Oh, Mercy!

STL Bomb Squad

STL Bomb Squad

Anne had a routine medical exam today at Mercy Hospital, formerly St. Johns, where Dave was born. When she showed up for her appointment, what she didn’t know was that the hospital was in the middle of a bomb scare. She was slightly inconvenienced, when a police officer directed her to detour away from the epicenter of the incident. Fortunately for her, her appointment was at the opposite end of the hospital campus from the site of the bomb scare. Waiting room personnel were watching events unfold on live TV, while Anne waited for her appointment. I-270 was closed for several hours and many people who were stranded out on the highway were highly inconvenienced. Including one pregnant women, who went into labor and had to be evacuated by the local fire chief. News reports are still sketchy. Involved is a 50 year-old man who had come to the hospital’s ER for a mental health evaluation. ER personnel noticed two suspicious packages in his company. An ER person carried a duffel bag out of the ER and away from the building. The man carried a second smaller package further away and placed it on the hospital’s helipad. He waited there until the authorities arrived. The bomb squad ‘disabled’ this package and examined the duffel bag, but no information about what they found has been released. Stay tuned though, news is at five and I’m sure that this story will lead. It will be interesting to see how this will all play out, especially in light of yesterday’s Orlando massacre. UPDATE: It was a false alarm.

Getting Your Ducks in a Row

Merganser Ducklings at Sunset

Merganser Ducklings at Sunset

On NPR tonight, there was an interesting science article. It started off describing the “first-night effect”. This is what researchers call people’s inability to get a good night’s sleep on the first night that they are in unfamiliar surroundings. I’ve suffered from this syndrome for years. I notice it most acutely while on business trips. I’ve always attributed it to my nerves about the next day’s meeting, but apparently it is much more primordial than that. Sleep researchers noticed that their subjects had trouble sleeping in the lab on the first night too. Hooking the subjects up to probes they found that slow-wave activity, which appears in deep sleep was more prominent in the left hemisphere than in the right. Their subjects were effectively resting only half their brain. This is the first time that this behavior has been observed in humans, but ornithologists have seen this in birds for years.

When a duck rests with another duck on either side of it that duck sleeps with both eyes closed, but a duck at the end of the row closes only one eye and leaves the eye away from the other ducks open. Unlike ducks, humans are not subjected to many marauding predators at the Hilton Garden Inn, but our brains have not adapted to this changed situation. For the next day’s big presentation, the best that you can do then is drink lots of coffee in the morning. Pictured are Red-breasted Mergansers at sunset on Lake Superior.

West Nile and Zika

Robin in Holly

Robin in Holly

Joe LaManna was last night’s speaker at Science on Tap. Dr. LaManna is an ornithologist who is studying at Washington University the long term effects of the West Nile virus on US bird populations. While, his talk was about West Nile, he began with a discussion of the Zika virus. Both viruses are of the Flavivirus genus and both viruses have in recent years emigrated from the Old world to the New, 1999 for West Nile and 2014 for Zika. While humans are the primary host for Zika, birds are the main hosts for West Nile. Mosquitoes are the vector for both diseases. The Asian tiger mosquito spreads West Nile in Saint Louis, while the Aedes Aegypti mosquito is spreading Zika across the Americas. Both mosquitoes are members of the Culex genus and also look enough alike that they are difficult to tell apart. LaManna referred to Aedes Aegypti as the Norway rat of mosquitoes, because like that rat, it has adapted well to living with humans. He offered one bit of solace for Saint Louisans, Aedes Aegypti is a tropical mosquito and as such will not likely range any further north in the US than the Gulf coast.

West Nile entered the US through NYC, most likely carried by a sick bird imported as part of the animal trade. In three years it had spread across the lower forty-eight states. While birds are the most affected by West Nile, humans are susceptible too. 80% of humans contract the disease without manifesting any symptoms. 20% of people have mild cold or flu-like symptoms and 1%, mainly the elderly becomes seriously ill and some die. There have been over 5,000 human deaths attributed to West Nile in the US, with half of them coming from eastern Texas. LaManna even supposed that Alexander the Great might have died from West Nile. Outside Babylon, a flock of ravens fought in the sky above him and then fell dead at Alexander’s feet. He became ill and died in Babylon soon afterwards.

When West Nile swept across America bird populations crashed, but scientific studies showed that these populations soon recovered. I can still remember the disappearances of the crows and their subsequent recovery. LaManna contends that this is not the full story. For some bird species this is what occurred, but for more species the detrimental effects of West Nile continues to this day. Those initial bird population studies used a technique called the point-count survey. Simply put, experts go to a point in the woods and count the birds there. Then they come back the next year and repeat the process. While this system is accurate at counting bird populations, it doesn’t account for the disease’s enduring effects. Subsequent counts can include individuals that weren’t in the previous ones. Reproduction and migration can recoup losses from West Nile and skew these surveys.

LaManna recommends using banding and recapture as a more accurate means to count birds. He piggybacked upon just such a nationwide survey that began well before the advent of West Nile. He concentrated on about fifty common species of small birds, like the pictured robin above, giving his research good sample sizes. His results showed that while a third of the species showed the predicted initial mortality and recovery, two-thirds of the species show persistent mortality due to West Nile.

While, LaManna’s talk was about West Nile the specter of Zika was always lurking and it resurfaced again during the Q&A session. A question was asked about Brazil’s current Zika epidemic and the associated occurrence of microcephaly in infants. Columbia is also enduring a Zika epidemic, but doesn’t seem to have the same number of microcephaly cases, LaManna’s response was “It sounds like we both heard the same NPR article this morning.” In today’s news three pregnant women in Florida have tested positive for Zika. LaManna hopes that some of the lessons learned dealing with West Nile can be applied to the looming Zika crisis.

Water Skating

Water Skating

Water Skating

Another day, another bicycle ride and more nice weather, just not quite as warm as the last two days. I really shouldn’t complain, because 57 ºF, is really pretty good for February. Anne couldn’t ride with me today, because she had to grade school work instead. The photo is actually from yesterday, when it was 77 ºF out. The morning Post-Dispatch led with a picture of the same subject, a much better photograph than mine, I should add. Both photographs are close-ups of skater’s skates splashing in the melting ice of Steinberg Rink, during this spell of unseasonably warm weather.  In imitation of it, I took the above photograph. Think of it as the highest kind of flattery.

Big Shark Bicycles

Big Shark

Big Shark

Recently, I’ve discovered the new website, nextSTL. This site seems primarily focused on local architecture, but it could be much more, I’m still getting to know it. I found its writing on the proposed nearby apartment building off of Dale to be highly informative, but the real reason that I am writing about the site is their new article on Big Shark Bicycles. I heard on the radio last week that Big Shark was unhappy with how crowded the U City loop has become. The announcement of the planned construction of a 14-story mixed use building near them there was the last straw. The radio had them closing that store and retaining only their downtown and Chesterfield stores, but according to nextSTL Big Shark will be retaining a presence near us after all. In fact, their new location will be much nearer to us than before. They will be moving into the old Hi-Fi Fo-Fum location, at Big Bend and Wise. This location has been left idle for years, ever since the owner died suddenly, without leaving a will and no way was found to keep the store open. The large two-story building will be torn down. It has structural issues and the bicycle store will move into the adjoining former garage. The torn down building will make way for plenty of parking.