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These stories were published Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 12
Jo Stuart
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They are called rotaviruses because of their rounded shape, which can only be seen under the electron microscope.
University of Capetown microphoto
'Tis the season for an onslaught of rotaviruses
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The extended rainy season in Costa Rica has given rise to more cases of viruses in the Central Valley. This is according to Dr. Henry Walterman from the health surveillance department at the Ministerio de Salud. "Because we are still in rainy season, we do get quite a few cases of the rotavirus," he said.

The rotavirus most commonly affects children between 6 to 24 months although the elderly and adults with weak defense systems can also suffer from the rotavirus, he said. The rotavirus has also caused traveler’s diarrhea in adults. The most common symptoms are serious bouts of diarrhea, temperature and vomiting. 

Francisco Hernández Chavez from the Faculdad de Microbiologia at the Universidad de Costa Rica said "There are two peaks during the year one during June and July and the other during the end of the year." Hernández said that every three or four years there are epidemics." That is why there are so many cases of this time."

Hernández said that it is still not known exactly how many ways the rotavirus is spread, "There is a theory that the virus can be transmitted by breathing it in."  Hernandez said that the treatment of the virus is very important. " This virus is potentially life threatening to children, they must drink water and should never take antibiotics." 

What is known is that the virus is spread by hand contact. The virus is a hardy one and can live for a long period outside the human body. It is found in water, on utensils and just about anywhere humans touch.

Because antibiotics do not kill a virus, taking such a drug will simply kill off the good bacteria in the intestinal tract, researchers say.

The incubation period is about two days, and the disease can be visible for up to eight days. But those who carry the virus can be contagious from the time they fell ill to as much as two weeks later, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Another type of virus, the noroviruses, also causes an illness that generally is referred to as stomach flu. Lab tests are necessary to tell the difference. The rotavirus is the more dangerous, although both can cause dehydration, so drinking fluids during a bout with a virus is recommended.

Worldwide some 600,000 children die a year from rotaviruses, said the Centers for Disease Control. Youngsters are more susceptible to the viral infection.

Although drinking water is a possible way viruses are transmitted, the nation’s water company declined any comment Monday. The Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados maintains a special department to keep track of contamination in the water supply.

However, an employee of the department refused to disclose any information and said no one else was available to answer questions.

There is little protection against viruses. Hand-washing is important, but mere contact with an infected person can spread the disease. Adults generally develop a partial immunity after several bouts with the disease.

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Cold front keeps officials
on alert for flooding

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Disaster officials still are on the alert as light rain continues to fall on the flood-soaked Caribbean slope. A cold front will dominate the weather until at least Thursday, said officials.

Meanwhile, President Abel Pacheco has returned from a trip to the hardest hit section of the country: Sixaola and the nearby Talamanca communities.

Nearly 2,000 persons continue to be housed in shelters, and disaster officials issued more than 3,000 daily food rations Monday. The priority is to provide food and water to an estimated 252 stricken communities.

The cold front had chilled the central Valley, too, and the overnight temperatures were hovering between 15 Celsius (59 Fahrenheit) and 16 (61 F.) degrees. Winds all Monday up to 45 kms. (28 mph) and infrequent rains kept the mercury low.

Pacheco had been criticized by residents in far southeast Costa Rica when he did not visit their area during a trip last week. Monday he flew by helicopter to Mononcito and Suretka, predominately BriBri Indian communities.

He also visited Sixaola and La Celia. After viewing the area from the air, Pacheco characterized the disaster as the strongest in the last 100 years. In La Celia, Pacheco spoke at the school which had resisted the force of the water because it had been built on stilts, a practice Pacheco recommends. He grew up in the Province of Limón.

Pacheco said that the country cannot continue making investments in schools, clinics, roads year after year only to see them destroyed by flooding. "We have to put an end to this," he said.

Luis Diego Morales is president of the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias. He traveled with the president and estimated the damage at $10 million.

Pacheco’s tenure has been marked by repeated flooding on the Caribbean coast. Even as he took the oath of office in May 2002, a killer storm was hitting the coast.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo reported that tourist areas in the Sarapiquí area in the northern zone and also the southern Caribbean have not suffered long-term effects from the storm. Access routes are open from San José and are in good condition, the institute said.

However, tourists may want to avoid northern Panamá, which also was hit by the storm.  Access via Sixaola is uncertain and roads and conditions there are said to be not as good as in Costa Rica.

Gold production to begin
soon at Bellavisa mine

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Glencairn Gold Corp. said that its open pit Bellavista mine is 90 percent complete and on schedule. The company expects to begin recovering gold from crushed rock by the second quarter of this year.

The mine is in the Montes de Oro area 70 kms (44 miles) west of San Jose, near Miramar.

The company gave an update on the mining in a news release Monday. According to the company: 

Electrical power has been extended to the site from Costa Rica's main power grid and, when the mine reaches design capacity, the company will be the largest power purchaser on the grid. 

All earthworks have been completed and leach pads installed. The crushers and other machinery are in place, and the conveying and stacking system has been assembled. 

All road work has also been completed. A contracted fleet of mining equipment is on site with both stripping and mining planned in February. 

The company says it will extract gold from the ore-bearing rock by means of a leach system that uses chemicals to set the gold free. A similar system proposed for use by another company near the Río San Juan has been controversial.

The company plans to extract about 60,000 ounces of gold a year at a cost of $198 an ounce. Gold traded for $421 an ounce Monday.

National parks here get
669,980 tourist visits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The National Parks in Costa Rica received some 669,980 tourists last year, according to the Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación.  The most visited national parks were Volcan Poas, Manuel Antonio and Volcan Irazú. 

Costa Rica has 155 national parks, but not all are open to the public. The average fee to enter a national park in Costa Rica is $5. Guillermo Mora, the sub-director of the national system, said that the entry fees have generated more than $3 million. Mora also said that visits by Costa Rican nationals fell by 10 percent in 2004. Even so ticket sales generated some $700,000.  This was a 27 percent increase compared to 2003 where 526,975 tourists visited the National Parks.

The minister of Ambiente y Energía, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, said that ticket sales have been good and the money generated is reinvested into the national parks. "But this only represents 50 percent of what we actually need to maintain and improve them." 

Festival arrests climb

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fiestas mean big business for police, too. The Fuerza Pública says it has made 51 arrests at the Palmares festival since it started Thursday. Officials also are investigating a fatal knifing that may have taken place on the festival grounds. 

The victim was found off the festival grounds and died later in a hospital.

In Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, at another festival, police arrested 27. Many of the arrests are for disorderly conduct, although some are domestic violence violations.

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An analysis of the news
Some basic questions about the big sewer project
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The plan announced earlier this month to provide a sewage treatment plant for the metropolitan area raises a number of questions.

1. Why does it take a $100 million loan from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation to raise the matter of sewers as a topic of discussion in a country said to be friendly to the environment?

2. Why is the treatment plant the last part of the project being built and scheduled for operation only in 2025?

3. Where will the government get the additional $337 million called for by the plan?

4. What guarantees have citizens that the government will follow through on the project?

5. What provisions are made for maintenance once new sewer lines and connectors are put in?

6. Can the environment stand 20 more years of dumping raw sewage into the sea?

These all are reasonable questions, and some answers have been provided. For example, the Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, known as AyA, wants to raise the sewer rates now about $8 a household to pay for the project.

Several years will be spent in pushing pencils, making plans and acquiring rights-of-way. Little real work will begin for five years.

There is no doubt that the metropolitan sewer system requires a lot of work. A quick tour reveals sewer mains so totally rusted through that a spectator can see the flow of sewage. In periods of heavy flow the contents of these pipes pour out on the ground into adjacent streams.

But one wonders how the pipes got into this condition in the first place. AyA is in charge of maintenance. Most 

sewer companies would want to fix such situations before the main pipe collapsed into sodden heaps of rust.

But if the collector pipes and mains are thought-provoking, so is the outflow pipe that dumps the collected sewage into a stream in La Uruca. This is where metropolitan area sewage begins its overland journey to the Río Tarcoles and the sea.

Nearby in Escazú planners hope to erect the sewage treatment plant. But is there not something that can be done now to prevent the flow of raw sewage into the ocean? Cannot evaporation lagoons be constructed now? Cannot settling tanks be installed to separate the solids from the water?

As the population increases the sewage outflow increases, perhaps doubles, in 20 years.

A larger question is allowing AyA to direct this project. The company has established its lack of qualifications by letting the sewer system deteriorate. Some of the more obvious problems in the metro sewer system require more creativity than money to solve. Rusting pipes can be jacketed with plastic or rubber for relatively small amounts. 

Is this government institute capable of carrying out a $437 million project. If so, why did they not get together with the Municipalidad de San José and get some sewer pipes in when workmen had the streets and sidewalks open for underground electricity last year? That would have made sense and perhaps saved some money.

The current state of the sewers may be the biggest threat there is to Costa Rican tourism. Miles of beaches are polluted by the outflow, although this is not generally known.

And one last question:

If the sewer system is in such bad shape (and it is), isn’t AyA the same people who are in charge of the domestic water system?

Venezuela's Chavez says he is willing to meet with Uribe on kidnap issue
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez says he is prepared to meet with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to defuse tensions over the seizure of a top Colombian rebel leader in Venezuela last month. 

Chavez spoke Sunday, a day after Uribe offered to discuss the issue with him.  There has been no announcement from either side about whether such a meeting will take place. 

Chavez accuses neighboring Colombia of paying bounty hunters to catch Rodrigo Granda, a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Granda appears to have been grabbed in Caracas, but Colombia said he was arrested in that country.

Venezuela froze trade relations with Colombia Friday, and Chavez said they would remain suspended until Colombia apologizes. Chavez also said Sunday the United States is trying to divide South America by supporting Colombia in the dispute.

Brazilian bard of the slums and underworld, Bzerra da Silva, dies at 77
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian singer and musician Bezerra da Silva, known for his songs glorifying Rio De Janeiro's slums and underworld, has died at the age of 77. Doctors say he had been hospitalized due to a lung infection.

Da Silva is known as the architect of the "Sambandido" style of music which depicts life in the slums over traditional samba music. The style is often considered a precursor to American "gangsta rap."

Da Silva's lyrics focused on drugs, crime, poverty, police brutality and the persona of the "malandro," or a street-hustler who presided over Rio's slums several decades ago. 

His songs included "Somebody Kidnapped my Mother-in-Law" and "Cocaine Overdose."

Born in northeastern Brazil, Da Silva reached Rio De Janeiro at the age of 15, working as a house painter before performing professionally as a musician.

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U.N. poverty plan calls for U.S. to triple annual aid
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United Nations has unveiled a package of proposals aimed at cutting the number of people living in poverty by one-half within 10 years. The plans were developed by an independent panel including leading experts in the field of development.

It is being called the most comprehensive strategy ever put forward for combating poverty, hunger, and disease.

Five years ago, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan set out what are known as the Millennium Development Goals. The idea was to improve the lives of at least one billion people in poor developing countries by 2015.

But five years later, little progress has been made. So a group of 265 prominent development experts got together through the Millennium Project to map out a clear plan for achieving the goals. 

The leader of the group, economist Jeffrey Sachs, calls the plan practical and affordable.

"This is not a dreamy set of global ambitions and challenges," he said. "This is identifying in fact very specific investments and interventions across a wide range of areas that can spell the practical difference between life and death, so the essence of what we are recommending is a practical set of measures."

A Millennium Project news release says 22 rich countries would be asked to give a total of $135 billion in development aid in 2006. That is $48 billion more than current commitments. 

Sachs says roughly 40 percent of the total would come from the United States. The Web site of the U.S. Agency for International Development says the budget request for the current year is $8.8 billion.

Figures provided by Sachs suggest that meeting the target would require the United States to more than triple its development aid budget by next year.

"On average, it means for the 22 donor countries of the development assistance committee, that we say as of 2006 they should be at about 4.6 percent of GNP," he said. "The United States right now is at about 1.5 percent of GNP. On a $12 trillion economy, that is a gap of a bit more than $30 billion a year of increase we say by calendar year 2006 would be the U.S. part of a global effort along these lines." 

GNP is an estimate of the value of a nation’s total goods and services.

Another leader of the Millennium Project, Mark Malloch Brown, U.N. development program director, expressed cautious optimism that the U.S. Congress could be persuaded to make the necessary budget allocations. He noted that the Bush administration has sharply increased U.S. foreign aid spending, and said he believes U.S. taxpayers would be willing to do even more.

"The U.S. is extremely seized, American public opinion particularly, with health and public education particularly," he said. "When this is about building these basic systems for poor people, you see instant connection like you have seen in the aftermath of the tsunami this week."

The 3,000 page Millennium Project report, titled "Investing in Development", was presented Monday to Secretary-General Kofi Annan. 

In addition to calling for increases in aid from rich countries, the report urges poor countries to develop national strategies so they can meet the U.N. development goals.

Among the quick-fix solutions the report recommends are supplying mosquito bed nets and anti-malaria medicines for children, and anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS patients. 

The authors say such measures could be accomplished within one year, making a big start toward accomplishing the millennium goal of reversing the spread of AIDS and malaria in the developing world. 

Jo Stuart
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