Highlights: the Science, Safety, and Security newsletter, wild polio in Israel, proliferation concerns in Syria, H7N9 – the pandemic?, and H1N1 in Chile. Happy Friday!
For those of you who may have missed it, the Science, Safety, and Security Quarterly June newsletter is out, and features articles on dual use research of concern, HHS’ recent international participation in BWC activities, and the International Biological Threat Reduction program. It’s an excellent resource for anyone working in fields related to biodefense, biosecurity, or non-proliferation.
The World Health Organization last week completed a five-day mission in Israel, following detection of wild polio virus in the sewage of the country’s Southern District. Despite detection of the virus, no new polio cases have emerged. In response to the virus’ detection, Israel is starting a supplemental oral vaccination campaign, in addition to existing vaccination matters. This isn’t an overreaction. For those of you who may not know, polio eradication remains a top priority of the international health community, with the eradication efforts rendering the virus’ endemic in just 3 countries. Therefore any time it pops up naturally, people get understandably nervous.
WHO – “Israel has systematically conducted environmental sampling for many years, and the poliovirus was detected thanks to this vigilance. Public health authorities continue to monitor the situation carefully, and measures have been taken to increase surveillance and reporting for possible human cases, regardless of age. The aim of the supplementary immunization campaign is to protect any children in the country who may have missed routine vaccinations for any reason. In southern areas, adults are also being assessed and those thought to be susceptible are being immunized.”
As the civil war in Syria continues, the United Kingdom is considering supplying the rebels with protective equipment against biological and chemical agents. UK intelligence reports have listed ricin, VX, mustard gas, and sarin as all possible chemical and biological agents in Assad’s armory. Concerns over proliferation of the agents and weapons to terrorist organizations were fueled by last month’s report that al Qaeda had attempted to access chemical weapons stockpiles in support of the Syrian rebels. Does anyone else feel like that “red line” is looking pretty darn thin?
Irish Times – “The danger was underlined by MI6 chief Sir John Sawers who told the committee there was the risk of ‘a highly worrying proliferation around the time of the regime fall’. The committee said: ‘There has to be a significant risk that some of the country’s chemical weapons stockpile could fall into the hands of those with links to terrorism, in Syria or elsewhere in the region – if this happens, the consequences could be catastrophic.’ British prime minister David Cameron disclosed last month that al-Qaeda-linked elements fighting the regime had already attempted to acquire chemical weapons for probable use in Syria.”
Just when you thought it was gone! In a piece published in Nature on Wednesday, an international team of scientists determined that H7N9 could be just a couple amino acid mutations away from effective person-to-person transmission pandemic potential. The two teams, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Tokyo, determined that H7N9 replicates effectively in several mammamlian hosts with immune systems similar to humans, among them monkeys and ferrets. The good news? Most of the strains tested are susceptible to standard antivirals.
Rianovosti – “They also established that approximately one third of ferrets became infected by droplet spread.’H7N9 viruses combine several features of pandemic influenza viruses, that is their ability to bind to and replicate in human cells and the ability to transmit via respiratory droplets,’ [flu expert Yoshihiro Kawaoka] said. These two features are necessary, although not sufficient, to cause a pandemic.’ In monkeys, the virus could efficiently infect cells in both the upper and lower respiratory tract. Conventional human flu viruses are typically restricted to the upper airway of infected nonhuman primates.”
The Chilean health ministry confirmed Wednesday that of the 33 H1N1 deaths this year, nearly half had occurred in the last few weeks. The South American nation is currently experiencing a small outbreak, with a large and effective vaccination campaign halting the virus’ spread.
APA – “‘Today it appears to be under control, I say this with extreme caution. In epidemiologic week number 27, we do not have serious new cases,’ [Health Minister] Manalich said at a press conference. ‘We just have three patients with the flu in the intensive care unit of the hospital of the town of Iquique,’ said Manalich, adding ‘walk-in consultations due to the flu have fallen 25 percent from what we had before.'”
(image courtesy of the Polio Eradication Initiative)