Pandora Report: 7.29.2016

Happy Friday! With the Olympics right around the corner, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding the games (not just Aedes mosquitoes) and the athlete living quarters. Make sure to watch the PBS special, “Spillover- Zika, Ebola & Beyond“, on August 3rd at 10/9c. The special will look at the rise of spillover diseases like Nipah and the impact of human behavior on the spread of zoonotic diseases. The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) reported a new study that finds three key factors increase the risk for patient-to-patient transmission of the extremely resistant CP-CRE. The Democratic National Convention closed last night and Hilary Clinton made it a point to say, “I believe in science”, which highlights  the stark differences between the candidates on topics like climate change and stem cell research. 

What Damage Could CRISPR Do To The BWC?
Daniel Gerstein points to the approaching Eighth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention and the assessment of new technologies, like CRISPR. Since James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, stated that genome editing is a global danger, many are waiting to see what the convention will say about the future threats of technologies like CRISPR. Gerstein notes that, “if the seven previous review conferences are any indication, the gathering in November will recognize Crispr’s contribution to the biotech field, then enthusiastically declare the convention fit to address any problems it might create. But will that be enough?” The flexible nature of the convention is meant to support the ever-changing world of science and technology, however this also means that any potential bans on experiments are that much more challenging. In his article, Gerstein discusses the assessment of CRISPR as a nonproliferation threat and the risks associated with limiting technological innovation. Despite the challenges of banning certain biotechnologies, there are things that can still be done within the conference. Surveillance and training are imperative, especially in terms of “spotting the development of new pathogens or the modification of existing ones”, and national responsibility needs to be part of this equation. Gerstein’s points on not just national implementation, but also national responsibility emphasizes the transition from a traditional method into an emphasis on people and activities. Practices need to match the pace of biotech development, which means expanding the Implementation Support Unit, strengthening surveillance capabilities, and reinforcing institutional structures. “Those gathering at the review conference in November must seriously consider whether advances in biotechnology have made the existing bioweapons convention obsolete, but they must also ask what more the convention can do, as the reigning body for regulating biological weapons, to ensure that new biotechnologies continue to be used for peaceful purposes only.”

Half of Americans Say Infectious Disease Threats Are Growing  

Courtesy of Pew Research Center
Courtesy of Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center conducted a recent survey in the wake of the very public Zika virus outbreak. While some may have noted that Americans aren’t as worried about Zika, the survey found that 51% of U.S. adults feel that, compared to 20 years ago, there are more infectious diseases threats to health today. 82% of Americans polled stated that they pay at least some attention to the news regarding infectious disease outbreaks and 58% believe that Zika is a major threat to the health of women who are pregnant. 31% believe that Zika is a major threat to the U.S. population as a whole, while 58% felt it was a minor threat. The poll also found that more people had heard of Ebola at the time of the 2014 outbreak than Zika as a problem right now. Broken down by demographics, those most worried about Zika include older adults, especially women.

Containment: Lessons Learned and Cringe-Worthy Moments2015_0326_Biohazard_Suits
Tuesday nights won’t be the same since Containment ended – what will we do without the asymptomatic super-spreaders like Thomas, the overly gory hemorrhaging, or the suspension of infection prevention practices? Like any science-based show, there are moments of accuracy and moments of pure dramatic exaggeration. Check out our list of the things we enjoyed about the show and some of the more eye-rolling moments. While it’s rare to have a prime-time show involving an outbreak, we’re hoping that the future will hold more scientifically accurate series that will dismantle the hysteria we too often see during public health emergencies.

Australia Utilizes Bioterrorism Algorithm to Predict Flu Outbreaks
Victoria’s health department is currently using a tool, EpiDefend, that can “accurately predict flu outbreaks up to eight weeks in advance.” Combining environmental data, lab results, and more, the tool is funded by the US Department of Defense and designed by the Australian Department of Science and Technology (DST) to aid in Australian disease prediction practices and strengthen global bio-surveillance. ”Our team’s goal is dual-purpose, we want to fulfil our defence charter, protecting our forces against intentionally released biological agents; but disease forecasting will also support the national security and public health areas,” said Tony Lau, defence scientist. EpiDefend incorporates electronic health records (EHR) via the healthcare sector, which means it can be especially powerful, but also requires the presence and reliability of EHR. The system uses an algorithm that is still being refined. “Particle filtering is a technique which helps us close in on the degree of uncertainty by the help of information gathered from particular situation. In other words, it helps the algorithm churn out more precise readings.”

Zika Virus
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has published a webpage on what you need to know about Zika virus. A recent study is estimating that as many as 1.65 million women in Latin American could be infected while pregnant. Researchers, from another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, are pointing to a low risk for international Zika spread from the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.  Researchers calculated “the worst-case estimates of travel-associated Zika virus by assuming visitors encounter the same infections exposures as local residents. This is highly unlikely, as visitors would be staying in screened and air-conditioned accommodations, as well as taking personal preventive measures. But under the authors’ pessimistic conditions, they estimate an individual traveler’s probability to acquire infection in Rio de Janeiro is quite low. Specifically, they estimate anywhere from 6 to 80 total infections with between and one and 16 of those infected experiencing any symptoms.” Florida officials announced the investigation of another two potential cases of local-transmission. These new cases have pushed the FDA to curb blood collection in Florida. A new study performed a real-time Zika risk assessment in the U.S, suggesting that 21 Texas counties along the Texas-Mexico border, the Houston Metro area, and throughout the I-35 corridor (San Antonio to Waco) have the greatest risk for sustained transmission. As of July 27th, the CDC has reported 1,658 cases of Zika in the U.S. 

Stories You May Have Missed: 

  • CSIS Curated Conversations on Pandemic Preparedness & the World Bank – The Center for Strategic & International Studies has made its Curated Conversations podcast available on iTunes, which means you can check out the June 3rd episode, “the World Bank President on Preventing the Next Pandemic”. The World Bank Group president, Jim long Kim, discusses funding to help prevent the next pandemic and lessons learned from Ebola.
  • Joint West Africa Biopreparedness Efforts – The DOD is investing in the Joint West Africa Research Group to help improve and sustain biopreparedness within the region. Following the Ebola outbreak, this new program will build upon existing programs and strengthen lab and clinical resources, as well as biosurveillance efforts.
  • Yellow Fever in the Americas? The Pan American Health Organization is currently investigating a case of yellow fever in a man who traveled to Angola. Genetic testing is underway, but there is concern that the virus could ramp up in the Americas during a vaccine shortage.

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