The Pandora Report 7.5.2013

Hope everyone’s fourth was happy and safe! Highlights this week include MERS,  lifting BW sanctions against China, H7N9 in the lungs, and personnel security questions at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Study finds MERS virus has not yet reached pandemic potential

A recent study by France’s Institut Pasteur has found that the likelihood of the recent outbreak of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) developing into a pandemic is “low”. The researchers compared MERS to SARS extensively, and determined that a number of factors, including which cell receptors each virus affect, rendered MERS less likely to spread.  Arnaud Fontanet, lead scientist on the study, also pointed out that it took SARS just months to adapt to humans as hosts, whereas MERS still struggles after almost a year in humans. The virus’ high fatality rate and limited person-to-person transmission nonetheless makes it a threat to hospitals caring for  infected patients.

Reuters – “Ian Jones, a professor of virology at Britain’s University of Reading, said the findings confirmed what appeared to be happening on the ground – ‘that the current MERS coronavirus transmits poorly, below the threshold required to become widely spread. Benjamin Neuman of Reading University’s microbiology research group, said it appeared from the research that the MERS virus is ‘slowly dying out’. But he cautioned that other studies into the biology of the virus suggest it is changing. ‘That change makes it difficult to predict the future of MERS,’ he said.”

Lifting of Chemical and Biological Weapons (CBW) Proliferation Sanctions Against Chinese Entities

The State Department has lifted its chemical and biological weapons proliferation sanctions against China first imposed in July of 2002. That’s it really, no press release, just a blurb in the Federal Register.

Federal Register – “Pursuant to Section 81(e) of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2798(d)) and Section 11C(e) of the Export Administration Act of 1979, as amended (50 U.S.C. app. 2410c(d)), the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security determined and certified to Congress that lifting sanctions on the following Chinese entities, their sub-units and successors is important to the national security interests of the United States: 1. China Machinery and Equipment Import Export Corporation; 2. China National Machinery and Equipment Import Export Corporation; 3. CMEC Machinery and Electric Equipment Import and Export Company Ltd.; 4. CMEC Machinery and Electrical Import Export Company, Ltd.; 5. China Machinery and Electric Equipment Import and Export Company’

H7N9 flu infiltrates victims’ lungs

Everyone remember H7N9? A new study confirms that H7N9 replicates primarily within the lower respiratory tract, where it often triggers a cytokine storm, damaging tissue and causing inflammation and fluid in the lungs. The virus’ poor adaptation to the trachea is thought to explain in part its lack of effective transmission through coughing and sneezing.

Bangkok Post – “The H7N9 bird flu virus is a peril for humans because it replicates deep in the lungs where it can trigger a dangerous response from the immune system, a study said Wednesday. In addition, no one is likely to have pre-existing immunity to H7N9 and so-called seasonal vaccines cannot protect against it, the study said, confirming suspicions among many virologists. And while lab tests show that leading anti-flu drugs are effective, there are concerns the virus may acquire gene mutations to blunt these weapons, it added.”

Army engineer put on leave for alleged white supremacist ties

News for a couple reasons. First, he has a security clearance. Second, he has a security clearance at Aberdeen Proving Ground’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, a BSL-3 lab which works on everything from synthetic biology to synthesis of chemical agents to  toxicology of chem/bio agents. It’s worth noting that the final suspect in the nation’s most deadly biological terrorist attack was a security-cleared USAMRIID scientist. However, while allegations have been made by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the investigation in this case is ongoing, the engineer in question has not yet commented.  The case raises the question, how free is free speech when you work in a security-cleared or very sensitive US government job?

Baltimore Sun – “The Southern Poverty Law Center, a national non-profit organization that tracks hate groups, wrote on May 23 that mechanical engineer John Stortstrom was one of ‘150 white nationalists’ who attended an April conference for the American Renaissance Journal, a magazine focused on studying a biological basis for race. Stortstrom, who is the vice president of the Route 40 Republican Club in Harford County, is also a member of the former Youth for Western Civilization student group, the SPLC wrote.’There’s no question that Stortstrom is very much a part of the racist white nationalist scene, as well as an up-and-coming young GOP operative,’ the SPLC wrote. ‘But it is Stortstrom’s top-security clearance job at the U.S. Army research facility on the Aberdeen Proving Grounds [sic] in Maryland that is really raising eyebrows.’ The allegations against Stortstrom appear to have come to light after he arranged for the Route 40 Republican Club to host Matthew Heimbach, the controversial founder of a White Student Union at Towson University.”

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