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Growing Healthier Tomato Plants
Keeping Bugs Away from Food
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Amphibians
Toads
Poison Dart Frogs
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Cannibal Crickets
Pothole Repair, Insect-style
Not Slippery When Wet
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Talking with Hands
Math is a real brain bender
Longer lives for wild elephants
Birds
Eagles
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Supersonic Splash
A Light Delay
Salt secrets
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New eyes to scan the skies
Lighting goes digital
Batteries built by Viruses
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Dinosaur Eggs-citement
Meet the new dinos
Hall of Dinos
E Learning Jamaica
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
E Learning in Jamaica WIN PRIZES and try our Fun Animated Games
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
Earth
Distant Quake Changes Geyser Eruptions
A Great Quake Coming?
Hot Summers, Wild Fires
Environment
City Trees Beat Country Trees
Eating Up Foul Sewage Smells
Sea Otters, Kelp, and Killer Whales
Finding the Past
Decoding a Beverage Jar
Stone Age Sole Survivors
Oldest Writing in the New World
Fish
Lungfish
Flounder
Sharks
Food and Nutrition
The mercury in that tuna
Allergies: From Bee Stings to Peanuts
Eat Out, Eat Smart
GSAT English Rules
Problems with Prepositions
Finding Subjects and Verbs
Whoever vs. Whomever
GSAT Exam Preparation Jamaica
GSAT stars reap scholarship glory
The Annual GSAT Scholarships
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
GSAT Exams Jamaica Scholarships
42,000 students will sit for the GSAT Exam in two weeks
Access denied - Disabled boy aces GSAT
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
GSAT Mathematics
Math Naturals
42,000 students will sit for the GSAT Exam in two weeks
A Sweet Advance in Candy Packing
Human Body
Hear, Hear
Gut Microbes and Weight
Smiles Turn Away Colds
Invertebrates
Ticks
Insects
Walking Sticks
Mammals
Squirrels
Pekingese
Orangutans
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The Surprising Meaning and Benefits of Nursery Rhymes
Children and Media
What Not to Say to Emerging Readers
Physics
Strange Universe: The Stuff of Darkness
Powering Ball Lightning
The Particle Zoo
Plants
Surprise Visitor
A Giant Flower's New Family
Nature's Alphabet
Reptiles
Komodo Dragons
Copperhead Snakes
Reptiles
Space and Astronomy
Saturn's Spongy Moon
Big Galaxy Swallows Little Galaxy
Saturn's New Moons
Technology and Engineering
Riding Sunlight
Spinach Power for Solar Cells
Supersuits for Superheroes
The Parts of Speech
What is a Noun
Adjectives and Adverbs
What is a Preposition?
Transportation
Middle school science adventures
Morphing a Wing to Save Fuel
Seen on the Science Fair Scene
Weather
Weekend Weather Really Is Different
A Change in Climate
Polar Ice Feels the Heat
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Flu Patrol

Each winter, the flu makes its rounds, jumping from victim to victim at schools and in offices. Miserable kids and adults stay at home in bed or go to the hospital with fevers, sniffles, sore throats, muscle aches, and coughs. Just as the flu spreads among people, so, too, does fear of what the flu can do. The flu is short for influenza, a disease caused by certain microbes called viruses. Although it shares symptoms with the common cold, influenza is a more serious disease. People are afraid of it because it's unpredictable and can be deadly. In any given year, influenza can kill as many as 500,000 people around the world. Some years, though, major outbreaks erupt without warning. In 1918, for example, influenza killed more than 20 million people. The years 1957 and 1968 were bad, too. Now, many experts say that we are overdue for the next deadly strain of flu virus to strike. Recent news reports from Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe have been fueling that fear. There, a persistent strain of influenza is spreading among birds and sometimes jumping from birds to people. With time, the virus might start a worldwide epidemic (or pandemic). This thought can be scary but, for now, there's no need to barricade yourself in the basement with a stockpile of water and a winter's supply of canned food, says Bill Schaffner. He's an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. "This is not terrifying," Schaffner says. Instead, he suggests, look at the flu as part of a scientific detective story. Infectious diseases In recent decades, scientists have virtually rid the world of some infectious diseases, including measles and polio. The flu, however, has been more stubborn. Like other viruses, the virus that causes influenza is a miniscule shell of proteins and fats that surrounds pieces of the genetic material DNA. Viruses aren't really alive, but they attack living cells. Once a virus has injected its DNA into a host cell, it multiplies into more viruses that go on to invade more cells. A virus's DNA directs the production of proteins that sit on its surface. When a virus attacks your body for the first time, it can wreak havoc on your unprepared immune system. Once your cells learn to recognize those proteins, however, you become less likely to get sick if the virus comes around again. The problem with the influenza virus is that it's constantly changing. Every year, small and random mutations in the flu's DNA give it new power to make us sick again. Luckily, the changes are usually small enough that our bodies can recognize parts of the virus and eventually fight it off. Scientists can also predict these changes and create flu shots that help protect us. It's when something causes DNA inside an influenza virus to change dramatically that big trouble erupts. The virus then becomes so foreign to our immune systems that we are powerless against it. Bird flu Variations of the flu circulate among most species of birds and mammals, and different strains usually stay within different animals. In 1957, 1968, and also, recent studies show, in 1918, the strains of influenza that caused so much trouble began as a bird flu, or avian influenza, which suddenly mutated enough to infect people. Could the same thing happen with today's Asian bird flu virus, called H5N1? So far, it has infected 135 people, of whom 69 died. "On rare occasions, and I can't emphasize the 'rare' enough, human beings who have very close associations with affected poultry can get this bird flu," Schaffner says. "But the virus has not developed the capacity to go from person to person. A genetic change needs to happen before it becomes a threat to the human population. That has not happened yet." Influenza epidemics are like hurricanes. They're impossible to prevent, but being prepared can go a long way. "The trick," Schaffner says, "will be to minimize damage and to respond quickly." With these goals in mind, experts around the world are testing birds and monitoring flu patients for evidence of infection with H5N1. They use the Internet to share information. "This type of international collaboration is better than it ever used to be," Schaffner says. Communication is also faster than ever before. Scientists have already figured out the exact sequence of molecular pieces that make up the DNA of H5N1. Analyses have even turned up critical similarities between this strain and the 1918 version. Tests are now underway on a vaccine that would give people small doses of the virus so that their immune systems could learn how to beat it. "Every week that goes by, we're a little more ready," Schaffner says. Uncovering mysteries A cure for the flu, however, remains a long way off, and there will be plenty of opportunities to uncover its mysteries for years to come. "This is the kind of story I like to tell middle school students to get them interested in being physicians and public health people," he says. "It combines science and international cooperation. It melds the exotic with what could happen elsewhere in the world. It calls into play the careful use of the mind and scientific techniques at the lab bench that relate to how we can protect our own community and people around the world." For now, Schaffner has some advice. "Don't be scared. Remain alert. Hurry up and come join us," he says. "We need those middle schoolers to become influenza scientists and help us lick the flu." Until then, keep your immune system healthy by sleeping enough and eating well. Get a flu shot. And wash your hands regularly. It's one of the most effective ways to keep viruses at bay.

Flu Patrol
Flu Patrol








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