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The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that the monkeypox outbreaks spreading worldwide are a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). It is only the seventh PHEIC since the alarm system originated in 2005, joining such concerning outbreaks as H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009 and COVID-19 in 2020. The first cases of monkeypox outside Africa were detected in May, and since then more than 16,500 people have been confirmed infected in nearly 80 countries. Researchers warn that the window of opportunity to contain the global outbreaks is closing. They hope the PHEIC, the WHO’s highest alarm, will send a message to countries that their participation in the global response is necessary for containment.
Nature | 6 min read
The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the largest drop in childhood vaccinations in 30 years. Last year alone, 25 million children missed immunizations against infections such as measles and polio, leading to avoidable outbreaks of disease. Higher-income countries saw only a slight decrease in vaccination coverage — from 95% in 2019 to 94% in 2021. But “even a small decrease in vaccine coverage … can open the door for outbreaks to occur anywhere”, says a WHO spokesperson. There is hope: many countries are implementing catch-up immunization campaigns.
Nature | 4 min read
Areas of one of the largest old-growth rainforests on Earth and the Virunga National Park — home to around one-third of the world’s mountain gorillas — could be auctioned off for oil drilling. The Democratic Republic of Congo says the about-face is necessary to support its financial stability, which is under pressure because of soaring oil prices following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Most oil companies declined to comment on whether they would bid for rights to exploit the area (TotalEnergies said it does not intend to bid).
“Our priority is not to save the planet,” said Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, the nation’s lead representative on climate issues. His blunt words highlight a crucial question of the climate emergency: how can rich countries, which built their prosperity on fossil fuels and the exploitation of other regions’ natural resources, demand that poorer nations keep their fossil fuels in the ground? “Maybe it’s time we get a level playing field and be compensated,” said Mpanu. “We just have to see how much people value that resource.”
The New York Times | 7 min read
Two common viruses seem to be the cause of a rise in unexplained cases of hepatitis, or liver inflammation, in UK children. Two preprint studies, which have not yet been peer reviewed, report that adeno-associated virus 2 (AAV2) was found in almost all the affected children and not in other similar children. Children are normally exposed to AAV2 when they’re very young, and they don’t become ill. Pandemic health precautions might have delayed those early infections, causing a peak after rules were lifted — revealing a previously undetected link between AAV2 and hepatitis.
New Scientist | 6 min read
Read more: Mysterious child hepatitis continues to vex researchers (Nature | 6 min read, from June)
Reference: medRxiv preprint and Great Ormond Street Hospital preprint
Features & opinion
One of the applications of a type of device called a nanophotonic biosensor is especially sweet: maple syrup. The device uses nanometre-sized gold particles to harness the properties of light to identify specific flavour compounds that typically go unnoticed by the untrained tongue. In health-care applications, these are known as point-of-care tests. Scientists note that the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the value of biosensors that can be deployed directly at the site where results are required.
Nature | 10 min read
Personal experiences with extreme weather and a desire to make a difference are some of the reasons why scientists shift their focus to fight climate change. “I want to do more than just document a sinking ship — I want to help right it,” says marine ecologist Julia Baum. Four researchers describe how they found different ways to respond to the planet’s biggest threat — from quitting tenure to overhauling their academic programme.
Nature | 9 min read
Where I work
“I drop rocks down mountainsides — for science,” says rockfall scientist Andrin Caviezel. Rockslides “can damage roads, railways, buildings and tunnels, and the risk only grows as climate change shrinks glaciers and exposes more loose rock”. In this picture, he is placing a sensor inside an artificial 3.2-tonne cement block. It will be dropped by a helicopter onto Schraubachtobel Mountain in the Swiss Alps. “We’re studying how obstacles such as trees and dead wood affect a rock’s path,” says Caviezel. “It might seem a lopsided contest, but a tree that’s 30 centimetres thick can actually slow or deflect a 3-tonne rock.” (Nature | 3 min read)
See more: watch Caviezel roll a big artificial boulder down a mountainside in slow-motion (Twitter post | 1 min video)