Keeping an Orchestra in Business

If you are a regular listener of this network, the odds are you also like symphony music. But how many of you think of your local orchestra as a business? Our next guest certainly does. Mike Switzer interviews Michael Smith, executive director of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra .

SC DHEC Offers Free Radon Test Kits

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, it is estimated that radon is responsible for more than 21,000 lung cancer-related deaths. As part of Radon Action Month, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) is providing free kits for residents to test their homes for the invisible, odorless, tasteless gas. Richelle Tolton is Radon Coordinator for DHEC. She said elevated levels of the naturally-occurring gas have been found in almost every county in South Carolina, but testing would help paint a more detailed picture of where elevated levels are. "Our program initially started in the area of predicted mapping that had been done in the late 1980's and early 1990's." Tolton said that work had primarily been done in the upstate area in Greenville County. "But as the program grew, we've expanded and we have seen the elevated amounts. In some counties, we haven't had enough testing to really be able to say whether there are elevated levels

2016, an ‘extreme year for climate,’ is the hottest on record so far

Last year, the Earth sweltered under the hottest temperatures in modern times for the third year in a row, US scientists said on Wednesday, raising new concerns about the quickening pace of climate change.

Temperatures spiked to new national highs in parts of India, Kuwait and Iran, while sea ice melted faster than ever in the fragile Arctic, said the report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Taking a global average of the land and sea surface temperatures for the entire year, NOAA found the data for "2016 was the highest since record keeping began in 1880," said the announcement.

The global average temperature last year was 1.69 Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, and 0.07 degrees F warmer than in 2015, the last record-setting year, according to NOAA.

A separate analysis by the US space agency NASA also found that 2016 was the hottest on record.

The World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, confirmed the findings, and noted that atmospheric concentrations of both carbon dioxide and methane reached record levels.

"2016 was an extreme year for the global climate and stands out as the hottest year on record," said Petteri Taalas, the agency's secretary general.

Upward trend  

Each of the first eight months of the year "had record high temperatures for their respective months," NOAA said.

The main reason for the rise is the burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas, which send carbon dioxide, methane and other pollutants known as greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere and warm the planet.

The mounting toll of industrialization on the Earth's natural balance is increasingly apparent in the record books.

"Since the start of the 21st century, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times," between 2005 and 2016, said NOAA.

Another factor has been the Pacific Ocean warming trend of El Nino, which experts say exacerbates the planet's already rising warmth.

El Nino comes and goes. The latest episode became particularly strong in 2015 and subsided about halfway through 2016.

But El Nino was responsible for just a small fraction of last year's warmth, according to Peter Stott, acting director of Britain's Met Office Hadley Center.

"The main contributor to warming over the last 150 years is human influence on climate from increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," he said.

Piers Forster, director of the Priestley International Center for Climate at the University of Leeds, agreed.

"Even if you remove the extra warming due to El Nino, 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded," Forster said.

"2017 will likely be cooler. However, unless we have a major volcanic eruption, I expect the record to be broken again within a few years."

Scenes from a warming world 

All of North America was the warmest since records began in 1910, breaking that region's last record set in 1998.

Europe and Asia each saw their third hottest years on record, while Australia marked its fourth warmest year since records began more than a century ago.

Unusual spikes in temperature were seen in Phalodi, India, which reached 124 F (51 C) on May 19 — marking India's hottest temperature ever.

Dehloran, Iran, hit 127 F on July 22, a new national record.

Meanwhile, Mitribah, Kuwait, hit an all-time high of 129 F on July 21, which may be the highest temperature ever recorded in all of Asia, NOAA said.

Planetwide, the heat led to more melting at the poles. In the Arctic, average annual sea ice extent was approximately 3.92 million square miles, the smallest annual average in the record, NOAA said.

"In the Antarctic, annual Antarctic sea ice extent was the second smallest on record, behind 1986, at 4.31 million square miles," it said.

"Both the November and December 2016 extents were record small."

Dangers 

Unusually hot years wreak havoc on the planet by increasing heavy rainfall in some parts of the world while leading to drought in others, damaging crops.

Fish and birds must migrate farther than ever to find suitable temperatures.

Diseases can spread faster in the warming oceans, sickening marine life and killing corals.

Glaciers and polar ice caps melt, leading to sea level rise that will eventually swallow many of the globe's coastal communities, home to some 1 billion people.

Experts say the only solution is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, in favor of Earth-friendly renewable energy such as wind and solar. 

"Climate change is one of the great challenges of the 21st-century and shows no signs of slowing down," said Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London.

"The decarbonization of the global economy is the ultimate goal to prevent the worst effects of climate change."

Think antibiotic-resistant ‘super-bugs’ are only a distant threat? Think again.

If it sometimes seems like the idea of antibiotic resistance, though unsettling, is more theoretical than real, please read on.

Public health officials from Nevada are reporting on a case of a woman who died in Reno in September from an incurable infection. Testing showed the superbug that had spread throughout her system could fend off 26 different antibiotics.

“It was tested against everything that’s available in the United States … and was not effective,” said Dr. Alexander Kallen, a medical officer in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division of health care quality promotion.

Although this isn’t the first time someone in the US has been infected with pan-resistant bacteria, at this point, it is not common. It is, however, alarming.

“I think this is the harbinger of future badness to come,” said Dr. James Johnson, a professor of infectious diseases medicine at the University of Minnesota and a specialist at the Minnesota VA Medical Center.

Other scientists are saying this case is yet another sign that researchers and governments need to take antibiotic resistance seriously. It was reported Thursday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a journal published by the CDC.

The authors of the report note this case underscores the need for hospitals to ask incoming patients about foreign travel and also about whether they had recently been hospitalized elsewhere.

The case involved a woman who had spent considerable time in India, where multi-drug-resistant bacteria are more common than they are in the US. She had broken her right femur — the big bone in the thigh — while in India a couple of years back. She later developed a bone infection in her femur and her hip and was hospitalized a number of times in India in the two years that followed. Her last admission to a hospital in India was in June of last year.

The unnamed woman — described as a resident of Washoe County who was in her 70s — went into hospital in Reno for care in mid-August, where it was discovered she was infected with what is called a CRE — carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae. That’s a general name to describe bacteria that commonly live in the gut that have developed resistance to the class of antibiotics called carbapenems — an important last-line of defense used when other antibiotics fail. CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden has called CREs “nightmare bacteria” because of the danger they pose for spreading antibiotic resistance.

In the woman’s case, the specific bacteria attacking her was called Klebsiella pneumoniae, a bug that often causes of urinary tract infections.

Testing at the hospital showed resistance to 14 drugs — all the drug options the hospital had, said Lei Chen, a senior epidemiologist with Washoe County Health District and an author of the report. “It was my first time to see a [resistance] pattern in our area,” she said.

A sample was sent to the CDC in Atlanta for further testing, which revealed that nothing available to US doctors would have cured this infection. Kallen admitted people in this field experience a sinking feeling when they’re faced with a superbug like this one.

“I think it’s concerning. We have relied for so long on just newer and newer antibiotics. But obviously the bugs can often [develop resistance] faster than we can make new ones,” he said.

Doctors and scientists who track the spread of antibiotic resistance — the rapidly proliferating swarm superbugs — see this case as a big red flag.

“If we’re waiting for some sort of major signal that we need to attack this internationally, we need an aggressive program, both domestically and internationally to attack this problem, here’s one more signal that we need to do that,” said Lance Price, who heads the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University.

There is international recognition of the threat, which an expert report published last year warned could kill 10 million a year by 2050 if left unchecked. In September, the UN General Assembly held a high-level meeting on antibiotic resistance, only the fourth time the body had addressed a health issue.

The woman in Nevada was cared for in isolation; the staff who treated her used infection control precautions to prevent spread of the superbug in the hospital. Chen and Randall Todd, a health department colleague, told STAT testing was done to look for additional infections, but so far none have been detected.

Johnson said it’s likely, though, that other people in the US are carrying similar bacteria in their guts and could become sick at some point. “It’s possible that this is the only person in the US and she had the bad luck to go to India, pick up the bad bug, come back and here it is, we found her and now that she’s dead, it’s gone from the US. That is highly improbable,” he said.

“People have asked me many times ‘How scared should we be?’ … ‘How close are we to the edge of the cliff?’ And I tell them: We’re already falling off the cliff,” Johnson said. “It’s happening. It’s just happening — so far — on a relatively small scale and mostly far away from us. People that we don’t see … so it doesn’t have the same emotional impact.’’

Reprinted with permission from STAT, a Boston-based news site covering health & medicine.