Highlights include the dangerous mixing of H5N1 and H1N1 in a vet lab, developments in the ricin case, the novel coronvirus kills five more, the NYPD’s upcoming bioterror drill, and combating MDR bacteria by giving doctors forms. Happy Friday!
There has been widespread outcry in the scientific community following publication of a Chinese research study in which the scientists recombined H5N1 with the highly infectious H1N1, in a veterinary laboratory. Look, there is gain-of-function research which contributes to vaccine development or a better understanding of the strain’s possible pathogenicity, and then there’s gain-of-function research which is just tempting fate. Even amongst those scientists who admired the difficulty of the experiment, there was criticism – “It’s a fabulous piece of virology by the Chinese group and it’s very impressive,” said Professor Wain-Hobson, a renowned virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, “but they haven’t been thinking clearly about what they are doing. It’s very worrying.” It would be tremendously ironic to be wiped out by a strain of flu created with the purported intention of helping stop us being wiped out by the very same strain of flu.
The Independent – “Senior scientists have criticised the “appalling irresponsibility” of researchers in China who have deliberately created new strains of influenza virus in a veterinary laboratory.They warned there is a danger that the new viral strains created by mixing bird-flu virus with human influenza could escape from the laboratory to cause a global pandemic killing millions of people.”
“Lord May of Oxford, a former government chief scientist and past president of the Royal Society, denounced the study published today in the journal Science as doing nothing to further the understanding and prevention of flu pandemics.’They claim they are doing this to help develop vaccines and such like. In fact the real reason is that they are driven by blind ambition with no common sense whatsoever,’ Lord May told The Independent.”
Following the exoneration of Kevin Paul Curtis, the new suspect in the ricin letters is James Everett Dutschke. Dutschke will face a grand jury in the coming weeks. Investigators linked Dutschke to the case after discovering a dust mask containing traces of ricin and Dutschke’s DNA. For a full analysis of the ricin case, as well as the Boston bombings, and other “WMD” terrorism, check out the GMU Biodefense Brown Bag Event next Thursday.
USA Today – “Agents also revealed that the FBI was granted a search warrant for a location outside Dutschke’s home where he may have stored some of his possessions. Officials said they think a printer tied to the letters is at that location. Magistrate Judge S. Allan Alexander ruled that authorities had enough probable cause to send the case to a grand jury. It’s not clear when one would hear evidence in this case.”
The novel coronavirus hCoV-EMC killed another 5 people in Saudi Arabia, bringing the total number of fatalities to sixteen out of 23 total cases. Although similar to SARS, hCoV-EMC targets the kidney, causing rapid failure. However, unlike SARS, the virus does not appear to transmit well person-to-person.
Al Jazeera – “In a statement cited by the Saudi SPA agency late on Wednesday, the ministry said that all the deaths occurred in the Ahsaa province in the oil-rich eastern region of the kingdom, according to the AFP news agency. Known as novel coronavirus or hCoV-EMC, the virus was first detected in mid-2012 and is a cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which triggered a scare 10 years ago when it erupted in east Asia, leaping to humans from animal hosts…the ministry gave no figures for how many people have been examined to see if they have the lethal disease”
The NYPD, in coordination with the Brookhaven National Laboratory, will conduct experiments involving “tracer gases” this summer to monitor their dissipation speed. It is hoped the experiments will lead to better bio- and chemical detection systems. Don’t ask us why the Russian news has the most detailed coverage of this story (joke, little joke).
RT– “The police will use roughly 200 detectors to monitor the gas. Dubbed the Subway-Surface Air Flow Exchange, the test will be the largest of its kind and organized in cooperation with the energy department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. They’ll use perfluorocarbon tracer gases (PFTs), which are frequently used to measure potential sites for underground construction…’The NYPD works for the best but plans for the worst when it comes to potentially catastrophic attacks such as ones employing radiological contaminants or weaponized anthrax,’ police commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement”
Apparently introducing extra paperwork is enough to deter doctors from prescribing antibiotics, resulting in a measurable decrease in drug-resistant bacteria in hospitals in just six months. However, by continues education and persuasion, the same decrease in drug-resistant bacteria can be seen within a year. Questions of suggesting extra paperwork as a viable reform measure aside, it makes some sense that the best the way to combat antibiotic resistance would be to start with the doctors.
Reuters – “For the new review, Davey and his colleagues searched medical research databases for high-quality studies that evaluated whether hospital programs to curb the number of antibiotics doctors prescribed worked, didn’t harm patients and reduced the number of drug-resistant bacteria detected or the number of antibiotic-related infections. In the 89 studies from 19 different countries the researchers found, three types of programs were evaluated…Overall, programs that restricted a doctor’s ability to prescribe antibiotics were 32 percent more effective in the first month than those that tried to persuade and educate…After six months, restrictive programs also did a better job at reducing drug-resistant bacteria and antibiotic-related infections, compared to the persuasive programs.”