The Pandora Report

Highlights include H5N1 is making health investigators in China very nervous, the reasons why we are still leery of mutating it in the lab, bureaucratese strikes PAHPA, polymer sheets in bandages = less infection, the US fighting Ebola, and human life! now featuring bacteria. Happy Friday!

Bird Flu Death In China Sparks Fear Of Human-Transmitted H5N1 Strain

OK, now before you start making plans for that bird-flu apocalypse bunker, just put down the canned beets and listen for a sec.  It’s too early to tell. It’s entirely possible the health investigators missed a link. But also, and forgive the soapbox, this is exactly why things like a scientific moratorium on the potential aerosolization of H5N1 is so potentially dangerous.

International Business Times – “Health authorities in Guiyang, Guizhou province, announced that the 21-year-old woman, Shuai Pengyue, died on Wednesday due to multiple organ failure as a result of the flu. Shuai was one of two women reported in the area to have contracted the new strain of the avian influenza. Health officials have investigated the two of them and concluded that neither patient was in contact with poultry before showing symptoms of the illness. Victim proximity is important to note because typically, the bird flu is contracted by being in contact with poultry. In this case, health officials worry this could be signs that the H5N1 strain can now be transmitted between humans.”

The Deadliest Virus

This clearly isn’t a black and white issue, and both sides of the debate raise valid points. Here’s a good presentation of why we aren’t all gung-ho H5N1.

Harvard Magazine – “BIRD FLU (H5N1) has receded from international headlines for the moment, as few human cases of the deadly virus have been reported this year. But when Dutch researchers recently created an even more deadly strain of the virus in a laboratory for research purposes, they stirred grave concerns about what would happen if it escaped into the outside world. ‘Part of what makes H5N1 so deadly is that most people lack an immunity to it,’ explains Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) who studies the spread of infectious diseases. ‘If you make a strain that’s highly transmissible between humans, as the Dutch team did, it could be disastrous if it ever escaped the lab.’…Lipsitch, who directs the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at HSPH, thinks the risks far outweigh the rewards. Even in labs with the most stringent safety requirements, such as enclosed rubber ‘space suits’ to isolate researchers, accidents do happen. A single unprotected breath could infect a researcher, who might unknowingly spread the virus beyond the confines of the lab.”

Senate Panel Approves Revised Biodefense Proposals

PAHPA reauthorization, new and apparently improved in the Senate. The extent of the improvement? Changing bill language from “redployment” to “reassignment”. Yes, apparently this is a significant difference. No, representative was available to clarify why/how. No, we are not speculating.

NTI – “The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee sent the full chamber its own version of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act in place of a bill approved by the House of Representatives last month. The proposals are nearly identical, but the latest text would still require House endorsement upon receiving Senate approval. Congress failed in its previous session to reconcile separate reauthorization drafts endorsed by each side. ‘This was a reauthorization of this important act, and … we not only reauthorized it, we made it better,’ Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said in a morning session to mark up the legislation.”

Polymer controls bacteria and prevents antibiotic resistance

If viable, the potential implication of such bandages would be significant, especially in areas of higher risk of infection –  triage centers during a disaster or soldiers in theatre, for example.

The Engineer – “Researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm have discovered an antibacterial polymer that can be used in products including sportswear and bandages. It is claimed the discovery could be an important breakthrough in the search for environmentally-friendly ways to control bacteria while preventing antibiotic resistance and resistant bacteria.‘We have managed to find an antibacterial polymer that attaches stably to cellulose and therefore cannot be released into the environment,’ said Josefin Illergård, a chemistry researcher at KTH.”

US offers Shs26b to fight Ebola, Marburg

It’s bad form here at Mason Biodefense to go too long without talking about Ebola, but luckily the virus is remaining quiet. So instead, a little blurb about US efforts to keep it that way.

Uganda Daily Monitor – “The $10m (about Shs26b) project dubbed Emerging Pandemic Threat Programme aims at equipping doctors and veterinarians to strengthen their coordination in carrying out joint research and and treatment of zoonotic diseases.”

We are living in a bacterial world, and it’s impacting us more than previously thought

Are humans still human if the majority of our genome is derived from a common ancestor we share with bacteria? Is that a silly question? Maybe. For a thorough and thought-provoking piece on the role of bacterial species in our humanity, read below. – “Throughout her career, the famous biologist Lynn Margulis (1938-2011) argued that the world of microorganisms has a much larger impact on the entire biosphere—the world of all living things—than scientists typically recognize. Now a team of scientists from universities around the world has collected and compiled the results of hundreds of studies, most from within the past decade, on animal-bacterial interactions, and have shown that Margulis was right. The combined results suggest that the evidence supporting Margulis’ view has reached a tipping point, demanding that scientists reexamine some of the fundamental features of life through the lens of the complex, codependent relationships among bacteria and other very different life forms.”

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