The Pandora Report 1.23.14

Highlights include dengue in Texas, H7N9 spiking ahead of the Chinese New Year, renaming the 1918 influenza, and a man selling abrin on the black market. Happy Friday (stay warm)!

Rare Disease Linked to Dengue Virus Caused Texas Woman’s Death
A Texan woman thought to have been infected and died with West Nile Virus has been discovered to have actually succumbed to   dengue. The woman’s case was recently published by the CDC, which warned of the need for effective surveillance. Dengue thankfully remains relatively rare in the US – the woman represented just the third case in nearly a decade.

LiveScience – “The woman died after her dengue infection brought on another condition called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), in which white blood cells build up in the skin, spleen and liver, and destroy other blood cells. HLH is most frequently associated with Epstein Barr virus infection, but also has been linked to dengue, according to the researchers, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

H7N9: Bird flu cases surge ahead of Chinese New Year
As the Chinese New Year approaches, the number of H7N9 cases has steadily increased, with  73 cases in the last three weeks alone. This is making people very nervous  – Chinese New Year often means millions of people travelling in very close quarters, over long periods of times. However, health officials are careful to point out that influenza case numbers, across strains, increase in the colder months. As long as the virus remains poorly transmitted person-to-person, things are fine.

BBC – “Proffesor John McCauley, the director of a WHO collaborating centre on influenza in London, said: ‘I’ve been worried all the time about H7N9; it’s highly virulent and the case fatality is about one in three, so it poses a threat.’ The range of the virus had also spread, he added, with cases in Guangdong province, further south and east than previously. He said the winter might not be the whole explanation, particularly in southern provinces closer to the equator. ‘It may be seasonal, or an alternative is more poultry exposure in the build-up to Chinese New Year, and more poultry going through the markets. They might need to reconsider closure of the markets’.”

1918 Flu Pandemic That Killed 50 Million Originated in China, Historians Say
The 1918 Spanish influenza, like so many strains of the virus, has apparently suffered for decades under an egregious misnomer. According to a new hypothesis, proposed by historian Mark Humphries, the grandfather of modern H1N1 strains may have originated in China. Humphries published his research in the journal War in History, in it arguing that the importation of almost 100,000 Chinese laborers to support the British and French lines may have introduced the virus to Europe. For those of you wondering, the pandemic strain was dubbed the Spanish flu apparently because Spain was one of the only countries to report on its heavy case numbers during the otherwise heavily censored WWI.

National Geographic – “In the new report, Humphries finds archival evidence that a respiratory illness that struck northern China in November 1917 was identified a year later by Chinese health officials as identical to the Spanish flu. He also found medical records indicating that more than 3,000 of the 25,000 Chinese Labor Corps workers who were transported across Canada en route to Europe starting in 1917 ended up in medical quarantine, many with flu-like symptoms…Writing in the January issue of the journal War in History, Humphries acknowledges that his hypothesis awaits confirmation by viral samples from flu victims. Such evidence would tie the disease’s origin to one location.”

Feds: Fla. man sold deadly toxin to NJ agent
A 19 year old in Florida has been apprehended after selling to toxin abrin to an undercover FBI agent. The deal was agreed upon online, with the FBI agent posing as a buyer on an intermediary cyber black market. The suspect was arrested after directing the FBI agent to two candles filled with the toxin, left in a fast food bag at a rest stop in Florida. A McDonalds bag, for those of you wondering about the culinary preferences of illicit toxin sellers. On a less flippant note, abrin is tremendously potent – while it presents similarly to ricin, it is 75 times more toxic.

The Grand Island Independent – “Prosecutors said Korff negotiated over the Internet with the undercover agent in New Jersey.’He allegedly peddled the poison on a virtual black market of illegal and dangerous good, hidden in the shadow of a secretive computer network favored by cybercriminals,’ said New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman. Korff received $1,500 over the Internet from the agent and left the toxin hidden in two candles at a rest stop near Fort Myers, Fla., authorities said. Korff was arrested after the candles were found to contain abrin.”

(image:Calvin Teo)

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