For Ancient Megalodon, Killer Whale Would be a Snack, Research Says

Today’s sharks have nothing on their ancient cousins. A giant shark that roamed the oceans millions of years ago could have devoured a creature the size of a killer whale in just five bites, new research suggests.

For their study published Wednesday, researchers used fossil evidence to create a 3D model of the megalodon — one of the biggest predatory fish of all time — and find clues about its life.

At around 16 meters from nose to tail, the megalodon was bigger than a school bus, according to the study in the journal Science Advances. That’s about two to three times the size of today’s great white shark. The megalodon’s gaping jaw allowed it to feed on other big creatures. Once it filled its massive stomach, it could roam the oceans for months at a time, the researchers suggest.

The megalodon was a strong swimmer, too: Its average cruising speed was faster than sharks today and it could have migrated across multiple oceans with ease, they calculated.

“It would be a superpredator just dominating its ecosystem,” said co-author John Hutchinson, who studies the evolution of animal movement at England’s Royal Veterinary College. “There is nothing really matching it.

It’s been tough for scientists to get a clear picture of the megalodon, said study author Catalina Pimiento, a paleobiologist with the University of Zurich and Swansea University in Wales.

The skeleton is made of soft cartilage that doesn’t fossilize well, Pimiento said. So the scientists used what few fossils are available, including a rare collection of vertebrae that’s been at a Belgium museum since the 1860s.

Researchers also brought in a jaw’s worth of megalodon teeth, each as big as a human fist, Hutchinson said. Scans of modern great white sharks helped flesh out the rest.

Based on their digital creation, researchers calculated that the megalodon would have weighed around 70 tons, or as much as 10 elephants.

Even other high-level predators may have been lunch meat for the megalodon, which could open its jaw to almost 2 meters wide, Pimiento said.

Megalodons lived an estimated 23 million to 2.6 million years ago.

Since megalodon fossils are rare, these kinds of models require a “leap of imagination,” said Michael Gottfried, a paleontologist at Michigan State University who was not involved in the study. But he said the study’s findings are reasonable based on what is known about the giant shark. 

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US Judge: Pharmacies Owe 2 Ohio Counties $650M in Opioids Suit

A federal judge in Cleveland awarded $650 million in damages Wednesday to two Ohio counties that won a landmark lawsuit against national pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, claiming the way they distributed opioids to customers caused severe harm to communities and created a public nuisance.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster said in the ruling that the money will be used to abate a continuing opioid crisis in Lake and Trumbull counties, outside Cleveland. Attorneys for the counties put the total price tag at $3.3 billion for the damage done to the counties.

Lake County is to receive $306 million over 15 years. Trumbull County is to receive $344 million over the same period. Polster ordered the companies to immediately pay nearly $87 million to cover the first two years of the abatement plan.

In his ruling, Polster admonished the three companies, saying they “squandered the opportunity to present a meaningful plan to abate the nuisance” after a trial that considered what damages they might owe.

CVS, Walmart and Walgreens said they will appeal the ruling. It is unclear whether the companies will have to immediately pay the nearly $87 million during their appeals.

Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda praised the award in a statement, saying “the harms caused by this devastating epidemic” can now be addressed.

Lake County Commissioner John Hamercheck said in a statement: “Today marks the start of a new day in our fight to end the opioid epidemic.”

A jury returned a verdict in November in favor of the counties after a six-week trial. It was then left to Polster to decide how much the counties should receive from the three pharmacy companies. He heard testimony in May to determine damages.

The counties convinced the jury that the pharmacies played an outsized role in creating a public nuisance in the way they dispensed pain medication into their communities.

It was the first time pharmacy companies completed a trial to defend themselves in a drug crisis that has killed a half-million Americans since 1999.

Attorneys for the pharmacy chains maintained they had policies to stem the flow of pills when their pharmacists had concerns and would notify authorities about suspicious orders from doctors. They also said it was doctors who controlled how many pills were prescribed for legitimate medical needs, not their pharmacies.

Walmart issued a statement Wednesday saying the counties’ attorneys “sued Walmart in search of deep pockets, and this judgment follows a trial that was engineered to favor the plaintiffs’ attorneys and was riddled with remarkable legal and factual mistakes.”

Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman said, “The facts and the law did not support the jury verdict last fall, and they do not support the court’s decision now.

“The court committed significant legal errors in allowing the case to go before a jury on a flawed legal theory that is inconsistent with Ohio law and compounded those errors in reaching its ruling regarding damages.”

CVS spokesperson Michael DeAngelis said, “We strongly disagree with the court’s decision regarding the counties’ abatement plan, as well as last fall’s underlying verdict.”

CVS is based in Rhode Island, Walgreens in Illinois and Walmart in Arkansas.

Two chains — Rite Aid and Giant Eagle — settled lawsuits with the counties before trial. The amounts they paid have not been disclosed publicly.

Mark Lanier, an attorney for the counties, said during the trial that the pharmacies were attempting to blame everyone but themselves.

The opioid crisis has overwhelmed courts, social services agencies and law enforcement in Ohio’s blue-collar corner east of Cleveland, leaving behind heartbroken families and babies born to addicted mothers, Lanier told jurors.

Roughly 80 million prescription painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County alone between 2012 and 2016 — equivalent to 400 for every resident. In Lake County, 61 million pills were distributed during that period.

The rise in physicians prescribing pain medications such as oxycodone and hydrocodone came as medical groups began recognizing that patients have the right to be treated for pain, Kaspar Stoffelmayr, an attorney for Walgreens, said at the opening of the trial.

The problem, he said, was “pharmaceutical manufacturers tricked doctors into writing way too many pills.”

The counties said pharmacies should be the last line of defense to prevent the pills from getting into the wrong hands.

The trial before Polster was part of a broader constellation of about 3,000 federal opioid lawsuits consolidated under his supervision. Other cases are moving ahead in state courts.

Kevin Roy, chief public policy officer at Shatterproof, an organization that advocates for solutions to addiction, said in November that the verdict could lead pharmacies to follow the path of major distribution companies and some drugmakers that have reached nationwide settlements of opioid cases worth billions. So far, no pharmacy has reached a nationwide settlement.

Also on Wednesday, attorneys general from numerous states announced they had reached an agreement with Endo International to pay as much as $450 million over 10 years to settle allegations the company used deceptive marketing practices “that downplayed the risk of addiction and overstated the benefits” of opioids it produced.

Based in Ireland, Endo’s U.S. headquarters are in Malvern, Pennsylvania. The company did not respond Wednesday to telephone and email requests for comment.

The agreement calls for the $450 million to be divided among participating states and communities. It also calls for Endo to put opioid-related documents online for public viewing and pay $2.75 million in expenses to publicly archive those documents.

Endo can never again market opioids, according to the agreement.

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday night.

Endo produces generic opioids and name brands such as Percocet and Endocet. The company’s Opana ER opioid was withdrawn from the market in 2017. The attorneys general say Endo “falsely promoted the benefits” of Opana ER’s “so-called abuse deterrent formulation.” The attorneys general said the formulation did not deter abuse of the drug and led to deadly outbreaks of hepatitis and HIV resulting from people injecting the drug.

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Studies Examining if Mutations Behind Monkeypox Spread, WHO Say

Studies are underway to see whether genetic changes in the monkeypox virus are driving the rapid spread of the disease, the World Health Organization told AFP on Wednesday.

The two distinct clades, or variants, of the virus were called the Congo Basin (Central African) and West African clades, after the two regions where they are each endemic.

On Friday, the WHO renamed the groupings as clade I and clade II respectively, to avoid geographic stigmatization.

It also announced that clade II had two sub-clades, IIa and IIb, with viruses within the latter identified as being behind the current global outbreak.

On Wednesday, the U.N. health agency specified that clades IIa and IIb are related and share a recent common ancestor, therefore IIb is not an offshoot of IIa.

Research into mutations

Clade IIb contains viruses collected in the 1970s, and from 2017 onward.

“Looking through the genome, indeed there are a few genetic differences between the viruses from the current outbreak and the older clade IIb viruses,” the WHO told AFP.

“However, nothing is known about the significance of these genetic changes, and research is ongoing to establish the effects (if any) of these mutations on transmission and disease severity.

“It is still early on in both the outbreak and laboratory studies to tell if the rise in infections could be driven by the observed genotypic changes in the virus or are due to host (human) factors.”

There is also no information yet on what the mutations mean in terms of how the virus interacts with the human immune response.

A surge in monkeypox infections has been reported since early May outside the endemic African countries.

The WHO declared the situation an international public health emergency on July 23.

More than 35,000 cases in 92 countries, and 12 deaths, have now been reported to the WHO.

Almost all new cases are being reported from Europe and the Americas.

Experts have been studying samples from cases.

“The diversity between the viruses responsible for the current outbreak is minimal, and there is no obvious genotypic differences between the viruses from the non-endemic countries,” the WHO said.

Renaming monkeypox could take months

Meanwhile the WHO said its drive to rename monkeypox could take “a number of months.”

The organization has for weeks voiced concern about the name, with experts concerned that it is misleading.

Monkeypox received its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958.

However, the disease is found most frequently in rodents, and the current outbreak is being spread through human-to-human close contact.

The WHO has called for help from the public in coming up with a new name, with a dedicated website where anyone can make suggestions.

“We will update the public by the end of the year,” the WHO said.

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Литва і Данія підтримують загальноєвропейську заборону на видачу віз громадянам Росії – ЗМІ

Глава МЗС Литви сумнівається в ефективності окремих заходів, потрібне саме загальноєвропейське рішення про заборону видачі віз громадянам Росії

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Malawi Cholera Cases Rise Despite Vaccination Campaign

Despite a nationwide vaccination campaign that started in May, Malawi is struggling to contain a cholera outbreak that has infected more than 1,073 people and caused 44 deaths. 

The figures from the Malawi Ministry of Health, updated as of Aug. 16, 2022, are triple the numbers recorded when the vaccination campaign was launched three months ago. 

 

The report also says the outbreak has spread to 10 districts from eight in May. The hardest hit districts include Blantyre with 489 cases, Neno with 128 cases, and Nsanje with 289 cases.  

 

George Mbotwa, spokesperson for a health office in Nsanje district, which borders Mozambique south of Malawi, said continued incidents of cholera in the district are largely because of movements of people between the two countries. 

 

“What is worrisome is that we have now continued to record the cases when by now we would have contained the situation,” he said. “It’s because some of these cases we are sharing with Mozambique. So, the cases will be coming from Mozambique and then reporting to health facilities in Nsanje, then being recorded as Nsanje cases.”

Mbotwa said the situation is slowly improving, after officials on the Mozambican side agreed during recent discussions to set up cholera treatment sites on their side of the border.  

“The Mozambican side by then didn’t have cholera treatment sites, and now they have them there, so people are able to report the cases right there, unlike coming with cases to Malawi,” he said. 

Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with bacteria. The disease affects both children and adults, and if untreated, it can kill within hours.  

 

Penjani Chunda, environmental health officer in Blantyre, said although Blantyre is largely an urban area, cholera cases are on the rise because most people fetch water from unprotected sources like rivers and streams. 

 

“In most parts of Blantyre, we don’t have portable water sources,” he said. “It might be like an urban setup, but it has no portable water sources, and we have got dry taps in some of the areas and [water] kiosks are not working at all.”  

The spokesperson for the Health Ministry, Adrian Chikumbe, said health authorities are currently distributing chlorine for water treatment, and providing public education on good hygiene.  

 

Chikumbe also hopes the second phase of the national oral cholera vaccination campaign, which is expected to start soon in the most-hit districts, will help contain the situation.     

 

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India’s Vast Rural Areas Plug into Digital Economy  

In the past year, there has seen a dramatic transformation in the way customers pay for their purchases in Banuri, a village in the Himachal Pradesh state of North India. Whether at a small grocery store or a street cart, instead of handing over cash, they use a simple system that involves scanning a code on a smartphone to make an online payment.

“Even if someone buys only half a kilogram of vegetables, he can pay digitally. We do the smallest of transactions,” said Nishant Sharma, a vegetable vendor in Banuri as he hands over a cauliflower to a customer that costs 75 cents. “It is much easier than handling cash.”

In recent years, a government initiative called “Digital India” has helped millions plug into new digital technologies as internet access expands to distant areas. One of them is a payments system that is transforming the way retail business is transacted in vast rural areas and small towns, where more than two thirds of India’s 1.4 billion people live.

Much like glitzy city stores, street vendors to small shops are making the switch to digital payments. But instead of credit or debit cards, they use India’s Unified Payment Interface popularly known as UPI. It is a payment system that involves no merchant fees and can be used for the smallest of transactions to make instant transfers across bank accounts. It was developed under the initiative of India’s Central Bank.

“It is the ease of the technology and overall reduction in transaction cost that has made this system popular. It takes place with the click of a button, it is cost-effective, and easy to manage,” said economist N.R. Bhanumurthy, Vice Chancellor at D.R. Ambedkar School of Economics University in Bengaluru. “It is certainly a huge transformation from what we did in the past and has changed the way we do business.”

Its expansion has also been helped by a massive push in recent years to bring more people into the banking system. More than 80% of adults now have bank accounts, compared to just one-third of adults some years ago. Affordable smartphones that cost as little as $50 are in the hands of about 750 million people. The COVID-19 pandemic, when cash transactions were discouraged, also prompted many to switch to digital payments.

“The Digital India Movement can bring about revolutionary changes in India and the lives of the common man,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at an Independence Day address on Monday. According to the Indian leader, 40% of the real-time digital transactions made in the world now take place in India.

Whether in big towns, cities, or small villages, India’s retail sector is dominated by millions of small stores and shops, who for decades only did business in cash.

The speed and scale with which they are embracing the new payment system is evident in Banuri village. The owner of a chemist shop, Akhilesh Sharma, said about 70% of his customers pay online. It has eased his life.

“Whenever I open PhonePe or Google Pay app, all the transactions are done in my business account,” said Sharma. “In cash, I have to count the money at the end of the day, and it is a little long process. Then I have to go to bank and deposit the cash.”

Economists say digital payments boost business by facilitating transactions. Small town and village residents, especially younger customers, are also discovering the benefits of going cashless.

“I don’t have to worry about carrying money,” said Vikas Sharma, a resident of Palampur. “Earlier when I went to a crowded place, I worried about getting my wallet stolen. Now all I need is my phone.”

Digital transactions are just one of the benefits that the internet has brought people living in outlying areas. For older people such as a retired government employee, Romesh Dogra, the biggest benefit is connecting via video calls with his three daughters who live outside his district.

“I get energized daily when I talk to my grandchildren,” said Dogra, a retired official. “I can watch them growing up. Life has become good.”

There are still gaps to plug in — internet speeds can pose a challenge, especially in villages and small towns. And while the numbers of people with access to the internet have doubled to nearly 700 million in the last five years, millions are still not connected. But with rapid progress, it may not take long for India’s digital footprint to expand.

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India’s Vast Rural Areas Plug into Digital Economy

In India, an initiative to bring internet access across the country has helped millions plug into new digital technologies. One of them is a payments system that is transforming the way business is being done in the vast rural areas of the country. Anjana Pasricha has a report.

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CDC Chief Announces Agency Shake-Up Aimed at Improving Speed

The head of the top U.S. public health agency on Wednesday announced a shake-up of the organization, intended to make it more nimble.

The planned changes at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — CDC leaders call it a “reset”— come amid ongoing criticism of the agency’s response to COVID-19, monkeypox and other public health threats. The changes include internal staffing moves and steps to speed up data releases.

The CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told the agency’s staff about the changes on Wednesday. It’s a CDC initiative, and was not directed by the White House or other administration officials, she said.

“I feel like it’s my my responsibility to lead this agency to a better place after a really challenging three years,” Walensky told The Associated Press.

The CDC, with a $12 billion budget and more than 11,000 employees, is an Atlanta-based federal agency charged with protecting Americans from disease outbreaks and other public health threats. It’s customary for each CDC director to do some reorganizing, but Walensky’s action comes amid a wider demand for change.

The agency has long been criticized as too ponderous, focusing on collection and analysis of data but not acting quickly against new health threats. But public unhappiness with the agency grew dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts said the CDC was slow to recognize how much virus was entering the U.S. from Europe, to recommend people wear masks, to say the virus can spread through the air, and to ramp up systematic testing for new variants.

“We saw during COVID that CDC’s structures, frankly, weren’t designed to take in information, digest it and disseminate it to the public at the speed necessary,” said Jason Schwartz, a health policy researcher at the Yale School of Public Health.

Walensky, who became director in January 2021, has long said the agency has to move faster and communicate better, but stumbles have continued during her tenure.

In April, she called for an in-depth review of the agency, which resulted in the announced changes. Her reorganization proposal must be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services secretary. CDC officials say they hope to have a full package of changes finalized, approved, and underway by early next year.

Some changes still are being formulated, but steps announced Wednesday include:

—Increasing use of preprint scientific reports to get out actionable data, instead of waiting for research to go through peer review and publication by the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

—Restructuring the agency’s communications office and further revamping CDC websites to make the agency’s guidance for the public more clear and easier to find.

—Altering the length of time agency leaders are devoted to outbreak responses to a minimum of six months — an effort to address a turnover problem that at times caused knowledge gaps and affected the agency’s communications.

—Creation of a new executive council to help Walensky set strategy and priorities.

—Appointing Mary Wakefield as senior counselor to implement the changes. Wakefield headed the Health Resources and Services Administration during the Obama administration and also served as the No. 2 administrator at HHS. Wakefield, 68, started Monday.

—Altering the agency’s organization chart to undo some changes made during the Trump administration.

—Establishing an office of intergovernmental affairs to smooth partnerships with other agencies, as well as a higher-level office on health equity.

Walensky also said she intends to “get rid of some of the reporting layers that exist, and I’d like to work to break down some of the silos.” She did not say exactly what that may entail, but emphasized that the overall changes are less about redrawing the organization chart than rethinking how the CDC does business and motivates staff.

“This will not be simply moving boxes” on the organization chart, she said.

Schwartz said flaws in the federal response go beyond the CDC, because the White House and other agencies were heavily involved.

A CDC reorganization is a positive step but “I hope it’s not the end of the story,” Schwartz said. He would like to see “a broader accounting” of how the federal government handles health crises.

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Китай заявив, що відправить свої війська до Росії для спільних військових навчань

Міноборони країни стверджує, що спільні навчання «не пов’язані з поточною міжнародною та регіональною ситуацією»

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У Росії поліція прийшла з обшуками до журналістів, які співпрацюють з Радіо Свобода

 У Росії поліція провела обшуки у будинках кількох журналістів, які співпрацюють з російською службою Радіо Свобода та причетні до онлайн-проекту «Ідель.Реалії», який висвітлює новини та події Волго-Уральського регіону.

17 серпня поліція столиці російської республіки Татарстан Казані провела обшук у соціолога Іскандера Ясавєєва, оглядача онлайн-проекту «Ідель.Реалії».

Адвокат Ясавєєва Рим Сабіров повідомив, що поліція доставила його підзахисного на допит у Слідчий комітет. За словами Сабірова, правоохоронці вилучили всі мобільні телефони у членів сім’ї Ясавєєва. Наразі невідомо, чому Ясавєєва, який відомий своєю відкритою позицією проти повномасштабного вторгнення Росії до України, затримали для проведення допиту.

Тим часом прокремлівський веб-сайт «Татар-Інформ» 17 серпня повідомив, що поліція провела обшуки в домівках семи інших місцевих журналістів, які працюють як фрілансери або співпрацюють з російською та татаро-башкирською службами Радіо Свобода, а також з «Ідель.Реалії». Зокрема відомо про обшуки у Марини Юдкевич, яка також є колумністом «Ідель.Реалії».

Як повідомляє «Татар-Інформ», обшуки пов’язані зі статтями журналістів, які висвітлюють агресію Росії проти України.

Російський президент Володимир Путін у березні підписав закон, який передбачає тривалі терміни ув’язнення за поширення «неправдивої інформації» про російські військові операції, оскільки Кремль прагне контролювати повідомлення про війну в Україні. Закон передбачає покарання для осіб, визнаних винними у вчиненні злочину, до 10 років позбавлення волі, а за поширення «завідомо неправдивої інформації» про російську армію, що призвело до «тяжких наслідків», передбачено покарання у вигляді 15 років позбавлення волі.

Закон також визнає незаконними «заклики проти використання російських військ для захисту інтересів Росії» або «за дискредитацію такого використання» з можливим покаранням у вигляді позбавлення волі на строк до трьох років.

Численні веб-сайти Радіо Свобода, BBC та інших незалежних ЗМІ були заблоковані через, як стверджують російські регулятори, неправдиві повідомлення.

Крім того, 17 серпня поліція уральського міста Єкатеринбург арештувала співробітницю російської служби Радіо Свобода та кількох інших незалежних ЗМІ Олену Шукаєву на 14 днів за звинуваченням у пропаганді та публічній демонстрації символіки екстремістських груп. 

Адвокат журналістки Роман Качанов заявив, що звинувачення проти його підзахисної пов’язане з її репостом матеріалів, підготовлених командою ув’язненого опозиціонера Олексія Навального.

Минулого року Росія у рамках посилення репресій проти опозиції оголосила Фонд боротьби з корупцією Навального «екстремістським» і заборонила використання будь-якої символіки, пов’язаної з ним.

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