Pandora Report: 1.10.2020

Novel Coronavirus Identified in Clustered Pneumonia Outbreak – Wuhan, China
Growing case counts and rising concern have plagued the international public health community as a cluster of an unusual pneumonia began bubbling up in China. While SARS-CoV was already ruled out, early on Wednesday morning, it was reported that Chinese researchers discovered a novel strain of coronavirus from a sample of one patient. The CDC reported that as of January 5th, there have been a total of 59 cases, but no deaths. Early in the outbreak, the evolving situation and limited information about the causative agent stirred memories of the SARS-CoV outbreak in 2003. Delayed reporting and accusations of government cover-ups are never a good sign for outbreak response, but the hope is that transparency will not be an issue as researchers continue to work to understand the causative agent. Hong Kong has worked diligently though to ensure reporting occurs from hospitals and into public health programs through the existing regulatory inclusion of “Severe Respiratory Disease associated with a Novel Infectious Agent”. On Thursday, The WHO released a statement regarding the outbreak, noting that “Chinese authorities have made a preliminary determination of a novel (or new) coronavirus, identified in a hospitalized person with pneumonia in Wuhan. Chinese investigators conducted gene sequencing of the virus, using an isolate from one positive patient sample. Preliminary identification of a novel virus in a short period of time is a notable achievement and demonstrates China’s increased capacity to manage new outbreaks.” The WHO emphasized that as more epidemiological investigations and efforts produce information on disease transmission, sources, etc., the information will be made available. The CDC is encouraging travelers to protect themselves through several measures, like avoiding animals and animal markets, as well as contact with sick people.

GHSA Next Generation Network 2019 Mentorship Program Flash Conference
Don’t miss this great web-based event next week (10am EST, January 16th) to see the hard work of the NextGen GHSA proteges and even find inspiration for your own work in health security. Join the WebEx here (Meeting number (access code): 643 949 112).

I opened an envelope filled with anthrax
In 2001, Casey Chamberlain a 23-year-old was doing an apprenticeship at NBC Nightly News. One of her tasks was going through the mail of a veteran newscaster and host Tom Brokaw. About a week after the 9/11 tragedy, Casey opened a piece of mail containing a cryptic scrawling of misspelled words and a foreign substance that looked like a mixture of sand and brown sugar to her. Casey had no idea that peculiar but seemingly harmless powder was anthrax. Within two weeks of opening this odd piece of mail, Casey awoke with severely swollen lymph nodes, and thinking it was an adverse reaction to acne medication, she took the prescribed antibiotic and soon returned to work. After a photojournalist from another media outlet died from inhalation anthrax, she was interrogated by the FBI and sent into hiding. 100 days of antibiotics helped make Casey one of the survivors of the Amerithrax attacks; however, the trauma from deadly exposure is something for which she will never have closure. Read Casey’s full story here.Next week you can attend this great online event to see the hard work from the proteges and get inspired for your own future global health security efforts. At 10am EST on January 16th, you can joint via webbed

How Should The WHO Guide Access/Benefit Sharing During Outbreaks?
Not the type of question you’ll likely be able to answer in a quick elevator ride, but Nicholas Evans, Kelly Hills, and Adam Levine, have worked to address this critically important topic. You can read the full article here, in the AMA Journal of Ethics, in which they assess The WHO’s Guidance for Managing Ethical Issues in Infectious Disease Outbreaks following the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The researchers evaluate “the Guidance’s recommendations on research and long-term storage of biological specimens during infectious disease outbreaks and argues that the Guidance does not provide adequate direction for responders’, researchers’, and organizations’ actions. It considers local persons’ access to benefits of research in the aftermath of outbreaks and preparedness for outbreaks, drawing on lessons from both the 2013-2016 EVD outbreak and ongoing research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” This is a highly necessary and relevant article, as we often fail to discuss the ethical aspects of biodefense, outbreak preparedness, and overall infectious disease response. As the authors note, “There is therefore an obligation to ensure redress so that vulnerable populations can negotiate contracts on fair terms, keeping in mind that leaving a people with only their bodies (including their blood) as resources to be sold seems to violate Article 4 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights. (“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”).”

NSABB Meeting
It’s been a beat since the last meeting of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), but this federal advisory committee is coming together on January 23rd and 24th to discuss: (1) considerations regarding security and public transparency when sharing information about research involving enhanced potential pandemic pathogens; (2) other business of the Board; and (3) a charge to the committee will be presented. The meeting will be open to the public, with attendance limited to space available. The meeting will also be videocast. If you’d like to attend in person – make sure to register. Since this is the first meeting in over a year, it will likely be highly engaging as “The NSABB has up to 25 voting members with a broad range of expertise including molecular biology, microbiology, infectious diseases, biosafety, public health, veterinary medicine, plant health, national security, biodefense, law enforcement, scientific publishing, and other related fields.”

The State of the Nuclear Deal with Iran
Every 60 days since last May, Iran has taken gradual steps back from its agreed compliance. The most recent backstep was made on 5 January with the announcement that Iran will no longer observe restrictions on the number of centrifuges that it uses to enrich uranium. Though this is not particularly encouraging news for those working to strengthen global nuclear control and nonproliferation, it is not surprising news given the past many months. The recent killing of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, adds further fuel to the fire regarding the current state and future of the nuclear deal. Though recent events elicits fear in retaliation and war with Iran, the latest announcement was likely already intended and not a decision solely made for retribution. That said, the killing of Soleimani raises concerns regarding future violations of the agreement that are greater in occurrence or more severe in type. Soon, European members of the JCPOA will deliberate over the whether or not to initiate the dispute resolution mechanism to address Iran’s violations of the nuclear agreement. Triggering the mechanism may spur a readjustment – perhaps an alarming one – in Iran’s existing intentions for its compliance with the deal.

Outbreak Dashboard
The Ebola outbreak in the DRC has now hit 3,391 cases over the course of 17 months. 568 suspected cases are under investigation. Sadly, this is not the only outbreak the DRC is battling, as there have been 6,000 deaths related to measles in an outbreak that has topped 310,000 cases since the beginning of 2019.

Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction – World Economic Forum Develops a Framework 
The WEF has now released their framework for accessible, safe, and secure DNA synthesis. With the development and proliferation of new biotech and synthetic biology, risk increasingly has become a topic of concern. This new framework “endorsed by an international expert Working Group, recommends a global system to expand synthetic DNA screening practices by developing an international, cost-effective, and sustainable mechanism to prevent illicit DNA synthesis and misuse. The new framework offers an improvement on existing voluntary guidelines because it standardizes screening processes, is accessible to new players in the market, and provides valuable feedback data to evaluate the screening – all at lower costs.” You can access the report here, which includes sections on developing a common DNA sequence mechanism, as well as oversight and policies for establishing synthetic DNA screening as a global norm. Moreover, the WEF framework includes points on the importance of partnerships in these efforts.

Event: Battling Insecurity, Mistrust, and Disease: Are We Capable of Reining in Epidemics in Complex Environments
Don’t miss this January 15th event regarding reigning in epidemics in complex environments. Featuring Dr. Wilmot James, Visiting Professor of Political Science and Pediatrics at Columbia University, “The fight to stem the rapid spread of an infectious disease is a fight against an infectious agent, as well as a struggle with the conditions that enable outbreaks to persist, such as political instability, insecurity, and economic uncertainty. Most recently, the 2018 Ebola virus disease outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has proved to be wickedly durable for reasons beyond the outbreak itself. Health workers have been attacked and killed, limited government efforts have been stymied due to mistrust, and communities have struggled to find the confidence to mount an effective response – resulting in an outbreak that continues to this day.” You can register for this event in Washington, D.C. here.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • An Ancient Legend Could Provide a Weapon in Fight Against Deadly Bacteria – “According to the Swansea researchers, the soil over Father McGirr contains a previously unknown strain of Streptomyces, a genus of the phylum Actinobacteria, which has produced about two-thirds of all currently prescribed antibiotics. Soil bacteria secrete chemicals to inhibit or kill competing bacteria, and this particular strain of Streptomyces happens to mess with several disease-causing pathogens that have become impervious to conventional antibiotics.”

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