Saturday, 23 September 2023

Outbreak of Botulism in Bordeaux and the greater Ile-de-France Region.

On 12 September 2023, local public health authorities in France identified a cluster of 10 cases with suspected Botulism, including one death. As of 14 September 2023, the National International Health Regulations Focal Point for France has notified the World Health Organization of a total of 15 cases of suspected botulism, including one death, reported in Bordeaux and the greater Ile-de-France Region, according to a press release issued by the World Health Organization on 20 September 2023.

The epidemiological investigations indicated that the source of infection is the consumption of homemade preserved Sardines, on different dates, at the same restaurant in Bordeaux during the week of 4–10 September 2023. The food item was made at the restaurant for consumption on premises.

Due to the incubation period of up to eight days and the restaurant attracting international visitors during the Rugby World Cup, there is a possibility that additional cases among international visitors may be reported in France, or possibly outside France as travellers returned home, until 18 September.

On 12 September 2023, local public health authorities in France identified a cluster of 10 cases with suspected botulism, including one death, later identified as a 32-year-old woman married to an Irish national. 

As of 14 September 2023, the National International Health Regulations Focal Point for France has notified a total of 15 cases of suspected botulism, including one death, reported in Bordeaux and Ile-de-France. Of these 15 cases, 10 have been hospitalised, with eight patients being admitted to an Intensive Care Unit. Fourteen out of the 15 cases are reported among foreign citizens identified from six countries in addition to France. These include Canada, Germany, Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America. All suspected cases consumed the same product (Sardines in jars) on different dates at the same restaurant in Bordeaux during the week of 4–10 September 2023. The epidemiological investigations indicated that the source of infection is the consumption of homemade preserved Sardines. The food item was produced and served at the restaurant.

Botulism is a serious neurological condition caused by a very potent toxin produced by the Bacterium  Clostridium botulinum. It develops particularly in poorly preserved foods. Human Botulism may refer to foodborne Botulism, infant Botulism, wound Botulism, and inhalation Botulism or other types of intoxication.

The Bacterium Clostridium botulinum produces a toxin that can paralyze muscles and halt breathing. Eye of Science/Science Source.

Foodborne Botulism is a serious, potentially fatal disease. It is an intoxication caused by ingestion of potent neurotoxins (the Botulinum toxins) formed in contaminated foods. Person-to-person transmission of Botulism does not occur. The manifestations, or symptoms, of intoxication can vary, and is characterized by descending, flaccid paralysis that can cause respiratory failure. Early symptoms include marked fatigue, weakness and vertigo, usually followed by blurred vision, dry mouth and difficulty in swallowing and speaking. Vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation and abdominal swelling may also occur. The disease can progress to weakness in the neck and arms, after which the respiratory muscles and muscles of the lower body are affected. There is no fever and no loss of consciousness. Symptoms usually appear from several hours up to 8 days following consumption of contaminated food.

Although Botulism outbreaks are relatively rare, they are considered public health emergencies that require rapid recognition to identify the disease source, distinguish outbreak types (between natural, accidental or deliberate), prevent additional cases and effectively administer treatment to affected patients. Successful treatment depends significantly on early diagnosis and the rapid administration of the botulinum antitoxin and intensive respiratory care.

Incidence of Botulism is low, but the mortality rate is high if prompt diagnosis and appropriate, immediate treatment is not given. The disease can be fatal in 5% to 10% of cases.

On 11 September, food and serum samples were shipped to the French National Reference Center for Anaerobic Bacteria and Botulism at the Institute Pasteur in Paris , and Botulinum toxin was confirmed in serum samples and in a food sample (Sardines) on 14 September 2023.  Local health authorities inspected the restaurant and all products prepared by the restaurant have been recalled. On 13 September, the local health authorities held a press conference and informed the local healthcare professionals. National health authorities in France have issued risk communication advice to sensitize the health care workers about the symptomatology and treatment.  Information on cases reported among citizens from foreign countries have been shared with the relevant health authorities in those countries.

Local investigations have identified an estimated 25 persons through credit card receipts who have been exposed (i.e., who likely consumed the suspect food item). The exposure occurred at local level and measures have been implemented to eliminate the source of infection including the removal of the suspected food item, which was not distributed outside the venue. However, given the ranging incubation period of Botulism (up to eight days) and that not all customers of the restaurant in Bordeaux may have been identified despite efforts, further cases linked to this event may still occur. This outbreak has occurred at the same time as the Rugby World Cup held from the week of 4 September 2023 attracting followers and rugby teams from all over the world.

The restaurant in Bordeaux where a woman died, and several other people became severely ill after consuming Sardines. Ugo Amez/SIPA/Shutterstock.

Prevention of foodborne Botulism is based on good practice in food preparation particularly during heating/sterilization and hygiene. Foodborne botulism may be prevented by the inactivation of the Bacterium and its spores in heat-sterilized (for example, retorted) or canned products, or by inhibiting Bacterial growth and toxin production in other products. The vegetative forms of Bacteria can be destroyed by boiling, but the spores can remain viable after boiling even for several hours. However, the spores can be killed by very high temperature treatments such as (commercial) canning.

The neurotoxins themselves are heat-labile and will be destroyed within minutes at temperatures above 80°C; consequently, only foods improperly processed in which the bacteria or the spores survive, pose a risk.

The World Health Organization produces a Five Keys to Safer Food Manual which serve as the basis for educational programmes to train food handlers and educate the consumers. They are especially important in preventing food poisoning. 

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Asteroid 2023 SC2 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2023 SC2 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 173 500 km (45% of the average distance between the Earth and the Moon or 0.12% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun), with a velocity of about 18.46 km per second, slightly after 2. 50 pm GMT on Monday 18 September 2023. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though were it to do so it would not have presented a major threat. 2023 SC2 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 3-8 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 3-8 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to explode in an airburst (an explosion caused by superheating from friction with the Earth's atmosphere, which is greater than that caused by simply falling, due to the orbital momentum of the asteroid) more than 35 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface.

The relative positions of 2023 SC2 and the Earth at 3.00 pm on Moday 18 September 2023. JPL Small Body Database.

2023 SC2 was discovered on 19 September 2023 (the day after its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon Survey at the Steward Observatory on Mount Lemmon in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The designation 2023 SC2 implies that the asteroid was the 53rd object (asteroid C2 - in numbering asteroids the letters A-Z, excluding I, are assigned numbers from 1 to 25, with a number added to the end each time the alphabet is ended, so that A = 1, A1 = 26, A2 = 51, etc., which means that C2 = (25 x 2) + 3 = 53) discovered in the second half of September 2023 (period 2023 S - the year being split into 24 half-months represented by the letters A-Y, with I being excluded).

2023 SC2 is calculated to have a 1072 day (2.94 year) orbital period, with an elliptical orbit tilted at an angle of 4.39° to the plain of the Solar System which takes in to 0.70 AU from the Sun (70% of the distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, and slightly inside the orbit of Venus) and out to 3.40 AU (3.40 times the distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, somewhat more than twice the distance at which the planet Mars orbits). It is therefore classed as an Apollo Group Asteroid (an asteroid that is on average further from the Sun than the Earth, but which does get closer). 

The relative positions and orbits of 2023 SC2 and the Earth at 3.00 pm on Monday 18 September 2023. JPL Small Body Database.

Asteroid 2023 SC3 is calculated to have had one previous close encounter with the Earth, in October 2020; no further such encounters are predicted at this time.

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Thursday, 21 September 2023

The September Equinox

The September Equinox falls on Saturday 23 September this year (2023), when the day and night will be of equal length in both of the Earth's hemispheres. The Earth spins on its axis at an angle to the plain of the Solar System. This means that the poles of the Earth do not remain at 90° to the Sun, but rather the northern pole is tilted towards the Sun for six months of the year (the northern summer), and the southern pole for the other six months (the southern summer). This means that twice a year neither pole is inclined towards the Sun, on days known as the equinoxes.

Simplified diagram showing the tilt of the Earth throughout the year. Not to scale. The Human Adventures in Space Exploration.

The equinoxes fall each year in March and September, with the March Equinox being the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and the Autumn Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere, while the September Equinox is the Autumn Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and the Spring Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. On these two days the day and night are both exactly twelve hours long at every point on the planet, the only days on which this happens.

How the combination of the Earth's equatorial plane (horizontal circle labelled as Celestial equator) and the plane of the Earth's orbit (diagonal circle labelled as Path of the Sun) creates the Solstices and Equinoxes that we observe. Christopher Crockett.

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Wednesday, 20 September 2023

Mangnitude 6.0 Earthquake beneath South Island, New Zealand.

The GeoNet project, which monitors quakes in New Zealand, recorded a Magnitude 6.0 Earthquake at a depth of 11 km, about 43 km to the west of the town of Geraldine in the Canterbury Region of South Island, New Zealand, slightly before 9.15 am local time on Wednesday 20 September 2023 (slightly before 9.15 pm on Tuesday 19 September GMT). No damage or casualties have been reported following this event, but people have reported feeling it across much of New Zealand.

Ths approximate location of the 20 September 2023 South Island Earthquake. GeoNet.

New Zealand is located on the boundary beneath the Australian and Pacific Plates. Beneath the islands the Pacific Plate is being subducted beneath the Australian Plate. This causes a great deal of friction which causes Earthquakes where the boundary between the two plates is close to the surface; this is to the east of North Island, but onshore on South Island, where it can lead to strong Earthquakes. Technically such quakes also occur where the plate margin is deeper, but these are felt less strongly as the rocks between the boundary and the surface absorb much of the energy, making strong tremors much less frequent on North Island. As the Pacific Plate sinks deeper into the Earth it is partially melted by the friction and the heat of the planet's interior. Some of the melted material then rises through the overlying Australian Plate, fuelling the volcanoes of New Zealand.

The subduction zone beneath New Zealand, and how if fuels Earthquakes and volcanos. Te Ara.

Witness reports of Earthquakes can help scientists to understand these events, and the underlying geologic processes that cause them. If you this quake then you can report it to the GeoNet here.

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Body of 1300-year-old Frankish warrior unearthed at Ingelheim am Rhein.

Archaeologists working at an early medieval cemetery at Ingelheim am Rhein, about 40 km to the west of Frankfurt, this June unearthed the body of a Frankish warrior dating from about 1300 years before the present, according to a press release issued by the Kaiserpfalz Ingelheim on 4 August 2023. The body was located in a Merovingian cemetery between Rotweinstrasse and Stevenagestrasse, which had been under investigation since 2015. Most of the graves within the site had previously been looted during the later medieval period, so the discovery came as somewhat of a surprise. 

The warrior was armed with a spathe, a double-edged sword with a blade of about 75 cm and a total length of about 90 cm, originally made popular by Roman cavalry officers, but widely used in the early medieval period, as well as a sax, a second shorter sword with a heavy cutting edge, and a large knife, as well as a spear and a shield. 

The warrior from grave 447 with his impressive arsenal of weapons: shield boss, sword (spatha) and broadaxe as well as, next to the head, the tip of the lance. Another heavy knife is hidden under the skeleton. Christoph Bassler/Kaiserpfalz Ingelheim.

The warrior is thought to have been between 30 and 40 years of age at the time of his death, although how he died is unclear, with no signs of either physical injury or disease found on his skeleton to date. Despite his impressive array of arms, he is unlikely to have been either a professional soldier or particularly rich. Instead, he was probably a comfortably off freeman, who would have been expected to maintain a set of arms and serve in his lords militia when called upon to do so. 

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Tuesday, 19 September 2023

Fireball meteor over northern France.

Witnesses in central and northern France have reported observing a bright fireball meteor slightly after 11.15 pm local time (slightly after 9.15 pm GMT) on Saturday 16 September 2023. The fireball is described as having moved from south to north, entering the atmosphere to the southwest of Montereau and disappearing to the southeast of Paris. A fireball is defined as a meteor (shooting star) brighter than the planet Venus. These are typically caused by pieces of rock burning up in the atmosphere, but can be the result of man-made space-junk burning up on re-entry.

The 16 September 2023 fireball seen from Boissy-sous-Saint-Yon. Patrick Richon/American Meteor Society.

Objects of this size probably enter the Earth's atmosphere several times a year, though unless they do so over populated areas they are unlikely to be noticed. They are officially described as fireballs if they produce a light brighter than the planet Venus. The brightness of a meteor is caused by friction with the Earth's atmosphere, which is typically far greater than that caused by simple falling, due to the initial trajectory of the object. Such objects typically eventually explode in an airburst called by the friction, causing them to vanish as an luminous object. However, this is not the end of the story as such explosions result in the production of a number of smaller objects, which fall to the ground under the influence of gravity (which does not cause the luminescence associated with friction-induced heating).

Heat map showing areas where sightings of the meteor were reported (warmer colours indicate more sightings), and the apparent path of the object (blue arrow). American Meteor Society.

These 'dark objects' do not continue along the path of the original bolide, but neither do they fall directly to the ground, but rather follow a course determined by the atmospheric currents (winds) through which the objects pass. Scientists are able to calculate potential trajectories for hypothetical dark objects derived from meteors using data from weather monitoring services.

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Monday, 18 September 2023

Seventeen confirmed deaths following landslide in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Seventeen people have been confirmed dead after a landslide hit the town of Lisal in Mongala Province in the northwest of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday 17 September 2023. The event is reported to have happened following several days of heavy rain in the area. Landslides are a common problem after severe weather events, as excess pore water pressure can overcome cohesion in soil and sediments, allowing them to flow like liquids. Approximately 90% of all landslides are caused by heavy rainfall. The landslide engulphed several houses at the foot of a mountain; volunteers are still searching the remains of these homes and there are fears the number of dead could rise. The known deceased reportedly include seven men, seven women, and three children under five.

Volunteers from the local Red Cross search damages houses following a landslide in Lisal, Democratic Republic of Congo, on 17 September 2023. Alexis Huguet/AFP.

Mongala Province has a monsoon climate, with a long rainy season which lasts from mid-March to mid-November, with two peaks in rainfall; a lesser one in April to June and a larger one in August to October. Such a double Rainy Season is common close to the equator, where the Sun is highest overhead around the equinoxes and lowest on the horizons around the solstices, making the solstices the coolest part of the year and the equinoxes the hottest. 

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