The Pandora Report 8.9.13

Highlights include camels as MERS’ vectors, anti-bacterial chemicals hiding Salmonella, a new malaria vaccine, BioWatch in DC, H5N1 in Nepal, African Swine Fever in Belarus, and in case you missed it: mutating H7N9. Happy Friday!

Camels may be source of Middle East’s Sars-like virus

Can we all just take a moment to appreciate the level of epidemiological sleuthing which went in to uncovering this? Researchers attempting to determine the vector of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) ended up sampling 50 Omani racing camels, and 105 Canary Islander tourist camels. All camels sampled from Oman, and 15 of those from the Canary Island, possessed antibodies to MERS, indicating prior infection. While the presence of antibodies is compelling, the virus itself was not found in any of the dromedary (vocab word of the day, meaning an Arabian camel with one hump) camels sampled. Also, Oman has reported no human cases of MERS. However, with camels as a possible vector, follow up investigations into whether those people infected had any contact with camels, their meat, or their milk can be conducted.  MERS has infected 94 people to date, killing almost half.

The Guardian – “The scientists said the virus could be slightly different – maybe more transmissible in Oman – or the camels might have been kept in circumstances that made it less likely to spread in the Canaries. But it is also possible that the virus was brought in by one of the three oldest Canary Island camels, who arrived from Morocco more than 18 years ago. ‘We cannot rule out that the population might have once had an outbreak but that by the time of sampling, antibody titres had waned and no new introductions of the virus had occurred,’ they write. ‘The camels have contact with wild rodents, pigeons, and other doves, and possibly also bats. Seven insectivorous bat species, including three pipistrellus [species], are native to the Canary Islands, while Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) have been introduced.'”

USDA reviews whether bacteria-killing chemicals are masking Salmonella

According to recent research, the use of stronger anti-bacterial chemicals at poultry-processing plants may be cloaking the presence of Salmonella and other foodbourne pathogens which remain on the processed meat. Apparently the more stringent chemicals are too strong for current Salmonella tests, potentially resulting in false negatives. The USDA has stepped in to further investigate the research’s claims. For those of you who (like me) didn’t know, apparently the bird is treated with four different chemicals on average.

Washington Post – “To check that most bacteria have been killed, occasional test birds are pulled off the line and tossed into plastic bags filled with a solution that collects any remaining pathogens. That solution is sent to a lab for testing, which takes place about 24 hours later. Meanwhile, the bird is placed back on the line and is ultimately packaged, shipped and sold. Scientists say in order for tests to be accurate, it is critical that the pathogen-killing chemicals are quickly neutralized by the solution — something that routinely occurred with the older, weaker antibacterial chemicals. If the chemicals continue to kill bacteria, the testing indicates that the birds are safer to eat than they actually are.”

Investigational malaria vaccine found safe and protective

A new, live-attenuated malaria vaccine has successfully completed Phase I clinical trials. The vaccine, known as PfSPZ Vaccine, has been shown in a recent NIH to be safe, immunogenic, and  effectively confer immunity. However, a significant drawback of the new vaccine is its intravenous administration – most vaccines are administered subcutaneously, intradermally, or, ideally, orally.  Nonetheless, researchers are optimistic, and a set of follow-up studies are scheduled. According the the WHO, in 2010 (most recent sampling year), malaria caused an estimated 219 million cases globally, with 660,000 deaths, predominantly amongst African children.

Medical Xpress – “The Phase I trial, which took place at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, received informed consent from and enrolled 57 healthy adult volunteers ages 18 to 45 years who never had malaria. Of these, 40 participants received the vaccine and 17 did not. To evaluate the vaccine’s safety, vaccinees were split into groups receiving two to six intravenous doses of PfSPZ Vaccine at increasing dosages. After vaccination, participants were monitored closely for seven days. No severe adverse effects associated with the vaccine occurred, and no malaria infections related to vaccination were observed…Based on blood measurements, researchers found that participants who received a higher total dosage of PfSPZ Vaccine generated more antibodies against malaria and more T cells—a type of immune system cell—specific to the vaccine.”

DHS wants LRS Federal to continue collecting BioWatch air samples for another six months

BioWatch isn’t dead yet, at least if you live in the DC metro region. The Department of Homeland Security has decided to award LRS Federal a six-month contract extension for maintenance of BioWatch in the DC metro area. The $759,000 awarded in the renewal will go towards maintenance of the program, including salaries of those who collect the daily samples and upkeep. No new developments on Gen 3 writ-large.

Government Security News Magazine – “LRS Federal currently manages the teams that perform daily sample collections and routine equipment maintenance on portable air sampling units located throughout the National Capital Region’s ‘BioWatch Jurisdiction,’ in Washington, DC; Baltimore, MD; Richmond, VA; and elsewhere. The notice says that LRS is the only firm that can continue supporting the program’s immediate requirements. ‘Otherwise, the Government will be without support to detect and mitigate the threat of biological air-borne pathogens,’ it added.”

International Recap:

Nepal: H5N1 is still raging in Nepal, with the government considering an extension of the current ban on poultry-product sales. In the weeks following this most recent outbreak, the  Nepali government had come under fire for apparently pandering to poultry groups, resulting in an increase in the virus’ spread. However, it has since began a widespread campaign of restriction of poultry sales and culling. Fears of the virus spreading south to neighboring India remain.  Read more here.

Belarus: It’s not often we get to write about Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship (no Putin jokes, please). The Eastern European country is currently experiencing an outbreak of African Swine Fever, which only affects pigs. Belarus has admitted difficulty in containing the outbreak. We’ve been unable to track down official numbers (it’s Belarus), but concerns over the disease spreading to Western Europe are mounting. Read more here.

In case you missed it:

– Researchers Mutating H7N9, increasing virulence and able to transmit person-to-person

(image courtesy of Jason Wain/Flickr)

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