| NEWS of the Day - August 23, 2012
|on some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood activist across the country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From the L.A.Times
Early warnings on BioWatch
BioWatch scientists knew the biological attack detection system was prone to false alarms, records show — contradicting Homeland Security officials' assertions.
by David Willman, Los Angeles Times
August 22, 2012
WASHINGTON — Scientists who helped pioneer BioWatch, the government's system for detecting a biological attack on the U.S., knew from the start that it was prone to false alarms, records show.
Between 2003, when the nationwide network of air samplers was first deployed, and 2006, officials at the federally funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory filed five patent applications aimed at improving BioWatch's reliability.
"The existing methods for detecting" a release of disease-causing organisms into the environment were "inadequate," according to a patent application filed on behalf of Livermore scientists in December 2006.
The application cited a "higher than acceptable rate of false positive ... results," adding: "False positive results lead to confusion regarding whether [a pathogen] is actually present and whether protective measures should immediately be implemented."
The previously unpublicized documents contradict repeated assertions by the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees BioWatch, that the system has performed flawlessly. The department's chief medical officer, Alexander Garza, said last month that "there has never been a false positive result."
President George W. Bush unveiled BioWatch in his 2003 State of the Union address, saying it would "protect our people and our homeland" against a rogue state or terrorist group. Since then, the Bush and Obama administrations have spent about $1 billion to deploy detection equipment in more than 30 U.S. cities and at major spectator events, including Super Bowls and national political conventions.
As the Los Angeles Times reported last month, the system has been plagued by false alarms — at least 56 in all — that triggered tense, high-stakes deliberations over whether to order mass evacuations, distribute emergency medicines or shut down major venues.
In each case, health authorities decided, sometimes with great trepidation, to disregard BioWatch. No evidence of an intentional release of a pathogen has ever been found.
That history has caused state and local health officials to call the system ill-conceived or unworkable. Scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told White House aides in November that they would not release emergency medications based solely on a BioWatch alert. And federal officials have given up plans to deploy the system in airports for fear of needlessly disrupting travel.
Nonetheless, Homeland Security officials have continued to defend BioWatch, insisting that it has been an "enormous success story," as a Bush administration appointee told Congress in 2007.
BioWatch uses vacuum-powered samplers that suck air through composite filters, which are removed daily and analyzed at public health labs for signs of anthrax, smallpox, plague or other deadly pathogens. Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, is expected to decide soon whether to approve an automated "lab in a box" version that would cost an additional $3.1 billion over the next five years.
Most of the documented false alarms have involved the supposed detection of tularemia, a bacterium that can infect or kill humans in lower concentrations than anthrax or other agents.
On the closing day of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, for example, BioWatch signaled the presence of tularemia at the convention site, threatening to disrupt plans for Barack Obama's speech accepting his party's presidential nomination.
After six hours of deliberations and further testing, state health officials decided that the alert had been erroneous, and Obama gave his speech on schedule.
The reason for such false alarms is that BioWatch has been unable to distinguish between the tularemia bacterium and genetically similar organisms that pose no harm to humans, according to scientists with knowledge of the system.
Three of the five patent applications filed by the Livermore lab involved efforts to better distinguish between the DNA of tularemia and that of its close cousins.
"A more reliable method" of detecting tularemia, the applications said, "would reduce the occurrence of false positive ... results and provide decision makers with greater confidence in implementing appropriate countermeasures."
The other patent applications dealt with two other pathogens targeted by BioWatch — the germs that cause brucellosis and plague.
Patents were granted in response to all five applications.
A spokesman for the Livermore lab, Steve Wampler, referred questions about the patents to Homeland Security officials in Washington.
Citing "security concerns," a Homeland Security spokesman, Peter Boogaard, declined to say whether any of the patented innovations were incorporated into BioWatch.
Detection methods "are constantly evolving, and the BioWatch program aims to utilize the best, most reliable resources," Boogaard said.
One of the seven inventors named on the patent applications confirmed in an interview that the innovations were intended to improve BioWatch's performance.
The scientists were looking for "ways of increasing specificity" — a technical term for the system's ability to distinguish between different microorganisms — said biologist Gary Andersen, now based at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The newer laboratory techniques, he said, targeted "unique regions" of the tularemia genome, in search of a more reliable signature.
Homeland Security officials say that none of BioWatch's alerts has been a "false positive" because the system detected some organism in the environment — even if it posed no danger to humans and had no connection to a biological attack. The department calls such incidents BioWatch Actionable Results, or BARs, rather than false alarms.
A National Academy of Sciences panel that examined BioWatch rejected that interpretation, labeling the incidents "BAR false positives."
Garza, Homeland Security's chief medical officer, said last month that determining what to do about a BioWatch alert is the responsibility of state and local officials.
"If BioWatch detects a potential threat, state and local officials as well as first responders have the ability to investigate the incident to the fullest and determine if there is a credible threat to the public," Garza wrote in response to the July 8 Los Angeles Times article.
In a letter to Napolitano on July 19, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee requested documents on BioWatch and an explanation for Garza's claim that there had been no false alarms.
Some state and local officials believe BioWatch is so unreliable — and the potential for disruption so high — as to render the system useless.
In New York City, a senior official ordered the removal of automated BioWatch detectors, which were being tested in the subways in 2008, after learning of repeated false indications of a pathogen, according to those with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Richard Falkenrath, who served as a White House advisor on bio-weapons preparedness from 2001 to 2006 before becoming a counter-terrorism official for the New York Police Department, said he had concluded that it was unreasonable for city officials to have to interpret BioWatch alerts.
"We are not deploying these to do science projects. We are deploying these to respond when they go off," Falkenrath said at a biodefense conference in Baltimore two years ago. The remarks were videotaped.
A detection system was useful, Falkenrath told the audience, only if police could respond to an alarm immediately, without "debate on conference calls about whether we can trust that result."
"And if it doesn't meet that criteria, I don't want it in my city," he added.
Falkenrath, who left his NYPD position in the summer of 2010, noted that 5.5 million passengers ride New York's subways daily. In the event of a BioWatch alert, stations would have to be evacuated or quarantined. "Everyone in the whole world will see it going on," he said. "That is a serious, serious event."
Falkenrath said he questioned "whether the top-most federal officials, including my former boss, President Bush, appreciated what the nature of the early-warning system was... and what would happen if it went off."
One audience member at the conference, Dr. Albert J. Romanosky, medical director for the state of Maryland, was prompted to describe his own frustration with the system.
"We found out in Maryland that they had deployed BioWatch collectors indoors, at a facility that we knew nothing about," Romanosky said. "And then we got a positive result. On the conference call, it's a debate about what it means.... The federal officials on the call were saying, 'Oh, it doesn't mean anything. It's nothing; don't respond.'"
In his remarks, Romanosky did not identify the facility, and he did not answer questions from The Times seeking more information about the incident.
But a colleague, Jack DeBoy, who headed Maryland's public health lab at the time, said it was not the only BioWatch false alarm in his state.
"Quite frankly," he said, "we had a whole bunch of them."
From the L.A. Daily News
CDC: West Nile outbreak `one of largest' in U.S.
by Mike Stobbe
ATLANTA - U.S. health officials reported Wednesday three times the usual number of West Nile cases for this time of year and one expert called it "one of the largest" outbreaks since the virus appeared in this country in 1999.
So far, 1,118 illnesses have been reported, about half of them in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In an average year, fewer than 300 cases are reported by mid-August. There have also been 41 deaths this year.
"We're in the midst of one of the largest West Nile outbreaks ever seen in the United States," said Dr. Lyle Petersen, a CDC official.
Never before have so many illnesses been reported this early, said Petersen, who oversees the CDC's mosquito-borne illness programs.
Most infections are usually reported in August and September, so it's too early to say how bad this year will end up, CDC officials said.
They think the mild winter, early spring and very hot summer have fostered breeding of mosquitoes that pick up the virus from birds they bite and then spread it to people.
West Nile virus was first reported in the U.S. in 1999 in New York, and gradually spread across the country over the years. It peaked in 2002 and 2003, when severe illnesses reached nearly 3,000 and deaths surpassed 260. Last year was mild with fewer than 700 cases.
Only about one in five infected people get sick. One in 150 infected people will develop severe symptoms including neck stiffness, disorientation, coma and paralysis.
In recent years, cases have been scattered across the country. Hot spots are usually in southeast Louisiana, central and southern California, and areas around Dallas, Houston, Chicago and Phoenix.
Those areas seem to have a combination of factors that include the right kinds of virus-carrying mosquitoes and birds, along with large numbers of people who can be infected, health officials say.
The best way to prevent West Nile disease is to avoid mosquito bites. Insect repellents, screens on doors and windows and wearing long sleeves and pants are some of the recommended strategies. Also, empty standing water from buckets, kiddie pools and other places to discourage breeding.
From Google News
West Nile Virus: Who's at Risk?
As Cases Climb, Experts Answer the West Nile Virus Questions Everyone Asks
by Kathleen Doheny
Aug. 22, 2012 -- The West Nile virus outbreak is spreading, threatening to make this the worst year ever in the U.S., with 47 deaths now reported, according to the latest statistics from the CDC.
The mosquito-borne virus is circulating in 47 states.
WebMD turned to three experts and asked them to address the West Nile virus questions most commonly asked.
Who is most at risk?
"Looking at the risk of getting infected, anyone who is outdoors and participating in activities is,'' says Erin Staples, MD, PhD, medical epidemiologist at the CDC.
That's especially true at dusk and dawn, she says, when mosquitoes carrying the virus are most active. "Only 1 in 5 people who get infected will develop symptoms," she says.
In most cases, the symptoms are flu -like and fleeting. But not always. Some people develop severe neurological problems.
"Less than 1% of persons who get infected will go on to develop encephalitis or meningitis," she says. These severe neurological symptoms raise the death risk from the virus.
Anyone 50 or older is more at risk for developing the more severe symptoms, she says.
"Clearly the older you are, starting at 50 or so, severity [of the infection] is likely to increase as are death rates," says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and chair of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.
Using data reports from cases, the CDC has identified certain medical conditions that raise your risk of becoming infected, Staples says. They include:
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
- Organ transplant
"As far as we know, pregnant women are not necessarily at higher risk of getting infected," she says. "The data we have is somewhat limited. We have not had a lot of pregnant women being infected."
The cases they have looked at have been few, she says. It is difficult to draw any conclusions.
"I know of no data that says if they are infected it will imperil their pregnancy," Schaffner says. Much needs to be learned, he says. "This is a relatively new infection and we should all stay tuned."
Information on infants is limited, Staples says. While there have been periodic reports of infants infected, she could not cite an exact number since the virus was first identified.
"So far this year, we are only aware of one [infected] infant that has been reported," she says.
Infants don't seem to be at increased risk for severe illness, she says, ''but that is based on limited data."
The virus was first identified in the U.S. in 1999.
What is a typical time frame from bite to symptoms?
From bite to symptoms can take three to 12 days, Staples says. "It's usually three to six."
Typically, first symptoms include fever, chills, feeling poorly, and lacking an appetite, Schaffner says.
At that point, especially if you live in a highly affected area, it is reasonable to call your doctor, he says.
It could well be something else, such as a urinary tract infection, he says.
If you are infected, what is the usual course?
"The people who develop the less severe illness report feeling sluggish for weeks or [sometimes] months," Staples says.
"For those who develop the more serious complications, about 10% will die."
Those who survive can have long-lasting neurological effects. One example is a condition called acute flaccid paralysis. The patient is unable to move arms or legs. That is rare, she says.
Long-lasting kidney effects may occur, says Schaffner. Preliminary research has found a gradual decline in kidney function in some patients.
"It is a slight decline, but it is progressive," he says. "There is no sense yet this will lead to kidney failure."
More research and follow-up is needed, he says.
There is no specific antiviral medicine for the infection, Schaffner says. Doctors instead treat the individual symptoms of each person.
What is the best way to avoid getting infected with West Nile virus?
After avoidance, experts advise using insect repellents with DEET, but not in infants less than 2 months old.
Schaffner has some more suggestions:
- Parents can avoid taking walks with infants early in the morning or at dusk.
- Put mosquito netting over baby carriages and apply repellent to the carriage itself.
- When outdoors, wear long pants and long sleeves.
- Remove standing water from around your house, including in gutters, kiddie pools, and potted plant saucers.
What is in the aerial spray being used in some areas, and is it safe?
The exact insecticides used depend on the region, says William Reisen, PhD, director of the Center for Vectorborne Diseases at the University of California, Davis.
Most common, he says, are synthetic pyrethroids, derived from petroleum derivatives, or organophosphate compounds.
Synthetic pyrethroids are often found in garden insecticides.
"Everything they are applying is approved by the EPA," he says. The vehicles dropping it account for the wind and other factors, he says.
"All the health departments and mosquito departments involved always announce when they are spraying. They suggest people remain indoors and limit time outdoors while the spray is occurring."
Take back Toledo
A baby's death is tragic. But so is the loss of any other innocent life, as well as the waste of lives that have no future other than drug abuse, prison, and early death. It is time to take back the city.
On Aug. 9, two people walked up to the rear patio door of a residence at Moody Manor and fired at least 12 shots into the apartment. One shot struck 1-year-old Keondra Hooks in the head. She died less than 12 hours later.
Her crime? She lived in a housing complex claimed by one gang, the Manor Boys, that has a running feud with another gang, the Cherry Woodz, which claims the Greenbelt Place apartments on Cherry Street as its turf.
At least 126 people have been shot in Toledo this year. There have been 21 homicides, 15 by guns.
Moody Manor, which is indirectly owned by the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, has a long history of violence. Just two days after Keondra's death, her mother reportedly was assaulted, threatened, and told to forget her dead child by a group of men at the apartment complex.
Toledoans should not have to live in fear, as do many who live in neighborhoods dominated by gangs. What to do?
Part of the answer is a more aggressive police posture. Toledo has 574 police officers -- 440 patrol officers and 134 command officers. That's 1.65 officers for every 1,000 residents, well below the national average of 2.7. There are only 12 officers in the department's gang unit.
The city plans to increase the number of police officers to 600 by the end of 2013, and to install surveillance cameras in high-crime areas. The gang unit should be strengthened as well.
The arrests of three alleged Manor Boys on obstruction charges seems part of the get-tough policy Police Chief Derrick Diggs talked about a few months ago. If so, keep the pressure on the gangs.
That also will require the good people who live in these dangerous neighborhoods to work with police to reclaim their city. Forgiveness is exemplary, but it won't end the gangs' reign of terror.
Gang members must learn that there is no Manor Boys or Cherry Woodz territory. The Lil Heads, X Blocc, Stickney 33, and Choloz do not run this city.
People who want better lives must organize to take back their apartment complexes and neighborhoods. Those who want a future for their children need to contact police to identify perpetrators, starting with young Keondra's killers. Someone knows something.
At the same time, city officials must remember that crime suppression alone is not a solution. A larger police force is needed, but it should be combined with ways for gang members and other young criminals to turn their lives around.
Mayor Mike Bell has said a new day is coming, "and it's all about love." It needs to be tough love, and needs to start now.
WVU professor pushes for community policing in city
by Andrew Staub
West Virginia University criminologist Jim Nolan believes Wilmington will continue to face a reputation it's dangerous until it revamps its policing strategies and turns around its crime problem.
The city again found itself dealing with a public relations snafu related to crime this week after a Parenting magazine list declaring Wilmington as the most dangerous city in America surfaced.
Wilmington's past get-tough approaching, including jumpout squads, has contributed to the problem, Nolan contends. Instead of worrying about task forces and tactics, city police should work on building connections with residents, said Nolan, a former Wilmington police officer who has been loosely following city crime issues.
The city must move toward community policing, Nolan said, echoing the words of Councilwoman Loretta Walsh and mayoral candidate Kevin F. Kelley Sr., also a current member of council.
“When people are connected to each other and they are watching out for each other, that strong connection can defeat crime,” Nolan said.
The next mayor, Nolan said, will set the tone for policing.
State Rep. Dennis P. Williams, has advocated a zero-tolerance approach, saying he wants to keep victims in the forefront of his mind. Another candidate, Bill Montgomery, wants to continue the city's “Safe Communities” model, which sweeps up the worst criminals and offers help to lower-level offenders. It aims to free officers up for more community-related work.