All it would take is five gene mutations of the H5N1 avian influenza virus to potentially create havoc on a global scale. Dutch researchers are reporting that if those mutations happen, the virus would become transmissible via coughing or sneezing, just like regular flu viruses. Currently, most cases of H5N1 arise after a person has had contact with sick or dead infected poultry.
To give an idea of how deadly the avian flu virus is, scientists at one point stopped conducting research on H5N1 over concerns that in the wrong hands it could be used as a biological weapon by terrorists. Of the 650 people infected since H5N1 was first identified in Hong Kong 17 years ago, 60 percent died because of the disease.
Health officials have feared that H5N1 would evolve, but they are not sure if the virus is likely to mutate outside of a laboratory. "The biggest unknown is whether the viruses are likely to gain the critical mutations naturally," says Richard Webby, a virologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. "If they can appear readily, then it is very worrisome. If not, then there's still a major hurdle that these viruses have to get over to become human-transmissible."
During the study, which was published Thursday in the journal Cell, researchers used ferrets as stand-ins for humans. They sprayed an altered version of the H5N1 virus into a ferret's nose, then put it in a special cage with a ferret who had not been exposed. The cage was constructed to allow shared airflow without direct contact, and when the healthy ferret exhibited signs of the flu (loss of appetite and energy, ruffled fur) they knew the virus had spread through the air. Read more about the study and its findings at the Los Angeles Times. Catherine Garcia
A transgender police officer in San Diego was barred from an LGBT event that she helped organize over concerns that her uniform would upset other attendees. Officer Christine Garcia helped plan and provided security for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual event honoring victims of transgender-violence, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports. But when she tried to enter a post-march event, she was turned away. A spokesperson blamed the incident on a "misunderstanding" and later apologized directly to Garcia, as well as the San Diego police chief.
"While we need to support those that are uncomfortable and honor their reactions to valid and understandable difficult previous experiences," one of the organizers wrote in a statement, "our LGBTQ San Diego police liaisons are a valued part of our community."
Just days after the NFL's decision to suspend Seantrel Henderson, Buffalo Bills offensive lineman, for 10 games for using marijuana to treat his Crohn's Disease, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr — the NBA's coach of the year last season — expressed support for a softer stance on pot from professional sports leagues.
"I'm not a pot person. It doesn't agree with me. I tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all," Kerr said in a podcast interview that aired Friday. "So I'm not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you're an NFL player, in particular, and you got lot of pain, I don't think there's any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin," he continued. "And yet, athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it's Vitamin C, like it's no big deal."
Kerr said he hopes to see a more reasonable approach to medical marijuana in pro sports, noting that concerns about negative public perception of pot users are increasingly a thing of the past. The full podcast is available here. Bonnie Kristian
The rebels who hold the besieged eastern half of Aleppo, Syria, have lost more than half of the territory they once controlled to forces loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime and its Russian allies. In the face of these regime advances, the opposition groups have been quietly negotiating with Russia in neighboring Turkey, so far with little effect.
On Saturday, Moscow announced it is ready to deal with the United States, which backs some of the militants fighting Assad, to arrange a full withdrawal of Syrian rebel forces from Aleppo. "We are immediately ready to send out military experts, diplomats to Geneva in order to agree [on] mutual actions with our American colleagues to ensure the pullout of all the rebels without exclusion from eastern Aleppo," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Rebel leaders in Aleppo have reportedly sworn they will not leave the city, and Washington has yet to respond to Moscow's invitation to talks. Bonnie Kristian
A new species of arapaima — a giant freshwater fish capable of breathing air with rudimentary lungs — has been found in the remote reaches of the Amazon River, and more distinct arapaima species may be discovered soon.
Capable of growing to 10 feet long and weighing upwards of 400 pounds, the heavily-armored fish lives in oxygen-poor waters and surfaces to breathe. The arapaima is difficult to catch and study and is also endangered, which is why species classification is so important: Only about 5,000 of the fish still live in the wild.
It is "hard to argue for conservation if you don't know it's there," explains Donald J. Stewart, a New York biology professor and National Geographic explorer whose team identified the new species. "The more of these we can recognize the more arguments we can make for getting the resources to protect them." Stewart expects "we'll have many more species before we're done" examining the arapaima's river climes. Bonnie Kristian
Ford Motor Company could be persuaded to halt outsourcing plans and keep manufacturing jobs here in the United States, executives indicated in interviews with Bloomberg and the Detroit Free Press on Friday. But if President-elect Donald Trump hopes to replicate his deal with Carrier, an air conditioning manufacturer that wanted to move some 2,100 jobs from Indiana to Mexico, he'll have to pony to Ford's demands.
"We will be very clear in the things we'd like to see," said Mark Fields, Ford's chief executive officer, to Bloomberg. High on his list are tax reform, free trade rules, and a relaxation of fuel economy regulations that have automakers producing more electric vehicles than they can sell. Fields argued Ford's position is not identical to Carrier's, as the automaker is repurposing its factories to build other models when it shifts some models' production abroad.
At the Detroit Free Press, Ford Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks acknowledged that a call from the president-elect did influence Ford's recent decision to keep making a Lincoln SUV model in Kentucky. Shanks expressed hope that going forward, "there [is] some adjustment that can be made to the present regulatory framework that recognizes the market realities."
At least nine people were killed and 25 more are missing after a massive fire broke out in a warehouse hosting a dance party Friday night in Oakland, California. The fire started around 11:30 p.m. and may be the deadliest blaze in city history. The building had no sprinkler system and smoke detectors did not activate, firefighters said.
— Oakland Firefighters (@OaklandFireLive) December 3, 2016
"It was too hot, too much smoke, I had to get out of there," said Bob Mule, a photographer who escaped the fire with minor burns. "I literally felt my skin peeling and my lungs being suffocated by smoke. I couldn't get the fire extinguisher to work."
More than 50 Oakland firefighters worked through the night to get the fire under control, and arson investigators have been called to the scene. Bonnie Kristian
About 2,000 U.S. military veterans calling themselves Veterans Stand for Standing Rock have amassed at the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and hundreds more are expected to arrive this weekend. The veterans are building barracks for protesters to use as shelter from the frigid North Dakota winter and are volunteering to temporarily stand in for long-time protesters who need a break.
— VICE News (@vicenews) December 3, 2016
"We want to offer them a moment of peace and, if we can, take a little bit of pressure off," said Coast Guard veteran Ashleigh Jennifer Parker, labeling the militarized police response "unconstitutional." "People are being brutalized; concussion grenades are being thrown into crowds," she said. "They're spraying people, even old women, and other elders of the tribe with tear gas and pepper spray."
The veterans plan to stay at least through Dec. 7, though some may stick around longer. Bonnie Kristian