The Pandora Report

Highlights include H7N9, China’s SARS lessons, H5N1, the seminal UN global arms treaty, bird flu bureaucracy, and the problems with the term “WMD”. Happy Friday!

H7N9 Update: 14 cases, five fatalities, no evidence of person-to-person transmission

(image credit: Matt Karp)
(image credit: Matt Karp)

Scientists race to gauge pandemic risk of new bird flu

We’re keeping a very close eye on news about the H7N9 avian flu strain emerging from China. To date there have been fourteen cases with five fatalities.   Unlike the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, this is the first time we’re seeing H7N9 in humans. It’s pandemic potential is still considered low due to its current inability to transmit person-to-person. However, although there have been no confirmed cases of person-to-person transmission, it’s been reported that a person caring for one of the people who died of H7N9 has since developed similar, flu-like symptoms.

Reuters – “Genetic sequence data on a deadly strain of bird flu previously unknown in people show the virus has already acquired some mutations that might make it more likely to cause a human pandemic, scientists say. But there is no evidence so far that the H7N9 flu – now known to have infected nine people in China, killing three – is spreading from person to person, and there is still a chance it might peter out and never fully mutate into a human form of flu.”

Ten years after SARS, what has China learned?

The short answer? It depends on whom you ask. China has improved its communication with the international and scientific community. However, there have been complaints about the lack of clear communication by the Chinese government with its own people, particularly at the time of the virus’ original emergence.

Xinhua – “The news of two men dying from a new variant of bird flu has reminded Chinese of the SARS pandemic that hit the country one decade ago. Many are wondering if the government will handle the situation any better than it did in 2003, should another pandemic break out…Now, on the 10th anniversary of the pandemic, fear is spreading following reports of two Shanghai men who died from H7N9 avian influenza, a strain that has not previously been detected in humans. That fear was aggravated this week after four more patients in neighboring Jiangsu Province were confirmed to have contracted the virus. All four are in critical condition.”

Cambodia reports 10th bird flu case this year

In all the chatter about H7N9, H5N1 seems almost tame. While it may seem high, ten cases in four months is in keeping with expected numbers.

Xinhua – “A six-year-old boy from Southwestern Kampot province was confirmed to have contracted with Avian Influenza H5N1, bringing the number of the cases to 10 and the death toll remained at eight in 2013, a health expert said Wednesday. ‘The boy was admitted to the Kantha Bopha Hospital in Phnom Penh on March 31 for severe pneumonia, and he was tested positive for H5N1 at the Instituts Pasteur on Tuesday,’ Dr. Denis Laurent, deputy director of the hospital, told Xinhua.’The boy is still alive, but in severe conditions (sic).”

UN general assembly passes first global arms treaty

Including everything from battle tanks to light weapons, this is the first UN treaty “aimed at controlling the trade in conventional weapons”, and prohibits the sale of conventional weapons to state in violation of arms embargoes, in support of terrorism, war crimes, genocide, or in use against civilians (it doesn’t regulate domestic sales of arms).

The Guardian – “The United Nations…vot[ed] it through by a large majority despite earlier being blocked by three countries. Member states represented in the UN general assembly voted by 154 to three, with 23 abstentions, to control a trade worth an estimated £46bn a year. The landmark deal went to a vote after Syria, Iran and North Korea – all at odds with the US – blocked its adoption by consensus….It is expected to come into force after the first 50 ratifications next year”

Clinical Notes: Bird Flu Vaccine Delayed at FDA

It’s been an avian-themed report. This piece included in commiseration with of all of us just now getting around to taxes – filing paperwork appropriately with the government is apparently as important for billion-dollar corporations as it is for the rest of us.

MedPage – “GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) human vaccine against H5N1 avian influenza did not win approval from the FDA, but only on technical grounds that should not keep it off the market for long, the company said. Called Q-Pan H5N1, the product is meant to be stockpiled in case the H5N1 virus becomes capable of causing a pandemic. It received a unanimous endorsement from an FDA advisory committee last November. Nevertheless, GSK said last week that it had received a so-called complete response letter from the agency, indicating that approval was not immediately forthcoming. The company said it was ‘triggered due to an administrative matter that has recently been rectified.'”

Soapbox we love: Let’s All Stop Saying ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ Forever

The title says it all. It was arguably too broad when it was just chemical, biological, radiological (mass destruction? a rad bomb? really?) and nuclear, and it seems to only be getting broader.

Wired – “In fact, as a fascinating paper by W. Seth Carus at the National Defense University shows, the Defense Department’s definition of the term has long been problematic. For years, its official definition included ‘high explosives,’ to make it consistent with the federal statute that Harroun ran up against. But ‘most military weaponry relies on high explosive charges,” Carus writes, ‘meaning that even the mortars and grenades used by infantrymen might qualify as WMD.’ The doctrinal answer was ultimately to limit the definition to “chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons capable of a high order of destruction or causing mass casualties.”

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