For Ancient Megalodon, Killer Whale Would be a Snack, Research Says

Today’s sharks have nothing on their ancient cousins. A giant shark that roamed the oceans millions of years ago could have devoured a creature the size of a killer whale in just five bites, new research suggests. For their study published Wednesday, researchers used fossil evidence to create a 3D model of the megalodon — one of the biggest predatory fish of all time — and find clues about its life. At around 16 meters from nose to tail, the megalodon was bigger than a school bus, according to the study in the journal Science Advances. That’s about two to three times the size of today’s great white shark. The megalodon’s gaping jaw allowed it to feed on other big creatures. Once it filled its massive stomach, it could roam the oceans for months at a time, the researchers suggest. The megalodon was a strong swimmer, too: Its average cruising speed was faster than sharks today and it could have migrated across multiple oceans with ease, they calculated. “It would be a superpredator just dominating its ecosystem,” said co-author John Hutchinson, who studies the evolution of animal movement at England’s Royal Veterinary College. “There is nothing really matching it. It’s been tough for scientists to get a clear picture of the megalodon, said study author Catalina Pimiento, a paleobiologist with the University of Zurich and Swansea University in Wales. The skeleton is made of soft cartilage that doesn’t fossilize well, Pimiento said. So the scientists used what few fossils are …

US Judge: Pharmacies Owe 2 Ohio Counties $650M in Opioids Suit

A federal judge in Cleveland awarded $650 million in damages Wednesday to two Ohio counties that won a landmark lawsuit against national pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, claiming the way they distributed opioids to customers caused severe harm to communities and created a public nuisance. U.S. District Judge Dan Polster said in the ruling that the money will be used to abate a continuing opioid crisis in Lake and Trumbull counties, outside Cleveland. Attorneys for the counties put the total price tag at $3.3 billion for the damage done to the counties. Lake County is to receive $306 million over 15 years. Trumbull County is to receive $344 million over the same period. Polster ordered the companies to immediately pay nearly $87 million to cover the first two years of the abatement plan. In his ruling, Polster admonished the three companies, saying they “squandered the opportunity to present a meaningful plan to abate the nuisance” after a trial that considered what damages they might owe. CVS, Walmart and Walgreens said they will appeal the ruling. It is unclear whether the companies will have to immediately pay the nearly $87 million during their appeals. Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda praised the award in a statement, saying “the harms caused by this devastating epidemic” can now be addressed. Lake County Commissioner John Hamercheck said in a statement: “Today marks the start of a new day in our fight to end the opioid epidemic.” A jury returned a verdict in November in …

Studies Examining if Mutations Behind Monkeypox Spread, WHO Say

Studies are underway to see whether genetic changes in the monkeypox virus are driving the rapid spread of the disease, the World Health Organization told AFP on Wednesday. The two distinct clades, or variants, of the virus were called the Congo Basin (Central African) and West African clades, after the two regions where they are each endemic. On Friday, the WHO renamed the groupings as clade I and clade II respectively, to avoid geographic stigmatization. It also announced that clade II had two sub-clades, IIa and IIb, with viruses within the latter identified as being behind the current global outbreak. On Wednesday, the U.N. health agency specified that clades IIa and IIb are related and share a recent common ancestor, therefore IIb is not an offshoot of IIa. Research into mutations Clade IIb contains viruses collected in the 1970s, and from 2017 onward. “Looking through the genome, indeed there are a few genetic differences between the viruses from the current outbreak and the older clade IIb viruses,” the WHO told AFP. “However, nothing is known about the significance of these genetic changes, and research is ongoing to establish the effects (if any) of these mutations on transmission and disease severity. “It is still early on in both the outbreak and laboratory studies to tell if the rise in infections could be driven by the observed genotypic changes in the virus or are due to host (human) factors.” There is also no information yet on what the mutations mean in terms …

CDC Chief Announces Agency Shake-Up Aimed at Improving Speed

The head of the top U.S. public health agency on Wednesday announced a shake-up of the organization, intended to make it more nimble. The planned changes at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — CDC leaders call it a “reset”— come amid ongoing criticism of the agency’s response to COVID-19, monkeypox and other public health threats. The changes include internal staffing moves and steps to speed up data releases. The CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told the agency’s staff about the changes on Wednesday. It’s a CDC initiative, and was not directed by the White House or other administration officials, she said. “I feel like it’s my my responsibility to lead this agency to a better place after a really challenging three years,” Walensky told The Associated Press. The CDC, with a $12 billion budget and more than 11,000 employees, is an Atlanta-based federal agency charged with protecting Americans from disease outbreaks and other public health threats. It’s customary for each CDC director to do some reorganizing, but Walensky’s action comes amid a wider demand for change. The agency has long been criticized as too ponderous, focusing on collection and analysis of data but not acting quickly against new health threats. But public unhappiness with the agency grew dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts said the CDC was slow to recognize how much virus was entering the U.S. from Europe, to recommend people wear masks, to say the virus can spread through the air, and to ramp up systematic …

Malawi Cholera Cases Rise Despite Vaccination Campaign

Despite a nationwide vaccination campaign that started in May, Malawi is struggling to contain a cholera outbreak that has infected more than 1,073 people and caused 44 deaths.  The figures from the Malawi Ministry of Health, updated as of Aug. 16, 2022, are triple the numbers recorded when the vaccination campaign was launched three months ago.    The report also says the outbreak has spread to 10 districts from eight in May. The hardest hit districts include Blantyre with 489 cases, Neno with 128 cases, and Nsanje with 289 cases.     George Mbotwa, spokesperson for a health office in Nsanje district, which borders Mozambique south of Malawi, said continued incidents of cholera in the district are largely because of movements of people between the two countries.    “What is worrisome is that we have now continued to record the cases when by now we would have contained the situation,” he said. “It’s because some of these cases we are sharing with Mozambique. So, the cases will be coming from Mozambique and then reporting to health facilities in Nsanje, then being recorded as Nsanje cases.” Mbotwa said the situation is slowly improving, after officials on the Mozambican side agreed during recent discussions to set up cholera treatment sites on their side of the border.   “The Mozambican side by then didn’t have cholera treatment sites, and now they have them there, so people are able to report the cases right there, unlike coming with cases to Malawi,” he said.  Cholera …

India’s Vast Rural Areas Plug into Digital Economy  

In the past year, there has seen a dramatic transformation in the way customers pay for their purchases in Banuri, a village in the Himachal Pradesh state of North India. Whether at a small grocery store or a street cart, instead of handing over cash, they use a simple system that involves scanning a code on a smartphone to make an online payment. “Even if someone buys only half a kilogram of vegetables, he can pay digitally. We do the smallest of transactions,” said Nishant Sharma, a vegetable vendor in Banuri as he hands over a cauliflower to a customer that costs 75 cents. “It is much easier than handling cash.” In recent years, a government initiative called “Digital India” has helped millions plug into new digital technologies as internet access expands to distant areas. One of them is a payments system that is transforming the way retail business is transacted in vast rural areas and small towns, where more than two thirds of India’s 1.4 billion people live. Much like glitzy city stores, street vendors to small shops are making the switch to digital payments. But instead of credit or debit cards, they use India’s Unified Payment Interface popularly known as UPI. It is a payment system that involves no merchant fees and can be used for the smallest of transactions to make instant transfers across bank accounts. It was developed under the initiative of India’s Central Bank. “It is the ease of the technology and overall reduction in …

NASA to Roll Out Giant US Moon Rocket for Debut Launch

NASA’s gigantic Space Launch System moon rocket, topped with an uncrewed astronaut capsule, is set to begin an hourslong crawl to its launchpad Tuesday night ahead of the behemoth’s debut test flight later this month.  The 98-meter-tall rocket is scheduled to embark on its first mission to space — without any humans — on August 29. It will be a crucial, long-delayed demonstration trip to the moon in NASA’s Artemis program, the United States’ multibillion-dollar effort to return humans to the lunar surface as practice for future missions to Mars.  The Space Launch System, whose development in the past decade has been led by Boeing, is scheduled to emerge from its assembly building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida around 9 p.m. EDT on Tuesday (0100 GMT on Wednesday) and begin the 6-km-long trek to its launchpad. Moving less than 1.6 km per hour, the rollout takes roughly 11 hours.  Sitting atop the rocket is NASA’s Orion astronaut capsule, a pod built by Lockheed Martin Corp LMT.N. It is designed to separate from the rocket in space, ferry humans toward the moon’s vicinity and rendezvous with a separate spacecraft that will take astronauts down to the lunar surface.  But for the August 29 mission, called Artemis 1, the Orion capsule will launch atop the Space Launch System without any humans and orbit around the moon before returning to Earth for an ocean splashdown 42 days later.  If bad launch weather or a minor technical issue triggers a delay from …

More Than 150 Children Dead in Zimbabwe Measles Outbreak

A measles outbreak in Zimbabwe has killed at least 157 children, with more than 2,000 infections reported across the country, the government said Tuesday. Cases have been growing rapidly in the southern African nation since authorities said the first infection was logged earlier this month, with reported deaths almost doubling in less than a week. “As of 15 August, the cumulative figure across the country has risen to 2,056 cases and 157 deaths,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said, briefing journalists after a weekly Cabinet meeting. Mutsvangwa said the government was going to step up vaccinations and has invoked special legislation allowing it to draw money from the national disaster fund “to deal with the emergency.” She said the government was to engage with traditional and faith leaders to garner their support with the vaccination campaign, adding most victims were not vaccinated. The health ministry has previously blamed the outbreak on church sect gatherings. The measles virus attacks mainly children with the most serious complications including blindness, brain swelling, diarrhea and severe respiratory infections. Its symptoms are a red rash that appears first on the face and spreads to the rest of the body. Once very common it can now be prevented with a vaccine. In April, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Africa was facing an explosion of preventable diseases due to delays in vaccinating children, with measles cases jumping 400%. …