Pandora Report: 5.31.2019

Happy Friday! Before we get started with the biodefense news of this week, you should know that the CDC has reported there have now been 971 cases of measles this year, “topping the 1994 modern-record level, and it warned that if a pair of large outbreaks in and around New York City continue over the summer and fall, the United States could lose its measles elimination status”.

 Extended Workshop Registration Discount 
We’re excited to announce that the early registration discount has been extended to July 1st, which means you have more time to register for the Summer Workshop on Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and Global Health Security. This is a great “three and a half-day workshop, non-credit summer workshop designed to introduce participants to the challenges facing the world at the intersection of national security, public health, and the life sciences. The workshop faculty are internationally recognized experts from the government, private sector, and academia who have been extensively involved with research and policy-making on public health, biodefense, and national security issues.” We hope to see you in July and if you’re a returning student, GMU alumni or current student/faculty, or large group, you’re eligible for an additional discount.

Possible European Origin of the Spanish Influenza
What happens when you get a military historian and a virologist together to discuss the 1918 pandemic? A fascinating insight into a possible European origin and all sorts of things we might not have considered. “When we reconsider the virology and history of the Spanish Influenza Pandemic, the science of 2018 provides us with tools which did not exist at the time. Two such tools come to mind. The first lies in the field of ‘gain of function’ experiments. A potential pandemic virus, such as influenza A (H5N1), can be deliberately mutated in the laboratory in order to change its virulence and spreadability. Key mutations can then be identified. A second tool lies in phylogenetics, combined with molecular clock analysis. It shows that the 1918 pandemic virus first emerged in the years 1915–1916. We have revisited the literature published in Europe and the United States, and the notes left by physicians who lived at the time. In this, we have followed the words of the late Alfred Crosby: who wrote that ‘contemporary documentary evidence from qualified physicians’ is the key to understanding where and how the first outbreaks occurred. In our view, the scientists working in Europe fulfill Crosby’s requirement for contemporary evidence of origin. Elsewhere, Crosby also suggested that ‘the physicians of 1918 were participants in the greatest failure of medical science in the twentieth century’. Ours is a different approach. We point to individual pathologists in the United States and in France, who strove to construct the first universal vaccines against influenza. Their efforts were not misdirected, because the ultimate cause of death in nearly all cases flowed from superinfections with respiratory bacteria.”

 Ebola Outbreak Updates and Why The Response Must Be Elevated
Good news – cases have been declining in the past few week…unfortunately the increasingly complex situation has made any progress difficult to measure. “Part of the decline reflects fewer cases in Katwa, which has been the main Ebola epicenter over the past several weeks. At the same time, smaller hot spots such as Mabalako, Kalunguta, and Mandima are experiencing rising cases. For example, the WHO notes that Mabalako has reported 23% of newly confirmed cases over the past 3 weeks. Aside from a drop in cases, the WHO said in its latest situation report that it sees other encouraging signs, including lower proportions of nosocomial (healthcare-related) infections and community deaths. Also, it said outbreak responders are reporting higher proportions of contacts registering when cases are detected. It said, however, that weekly fluctuations in the indicators that health officials track have been reported in the past, and it’s still not clear if the surveillance system has the ability to identify all new cases in areas with ongoing security problems. ‘Operations are still regularly hampered by security issues, and the risk of national and regional spread remains very high,” the WHO said’.” Many charities are now calling for the outbreak to be designated as a crisis and efforts to be enhanced. “Whitney Elmer, country director of DRC for Mercy Corps, said that declaring the equivalent of a level-three emergency would bring ‘manifold benefits’ by clarifying the roles of agencies, allowing greater access to resources and attracting greater global attention. ‘There has never been an epidemic of this complexity or size in the DRC,’ said Elmer, adding that the crisis requires a new structure in line with its scale. The global humanitarian coordination body, Inter-Agency Standing Committee, will consider the call when it meets on Wednesday. Among the factors to be considered are the scale and complexity of an epidemic, and the risk of a failure to respond effectively. A level-three emergency, now known as a system-wide scale up, does not indicate the severity of the crisis, but is activated where there is a mismatch between need and agencies’ ability to respond. On Tuesday, Mike Ryan, assistant director-general of the World Health Organization’s emergency preparedness and response programme, said progress had been made in fighting Ebola, including a drop in transmission of the disease in health facilities.”

Dangerous Levels of Antibiotics Found in World Rivers
“Concentrations of antibiotics found in some of the world’s rivers exceed ‘safe’ levels by up to 300 times, the first ever global study has discovered. Researchers looked for 14 commonly used antibiotics in rivers in 72 countries across six continents and found antibiotics at 65% of the sites monitored. Metronidazole, which is used to treat bacterial infections including skin and mouth infections, exceeded safe levels by the biggest margin, with concentrations at one site in Bangladesh 300 times greater than the ‘safe’ level.”

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Fertility Clinics Asking for CRISPR Help – “The condemnation of the Chinese scientist who created the world’s first genome-edited babies last year was far from universal: A fertility clinic in Dubai emailed He Jiankui on December 5 — just a week after he announced the births — asking if he could teach its clinicians ‘CRISPR gene editing for Embryology Lab Application.’ Although the English is somewhat tortured, the meaning was clear, Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford University, who has advised He on the bioethics of his work for several years, told STAT: The fertility center was interested in offering CRISPR embryo editing to its patients. Its opening line is, ‘Congratulations on your recent achievement of the first gene editing baby delivered by your application!’ Hurlbut planned to reveal the email at a panel of the World Science Festival in New York City on Tuesday evening, but shared it with STAT before the event. Hurlbut said He received ‘other inquiries’ making a similar request. When He asked Hurlbut for advice on how to respond, Hurlbut said, ‘I told him not to reply’.”
  • Experimental Ebola Cure Could Protect Against Nipah – “An experimental drug has protected monkeys against infection with Nipah virus, a lethal disease and emerging pandemic threat for which there is no approved vaccine or cure, scientists reported on Wednesday. The antiviral drug, remdesivir, is also being tested against the Ebola virus in the outbreak now underway in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The only current treatment for Nipah virus infection is a monoclonal antibody that is still experimental; it was tested during an outbreak in India last year.”


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