The holidays may be fast approaching but you can count on us to provide you with the latest news on all things biodefense in the coming weeks. Do you miss the Oregon Trail game? The CDC has got something even better- the 1918 Pandemic Trail Game, in which you try to survive one day in the fall of 1918 and avoid infection.
ASM Biothreats – GMU Student Coverage
ASM Biothreats is next month (January 28-31, 2019) and like recent years, we’ll be providing detailed accounts of the conference. Current GMU biodefense students – check your email for an opportunity to attend and report out on the event! For those unable to attend, make sure you check back in early February for a recap of the event (see our coverage in 2017 and 2018).
GMU Biodefense Spotlight – Leaders in Graduate Education
Foreign Policy is highlighting the GMU Schar School biodefense program and school of policy and government as a leader in graduate education. “With a focus on global health security, the Schar School’s Biodefense programs train students to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the full range of biological threats, from naturally occurring pandemics to deliberate threats from biological weapons and other types of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The Biodefense graduate programs include the Master’s in Biodefense, PhD in Biodefense, and Graduate Certificate in Biodefense. “’We aim to produce graduates who can bridge the gap between science and policy,’ says Koblentz, who also serves as an associate faculty member of the Schar School’s Center for Security Policy Studies and as a member of the Scientist Working Group on Biological and Chemical Security at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C.”
GAO Report: Long-Range Emerging Threats Facing the United States As Identified by Federal Agencies
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just released a national security report that identified 26 long-term threats across 4 categories: Adversaries’ Political and Military Advancements, Dual-use Technologies, Weapons, and Events and Demographic Changes. “DOD, State, DHS, and ODNI independently identified various threats to the United States or its national security interests. In analyzing more than 210 individual threats identified by organizations across DOD, State, DHS, and ODNI, as well as its review of national security strategies and related documents, and interviews with key agency officials, GAO developed four broad categories for 26 long-range emerging threats that officials identified.” Within the Dual-Use Technologies, biotechnologies are listed – “Actors—which may include state or non-state entities such as violent extremist organizations and transnational criminal organizations—could alter genes or create DNA to modify plants, animals, and humans. Such biotechnologies could be used to enhance the performance of military personnel. The proliferation of synthetic biology—used to create genetic code that does not exist in nature—may increase the number of actors that can create chemical and biological weapons.” Under Events and Demographic Changes, you can find Infectious Diseases – “New and evolving diseases from the natural environment—exacerbated by changes in climate, the movement of people into cities, and global trade and travel—may become a pandemic. Drug-resistant forms of diseases previously considered treatable could become widespread again.” You can find the full report here.
Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 Includes Blue Ribbon Panel Biodefense Recommendations
“President Trump today signed into law H.R. 2, the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018. Also known as the Farm Bill, the act includes several recommendations proposed by the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense to better protect the nation’s food and agriculture sector from biological attacks and naturally occurring outbreaks. Key provisions include: Establish a National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program, as recommended in the Study Panel’s 2017 Defense of Animal Agriculture report; Create a National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Counter-Measures Bank, with increased funding for the stockpiling of animal medical countermeasures – also in the Defense of Animal Agriculture report; and Authorize increased funding levels for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network – addressed in Recommendation 14b from the Panel’s 2015 National Blueprint for Biodefense.”
Congrats GMU Biodefense Graduates!
It’s our favorite time of year – graduation! We’d like to congratulate several students on their hard work and graduation from the Schar School Biodefense program. Steven Messersmith and Morasa Shaker are both graduating with their MS in Biodefense while Julie Duckett (dissertation title: Global Health Governance in the Caribbean: States, Institutions, and Networks) and Jennifer Osetek (The Last Mile: Removing Nonmedical Obstacles in the Pursuit of Global Health Security) are graduating with their doctorates. Congrats!!
New Book: Understanding Cyber Warfare: Politics, Policy, and Strategy
Just in time for a holiday gift – Christopher Whyte and GMU Biodefense alum Brian Mazanec have released their new book, Understanding Cyber Warfare: Politics, Policy, and Strategy. “The international relations, policy, doctrine, strategy, and operational issues associated with computer network attack, computer network exploitation, and computer network defense are collectively referred to as cyber warfare. This new textbook provides students with a comprehensive perspective on the technical, strategic, and policy issues associated with cyber conflict as well as an introduction to key state and non-state actors. Specifically, the book provides a comprehensive overview of these key issue areas: the historical emergence and evolution of cyber warfare, including the basic characteristics and methods of computer network attack, exploitation, and defense; a theoretical set of perspectives on conflict in the digital age from the point of view of international relations (IR) and the security studies field; the current national perspectives, policies, doctrines, and strategies relevant to cyber warfare; and an examination of key challenges in international law, norm development, and the potential impact of cyber warfare on future international conflicts.”
GMU Biodefense Student Receives Wilson Center Earth Challenge 2020 Special Project Internship
We’re proud to announce that Anthony Falzarano is the new Special Project Intern in the office of Science and Technology Innovation Policy at the Wilson Center, led by Dr. Anne Bowser. The Earth Challenge 2020 project is a joint initiative with Earth Day Network, Wilson Center, US Dept of State, and other partners to engage millions of people worldwide with the mission of collecting 1 billion data points from areas such as water quality, air pollution, and human health. The goal is to utilize citizen science to help inform research and empower the public to engage decision makers and drive meaningful policies at all levels. Anthony will be providing scoping and implementation support of this project as well as conducting research, writing, and stakeholder outreach.
AFM Is Testing Us For the Next Global Epidemic
Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is the disease we’ve been warned against and told to prepare for, but are we taking it for the learning lesson it is? The expectation of Disease X is that it would come in some massive pandemic wave like the 1918//1919 influenza, pushing public health and healthcare to the brink. Maryn McKenna writes about how AFM is actually doing this and giving us a heads up that we’re struggling against an unknown and uncommon illness. “The challenge of tracking an uncommon illness is giving us a glimpse of how our surveillance systems will struggle to counter the world-spanning epidemic that Disease X may turn out to be.” “AFM has not yet been made what the CDC calls a “nationally notifiable” disease, that is, something a physician is required to tell the state health department and thus the CDC about. But when or if it is, communicating the occurrence of a case will still require time-consuming composing of an email or filling out a web form, and equally time-consuming assessment and investigation on the other side. AFM appears to be an illness that moves slowly through the population; the CDC believes this year’s outbreak is over. When Disease X arrives, whatever it turns out to be, it is likely to move much faster. That makes our experience of investigating and communicating AFM something like a practice round—one that medical researchers should use wisely. We probably cannot avoid new diseases surprising us. But it is up to us to decide whether we’ll be able to catch up.”
Antimicrobial Resistance: Addressing the Funding Dilemma
Read the latest report on this growing biological threat from the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and ReAct (Action on Antibiotic Resistance). “Effective antibiotics are critically important cornerstones of all health systems, but bacteria becoming resistant threatens the continued lifesaving value of antibiotics. A return to a pre-antibiotic era would have devastating impacts on global public health as well as the global economy. In December, the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and ReAct (Action on Antibiotic Resistance) organised a joint workshop in Uppsala, Sweden, inviting 20 international experts in the field of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and global health. The participants were invited to search together for financing options for this growing issue. Together they examined options for the mobilisation of capital and proposed new and existing funding streams to invest in addressing AMR. The outcomes of the workshop will feed into the ongoing discussions on future global governance for AMR”
Ebola Outbreak Update
Seven new cases and seven new deaths have been reported in the DRC due to Ebola. Three of the new cases were healthcare workers, which brings the total of HCW infections to 53, with 18 deaths. “Officials have now reported 549 total Ebola cases and 326 deaths. Eighty-two suspected cases are under investigation. Three of the new cases occurred in Katwa, two in Komanda, and two in Mabalako. Four of the seven new deaths were community deaths (two each in Katwa and Komanda), which raises the risk of transmission.” Nearly 50,000 people in the DRC have been vaccinated against Ebola in efforts to control the outbreak.
Tibetan Refugee Children Suffer High Rates of Tuberculosis
“Although tuberculosis is preventable and curable, it remains one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide. Furthermore, despite widespread eradication and treatment efforts, incidence of the disease has only fallen about 2% per year, which is well below the necessary reduction to meet the 2020 World Health Organization milestone. In 2017, 1.6 million people died from tuberculosis, including 230,000 children. Now, investigators on a new study have found that in Tibet, 1 in 5 children has the disease. The investigators, from Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Wisconsin, found these troubling results among Tibetan refugee schoolchildren during their screening and treatment initiatives in northern India. The initiative, Zero TB Kids, found a dangerous high prevalence of tuberculosis, both active and latent, in children in Himachal Pradesh, India.”
“Outbreak Culture” Can Derail Effective Response
Despite the numerous opportunities we’ve had, humanity just doesn’t have a good response to infectious disease events. Addressing a problem rampant throughout this history, Lara Salahi and Pardis Sabeti discuss the societal and cultural dynamics that impact disease response. Starting with Ebola in 2015, they note that “Nearly all of those surveyed mentioned that political and interpersonal challenges at times slowed their responses. Many said they feared the politics more than the virus. More than a quarter reported either witnessing, hearing about, or falling victim to illegal or unethical tactics while responding to the outbreak. Among the tactics they reported: money and other forms of aid disappearing before it reached its intended recipients; knowingly defective personal protective equipment sent to health workers treating Ebola patients; harmful competitive practices among research groups, like intimidation and data hoarding, to prevent others from conducting field research.”
Stories You May Have Missed:
- Romaine Lettuce E coli Investigation – “Federal health officials today said Adam Brothers Family Farms, based in Santa Barbara County, Calif., may be a source of romaine lettuce contaminated with Escherichia coli O157:H7, based on testing that matched the bacteria in irrigation water sediment to the outbreak strain that sickened patients. In a media telebriefing today, however, Stephen Ostroff, MD, senior advisor to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, said the newly identified link doesn’t explain all of the outbreak cases and that traceback investigations are still under way”