Bomb scare rattles those touched by past political violence
By DAVID CRARY
AP National Writer
Sunday, October 28
NEW YORK (AP) — No one has been hurt or killed. But the wave of mail bombs targeting prominent Democrats this week has angered and dismayed some of the people affected personally by past acts of political violence in the United States.
In the past 60 years alone, there have been scores of deadly incidents motivated by ideology. The perpetrators range from Ku Klux Klan racists to members of the far-left Weather Underground to anti-abortion extremists who killed abortion-providing doctors.
On Friday, federal authorities took a Florida man identified as Cesar Sayoc, 56, into custody in connection with the package bombs. Court records show Sayoc has a history of arrests for theft, illegal possession of steroids and making a bomb threat.
The mail-bomb scare reopened old wounds for Lisa McNair, whose life was shaped by a deadly blast that occurred a year before she was born: the Klan bombing that killed four black girls at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sept. 15, 1963. Her sister, Denise, just 11 years old, was the youngest victim.
“It’s like, ‘Ugh, again.’ When are we going to get this right?” McNair said. “It’s been 55 years since Denise was killed. Why do we keep going there in America? Why do we keep going there as a world and human beings?”
The United States, founded in a war that began as a political rebellion, likes to pride itself on a political system that discourages violence and emphasizes dialogue — no matter how loud and contentious. But in times of deep division throughout American history, angry words have occasionally turned to angry acts and left devastated citizens in their wakes.
Some of those directly impacted by political violence say they struggle to remain optimistic in this contentious era. Others say their perspectives have evolved over time, and they believe they have insights to share.
The Rev. Rob Schenck was a fiery leader in the anti-abortion movement 20 years ago when an extremist’s bullet killed abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian as he heated soup in the kitchen of his home outside Buffalo, New York.
The killing changed Schenck. He concluded that the language of his cause — “innocent, deliberately hyperbolic rhetoric meant to drive home a point”— produced deadly consequences.
Schenck said he’d thought in recent weeks about sending a memo to President Donald Trump, to convey the lesson he’d learned firsthand and recommend a toning down of vitriolic oratory.
“The president may honestly believe that no one who supports him is capable of acting with lethal violence, but the sad fact is he can never know that,” Schenck said.
Hearing about the pipe bombs “sickened” him.
“My first thought was, ‘Here we go again.’ In the worst possible way,” he said.
Another abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller, was shot dead by an abortion opponent in Wichita, Kansas, in 2009.
One of Tiller’s colleagues, Julie Burkhart, currently operates abortion clinics in Wichita, Oklahoma City and Seattle. She says the mail-bomb scare has prompted her to doublecheck security measures.
“I’m scared to death for this country,” Burkhart said in a telephone interview.
“The gulf between Republicans and Democrats, pro-choice and anti-choice — it’s a huge canyon now,” she said. “There’s all this pent-up anger and frustration, and we’re going to be taking it out on each other even more.”
Similar concerns came from U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican wounded last year by a gunman who attacked a GOP baseball practice. He lamented “the disturbing frequency of politically motivated threats and violence.”
“Too many Americans are becoming isolated and obsessed by what divides us,” Scalise wrote in an opinion piece for Fox News. “If we are to stem the tide of violence and violent rhetoric, then it is crucial we all do our part to break down the divisions in our country and reach out to those with different beliefs than our own.”
Optimism is elusive for Andrea Chamblee, the widow of sports writer John McNamara. He was one of five employees of The Capital newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, who were killed in June by a gunman with a history of harassing the paper’s journalists.
“We allow ourselves to be misrepresented by politicians who are too divided and blinded by hatred, greed and self-interest to work together,” she said. “We’re making it harder for people in the middle to be heard, not easier, and I don’t see how it can get any better.”
The mail-bomb scare felt unnervingly familiar to Mohamed Omar. He is executive director of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center, a mosque in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington that was attacked by a pipe bomb in August 2017.
The center was bombed just before morning prayers when the attackers broke a window to the imam’s office and threw a pipe bomb containing black powder inside, sparking a fire that caused extensive damage. Three men from Illinois were charged in the attack; according to charges, one of them said the purpose was to “scare” Muslims out of the United States.
Omar said the new mail-bomb case and the attack on his mosque were both intended to “create fear and terrorize people.”
“It’s very difficult for us to go through what we went through — and now it’s more difficult. It’s becoming the norm,” he said. “Nobody died. But the hope died and the sense of security died.”
Cleve Jones’s close encounter with political violence came in 1978. Working as a student intern, he returned from lunch to find the bloody body of his boss, San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, on the floor, shot several times by former Supervisor Dan White in a double assassination that also killed Mayor George Moscone. Milk was a prominent gay-rights activist, and Jones saw him as a father figure.
“I had never seen a dead person before,” Jones, 64, said in a phone interview Thursday. “The sheer horror of seeing up close what bullets do to flesh and bone and brain… I think I was in shock for months.”
Jones says news of the pipe bombs— coming after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the constant calls by Trump to discredit the media, and deadly clashes last year at a white nationalists’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia— serves as another reminder of the violence he experienced.
“It’s just very real to me, and it just makes me want to take people by the shoulders and shake them and scream at them, ‘Don’t you see where this is going?’” Jones said.
Pam Simon also experienced traumatic violence firsthand . She’s a survivor of the 2011 rampage outside an Arizona grocery store where a gunman killed six people and wounded then-U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and 12 others.
Simon, a Giffords staffer who was shot in the wrist and chest, remembers the political atmosphere growing sour in the years preceding the shooting. She recalled Giffords getting booed at public meetings, and her office being vandalized after she voted for Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
“I remember a sinking feeling in my stomach, thinking, ‘What’s happening in this country?’” Simon said.
There was a brief call for more political civility immediately after the Arizona attack.
“After that moment of self-reflection, it seems to have gotten worse,” Simon said.
While some incidents of political violence quickly fade from public awareness, others have been memorialized.
In Oklahoma City, for example, there’s an outdoor memorial and a museum commemorating the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168 people.
In Birmingham, the 16th Street Baptist Church is a somber tourist attraction now, and just one of the convicted bombers remains alive in prison. But echoes of the crime still follow the McNair family.
“That will be something we will always carry, and it will be in our family,” said Lisa McNair “It will never leave us.”
Associated Press writers Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland; Amy Forliti in Minneapolis, Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York, Janie Har in San Francisco and Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this report.
How vaccination is helping to prevent another flu pandemic
March 6, 2018
Author: Nicole Iovine, Associate Professor, Infectious Diseases, University of Florida
Disclosure statement: Nicole Iovine does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Florida provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Researchers believe that over 50 million people worldwide died in the 1918 flu pandemic, making it possibly worse than even the Black Death that began in the 14th century.
Could another catastrophic pandemic like the 1918 pandemic occur again? Yes, unless we protect ourselves better. To do that, we should emphasize high compliance with the flu vaccines that are currently available while we pursue the longer-term goal of a better vaccine.
I am a board-certified infectious disease physician as well as the epidemiologist at University of Florida Health. I have seen the ravages of flu firsthand as well as studied and quantified outbreaks. If vaccines had been available in 1918, there is no doubt that the death toll would have been lower.
The flu past and present
Influenza has been infecting humans for thousands of years. It was described by Hippocrates as early as 412 B.C. While the symptoms of influenza and the common cold overlap – including cough, fever, runny nose, headache and body aches – influenza is more severe.
People whose immune systems are compromised, pregnant women and people aged 65 and older are at particularly high risk for complications from influenza. This includes respiratory failure and death. Usually, the mortality rate is about 0.1 percent. While this doesn’t sound like much, multiply it by hundreds of thousands of infections every year, and the death toll mounts up.
In 1918, the death toll was exceptionally high, at about 2.5 percent. When the 1918 virus was reconstructed from influenza victims buried in the Alaskan permafrost, we scientists gained some insight into why: The reconstructed virus harbored mutations that enabled it to bind to cells deep in the lungs, causing a viral pneumonia. That is distinct from the less serious upper airway infection that flu usually causes.
A flyer from the Chicago Department of Health in 1918, warning residents of the danger of influenza and pneumonia. John Dill Robertson/Chicago Department of Health
However, the 1918 virus was similar to other flu strains with regards to its propensity to cause a well-known complication of influenza called “post-influenza bacterial pneumonia,” or PIBP. The thinking is that damage to the lining of the respiratory tract caused by influenza renders a person susceptible to secondary infection by bacteria. In fact, most influenza-associated deaths that occur during normal flu seasons are caused by PIBP.
Death from PIBP continues to be an important driver of influenza-related mortality. Therefore, prevention is key. Vaccination is a crucial component of prevention efforts, and is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for all individuals 6 months of age and older.
However, only about half of all eligible people get the flu shot. Two misconceptions contribute to low vaccination rates: that the vaccine causes influenza and that the vaccine doesn’t work.
The first misconception is easy to dispel. The influenza shot contains only a virus that has been killed, or inactivated. There is no live virus in the vaccine that could cause infection. It’s as simple as that. You can’t catch flu from a dead virus.
Some people will still insist that they came down with the flu because of the vaccine. Confusion may occur if you are vaccinated and then develop influenza a few days later. Here’s why.
You can develop flu after you receive the vaccination, but that doesn’t mean the vaccine gave you influenza. Instead, it means you were already infected with influenza when you were vaccinated. Typically, your body needs about two weeks for the immune response to develop after a flu shot.
Since a person can transmit influenza 24 hours before symptoms begin, you may not realize from whom you caught it, because that person may have appeared healthy.
Challenges of making an effective vaccine
A second misconception about the shot “not working” stems from an overly broad extrapolation of “vaccine efficacy” studies. These are designed to approximate how many influenza infections are prevented by vaccination. However, vaccine efficacy studies don’t tell us how sick a vaccinated person may be.
Many studies show that vaccination decreases the severity of influenza as well as influenza-related complications. This is an enormous benefit.
People also misconstrue concerns in the efficacy studies about the difference among influenza subtypes.
There are four main influenza subtypes that infect humans. Two are dubbed “flu A.” They are defined by key proteins, called hemagglutinin (“H”) and neuraminidase (“N”), found on their surfaces. The influenza A subtypes that cause most infections are subtypes H3N2, the prevalent subtype this year, and H1N1.
There are also two influenza B subtypes. They are called Yamagata and Victoria.
Every spring, scientists and public health officials from around the world meet to determine the vaccine formulation for the coming year, based on what they know about the strains that are circulating at that time.
Each influenza vaccine will contain both influenza A strains and one or both of the influenza B strains, depending on whether you receive a formulation with three strains or one with four strains. Efficacy can change each year because flu viruses are constantly mutating, so that the viruses causing infections might be quite different from the vaccine strains chosen months earlier.
For example, over the past few years, the efficacy for vaccine for H1N1 and the B strains has been 40-60 percent. Efficacy for H3N2, however, has been lower, probably because it seems more prone to mutation.
While H3N2 is the predominant strain this season, one in four people who develop influenza will be infected with H1N1, Yamagata or Victoria. Efficacy is historically relatively high for the H1N1 vaccine. Therefore, people who are exposed to that strain but have received a flu shot would have a greater likelihood of being protected.
People who are eligible for the influenza shot but choose to skip it unnecessarily place themselves at increased risk for acquiring any of the four influenza strains or for a more severe disease if they do contract influenza. They also endanger others around them by potentially transmitting the infection.
Why doesn’t influenza vaccine efficacy exceed 60 percent? Vaccination against other diseases like measles or tetanus yields efficacy of 90 percent that lasts many years. The problem with influenza is its propensity to mutate, such that the strains causing disease this year are a bit different from last year’s.
When these changes occur in key viral sites such as in hemagglutinin, our immune system doesn’t recognize the mutated virus as well, and efficacy declines. Significant mutation can occur within a season too, as happened during 2014. Initially, the H3N2 vaccine strain chosen for the vaccine in February 2014 was well-matched to circulating strains, but by October of that year, H3N2 with mutated hemagglutinin had emerged and was different enough such that H3N2 efficacy declined to 17 percent.
Yearlong circulation likely increases mutation
While people tend to think of influenza as a wintertime disease, since it usually peaks sometime between December and February in the Northern Hemisphere, flu is around all year. The year-round presence of influenza viruses amplifies the chance that mutations will accumulate. This leads not only to reduced efficacy but also increased potential for a pandemic.
This problem could be solved if we could engineer a vaccine that stimulated an immune response against a region of the virus that was less prone to mutation. It would be even better if this viral target were common to all influenza strains. Such a “universal vaccine” is the Holy Grail of influenza research.
There are early-stage trials going on right now. If we are to prevent another catastrophe like the 1918 influenza pandemic, we must continue to support research efforts aimed at developing a universal influenza vaccine.
Flu lasts for more than an hour in air and on surfaces – why cleaning can really help
Updated October 15, 2018
Assisstant Professor, University of Pittsburgh
Professor, Virginia Tech
Disclosure statement: Seema Lakdawala receives funding from National Institutes of Health and American Lung Association.
Linsey Marr has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, US Environmental Protection Agency, Army Research Office, Sloan Foundation, Water Environment Research Foundation, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, National Park Service, Fulbright Program, US Department of Agriculture, Molina Center for Energy and the Environment, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, American Honda Foundation, U.S.-Mexico Foundation for Science.
Partners: University of Pittsburgh provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Influenza, or flu, viruses cause about 200,000 hospitalizations every year in the U.S. Annual seasonal vaccination is our best line of defense, but in recent years, it has become clear that mismatches in the vaccine can limit its effectiveness.
We study how the flu virus spreads between people. While we strongly encourage everyone to get the flu vaccine, the findings from our study on the stability of flu viruses in the air can provide useful information for parents, teachers and health care officials to limit the spread of flu in the community.
By employing simple strategies to reduce the amount of flu virus in our environment, we can decrease the number of infections every year.
How the flu spreads
Flu spreads through the community in three ways:
- Direct contact – when you shake hands with or otherwise touch an infected individual.
- Indirect contact – when the virus spreads via a contaminated surface like a door handle.
- Aerosols – when the virus is expelled into the air by coughing, sneezing or just exhaling and is then inhaled by a susceptible individual.
It is clear that all three routes promote the spread of flu each season, but the relative importance of each is still unknown.
Scientists have long believed that flu viruses in aerosols would be inactivated quickly at moderate and high humidity. However, we recently showed that human respiratory mucus protects flu viruses that are in aerosols and in droplets on a surface from decay regardless of the humidity.
In our studies, we sprayed flu viruses into a rotating drum to test whether they were still infectious after an hour at a wide range of different humidities. We found no loss in the amount of infectious virus at any humidity, which means that expelled aerosols containing flu viruses are stable in the air for at least one hour. Our other unpublished data suggest that flu viruses, in the presence of mucus, can persist on some surfaces for up to 16 hours with very little loss in infectivity. These data demonstrate that infectious flu viruses are highly stable in the indoor environment.
How to reduce the chances of spreading the virus
There are some simple measures that can help reduce the chances of the virus spreading to other people. The following steps can help remove infectious flu virus from surfaces and the air.
Removing flu virus from surfaces:
- Wipe down frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, tables, elevator buttons and faucets. Simple alcohol-based cleaning products are effective to inactivate flu.
- The classic advice of hand-washing can also help reduce transmission by direct and indirect contact.
- Coughing and sneezing into your shirt rather than your elbow or hand is a good way to keep droplets and aerosols from traveling through the air and depositing on surfaces.
Removing flu virus from the air:
- Increasing air circulation in the room can dilute flu viruses in the air and limit their spread. This can be achieved by increasing the exchange rate of building ventilation systems, turning on ceiling or portable fans, and, if possible, opening windows.
- Air purifiers designed to remove particles should be effective at removing viruses from air too, although this has not been tested directly. A purifier with a HEPA filter and a high flow rate will remove the most particles.
Surgical masks are particularly useful if worn by sick individuals. This intervention will help keep an infected person from spreading viruses around, as they come out even when you’re just exhaling. If you’re not sick but are around people who have the flu, wearing a surgical mask can help protect you from getting infected as long as it’s tight-fitting. If there are gaps around the sides, then it’s not helping much.