By Steve Newman | Universal Press Syndicate
Killer virus spreads
Public health experts expressed growing concern over the spread of a new SARS-like virus as the disease claimed its sixth known fatality worldwide. The patient, who died in a London hospital on Feb. 17, may have been infected by a family member who had traveled to the Middle East. The virus was discovered in Saudi Arabia last September and is simply known as "novel coronavirus," or NCoV for short. Related to viruses found in bats, it's known to have infected at least 12 people around the world so far, half of whom died. NCoV belongs to the same broad family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). In the early 2000s, SARS killed roughly 800 people worldwide. The symptoms of both include fever and respiratory problems.
A common anti-anxiety medication now found in rivers and ponds downstream of sewage treatment plants can alter the behavior of wild fish, a new study has shown. Writing in the journal Science, Swedish researchers at Umea University showed that when wild European perch are exposed to certain concentrations of the psychiatric drug oxazepam, they become more active, less social and more frenetic in their feeding patterns. They are also more likely to swim alone in dangerous, open water. The pharmaceutically emboldened fish are both more likely to seek out wider hunting grounds and to be eaten as prey. This change in behavior may have unpredictable consequences on both the evolution of the species and on the ecosystem as a whole, the study warns. Oxazepam is one of many pharmaceutical compounds that seep into rivers and other aquatic ecosystems by way of treated wastewater.
Celebrity bear killed
The only known bear living in Switzerland was killed by a wildlife marksman after the animal frequently visited populated areas and became unafraid of humans. Known as "Mike" by his local admirers and those who followed his Twitter feed, the animal was said to pose a threat to posh Alpine resorts such as St. Moritz and Davos. But the local council had asked only that the bear be moved to a less populated area. Mike's recent adventures, closely followed by readers of Swiss tabloids and social media, included raiding a school beehive and being struck by a train. Last year, the bear unwittingly led Austrian police to a murder victim by accidentally starting an electrical fire nearby. Swiss media websites were filled with overwhelmingly negative comments over the shooting.
A wide area of eastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan was rocked by a sharp quake centered along the border of the two countries. The quake sent some rushing into the streets in Pakistan-administered areas of the Kashmir Valley.
• Earth movements were also felt in eastern Taiwan, the southern Philippines, northern New Zealand, southern Italy and interior parts of Southern California's San Diego County.
Cyclone Haruna formed and gradually intensified over the Mozambique Channel. It reached Category 2 force and developed a broad eye as it approached the southern tip of Madagascar late in the week. Outer bands of the storm were bringing locally heavy rain that caused rivers to rise on the nearby African mainland.
People living in the shadow of Java's Mount Merapi Volcano are threatened by tons of volcanic debris left by a 2010 eruption that could cascade down the mountain without warning during this rainy season's downpours. Merapi is one of Indonesia's most dangerous volcanoes. The 2010 eruption released poisonous gases and a rain of ash that fell on an area that is home to millions of people. The danger now is due to the accumulated ash on the summit and flanks of Merapi, which could mix with torrential rain and flow down mountain streambeds with catastrophic force. Hundreds of workers collect sand each day for use in cement production. They and others have been warned to stay away from streams until the danger subsides.
Hidden motion-sensor cameras have captured images of the birth of a rare and secretive giant armadillo in the Brazilian wild. The giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) is the largest of the armadillo species and can reach up to 5 feet in length and weigh up to 110 pounds. But it is very rarely seen and almost no details of its life and behavior are known. Researchers from the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project first discovered a male and a female sharing a burrow. Looking at video footage five months later, they saw a female emerging from the burrow with a distinctive baby crawling out behind her. "Documenting the birth of a giant armadillo is an exciting step forward to helping us better understand the biology and reproduction of this cryptic species and ultimately help us conserve it," said project coordinator Arnaud Desbiez.
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