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BIRD FLU SPIKES IN CHINA AHEAD OF LUNAR NEW YEAR

Wednesday, 22 January 2014 06:37 Published in Health & Fitness

A spate of bird flu cases since the beginning of the year in China has experts watching closely as millions of people and poultry are on the move ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, the world's largest annual human migration.

China has reported more than 50 H7N9 infections in 2014 after the strain jumped from birds to people for the first time last year. The virus remains hard to catch and most cases have been linked to contact with poultry, but scientists worry that could change if it mutates into a form that allows it to spread easily among people.

For those who track influenza, the holiday, which begins Jan. 31, is always worrying because it comes during the winter months when flu typically rages. Add that to hundreds of millions of people - and often birds - crammed together on buses and other forms of transportation going home, and it's always a bit of a gamble. China estimates 3.6 billion trips will be taken over the holiday season.

"This is the first winter we've seen H7N9. We are in uncharted territory," said Gregory Hartl, World Health Organization spokesman in Geneva. "We have seen an upstart in cases, which we are attributing basically to the fact that it's winter. That combined with a lot of movement of people in crowded trains with chickens could give rise to a lot more infections, but we've also seen in past years where it hasn't."

The first H7N9 cases were reported in late March near Shanghai, and more than 200 others have since been identified, including some 50 deaths. A 31-year-old doctor became one of the latest fatalities, raising fears he may have been infected at the hospital where he worked, but none of his patients or other close contacts have reported flu symptoms, according to the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning.

There have been a handful of family clusters, but WHO says no sustained human-to-human transmission has occurred. However, scientists warn that the H7N9 virus contains genetic markers that could help it infect mammals easier than other avian flus. Infected birds also do not show symptoms, making it harder to track the disease. Cases declined in China over the summer, which is typically slower for influenza viruses, after some local live poultry markets were temporarily closed.

In Hong Kong, which has logged three cases, officials will test all poultry for the virus beginning later this week. Taiwan has reported two cases.

In past years, it was the H5N1 bird flu virus that spiked during this time of year. That strain, which has killed at least 386 people since 2003, is still circulating widely in poultry stocks and kills about 60 percent of the people it infects.

On Tuesday, Vietnam, which has long battled the virus, confirmed its first H5N1 death in nine months. Earlier in January, the first human case was reported in North America after a person traveling back from a trip to Beijing became ill and died in Canada.

Both bird flus cause high fever and respiratory problems, including pneumonia and shortness of breath. Scientists have repeatedly warned that the viruses cannot be ignored because of their potential to possibly spark a global pandemic. But after years of campaigning in countries where it's common for chickens and pigs to live closely with people, sometimes in the same house, that message is often a hard sell.

"After almost a decade of sitting on the proverbial edge of the H5N1 pandemic cliff and not falling off, people are beginning to think that we never will fall," Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, said by email. "But the best scientific assessment of microbial genetics tells us we could still fall off of that cliff and if we do, the global consequences could be devastating."

Poultry is a central part of many families' dinner tables during the Lunar New Year festivities, and it's often bought live and killed at home in China and elsewhere across the region. The WHO urges care when slaughtering and preparing birds, including frequent hand washing. However, well-cooked meat and eggs do not pose a threat.

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AP Medical Writer Margie Mason covers health issues across the Asia-Pacific. Follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/MargieMasonAP

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

A tasty Super Bowl on tap for troops

Wednesday, 22 January 2014 06:18 Published in Local News
CHICAGO (AP) - Gov. Pat Quinn says military members deployed overseas will get Chicago-style pizzas in time for Super Bowl Sunday.
The nonprofit group Pizza 4 Patriots has been sending pizzas to service members since 2008. The idea is send them some of the comforts of home while they're deployed.
Quinn will join officials with the group and DHL Express on Wednesday to pack up pizzas for the trip.
They expect to send about 10,000 ready-to-bake pizzas to troops.
Last year, 21,000 pizzas were shipped to Afghanistan and Kuwait. They were frozen and packed with dry ice.

LSU downs Missouri 77-71

Tuesday, 21 January 2014 23:51 Published in Sports
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A week ago, LSU failed to execute in the final minutes of regulation and dropped an overtime decision to Ole Miss.
 
The results were the opposite for LSU against Missouri on Tuesday. Jordan Mickey scored four points and Anthony Hickey sank four consecutive free throws in the final minute and LSU held off the Tigers for a 77-71 Southeastern Conference win.
 
Hickey, who entered the game shooting 50 percent from the free-throw line, was fouled on purpose twice by Missouri. Hickey made his first pair of free throws to give LSU a 74-68 lead with 37 seconds remaining.
 
Following a 3-pointer by Jabari Brown, Hickey was again fouled. Hickey sank two more free throws with 17 seconds left to push LSU ahead 76-71.
 
"It was a great team effort out there," LSU coach Johnny Jones said. "Missouri played aggressive in the second half, tied it and eventually took the lead. I'm really proud of how our team bore their neck.
 
"They played with a sense of urgency and toughness down the stretch," Jones said. "They got stops and tough rebounds on the defensive end. Then, they were able to execute on the offensive end. They knocked down some big free throws."
 
Shavon Coleman led LSU (12-5, 3-2) with a season-high 19 points. Johnny O'Bryant added 16 points, while Andre Stringer had 12. Mickey scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.
 
"Towards the end of the game, you have to get the ball inside and get some fouls," Mickey said. "You don't want to keep taking jump shots that can allow the other team to get back in the game, so you have to go inside and try to get some easy layups."
 
Brown had a career-high 28 points for Missouri (14-4, 2-3). Jordan Clarkson contributed 19 points, while Earnest Ross had 16.
 
"You can't take anything away from our guys' competitive spirit," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "LSU made some big shots and made their free throws when they went to the line down the stretch. We were slow reacting a little bit on defense. It obviously wasn't one of our better moments defensively."
 
Missouri, which trailed for most of the game, went ahead 65-64 on a 3-pointer by Brown with 3:39 remaining. LSU's Mickey replied with two free throws and a field goal and Coleman made a layup after a steal by Tim Quarterman.
 
Missouri stayed in striking range as Clarkson made three of four free throws on Missouri's next two possessions. Then Hickey was fouled twice, and he sealed the win with his clutch foul shooting.
 
LSU led for most of the first half and built an 18-10 lead after Coleman made a 3-pointer with 12:31 remaining. Sparked by Brown's eight points, Missouri rallied to take its first lead at 29-26 with 5:26 left before halftime.
 
LSU regained the lead by outscoring Missouri 12-2 over the next five minutes. Stringer started the run with a 3-pointer, Mickey made two baskets and sank two foul shots, and Jarell Marting scored three points. Brown hit a field goal, but Missouri trailed 38-33 at the half.
 
Missouri seized momentum at the start of the second half. A 3-pointer by Clarkson and a layup by Brown tied the score at 38, then a bucket by Johnathan Williams put Missouri on top less than 90 seconds into the half.
 
Trailing by four for a third time, LSU's Mickey scored on an inside basket, then Stringer hit a trey for a 50-49 lead with 14:08 to play. Quarterman made a field goal and Coleman sank one of two foul shots to increase the lead to 53-49.
 
LSU extended its advantage to six points at 59-53 following field goals by O'Bryant and Coleman. But a three-point play by Ross cut Missouri's deficit in half with 8:33 remaining. LSU got the lead back to six points again on a field goal by Martin and a foul shot by Coleman.
 
Another three-point play — this one by Brown — again cut Missouri's deficit in half. Missouri then tied the score when Ross made one of two free throws and hit a layup following an LSU turnover. A driving basket by Coleman put LSU back ahead 64-62 with 4:05 remaining.

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