The Pandora Report 2.6.14

Highlights include H10N8, H7N9’s second wave, MERS-CoV update, and a Burholderia antrimicrobial. Happy Friday!

New China bird flu a reminder of mutant virus risk

We covered this story when it first came out, but the emergence of a novel strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is noteworthy enough to mention twice.  It’s H10N8 everyone and it’s in humans. There have been just two cases since the virus jumped from birds to humans in December of 2013, including one fatality. There are a couple things about H10N8 which is troubling scientists. The first is that it’s jumped host, and in the process, opened up a completely naive population (us) to infection. The second is that it’s thought to be reassorted – a mix of a couple other strains of avian flu. Reassortment scares everyone – if it can mutate once to be able to infect humans, it can mutate twice to become readily transmissible person-t0-person. Still, we’re novel hosts, which means the virus isn’t yet well-adapted to us. It’s also worth mentioning here that H7N9 also made the jump from poultry to person, and it remains poorly suited to human hosts.

Reuters – “The death of a woman in China from a strain of bird flu previously unknown in humans is a reminder of the ever-present potential pandemic threat from mutating animal viruses, scientists said on Wednesday. The new strain, called H10N8, has so far infected only two people – a fatal case in a 73-year-old and another in a woman who is critically ill in hospital. But the fact it has jumped from birds to humans is an important warning, they said. ‘We should always be worried when viruses cross the species barrier from birds or animals to humans, as it is very unlikely that we will have prior immunity to protect us’, said Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome Trust and an expert on flu.”

China reports 11 new H7N9 human cases

Chinese health authorities have reported a further 11 laboratory-confirmed cases of H7N9, bringing the number of second wave infections up to 181, and the total number of cases up to 317. The majority of the cases are coming from just two Chinese provinces, Guandong and Zhejiang. While the influx of cases in Hong Kong are all thought to originate from poultry imports, there has been no evidence to indicate the virus has been transmitted internationally. Also, aside from one cluster, there has been no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission.

Xinhua – “Eleven Chinese people were confirmed to be infected with the H7N9 bird flu on Wednesday in four regions, with 8 in critical condition, according to local health authorities. The southern province of Guangdong reported 4 new cases, including a 5-year-old girl and a 42-year-old man in Zhaoqing City, a 49-year-old man in Foshan City and a 56-year-old man in Shenzhen City, said the provincial health and family planning commission. The girl and the man from Foshan are in stable condition while the other two remain in critical condition, according to the commission. The eastern province of Zhejiang, the region hit hardest by the H7N9 virus, confirmed four new human cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of affected cases to 69 in the province so far this year, said the provincial health and family planning commission.”

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) – update

With H7N9 picking up and H10N8 emerging, MERS-CoV has been flying under the comparative radar. Speaking anecdotally, the number of cases seems to be declining, with just one new case in the last two weeks. Globally, there have been 181 cases to date. While camels remain the likely culprit, no vector or reservoir has been confirmed.

WHO – “The case is a 60-year-old man from Riyadh who became ill on 19 January and who had underlying medical conditions. He was hospitalized on 24 January and died on 28 January. Respiratory specimens were collected and sent to the central laboratory in Riyadh and confirmed positive for MERS-CoV on 28 January. Details of his possible contact with animals are unknown, and he has no history of contact with a laboratory-confirmed case. WHO has also been informed by the United Arab Emirates of the death on 16 January of a previously reported case of a 33 year-old male healthcare worker from Dubai (see Disease Outbreak News update from 3 January 2014).”

U.S. Eyes $90 Million Contract for Bioterror Treatments

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded a $19.8 million dollar contract to a company working on  antimicrobials against the agents Burkholderia mallei, the causative agent of glanders,  and B. pseudomallei, the causative agent of melioidosis, respectively.  B. mallei, it should be noted, may have been used during WWI by the Germans, in an ill-fated attempt to use infected horses to spread the disease across the Russian front lines. While B. mallei does cause serious disease in horses and donkeys, cases of human infection are rare.

NTI – “The contract award marked a new investment in ‘broad-spectrum antimicrobials’ by the federal agency’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Such treatments are designed to be of use in responding to a potential biological strike, as well as for handling other health threats. ‘Antibiotic resistance adversely impacts our nation’s ability to respond effectively to a bioterrorism attack and to everyday public health threats,’ BARDA Director Robin Robinson said in a statement. ‘By partnering with industry to develop novel antimicrobial drugs against biothreats that also treat drug-resistant bacteria, we can address health security and public health needs efficiently.’

(image: James Jin/Flickr)

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