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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, March 31, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 65          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Dengue vaccine hopes tied to new technique
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A new vaccination technique could protect people against the four known dengue viruses. Thousands every year in Costa Rica contract the "bone breaking" disease, and several die.

Previous attempts to vaccinate against the four viruses have failed, and the solution might be injecting the vaccines at the same time into different places on the body, according to Rice University in Texas.

Dengue is a mosquito-born disease that kills tens of thousands of people every year throughout the world and sickens 100 million more. It is characterized by excruciating pain, hence the name "bone breaking."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called dengue "the most important mosquito-borne viral disease affecting humans" in 2005.

The new study, by Rice University bioengineers and physicists, suggests the multiple vaccination strategy might also be effective against other diseases, including HIV and cancer.

Dengue infection occurs from one of four closely related viruses.  Previous exposure to one of the four — either by prior infection or by vaccination — makes people much more likely to develop a potentially lethal hemorrhagic infection if they are infected later by one of the other three viruses.

Lymph nodes are any of the small structures located along the lymphatic vessels, particularly at the neck, armpit, and groin. Lymph nodes filter bacteria and foreign particles from lymph fluid.

During infection, lymph nodes can become swollen with activated lymphocytes — or kinds of white blood cells, along with T-cells, that are part of the body’s immune response.

Within a few days of infection, the immune system completes a massive scan of the 100 million available T-cells in its arsenal.  Through a complex trial-and-error process, it identifies three to five T-cells that best recognize and attack the components of the sickened cells.  Once the cells are chosen, they are produced by the millions and sent out to clear the infection. When the infection is gone, thousands of the pre-programmed T-cells stay in the body in case the disease returns.

In recent years, public health officials have documented the co-existence of four dengue viruses in Brazil, Cuba, Thailand and other

Courtesy U.S. Centers for Disease Control
Dengue vector Aedes aegypti mosquito feeding

tropical and subtropical countries.

Because infection by multiple dengue viruses one after another can lead to an increased likelihood of deadly infections, public health officials have developed a vaccine that was supposed to fight all four versions at once.

But doctors found that patients who got a four-component vaccine wound up only being protected against one or two versions at most, because of what is called immunodominance.

To find out why the vaccine did not protect against all four viruses, researcher Michael Deem and graduate student Hao Zhou developed a computer model of the immune system's biochemical scanning process to see if they could recreate the effect and find out what caused it.

They conducted trillions of calculations and gradually built up a bigger picture of what occurs in dengue immunodominance.

In a person who has been exposed to all four versions of the dengue virus, the immune system produces T-cells specific to each version.

But when the immune system is presented with more than one version of the virus, Deem said, it might respond only against the version of the virus for which it has T-cells with the strongest affinity, or attraction, to the virus.

In this way, the immune system responds to only the dominant virus, protecting against that version and none of the others. That is immunodominance.

Deem said giving the four vaccines at the same time at different places on the body could help overcome immunodominance by taking advantage of the relative isolation of lymph nodes in the body.

Each person has hundreds of lymph nodes at different places around the body.  Deem believes that vaccinating someone at four different sites, served by four different lymph nodes, would allow the body to develop immune responses against all four versions of dengue at the same time.

Poás to reopen Saturday with stricter safety rules for tourists
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Parque Nacional Volcán Poás will open again for tourists Saturday but with special rules.

Only the overlook will be open, the cafeteria, stores, trails and Botos lake will be closed, according to the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias. Tourists will enter in groups of 50 and will be accompanied at all times by a
 motor vehicle, the commission said. One road will be only for access and the second will be an exit, the commission added.

The volcano, a prime tourist attraction, has put forth 16 eruptions in the last week. Officials quickly closed the park Friday, and scientists have been on the scene since.

Visitors will be briefed on the dangers of an active volcano and permitted to stay just 45 minutes, according to the new rules.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 31, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 65

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This photo is from a casino camera and was released by the Judicial Investigating Organization Thursday.

Agents release photo
of man sought in Quepos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators released a photo Thursday of a man they would like to interview about the death of a woman in a Quepos hotel.

The man speaks perfect English and is presumed to come from a country where English is the major language.

In the photo taken at a casino the man is wearing a red baseball cap with an Audi emblem on it. He also is wearing a black shirt bearing the initials "N.Y."

Investigators can be reached at  777-0511 or 777-1511.

Agents said the man has a technique of getting into a hotel and using tricks to avoid registering and frequently leaves without paying.

They said he had short blond hair and is from 33 to 35 years of age.

A worker at the Hotel el Pueblo discovered the body of a dead 24-year-old woman there Wednesday. She had checked in with the man in the photo Saturday, agents said they believe. Although the case is being treated as a murder, there is no clear indication yet of how the woman died.

Hotel employees said that when the man signed up for the room he showed them a business card that identified him as a member of the U.S. Embassy staff in Nicaragua. Agents said that he is not.

Limón gets more rain
but conditions improving

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Limón on the Caribbean coast got hit with two more inches of rain Thursday, but predictions are for less rain today and clearing for the weekend.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional measured 51.3 mms of rain (2.1 inches) at its Limón station with most of the rain falling in midafternoon.

The northern zone and San José got rain, too, while the Pacific beaches were generally dry and party cloudy.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias maintained an alert through today, but said that the bulk of the rivers that drain into the Caribbean were cresting.

Teams were sent south to Valle de la Estrella and also into Matina near Limón to evaluate damage. Matina and parts of Limón were underwater.

The Caribbean coast was hit with up to 213 mms (8 inches) of rain from 7 a.m. Wednesday to 7 a.m. Thursday.

Both the emergeny commission and the weather bureau predicted more stable conditions for later today and the weekend. The heavy rain was caused by a storm system in the Caribbean.

English training planned
for workers in tourism

Special to A.M. Cost Rica

The Amigos de los Colegios de Santa Cruz is organizing basic English courses for Costa Ricans who work in the hotel and restaurant industry. These courses will begin on Tuesday, April 18. The site will be the Colegio 27 de

The class will begin at 5:30 p.m. and end at 7:30 p.m.  Starting in May, there will be classes twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The cost per person for a two-hour class will be 1,000 colons. Organizers said they hope to have a maximum of 10 students. 

Man being investigated
in Alajuela sex case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 45-year-old Costa Rican has been arrested in Barrio San José, Alajuela, to face charges he was paying minor and adult women to engage in sexual activities with him.

Agents for the Judicial Investigation Organization conducted two raids Thursday to obtain evidence. Agents said the man videotaped his sessions without the knowledge of the women.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 31, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 65

Airport bandits hurting tourism, police officials admit
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police officials say they are closing in on a band of robbers who prey on tourists near Juan Santamaría airport.

But they also admitted for the first time that the gang of robbers has caused a panic and has had a negative impact on tourism.

Thursday was the first time that police officials admitted that the robberies were taking place. Until now the story has been reported by information provided by various embassies and reports from people who have been robbed.

The police officials were Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, Rogelio Ramos Martínez, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, and Erick Lacayo, director general of the Fuerza Pública.

Rojas was asked about the situation during a press conference called to discuss new anti-crime strategies and recent successes.

Rojas said investigators have formal complaints from 15 different groups of tourists who have been stopped by force and the occupants robbed. However, estimates by news organizations suggest the number might be twice that.

Included are Costa Ricans as well as U.S., Canadian and German citizens.

Reporters also have learned that the bandits sometimes shoot out the tires of vehicles and that the crimes usually happen at night between 10 p.m. and midnight. This usually happens on the Autopista General Cañas between the airport and San José. There are reports of bandits threatening to molest female victims.

The group of robbers are violent and they block rental cars and force them off the highway. They
order people at gunpoint out of the vehicles, Rojas said.

The bandits use ski masks and large caliber weapons and they also speak English, he added.

Rojas said the tourism market had been harmed by a report from the Canadian government that warned against crime in Costa Rica. He said that he would like the Canadians to retract the warning when the highway hijackings are resolved.

However, the Canadian warning was about the epidemic of petty thefts that tourists face daily here, mostly at the beach resorts.

Rojas said that cameras were being erected along the highway to catch the crooks in operation. He added that the incidents seem to have diminished.

The various embassies here have been generally silent on the robbery situation. The Canadian warning was about crime here in general. The U.S. Embassy inserted a few lines deep in its country summary of Costa Rica and then confirmed the robberies when asked by a reporter. An embassy spokesperson said March 17 that 12 groups of U.S. citizens had been held up from December through March 11, and that a group of Costa Ricans fell prey to the gang March 8.

But no embassy official has issued a strong warning to its citizens.

Fuerza Pública officers arrested four men March 19 on the highway but in daylight. There was speculation then that they might be part of the gang, but the comments by Rojas Thursday suggest that they are not.

The Grupo de Apoyo Operational is being called in to support the investigation of the highway bandits.

This is a group of 23 lawmen from various agencies who have been instrumental in a number of arrests in the center of San José where 70 percent of the nation's crimes happen.

A week full of art is just what you would expect here
It has been a weeklong celebration of the arts in Sabana Park.  I have never seen such a long row of white festive tents filled with tables and stands with attentive vendors waiting to serve you.  What fun it was to stroll along between the tables feasting my eyes on every kind of art from kitsch to fine.  Because of other commitments I missed most of the activities except the fireworks and music (which I could continue to see and hear from my apartment after I got home). 

Saturday the Julia and David Artists Colony had one of its “show and tell” presentations.  Artists usually come for a month’s stay and at the end of the month, the artists in residence display or read what they have done and answer questions about their work from the invited guests.  Then there are usually refreshments supplied by Inez and her helpers and more casual conversation.

Doss was kind enough to offer me a ride to Ciudad Colón so I invited my neighbor, Doug, and off we went in the capable hands of Miguel, Doss’ driver. 

It is not really that long a drive to Ciudad Colón but I have not been to the colony, except for the memorial, since my friend Bill White died.  More than once I expected him to catch up with our small group as we walked from one studio to the next enjoying the artwork and trying to make knowledgeable comments or ask intelligent questions.  I am so happy that Francisco and Royce have continued with the colony that Bill created.

This past month there were five visual artists — painters — and two writers staying in the colony.  At least three of them are repeat residents.  Donna Marxer, a painter from New York, who loves and paints butterflies, is a first timer, and she said that she has been to some 11 artists’ colonies and this was the best.  The others echoed her sentiments.

It is the pleasure of just being in Costa Rica, they said, and the particular ambiance of the colony along with the chance to talk to and exchange ideas with other artists.  For Donna, of course, it was also the fact that Costa Rica is the home of 10 percent of the world’s butterfly species.
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

John Rafferty, also from New York and Donna’s husband, is a writer.  It is a nice arrangement for the painter wife and writer husband.  She has the upstairs studio with large windows and light suitable for an artist, and he has the downstairs studio, just right for a writer.  John read us the opening chapters of his book, “Shoot the Dog,” a police procedure mystery set in New York City.  I am ready to line up and buy it when it is off the press.

For more about the Julia and David White Artists Colony you can visit www.forjuliaanddavid.org.

Right now my days are filled with what all writers go through when they are trying to get a manuscript into book form.   First is the problem of finding a printer, then transferring from one technology to another, if necessary, then there is getting the right font and format. And overall is trying to communicate with someone who speaks a very personalized Spanish and no English, and I am operating on slightly expanded kitchen Spanish. Galley proofs are a lovely thought when you are waiting for them and a nightmare when you start proofreading.  I guess visual artists have their own headaches when they decide a painting is ready for framing.

I am reading “Mexican Time,” a book about a writer experiencing life in San Miguel de Allende.  Although Tony Cohan is thrilled with the life there after Los Angeles, I have spent time in México, and I am happy here where I don’t have to worry about getting deathly ill from turista from drinking the water, having to wash vegetables in disinfectant and search out attack mosquitoes before retiring.  I still get daily interaction with a kind and caring population.  As I have said before and I am sure I was not the first — Costa Rica is Central America for beginners — and I might add, artists of all kinds.                   

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 31, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 65

Defensora expresses concern over free trade treaty
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Unless Costa Rica changes its current model of development the free trade treaty would enlarge the gap between the rich and the poor, according to the defensora de los habitantes.

The concentration of wealth, the exclusion and the dehumanization brought by the treaty would increase the national social problems, she said Tuesday.

The treaty also would reduce the central government's influence in the economy by eliminating tariffs, reducing subsidies and other methods used traditionally to enhance development, she said.

The defensora, Lisbeth Quesada Tristan, also said that if the treaty is approved, Costa Rican producers would be subjected to unequal competition and might lose markets that now are theirs.
The detailed report covered a number of areas, including medicines, labor, environment and constitutional issues. The report made some technical suggestions for changes in Costa Rican law to compensate for the impact of the trade treaty.

In the area of telecommunications, the defensora said that foreign firms would seek out the most profitable areas and leave the current monopoly, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad less profitable enterprises, such as fixed line telephones.

The report comes at a time when an Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos study showed that between 1988 and 2004 the income of the top 20 percent of the population nearly doubled while that of the lowest 20 percent increased only 7 percent.

The treaty is under study in the Asamblea Legislativa  where it must be ratified to go into force. New legislators take over May 1, so nothing is certain.

Bush says his goal is comprehensive immigration law
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President George Bush says he is committed to getting a comprehensive immigration reform package through the U.S. Congress — one that includes creation of a guest worker program. He spoke after talks in the Mexican resort of Cancun with President Vicente Fox.

Bush went to Cancun at a time when Americans across the country are focusing on the emotional issue of illegal immigration.

Polls show the public is just about split, with half wanting a crackdown on undocumented workers and others saying steps should be taken to allow many to work in the United States legally on a temporary basis.

The debate followed Bush to Mexico — the homeland of many of the more than 11 million illegal immigrants now in the United States. Mexican President Vicente Fox has long called for reforms, such as implementation of the Bush administration's proposed guest worker program.

As they sat down for talks in Cancun, President Bush reassured his counterpart that getting a bill with a guest worker program is a priority. He said he is optimistic a good bill will pass Congress, but made clear that given the passions on both sides, it may take time. "I told the president there is a legislative process that is going forward and that it may look
cumbersome to some, but that is how our democracy works," he said.

The Senate started debate on immigration reform Wednesday. The House passed its version of the bill in December — one that focused solely on border security and enforcement and said illegal immigrants should be treated as felons.

Immigration advocates have taken to the streets to protest the House bill and are urging the Senate to strip out the language making illegal immigration a felony and include a guest worker program. Bush left no doubt, that is his hope too. "I am optimistic we can get a bill done and I look forward to working with members of both parties to get a bill done," he said.

Bush also praised Mexico for promising stronger action to police the U.S.-Mexican border. Speaking in Spanish, President Fox stressed border security is a shared responsibility.

The Bush-Fox talks were a prelude to a three-way North American summit meeting today that will also include the new prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper. Prime Minister Harper also met privately with President Bush — their first official meeting since Harper took office two months ago.

Before their formal bilateral discussions got under way, the three leaders did a little sightseeing, leaving the resort town to tour some ancient Mayan ruins.

Battered Cancun recovering slowly but still ready for spring break
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cancun, México, is hosting both international leaders and vacationing college students this week, as the city slowly recovers from a brutal pounding by Hurricane Wilma.

City officials say only about half of Cancun's 27,000 hotel rooms are open this year, after Wilma battered the resort city last October.  Winds reached well past 200 kph  (124 mph).
Hotel owners say the recovery is going slowly, as they try to meet demands to build stronger structures that can withstand another such storm. 

Meanwhile, the city has refurbished many beaches, re-planted vegetation, and repaired bike paths and walkways.

Residents say the student crowds are smaller this year, but still plenty have come, determined to carry on Cancun's tradition of spring-break revelry.

Jo Stuart
About us

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