Pandora Report 11.6.2015

Happy Friday! The world of biodefense and global health security has been busy this week – between a growing outbreak of E. coli associated with Chipotle restaurants, to a review of Select Agent lab practices, and a recap of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, there’s more than enough to keep you busy! Fun history fact Friday (it’s our version of “flashback Friday”), did you know that on November 6, 1971, the US Atomic Energy Commission tested the largest US underground hydrogen bomb (code name Cannikin) on Amchitka Island?

CDC/Select Agent List- 90 Day Internal Review
We’ve seen a lot of news lately regarding lab safety and biodefense reform/recommendations. With so much scrutiny regarding biosafety practices, it’s not surprising the CDC would do a deep dive into “how the agency inspects select agent labs” with a 90 day review. The review notes that while it didn’t duplicate the recommendations from Presidential Order 13546, it did find several areas for improvement, leading to nine observations and ten actionable recommendations. The categories for recommendations are inspections, incident reporting, and transparency. The findings point to several areas for improvement, ranging from the standardization of risk assessments to identify high risk activities, to the sharing of inspection data to better encourage public understanding of the work practices performed with these agents. The report highlights several areas for improvement that will hopefully lead to more stable biosecurity and public understanding of how we handle select agents. You can also check out the Federal Select Agent Program for a list of the agents and regulations involved.

2016 Presidential Candidates on Nonproliferation
GMU’s Greg Mercer is at it again with round three of his review on 2016 presidential candidates and their comments on nonproliferation. As of now, he’s reviewed the Republican candidates, but now he’s delving into the Democratic candidates. Greg reviews Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley, noting that ” in contrast to Republicans, most Democrats support the Iran deal, and generally tend to favor international arms control regimes.” With the race only heating up, stay tuned  for more of Greg’s candidate-by-candidate reviews on nonproliferation in the 2016 election.

GMU Master’s Open House and Application Deadlines!
Considering a master’s degree? Come check out the GMU School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs (SGPIA) Open House on Wednesday, November 18th, 6:30pm at our Arlington Campus in Founders Hall (Room 126). There’s even a pre-session for veterans and active duty military at 5:45pm! The Open House is a great way to learn about our different Master’s programs (Biodefense, International Security, Political Science, etc.) and ask real-time questions with faculty. Our Biodefense Program Director, Dr. Koblentz, will be there to discuss global health security and tell you about the pretty amazing things we get to do at GMU! If you’ve already attended or are planning to apply, just a friendly reminder that PhD program applications are due December 1st, and Biodefense Master’s Spring applications are due December 1st as well.

Zika Virus Outbreak in Colombia
Nine new cases have been identified in Sincelejo, Colombia, with an additional three being investigated in Barranquilla. Zika virus is a vectorborne disease that is transmitted through Aedes mosquitos. The CDC notes that vertical transmission (from mother to child) can occur if the mother is infected near her delivery and Zika can be spread through blood transfusion (although no cases have occurred this way) and sexual contact (one case of sexually transmitted Zika virus has occurred to date). Common signs and symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes that last several days to a week. In the past, transmission has occurred in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, however, there have been cases in 2015 in Brazil and Colombia. We’ll keep you updated if transmission continues in South America!

There have also been cases of Chikungunya springing up throughout the Caribbean and Americas. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) initially reported just over 2,400 cases a few weeks ago, however a new report is showing 13,476 new cases. Initially starting in December 2013, this epidemic began with a single locally acquired case on St. Martin island, and is now totaling 1, 760,798 cases.

Chipotle E.coli Outbreak 
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Chipotle (we reported that Minnesota  Chipotle customers experienced a Salmonella outbreak in August), an E. coli outbreak is making headlines in Washington and Oregon. Public health officials updated the case total to 41 people as of 11/4, with 6 patients requiring hospitalization. The source of the outbreak hasn’t been identified yet but as a precautionary measure, they’ve closed 14 restaurants. So far, the identified cases have been tied to five restaurants across six counties.

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Stories you May Have Missed

  • CRISPR-Cas9 Utility Broadens – researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have improved on the utility of CRISPR-Cas9 through application via bacterial sources. The team “reports evolving a variant of SaCas9 – the Cas9 enzyme from Streptococcus aureus bacteria – that recognizes a broader range of nucleotide sequences, allowing targeting of the genomic sites previously inaccessible to CRISPR-Cas9 technology.” The new application allows a more precise targeting within the genomic sequence, which may translate to therapeutic applications. CRISPR-Cas9 has been a hot topic within the science and biodefense community in relation to its potential labeling as dual use research of concern (DURC) and certain ethical debates.
  • Unvaccinated Babies Refused By Some Physicians– Vaccination status is something I’ve grappled with working in pediatrics and is one of the rare things that can turn a calm physician (or infection preventionist for that matter) red-faced and needing a breather. The Boston Globe reported on a recent survey from the American Academy of Pediatrics that touched on pediatricians dismissing families that refused vaccines. The study found that all pediatricians surveyed had encountered at least one parent refusing vaccination for their child and 20% of pediatricians “often” or “always” dismissed families who refuse one or more vaccine. Interestingly, researchers found that “doctors in private practice, those located in the South, and those in states without philosophical exemption laws were the most likely to dismiss families refusing to vaccinate their infant”.
  • Guinea Ebola Tranmission – Guinea continues to experience new cases. As we mentioned last week, the cluster of four patients from the Kondeyah village is being monitored by public health officials. An infected newborn, whose mother died from Ebola recently, is also under observation and care. The infant’s mother was a confirmed case prior to her delivery and died after giving birth. The WHO is currently monitoring 382 contacts in Guinea during this time.

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