Second Earthquake Devastates Southern Japan
A deadly magnitude-7.3 earthquake hit southern Japan last Saturday, killing 44, injuring over 1000 and displacing around 100,000 people (BBC News, “Japan quake relief work continues amid aftershocks,” 04.19.2016).
The earthquake was centered in the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, not far from the city of Kumamoto. It followed a magnitude-6.4 earthquake in the same area this past Thursday, which killed nine people, injured 800 and derailed a bullet train (CNN, “Japan earthquake kills nine; more aftershocks expected,” 04.16.2016).
The cleanup effort is well underway. None of the nation’s nuclear power plants were affected and strict Japanese building codes mitigated property damage, but many homes, schools, hospitals and businesses were damaged. Many residents who have been forced to leave their homes are staying in shelters, and the government has been slow to provide emergency relief in some cases.
The 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan have been able to assist in the recovery effort. Using their Osprey rotor-tilt aircraft, the U.S. forces have airlifted supplies to those most in need (BBC News). This has been especially useful in delivering aid to remote areas, which are even more difficult to reach since many of the roads, bridges and trains have been destroyed.
There have been several aftershocks to the Saturday quake, but none have resulted in any serious injuries. However, some experts say that it could signify a shift in the fault line that could prove a worrying trend (Nikkei Asian Review, “Unusual quake cluster worries Japan,” 04.18.2016).
—Christopher Kremer, Guest Reporter
Zika Virus May Cause Microcephaly in Developing Brains
Zika virus is rapidly becoming a world health concern, with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) citing over 40 countries and territories where the disease is present (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “All Countries and Territories with Active Zika Virus Transmission,” 04.18.2016). The virus can be spread by mosquito bites or sexual contact. Though the virus may cause fever, rash and joint pain, the majority of infected individuals experience no symptoms at all. The fear and uncertainty surrounding Zika virus is largely due to its suspected role in birth defects such as microcephaly.
Microcephaly is a condition involving a reduced circumference of head resulting from incomplete or improper brain development (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Microcephaly,” 03.14.2016). The condition can result in seizures, developmental delays and intellectual impairments, sensory issues, and problems with movement and balance.
These disorders and issues are often lifelong, and since there is no cure or treatment for microcephaly itself, physicians can only attempt to alleviate the resultant effects.
There are many reasons to associate Zika virus infection in pregnant women with birth defects such as microcephaly. Regarding a study with mice, The New York Times reported, “That echoed the observations in humans: The infection causes grievous damage in newborns but not in adults” (The New York Times, “5 Reasons to Think Virus Causes Microcephaly,” 04.01.16).
There still is much to learn about how the virus kills cells and restricts development. Scientists are looking to study normal brain development in addition to the unknown mechanisms behind Zika’s deleterious effects on fetal brains.
Others are seeking to reform and assist health care systems to provide lifelong care for affected individuals. However, many affected regions are ill-prepared to provide relief of this scale and duration.
This approach seeks to understand and prevent these serious birth defects, and administer a plan to combat Zika-induced microcephaly.
—Zander Bashaw, Humor & Satire Editor