Pandora Report 9.16.2016

Is it time to outsource key tasks out of the WHO and into more capable agencies? On Monday, the U.S. carried out a massive airstrike on a suspected ISIS chemical weapons facility in Mosul, Iraq. Sri Lanka has made history by being declared malaria-free after three years since its last case. Sri Lanka had previously tried to eradicate malaria over fifty years ago, but the effort was met with failure and is frequently cited by malaria experts. Do you subscribe to the “five-second rule” when it comes to your food? You may want to give it a second thought as Rutgers researchers have recently disproven the notion – sadly, cross-contamination can’t be avoided in most cases. The CDC has added Bacillus cereus Biovar anthraces to the list of Tier 1 Select Agents.

GMU Biodefense Graduate Info Sessions
In case you missed last night’s MS Open House in Arlington, we’ve got plenty more graduate program information sessions. GMU will be hosting several more events this Fall, so make sure not to miss one! The next MS information session (for both in-person and online programs) is on Wednesday October 19th, 6:30pm in Founders Hall, room 126. If you’re looking at a PhD in biodefense, come to our information session on Wednesday, October 12th, from 7-8:30pm, at the Johnson Center in the Fairfax Campus, room 334. From Anthrax to Zika, we cover all the biodefense topics and applications in our information sessions.

Biological Threats in the 21st Century Book Launch!  
On October 14th, join us in celebrating the book launch of Biological Threats in the 21st Century! Biological Threats in the 21st Century introduces readers to the politics, people, science and historical roots of contemporary biological threats through rigorous and accessible chapters written by leading scholars and supplemented by expert point-of-view contributions and interviews. The book launch will feature a panel discussion on the threat of biological weapons and the role of scientists in bioweapons non-proliferation and disarmament. The event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be available beginning at 11:45 AM so please RSVP. Attendants will also be able to pick up the book at a 15% discount.

Identifying Future Disease Hot Spots
Check out the latest RAND report in which researchers are asking which countries might be particularly vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks and how the U.S. can help support these countries to better prepare and respond to public health events. Pulling from a wide variety of literature and data, “authors created an index for identifying potentially vulnerable countries and then ranked countries by overall vulnerability score.” Researchers looked at the 25 most-vulnerable countries, which include the “disease belt” in the Sahel region of Africa. Of the 25 noted countries, 22 are in Africa, and the remaining are Afghanistan, Yemen, and Haiti. “Conflict or recent conflict is present among more-vulnerable countries. Seven of the ten most-vulnerable countries are current conflict zones. Of the 30 most-vulnerable countries, 24 form a solid, near-contiguous belt from the edge of West Africa to the Horn of Africa in Somalia — a disease hot spot belt. Were a communicable disease to emerge within this chain of countries, it could easily spread across borders in all directions.” The 25 least-vulnerable countries were found to be in Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific. The least-vulnerable countries were found to have larger medical systems and expenditures, better health indicators, less corrupt and more stable governments, better human rights, and often technological sophistication.

Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (PACCARB) 
You can join (in listen-only) this teleconference and webcast on Monday, September 19th, to gain further insight into the battle of microbial stewardship. “With participation of Member States, non-governmental organizations, civil society, the private sector and academic institutions, the primary objective of this pubic meeting is to summon and maintain strong national, regional and international political commitment in addressing antimicrobial resistance comprehensively and multi-sectorally, and to increase and improve awareness of antimicrobial resistance.”

Ebola & Zika: Cautionary Tales 20988_lores
In the latest issue of Science, Michael T. Osterholm discusses the challenges of combating infectious disease outbreaks and the struggles to respond with vaccine development. Osterholm points to the need to drive development and funding mechanisms in coordination with surveillance of emerging infectious diseases (EID). Upon the indication that an EID is bubbling up, it would be prudent to have vaccines (even if they’re not licensed yet), ready for large trials. Moreover, the looming threat of EID’s should be the best motivator for developing candidate vaccines. “The handwriting is on the wall regarding the current Zika outbreak in the Americas. High human infection rates in the major impact regions, caused by virus-carrying mosquitoes and human sexual transmission, will continue for several more years. Eventually, the number of cases will drop as more of the community develops immunity. Zika vaccine trials in the Americas may be too late to be tested on the current high number of cases.” Pointing to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), he emphasizes the need to fill the vaccine preparedness hole. Current practices are slow and on an “as-needed” basis, but the truth is that we already have the incentives and EID presence to make the push towards correcting the insufficient process.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Dialogue with Students
The UN Security Council 1540 Committee and the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs collaborated with the Stimson Center to create an international essay contest for students. On September 30th, from 10:30am-4pm, they will be hosting an on-the-record discussion regarding the proliferation of WMD’s and honoring the winners of the essay contest.  The winners will be announced and some will even be presenting their ideas at this event. “The goals of the competition were to involve the younger generation in understanding and addressing the important issue of proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), i.e., chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and to solicit innovative student approaches to implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004) to support the Council’s Comprehensive Review of the resolution this year.” Panel discussions will include speakers such as Dana Perkins (Senior Science Advisor, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, former 1540 Expert), Will Tobey (Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University), Craig Finkelstein (Coordinator for the Working Group of the 1540 Committee on Transparency and Outreach), and more! The event will be at Harvard University’s Tubman Building in Cambridge, MA. You can RSVP for all or part of the event here.

Latest Zika News
As more outbreaks occur, the question is quickly becoming – should government officials “allocate resources to support the advancement of traditional drugs and vaccines or emerging broad-spectrum therapies?” If you’re a Miami Beach resident, free Zika testing is now being offered at the Miami Beach Police Department. Utah is keeping public health investigators on their toes with a mystery Zika case.  CDC officials are investigating a man who contracted Zika but was not exposed via a mosquito or sexual contact. Recently published in the CDC’s MMWR, “Patient A was known to have had close contact (i.e., kissing and hugging) with the index patient while the index patient’s viral load was found to be very high,” CDC researchers said in the report. “Although it is not certain that these types of close contact were the source of transmission, family contacts should be aware that blood and body fluids of severely ill patients might be infectious.” If you need a laugh, the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah addressed Zika in a recent episode. Singapore is quickly becoming a Zika hot spot, leaving many researchers stumped about the strain. Experts are suspecting a significant mutation that ramped up the virus’s capability to spread. “What is most intriguing is the question as to whether some mutation has occurred in the Zika virus to make it more transmissible by the Aedes albopictus mosquito—this would be analogous to what happened with chikungunya,” said Paul Anantharajah Tambyah, the secretary-general of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection. The CDC has reported, as of September 14th, 3,176 cases of Zika virus in the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Biodefense in the Age of Synthetic Biology – the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has a new contract with the U.S. DoD’s Office of the Deputy Assistant Security of Defense, Chemical, and Biological Defense (NCB/CBD) to assess the nature of biothreats given the innovations within synthetic biology. “NAS will appoint an ad hoc committee to study the manipulation of biological functions, systems, or microorganisms resulting in the production of a disease-causing agents or toxins. The study will start with development of a strategic framework to guide an assessment of the potential security vulnerabilities related to advances in biology and biotechnology, with a particular emphasis on synthetic biology.”
  • Evidence of Airborne H5N2 Found in Distant Barns – a recent study found H5N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza in air samples collected “inside, immediately outside, and up to 70 meters from affected barns during the 2015 outbreak in the Midwest”. The researchers also found H5N2 RNA in air samples collected 1 kilometer from the infected barns. “A total of 26 of 37 (67%) sampling events collected inside and 18 of 40 (45%) collected at 5 meters were positive for H5N2. Sampling at distances from 70 meters to 1 kilometer resulted in about 2% positives and 58% suspected findings. The researchers found HPAI H5N2 viruses in particles up to 2.1 micrometer in diameter.”
  • History of the War on Superbugs – The war on antibiotic resistance may seem new, but it’s actually been waging on for over 60 years. Even Alexander Flemming knew the potential for antibiotic misuse and resistance, noting that “There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily undergoes himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.” Sadly, even the identification of penicillin-resistant germs didn’t scare people, simply because it was a time of antibiotic renaissance – developments were happening all around us and that calmed the fear that should have been brewing.

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