DimaBerlin/Shutterstock You can live without food for three weeks and without water for up to three days. But you can’t live without air for more than three short minutes. It’s not just the abundance of air that matters – the quality is essential, too. Unfortunately, air can be contaminated with dangerous germs known as airborne pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. Airborne diseases are very easily transmitted, and can result in respiratory illness that can be life threatening. It’s therefore no wonder that outbreaks of airborne infectious diseases are a major public health concern, and that researchers are working hard to come up with technologies to provide clean air. So far, however, such technologies have had limited success. Now a new study suggests that non-thermal plasma – a cool gas made up of electrically charged particles, despite having no overall charge – could inactivate airborne viruses and provide sterile air. Although the technology has a long history and many applications (in medicine and food industry), this is a completely new use for it. Devastating outbreaks Viruses that can spread through the air include influenza (flu), common cold (rhinovirus), varicella zoster (chicken pox), mumps and measles. Measles in particular has been labelled a public health time bomb as many parents fail to vaccinate their children. Importantly, vaccination is the only way to completely prevent getting measles. InfectedRead more

This graphic shows how runoff from farms (green areas) and cities (red areas) drains into the Mississippi, delivering nutrients into the Gulf of Mexico and fuelling the annual hypoxic zone.NOAA Dead zones are areas of the world’s water bodies which contain very little or no oxygen, creating lethal conditions for marine life. Every year in the summer months, one of these dead—or hypoxic—zones forms in the Gulf of Mexico in what is one of the largest examples of this phenomenon on the planet. Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted that this summer’s Gulf of Mexico dead zone could grow to around 7,829 square miles—or about the same size as the state of Massachusetts—based on data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS.) If the dead zone does reach this size, it would far surpass the average over the past five years (5,770 square miles) although it won’t be the largest recorded. That title goes to the 2017 Gulf of Mexico dead zone, which grew to a size of 8,776 square miles. Scientists say that the annually recurring phenomenon is caused by excessive nutrient pollution—originating from human activity in farms and urban areas—which drain into the Mississippi River Basin and eventually get washed into the Gulf. When this excess of nutrients—particularly nitrogen and phosphorus—enters the Gulf itRead more

Some scientists believe sea levels across the world could rise by two metres by the year 2100. This is double what has been previously predicted. A new report says global sea levels could rise far more than predicted because the land ice in Greenland and Antarctica is melting faster. The world is heating up more quickly than in the past and many scientists believe that human activity is having a bad effect on global temperatures. When we burn things like coal or oil to create energy to power things like homes, cars and factories, they release harmful gases. These gases end up in the Earth’s atmosphere and are trap more of the Sun’s heat in and increase temperatures. Scientists say that if no changes are made the temperature could increase to as much as 5°C by 2100. JONATHAN BAMBER A small boat in western Greenland, dwarfed by icebergs that have come off Greenland’s largest glacier As global temperatures go up, ice trapped on land in places like glaciers begins to melt and run into the causing the sea level to rise. But there is another reason sea levels rise. Water expands as it gets warmer so as the temperature of the sea goes up, the ocean expands. In 100 years, experts say the global sea level has risen nearly overRead more

One billion people will be threatened by tropical diseases like dengue fever More than a billion people may be exposed to the danger of being bitten by the two most common disease-carrying mosquitoes – Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus – by the end of this century because of global warming. These finds came from a recent study which addressed the monthly changes in temperature and its relationship to tropical diseases, such as dengue fever, chikungunya, and Zika across the globe. In a study published last week in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the research team, led by Sadie J. Ryan, a professor of medical geography at the University of Florida, studied the possible outcomes of the adaptation of the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus with temperature changes throughout the ages. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mosquitoes are one of the deadliest animals in the world. Their ability to carry and spread disease to humans causes millions of deaths every year. In 2015 malaria alone caused 438,000 deaths. The worldwide incidence of dengue has risen 30-fold in the past 30 years, and more countries are reporting their first outbreaks of the disease. Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever are all transmitted to humans by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the WHO said. Potential exposure risk This study is partRead more