News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Swine flu pregnancy tips reissued

Swine flu pregnancy tips reissued

A pregnant woman

A suppressed immune system makes pregnant women more vulnerable

The Department of Health has attempted to clarify its guidelines to expectant mothers and parents with children under five on how best to avoid swine flu.

Its advice to practise good hygiene by washing hands and surfaces regularly has been re-issued after a woman with the virus died soon after giving birth.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says all expectant mothers should avoid crowded places and unnecessary travel.

But the DoH says only the “particularly concerned” should consider the advice.

Concern over the effects of swine flu on new and expectant mothers has heightened since the death of Ruptara Miah, 39, in London’s Whipps Cross Hospital on 13 July. Her baby is said to be very ill in intensive care.

Good hygiene

Another child under six months old, who died in London, is also among the latest victims of the virus.

The refreshed DoH advice has been given greater prominence on its website.

Health experts say expectant mothers could suffer possible complications if they contract swine flu, such as pneumonia, breathing difficulties and dehydration, because they have suppressed immune systems. Young children are also vulnerable.

Most mothers-to-be with swine flu are being prescribed Relenza, an inhaled antiviral drug which treats the virus without reaching the foetus. However, where it is particularly severe, doctors can offer Tamiflu instead.

The NHS website stresses that most expectant mothers who contract swine flu will only have mild symptoms and recover within a week.

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), said that while the risks for expectant mothers were low, women needed information to make an informed decision.

“If you are pregnant, you are slightly more susceptible to all infections. One of them is swine flu.

“It is important that pregnant women know that – and particularly other members of the population know that – so that they behave responsibly and if they are sick they don’t go and put themselves close to a pregnant woman.”

If you are pregnant, you are slightly more susceptible to all infections. One of them is swine flu
Belinda Phipps, NCT

The Department of Health said it advised women to plan their pregnancy carefully, but was not advising against trying to conceive.

“Mums-to-be are more vulnerable to any type of flu. It is particularly important that anyone who has existing health problems and is thinking about starting a family should talk to their GP first, as they normally would,” a DoH spokesman said.

Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the RCM, said women could not be expected to wait for the first wave of the pandemic to end before trying for a baby.

Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Alan Johnson, the new home secretary, said an unexpected aspect of the virus was that it was attacking the young, not the elderly as with seasonal flu.

He called on parents to keep using their common sense, saying the “vast majority” had been following public health advice.

Rates of flu-like illness

Twenty-nine people have now died in the UK after contracting swine flu – 26 in England and three in Scotland.

The government has warned that the number of deaths from the virus this winter in the UK could reach between 19,000 and 65,000.

However, during the 1999 to 2000 winter, seasonal flu deaths reached 21,000 and even during average winters there are normally anywhere between 6,000 to 8,000 deaths.

Swine flu public health poster

The National Flu Service will go live at the end of next week


We asked you whether you were concerned about the effects swine flu might have on expectant mothers. Here is a selection of your comments.

I am in the third trimester of pregnancy, and I am asthmatic. I am concerned that neither Tamiflu or Relenza will be suitable for me if I contract swine flu.
Louise, Nottingham

This is such stupid advice. I am pregnant and travel to work every day on a packed Tube. How am I supposed to avoid crowded places and unnecessary travel? It’s impossible. I can’t just stop going to work can I?
Laura, Hertfordshire

My daughter has a 4yr old son who has swine flu, she is 4 months pregnant and worried in case she catches it and it harms the baby, we are also worried about the treatments used in pregnant women. There is to much contradiction going around to know what to believe.
Tina, Essex

I am currently 24 weeks pregnant and have been ill and at home for 5 days now with bad cold symptoms. After consulting the doctor by phone I was told it could possibly be swine flu but how am I to know? I am usually very level headed in these situations but not sure that not swabbing pregnant women with symptoms is wise – at least if we know if we have it we can be better informed!
Anonymous, Wales

I am 36 weeks pregnant and came into contact with Swine flu last week. I experienced a slight sore throat spoke with a nurse at NHS direct and my GP and was completely reassured that I was fine and not displaying any symptoms. There is definitely some scaremongering going on but if you seek appropriate medical advice your fears can be eased.
Jo, Romford, Essex

I have got a 14 month old child and am currently pregnant. I’m very worried we could all catch the virus as a lot of people where we live are getting it. Also it is going round schools where my niece goes. I believe there should be vaccinations soon as possible for young children and those who it could endanger more than others
Nikki, Chelmsford, Essex

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September 10, 2008

Laureate bemoans ‘thankless’ job

Laureate bemoans ‘thankless’ job

Andrew Motion

Motion writes verse for significant Royal occasions

Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has said that the job of writing verse for the Royal Family is “thankless” and gave him a case of writer’s block.

Motion told the Ealing Arts Festival in London that the Queen “never gives me an opinion on my work for her”.

“I won’t be including any of that work in my future collections,” he said, adding he “did what I had to do”.

Motion has had the job of writing verse on Royal occasions since 1999, and will hold the post until next year.

‘Hiding to nothing’

His assignments have included composing a poem to mark the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s diamond wedding anniversary and a modern verse for Prince William’s 21st birthday.

The 55-year-old said the job has been “very, very damaging to my work”.

Afterwards the Queen stopped me and said ‘thank you’, but I have no idea if she really liked it
Andrew Motion

“I dried up completely about five years ago and can’t write anything except to commission.”

But he added: “I thought all the poetry had gone, but I feel some of it is still there and may yet return.”

Speaking about the occasion of the Queen’s 60th wedding anniversary when his poem was read by Dame Judi Dench in Westminster Abbey, Motion said: “Afterwards the Queen stopped me and said ‘thank you’, but I have no idea if she really liked it.”

“Writing for the Royals was a hiding to nothing,” he added.

Motion initially said his appointment would give him a platform to promote poetry.

He succeeded the late Ted Hughes to the position, which was introduced in 1668. Previous appointees stayed in the role until their death.

September 5, 2008

Down’s signs ‘seen in stem cells’

Down’s signs ‘seen in stem cells’

A baby girl with Down's syndrome

The researchers suggest they may be able to develop treatments for children

Scientists have revealed the earliest developmental changes that lead to Down’s syndrome.

The team from Barts and the Royal London say the changes to embryonic stem cells are caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21.

The study, in the American Journal of Human Genetics, says the extra chromosome sets off a chain of genetic changes in the developing embryo.

The Down’s Syndrome Association welcomed the “excellent” research.

Down syndrome belongs to a group of conditions called “aneuploidies”, which are defined by an abnormal loss or gain of genetic material, such as fragments of chromosomes or whole chromosomes.

Aneuploidies cause congenital anomalies that are a prime cause of infant death in Europe and the US, and are currently on the increase with advancing maternal age in European countries.

Around one in every 1,000 babies born in the UK will have Down’s syndrome.

There are 60,000 people in the UK with the condition.

Therapeutic potential

The international team of researchers, which also included scientists from the US, Australia, Spain and Switzerland, looked at embryonic stem cells from mice which had been genetically engineered to carry a copy of human chromosome 21.

“It’s not just important for the development of brain cells but for their maintenance throughout life
Professor Dean Nizetic

They discovered that the presence of the extra chromosome 21, known as trisomy 21, disturbs a key regulating gene called REST, which then disturbs the cascade of other genes that control normal development at the embryonic stem cell stage.

The scientists also found that one gene (DYRK1A) which is present on chromosome 21, acts as the trigger for this disturbance.

Dean Nizetic, professor of cellular and molecular biology at Barts and the London, said the work could one day lead to molecule-based therapies which could alleviate the effects of Down’s syndrome.

“We hope that further research might lead to clues for the design of new therapeutic approaches tackling developmental delay, mental retardation, ageing and regeneration of brain cells, and Alzheimer’s disease.

He said he believed the genetic effects continue throughout life.

“I suspect that it’s not just important for the development of brain cells but for their maintenance throughout life; how cells age and how they can cope with stress.

“That’s an area that could be approached with regard to therapies.”

‘Extremely positive’

Professor Nizetic suggested future research should be directed into basic molecular mechanisms that could one day develop into treatments to children with Down’s syndrome in the first few years of life when the brains are “plastic” and rapidly developing.

And he said that the same areas of the human genome have been thought to play a part in Alzheimer’s disease – so research could also lead to treatments for that condition.

Carol Boys, chief executive for the Down’s Syndrome Association said: “Any research that helps us to understand more about some of the complex medical conditions that are commonly associated with Down’s syndrome can only be a positive step forward.

“The development of therapeutic treatments for these sometimes complicated health problems that can be associated with the condition will hopefully lead to an improvement in the overall health of people of with Down’s syndrome.”

She added: “We understand that research is slow, but the initial results look extremely positive and we look forward to the continuation of the excellent work of this dedicated research team with interest.”

August 26, 2008

Bank customer data sold on eBay

Bank customer data sold on eBay

EBay sign

eBay was first launched as Auction Web in 1995

An investigation is under way into how a computer containing bank customers’ personal data was sold on an internet auction site.

The PC, which was reportedly sold for £35 on eBay, had sensitive information on the hard drive.

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and its subsidiary, Natwest, have confirmed their customers’ details were involved.

RBS says an archiving firm told it the PC had apparently been “inappropriately sold on via a third party”.

It said historical information relating to credit card applications for their bank and others had been on the machine.

The information is said to include account details and in some cases customers’ signatures, mobile phone numbers and mothers’ maiden names.

RBS and Natwest – two of the three businesses involved – said they are taking the issue very seriously and are working to resolve it “as a matter of urgency”.

A spokeswoman for data processing company Mail Source, which is part of the archiving firm Graphic Data, said it was investigating how the computer equipment had been removed from a secure location.

“The IT equipment that appeared on eBay was neither planned nor instructed by the company to be disposed.”

Clearly such details should never have been included in the hard drive of the computer offered for sale on eBay
eBay spokesman

When financial data goes missing

She said the incident was extremely regrettable and the firm was “taking every possible step” to retrieve the data and ensure it was an isolated incident.

It is thought the problem came to light when Andrew Chapman, an IT manager from Oxford, bought the computer, noticed the data and raised the alarm.

The Daily Mail said the computer, containing a million bank customers’ personal data, had been sold for £35.

A spokesman for eBay said they were currently looking into what had happened.

“Clearly such details should never have been included in the hard drive of the computer offered for sale on eBay. We fully expect Mr Chapman to hand it back to Graphic Data as soon as possible. We will of course work with Graphic Data to establish how it came to be available for sale on our site.”

Banks have an obligation under the Data Protection Act to keep all personal information secure.

Last year the Financial Services Authority fined the Nationwide Building Society £980,000 for a security breach, after a laptop containing customer data was stolen from an employee’s home.

August 23, 2008

Face transplant ‘double success’

Face transplant ‘double success’

The Lancet

This man had been attacked by a bear

Successful results from two more face transplants will speed progress towards similar operations in other countries, say experts.

The Lancet journal reported operations involving a bear attack victim in China, and a French patient with a massive facial tumour had taken place.

The Chinese patient was given not just the lip, nose, skin and muscle from a donor, but even some facial bone.

Specialists in London are working towards the UK’s first transplant.

Frenchwoman Isabel Dinoire became the world’s first face transplant patient in 2005 after being savaged by a pet dog. She described the results of the operation as a “miracle”.

The latest operations were just as complex, but involved different challenges for French and Chinese surgeons.

Face transplantation has moved from ethical debate to surgical reality
French transplantation team

The first operation took place in April 2006. The patient was a farmer from a remote village in Yunnan province in China, who had been attacked by a bear 18 months earlier, leaving a huge section of tissue missing from the right side of his face.

The operation, at Xijing Hospital in Xi’an City, used the face of a 25-year-old man who had died in a traffic accident.

Despite immune-suppressing treatment, the patient had to battle his body’s attempt to reject the new tissue on three occasions.

His doctors said they now believed that face transplantation was a viable long-term option.

The second operation, carried out in Paris in January 2007, involved a 29-year-old man disfigured by a neurofibroma, a massive tumour growing on his facial nerves.

Its removal was timed to coincide with a face transplant, and a year later, doctors again declared the operation a success.

The patient told them that previously he had been considered a “monster”, but now felt like an anonymous person in the crowd.

The procedure, they said, had moved “from ethical debate to surgical reality”.

Moving forward

In the UK, surgeons at the Royal Free Hospital in London are making preparations to carry out the operation if the right combination of patient and donor becomes available.

Professor Iain Hutchison, a consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Barts and the London Hospital, and founder of the “Saving Faces” charity, said that the twin successes would offer more encouragement for surgical teams considering carrying out their own operations.

He said: “This takes a step forward in two ways – firstly the use of bone as well as skin – and next is carrying out this operation on someone with a benign tumour.

“There will always be limitations to this – the main one would be a societal constraint – a lack of suitable donors.

“However, there is certainly demand for this, with the major area being for people with facial burns.”

Roger Green, president of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons, said: “This particular surgery is a way of giving back a life to a patient who has been horribly scarred by burns, trauma or a tumour.

“However, we must acknowledge the long-term medical risks, such as transplant rejection and the need for life-long medication, associated with the procedure. There is also the potential of psychological impact following such a transplant.”

August 20, 2008

eBay insect fossil is new species

eBay insect fossil is new species

Aphid fossil (Richard Harrington)

The fossil was bought for just £20

A scientist who bought a fossilized insect on the web auction site eBay for £20 has discovered that it belongs to a previously unknown species of aphid.

Dr Richard Harrington, vice-president of the UK’s Royal Entomological Society, bought the fossil from an individual in Lithuania.

He then sent it off to an aphid expert in Denmark, who confirmed the insect was a new species, now extinct.

The bug has been named Mindarus harringtoni after the scientist.

I had thought it would be rather nice to call it Mindarus ebayi
Dr Richard Harrington, Rothamsted

“I was interested to see what it was because I’ve worked with a team of people involved in monitoring and forecasting aphids, those of greenfly and their relatives in this country,” Dr Harrington told.

“I looked at it with my team and we thought we could identify it down to the level of genus, but we had no idea what the species was.”

Dr Harrington sent the specimen to Professor Ole Heie, a fossil aphid expert in Denmark.

“He discovered that it was something that hadn’t been described before,” Dr Harrington explained.

The insect itself is 3-4mm long and is encased in a 40-50 million-year-old piece of amber about the size of a small pill.

“I had thought it would be rather nice to call it Mindarus ebayi,” said Dr Harrington.

“Unfortunately using flippant names to describe new species is rather frowned upon these days.”

Instead, Professor Heie named the new species after Dr Harrington.

“It’s not uncommon to find insects in amber… but I’m not sure that one has turned up on eBay that has been undiscovered before. It’s a rather unusual route to come by [a new species],” the researcher, based at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, explained.

He said the insect would have fed on a tree called Pinetes succinifer which is itself now long since extinct.

August 16, 2008

Potter film release date delayed

Potter film release date delayed

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson in Harry Potter

Order of the Phoenix was the top-grossing UK film in 2007

The release date for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has been pushed back by eight months, to July 2009.

The sixth installment of the teenage wizard’s adventures was supposed to have its Royal premiere on 17 November.

Alan Horn, president of studio Warner Bros, said the decision was taken to guarantee the studio a major summer blockbuster in 2009.

He also blamed the Hollywood writers’ strike, which hit the film industry hard earlier this year.

Mr Horn said the strike, which ended in February, had “impacted the readiness of scripts for other films.”

Fantasy books

He said: “The picture is completely, absolutely, 100% on schedule, on time. There were no delays.

“I’ve seen the movie. It is fabulous. We would have been perfectly able to have it out in November.”

The move will mean a two-year delay between the film adaptations of books five and six in JK Rowling’s fantasy series.

But it will shorten fans’ wait between Half-Blood Prince and the final two installments of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which are being shot simultaneously next year.

It is thought actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson – who is celebrating getting straight As in her A Levels in English literature, geography and art – will reprise their roles.

The release date for part one is tentatively set for November 2010.

Royal performance

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince had been chosen for this year’s Royal Film Performance, on 17 November.

Last year’s performance was canceled amid controversy about the chosen movie, Brick Lane.

It was the first time the annual gala – held in aid of the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund (CTBF) – had been scrapped since 1958.

CTBF chief executive Peter Hore told the News he was “very disappointed” with the decision to shelve the Potter premiere.

But he was hopeful a Royal premiere would still go ahead this year.

He said: “The Royal Film Performance has been around for a long time and has a tradition of showcasing the best films. We are confident we will be able to do that again this year.”

Mr Hore added that he expected to make an announcement shortly.

August 5, 2008

Blackburn sign Man Utd’s Simpson

Blackburn Rovers have captured defender Danny Simpson from Manchester United on a season-long loan.

The 21-year-old right-back made eight first-team appearances for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side last season.

Simpson has had loan spells with Sunderland, Ipswich and Belgian outfit Royal Antwerp in the past.

He becomes Paul Ince’s third signing since his appointment at Ewood Park, following Chilean Carlos Villanueva and England keeper Paul Robinson.

Ince, who spent six years as a United player, has now made three signings since taking charge, with Simpson following Paul Robinson and Carlos Villanueva into Ewood Park.

And the former midfielder has revealed he is hoping to sign two more players before the start of the season.

Ince said: “There’s another couple of targets we are looking at and we hope to bring them through the door in the next couple of weeks.”

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