Monday, March 19, 2007

Beam up the chickenpox, it's getting warm in here

Beam me up, Scotty, and good God, start with my pancreas--Scientists at CERN trying out a new technology to kill cancer cells--antimatter. Yes, the stuff that powers the Starship Enterprise, the stuff that annihilates itself when it meets matter, the opposite of, like everything. In an experiment, cancer cells were targeted with antimatter particles and the cells, predictably warped to Vulcan--no, died. The technology is similar to zapping the cells with conventional particles, except the scientists think the antimatter beam would have less serious side effects. Conventional radiotherapy is extremely unpleasant. Some of the larget machines used are proton accelerators, huge machines, staggeringly expensive, and there is no reason to think that if they ever figure out how to do it reliably, using antimatter, wouldn't be even more so.

While we're talking about chickens...--One of the rituals of being a kid was getting chickenpox. I know parents who deliberately sent their kids to the homes of friends with chickenpox to make sure they got the disease on vacation days--and the subsequent immunity. Then came Varivax, the chickenpox vaccine. in 1995. It works well enough to change the demographics of the disease: the only kids with chickenpox are those who are unvaccinated or those for whom the vaccine didn't take. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine tells us something we didn't know: the vaccine wears out and that means that people are getting chickenpox later in life, when it becomes more dangerous. You have 20 times greater risk of dying and have a 10-15 times greater chance of getting hospitalized if you catch it when you are older. The suggestion: booster shots at age 4 to 6 and for older adults and children. It still is unclear how much protection the second shot would bring.

I guess we can move to Alaska now--The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that last winter was the warmest winter ever recorded on ailing planet earth, with land and water temperatures running 1.3 degrees F (0.72 degrees C) warmer than normal. El Nino was one factor. The temperature has been rising a fifth of a degree every decade and the warmest 10 years on record have occurred since 1995. 2007 could be the warmest year on record. NOAA did not give a cause-and-effect--it didn't lay the blame on us poor innocent humans. But other research by the same team said that was a likely cause--except in Oklahoma, where the state's U.S. Senator James Inhofe has assured everyone it is a communist-media plot.

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