Monday, February 29, 2016

Pestilence

AP - 1st evidence that Zika may cause temporary paralysis
The AP reports: "Scientists may have the first evidence that Zika can cause temporary paralysis, according to a new study of patients who developed the rare condition during an outbreak of the virus in Tahiti two years ago. [...] Since the Zika outbreak in the Americas began last year, it has sparked epidemics in about 40 countries, of which eight have reported cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome possibly connected to Zika."

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Famine

UPI - Dwindling bee, butterfly populations pose agriculture threat
UPI reports: "Important invertebrate pollinator species, like the honeybee and butterfly, are under a threat of extinction due to a number of environmental pressures, many of them man-made, a new study found. [...] The threat against such animals also threatens the health of the world's agricultural food supply, which includes fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and oils. A slowdown in production of these important nutrition sources may have detrimental effects on the population, including increased malnutrition and the loss of up to $577 billion globally, the IPBES warned."

Comment: This is one of those stories currently flying under the radar. Experts are now aware of the danger, but I don't think the general public has absorbed the severity of the threat.

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Temple Mount

The Times of Israel - Disputes delay video surveillance at Temple Mount
The Times of Israel reports: "Video surveillance of Jerusalem’s holiest site was meant to be a quick fix to lower tensions that have driven months of Israeli-Palestinian violence, but disputes over who controls the footage and what the cameras may or may not film are holding up the project. Underlying the seemingly technical arguments is a fundamental disagreement over who is in charge of the 37-acre Temple Mount, which is central to the competing national and religious narratives of Israelis and Palestinians, Muslims and Jews.[....]  Azzam Khatib, in charge of Jordanian-run Muslim endowment, or Waqf, which is in charge of the mosque compound, said the surveillance cameras should be managed by Muslim authorities 'without interference from the Israelis.' 'As the king has said, there will be a control room for the cameras under the sole responsibility of the Waqf, and the images will be broadcast to the world through the Internet around the clock,' said Khatib, a Palestinian."

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Persecution

NYT - Egypt Sentences Coptic Teenagers to Jail for Insulting Islam
The New York Times reports: "An Egyptian court sentenced four Coptic Christian teenagers to up to five years in prison on Thursday after finding them guilty of insulting Islam, the latest of a series of high-profile blasphemy convictions that have drawn sharp criticism of Egypt’s judicial system. "

Comment: How many teenagers to you know that make silly videos and post them on YouTube or  Vine? Well, if they do that as Christians in a predominantly Muslim country, they'd better be careful!

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Rumors of War - Kings of the East

UPI - Japan tests indigenous stealth fighter aircraft
UPI reports: "Japan is developing an indigenous stealth fighter jet, the X-2, which completed a ground test Wednesday, according to local reports. [...] Tokyo has been taking steps toward bolstering its defense after a bill was passed in 2015, which would allow its Self-Defense Force to fight overseas. The changes come at a time when Japan is growing wary of China's maritime activities in the South China Sea, and North Korea continues to conduct tests of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles."

UPI - China building radar on Spratly Islands
UPI reports: "China could be constructing high-frequency radar on disputed islands in the South China Sea, a think tank in Washington, D.C., stated in a recent report. [...] The islands in question are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, but China has continued construction despite protests from non-claimant countries, including the United States and Japan."

Comment: What are the chances that China will stand down and stop their activities in the South China Sea? The chances are probably close to zero. This means that armed conflict between China and one (or all) of the rival claimants in the future is nearly certain. China has a new generation in charge of their military, a generation that has grown up in prosperity in the era of "China's peaceful rise" and they are, bluntly, spoiling for a fight. It's not really their fault, this generation of military leaders has only known increasing defense budgets coupled with increasing nationalism. There's really only one way that ends. We may hope that cooler heads will prevail and conflict will be avoided, but I'm not optimistic.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Roaring Seas and Waves

UPI - Forecast: Sea levels to rise 22 to 52 inches by 2100
UPI reports: "Sea levels are rising faster than they have at any other time in modern history. Between the founding of Rome and the Industrial Revolution, sea levels never rose or fell more than 1.5 inches in a given century. During the 20th century, sea levels rose an average of 5.5 inches. By 1993, sea level rise had accelerated to a pace of a foot per century. Since then, accelerated sea level rise has continued. If seas continue to rise at the same pace, levels will rise between 22 and 52 inches by 2100. [...] The study comprised that largest analysis of historical sea level records yet. The results largely confirmed the results of previous models, but scientists say the size and scope of the new research will improve future studies."

Comment: I sometimes get push-back from climate-change deniers after I post something like this, but I'm convinced that such changes are consistent with Bible prophecy, specifically Luke 21:25.

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Persecution

NYT - IS Gets Millions in Ransom for Abducted Christians
The New York Times reports: "The Islamic State group has collected millions of dollars in ransom for a group of Assyrian Christians it kidnapped in Syria a year ago, Christian officials and an opposition group said Monday, as the last of the 230 hostages were freed. The release ended a yearlong saga for the Christians — many of them women and children — during which families had no news from their loved ones."

Comment: It's good news that they have been released from captivity but let's not forget that such abductions are still standard operating procedure for the Islamic State. It's a near certainty that it will happen again.  Please join me in praying for the safety all Christians living in the regions controlled by IS.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Fearsome Events

UPI - Cyclone battering Fiji not expected to weaken
UPI reports: "A damaging category 5 tropical cyclone has made landfall on the Pacific nation of Fiji as the most powerful storm to make landfall on record in the Southern Hemisphere. The Fiji Meteorological Service predicts the storm will remain a category 5 as it churns westward over the islands, home to 900,000 people."

Comment: The thing that caught my eye was the fact that it's the most powerful storm to ever make landfall in the entire Southern Hemisphere. That's quite a storm! I know there has been a lot of talk about "wild weather" lately but I tend to pay attention most to weather that breaks records. Does it seem like record-breaking weather events are happening more often?

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Final Kingdom

AP - Cameron: Britain's referendum on EU membership to be June 23
AP reports: "It's been three years in the making, but a June 23 date has finally been set for the momentous 'in or out' British vote on whether to abandon the 28-nation European Union. [...] Britain has always remained somewhat apart from the European project, preferring to keep its own currency rather than adopt the euro and declining to join the passport-free Schengen zone in place in much of Europe. The June vote will come as the EU struggles to cope with a sustained immigration crisis that last year brought more than 1 million people fleeing war and poverty to its shores."

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Friday, February 19, 2016

King of the North - Kings of the East

UPI - Russia to supply first four Su-35 fighters to China in 2016
UPI reports: "Russia plans to supply China with the first four of its ordered Su-35 fighter jets by the end of 2016. [...] The Russian air force plans to acquire 24 of the upgraded fighters, while Indonesia has signed a contract for 12 of the aircraft. The Su-35 is marketed by the United Aircraft Corporation as a fourth-plus generation fighter with capabilities comparable to the Lockheed Martin F-16V."

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Rumors of War - Kings of the East

UPI - Obama signs bill hitting North Korea with new sanctions
UPI reports : "President Barack Obama on Thursday signed legislation to levy new sanctions against the North Korean government -- a move designed to "neutralize" potential threats and ratchet up international and economic pressure on Kim Jong-un's regime. [...] The new sanctions were spurred by a series of 'provocative' acts from North Korea in recent weeks -- which have included missile tests and a reported test of a nuclear bomb."

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Kings of the East - Persia

UPI - China revives 'Silk Road' trade with train
UPI reports: "China is one step closer to realizing its revival of the ancient Silk Road after a cargo train arrived in Iran. The train ended a 14-day journey that began in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang, then crossed into Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan before arriving in Tehran on Monday, The Guardian reported. The journey spanned more than 6,400 miles, and took one month less than a sea route that extends from Shanghai to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas."

Comment: There are many students of Bible prophecy who believe, having been persuaded by an entire generation of prophecy teachers, that the "kings of the east" prophecy of Revelation 16:12 refers exclusively to China. I suggest they take into account geography and then reconsider their interpretation. If it helps, think of China as an island, surrounded on one wide by water and on the other, by very high mountains. If it helps more, remember the prophecy is plural with respect to the kings, as in, more than one kingdom is involved in the fulfillment of this prophecy. The prophecy then, broadly interpreted, refers to every great military power east of the Euphrates River. The revival of the ancient trade routes will no doubt promote the development of both the economic and military might of all of the countries in the region.

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Wars & Rumors of War

UPI - Many killed in car bomb 'terror attack' on Turkey base
UPI reports: "Numerous people were killed in an explosion Wednesday from a suspected terrorist car bombing that targeted military personnel at a barracks in Turkey's capital, government officials said. The blast occurred at about 6:15 p.m. local time, the peak of rush hour, on Wednesday in Ankara near the Turkish Parliament and targeted a convoy of military personnel, officials said."

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Rumors of War - Persia

Reuters - U.S. planned major cyber attack on Iran if diplomacy failed: NYT
Reuters reports: "The United States had a plan for an extensive cyber attack on Iran in case diplomatic attempts to curtail its nuclear program failed, The New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing a forthcoming documentary and military and intelligence officials. Code-named Nitro Zeus, the plan was aimed at crippling Iran's air defenses, communications systems and key parts of its electrical power grid, but was put on hold after a nuclear deal was reached last year, the Times said."

Comment: I'm sure that hardliners in Iran will make much of this, but really, it's old news. The U.S. military has contingency plans to attack any possible threat, they would be foolish not to, but that doesn't meant an attack will be forthcoming.  The really interesting question is, why is this being reported now? Perhaps to remind Iran that the U.S. still has options to induce Iran to abide by the agreement? Because, seriously, no one believes in those "snap back" sanctions.

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Pestilence

Reuters - Genes, bugs and radiation: WHO backs new weapons in Zika fight
Reuters reports: "Countries battling the Zika virus should consider new ways to curb disease-carrying mosquitoes, including testing the release of genetically modified insects and bacteria that stop their eggs hatching, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday. [...] The WHO also highlighted the potential of releasing sterile irradiated male mosquitoes, a technique that has been developed at the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)."

Comment: I'm glad they are taking the threat seriously and considering a range of strategies to combat the virus, as long as they are honest about the fact that genetic modifications may have unintended consequences. 

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Rumors of War - Kings of the East

Reuters - China sends missiles to contested South China Sea island: Taiwan
Reuters reports: "China has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of the disputed islands it controls in the South China Sea, Taiwan and U.S. officials said, ratcheting up tensions even as U.S. President Barack Obama urged restraint in the region. Taiwan defense ministry spokesman Major General David Lo told Reuters the missile batteries had been set up on Woody Island. The island is part of the Paracels chain, under Chinese control for more than 40 year but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam."

Comment: If you were wondering how China might react to her neighbors becoming more assertive about protecting their rights under international law, I think we just received the answer. It's starting to seem rather inevitable that all these conflicting claims will eventually lead to armed conflict. I hope we area ready. As for the optics, it's hard not to interpret this as an intentional snub of Obama and his ASEAN summit guests.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Rumors of War - Kings of the East

UPI - Kim Jong Un to scientists: 'more satellites'
UPI reports: "North Korean news agency KCNA reported Monday Kim said Pyongyang must shoot more satellites into space to raise the level of scientific research and for the future of a 'self-reliant North Korea.' Prior to delivering his speech, Kim inspected the North's ground, naval and air forces. North Korea's recent provocations, including its fourth nuclear test in January and the more recent satellite launch, have accelerated the passage of new sanctions against Pyongyang in the United States, Japan and South Korea."

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Rumors of War - King of the North

UPI - Russian troops conduct military drills near Ukraine
UPI reports: "Russian troops conducted drills in the Black Sea and on land this week near the border with Ukraine -- deploying more than 8,500 troops, 50 warships and 200 aircraft. The move comes as NATO, also this week, announced it would have a larger presence in the region. Video obtained by Sky News showed fighter jets dropping bombs, ground troops and army helicopters involved in drills."

Comment: This comes in the same week that NATO announced new plans to build up defenses in the Baltics.  The danger of miscalculation is high.

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Rumors of War - Kings of the East

AP - US deploys more Patriot missiles in South Korea
The AP reports: "The United States temporarily deployed an additional Patriot missile battery in South Korea in response to North Korea's nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch, ahead of talks next week to set up an even more sophisticated U.S. missile defense in a move that has worried China and Russia."

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Persecution

AP - 'Finally': Pope meets Russian Orthodox leader
The AP reports: "With an exclamation of 'Finally,' Pope Francis embraced Patriarch Kirill on Friday in the first meeting between a pontiff and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, a brief but historic encounter held during a stopover in Cuba before the pope flew on to Mexico. [...] Francis and Kirill also called for political leaders to act on the single most important issue of shared concern between the Catholic and Orthodox churches today: the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria who are being killed and driven from their homes by the Islamic State group."

Comment: While I doubt this meeting will lead to a real ecumenical movement between the Catholic and Orthodox branches of Christianity, the two leaders are shining an important light on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. 

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Earthquakes

AP - Death toll in Taiwan earthquake rises to 109
The AP reports: "The death toll in a powerful earthquake that struck Taiwan's oldest city of Tainan a week ago rose to 109 on Saturday with an estimated nine people missing. All but two of the dead were pulled from the ruins of the collapsed Weiguan Golden Dragon residential complex, a 17-story building. [...] Authorities detained the building's developer Lin Ming-hui and two architects this week on suspicion of negligent homicide amid accusations his firm cut corners in the construction."

Comment: So, this was a powerful earthquake but most of the deaths were likely preventable and due entirely to human greed. 

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Wars and Rumors of War

UPI - Officials reach agreement aimed at ending Syria civil war
UPI reports: "International officials meeting in Germany to work toward a ceasefire in Syria and end the 5-year civil war reached an agreement toward halting hostilities, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. [...] The agreement, however, does not address ongoing fighting between government and coalition forces and terror groups, including the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front."

Comment: I wish them well but I think the agreement is premature. These kinds of agreements only work when the parties fighting feel they have either accomplished most of the want they want or will never accomplish most of what they want and are therefore ready for a ceasefire agreement. I don't think either applies in this case. 

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Rumors of War - King of the North

AP - NATO ministers approve new reinforcements for eastern Europe
The AP reports: "NATO defense ministers on Wednesday approved new multinational reinforcements to beef up defenses of frontline alliance members most at risk from Russia, the alliance's secretary-general announced. Jens Stoltenberg said the plan adopted by the United States and NATO's 27 other members calls for the use of troops from multiple countries who rotate in and out of eastern European member states rather than being permanently based there."

Comment: Nice to see NATO taking Russia seriously. Still, this is the kind of thing that may look good on paper but will be very difficult to implement at a time when many European countries have been cutting back on their military budgets. 

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Final Kingdom

Reuters - Founding members say European Union is in bad shape
Reuters reports: "The European Union faces 'critical times' and all its members should set aside selfish interests to tackle problems such as immigration and terrorism, the bloc's six founding nations said on Tuesday. A week after the EU accepted that some members may never go further in sharing sovereignty, as part of the price for keeping Britain in the club, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg pledged to pursue 'ever closer union' at a meeting in Rome, where they founded the bloc in 1957."

Comment: An external threat is always helpful when unity is threatened. 

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Monday, February 08, 2016

War - Persia - King of the North

Reuters - Russian firepower helps Syrian forces edge toward Turkey border
Reuters reports: "The Syrian army advanced toward the Turkish border on Monday in a major offensive backed by Russia and Iran that rebels say now threatens the future of their nearly five-year-old insurrection against President Bashar al-Assad. [...] The Russian-backed Syrian government advance over recent days amounts to one of the biggest shifts in momentum of the war, helping to torpedo the first peace talks for two years, which collapsed last week before they had begun in earnest."

Reuters - Russia having success in hybrid war against Germany
Reuters reports: "Stoking outrage in Germany’s Russian-speaking community is not an end in itself, but a means to exploiting cracks in German society exposed by the refugee crisis. [...] Propaganda was only one element in the so-called 'hybrid warfare' that Russia directed against Ukraine. Long before the Kremlin deployed “little green men” — Russian troops without insignia — to Crimea, it had used other non-military measures such as playing pipeline politics, buying politicians, and backing fringe parties with radical agendas. Those same measures are being used in Germany and other European countries."

Comment: How odd that Russia isn't taking as many Syrian refugees as Germany. Or not.

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Pestilence

Reuters - Race to fast-track Zika trials as 12 groups seek vaccine
Reuters reports: "At least 12 groups are now working to develop a Zika vaccine and health authorities said on Monday they were working to ensure development proceeded as rapidly as possible. [...] With no approved Zika vaccines or medicines and none even undergoing clinical studies, scientists and drugmakers are on the starting-block in fighting the mosquito-borne disease suspected of causing a spike in birth defects in Brazil."

Comment: I wonder if they will also look into better ways of fighting mosquitos? After all, they would not need to cure Zika if the primary disease vector was eradicated.  

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Friday, February 05, 2016

Earthquakes

Reuters - Quake fells Taiwan apartment building, at least five dead
Reuters reports: "A powerful earthquake toppled a 17-story apartment building in southern Taiwan on Saturday, killing at least five people, including a 10-day-old girl, and triggering frantic efforts to rescue about 35 people feared trapped inside. [...]
Taiwan lies in the seismically active 'Pacific Ring of Fire'. Television quoted Tainan residents as saying the quake felt worse than the 1999 tremor, centered in central Taiwan.
Taiwan's defence ministry said 810 soldiers had been mobilized for rescue efforts."

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Thursday, February 04, 2016

Persecution

AP - Egyptian Christian students stand trial for insulting Islam
AP reports: "Three Coptic Christian students face charges of insulting Islam and will stand trial this week after appearing in a video mocking Muslim prayers, one of a series of court cases that reflect lingering religious intolerance and Muslim-Christian tensions in Egypt. [...] Christians make up approximately 10 percent of Egypt's population. They have long complained of discrimination by the Muslim majority."

Comment: Please join me in praying for the safety of these students and their families. 

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Wickedness Increases

AP - Prosecutor: Girl texted with college man before stabbing
AP reports: "Two Virginia Tech students carefully planned the kidnapping and killing of a 13-year-old girl, arranging a pre-dawn rendezvous online after buying cleaning supplies and a shovel at separate Wal-Mart stores, a prosecutor alleged Thursday."

Comment: I don't often link to local crime news and prefer to focus on global news but I'm making an exception in this case. This appears to be one of those crimes categorized as "thrill killings" in which criminals kill someone just to see what the experience is like. It's a crime without any real motive except for depraved indifference to the value of human life.  These are truly evil people.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Pestilence

Reuters - Florida governor declares health emergency in four counties over Zika
Reuters reports: "Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a public health emergency in four counties with travel-related cases of the Zika virus on Wednesday, and ordered state officials to increase mosquito control efforts in some of the most populous parts of the state."

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Rumors of War

Reuters - North Korea's mobile missile launcher seen moving: Japan's NHK
Reuters reports: "North Korea's mobile missile launcher, carrying a ballistic missile, has been seen moving near the east coast and activity has also been seen at a long-range rocket launch pad on the west coast, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said on Thursday. International pressure has grown on North Korea to call off a planned rocket launch, seen by some governments as another missile test, since Pyongyang told U.N. agencies this week it would launch what it called an 'earth observation satellite'. Japan has put its military on alert to shoot down any rocket that threatens its territory."

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Pestilence

AP - Sexually-transmitted Zika case confirmed in Texas
AP reports: "Health officials on Tuesday reported that a person in Texas has become infected with the Zika virus through sex in the first case of the illness being transmitted within the United States amid the current outbreak in Latin America. [...] The CDC says it will issue guidance in the coming days on prevention of sexual transmission of Zika virus, focusing on the male sexual partners of women who are or may be pregnant."

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Rumors of War

AP - South Korea warns North Korea not to launch satellite
The AP reports: "South Korea warned on Wednesday of 'searing' consequences if North Korea doesn't abandon plans to launch a long-range rocket that critics call a banned test of ballistic missile technology. [...] North Korea on Tuesday informed international organizations of its plans to launch an Earth observation satellite on a rocket between Feb. 8 and 25, and if North Korea's past patterns are any clue, angry warnings by its neighbors and Washington probably won't dissuade a coming launch."

Comment: Time to unpack the harsh words of condemnation and ready them for use.

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Monday, February 01, 2016

Pestilence

AP - WHO declares global emergency over Zika virus spread
The AP reports: "The World Health Organization declared a global emergency over the explosive spread of the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects in the Americas, calling it an 'extraordinary event' that poses a public health threat to other parts of the world. The U.N. agency took the rare step despite a lack of definitive evidence proving the mosquito-borne virus is causing a surge in babies born with brain defects and abnormally small heads in Brazil and following a 2013-14 outbreak in French Polynesia."

Comment: Will WHO do a better job with Zika than they did with Ebola? Stay tuned!

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