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The Stomach Flu Bug is Going Around, Big Time




It has been a busy season for the “stomach flu,” that nasty, highly contagious bug that has led officials from California to Washington, D.C., to close schools, issue alerts and launch massive cleaning efforts.

The microbial culprit, norovirus, affects one in 15 Americans every year, causing sudden vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps that continue for a very unpleasant 24 to 48 hours, usually requiring no medical intervention.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says about half of cases of food poisoning are caused by norovirus, which has gained infamy as the cause of outbreaks on cruise ships, college campuses, nursing homes and other gathering places.

This month, at least 85 students fell ill at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., plus 186 atRider University and about 100 at Princeton University, both in New Jersey. It also has hit hundreds of students in elementary, middle and high schools, and passengers on at least three cruise ships.


Wash hands. Passing your hands under a few sprinkles of water won’t do it. Wet hands with clean running water, hot or cold, apply soap and work into a lather. Scrub all parts of hands for 20 seconds (two rounds of the Happy Birthday song). Rinse and dry with air or a clean towel.

Avoid touching contaminated surfaces.Be aware that elevator buttons, door knobs, water fountain handles, all could potentially be contaminated.

Be careful in the kitchen. Wash fruits and vegetables, cook shellfish before eating. Don’t prepare food if you’re sick and for three days after you recover.

Alcohol gels. Their efficacy against norovirus is uncertain, but between hand-washings, they might help. They shouldn’t be a substitute for soap and water.

Clean surfaces. Use bleach-containing disinfectant wipes or a solution of 5-25 tablespoons of household bleach per gallon of water to wipe down bathrooms, kitchen and “high-touch’’ surfaces such as doorknobs, phones, light switches, hand rails.

Wash laundry. Immediately remove clothing or bedding that might be contaminated with vomit or fecal matter. Handle carefully to avoid spreading the virus. Wash in detergent at the longest cycle length and machine dry.

If you get sick, stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids and if you can’t, get medical help.

The best offense against norovirus illness, health officials say, is a good defense. Tips to reduce risks:

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“It’s everywhere,” says Jan Vinje of the CDC, who spoke about norovirus last week at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Basically, January through April is high season for norovirus activity,” he says, adding with a quip: “And now it’s February — Norovirus Appreciation Month.”

Norovirus is estimated to affect more than 20 million Americans every year, causing about 800 deaths, usually a result of dehydration in the very young or the elderly.

There is no vaccine and no treatment, and if you get infected by one strain, you can get walloped by another strain, or even re-infected a few months later by the one that got you first time around. People are contagious from the moment they feel ill to at least three days — and possibly two weeks — after they recover, the CDC says.

But there’s hope. An antiviral medicine is in early development, and significant progress is being made toward a vaccine.

Charles Arntzen of Arizona State University, who also spoke at the AAAS meeting, reports that a vaccine could be ready in a few years. LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals of Bozeman, Mont., is testing its nasal spray vaccine in human volunteers, and a second research group, coordinated through ASU, is moving toward human trials of a slightly different nasal vaccine.

They’re likely to require annual booster doses because of the potential for changes in the virus or for new strains to emerge, Arntzen says.

Norovirus is a hardy bug, says Natalie Prystajecky, an environmental public health microbiologist at theUniversity of British Columbia, the third presenter at the AAAS symposium. “It can survive in cold water as long as 61 days and be infectious,” she says, and it’s detectable for two weeks on hard surfaces, though it’s not clear that it could still cause illness at that point. Cooking destroys it, but foods eaten raw, such as produce washed with contaminated water or foods prepared by cooks with unclean hands, can carry the virus.

Oysters, which are nourished by filtering water on the ocean floor, are the single food most likely to be contaminated, and many restaurants post warnings to consumers to be aware of the risk, especially the elderly, very young or those with weakened immune systems.

At George Washington University, Lynn Goldman, a physician and dean of the GW School of Public Health, says the outbreak there temporarily overwhelmed the health clinic. Crews have been called in to disinfect areas where the virus could lurk on surfaces, such as dorms, bathrooms, student lounges and study halls, and hand-washing is being promoted.

“One of the unusual things about norovirus is that one person who is ill can infect a lot of other people,” Goldman says. “As few as 18 viral particles are enough to cause infection. With many other infections, you need to be exposed to hundreds of them.”

Students on the campus of 25,000 are “taking it seriously,” she says, but “they realize that for young, healthy adults, it’s not any reason for alarm, as long as they don’t get dehydrated.”

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Wine Cache Rescues those Short of Cash

By Leslie Gevirtz

NEW YORK | Wed Feb 22, 2012 2:50pm EST

Feb 22 (Reuters) – Some U.S. pawnbrokers are taking liquid assets – literally.

Fine wines are among the items they will accept as collateral for loans, along with family jewels and fine art, as a practice common in Britain and France catches on across the Atlantic.

Liquidity issues, or a cash shortage, can be found on most rungs of the economic ladder, the pawnbrokers said.

“You’d be amazed by how many wealthy individuals have terrible credit ratings. And besides, if you go to a bank, it can take weeks or months to get a loan. When we make a loan, it’s usually the same day,” said Jordan Tabach-Bank, head of Beverly Loan Co.

In an office above a Bank of America Corp branch in Beverly Hills, California, home to some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, the pawnshop for the prosperous regularly lends to hedge-fund managers, bankers, lawyers, doctors – and occasionally to Oscar winners.

“Most people have a vision of pawn shops as sad sites. But that’s not the case here,” Tabach-Bank said. “I have a lot of people who come in who have a business opportunity and they need an infusion of cash for business purposes,” he said.

USGoldBuyers.com, an online pawnbroker with an office in New York City’s diamond district, will also accept fine wines as collateral, spokesman Jose Caba said. While the wealthy like their “expensive toys, unfortunately, sometimes they don’t have the liquid assets so to speak, to keep up their toys. That’s where we come in.”

“We don’t really want to sell the wine, or any asset that we take in whether it be gold or fine art,” Caba said. About 90 percent of the loans made have been repaid, he estimated.

Interest rates and length of the loans vary widely.

Read the rest here.

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Meredith Whitney Lands Book Deal

via NYT Dealbook

Meredith WhitneyJonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg NewsMeredith Whitney

Meredith Whitney, the banking analyst who made a name for herself with a series of hard-nosed reports about the financial sector, is ready to plant her own literary flag.

Ms. Whitney has signed a deal with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Group, to write a book about the growing problems in the municipal bond market, according to a statement from the publisher. The book, tentatively titled “Downgraded: Why the Next Economic Crisis Will Be Local,” is expected to hit bookstore shelves in November.

In the book, Ms. Whitney – who shook bond markets with a 2010 appearance on “60 Minutes” in which she predicted scores of municipal defaults – will “reveal why America’s cities and states are in deeper trouble than is commonly realized,” according to the publisher.

Ms. Whitney made a name for herself as an analyst at Oppenheimer & Compnay, where she gained attention for a 2007 report on Citigroup that correctly predicted that the bank would cut its dividend. She hung her own shingle in 2009, starting the Meredith Whitney Advisory Group, and has since been a regular on the business television circuit, in addition to being featured in Michael Lewis’s book, “The Big Short.”

Despite her newfound celebrity, Ms. Whitney’s 2010 call on municipal bonds, in which she predicted “50 to 100 sizable defaults,” has not exactly panned out. Only a handful of defaults have come to pass, and Ms. Whitney’s reputation for prescience has suffered as some critics have accused her of alarmism.

Still, as a Paris Hilton-imitatingprofessional wrestler-marrying market maven, Ms. Whitney is doubtless one of the most entertaining equity analysts out there. (A bit of a tallest leprechaun contest, but still.)

“Since late 2008, dozens of American school districts, agencies, towns and cities have been taken under state control due to their inability to manage their own finances and pay their debts,” Portfolio said in its statement explaining the book’s premise. “According to Whitney, the evidence points to a mounting fiscal crisis in America’s towns and states that will drive a political and economic wedge between the haves and have-nots.”

The book deal, Ms. Whitney’s first, was negotiated by Robert B. Barnett, the literary super-lawyer who has represented clients like Barack Obama and Sarah Palin (and who recently scored a reported $4 million advance for Amanda Knox, the American student who was convicted of murdering her roommate in Italy but subsequently set free). The size of Ms. Whitney’s advance is unknown.

Will Weisser, Portfolio’s associate publisher, declined to comment on whether Ms. Whitney had enlisted the services of a co-writer, but said she was “very heavily into the process of writing” and was on track to meet her deadlines.

“We expect it to be somewhat controversial,” Mr. Weisser said of the book-to-be. “Obviously there are a lot of strong feelings on this issue.”

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WATCH: Yosemite Firefall – Yosemite Waterfall Turns to Lava

Fiery illusion: Mid-February sunsets in Yosemite National Park lights a natural firefall from Glacier Point illuminating one of the park's lesser-known waterfalls so precisely that it resembles molten lavaFiery illusion: Mid-February sunsets in Yosemite National Park lights a natural firefall from Glacier Point illuminating one of the park’s lesser-known waterfalls so precisely that it resembles molten lava

Captured: The waterfall called Horsetail Fall, geographically situated perfectly to capture the February sunset, was first recorded in color in 1973 by the late renowned outdoors photographer Galen RowellCaptured: The waterfall called Horsetail Fall, geographically situated perfectly to capture the February sunset, was first recorded in color in 1973 by the late renowned outdoors photographer Galen Rowell

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Italy Seizes $6 Trillion in Fake U.S. Treasuries

“Italian anti-mafia prosecutors said they seized a record $6 trillion of allegedly fake U.S. Treasury bonds, an amount that’s almost half of the U.S.’s public debt.

The bonds were found hidden in makeshift compartments of three safety deposit boxes in Zurich, the prosecutors from the southern city of Potenza said in an e-mailed statement. The Italian authorities arrested eight people in connection with the probe, dubbed “Operation Vulcanica,” the prosecutors said.

The U.S. embassy in Rome has examined the securities dated 1934, which had a nominal value of $1 billion apiece, they said in the statement. Officials for the embassy didn’t have an immediate comment.

The financial fraud uncovered by the Italian prosecutors in Potenza includes two checks issued through HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA) in London for 205,000 pounds ($325,000), checks that weren’t backed by available funds, the prosecutors said. As part of the probe, fake bonds for $2 billion were also seized in Rome. The individuals involved were planning to buy plutonium from Nigerian sources, according to phone conversations monitored by the police…”

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Jeremy Lin’s Unexpected Success: ‘Moneyball’ Pioneer Explains Why We Missed The Star Athlete

NBA teams overlooked Jeremy Lin for the same reason so-called experts first ignore stocks, business pioneers and anything else that defies expectations.

“We are just not as smart as we think we are,” said Bill James, the statistician and author who inspired Billy Beane of “Moneyball” fame to choose baseball players by new standards.

Lin’s rise from scrub to a Knicks savior has provided a lesson in valuation far beyond sports. He went undrafted after college and was cut twice before the season. Yet he scored more points in his first five starts than any player in NBA history while leading the Knicks to seven straight victories.

How could this have happened?

Those paid to secure the top talent missed the signs of Lin’s worth for years. But if Apple could fire Steve Jobs, then it makes sense that the metrics by which we measure a basketball player could fail as well, experts told The Huffington Post.

“The human tendency is to think in terms of a model,” said Andrew Lo, a professor of finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “We have a model for what a basketball player should look like, be like and act like. It’s the same for what a good firm model or stock might look like. Occasionally, our preconceived notions are shattered.”

Read the rest here.

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{PHOTO} Hitchcock Movie of Horror and Doom on I-95 Last Night

via Washington Post

In case you needed more evidence of an impending apocalypse: Hundreds of dead birds dropped from the sky over I-95 during the Wednesday evening commute, according to WJLA.

Hundreds of dead birds lie along Morganza Highway in Pointe Coupee Parish, La., in January 2011. (Liz Condo – AP)

The deceased starlings scrambled traffic in the northbound travel lanes in Laurel and startled commuters, some of them no doubt familiar with similar events in Arkansas in early 2011 — and again this January — in which thousands of otherwise healthy birds dropped from the sky.

But don’t get excited, Doomsday theorists: Loud noises (possibly fireworks) were identified as the culprit in the January 2011 dropping, and bad weather can also send frenzied birds into stationary objects. Maryland Department of Natural Resources biologist Peter Bedel said the I-95 birds probably just flew into a truck.

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UBS Turns Evidence For Immunity in Canadian Probe of Banking Manipulation in Derivatives Market

UBS AG (UBSN)Switzerland’s biggest bank, sought immunity from prosecution by Canadian regulators probing a potential conspiracy to rig the price of derivatives globally, three people with knowledge of the inquiry said.

The lender is the cooperating party referred to by Canada’sCompetition Bureau in court papers filed by the regulator with the Ontario Superior Court in May, said the people, who declined to be identified because the identity of the firm hasn’t been made public.

The papers, shown this week to Bloomberg News by court clerks, indicate a bank told the regulator that traders and cash brokers conspired to influence the Yen London interbank offered rate from 2007 to 2010 to profit on interest-rate derivatives linked to the benchmark. Regulators worldwide are investigating whether banks attempted to manipulate the London, Tokyo and euro interbank offered rates, known as Libor, Tibor and Euribor.

UBS already has been given conditional immunity by the Swiss Competition Commission as part of an investigation into suspected manipulation of the Yen Libor, Tibor and Swiss franc Libor rates. The Zurich-based lender was granted similar immunity by the U.S. Department of Justice last year as part of its probes of Yen Libor and Euroyen Tibor rates.

Dominik von Arx, a spokesman for UBS in London, declined to comment on the case. Alexa Keating, a spokeswoman for the Competition Bureau, declined to comment on the identity of the cooperating party.

“There is no conclusion of wrongdoing at this time and no charges have been laid,” Keating said in an e-mailed statement.

Artificial Submissions

According to the affidavit filed by the bureau, Canadian officials were informed that HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA)JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. (C)Deutsche Bank AG (DBK),Royal Bank of Scotland Group PlcICAP Plc (IAP) and RP Martin Holdings Ltd. took part in the scheme. Employees at the banks agreed to make artificially high or low submissions for Yen Libor to improve the outcomes of trades tied to the rate, the Canadian regulator said, citing information it received under the immunity program.

Libor rates are generated through a daily survey of firms conducted on behalf of the British Bankers’ Association in London. The lenders are asked how much it would cost them to borrow from one another for 15 different time periods, from overnight to one year, in currencies including dollars, euros, yen and Swiss francs.

Yen Libor

According to the Competition Bureau’s filings, the cooperating party said one of its derivatives traders described his bets to an ICAP broker, and the trader explained how he wanted the Yen Libor to move. The broker said he would try to arrange for other ICAP brokers to influence banks that submit data for the benchmark rate, the bureau said. ICAP is the world’s largest broker of transactions between banks.

The documents also describe similar communications involving traders at other banks. For instance, Peter O’Leary, a trader at HSBC, allegedly instructed cash brokers on how to influence the benchmark rate, the bureau said. It also described communications involving London-based traders Guillaume Adolph at Deutsche Bank, Stuart Wiley at JPMorgan and Brent Davies at RBS, as well as former RBS employee Will Hall and former JPMorgan employee Paul Glands. The bureau hasn’t brought claims against any of them.

Wiley and Glands declined to comment. Davies didn’t return calls to his mobile phone. There was no response to an e-mail sent to an address found for O’Leary. Contact information for Adolph and Hall couldn’t be located through directory assistance and in an Internet search.

Spokesmen for New York-based JPMorgan and Citigroup, Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank, Edinburgh-based RBS and London- based ICAP have declined to comment on the affidavit. A spokeswoman for London-based HSBC didn’t respond to requests for comment.”

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