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Suspicious Letters Sent to White House, NYC Mayor; Is New Coronavirus a Threat?

Aired May 31, 2013 - 04:00:00   ET


CARL AZUZ, CNN ANCHOR: It`s the end of the month, the end of the week and the start of the new day of CNN STUDENT NEWS. I`m Carl Azuz. First up, three suspicious letters, one was sent to President Obama, the other two were sent to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and to an organization he founded. Initial tests on those two letters indicated they were tainted with a poison called ricin. As of yesterday afternoon, officials hadn`t said whether ricin was found on the letter addressed to the White House, although they did say the letters were similar. Ricin seriously dangerous. Even a tiny amount of it can kill someone in two days or less by shutting down respiratory or circulatory systems. There is no known antidote for it.

You might remember a month or so ago, letters tainted with ricin were sent to the president and other officials. Authorities don`t think there is a connection between that and the new letter sent to President Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today`s "Shoutout" goes out to Ms. Dunn`s (ph) morning meeting group at Tech Prep Academy in Washington, D.C. Now, where will you find Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates? Are they on the Iberian Peninsula, Strait of Messina, Arabian Peninsula or Horn of Africa? You got 3 seconds, go.

Those are three of the countries that make up the Arabian Peninsula. That`s your answer and that is your Shoutout.

AZUZ: Health officials say that region seems to be the starting point for a dangerous new virus. In order to fight diseases, scientists need information. Right now, they don`t know where this virus started, they don`t know how it`s spread. Mary Snow explains what is known about what`s becoming a medical mystery.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hollywood movies like "Contagion" are sobering reminders of the real threat of deadly viruses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So there`s no treatment protocol and no vaccine at this time.

SNOW: Reports of a new strain of the coronavirus overseas is nowhere near the movie version of an outbreak. So far, there are no reported cases in the United States. Its name, the Middle East Respiratory System Coronavirus. The World Health Organization is calling it a threat to the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a grave concern to us here internationally at WHO because there are so many unknowns around the virus which so far has killed 55 percent of the confirmed cases.

SNOW: Cases have been linked from the Middle East to the UK, Germany, France and Tunisia. So far, 27 people have died, with the largest number in Saudi Arabia.

Should people be concerned about this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People should always be concerned whenever there is an emerging infectious disease, because we don`t really know, we don`t have ways in which we can predict and project, and appropriately prepare for some of these.

SNOW: Ian Lipkin (ph) is leading a team of scientists at Columbia University to investigate the virus, which is in the same family as SARS and the common cold. Symptoms include fever and severe respiratory problems. Patients have also developed pneumonia and kidney failure.

Officials have found some clusters of cases where the disease has been transmitted between family members or in a health care setting. Researchers are looking at whether it was initially passed from animals to humans.

Health officials don`t know much about how the virus spreads, but at this point, travel warnings have not been issued.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t think we should be concerned in terms of travel to the Middle East or to - to anywhere in the world right now, but to just be aware of it. Most of the cases and illnesses have been associated with the elderly and those with preexisting or severe underlying medical conditions.

SNOW: The World Health Organization is so concerned about this virus because there`s no known treatment and no way to make a vaccine, not just yet. Doctors are currently working on that. In the cases that have been found in eight countries, all have been linked to the Middle East. Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


AZUZ: All right, you know those terms of agreement when you sign up for a website? Facebook has one that says you will not post content that is hate speech. Now, the company is increasing its efforts to get rid of hate speech. It`s a response to a campaign by women`s groups. The campaign targeted Facebook pages that celebrated or joked about violence against women. Facebook says it`s tried to find a balance between cracking down on hateful content and allowing for freedom of expression. But a new company post says in recent days, it has become clear that our systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like. The company says it`s going to update its guidelines for identifying hate speech, and hold users more accountable for content considered cruel or insensitive.

Some Facebook users thanked the company. Others said the changes don`t go far enough. Some users wondered if Facebook would keep up the increased efforts long-term. What about freedom of speech? That`s not really an issue here. Facebook is a private site. You might be able to post what you want, but Facebook is free to take it down and cancel your account.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is this legit? The Atlantic and Eastern Pacific hurricane seasons start on the same date. No, not true. In the Eastern Pacific, hurricane seasons starts on May 15th, though both seasons end on the same date.

AZUZ: It doesn`t always matter to an Atlantic hurricane that its official season is from June 1 to November 30. These storms can form at any time, but that window is when most of them form, and this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the Atlantic could be in for a bumpy ride. It says a recipe of warm ocean temperatures and unique wind conditions could cook up between 7 and 11 hurricanes, between three and six of which could be major. In what`s considered a normal Atlantic season, we`d be looking at six hurricanes and three major ones. But predicting hurricanes is like, well, predicting the weather. Last year, the administration predicted a normal season. It ended up being one of the most active on record. There is just no way to know how many storms will form until they spin up. But if you live or vacation on the eastern Gulf Coast or the Caribbean, officials say it`s always good to have an emergency plan in place and to know what your community`s plan is. As far as Eastern Pacific hurricanes go, the season that started on May 15 is predicted to be less active than normal.

If you`re out on the water along the coast, there is something you might want to keep an eye out for. Sharks. These predators get a bad rap. Do they deserve it? Philippe Cousteau tells us some truths and refutes some rumors when it comes to shark attacks.


PHILIPPE COUSTEAU: We think about shark attacks, there are actually more like usually shark bites. That is the only way that sharks can tell what something is. We have the opportunity to smell and to see and to feel and read a menu. For sharks, it`s really about biting and tasting.

Many shark attacks happen in the early morning or in the evening, when there`s lots of shadows. Oftentimes they are a case of mistaken identity, mostly with swimmers -- and actually up to 60 percent of shark attacks are surfers. We believe that`s because sharks looking up at the surface see a surfer and they resemble, say, a sea lion or something else that they might normally eat, and they go up and take a bite, although it`s also important to remember that most shark attacks are bite and release, and don`t result in a fatality.

Sharks aren`t naturally aggressive towards humans. That being said, the most unprovoked and in many cases we believe mistaken identity shark bites occur from great white sharks and bull sharks and tiger sharks. But that is oftentimes, as I said, a case of mistaken identity, not that they are actively targeting human beings.

Shark attacks primarily occur in the United States, South Africa, and Australia. Even though the number of shark attacks are holding steady, there are more and more people in the water every year, and of those roughly 70 to 80 shark attacks that happen on average every year, there is only about five to seven or eight of them that are actually fatal. There`s no question that sharks have a lot more to fear from us than we do from them. Of the five or six or so shark fatalities that happen every year, we kill 100 million sharks every year. And most of the time that`s killing sharks for shark fin soup. The most important thing that we need to know about shark attacks is that they are so incredibly rare, that sharks should not be feared. They should be cherished. They are animals critical to the health of the oceans, and the health of the oceans is critical to the health of humanity.


AZUZ: All right. Today`s last story might cause some of you to stare. And since we`re talking about giraffes, let`s agree to call it rubbernecking. The two gazing at each other through that gate are twins. They were born in a wildlife preserve in Texas earlier this month. The male may be a foot taller and about 30 pounds heavier, but his sister is the big sibling. She was born first. Gamekeepers knew the mom was pregnant, they didn`t know she was having twins. So though they were ready for one baby, they quickly had to double down. Still, you see how cute they were. Baby giraffes for the twin. That pun might have been a long shot, but we were willing to stick our necks out.

One more week of shows to go. We`ll start on Monday. Look forward to seeing you then. Have a great weekend.