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Science File: An exploration of issues and trends affecting
science, medicine and the environment | Earthwatch:
A Diary of the Planet

Gruesome Health Threat

June 18, 1998

Some areas of the Middle East are becoming infested with a fly-borne outbreak of Old World screw-worm--a disease that affects both animals and humans. The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization says that 58,000 animals and 19 humans have been infected in Iraq since the disease emerged in 1995. It has since spread into Kuwait and Bahrain, and is suspected to be in other countries. the disease is spread by adult screwworm flies that lay eggs on broken skin. The eggs hatch into carnivorous larvae that enter the wound to feed on live tissue. Severe infections result as the growing larvae increase up to 30 times in size in eight days. The last outbreak was eradicated in Libya only through a coordinated international effort between 1989 and 1993.

Frost Stings Crops

Many farmers in North Dakota have never been hit as badly as during the freak frost and snow that occurred in early June. The freezing temperatures killed about 75% of the alfalfa, devastating not only that crop but also the state's key honey output. Bees normally pollinate the alfalfa and use its pollen to make honey. Some farmers are reporting to feeding their hives corn syrup to keep the insects from starving.

Earthquakes

The most powerful earthquake to be felt in Iceland's capital of Reykjavik in 30 years shook the southern half of the island nation. It was one in a brief swarm of tremors associated with deep moving lava. Earth movements were also felt in South Australia, southern Tibet, southwestern Japan, North Carolina and the Sierra Nevada.

Arabian Sea Cyclone

The most powerful tropical cyclone to strike western India in decades killed hundreds of people as it roared ashore near Porbunder, 280 miles northwest of Bombay. Winds in excess of 90 mph were accompanied by storm-surge tides up to 12 feet high that washed 20 port workers out to sea. Many of the other victims were killed by lightning and collapsing houses.

Heat Kills Thousands

The blistering heat that has parched much of the Indian sub-continent in recent weeks has killed more than 2,500 people across the region. The hottest weather in decades brought businesses and government operations to a standstill, and caused motorists to desert the dusty highways.

Madagascar Swarms

The infestation of grasshoppers that has devoured a large portion of Madagascar's crops since the first of the year spread into the capital city of Antananarivo. A swarm at least 7 miles long flew into the capital of the Malagasy Republic, prompting the government to set up a crisis center to deal with the worst insect plague in 50 years.

Additional Sources: Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Indian Central Weather Observatory, U.S. Climate Analysis Center, U.S. Earthquake Information Center and the U.N. World Meteorological Organization

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