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Hearse keys taken by rival undertaker
A British undertaker has pleaded guilty to stealing the keys from a rival company's hearse while it was sitting outside of a funeral.
David Wood, 48, of Middlesbrough, England, admitted to stealing the keys from a 1968 Rolls-Royce Phantom VI owned by Joel D. Kerr funeral service moments before it was scheduled to transport a body from a funeral to the cemetery in September, the Daily Mail reported Tuesday.
"The level of disrespect is unbelievable, dreadful," said Irene Jessop, funeral director at Joel Kerr.
Jessop said the deceased woman, Patricia Thorburn, had specifically requested the vintage hearse. She said funeral home employees hot-wired the car instead of calling for a replacement vehicle.
Wood, who told authorities the funeral home had been "poaching" his business, pleaded guilty to theft.
Judge Les Spittle adjourned the case until next month for pre-sentencing reports. He told Wood to expect a community service penalty and fines to pay for the damage to the hearse.
Seventh-graders enter iPhone business
A pair of Chicago seventh-graders said their iPhone application, "The Mathmaster," is aimed at raising funds for further iPhone and Internet projects.
Sam Kaplan and Louie Harboe, students at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, said their company, Tapware, has a second iPhone application on the way based around their beverage-rating Web site, sipthatdrink.com, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday.
The boys said they developed their first program, "The Mathmaster," in about a month. The program purports to help students practice square roots and multiplication tables.
"Our goal was to get approved by the app store, sell a bunch of copies and make more apps," Kaplan said.
"Since the fifth grade, we've had this idea of working together and becoming successful with our Web site ideas," Harboe said. "We've thought of a lot of strange and different ideas."
Web site picks top 'teeny' NYC apartment
An apartment design Web site has named a New York man's 210-square-foot dwelling as the top tiny apartment in the city.
Apartmenttherapy.com awarded first place in the "teeny tiny" division of the apartment design contest to the West Side domicile of Kevin Patterson, 32, for his use of color, lighting, mirrors and creative storage in the small apartment, the New York Daily News reported Tuesday.
"Things are hidden everywhere," Patterson said of his $1,550-per-month apartment. "I'm actually not that tidy, but when people come over I can throw everything in cabinets."
"In a space so small, you kind of have to stay minimalist or it gets really claustrophobic," he said.
Patterson said that while his apartment was not the most elaborate in the category, it resonated with contest voters who could relate to the decor.
"A lot of people were commenting, 'Oh, I have the same bed spread from West Elm or the same couch from Ikea,'" he said. "They said, 'Oh, that's a good idea, I should try that.'"
Brit pub finds smoking 'loophole'
The landlady of a British pub said she has found a "legal loophole" to allow her to bring back indoor smoking by opening a "smoking research center."
Kerry Fenton, 36, said one of her customers, James Martin, 40, studied The Smoke-Free Regulations 2007 and found a "legal loophole" indicating the Cutting Edge pub in Barnsley, England, could offer indoor smoking if a room in the building was classified as a "smoking research center," the Daily Mail reported Tuesday.
She said the system works by allowing customers to smoke in the designated room after they fill out a research survey about their smoking habits. Fenton said the move has been a boon for business.
"Before our research center opened we were lucky to get 10 people in at a weekend and we were struggling to survive. It's certainly given business a shot in the arm and it's all in the name of research, legal and above aboard," she said.
Local authorities said they are investigating the matter.
Police: Woman took $1,000 in razor blades
Authorities in Florida said a woman accused of felony grand theft allegedly stole more than $1,000 worth of razor blades from a Wal-Mart store.
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office said in a report that security cameras recorded Nicole Chlebina, 29, of Bradenton, and another woman, who has not been identified, taking the razor blades from the Sarasota store, the Bradenton Herald reported Tuesday.
The report said Chlebina was charged with the crime after she was arrested Sunday by Bradenton police on an unrelated theft charge.
Chlebina was released from the Manatee County Jail after posting $2,000 bond.
Teddy bear barred from boarding plane
A mother said her 6-year-old daughter's teddy bear was kept off a flight in Scotland by a check-in clerk who classified the doll as "excess baggage."
Amparo Peris-Bordes, 38, said she was told by the easyJet check-in clerk at the Glasgow, Scotland, airport that she would have to pay $14 to have the bear belonging to her daughter, Alba, stored with the checked luggage, The Daily Mail reported Tuesday.
Peris-Bordes said she decided to mail the bear back to her Willingham, England, home after a heated discussion with the female clerk.
"I was totally stunned when they said Alba couldn't have the bear in the cabin with her," she said. "I was carrying a big waterproof coat that was much bigger than the teddy and was allowed to take that on -- it was just a complete lack of common sense."
A spokesman for the airline said the company is offering to pay Peris-Bordes' postage costs.
"We have a strict baggage allowance on all our flights and this bear was not a small bear -- it could not fit into their hand baggage," he said. "However we do see that a common sense approach should have been taken and so this time we are offering to reimburse the parent concerned for postage."
"It is worth passengers considering that while we have restrictions as to size, unlike other airlines we have no restrictions on weight," he said.
Skin demand threatens Nigeria crocs
Thirty-five year-old Dauda followed his father Maifata, whose name means "The Skin Man", into the family business of tanning crocodile and python pelts when he was just 15.
At his tannery in the old part of Nigeria's main northern city of Kano dozens of workers clean and cure the skins. In a good month they look to "process" up to 20,000 animals.
"We have been tanning snake and crocodile skins here for 120 years, but in the last few years we had a boost in our business... there is more demand and there is more market for it," Dauda told AFP.
Some crocodiles are still alive when they are brought to the tannery. After their jaws are roped together, they are turned on their backs before their throats are slit.
The meat is sold to people in the south of the country and the skins, once tanned, are exported to India, Saudi Arabia and now to China, to be made into high-quality leather products such as handbags and shoes.
Processed python skin sells for four dollars a square metre, while a crocodile pelt can bring in between 40 and 170 dollars depending on its size, explained Dauda.
He took a wooden pole to stir a pit containing a putrid smelling concoction of ash, potash and soda ash in which scores of python and crocodile skins were being soaked.
"It is a fact the volume of supplies has dropped in a decade which is perhaps an indication the rate of killing is higher than their regeneration rate, but this is a business we can't stop because it is very lucrative."
Environmental activists are furious that crocodiles might soon face extinction in Nigeria, especially if their hides are simply going to become fashion accessories for the wealthy.
"The trade is unregulated, is illegal, is not recorded. Two species are almost extinct now," Mathew Dore, an environmentalist who has worked with crocodiles for more than 25 years, told AFP.
He said the Nile crocodile, whose skin carries the most value, is "very, very scarce, almost extinct" in Nigeria, and the last time he saw the rarer long-snouted variety was 20 years ago in a zoo.
"The most abundant species now is the West African dwarf crocodile most commonly found in the Niger Delta, and with all this oil pollution and poverty issues, dependence on the crocodile (market) is continuous and unregulated," he told AFP from the southern state of Edo.
It is no coincidence the hide of the West African dwarf crocodile is not so prized for leather goods.
"Ninety percent of the skins are from illegally hunted animals," said environmental activist Desmond Majekodunmi.
"The population has been absolutely decimated. Immediate action needs to be taken, otherwise we will find our crocodile population has gone below the capacity to regenerate itself."
Local crocodile stocks have become so depleted hunters are now bringing in animals from Cameroon, Chad and Ghana.
A 1985 Nigerian law supposed to protect the crocodile and the python does not stop their skins being sold at Lagos airport, right under the eyes of customs agents.
"It does not require much effort to clear the skins at the airport. All you need to do is to pay the officials off," Dauda told AFP. "The officials at the airport... sometimes visit this tannery and we give them some token even if we have no goods to export."
Local Nigerian officials blamed the federal government for the failure to enforce the law.
"The responsibility of stopping trade in the skins of endangered species such as crocodiles lies with the federal government that controls the airports and security agencies," state environment commissioner Garba Yusuf told AFP.
"If the security agencies live up to their duty of arresting and prosecuting offenders, the trade will be stopped because once it becomes impossible to export the skins the demand will drop and the tanners and traders will be out of business."
Dore said crocodile farming was virtually unheard of in Nigeria as would-be farmers looking for short-term profitability were often deterred by the gestation period.
Crocodiles do not reproduce until age five and so a farmer typically has to wait for 10 or 15 years until he can start selling animals, said Dore, who tried bred the animals himself for a decade.
The Nile crocodile was listed as "Lower Risk" on the 1996 World Conservation Union (IUCN) list of endangered species.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists it as threatened with extinction in certain areas and "not threatened, but trade must be controlled" in others.
Climate change driving Michigan mammals north
The finding, by researchers at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Ohio's Miami University, appears in the June issue of the journal Global Change Biology.
"When you read about changes in flora and fauna related to climatic warming, most of what you read is either predictive—they're talking about things that are going to happen in the future—or it's restricted to single species living in extreme or remote environments, like polar bears in the Arctic," said lead author Philip Myers, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at U-M. "But this study documents things that are happening right now, here at home."
What will be the ultimate impact of Michigan's changing mammal communities?
"We're talking about the commonest mammals there, mammals that have considerable ecological impact," Myers said. "They disperse seeds, they eat seeds, they eat the insects that kill trees, they disperse the fungus that grows in tree roots that is necessary for trees to grow, and they're the prey base for a huge number of carnivorous birds, mammals and snakes. But we don't know enough about their natural history to know whether replacing a northern species with a southern equivalent is going to pass unnoticed or is going to be catastrophic. It could work either way.
"What we can say is that the potential is there for serious changes to happen, and it would be really smart of us to figure it out, but that will require a lot of detailed, focused ecological research."
In the study, Myers and coworkers analyzed distribution and abundance records of opossums and eight species of small forest rodents. In addition to data collected by live-trapping animals over the past 30 years, the researchers relied heavily on specimens and notes in research museums including the U-M Museum of Zoology and the Michigan State University Museum.
"Museum collections have been underutilized in studying the effects of climate change," Myers said. "We're fortunate in Michigan to have an amazing resource in the U-M Museum of Zoology collection, which contains great records of thousands of Michigan species from hundreds of locations, sampled over the past 100 years." One study area proved especially valuable for long-term comparisons. The Huron Mountain Club, an 18,000-acre tract of pristine forest in Michigan's Upper Peninsula owned by a private association, includes a 6,400- acre research area where scientists are allowed to carry out field work. The non-profit Huron Mountain Wildlife Foundation has funded three animal surveys there: the first between 1939 and 1942, the second in 1972-1973 and the most recent in 2004-2005, when U-M graduate student Allison Poor Haraminac used methods and trapping grids like those used in the earlier studies.
Combining trapping data from Huron Mountain Club and other locations with museum material and road kill reports, the researchers ended up with a total of 50,000 records, 14,614 of which were for the nine mammal species in the study. When those records were analyzed, they painted a clear picture of mammals on the move.
Of the nine mammal species examined, four have established strongholds or increased in abundance, while five have declined. The increasing species—white-footed mice, southern flying squirrels, eastern chipmunks and common opossums—all are southern species, while the declining species—woodland deer mice, southern red-backed voles, northern flying squirrels, woodland jumping mice, and least chipmunks—are all northern species.
The south-to-north expansion pattern is what you'd expect if climate change is driving the advance, but could there be other explanations, such as forest regeneration or human influence?
"Clearly there's a lot more forest now than in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when logging and fires almost completely destroyed the forests of the northern Great Lakes region," Myers said. "But that doesn't work as an explanation for the patterns we see, because the species that are moving in and becoming more common are actually ones that do very well when forests are cut over." What's more, the change is happening even in the uncut forest of the Huron Mountain Club.
Similarly, increases in human population and the changes in land use that go along with them can't completely explain the changing mammal distribution and abundance patterns, Myers said. For one thing, the mammal changes are not restricted to habitats that have been disturbed by human habitation. For another, they're seen both in the Lower Peninsula, where the human population has increased over the past 50 years, and in the Upper Peninsula, where the trend has been in the opposite direction.
That leaves warming climate as the likely cause. But has such warming actually occurred in Michigan? To investigate, the researchers downloaded maximum and minimum daily temperatures from the National Climate Data Center for 16 weather stations in the Upper Peninsula, where changes in the small forest rodent community have been especially pronounced. They then calculated monthly averages for minimum and maximum daily temperatures for each year between 1970 and 2007 for each station and for the region as a whole.
Across all 16 sites, average annual minimum daily temperatures increased significantly over the 37-year period. Average annual maximum daily temperatures also rose, although not as dramatically.
The research team's results and conclusions dovetail with those of other groups that have found northward expansions of particular species in Wisconsin and Ontario and a shift from lower to higher elevations in the Yosemite National Park.
As swine flu spreads, who should get Tamiflu?
The World Health Organization said Tuesday that countries should save antiviral drugs for those patients most at risk, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added that pregnant women in particular should take the drugs if they are diagnosed with swine flu - even though the effects on the fetus are not completely known.
European countries have been using antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza much more aggressively than the United States and Mexico - administering it whenever possible in an attempt to contain the virus before it spreads more widely.
Instead, the WHO recommends that antivirals be targeted mainly at people already suffering from other diseases or complications - such as pregnancy - that can lower a body's defenses against flu, WHO medical expert Dr. Nikki Shindo said.
Pregnant women are more likely to suffer pneumonia when they catch flu, and flu infections raised the risk of premature birth in past epidemics. A pregnant Texas woman who had swine flu died last week, and at least 20 other pregnant women have swine flu, including some with severe complications.
For all these reasons, risks from the virus are greater than the unknown risks to the fetus from Tamiflu and Relenza, said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We really want to get the word out about the likely benefits of prompt antiviral treatment" for pregnant women, she said.
Mexico is now giving Tamiflu to anyone who has had direct contact with a person infected with swine flu, Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said. And now that schools are back in session, authorities plan to give Tamiflu to any children who show symptoms and are suspected of being infected.
CDC officials said the swine flu may seem to be mild now, but they worry the virus will mutate into something more dangerous - perhaps by combining with the more deadly but less easily spread bird flu virus circulating in Asia and Africa. Another concern is that it will combine with the northern winter's seasonal H1N1 virus. While not unusually virulent, it was resistant to Tamiflu, and health officials worry that it could make the new swine flu resistant to Tamiflu as well.
The nearly 6,000 confirmed cases worldwide so far have included 63 deaths, and Mexico's death toll rose by two on Tuesday to 58, with 2,282 confirmed infections. But Cordova said the worst appears over - and the more cases the country confirms, the less deadly the virus appears. The increasing toll reflects a testing backlog, Cordova said, with the last confirmed case on May 8.
The US has the world's highest caseload, at more than 3,000 infections in 45 US states, but many countries have focused their energy on containing the spread from Mexico, rather than the US Cuba, Thailand and Finland reported their first cases Tuesday, all in people who had returned from Mexico, and criticism of Mexico's handling of the crisis continues.
Cuba's first case - a Mexican student attending a Cuban medical school - came despite strict restrictions on flights and travelers, prompting former president Fidel Castro to accuse Mexico of hiding the epidemic until after President Barack Obama visited last month.
Mexico has denied hiding anything - and the timeline supports this: Obama's April 16 visit came a week before Canadian and US scientists identified swine flu in Mexican patients, at which point Mexico quickly imposed an unprecedented shutdown of most aspects of public life for days. "The response by Mexico's health care system and the country's transparency in the way it conducted itself has allowed all nations ... to be able to take preventive measures in a timely manner so they could combat this illness," President Felipe Calderon said Tuesday.
China said it has tracked down and quarantined most passengers who shared flights with the mainland's first known swine flu sufferer - a Chinese graduate student from the US who is said to be improving.
"We must attach great importance to the fact that the flu epidemic is still spreading in some countries and regions, and that China has discovered one case," said President Hu Jintao.
About 260 people were quarantined in Beijing, including 70 foreigners, the China Daily reported. In Sichuan province, the government said another 95 people were being isolated.
With the virus now spreading worldwide, Swiss pharmaceuticals company Roche Holding AG announced it is donating enough Tamiflu for 5.65 million more people to WHO. A further 650,000 packets containing smaller doses of the drug will be used to create a new stockpile for children.
At the start of the outbreak, Mexico had enough Tamiflu for 1 million people, and has since received more, building reserves of 1.5 million courses.
Each country's health experts must decide if infected people should immediately be treated with antivirals, Shindo said - a decision that also must take into account how many antivirals are available.
"As part of pandemic preparedness plans, we urge countries to plan for prioritization," Shindo said.
Mexico's overburdened health system has been strained. Dozens of government doctors and nurses marched and blocked streets in the Gulf coast city of Jalapa to demand higher pay and better working conditions.
Mexico also is trying to revive its economy after the epidemic pummeled tourism, the country's third-largest source of legal foreign income. Cordova said there have been no swine flu cases in five top Mexican vacation spots, including Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, Cozumel, Mazatlan and Zihuatanejo.
But with incoming flights virtually empty of tourists, Tourism Secretary Rodolfo Elizondo said a $90 million publicity campaign would focus on encouraing Mexicans to vacation at home.
Promoting trips by foreigners now, he said, "would be like throwing money away."
Negative mood-related drinking may mean vulnerability for major depression and alcohol dependence
"Although the frequent co-occurrence of AD and MD is widely recognized, the association between the disorders works differently for different people," explained Kelly Young-Wolff, whose master's thesis provided the stimulus for the study. "There are likely multiple mechanisms that result in the disorders co-occurring, for example, having MD increases the risk to develop AD, having AD increases the risk to develop MD; and causal factors - such as genetic risk or social circumstances - also contribute to developing both disorders."
The association can also differ by gender, added Victor Hesselbrock, professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.
"Studies of both clinical and community samples have found that primary depression - depression occurs first, followed by alcoholism - is more typical in females while primary alcoholism - alcoholism followed by depression - is more common among males. Furthermore, while most persons affected with alcoholism do report a lifetime history of significant depressive symptoms, the reverse is not true. Most people with depression do not report long periods of heavy drinking nor do they report significant numbers of lifetime AD symptoms."
"Previous research had shown that individuals with higher than average scores on mood-related drinking scales are at increased risk to develop heavy drinking and AD," said Young-Wolff. "There is also evidence for familial risk factors, such as shared social and environmental or genetic factors, that contribute to overlapping risk for MD and AD, and for AD and mood-related drinking motives. Yet no study had examined whether mood-related drinking motives explain the overlapping familial risk for MD and AD."
Researchers examined 5,181 individuals (2,928 males, 2253 females), aged 30 and older, drawn from the Virginia Adult Twin Study of Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders, a longitudinal study of psychopathology in two samples of adult twins. Participants completed a clinical interview which assessed lifetime MD, AD, and mood-related drinking motives.
"Our study suggests that the familial factors that underlie mood-related drinking motives are the same factors that contribute to the overlapping familial risk for MD and AD," said Young-Wolff. "The results are consistent with an indirect role for mood-related drinking motives in risk for depression and AD, and suggest that individuals with strong mood-related drinking motives may be vulnerable to developing both MD and AD.
"In short," said Hesselbrock," the findings indicate that the drinking motives for both males and females who are well into the period of risk for both AD and for major depressive disorder are similar. However, it should be noted that the findings do not address motives regarding the initiation of drinking behavior in adolescence; the findings apply only to the subjects' current drinking behavior. Since this was not a longitudinal study that began in adolescence, it cannot be assumed that these subjects' motives for beginning to drink when they were teenagers were to cope with feelings of depression."
"We might remember that there are many people with high mood-related drinking motives who do not have a history of MD or AD," cautioned Carol A. Prescott, professor of psychology at the University of Southern California as well as corresponding author for the study. "We would argue that the occasional use of alcohol to relax or unwind is not necessarily a bad idea. What should be avoided is heavy drinking as a regular coping strategy, since this can lead to other problems and is often a means of avoiding dealing with the issues that are contributing to the negative emotions."
Both Prescott and Hesselbrock said these findings could help clinicians identify individuals at risk for both MD and AD, with a focus on examining motives for drinking, as well as finding alternative strategies for coping with negative mood states.
"I think it is important that family members understand that there is a real link between drinking and depression," said Hesselbrock. "While the family member who is drinking may believe that they are doing so to cope with and relieve their symptoms of depression -and there is some pharmacological basis for this - they probably do not realize that their drinking will only prolong and exacerbate the negative feelings. For the person without AD, reducing/stopping drinking will help reduce the negative effect/depression. For the person with MD, stopping drinking will help reduce depression symptoms but not totally relieve the depression. It is a complex picture."
Aspirin appears to help lower risk of stroke for patients with peripheral artery disease
Although aspirin is effective in the prevention of cardiovascular events in patients with symptomatic coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease, its effect in patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD) has been uncertain, according to background information in the article. Despite limited supporting data, some current guidelines recommend aspirin use for patients with PAD (partial or total blockage of an artery, usually one leading to a leg or arm, with symptoms including fatigue, cramping and pain from walking; and when the arm is in motion, discomfort, heaviness, tiredness and cramping).
To assess the effect of aspirin on cardiovascular event rates in patients with PAD, Jeffrey S. Berger, M.D., M.S., of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis to evaluate available evidence from randomized controlled trials of aspirin therapy, with or without dipyridamole (an antiplatelet agent), that reported cardiovascular event rates (the primary events for this analysis were nonfatal myocardial infarction [MI; heart attack], nonfatal stroke, and cardiovascular death). The researchers identified 18 trials, which included 5,269 patients, of whom 2,823 were randomized to aspirin therapy (of these, 1,516 received aspirin monotherapy) and 2,446 were randomized to placebo or control.
The researchers found that a total of 251 (8.9 per cent) cardiovascular events occurred among the patients receiving any aspirin therapy compared with 269 (11.0 per cent) events among the control patients, a 12 per cent reduction in cardiovascular event rates, which was not statistically significant. Results for associations of aspirin therapy with the individual components of the primary events indicated that the risk of nonfatal stroke was significantly lower (34 per cent) in the aspirin group than in the placebo (a rate of events of 1.8 per cent vs. 3.1 per cent), but was not associated with significant reductions in all-cause or cardiovascular death, heart attack, or major bleeding.
A total of 125 cardiovascular events occurred among 1,516 patients (8.2 per cent) receiving aspirin monotherapy compared with 144 events among 1,503 patients (9.6 per cent) in the placebo or control groups. Aspirin monotherapy was associated with a 36 per cent reduction in the risk of nonfatal stroke (2.1 per cent vs. 3.4 per cent), but no statistically significant reductions in all-cause or cardiovascular death, heart attack, or major bleeding.
"Results of this meta-analysis demonstrated that for patients with PAD, aspirin therapy alone or in combination with dipyridamole did not significantly decrease the primary end point of cardiovascular events, results that may reflect limited statistical power," the authors write. "The major limitations of this meta-analysis reflect the limitations of published literature on aspirin for treating PAD. Many of these trials were small and of short duration, resulting in few major cardiovascular events."
"However the current evidence was insufficient to rule out small yet important benefits of aspirin (as suggested by the point estimate of a 12 per cent risk reduction)," they add. "Larger prospective studies of aspirin and other antiplatelet agents are warranted among patients with PAD in order to draw firm conclusions about clinical benefit and risks."
Study demonstrates link between appetite and elderly mortality
The study, published in the May issue of the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, demonstrated a link between the Daily Activity Energy Expenditure (DAEE-- an accurate measurement of total physical activity), appetite and mortality among well functioning community-dwelling adults. Information on an elderly patient's eating habits may be important for health providers regarding risk for patient deterioration and mortality.
"These findings are important because they show how subjective appetite measurement can predict death, even when adjusting for health and many other variables," said Dr. Danit Shahar, a researcher with BGU's S. Daniel Abraham International Center for Health and Nutrition and Department of Epidemiology. "Past studies failed to show an association with survival. It was thought that decreased appetite may be an indicator or a result to other health problems, and that malnutrition, rather than low appetite was associated with mortality."
"Dietary Factors in Relation to Daily Activity Energy Expenditure and Mortality among Older Adults" analyzes data from the Health, Aging and Body Composition (Health ABC) study to demonstrate that higher DAEE is strongly associated with increased appetite, resulting in lower risk of mortality in healthy older adults. Using 298 older participants (ages 70-82 years) in the Health ABC study, researchers analyzed DAEE and dietary factors, including self-reported appetite, enjoyment of eating and intake assessed by the Block Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) and Healthy Eating Index (HEI).
Participants who reported improved appetite were at lower risk for mortality. Similarly, participants who reported good appetite at baseline had a low risk for mortality. The results remained significant taking into account health status, physical activity, demographic and nutritional indices. Follow up was nine years.
Flu strains developing resistance to key antiviral drug: WHO
Nikki Shindo said relatively high rates of hospitalisation for swine flu in the United States and Mexico "rightly" prompted vaccine development "because we are also facing the risk of having resistant viruses."
"Last year we have seen widespread evidence of oseltamivir resistance in seasonal influenza," said the pandemic flu expert at a daily WHO briefing on the outbreak of influenza A(H1N1).
"So given that we have winter in Southern American countries and also the other parts of the southern hemisphere, there will be a risk of having viruses that will be highly resistant to antivirals."
Flu outbreaks are at their most active during winter.
Oseltamivir is the active ingredient in Tamiflu, an antiviral made by Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturer Roche which is at the centre of global precautions -- led by the WHO -- against influenza and a possible pandemic.
Roche said Tuesday it was donating 5.65 million treatment courses of Tamiflu to help the WHO fight the swine flu outbreak and boosted its production capacity for the next five months.
In the absence of an efficient vaccine against influenza A(H1N1) for now, only Tamiflu and Relenza, made by GlaxoSmithKline, are considered efficient drugs to keep the virus in check.
Data from the United States and Mexico suggested that nine to 10 per cent of confirmed cases of swine flu require hospitalisation, Shindo said, adding: "This clearly is different from what we see from seasonal influenza, that's for sure."
However, the WHO is preparing to publish clinical guidance to doctors and nurses on the new A(H1N1) virus this week highlighting the fact that most patients would not require hospitalisation or antiviral therapy, she said.
Shindo also highlighted different approaches to the use of antivirals to treat swine flu on either side of the Atlantic.
While the United States and Mexico tended to confine such treatment for the most vulnerable, such as those with chronic illness or pregnant women, European countries resorted to the drugs more readily.
"The European countries which are mainly importing cases have been using anti-virals very aggressively," Shindo remarked.
Mexico and the United States, where the outbreak was first uncovered last month, together account for nearly 90 per cent of the 5,251 cases of the A(H1N1) virus confirmed by the WHO in 30 countries.
However, there were hints this week that the virus might have already been circulating more widely there when it was first uncovered.
Anne Schuchat, the interim deputy director for science and public health at the Centres for Disease Control said the 2,600 confirmed cases in the United States represented just the tip of the iceberg of actual infections.
The vast majority of people who became ill with the virus tended to recover in the same way as with seasonal flu and probably did not seek laboratory testing, she explained.
Science magazine also released online a study by the WHO Rapid Pandemic Assessment Collaboration, which includes CDC scientists, which estimated that 23,000 people had been infected by the A(H1N1) virus in Mexico.
Brain chemical reduces anxiety, increases survival of new cells
The animal study, in the May 13 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, shows an important role for fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2), a chemical important in brain development, in anxiety. The findings advance understanding of cellular mechanisms involved in anxiety and illuminate the role of neurogenesis, or cell birth and integration in the adult brain, in this process. Together, these findings may offer new drug targets for the treatment of anxiety and potentially for depression as well.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 40 million Americans adults have anxiety disorders, and 14.8 million suffer from major depression. These disorders often co-occur: people with anxiety frequently also have depression, and research suggests that the two disorders may share common causes. Previous human studies led by the senior author, Huda Akil, PhD, at the University of Michigan and her collaborators in the Pritzker Consortium, showed that people with severe depression had low levels of FGF2 and other related chemicals. However, it was unclear whether reductions in FGF2 were the cause or effect of the disease.
This new study, led by Javier Perez, PhD, also at the University of Michigan, examined FGF2 levels in rats selectively bred for high or low anxiety for over 19 generations. Consistent with the human depression studies, the researchers found lower FGF2 levels in rats bred for high anxiety compared to those bred for low anxiety.
The study also suggests that environmental enrichment reduces anxiety by altering FGF2. Other researchers have shown that anxiety behaviors in rats can be modified by making changes to their environment, perhaps akin to lifestyle changes for people. Perez and colleagues found that giving the high-anxiety rats a series of new toys reduced anxiety behaviors and increased their levels of FGF2. Furthermore, they found that FGF2 treatment alone reduced anxiety behaviors in the high-anxiety rats.
"We have discovered that FGF2 has two important new roles: it's a genetic vulnerability factor for anxiety and a mediator for how the environment affects different individuals. This is surprising, as FGF2 and related molecules are known primarily for organizing the brain during development and repairing it after injury," Perez said.
Finally, the findings suggest that part of FGF2's role in reducing anxiety may be due to its ability to increase the survival of new cells in a brain region called the hippocampus. Previous research has suggested that depression decreases the production and incorporation of new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis. Although the researchers found that high-anxiety rats produced the same number of new brain cells as low-anxiety rats, they found decreased survival of new brain cells in high-anxiety rats compared to low-anxiety rats. However, FGF2 treatment and environmental enrichment each restored brain cell survival.
"This discovery may pave the way for new, more specific treatments for anxiety that will not be based on sedation — like currently prescribed drugs — but will instead fight the real cause of the disease," said Pier Vincenzo Piazza, MD, PhD, Director of the Neurocentre Magendie an INSERM/University of Bordeaux institution in France, an expert on the role of neurogenesis in addiction and anxiety who was not involved in the current study.
Google digging deeper to improve search results
The changes previewed Tuesday include options that will confine Google's search results to a specific time period or category, such as product reviews.
The Internet search leader also plans to roll out "Google Squared," a tool that will present results in a format similar to a spreadsheet.
The approach pulls data from other Web sites and assembles them into packages that could give people less reason to click away from Google. If that happens, Google might face even more complaints about its penchant for making money off content created by other companies and individuals. The new tools are expected to be available this month.
A new twist on tornado study
Researchers are out to change that beginning this week; the largest tornado research project in history hit the road Monday. More than 100 meteorologists and students in more than 40 vehicles will roam the Great Plains for the next five weeks, bringing a panoply of storm-detecting devices to bear on one of the most elusive, dreaded and least understood weather phenomena.
The ultimate aim is to extend the average warning time for tornadoes, now at about 13 minutes in the United States.
"The toll tornadoes take on an annual basis on life and property in the US is considerable," said Brad Smull, an associate program director with the National Science Foundation, the lead funding agency for the VORTEX2 project. "The fact that we still are unable to accurately warn on the timing and location and intensity of tornadoes reaching the ground is a frustration to the scientists, and we know it's a frustration to the public. So in our belief, it merits some special attention."
The $11 million project, which will include another five-week field deployment in 2010, involves most of the major atmospheric agencies in the United States, Canada, Finland and Australia and 10 colleges and universities. Researchers hope to tangle with tornadoes from Texas northward into southern Minnesota.
But don't call it tornado-chasing.
"Chasing can occur without a single instrument," said Roger Wakimoto, director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research Earth Observing Laboratory and a principal investigator for VORTEX2. "We're interested in collecting data, whereas the majority of storm chasers are just there to get the adrenaline rush and take a few movies and still pictures. There's a huge difference."
VORTEX2 is the younger but bigger brother of VORTEX1. That effort, in 1994 and 1995, determined that downdrafts trailing a supercell thunderstorm and even air circulation close to the ground may be critical factors in tornado formation. But it didn't reveal why less than 20 per cent of supercell thunderstorms, which generate tornadoes, actually do.
"Why aren't there zillions of tornadoes?" wondered Todd Krause, warning coordination meteorologist for the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service. "There are times when you've got two thunderstorms that look identical on radar, but one produces a tornado and the other one doesn't. Why is that?"
VORTEX1 (which stands for Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment) saw the first use of a truck-mounted radar, the so-called "Doppler on Wheels." But there was only one such unit and the researchers were based in Norman, Okla. The "fully nomadic" VORTEX2 will employ 14 radar-equipped vehicles along with mobile and stationary weather sensors, weather balloons and photographers.
"We don't know in the morning where we're going to be staying at night," Wakimoto said. "Hopefully we'll know where all the Laundromats are."
The mobile research teams will avoid major cities because of traffic congestion and visual obstructions.
The key, Smull said, will be collection of both broad and fine-scale views of tornadoes, in addition to data on temperature changes and close-to-the-ground wind speeds near the funnels. Ground-level wind speeds of tornadoes remain only estimates based on damage, because wind instruments have usually been destroyed by the storms.
One idea about tornadoes could be turned upside down. Wakimoto hopes to investigate more deeply the notion that tornadoes may actually form from the bottom up, much like dust devils or water spouts.
Space junk raises risks for Hubble repair mission
The telescope orbits about 350 miles above Earth, a far dirtier place than where shuttles normally fly. And all those tiny projectiles raise the constant threat of a potentially fatal collision.
"It's a riskier environment when we go to this altitude," said NASA safety chief Bryan O'Connor, a former shuttle commander. But, he added, it's a risk that NASA can handle.
After the 2003 Columbia accident, just going up to Hubble was deemed too dangerous because flying to the telescope entails climbing to a different orbit than the international space station. That means the shuttle cannot use the outpost as a safe harbor in an emergency.
NASA now puts the risk for a catastrophic collision with junk during the mission at 1 in 229 - greater than typical flights to the space station but lower than the agency's initial estimates.
On Wednesday, the crew will grab the telescope and tuck it inside the shuttle's cargo bay, where spacewalking astronauts will make repairs and upgrades over the next week. The work begins Thursday.
The crew spent Tuesday checking the outside of the shuttle for any damage from debris during launch, finding four nicks that initially seem minor. It's a standard procedure since Columbia got hit by a piece of foam during launch and later disintegrated during re-entry.
But the biggest danger on any shuttle flight is getting hit with space junk or tiny space rocks at high speeds during orbit, not during launch. Because objects circle the Earth at high speed, something as small as one-third the width of a dime can penetrate the shuttle's cabin, causing a major - maybe even fatal - problem, according to NASA.
And where Atlantis is camped out has only gotten messier recently. In 2007, China destroyed one of its satellites to test a weapon, scattering debris. In February, a dead Russian satellite and an American communications satellite collided, spreading more trash in higher orbits.
So far, space junk trackers have spotted about 950 pieces from this year's crash and more than 2,500 from the 2007 explosion. And there's much more they have not seen.
Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who tracks objects in orbit, said "people are going to be watching (Atlantis' mission) very carefully. It's a real danger."
While it's unlikely debris will cause a serious problem, McDowell expects Atlantis to come home "with a couple major dings in its windshield or radiator."
NASA's top space junk expert said it's important to put the worries into perspective.
"It's not something to lose sleep over," said NASA chief space debris scientist Nicholas Johnson. "We do take it very, very seriously, but in the scheme of things, it's a small risk."
Still, Johnson acknowledged that the higher orbit is far more dangerous than the space station's position 225 miles above Earth.
"Hubble is being pummeled regularly," Johnson said. "We see evidence of thousands of impacts."
Initially, when Johnson and other experts at the Johnson Space Center calculated the risk for losing Atlantis because of debris, it was slightly worse than 1 in 200.
That's the threshold for NASA to think twice about doing the flight. Engineers came up with some maneuvers to reduce the likelihood of getting hit, and have now decided the risk is an acceptable 1 in 229. That risk is usually about 1 in 300 during space station missions.
NASA canceled this Hubble mission in 2004, citing the risks of not being able to go to the space station in case of emergency. But the mission was reinstated after engineers devised ways to patch damage in flight, and the space agency created a plan for a quick rescue flight if needed. The shuttle Endeavour sits on the launch pad on standby to retrieve the Atlantis crew if the shuttle is too damaged to fly home.
NASA also found other ways to curb the risk of damage. As soon as Atlantis finishes fixing Hubble and places it back in orbit, the shuttle will skedaddle down to a lower, cleaner and safer orbit. The crew will also make another inspection of the shuttle before heading back to Earth.
In addition, Atlantis is flying an egg-shaped orbit, going as high as 350 miles to catch up to Hubble, but also dropping as close as 135 miles, making it less prone to space junk and easier for a rescue flight if necessary, according to NASA spokesman Rob Navias.
The Air Force is tracking more than 19,000 objects in all sorts of orbits - most of it junk.
The dirtiest spots are at 525 miles up where the Chinese satellite was destroyed and 490 miles, where the Russian-American satellite collision occurred.
Even though the Hubble-Atlantis orbit is more than 100 miles below those zones, it's too close for complete comfort. That's because the trash spreads into nearby orbits, Johnson said.
And the higher the space junk orbits, the longer it stays aloft because there's even less drag from the ultra-thin atmosphere pulling stuff down. For example, a 4-inch object 490 miles up will stay in orbit for more than a century, Johnson said.
At Hubble's altitude, the same object would come down in about a decade; from the space station, it would be gone in a few months.
The Air Force Space Command tracks debris larger than 4 inches and gives warning to NASA and others if trash is projected to come close to astronauts. Twice in the past year, NASA has moved the space station to dodge nearby junk. But that's only the debris the Air Force can track.
Objects between one-tenth of an inch and 4 inches are dangerous enough to cause major and even fatal damage, but cannot be specifically tracked.
"The greatest risk to space missions comes from the non-trackable debris," Johnson said.
Liberal Democrat claims for £308,000 flat used by daughter as 'bolt hole’
Andrew George, the MP for St Ives, claims £847 a month from taxpayers on mortgage interest payments for the riverside flat. But the home insurance policy included on his expenses file is in the name of his 21-year-old daughter, Morvah George, a student who has worked as a professional model and as an intern for her father in Parliament.
Last night, Mr George admitted his daughter kept some of her belongings there and used it as a “bolt-hole” but denied she spent more time there than him. He said his insurers had prevented him from being named on the policy as well as on one at his Cornish home.
Mr George’s claims reveal how MPs are able to use the system to buy properties from which their families can benefit.
The disclosures come on the sixth day of The Daily Telegraph’s investigation into MPs’ expenses, which shows that Liberal Democrats have made claims just as questionable as their Labour and Conservative counterparts. Files seen by this newspaper show:
Nick Clegg, the party leader, claimed the maximum possible on his second home allowance and exceeded his budget by more than £100 at the same time as he was calling for the reform of the system. He has now promised to repay a phone bill that included calls to Colombia and Vietnam.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the former leader, hired an interior designer to refurbish his flat in central London, spending nearly £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on scatter cushions, a king-sized bed and a flat screen television.
Chris Huhne, the party’s home affairs spokesman, claimed for a £119 trouser press that was delivered to his main home rather than his designated second address. He has agreed to pay back the money. He also claimed for fluffy dusters and the upkeep of his “pergola cross beam”.
Lembit Opik, the high-profile housing spokesman, charged taxpayers for a £40 court summons he received for the non-payment of his council tax. He will refund it.
Julia Goldsworthy, the Treasury spokesman, bought a leather rocking chair from Heal’s as she spent thousands of pounds just days before the deadline for using the second homes allowance.
One of the most questionable cases is that of Mr George, an MP since 1997. He lives in his Cornish constituency with his wife and stayed in hotels in the capital when at Westminster.
In March 2006, he told the fees office he was planning to lease a flat and then used his second home allowance before securing the lease, claiming back £1,898 spent on furnishings, including a sofa and beds that were in fact delivered to his main home in Cornwall.
However, he continued to stay in hotels in the capital and eight months later was sent a letter by Commons officials stating: “I should be grateful if you would let me know whether or not you still intend to lease the flat.”
Mr George eventually bought a two-bed flat overlooking the Thames, in a gated block in Roth**er**hithe, for £308,000 in January 2007 and soon after put in a £3,999 bill for furniture and household items including a television, lamps, blinds, a bed and a futon. This was reduced by £1,488.95 by the fees office, which said: “You have already claimed for a bed in anticipation of your purchase of a second home. You may not claim living costs for anyone other than yourself.”
Mr George complained, writing back: “I wanted two beds for the second bedroom when my family come to stay.”
He was allowed to claim back the £538 cost of a futon after telling them it was “living room furniture” rather than another bed, and the following month claimed £388.41 for more furniture and homeware.
In 2007-08, he billed taxpayers for £1,343.81 in household goods and redecoration including a new bath, although a claim to have the archway between the hallway and lounge removed was rejected. His file shows that the £223.04 annual home insurance policy with the Post Office was taken out solely in the name of his daughter, listed as “Miss M George”. She began studying in London in autumn 2007, just months after her father bought the flat.
Commons rules state that MPs must only use the second homes allowance to claim back living costs that they themselves incur.
Neighbours confirmed they had seen Miss George regularly in the area. Last night her father said she had been in halls of residence in her first year and now lived with her boyfriend. He admitted she did stay in his riverside flat but denied she was there more often than him.
“It’s her bolt-hole, she comes there to and fro which is something I appreciate because I’m not there all the time. It suits me and it suits her. She keeps her belongings there. She comes there to pick up things and sometimes it’s the best place for us to meet.”
He added: “All of the items purchased were moved into the flat where they are now, after having been moved to storage in London.
“My wife arranged the insurance for the flat. Because we have Post Office insurance on our main home in Cornwall, we were not allowed to have our name on another policy at another address. We therefore asked our daughter if she would be the named person as she occasionally keeps an eye on the flat for us.”
Taliban use voter cards as 'visas'
Taliban fighters are using recently acquired voter identification cards as makeshift passports to smooth border crossings from Pakistan and ease travel between cities in Kandahar's southern provinces.
When produced, the voter registration cards give fighters an appearance of legitimacy, they say, and help them “trick” Afghan security and international forces into allowing them to sail through police and army checkpoints set up to limit the militants' mobility.
Interviews with several mid-level Taliban commanders and low-level fighters spread across southern Kandahar province, including the Taliban-dominated villages of Mushan and Zangabad, revealed that insurgents have no intention of using their voter registration cards to participate in the coming election. “We will not be allowed to vote … because this government is not for us. It is only for slaves of the USA and others, and we reject this government,” one fighter hiding out west of Kandahar city told a Globe researcher.
Instead, the militants interviewed explained that they applied for the cards on the advice of senior commanders in Quetta, Pakistan, who suggested the cards might help insurgents traverse southern Afghanistan's dangerous highways, which are controlled by Afghan troops in some sections and by Taliban in others.
And so far, they say, the cards have often worked.
“If we want to go into the city or other districts, we face NATO forces or [Afghan] police … if we show these kinds of cards they let us go free and don't make any problems against us,” the same fighter said.
A Canadian military spokesman deferred comment on the issue to Afghan officials. However, Kandahar's recently appointed Governor, Tooryalai Wesa, said he has not had any reports of Taliban using voter registration cards as if they are travel visas. “This is propaganda,” he said. “They're just putting words out. They cannot fight face to face, so this is what they do. They put words in the media.”
Abdul Qahir Wasifi, a Kandahar-based spokesman for Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, openly invited Taliban supporters to attend voter registration drives held in January and February of this year. At the time, a Taliban spokesman rejected the suggestion, calling it “disgusting.” But unofficially, junior fighters said, many were advised to try getting the cards. Mr. Wasifi said there was no way to prevent them from doing so. “Every Afghan person, according to our constitution, they can get the cards to vote,” he said. “I don't know who is a Talib and who is not.”
The problem of not being able to visually distinguish Taliban militants from regular citizens makes it difficult for election officials to curb the misuse of the registration cards, added Noor Mohammad Noor, a national spokesman for the election commission. “The Taliban don't have any specific uniform, so the people who came to the [voter registration drive] got their registration cards.”
Mr. Noor said the cards “should only be used for voting” and Afghan security officials should stop accepting them as valid pieces of identification ahead of the elections.
But it was unclear whether Afghan officials will make any push to do so. Top Afghan security officials in Kandahar are currently immersed in a continuing operation to flush insurgents and their weapons caches out of areas in the city known to harbour them. They are also in the early stages of developing a security plan for the election, scheduled for August, to ensure residents of the province can make it safely to the polls. If there are obstructions that day from insurgents though, it will not be because they are trying to vote.
“If any one from us gives the vote, we will punish and disarm him and kick him out of the Taliban party. This is the order of our leadership,” a mid-level commander said, adding: “And we will not let the common people give their vote. This is our general policy.”
Afghan security forces are taking the threat in stride. “The enemy has always attempted to destabilize our election process,” said Brigadier-General Shir Mohammad Zazai, commander of the Afghan National Army's 205 Corps, which has troops spread across the country's south. “Our biggest concern is focusing on the upcoming elections. We want them to be safe for the people.”
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