Pandora Report: 11.20.2015

Much has happened since we reported last week, and with so many tragedies that have occurred, we look towards future preparedness efforts to prevent such misfortunes. The French Prime Minister warned on Thursday, “we must not rule anything out, there is also the risk from chemical or biological weapons.” French emergency medical services are also being supplied with sarin gas antidotes. Check out the CBRN Policy Brief by Dr. Garza, GMU Biodefense Affiliate Research Scientist and former Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Homeland Security. Dr. Garza provides an extensive look into US federal preparedness, which will be increasingly relevant given the Paris attacks and ISIS interest in chemical weapons. In looking towards the future, we’re celebrating World Antibiotic Awareness/Get Smart About Antibiotics Week to better appreciate the importance of microbial stewardship. Do you ever find yourself reading the Pandora Report and wondering, “all this biodefense stuff is so fascinating, I wonder how I could go more of it?” Good news, GMU has an entire Master’s program (and PhD if you really want to venture down the rabbit hole) in Biodefense! Fun History Fact Friday: On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the military cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

World Antibiotic Awareness Week 2015
Whether you want to call it the World Antibiotic Awareness Week (via WHO) or Get Smart About Antibiotics Week (via CDC), the importance of antimicrobial stewardship can’t go unnoticed. The threat of antibiotic resistance is growing and we can all play a vital role in stopping it. Did you know in the US alone, 2 million people a year become infected with an antibiotic resistant organism? At least 23,000 people a year will die as a result of resistant organisms. There is a growing list of infections that are becoming harder to treat, like tuberculosis, pneumonia, gonorrhea, etc. The CRE outbreak earlier this year is just one example of a highly resistant and deadly multi-drug resistant organism (MDRO). While many think global health security issues are acts of bioterrorism and lab safety failures (which they are!), the threat of MDRO’s is also a looming danger. Imagine a world where we have no effective antibiotics. Pretty scary, isn’t it? The WHO provided recommendations for healthcare workers and policymakers, but here are a few things you can do:

  • always take the full prescription (don’t just stop when you feel better!)
  • Have left-over antibiotics? Don’t take them.
  • Don’t share antibiotics.
  • Prevent infections before they happen – wash your hands, use safe food practices, avoid close contact with sick individuals, and keep your vaccinations up to date!

GMU Master’s in Biodefense
Have a passion for biodefense and global health security? Hoping to take your education and experience to the next level? GMU’s MS in Biodefense can help bridge those gaps. Did I mention we also have an online biodefense MS? Our program connects the worlds of science and policy, furthering students’ understanding of the complexities within global health security through classes on homeland security, biodefense strategy, specific threat agents, etc. One of our graduates, Kathleen Danskin, is actually working with GAP Solutions Inc., supporting the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR). Kathleen’s experience is a perfect example of GMU’s multifaceted approach to biodefense and support for work experience. The MS in Biodefense requires the completion of 36 credits (18 credits of core classes like those listed above, 9-15 credits in a field of specialization, electives, and 3 credits in a Capstone Course). Perhaps one of the program’s greatest strengths is its faculty. They’re not only subject matter experts with an amazing range of experiences and knowledge, but also extremely supportive and encouraging of their students. If you happened to miss our Open House on Wednesday, check out our recorded webcast that specifically discusses the Biodefense MS program. If you plan to apply, make sure to get your Spring 2016 application in by December 1st!

Putting the Global in Global Health Security
Dr. Stephen Redd, Director of the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, writes about a holistic approach to global health security. Dr. Redd discusses the challenges of improving both domestic and global health security “by preventing avoidable epidemics, detecting threats early, and responding rapidly and effectively to any public health event.” The 2014 Ebola outbreak brought the realities of emerging infectious diseases and global outbreaks to the frontline of US concerns. This particular outbreak emphasized the importance of surveillance and response on a global scale. A disease outbreak in one country can quickly stretch beyond the borders of another. Dr. Redd points out that epidemics know no boundaries and we must stop thinking of outbreaks in terms of individual country responsibilities. Mirroring these sentiments, I believe the concept of One Health plays a growing role in global health security and our future practices. Dr. Redd notes that the US must continuously adapt to prepare for these threats. As emerging infectious disease outbreak occur, the role of spillover between the human, animal, and environmental sources makes prevention, surveillance, and response that much more vital.

Officials: IS Is Determined to Develop Chemical Weapons
Iraqi and US intelligence officials are reporting that the Islamic State group is on the quest to develop chemical weapons. Sources state that they are setting up branches specifically for chemical weapon efforts and experimentation. This wouldn’t be a far reach considering IS was reported to use mustard gas in Syria against Kurdish fighters. Intelligence officials are also pointing to IS efforts of finding and employing chemical weapons experts from a range of international venues. “Still, U.S. intelligence officials say they don’t believe IS has the technological capability to produce nerve gas or biological agents, and that the militants were more likely to harm themselves trying to make them. A European official privy to intelligence on the extremist group’s programs agreed, saying so far even IS production of mustard gas was in small quantities and of low quality.”

Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE) 2016 Stakeholders Workshop
PHEMCE helps coordinate Federal efforts to better prepare the US with medical countermeasures to combat CBRN and EID threats. Attend their January 6-7, 2016 workshop at the NIH Natcher Conference Center to address where we’re at and how we can work to be better prepared in the future.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Paris Attacks Point to Preparedness Needs GMU Biodefense alum, Dr. Daniel M. Gerstein, discusses the preparedness fallout of the 11/13 Paris attacks. While many news outlets are reporting on the attacks, Dr. Gerstein addresses the collective roles for homeland security and how strategies like “DHS’s ‘see something, say something’ campaign provides recognition of the importance of individual vigilance and reporting of suspicious behavior.”17779_lores
  • CDC Lowers Initial Chipotle E coli Case Count– Public health officials working on the outbreak associated with Chipotle restaurants in Washington and Oregon have dropped the case count from 50 to 37. Officials stated that “the CDC is now only reporting ill people that have been confirmed by PulseNet as being infected with the outbreak strain of E coli 026.” Of the 37 cases, 13 have been hospitalized.
  • Ebola Drug Protects Mice- FDA-approved Gamma interferon is showing promise in studies by University of Iowa researchers. When given 24 hours before or after exposure to the virus, it was able to fully protect mice from death from Ebola. While the team is still working to see how late the gamma interferon can be given after exposure, the success so far as a prophylaxis and post-exposure treatment is a huge breakthrough. With reports of a new case in Liberia, an effective ebola drug will be necessary to help stop the outbreak.
  • Cameroon is Experiencing a Measles and Cholera Outbreak There have been 858 documented measles cases, with a surge in the past six weeks. The Mokolo health district has experienced the greatest number of cases (587). 36 cases of cholera have also been reported over the last four weeks. Public health officials are working to contain both outbreaks.
  • Hawaii Dengue Fever Update- The National Guard has been called in to assist with the Dengue fever outbreak as case numbers hit 79 infections.


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