HAMNET Report 24th April 2022

KwaZulu Natal is still counting the cost of damage from the worst storms recorded just on 2 weeks ago. Damage in monetary value will go on rising as the work of repairing infrastructure and trying to rebuild businesses and housing continues, but loss of life remains the most significant tragedy.

Curiously, the death toll after the storms was reduced by about 10 souls this week, as some bodies recovered showed that the persons had succumbed to natural causes, or murder, and not directly smothering. So I believe the death toll is currently in the late 430’s. However, there are still about 250 people unaccounted for, and perhaps they never will be found, as huge amounts of mud and silt, and washed-away earth will surely have committed them to silent and unknown burials. Our condolences and sympathy continues to be extended to all families on their losses.

Easter Weekend came and went, and the Western Cape certainly benefitted from wonderful weather. These were calm, balmy days, with little wind, little cloud, and a sun far enough North in our sky to reduce maximum temperatures to the mid 20’s.

Just as well, because the Cape Peninsula witnessed the two Two Oceans Marathon races on Easter Saturday and Sunday. I told you last week about Saturday’s race, which was uneventful.

Roughly five thousand runners ran the 56km ultra-marathon on Easter Sunday, again in delightful weather, and HAMNET was there to support them again. The race started on Main Road in Newlands, and ran along the shores of False Bay and the Indian Ocean all the way to Fish Hoek, before turning West, and heading through Noordhoek and on to Chapman’s Peak Drive, to follow the Atlantic coastline Northwards through Hout Bay, via Constantia Neck to Rhodes Drive past Kirstenbosch before ending at UCT sports fields.

HAMNET members manned 6 sweep vehicles, there to patrol the route, look for stragglers or runners in difficulty, and offer them a ride, on to the next bus or back to UCT, if they decided to withdraw from the race. We also had a motorbike rover, free to react quickly to any drama or route difficulties, and then there were two of us in the Joint Ops Centre at Tygerberg Hospital’s Provincial Emergency Management Centre (PEMC).

Because the weather was so sublime, runners didn’t have to battle a strong headwind or tailwind, did not freeze to death in driving rain, or become dehydrated in the heat, and so again there were no important injuries or health problems along the route. A lot of runners did decide to withdraw, but weren’t in any major distress, and our stock of blankets in the sweep vehicles were hardly needed, unlike previous years. Furthermore we did not run out of water.

So, partly due to the smaller number of runners, and also to the weather on the day, there were no major calamities during the race. The sweeps managed their work easily, there were more than enough buses to bring runners cut off at 42.2Km by the time limit there, in to the race finish, and our work at the JOC did not run us off our feet.

I’m extremely grateful to the operators who gave up their chocolate-eating duties over the Easter Weekend to assist at both races, and thank their families too for allowing them to help make the races the safe ones they were.

Meanwhile the sun was in explosive mood this week, with a major X-class solar flare on Wednesday morning early, our time, the first of this magnitude during solar cycle 25. The flare was not aimed directly at Earth, but there were apparently some moments of radio blackout in the Australia and Indonesia areas. The coronal mass ejection which always follows the solar flare, arrived some days later, and would have contributed to auroral sightings in both hemispheres at high latitudes, but not really affected communications much.

And with sunspot numbers higher than they’ve been for a long time, the solar flux index also in the mid hundreds, and low planetary K indices, HF bands have been wide open lately. This is good for us, to be able to practice our skills at communicating with strangers, which in emergency communications we will always need to do, when it is necessary to relay messages of importance relating to disaster of one sort or another, rather than chat to our buddy three streets away on VHF.

An answer may be on the horizon now, as to how to predict which moderately ill COVID patients will go on to develop a cytokine storm which overwhelms their immune system, and results in intensive care admission, intubation, ventilation, or death.

Dr Emanuela Sozio and her colleagues at an infectious diseases clinic in Italy did a study of patients with moderate to severe COVID who were admitted to intensive care facilities, compared with those who didn’t need such admission, and have identified a series of cytokines and other biomarkers, that were always present at high levels in the blood in the severest cases.

“It is not always possible to determine which COVID-19 patients have the worst prognosis, especially early on. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that the earlier we treat excessive inflammation, the more likely we are to turn it off quickly and definitively and so avoid irreversible organ damage.

“Our work may help select patients with worse prognoses and who need to be admitted to high dependency units, as well as potentially help personalize their treatment,” she said.

This will be wonderful news if the research stands the test of time, because it will be possible to send sick patients home, who are at no great risk, once their biomarker status has been documented. Until now, all moderate to severe patients have been kept in hospital because there has been no way of predicting who will get better and who will get worse.

Thanks to medicalxpress.com for these notes.

Finally the HAMNET Report congratulates Roy Walsh ZS3RW on winning the Hamnet Shield for 2021, for his services as Divisional Director for HAMNET in the Northern Cape, as announced in yesterday’s SARL AGM. His wife Esme ZS3EW is also to be congratulated on walking away with two trophies in the awards ceremony! Be carefully there, Roy, you are about to be overtaken by your very competent wife!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.