The Pandora Report

Highlights include a possible bioterrorist threat to US water supplies, novel coronavirus in France, EUA authorization for H7N9 diagnostic kits, using bacteria to stop malaria, and money for the NBAF. Happy Friday!

Tunisian Is Accused of Proposing Contamination of Water or Air in U.S.

Mr. Ahmed Abassi has been charged with falsifying visa applicant information in order to facilitate terrorism. In recorded conversations with an undercover FBI agent, Abassi describes intentions to use a bacterial pathogen to contaminate air or water supplies. It is unknown whether Abassi possesses the necessary training to do so. Abassi has denied all charges brought against him.

The New York Times – “A Tunisian man has been accused of seeking to develop a terrorist network in the United States and of proposing to poison the water or air to kill up to 100,000 people, federal prosecutors said in court papers unsealed on Thursday. The man, Ahmed Abassi, 26, who came to the United States from Canada in March and was arrested last month at Kennedy International Airport, told the authorities that he may also have ‘radicalized’ one of two men arrested recently in Canada in an alleged Qaeda-linked plot to derail a passenger train.”

France Probes 3 Suspected Cases of SARS-Like Virus

In what seems indicative of  limited person-to-person spread, two people in close contact with France’s first case of the novel coronavirus are believed to be infected with the virus themselves. The first French case become symptomatic following an excursion in Dubai. The hcov-EMC virus, a cousin of SARS, emerged in the Middle East last September,  and caused 18 fatalities out of 30 confirmed cases. Cases of the virus have been seen across the Middle East, as well as the United Kingdom and Germany.

ABC News –  “Since the virus emerged last year, European authorities have put in place monitoring measures. In France, 20 people have already been examined for suspected cases of the virus, but the other 19 turned up negative, Health Minister Marisol Touraine said. Beatrice Degrugillers, a spokeswoman for the regional health agency in France’s Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, said a nurse at the hospital where the man was hospitalized in late April has herself been under watch at the hospital in Douai since Thursday night….A doctor and a former hospital roommate who had each been in contact with the first patient also remain hospitalized. Test results are expected later Friday.”

US invokes emergency act to keep H7N9 flu at bay

Following a declaration that the H7N9 strain of influenza poses a “significant potential for a public health emergency”, the US government has granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for certain portable diagnostic detection kits for the virus. EUA authorization enables the kits to be used immediately in the field without securing prior FDA approval. Clearly we’re all keep a very close eye on the strain’s spread.

New Scientist – “”They are right to be concerned. H7N9 could be a tough adversary: New Scientist has learned that it provokes a weaker immune response than most flu, making vaccines hard to produce. Although H7N9 is not, so far, transmissible between humans, it does cause severe disease in people, is easier to catch than other bird flu strains, and may need only a few mutations to go pandemic. The UK has already given doctors instructions on when to test people for H7N9, and how to manage any with the virus.”

Using Bacteria To Swat Malaria Inside Mosquitoes

Well, it’s definitely innovative. Scientists have shown that infecting mosquitoes with Wolbachia renders them temporarily resistant to malaria. But before we all start throwing our malaria pills by the wayside, there are a couple little problems with this fix. The first is rounding all the mosquites up to infect them with the bacteria in the first place. The second is the inability of Wolbachia to confer lasting resistance. Scientists have managed to mitigate both concerns be engineering a mosquito capable of maintaining and spreading Wolbachia throughout it’s lifetime. Very cool, and possibly very useful.

NPR – “‘Groups have been trying to do this for more than 10 years,’ microbiologist George Dimopoulos, from the Johns Hopkins Malaria Institute, tells Shots. ‘So it’s a landmark achievement.’ The findings, reported Thursday in the journal Science, raise the possibility of one day controlling malaria with the bacteria.’You could just release large number of infected females and establish Wolbachia in a mosquito population…Gradually it would convert a malaria-spreading population to a non-spreading one.’ Specifically, Dimopoulos and his colleagues got Wolbachia to take up permanent residency inside Anopheles stephensi mosquito, the major malaria transmitter in South Asia and the Middle East.”

After hesitating, Kan. House panel OKs NBAF bonds

The Kansas state legislature has approved bonds supporting the construction of the National Bio- and Agr0-Defense Facility at Kansas State University. The new lab would replace the current agricultural  lab located on Plum Island, off New York. The primary goal of the NBAF would be to research highly infectious animal pathogen like foot-and-mouth, in the hopes of further ensuring our nation’s agricultural security.

SF Gate – “Kansas has already authorized $105 million in bonds to help finance the project. State officials expect the lab to create more than 300 new jobs averaging more than $75,000 in salary and benefits.President Barack Obama’s latest proposed federal budget includes $714 million for the new lab. Both the Senate’s bill and the House committee’s plan would prevent the state from issuing the new bonds until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has signed its contract with the construction company that will build the lab. Also, the federal government would be on the hook for construction cost overruns.”

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