Top Ten Australian Inventions

Australia has always been a creative country. Present us with a problem and we will find a solution. I suspect that it goes all the way back to the days of squatters and homesteads and drovers. In those days, supply runs were few and far between. If something broke, you had to fix it with whatever you had to hand. If you ran out, you had to do without, or find a substitute.

Australians have always been quite good at thinking outside the box, and this has led to quite a number of inventions, though we don’t always get the credit we deserve. In honour of Rafferty’s Rules’ first annual ‘Australia Month’, I have decided to do a top ten list of Australian inventions. Continue reading


Waking Terror

The Relief

Yesterday, I watched a documentary film called The Nightmare which presents people’s experiences with Sleep Paralysis. I cried almost the entire time from a mingled sense of fear and overwhelming relief. The fear was because listening to these stories reminded my body in a very real way of how it feels to actually have these experiences. The relief came from the knowledge that I am not alone.

I won’t pretend that this is the first time I have heard of Sleep Paralysis because it is not. However, all I knew of this condition was that your mind wakes up a bit before your body so you find yourself awake but unable to move for a short time. That is all I knew about it and I had no idea that there is more to it; I had no idea that the things I, and my family, have been going through can also be attributed to Sleep Paralysis. Continue reading

Ian Simmins in ‘Fortean Times FT227:62 ‘

“Science can be looked at in two ways, I suppose: as a selfless quest for knowledge in the service of human progress; or as a really good excuse to blow shit up.”

David Hambling in ‘Fortean Times July 2009, FT249:14’

“Scientists often prefer to ignore the inexplicable.”

—David Hambling in ‘Fortean Times July 2009, FT249:14’

Ebola by William T. Close M.D.

Opening Sentence:Fly due east toward the coast of Africa, six degrees below the equator, altitude one thousand feet above the sea.
Synopsis:It strikes without warning – a horrifying, lethal disease with no name. And no cure.

At a Catholic mission in a remote area of Zaire, a local teacher visits the clinic with a raging fever. Sister Lucie, a Flemish nun and nurse, gives him a shot of an anti-malarial drug, wipes off the syringe, and awaits her next patient. Within days, the teacher is dead. Soon after, others become ill and die. Less than three weeks later, Sister Lucie, too, is dead.

Panic erupts and the villagers flee from the sickness. The roads leading out of the town are blocked and the dying are turned away. As the single radio connecting the village to the outside world brings only bad news, the valiant nuns and medical personnel left behind at the mission can only pray and wonder: will the world ever hear their plea for help?

A terrifying, authentic novel of medical suspense from the molten centre of the “hot zone” by the American doctor who lived in Zaire for sixteen years, and who worked desperately to contain the first outbreak of the killer virus in 1976. Inspired by his personal experience an based on extensive research, Ebola is an unforgettable portrait of this devastating drama, which all began with an invisible, unknown killer.
Genre:Medical Thriller
Comments:Ebola is a very frightening look at the Ebola outbreak in Zaire in 1976. Ebola is a virulent form of haemorrhagic fever. There are three strains of Ebola with Zaïre ebolavirus (the strain featuring in this book) being the most potent. While this strain has an average mortality rate of around 83%, individual outbreaks have shown it can be much higher. The case-fatality rates for this strain were 88% in 1976 (this is the outbreak covered by Ebola), 100% in 1977, 59% in 1994, 81% in 1995, 73% in 1996, 80% in 2001-2002 and 90% in 2003. There have been more outbreaks of Zaïre ebolavirus than any other strain.

Ebola was an interesting, and frightening, look at the progress of this disease and the fear it can instil in those affected. It is written in novel form, making it easy to read and understand and I recommend this to anyone with an interest in medicine, science or communicable diseases.

Ebola-Like Virus Returns to Europe After 40 Years

Caption: Working in a clean room, researchers ...

Caption: Working in a clean room, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, took extensive precautions to avoid contaminating Neanderthal DNA samples – extracted from bones like this one – with DNA from any other source, including modern humans. NHGRI researchers are part of the international team that sequenced the genome of the Neanderthal, Homo neanderthalensis. hese images are freely available and may be used without special permission. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Marburg, a deadly haemorrhagic fever closely related to Ebola, is back in Europe, after a four-decade absence.

On Friday, 11 July, a 40-year old Dutch woman died in a quarantined ward of a hospital in Leiden, the Netherlands, less than two weeks after she returned from Uganda.

She had visited caves where she may have contracted the virus on 16 and 19 June, but she developed a fever and chills – early symptoms of Marburg – only after her return, on 2 July. More severe symptoms – such as liver failure and bleeding from multiple sites – struck two days after she was admitted to the hospital on 5 July.

New Scientist takes a closer look at this mysterious and deadly virus.

Where does Marburg come from?

The first reported cases occurred in the German city of Marburg in 1967 and originated in living monkeys at a monkey research facility. In total, 31 people in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany and in Belgrade, now the capital of Serbia, contracted the disease and seven died.

After that, Marburg disappeared from Europe but has since flared up in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, where a 2004-2005 outbreak killed 355 of 399 people who contracted Marburg.

The virus’s reservoir remained a mystery for a long time, but new research has pointed the finger squarely on cave-dwelling fruit bats. In 2007, a team of virus hunters found fragments of the virus’s genome in a species called Rousettus aegyptiacus. The species also showed signs of an immune response against Marburg, which is unlikely to cause symptoms in the bats.

But the virus may be spread via other bats that don’t stick to caves, according to Peter Walsh of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Genetic sequences show similarities between viruses from Gabon and Angola, suggesting that some cave-to-cave transmissions occur.

How deadly is the virus?

That depends, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which tracks outbreaks of the virus. The first human cases in Germany felled just a quarter of those infected, while more recent outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola have killed 80 to 90% of those infected. There is no cure, and patients often die of haemorrhaging and massive organ failure.

Is there a vaccine for Marburg?

Not yet, but several research teams have made significant progress. In 2005, a team at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg genetically engineered an unrelated virus to produce a key Marburg protein. Macaques that received a single shot of this virus were immune to Marburg virus administered a month later.

US researchers at the National Institute of Health and in the Army took a similar approach against Ebola, stitching one of its proteins into a weakened cold virus. They say the same could be done with Marburg. Alternatively, a virus-free vaccine – made up of the proteins that coat Marburg’s shell – might work, and one such vaccine has protected guinea pigs from Marburg infection.

So far, however, no vaccines against Marburg virus have been proven effective in humans.

What should people do to protect against Marburg?

Stay out of bat caves in countries known to have Marburg, such as Uganda, says the WHO and the Dutch government.

Human-to-human spread requires close contact with an infected person while they are showing symptoms. Because the most recent victim didn’t show any symptoms while in Africa or on her flight home, only the people she came into contact with after 2 July are at risk. No one else has yet come down with Marburg.

Plague: A Story of Science, Rivalry, and the Scourge That Won’t Go Away by Edward Marriott

Book Cover of Plague by Edward Marriott

Synopsis:Plague. The very word carries an unholy resonance. No other disease can claim its apocalyptic power: it can lie dormant for centuries, only to resurface with nation-killing force. Here, with the high drama of an adventure tale, Edward Marriott unravels … Continue reading