Pandora Report: 11.29.2019

During this holiday time, we’d like to take a moment to thank our readers – we are truly grateful for your support and continued engagement over the years!

USAMRIID Resumes Select Agent Research…Sort Of
In August it was made public that the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USMARIID) BSL-4 lab had research halted after failing to meet several Federal biosafety requirements. CDC inspectors identified several shortcomings in USAMRIID’s ability to keep safe the BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs it utilizes to study special pathogens. The implications of this were huge, as USAMRIID’s Special Pathogens lab is not only part of the Laboratory Response Network (LRN), but ultimately a huge piece of American biodefense. “Alongside the disruptions to critical medical countermeasure research projects, impaired BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratory support to national public health emergencies should not be overlooked as USAMRIID works to correct biosafety issues, regain Federal Select Agent Program certification, and answer accountability questions. ‘We have had conversations with the Army’s LRN Liaison at Ft. Sam Houston and the CDC’s Chief, Laboratory Preparedness and Response Branch LRN to let them know what our capabilities and limitations are under the current constraints,’ stated Vander Linden.” Thankfully, USAMRIID has spent the past few months working to correct these failures and restore compliance, leading to a optimistic November site visit from CDC inspectors. Limited research is now allowed to resume and hopefully will be fully restored as CDC inspectors continue their review of personnel, practices, and processes.

CSIS Report: Ending the Cycle of Crisis and Complacency in U.S. Global Health Security
The health security of the United States – frankly, the entire world – is under severe threat as we remain woefully unprepared for outbreaks and other health crises. The recently released Global Health Security Index further confirms the gaps in prevention, preparedness, and response to public health threats. This month, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released its final report of the CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security, Ending the Cycle of Crisis and Complacency in U.S. Global Health Security. The Commission advises Congress and the Administration enact the following seven recommendations:

  1. Restore health security leadership at the White House National Security Council.
  2. Commit to full and sustained multi-year funding for the Global Health Security Agenda to build partner capacity.
  3. Establish a Pandemic Preparedness Challenge at the World Bank to incentivize countries to invest in their own preparedness.
  4. Ensure rapid access to resources for health emergencies.
  5. Establish a U.S. Global Health Crises Response Corps.
  6. Strengthen the delivery of critical health services, including immunizations and health services for women and girls, in disordered settings.
  7. Systematically confront two urgent technology challenges: the need for new vaccines and therapeutics and the public health communications crisis.

The full report includes details for each of the recommendations regarding programs and funding needs, with a request for an increase in funding from the current levels to $905 million.  Read the report in its entirety here.

National Biodefense Science Board – Public Meeting
Don’t miss this December 3rd event regarding pandemic influenza preparedness and enhancing medical countermeasures against various biological threats. The public agenda can be found here, which includes emerging topics in biodefense, like Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) Conference of States Parties (CSP)
This week saw the 24th CSP (Conference of States Parties) of the Chemical Weapons CON Convention – you can watch the live-stream courtesy of the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons). Richard Guthrie has also provided daily reports of the CSP, which are a highly valuable resource and available here. Since it will run through the rest of this week, make sure to not only check out the daily recaps, but also his summary. Moreover, you can also read last year’s CSP coverage. On the second day of the CSP, one can read the general debate, which revealed the positions different delegates shared – “here were a number overarching themes; some of which will be examined here and some in the next daily report. There were also some notable points from individual statements. The session started with group statements from: the European Union; Azerbaijan on behalf of the CWC states parties that are members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and China; and Sudan on behalf of the Africa Group.” On Wednesday, it was announced that at the 24th CSP, the CWC adopted two decisions to amend for the first time the Annex on Chemicals to the Convention. “The first decision was jointly proposed by Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States of America while the second decision was proposed by the Russian Federation. Both decisions call for Technical Changes to Schedule 1 of the Annex on Chemicals to the CWC.” Highlighting the adaptability of the CWC, these proposals added families to Schedule 1. This is especially pertinent in the wake of the use of a Novichok agent in Salisbury last year, and the need to revise the the CWC schedules to control for Novichoks. As Stefano Costanzi and Gregory Koblentz noted, “the joint proposal and the portions of the Russian proposal upon which consensus can be reached would significantly strengthen the CWC by considerably expanding the coverage of its Schedule 1 and bringing Novichok agents firmly within the CWC’s verification system. We also argue that, since the OPCW Technical Secretariat did not deem the fifth group of chemicals proposed by Russia to meet the criteria for inclusion in Schedule 1, Russia should withdraw this part of its proposal from consideration. The proposals have also served an important purpose in clarifying the identity of the chemical agent used in the Salisbury incident, squarely placing it within one of the two families of Novichok agents described by the Russian chemical-weapons scientist and whistleblower Vil Mirzayanov.”

Tracking Trends in Toxoplasmosis Transmission 
Too often associated with feline exposures, toxoplasmosis is a neglected parasitic infection that is carried by 40 million people in the U.S. alone. A new study though, broke down decades of outbreaks to better understand the transmission dynamics of toxoplasmosis in humans. The authors note that on a global level, exposure is so high that serologic prevalence varies between 10% and 94% in the adult population. Infection is dependent upon factors like environmental conditions, eating habits, and prevalence of the parasite in the geographical area, among other factors. Transmission mostly occurs through the ingestion of oocyst-contaminated water or vegetables. Reviewing publications on toxoplasmosis outbreaks since 1967, the study team excluded cases in nonhuman species. A total of 573 articles were further analysis was conducted on 33 articles covering 34 reported outbreaks. The highest concentration of outbreaks reported (73.5%) occurred in the Americas, with Brazil having the highest number of published outbreaks. “The authors note, “’the incidence of cyst-related outbreaks from contaminated meat and its derivatives was 47.1% (16/34), and oocysts were implicated in 44.1% (15/34) of the outbreaks. Transmission through the intake of oocysts in water occurred with a frequency of 20.6% (7/34), through contact with sand and soil with a frequency of 17.6% (6/34), and through consumption of vegetables with a frequency of 5.9% (2/34)’.”

Outbreak Dashboard
Influenza activity is picking up as the CDC Flu Tracker noted that 7.3% of respiratory specimens tested by clinical labs were positive for influenza viruses. No new cases of Ebola virus disease were reported in the DRC on Wednesday, but the ongoing conflict has made response in hot spots (Mabalako and Beni) difficult.

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