Pandora Report: 8.31.2018

As the summer winds down, here’s a new podcast series on biohacking to get you back into the swing of things or over the holiday weekend.

NASEM Lunch Series on Biodefense and Biosecurity
Did you miss this event hosted by the National Academies on August 21st? We’ve got you covered with two GMU Biodefense student summaries of the talks. Carlos Alvarado writes that “a key point in these slides were to remember that as technology and science advances, so do the potential threats. Dr. Berger used examples of research, development, institutions, applications, and countries as the driving factors of influencing advances on science and technology. Dr. Berger also illustrated how these factors are constantly changing and shifting the biotechnology landscape. An example that was used is how engineering, biology, chemistry, and even health and safety, are a wide variety of disciplines that are growing within the biotechnology realm and that it is no longer just a single discipline of biology. ” Next, Justin Hart noted that “The researchers used a systems-based approach to looking at biosecurity policy in the United States, and considered factors like changes in the structure of organizations with policy responsibility, such as the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, the advent of the Congressional Biodefense Caucus, and the development of the forthcoming national health security policy and biodefense strategy. Using these, a review of pertinent regulation, and other factors, they built a basic understanding of all of the prior and existing biodefense policies, discovering that many were reactionary in nature. From this they developed key questions and a roadmap to address such questions as, ‘How can we implement a national biodefense policy with the most relevant emerging technologies, while addressing the real and tangible associated risks?'”

The Hajj is A Perfect Lab for Testing Syndromic Surveillance Systems
Maryn McKenna points to the hajj pilgrimage, one of the largest mass gathering in the world, as a potential for testing an early warning system for infectious diseases. Syndromic surveillance is a tool public health utilizes to pick up the first signs of an outbreak before it boils over, and in the case of field testing it, the hajj would be the perfect setting. “Syndromic surveillance systems, as they’re called, aren’t perfect; they’ve rung false alarms before. But Saudi Arabia’s willingness to create one doesn’t just signal an awareness of disease risks. It also indicates new transparency from a government that has been less than forthcoming about diseases in the past. If that transparency continues, it could create a rich data source for public health officials to predict the risks of gatherings to come.” The influx of people, close quarters, shared food and drink, and close contact that occurs during such an event is a perfect environment for an outbreak, which is why the Saudi Ministry of Health requires vaccinations for people (meningitis, flu, yellow fever, and polio). “The new system created by the Saudi health ministry and the WHO’s eastern Mediterranean region aims to boost the kingdom’s own infrastructure by installing an extra—and extra-sensitive—apparatus for the detection of diseases. It pings an alarm at the government’s public health command center for the hajj, based on automated sifting through medical records from hospitals and clinics.”

China Withholds H7N9 Avian Flu Samples
Sharing samples of strains that pop up around the world is a pivotal part of public health and infectious disease response. Unfortunately, for over a year, Chinese officials have been holding onto lab samples of the deadly avian influenza strain H7N9. “Despite persistent requests from government officials and research institutions, China has not provided samples of the dangerous virus, a type of bird flu called H7N9. In the past, such exchanges have been mostly routine under rules established by the World Health Organization. Now, as the United States and China spar over trade, some scientists worry that the vital exchange of medical supplies and information could slow, hampering preparedness for the next biological threat.” In terms of withholding samples, this is similar to what occurred in 2008, in which the Indonesian officials withheld H5N1 influenza samples. Such actions go against an international agreement established by the WHO to share influenza samples in efforts for pandemic preparedness. When asked about the reason for withholding the samples, “the Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The Chinese Center For Disease Control and Prevention also did not reply to inquiries regarding the transfer.”

DRC Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak
The latest counts list a single new infection confirmed in the DRC, which brings the outbreak to 112 people, 84 of whom are confirmed. 3,714 contacts have been registered and 1,219 follow-ups have been completed. “On Twitter yesterday, Peter Salama, MD, the WHO’s director-general of emergency preparedness and response, said the majority of new cases are from known contact lists and most are still confined to an area within 20 kilometers (km) to 30 km of the outbreak’s epicenter. However, if responders can’t turn the outbreak around over the next 7 to 10 days, the risk of the disease spreading to more dangerous conflict-ridden areas becomes greater, posing more difficult challenges for health teams.

 The Scary Link Between Resistant E. coli in Poultry and UTIs
The threat of antimicrobial resistance is a lot bigger than people realize. For many, resistance is only a product of prescription antibiotics, but it’s much broader and more sinister that that. A new study underscores the One Health aspects of antimicrobial stewardship and how even resistant bacteria in poultry can cause urinary tract infections in people. “After analyzing thousands of E coli samples from retail meat products and human urine and blood samples collected over the course of a year in a single town, the researchers concluded that E coli ST131-H22, a sublineage of a pandemic, multidrug-resistant E colistrain that has caused serious UTIs worldwide, is prevalent in chicken and turkeys meat and could be responsible for a small percentage of human UTIs. ‘Our results suggest that one ST131 sublineage—ST131-H22—has become established in poultry populations around the world and that meat may serve as a vehicle for human exposure and infection,’ the authors wrote.” If you want to learn more about the link between poultry and antimicrobial resistance, check out Maryn McKenna’s wonderful book on how the use of antibiotics became a norm within the poultry world.

STIs On the Rise
Bad news: sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise within the United States. “Nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were diagnosed in the United States in 2017, according to preliminary data released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the National STD Prevention Conference in Washington, D.C. This surpassed the previous record set in 2016 by more than 200,000 cases and marked the fourth consecutive year of sharp increases in these sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).” The CDC reports that since 2013, there has been a 67% increase in gonorrhea, primary and secondary syphilis diagnoses have increased by 76%, and chlamydia has remained the most common condition reported. Not only is this news concerning for control efforts, but the three STIs on the rise are treated with antibiotics, which creates new concerns for antimicrobial resistance.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • The History of Quinine – If you’re a lover of history and infectious diseases, make sure to check out this delightful history on the anti-malarial medication, quinine. “Quinine is an alkaloid extracted from the bark of the Cinchona, or ’fever’ tree (Cinchona spp.) and if you’ve ever had a gin and tonic, you will be familiar with the bitter taste of the tonic which is provided by quinine. While it is now mainly used to add a flavour to the nation’s favourite tipple, the Cinchona tree bark once held a place as one of the most important drugs in history.”

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