Highlights include H5N1 raging in Nepal, using your phone to detect toxins, Honduras battling dengue, mutated polio in Pakistan, West Nile rearing its ugly head early, and Ebola, gorillas, and tourism. Happy Friday!
H5N1 is currently raging in Nepal, which is experiencing its 15th outbreak of the poultry-transmitted flu virus in the last couple weeks alone. Local health officials are calling on the government to step in and help stop the virus’ spread, following the death of nearly 25,000 chickens in three districts in the last 20 days. Meanwhile, there are disturbing rumors surrounding the government’s hesitancy to intervene, including lobbying on the part of the Nepali poultry association. With the virus spreading to another two districts in the last week, containment is critical.
eKantipur – “According to the experts, farmers selling the potentially infected chickens in the market in the absence of effective monitoring has worsened the situation. ‘There is total impunity; the authorities know who is at fault, but still they have failed to take immediate action,’ said Dr Shital Kaji Shrestha, General Secretary of the Nepal Veterinary Association. While some farmers have dumped dead birds openly in public places, others have buried them secretly without following the standard procedures. Such practices have increased the chances of the epidemic spreading, experts said. The police on Monday seized 426 chickens that were being transported to Birgunj for sale from a flu-affected farm in Bhaktapur.”
This app/cradle combo turns your average smartphone into a mini biosensor. It was developed for people with food allergies in mind, but we think it could be tweaked for more homeland security/non proliferation purposes (not that allergies are to be taken lightly, peanuts are everywhere these days).
The Sacramento Bee – “The handheld biosensor was developed by researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. A series of lenses and filters in the cradle mirror those found in larger, more expensive laboratory devices. Together, the cradle and app transform a smartphone into a tool that can detect toxins and bacteria, spot water contamination and identify allergens in food. Kenny Long, a graduate researcher at the university, says the team was able to make the smartphone even smarter with modifications to the cellphone camera.”
Honduras has declared a state of emergency in an effort to bolsters its attempts to contain its dengue outbreak. To date, the outbreak has caused approximately 12,000 cases, of which approximately 1,800 are serious. According the the WHO, 40% of the world’s population, or nearly 2.5 billion people, are at risk for dengue infection.
BBC – “Honduras has declared a state of emergency after an outbreak of dengue fever that has killed 16 people so far this year. The government has promised to step up its fight against the mosquitoes that spread dengue fever. Health Minister Salvador Pineda said more than half of Honduras’ municipalities have registered cases of the viral infection this year.”
This is depressing for a couple of reasons. First, Pakistan is one of just three countries in the world where polio is endemic. The last thing they need is a mutated strain. Second, public health officials attempting to halt the virus’ spread do so at tremendous personal risk – tribal leaders earlier this month declared their support for the Taliban’s ban on polio vaccination, as a protest against US drone strikes in the area. Absurd, yes, but not without possible provocation – keep in mind a 2011 US vaccination campaign in Abbottabad was actually a covert CIA operation, in which the doctors, rather than administering vaccines, were collecting DNA from locals. This resulted in those administering legitimate polio vaccines being labelled as “Western spies”, and refused entry into villages.
DAWN – “Dr Alias Durray, chief of the World Health Organisation’s polio eradication programme in Pakistan, confirmed to Dawn that the strain, which has close genetic similarities with the globally eradicated P2 strain, has paralysed a baby boy in Mastung district of Balochistan…The polio virus has three types of strains termed P1, P2 or P3 strain. Immunity from any one strain does not protect a person from the other strains. The P2 virus had been eradicated globally in 1998, and only the P1 and P3 strains remain. What is sad is that a strain similar to the mutated polio virus had been stopped after it first broke out and struck 15 children in Qila Abdullah area of Balochistan in 2011.”
A big part of our job is keeping a close eye on any biodefense-related news (duh), and lately our inbox has been full of West Nile updates. Every day another US county seems to be reporting the virus appearance. With it already active in 29 states, and the worst months in terms of spread to come, it looks like West Nile is fast on the way to a very strong year. If you’re going to be outside at all, now is definitely the time, if you haven’t already, to invest in some mosquito repellent.
The Wall Street Journal – “West Nile virus is transmitted through bites from infected mosquitoes. Although only one in five people who contract the virus develop symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches or vomiting, the virus can cause serious neurological illnesses that can be fatal, such as encephalitis or meningitis. The 2012 West Nile virus outbreak was the deadliest on record since the illness was first detected in the United States in 1999: 5,674 cases of West Nile virus were reported nationwide, including 286 deaths. Health officials expect the disease to continue to be a formidable public health issue. Because no human vaccine exists, preventing mosquito bites is the most effective way to avoid contracting West Nile virus…”
There was a very interesting piece in the Atlantic yesterday looking at Ebola in Congolese gorilla populations, and the disease’s impact on preservation efforts. Understanding local populations interaction with potentially infected animals helps create a more complete picture of the virus’ potential spread during an outbreak. Check it out if you have a spare minute and are need to read a news piece with a happy(ish) ending.
The Atlantic – “In November 2002, gorilla trackers outside the village of Mbomo, in the Republic of the Congo, came upon a group of apes that were stressed. One of the trackers described the females as crying. Then the men began finding carcasses in the forest: heaps of matted hair and liquefied organs oozing blood. In a period of four months, 130 of the 143 gorillas the trackers were following died. Later that same year, another 91 of 95 gorillas they were studying were gone. Few words cause a greater chill in any language than ‘Ebola,’ the hemorrhagic fever and lethal virus first detected in equatorial Africa in 1976. Most initial human cases come from contact with infected animals, including consuming them as bush meat–often the most-accessible source of protein in places where there aren’t cattle.”
(A Nepali woman sells chickens in Kathmandu – image via Flickr/oliphant)