistic missile-related equipment, components, materials, and technical assistance to countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.”

The sales were carried out in violation of United Nations sanctions. Pyongyang has used various means to circumvent the sanctions, including the falsification of documents, mislabeling crates, and using front companies to hide the ship and air transfers.

“North Korea’s demonstrated willingness to proliferate nuclear technology remains one of our gravest concerns,” the report said, noting past sales of nuclear goods to Libya and Syria.

International interdictions of North Korean arms transfers included the July 2013 seizure in Panama of air defense systems and MiG-21 jets.

Other North Korean arms shipments were stopped from reaching Burma, Congo, and Syria.

This year’s annual report, required under 2012 legislation, for the first time was 30 pages long and included graphics. Previous reports were limited to one or two pages.

The report “Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 2015,” can be accessed here. - WFB.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Large Pyroclastic Flow At The Semeru Volcano In East Java, Indonesia - Produces Ash Plume That Rose Up To 26,000 FEET HIGH!

Pyroclastic flow at Semeru yesterday. Image: Leopold Kennedy Adam ‏@LeopoldAdam / Twitter

February 14, 2016 - EAST JAVA, INDONESIA - A pyroclastic flow (hot avalanche of fragmented volcanic material) occurred on the volcano's southern side yesterday morning, reaching 4.5 km length and producing an ash plume that rose to 26,000 ft (8 km) altitude. Darwin VAAC raised the aviation color code to RED.

Another, smaller flow seems to have occurred today.

Eruption at Semeru on February 13.  Credit: David P /

The pyroclastic flow(s) were probably caused by sudden collapse of accumulated lava on the steep upper flank - inside the volcano's breached summit crater, a flat lava dome has been growing steadily during the past months and overspilling as viscous flow into the upper part of the ravine.

Semeru, the highest volcano on Java, and one of its most active, lies at the southern end of a volcanic massif extending north to the Tengger caldera. Semeru, a favourite mountain trekking destination, has been in almost continuous eruption since 1967. It is known for its regular ash explosions that typically occur at intervals of 10-30 minutes.

Eruption at Semeru volcano (East Java) in the golden morning light. Photo: Tom Pfeiffer

The steep-sided volcano, also referred to as Mahameru (Great Mountain), rises abruptly to 3676 m above coastal plains to the south. Gunung Semeru was constructed south of the overlapping Ajek-ajek and Jambangan calderas. A line of lake-filled maars was constructed along a N-S trend cutting through the summit, and cinder cones and lava domes occupy the eastern and NE flanks.

Semeru volcano's growing dome since October 2015. Credit: Andi

Summit topography is complicated by the shifting of craters from NW to SE. Frequent 19th and 20th century eruptions were dominated by small-to-moderate explosions from the summit crater, with occasional lava flows and larger explosive eruptions accompanied by pyroclastic flows that have reached the lower flanks of the volcano. - Volcano Discovery.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Disaster Precursors - Wild Elephant Goes On A Rampage In Xishuangbanna, China; Damaging 15 Cars?! [PHOTOS + VIDEOS]

February 14, 2016 - CHINA - It’s never easy getting dumped just before Valentine’s Day, but it’s harder to swipe your frustrations away on Tinder or drown your sorrows in a bottle of whiskey when you’re an elephant – which, presumably, is why this Dumped Dumbo took it out on a street full of cars.

After losing a potential mate to another male, this wild elephant in China released some tension through a bit of stampy stampy, smashy smashy.

Officials from Xishuangbanna said the male elephant wandered out of a nature reserve on Friday after being rejected, probably so his friends wouldn’t see him hit rock bottom.

After about 20 minutes of “playing” with cars, he eventually realized he didn’t like her that much anyway, was probably better off single anyway, and returned to the reserve.

No people were hurt in the rampage, except for the pachyderm’s big broken heart, which should mend after a good night on the town with some mates.

WATCH: Wild elephant goes on a rampage in China.

A total of 15 cars were damaged, but not to worry, as the government said they will cover all repairs for those who don’t have an “emotionally fragile elephant rampage” clause in their insurance policy.

Eyewitnesses seemed to enjoy the moment, too.

“The tourists were quite excited to see a real wild elephant, and they were using their cellphones to take photos and videos. Even the owners of some damaged cars found the experience to be thrilling and very interesting, although their cars got scraped,” a government spokesperson said. - RT.