Stopping the flu’s spread starts in nose

It might be possible to stop the flu from spreading to the lungs and causing a serious infection by targeting the common virus in the nose.

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Researchers at the University of Melbourne’s Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity have, for the first time, discovered the nasal passage is home to virus-fighting white blood cells that when switched on can block inhaled influenza particles from spreading.

Essentially, they have discovered how to stop influenza “at the gates”.

Professor Linda Wakim says immunising the upper respiratory tract with a nasal spray could be key to preventing many cases of pneumonia in Australia.

It could also mean that down the track that the annual flu jab could become a thing of the past.

Pneumonia is among the top 15 contributing causes of death nationally and among the top five leading causes of hospitalisation in Australia.

The influenza virus is a leading cause of the very serious lung infection.

Previous influenza research has focused on these flu-fighting T cells, central to the immune system, in lung tissue.

But these cells decay too quickly to be useful in developing a vaccine, says Professor Wakim.

“What we have found that these same cells exist in the nasal tissue, they persist for a very long time.

“I guess it’s not surprising that they are there but we are the first ones to show that they are there,” said Prof Wakim.

Subsequent studies on mice showed that these CD8 T cells have the capacity to “quench an influenza virus” before it can actually move down into the lung.

“We found a population of these cells that, unlike their cousins in the lung, persisted for a very long time, and that they could block inhaled virus particles from reaching the lung, preventing severe flu-related lung infections.”

“We are now trying to work out the best way to lodge these flu-fighting resident memory T cells in the nasal tissue, with the ultimate goal of developing a new vaccine that can provide long term protection against flu viruses,” Prof Wakim said.

Faecal transplants could prove link between mind and gut

The theory that the trillions of microbes living in the human gut are in constant communication with the brain affecting the way a person feels has been strengthened thanks to the increasing prevalence of faecal transplants.

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Anecdotal evidence that recipients of a faecal transplant – a procedure to restore the gut microbiota – mimick the mood and other characteristics of their donor will be presented at the Royal Australasians College of Physicians (RACP) annual Congress in Melbourne on Tuesday.

Associate Professor Patrick Charles from the Department of Infectious Diseases at Austin Health says they have heard of some “very interesting” things from faecal transplant recipients, including stories about patients experiencing fluctuations in mood.

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“There have even been reports that patients with no prior history of depression have become depressed after receiving a transplant from someone with depression,” he said.

“There have also been cases where dramatic body changes have occurred – both rapid weight gain and weight loss, each time aligned to the donor.”

A faecal microbiota transplant, sometimes known as an FMT, is a procedure which replaces the ‘gut bacteria’ in an unhealthy individual with those of someone who is healthy.

Essentially, it involves taking ‘healthy’ poo from a donor and using it to create a liquid preparation that is then transplanted into the patient, normally via a colonoscopy.

It is becoming increasingly popular for the treatment of multiple conditions including chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s and autism.

Typically its performed to treat someone with Clostridium difficile infections when antibiotics fail.

Despite more research being needed, Ass Prof Charles says its only now that scientists are beginning to recognise and understand the influence of the microbiome on both the mind and body.

“We’re still really only just scratching the surface of what impacts microbiomes have on health and disease but as DNA sequencing techniques advance so will our understanding of their role,” he said.

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Tuesday’s Insight with Dr Michael Mosley looks at how changing our gut bacteria can alter our overall health | 6 June, 8.30pm SBS

Jihadists occupy civilian homes as Mosul battle rages

After jihadists turned the roof of his house into a sniper position, Owayid Mohammed and his family fled west Mosul in an escape that made him feel “reborn”.

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“The Dawaesh took my house… and brought four snipers to the roof,” said Mohammed, using a pejorative name for members of the Islamic State jihadist group which seized the city in 2014.

“We stayed near them for about a week and moved from house to house,” the 75-year-old man said.

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“When we saw that the army was getting close to us, we trusted in God” and fled, Mohammed walking with the aid of a crutch.

He and his family joined hundreds of thousands of people who have fled their homes since the massive operation to retake Mosul from IS was launched last October.

Iraqi forces have since retaken all but a handful of areas around Mosul’s Old City, but the jihadists are fighting in densely populated areas, and have used civilians as human shields at various points in the battle.

The United Nations warned last week that up to 200,000 civilians may still be trapped in IS-held areas, facing shortages of food, water and medicine as well as deadly danger from the battle for the city.

Mohammed and his family were in some ways lucky they were not forced to stay in their house after IS deployed the snipers – circumstances that led to one of the deadliest single incidents for civilians during the Mosul campaign.

In Mosul al-Jadida, another area on the city’s western side, the US carried out an air strike targeting two snipers on the roof of building.

Watch: Suspected white phosphorus over Mosul

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‘Out of the fire’

The blast detonated IS explosive material in the building, killing 101 civilians inside it, while four more died in an adjacent building.

Like many civilians who have fled Mosul, Mohammed recalled with sadness the circumstances people face in the city.

“In our lives, we have never seen something like this… For four days, we were sleeping without eating,” he said.

But his sadness quickly dissipated: “I was able to get out, and I consider myself to have been reborn.”

He is not alone in celebrating his escape.

“I came out of the fire to paradise… I feel like I am a queen,” said Sara Adham, another septuagenarian who had recently left Mosul.

She fled with her son and daughter days after the jihadists stormed her house, which was on the front line with Iraqi forces.

“They removed the door of the house and entered the upper floor while we were hiding in the basement,” Adham said.

“My son heard a noise and I said to him that maybe it was a cat, and after the noise got louder, I went up to look and found one of the Dawaesh in front of me, and he demanded that we leave the house.”

Adham tried to refuse, but the jihadists threatened to kill her son, so they fled.

Mohammed Abdullah, 43, said the jihadists “tightened their patrols and restricted our movements, threatening to move into our houses if they suspected we intended to escape”.

“I agreed with my neighbours to leave whatever the cost, because the situation was intolerable.”

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Journalist describes narrow escape from ‘demented’ London attackers

BBC Journalist Holly Jones has described the horror of the weekend’s London terror attacks after a van carrying the three perpetrators mowed down pedestrians around her, missing her by only a meter or two.

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“The van was zig-zagging along the pavement, and it looked like it was aiming – from my opinion – it was aiming for groups of people,” Ms Jones said on BBC TV.

The van hit two people five meters in front of her, she said, describing the chaotic scene.

“I don’t know how I did it, or what I did, but I got out of the way,” Mr Jones said.

“I remember moving, watching the van drive into the people that were behind me.”

She remembers a focused and “demented” look on the driver’s face, and the piercing screams of victims.

“I’ve never heard fear like it,” she said.

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After the van had passed, she says she saw a scene of “indescribable” carnage.

Seven people died in the attack which left 48 injured, with attackers going on to stab people in restaurants nearby. 

They were shot dead by police eight minutes after the first emergency call was made.

Once the van had passed, Ms Jones ran to the assistance of an injured French-speaking woman who was frantically trying to find out what had happened to her boyfriend.

“I did whatever anyone else would have done in my situation,” Ms Jones said.

“I’m happy that I was there to help.”

Ms Jones was one of the first to call the emergency services, and has been interviewed by police.

Her message to Londoners is not to be scared, not to be angry and to stand together in defiance.

“I am just so grateful and thankful for everything I have, just so, so lucky,” she said.

“I will never take my life for granted.”

Australian describes near miss in London attack

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Owen Wright out of Fiji Pro surfing

Australian surfer Owen Wright has suffered a shock early exit at the Fiji Pro on returning to the scene of his greatest performance.

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Sitting equal-second in the world championship standings, Wright was eliminated in the third round by Ian Gouveia at Cloudbreak on Monday.

Wright recorded a combined score of 15.26 from his two-best waves to his Brazilian opponent’s 15.66 in two-metre waves.

Two years ago in Fiji, Wright became the first man to record a perfect 20 score twice at the same event on the way to winning the 2015 title.

He missed his title defence – and all the rest of last season – after a head injury suffered in the 2015 finale at Pipeline in Hawaii.

His comeback season was in full swing to sit equal second on the 2017 championship standings having won March’s Gold Coast pro but Monday’s disappointment will see him fall down the rankings.

In better news for Australians, Julian Wilson and Matt Wilkinson won their third-round heats.

Wilson knocked out Portugal’s Frederico Morais, while world no.5 Wilkinson beat Brazil’s Miguel Pupo.

Three-time world champion Mick Fanning of Australia will meet Tahitian Michel Bourez in the third round.

Earlier on Monday, Australia’s world no.12 Adrian Buchan was eliminated by Italian Leonardo Fioravanti in round two.

But countryman Stuart Kennedy fared better with an upset win over Hawaii’s Ezekiel Lau, who sits 16 places above him in the standings.

In an all-Australian second-round heat, Bede Durbidge eliminated Josh Kerr and faces American Kolohe Andino in the third round.

American legend Kelly Slater, an 11-time world champion, beat rising Australian Ethan Ewing in the second round to set up a clash against another Aussie, Connor O’Leary.

Burn victim from Venezuela protest dies

A burn victim has died of injuries sustained in a protest against President Nicolas Maduro, becoming the 65th fatality in more than two months of anti-government demonstrations, a prosecutor said Sunday.

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Orlando Figuera, 22, died of injuries he sustained May 20, the prosecutor’s office said on Twitter. The protests have been raging almost daily since April 1.

“He was the victim of an attack by fascists…a hate crime,” President Maduro said on his weekly TV show, blaming national assembly speaker Julio Borges, one of the leaders of the protests.

Opposition leader Henrique Carpiles said all Venezuelans wanted justice for “Orlando and all the dead and wounded. The main guilty party: Nicholas Maduro.” 

Protests were prompted by the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision to dissolve parliament and transfer all legislative powers to itself, leaving the two remaining branches of the Venezuelan government in the control of President Maduro’s United Socialist Party.

The decision was reversed three days later but protests have continued, the country in the middle of a severe food shortage and economic crisis. According to a study by a group of universities, almost a third of the population eat two meals a day or fewer.

Huge protest in Caracas, Venezuela

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Protesters blame President Maduro for the country’s economic collapse as he has aligned it ever more closely with the communist-led Cuban model. The President is due to serve until January 2019.

President Maduro wants to hold elections for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, and on Sunday he proposed July 30 as the date for voting. The proposed date must be approved by the Supreme Electoral Council.

Critics say he will stack such a body with his allies as part of ploy to cling to power.

Cuba is Caracas’ closest ally. Venezuela, used to spending its huge oil wealth freely, has seen its revenues shrink due to sharply lower crude prices.

However, President Maduro says poverty in 2016 fell from 19.7 per cent of the population to 18.3 per cent. Extreme poverty has fallen from 4.9 to 4.4 per cent.

Elected in 2013, President Maduro is resisting opposition calls for an early election to remove him. He says the crisis is a US-backed conspiracy.

The protests are believed to be the biggest in Venezuela in over a decade.

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Company profits balloon as wages stay weak

New figures highlight why people might be a bit sceptical about the theory of “trickle-down economics”.

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Monday’s economic data show that while company profits have ballooned, people’s wages are going backwards.

Company profits grew by six per cent in the first three months of the year, building on the 20.1 per cent jump in the December quarter, to be a hefty 39.7 per cent higher over the year.

In contrast, wages grew by a slim 0.3 per cent in March quarter to be just 0.9 per cent up on the year, less than half the rate of inflation at 2.1 per cent.

Little wonder voters have become disillusioned with their politicians, and feel they are missing out from Australia’s economic expansion over the past quarter of a century.

Monday’s business indicators have been compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and feed into Wednesday’s national accounts, which are expected to show the economy grew by a modest 0.3 per cent in the March quarter.

This would be a marked slowdown from the 1.1 per cent rise in the final three months of last year, dragging down the annual rate to 1.7 per cent from 2.4 per cent in December.

However, economists expect the company profits result and growing business inventories will lessen the risk of a negative growth result, which was seen as a real threat following last week’s disappointing housing construction and investment numbers, and the subdued retail data for the quarter.

“While the GDP number now looks likely to be considerably better than early forecasts, the persistent weakness in wages and the ongoing lack of inflationary pressure is likely to continue to worry the (Reserve Bank),” ANZ senior economist Felicity Emmett said.

Economists will finalise their growth forecasts after the release of international trade and government spending figures on Tuesday.

The central bank will also hold its monthly board meeting on Tuesday.

Economists expect the Reserve Bank to leave the cash rate at a record low 1.5 per cent – where it has stood since August.

JP Morgan chief economist Sally Auld says despite increasingly bearish commentary on the economy in the media, she does not expect much change in governor Philip Lowe’s post-meeting statement.

“In our view, it will take a little longer for the RBA to reappraise their outlook, and for now, we expect the Bank will only acknowledge the ongoing correction in commodity prices, and perhaps pre-emptively downplay a weak (March quarter) GDP result,” she said.

Londoners wake up to beefed up security

Londoners are waking up to beefed up security and transport delays after terror struck the capital when a van veered into pedestrians on London Bridge before three men went on a stabbing rampage killing seven and injuring 48 others, with 21 of them remaining critical.

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The attack on a balmy Saturday night in the popular Borough Market was the second in two weeks for the UK, after the Manchester Arena concert suicide bombing on May 22, and the third in three months.

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Monday and police raids in London apartment blocks have resulted in 12 arrests.

“They went ‘This is for Allah,’ and they had a woman on the floor. They were stabbing her,” one witness Gerard Vowls said.

Florin Morariu, a Romanian chef who works in the Bread Ahead bakery, said he saw people running and some fainting. Then two people approached another person and “began to stick the knife in … and then I froze and I didn’t know what to do.”

He said he managed to get near one attacker and “hit him around the head” with a bread basket.

“There was a car with a loudspeaker saying ‘go, go’ and they (police) threw a grenade. … and then I ran,” he said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May says Britain must now toughen up on stamping out Islamist extremism and has proposed regulating cyberspace, adding that Britain has been far too tolerant of extremism.

“It is time to say, enough is enough,” May said.

With the UK national elections due on June 8, the country’s major political parties temporarily suspended campaigning but May says the vote will take place as scheduled because “violence can never be allowed to disrupt the democratic process.”

Four Australians were injured in the attack, including 34-year-old Brisbane woman Candice Hedge, who is recovering in hospital after her throat was slashed and Darwin electrician Andrew Morrison, who also had his throat slashed and is now on his way back to Australia. Two others are believed injured, Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull said.

Canadian woman Christine Archibald is also among the dead, with her fiance’s family issuing a statement that she died in her fiance’s arms after being hit on London Bridge. They paid tribute to her saying she had worked as a volunteer in homeless shelters before leaving for Europe. A French national has also been confirmed dead.

London police said officers killed the attackers within eight minutes of arriving at the scene. Eight officers fired some 50 rounds, said Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the force’s head of counterterrorism.

A public vigil will be held for the seven people who died at 6pm (local time) on Monday at Potters Fields Park, an open space which surrounds City Hall on the River Thames near Tower Bridge.

The mayor’s office says the gathering is an opportunity for Londoners and visitors “to come together in solidarity to remember those who have lost their lives in Saturday’s attack, to express sympathy with their families and loved ones and to show the world that we stand united in the face of those who seek to harm us and our way of life.”

Participants also will be invited to place flowers by the flagpoles outside City Hall.

London police say cordons will remain in place around London Bridge and the Borough Market area well into Monday as officers carry out further investigations, while train services will also be disrupted.

Holmes can’t see himself in Maroon yet

Valentine Holmes admits he was “a bit shocked’ not to be picked in Queensland’s series-opening State of Origin side last month.

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But it doesn’t mean the Cronulla fullback believes he could have made the difference in their 28-4 loss to NSW last Wednesday, or that he’ll get a chance to make his mark in the second clash at ANZ Stadium.

Instead, he believes that honour will go to the man he is marking up against in Thursday’s grand final rematch with Melbourne: Billy Slater.

Maroons coach Kevin Walters admitted on Monday that Slater was back in the frame for selection, which would see Darius Boyd put back on the wing at the likely expense of Justin O’Neill in the centres.

Holmes said he was far more surprised by Slater’s omission than his own.

“I thought Billy Slater probably would have got on,” Holmes said.

“If I was in his shoes I would be a bit upset and a bit cut.

“He’s done very well for the Queensland jersey and he’s done awesome for Melbourne since he came back from injury.

“I’m sure he will be in the running for the next game … I’m sure he will be there.”

Thursday’s clash at Cronulla has been billed as a showdown between the two fullbacks as they bid to make their way into Queensland’s side.

There is, in fact, room for both of them if Dane Gagai or Corey Oates is cut, with the former a chance to move to the centres in place of the out-of-form O’Neill.

But Holmes doesn’t believe that even a game-breaking performance would get him selected in the Maroons squad.

“I honestly don’t think this game will make a decision on his selections,” he said.

“Corey Oates and Dane Gagai played very strong and I thought they were probably the best players in the team there.”

Holmes was the only Queensland member of Australia’s Anzac Test squad not to be picked for the Maroons.

However, the 21-year-old – who was banned from Origin last year for breaking a camp curfew – understood why Maroons selectors stayed loyal.

“I was obviously a bit shocked, but not disappointed,” he said.

“I know they did the job last year and they did it well and they won. I knew they wouldn’t change the team too much.”

Crows can’t hide from AFL critics: Walker

Defiant Adelaide captain Taylor Walker doesn’t care how hard critics come at his AFL side.

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But Walker says the Crows won’t be sheltered from the harsh fallout from their deflating loss to Geelong last Friday night.

“We have got to own it. There’s no hiding away,” Walker told reporters on Monday.

The Crows lost top spot on the ladder, and their premiership credentials took a hit, with their 22-point defeat in Geelong.

Walker said he was unfazed by widespread criticism of his side’s lacklustre performance.

“It doesn’t bother me how hard people come (at us),” he said.

“… People get paid for their opinion and they can have their opinion. But to me, it doesn’t bother me.

“You would think we’re probably bottom of the ladder at the moment, the way the talk is.

“But we’re eight (wins) and three (losses) and we’re playing some okay footy.

“We had a bit of a hiccup on the weekend and I’m super-confident that the resilience in this group, we’ll be able to get through it.”

But Walker said a theme had emerged in Adelaide’s three defeats – an inability to rise to the challenge of opponents.

“This competition is so ruthless now that you have to be unconditional in your effort and intent to win the footy and win your fair share,” he said.

“And at this stage, we’re not at the level.

“And it’s when we get challenged, we need to be able to bounce back and puff the chest out and put it back in the opposition’s face and win our fair share and play it on our terms.

“The most disappointing thing is that we have been able to play our way, bring it into a contest, but the three games that we have lost we haven’t been able to match it.

“I know that we can do it. It’s just disappointing that we can’t do it when we’re challenged at the moment.”