DAILY DOSE: Bird flu makes deadly jump to humans; China gets ready to ‘suppress’ Elon Musk’s Starlink.

The strain of bird flu that public health officials have been closely monitoring has made the jump from animals to humans. Per the Associated Press,

An 11-year-old girl in Cambodia has died from bird flu in the country’s first known human H5N1 infection since 2014, health officials said.

Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, normally spreads in poultry and wasn’t deemed a threat to people until a 1997 outbreak among visitors to live poultry markets in Hong Kong. Most human cases worldwide have involved direct contact with infected poultry, but concerns have arisen recently about infections in a variety of mammals and the possibility the virus could evolve to spread more easily between people.

The girl from the rural southeastern province of Prey Veng became ill Feb. 16 and was sent to be treated at hospital in the capital, Phnom Penh. She was diagnosed Wednesday after suffering a fever up to 39 Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) with coughing and throat pain and died shortly afterward, the Health Ministry said in a statement Wednesday night.

While it’s not time to panic or even be seriously concerned, H5N1 deserves our attention. http://bit.ly/3IvYJMv

Speaking of attention, the World Health Organization hosted a meeting this week with H5N1 in mind. Per Reuters,

The world's leading experts on influenza met this week to discuss the threat posed to humans by a strain of H5N1 avian flu that has caused record numbers of bird deaths around the world in recent months.

The group of scientists, regulators and vaccine manufacturers meets twice a year to decide which strain of seasonal flu to include in the vaccine for the upcoming winter season, in this case for the northern hemisphere.

But it is also a chance to discuss the risk of animal viruses spilling over to humans and causing a pandemic. At this week's meeting, H5N1 clade was a key topic, the World Health Organization (WHO) and global flu experts told Reuters. They will brief reporters on both the seasonal flu vaccine composition and spillover risks later on Friday.

"We are more prepared (than for COVID), but even if we are more prepared, we are not yet prepared enough," Sylvie Briand, WHO director of global infectious hazard preparedness, said ahead of the meeting. "We need to really continue the efforts for a flu pandemic."

Let’s hope if things take a turn for the worse, the WHO doesn’t drop the ball like they did with Covid-19. http://bit.ly/3KAlZLT

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Conflict seems destined to move from Earth to space. Specifically, Beijing is making moves to clamp down on Elon Musk’s Starlink endeavor. According to the South China Morning Post,

Researchers say China plans to build a huge satellite network in near-Earth orbit to provide internet services to users around the world – and to stifle Elon Musk’s Starlink.

The project has the code name “GW”, according to a team led by associate professor Xu Can with the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Space Engineering University in Beijing. But what these letters stand for is unclear.

The GW constellation will include 12,992 satellites owned by the newly established China Satellite Network Group Co, Xu and his colleagues said in a paper about anti-Starlink measures published in the Chinese journal Command Control and Simulation on February 15.”.

The launch schedule for these satellites remains unknown, but the number would rival the scale of SpaceX’s planned network of more than 12,000 satellites by 2027.

Xu’s team said the GW satellite constellation was likely to be deployed quickly, “before the completion of Starlink”. This would “ensure that our country has a place in low orbit and prevent the Starlink constellation from excessively pre-empting low-orbit resources”, they wrote.

According to the researchers, Starlink’s satellites may use their orbital manoeuvrability to actively hit and destroy nearby targets in space. Wonder what this means for Tesla in China… http://bit.ly/3Y3rmX0

With the medicinal use of psychedelics beginning to take off in the mainstream, there are growing concerns that the indigenous communities that serve as custodians to both the knowledge of and access to the plants in question. An article in Science discusses how they can be consulted and included in the process.

Over thousands of years, Indigenous communities have cultivated relationships with and accumulated knowledge on psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms, the Amazonian botanical brew ayahuasca, and the West African shrub iboga.

More recently, psychedelics have exploded onto the stage of Western science. Clinical trials of these substances in the past 15 years have produced remarkable results in the treatment of depression, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and end-of-life anxiety. Media buzz has generated a rush to legalize their therapeutic use, catapulting the global psychedelic drugs market from $3.8 billion in 2020 to an estimated $11.82 billion by 2029. But both Native and non-Native critics say the industry is ignoring the emotional, cultural, and ecological harms it is causing the Indigenous peoples who originated psychedelic medicine.

One of those critics is Yuria Celidwen, a senior fellow at the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. She was born in Mexico into a Nahua and Maya family of healers who work with traditional plant medicine. When Celidwen moved to the United States to do research and humanitarian work, she saw no representation of Indigenous peoples in her field. Then, as Western interest in psychedelics grew, “I was seeing all these white people … pretending to know our ways,” she observes. She was struck by how much Western facilitators were profiting compared with Indigenous medicine practitioners.

Time will tell whether this is just lip-service or genuine. https://bit.ly/3ZkmNbO

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Knowledge of botanical medicines isn’t the only thing Indigenous communities have a deep understanding of. An article in Smithsonian Magazine takes a look at the scientific community has relied on them for hints about the locations of fossils. 

Around 1725, a crew of enslaved people digging in swampy ground along South Carolina’s Stono River discovered something unusual: an enormous fossilized tooth. The find puzzled the group’s enslavers, who suggested it was a remnant from the biblical great flood. But it looked familiar to the excavators, who noted its resemblance to the molar of an African elephant—an animal they’d encountered back home in the Kingdom of Kongo.

“They must have thought, ‘Well, we have them in Africa, [and] I guess they have them here, too,’” says Adrienne Mayor, a folklorist and historian of ancient science at Stanford University. “It must have been exciting for them.”

Scholars don’t know these individuals’ names or any other details of their lives. It’s possible some participated in the Stono Rebellion, the largest uprising by enslaved people in British North America, which took place on the river’s banks in 1739. But they unearthed and essentially correctly identified some of the first mammoth fossils discovered in the Americas. (Later analyses indicated the tooth, one of several found at Stono, belonged to an extinct Columbian mammoth, a relative of modern-day elephants.) These molars became key evidence in scientists’ nascent theories of extinction and evolution, decades before paleontology—the study of fossilized plants and animals—was formally established as a discipline…

Stories like these, of the enslaved people who helped kick-start paleontology and the Native American guides who led naturalists to fossils around the continent, have long been suppressed. In recent years, however, young paleontologists have pushed their field to reckon with its whitewashed history by recognizing early finds made by Black and Indigenous people.

“Looking into the past at this history of how early paleontology was conducted and how the original discoverers’ voices are almost lost, … I want to give credit where credit is due to all the folks [who] assisted in making those amazing discoveries,” says Pedro M. Monarrez, a paleobiologist at Stanford University and the lead author of a 2021 paper on racism and colonialism in Western paleontology.

Anyone see a pattern forming here with the reconsideration of Indigenous wisdom? http://bit.ly/3ISvncH

SoCal is set to see some snowfall during the next few days. While it’s difficult to attribute day to day weather to climate change, it’s still weird. Per the Los Angeles Times,

Blizzard warnings. Whiteout watches. Avalanche threats. The alerts are startlingly unusual for Southern California, a region typically defined by its sunshine, palm trees and temperate weather.

But Los Angeles and other nearby counties are bracing for a snowstorm unlike any seen in decades — or possibly ever.

“This could be really substantial,” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said. “In fact, it could be a historically significant snowfall for parts of the Southern California mountains. This well may be the largest single-event snowfall in some parts of Southern California since the 1980s. This is a big deal.”

The storm, which has already made a mess of conditions in some parts of Northern California, is expected to gain strength as it arrives in Southern California early Friday.

The “highly dynamic” system will likely bring heavy rain, strong winds, thunderstorms and potential localized flooding to areas in and around Los Angeles, Swain said. In the L.A. and Ventura county mountains, snow levels could be as low as 1,500 feet — roughly the elevation of the Hollywood sign, where residents reported that a wintry mix had already landed Thursday afternoon.

Hate to see what the traffic situation will be in LA’s arteries. http://bit.ly/3knpg6H

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE CREDIT: DonkeyHotey.

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