Image of the Week: Clostridium!

This fiery photograph depicts  a colony of Clostridium species, which as we all know produce the tremendously potent neurotoxin, botulinum.

bot cdc

From the CDC: “This photograph depicts a colony of Clostridium sp. Gram-positive bacteria, which had been grown on a 4% blood agar plate (BAP) over a 48 hour time period.”

Image credit: CDC/Dr. Holdeman

This Week in DC: Events

Monday, February 24th

Corruption and Business in Russia: National Problem, Regional Solutions
Wilson Center
9:15 AM

There is a perception that it is not possible to do business in Russia without engaging in corruption. While corruption in Russia is a fact of life, individual businesses are employing a range of strategies to reduce their exposure and give them access to international partners. The Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the Kennan Institute present expert findings on this timely issue. Jordan Gans-Morse, an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University, will present his research on how non-oligarchic firms are surviving in an atmosphere of endemic corruption. The firms’ coping mechanisms and the means they use to settle business disputes shed light on the course of Russia’s future economic development. Based on extensive field research, Gans-Morse is at work on a book about law, property rights, and corruption in Russia. CIPE Moscow Program Officer Natalya L. Titova will speak on a CIPE initiative in Russia that is helping regional business to meet international anti-corruption standards in order to join international value chains.

The Future of Land Power and U.S. Ground Forces
Brookings Institution
10:00 AM

Following the prolonged ground war in Iraq, and the continued International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) presence in Afghanistan, the United States military is shifting focus from large invasion forces to other strategies for handling threats. Additionally, cuts to the military are reshaping ideas for power projection and the use of force. Cooperation among branches of the military will be critical in the time ahead, and the United States must continue to plan for the possibility of land conflict, whether we want to be involved or not. On February 24, the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings will hold an event on the future of land power and U.S. ground forces. The first panel will consist of Major General William Hix and Major General Christopher Haas, both of the U.S. Army, Colonel Jim Zientek of the U.S. Marine Corps, and Brookings Senior Fellow Peter W. Singer. Major Generals Hix and Haas, and Colonel Zientek, served on a recent military task force created to develop strategic land power concepts for U.S. ground forces. The event’s second panel will include Commanding General of the Maneuver Center of Excellence Major General H.R. McMaster, Brookings Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon, and Brookings Senior Fellow William Galston who is also a retired U.S. Marine. They will offer their unique perspectives on the future of land power.

Event 1: Atoms for Dream: Holding the American Umbrella in the Atomic Driving Rain
U.S.-Japan Research Institute
10:00 AM

On March 11, 2011 the expansion of the nuclear accident definitively signaled the end of our ‘Bountiful Postwar’. This incident was the result of the economic growth that we ourselves demanded. In Postwar Japan, before we realized it, nuclear energy was transformed from the fear or radiation exposure into an object of hope, and received as a symbol of dreams and peace. In the context of the public’s everyday life and sense of society, how was this spectacle of a bright future desired and accepted? Taking as its object Postwar Japan’s embrace of nuclear energy, this talk will investigate the transition from ‘The nuclear powered sunshine’ of the Cold War Period to the ‘Radioactive Rain’ of the Post Cold War Period. The US-Japan relationship has always been the essential moment in this history. This talk will also show the sharp difference on the representations of nuclear energy in the Japanese and American popular culture.

Tuesday, February 25th

The State of the International Order
Brookings Institution
12:00 PM

On February 25, Foreign Policy at Brookings will launch “The State of the International Order,” a new report that examines the purposes of international order; takes a snapshot of major trends; and analyzes 11 key challenges to the order, ranging from great power security competition to changing dynamics of trade. The discussion will also address the debate taking shape in Washington regarding the future of American power and the role of the United States in the world. The panelists will include Brookings Senior Fellow Bruce Jones, Senior Fellow Robert Kagan, Fellow Thomas Wright and Visiting Fellow Jeremy Shapiro. Acting Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy Ted Piccone will moderate the discussion.

Africa Rising: Challenges and Opportunities for Developments
SAIS
12:30PM

Florizelle Liser, professorial lecturer in the African Studies Program and assistant U.S. trade representative for Africa in the Office of the United States Trade Representative; Teddy Ruge, entrepreneur and co-founder of Universal Music Publishing Group, Hive Colab, and Remit.ug; and Kalmongo Coulibaly, economist at Overseas Private Investment Corporation, will discuss this topic.

Wednesday, February 26th

The NSA Scandal and the Future of Transatlantic Relations, a conversation with Dr. Jürgen Rüttgers
Georgetown BMW Center for German and European Studies
9:00 AM

Prime Minister (ret.) Dr. Jürgen Rüttgers is a member of the board of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Chairman of the board of Stiftung Bundeskanzler-Adenauer-Haus, member of the Council of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and President of the German branch of the Jerusalem Foundation. He is currently working as an attorney and lecturing Political Science at Bonn University. Born in Cologne in 1951, he studied History and Law at Cologne University from which he holds an LL.D. (1979).

Hearing: International Wildlife Trafficking Threats to Conservation and National Security
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
10:00 AM

Chairman Royce on the hearing: “Wildlife trafficking is a global problem that criminal networks and even terrorists are profiting from. The black market for ivory and other illegal wildlife products is worth an estimated $10 billion, a market ideal to fund deadly terrorist attacks or weapons for rebel groups. Committee members will have an opportunity to press the Administration on its recently released National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, specifically how the strategy will be implemented, and how it will provide the tools to better target wildlife criminals.”

Fighting Terrorism under the Rule of Law: The Israeli Experience
Heritage Foundation
2:00PM

“Since our country has been at war for over a decade, Americans are vaguely familiar with concepts like rules of engagement, friendly fire, and the law of armed conflict. Our collective knowledge is informed by anecdotes, movies, the news, and documentaries – most from a decidedly American-centric viewpoint. Join us as we hear from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Deputy Military Advocate General Colonel Eli Bar-On, as he discusses the challenges posed to his country by non-state actors and the phenomenon of asymmetrical warfare. A 20-year veteran of the IDF, Colonel Bar-On will share his experiences and thoughts on the application of the law of armed conflict and international law in order to preserve the lives of both civilians and soldiers alike on both sides of the battlefield. A former military prosecutor, defense counsel, judge, legal advisor, and Deputy Military Advocate General, Colonel Bar-On takes us inside the challenges and threats to his country, and how Israel fights terrorism under the rule of law.”

Thursday, February 27th

Asylum in Latin America & Snowden
DC Bar
12:00 PM

A moderated panel discussion and catered luncheon will be held from 12 pm to 2 pm at the D.C. Bar located at 1101 K St. NW, Washington, DC, 20005. The program is sponsored by the Inter-American Legal Affairs Committee of the International Law Section of the D.C. Bar and the Inter-American Bar Association. Panelists include American University Professor Shana Tabak, Journalist Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Bruce Zagaris, Esq., Partner at Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP. The program will be moderated by Henry Saint Dahl, Secretary General of the Inter-American Bar Foundation. This luncheon program is sponsored by the Inter-American Affairs Committee of the International Law Section, in cosponsorship with the Inter-American Bar Association.

Delving Deeper: Everything You Need to Know About PHSBPRA (Part Three)

This is the third and final part of our series on PHSBPRA – read the first part here, and the second part here.

By Yong-Bee Lim

I.  The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness Response Act of 2002: What Were the Consequences?

One major consequence of the PHSBPRA involved funding. As can be seen, the PHSBPRA attempted to clearly delineate goals to both enhance the legal structure to accommodate select agent issues, as well as increasing national preparedness and emergency response infrastructures in the event of a bioterrorism or public health emergency. To this end, Congress opened the floodgates of funding for many biodefense and public health preparedness projects. Between 2001 to 2005, biodefense-related funding increased by 500%. Between 2001 to 2009, the United States Government allocated over 49.66 billion dollars among 11 federal departments and agencies to specifically deal with the threat of biological weapons.[1]

Resources are generally required to make advances in any area; this is especially true in research and infrastructure-dependent areas like biodefense public health preparedness.[2] A virtual flood of monetary resources may have seemed to be just the ticket to promote more robust products and infrastructure to help the U.S. prevent and mitigate the next big act of bioterrorism or a public health emergency. Unfortunately, a number of factors led to a situation where the monetary resources that were provided either led to a less-than-ideal use of resources that ultimately slowed progress in the areas mentioned above.

Funding is ultimately a zero-sum game. There is a limited amount of funding that can be distributed; the more one area receives funding, another area receives less[3]. As biodefense and public health preparedness for bioterrorism received major funding, areas such as CDC’s research for emerging infectious disease (EID) and other non-bioterrorism-related spending received massive cuts.[4] This shift in funding meant that less research was being done on more concrete and consistent threats such as pandemic flu and food-borne illnesses, in favor of doing research on rare or allegedly eliminated threats such as anthrax and smallpox.[5]

Furthermore, there is evidence that the overwhelming flood of biodefense-related spending was not spent or directed in an efficacious fashion. The huge increase in monetary funding was built off of a basic, but flawed principle: increased funding is the key to increased results. However, this flawed principle ignores the importance of considerations such as organizational structure, unique obstacles in different areas of research and preparedness, and the need for both explicit (textbook) knowledge and tacit (acquired over time and experience) knowledge in the creation of effective products.[6] One major illustration of this flaw was in Project BioShield’s first attempt at acquiring anthrax vaccine through VaxGen in 2006. Despite the fact that VaxGen was clearly unprepared to dealing with the manufacturing, technical expertise, and funding issues inherent in MCM production, HHS sought to procure recombinant protective antigen (rPA) anthrax vaccine through the company for the civilian Strategic National Stockpile (SNS).[7] While HHS eventually cancelled the contract with VaxGen, it had lost valuable time in procuring viable products for the SNS, and Project BioShield’s first use was ultimately deemed a failure.[8]

Another major consequence of the PHSBPRA, in conjunction with laws such as the USA Patriot Act, is the adoption of additional security measures to counteract future acts of terrorism through unconventional means like BW. These laws and regulations functioned through increased monitoring of foreign individuals, attempted to restrict access of hazardous biological agents to potential terrorists, and provided the government the ability to regulate and impose new guidelines on the accessibility of scientific and technical information. The PHSBPRA, in particular, mandated that all scientists working on select agents must undergo an FBI background check.

While the restriction of agents may appear to be prudent, the regulations proved too lax in certain areas, and too rigid in others. While the PHSBPRA required that all scientists working on select agents undergo an FBI background check, this one check alone does not necessarily catch the full legal or mental health history of individuals. In fact, the database for the FBI’s criminal and mental health records has huge gaps that can possibility let dangerous individuals slip through. The reason for these gaps is that many states have not provided federal authorities with comprehensive criminal and mental health records of their residents; states such as New Jersey, Maryland, and Maine have each submitted less than 100 relevant records, and states such as Rhode Island have submitted absolutely none.[9]

Compounding the issue of dangerous elements involved in select agent research is funding. With the funding stream shifted from emerging infectious disease research to biodefense-related research, “US scientists published more papers on B. anthracis and Ebola virus research, and more scientists entered the field”.[10] The combined factors of funding and insufficient background checks further increased the possibility of dangerous elements entering into select agent research, which would increase risk of lab incidents and insider threats.[11]

While allowing dangerous elements increased access to select agent labs, the scientific process and laboratory structures were tightly constricted with burdensome regulations and policies. Select agent labs had to invest in additional financial costs to meet new security and tracking standards; not following these new regulations would have immediately eliminated labs from doing any form of select agent research, including research on DNA fragments from restricted agents.[12] These regulations also barred foreign researchers and technical workers from any of the U.S. Government’s list of “states of concern” from working on select agent research.[13] While these regulations, in and of themselves, did not slow research into particular select agents, they did result in a loss of efficiency; this diminished efficiency, measured by the number of research papers published per millions of US research dollars awarded, showed a two to five-fold increase in the cost of doing select agent research.[14]

The consequences of the PHSBPRA did not merely extend to domestic issues; international issues arose from the passage and implementation of the PHSBPRA. Increased funding contributed to increased select agent research. These very same agents are often considered to be highly dangerous within the international community as well. This created great concern in the international community due to the biological research issue of “dual-use”: it is often very difficult to determine whether the nature of a biological project is defensive or offensive. Many of the initial steps for both defensive and offensive biological research look similar, and dual-use research “encompasses biological research with legitimate scientific purpose, the results of which may be misused to pose a biological threat to public health and/or national security.”[15]

The negative reaction of the international community was to be expected following this increase in select agent research for a number of reasons. Despite the unilateral dismantling of the U.S. BW program in 1969 under Nixon, the U.S. had engaged in several questionable BW-related programs during the Clinton administration. Project Jefferson (1998 – 2001) was a covert U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) program which, through a contract with Batelle, sought to test the efficacy of a US anthrax vaccine through the production of a Soviet strain of genetically modified anthrax.[16] Project Clear Vision (1997 – 2000) was a covert Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program which, once again through a contract with Batelle, tested a reconstructed biological bomblet to investigate dispersion characteristics.[17] Project Bacchus (1999 – 2000) investigated whether terrorist could use commercially available materials and equipment to produce an undetectable anthrax production facility; conducted by DTRA, the project produced two pounds of B. anthracis simulants with weaponized characteristics such as dried particle sizes being between 1 – 5 microns. All of these projects were highly questionable under the auspices of Articles I of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) which states that nations should “never in any circumstances…develop, produce, stockpile, or otherwise acquire or retain biological weapons”.[18]

The additional impetus for international mistrust was the withdrawal of the United States from the BWC ratification process. Many in the international community saw the U.S. as withdrawing from the strengthened agendas of verification and security that the U.S. had been pushing for the past thirty years. This issue finally came to a head in 2001, during which there was intense international pressure to create a binding “Final Declaration” BWC Protocol. This protocol was put forth through multiple drafts by a task group called the Ad Hoc Group (AHC). Eventually, following multiple disputes that stalled during negotiations, Chairman Tibor Toth of the AHC released his own draft protocol. Commonly referred to as the “Chairman’s Text”, it contained most, if not all, proposed solutions to all perceived outstanding U.S. issues in March of 2001.[19] This draft, however, was ultimately rejected by Ambassador Donald Mahley, whose delegation alleged that there were 38 problems with the protocol. These problems, Mahley stated, included issues involving adequate levels of transparency of bioresearch facilities, inadequate measures to address the dual-use dilemma involved in determining a bio-defensive vs. a bio-offensive program, the perceived undermining of U.S. national security, and a perceived breach of confidentiality in regards to commercial proprietary information.[20] With the rejection of a verification measure for BW, and with the U.S. engaging in questionable biodefense research, it was only reasonable for the international community to look upon U.S. activity with suspicion.

II.  Conclusion

Following the tragic events of 9/11 and the anthrax letter attacks, the U.S. crafted a number of policies that were meant to promote domestic security and project U.S. power to prevent further terrorist attacks in the United States. While the PHSBPRA sought to address emergency preparedness and biodefense issues through increased funding, increased infrastructure, and limiting access to select agents, the PHSBPRA appears to have severely slowed down the ability of academic and public health stakeholders to create viable products to deal with future potential acts of bioterrorism. It is understandable that the immediate knee-jerk policy reaction to any form of unknown attack would be increasing restrictions and strengthening security measures as a way to minimize risk; however, it is clear from the PHSBPRA that such policies have harmful, far-reaching consequences whose impacts are being felt to this day.


Yong-Bee Lim is a PhD student in Biodefense at George Mason University. He holds a B.S. in Psychology and an M.S. in Biodefense from George Mason University as well. Contact him at ylim3@masonlive.gmu.edu or on Twitter @yblim3.

[1] Crystal Franco, “Billions for Bio-Defense: Federal Agency Bio-defense Funding 2009 – 2010,” Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, Vol. 7, No. 3 (2009): pp. 2 – 3

[2] Jason Matheny, Michael Mair, Andrew Mulcahy, and Bradley T. Smith, “Incentives for Biodefense Countermeasure Development,”Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, Vol. 5, No. 3 (2007)

[3] Matt Welch, “Government Spending and the Zero-Sum Game,” Reason Foundation, accessed 01/20/2014, http://reason.org/news/show/more-than-zero

[4] Alan Dove, “Bioterrorism Becomes One of the Hottest US Research Fields,” Nature Medicine, Vol. 8, No. 3 (2002): p. 197

[5] Alan Dove, “Is Investment in Bioterrorism Research Warranted,” Nature Medicine, Vol. 7, No. 1 (2001): p. 9

[6] Dennis M. Gormley, Missile Contagion: Cruise Missile Proliferation and the Threat to International Security (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2008): pp. 6 – 8

[7] “Project BioShield: Actions Needed to Avoid Repeating Past Problems with Procuring New Anthrax Vaccine and Managing the Stockpile of Licensed Vaccine, GAO-08-088,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, accessed 01/17/2014, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-88

[8] Ibid.

[9] Michael S. Schmidt and Charlie Savage, “Gaps in FBI Data Undercut Background Checks,” The New York Times Online, accessed 01/28/2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/21/us/gaps-in-fbi-data-undercut-background-checks-for-guns.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[10] M. Beatrice Dias, Leonardo Reyes-Gonzalez, Francisco M. Veloso, and Elizabeth A. Casman, “Effects of the USA PATRIOT Act and the 2002 Bioterrorism Preparedness Act on Select Agent Research in the United States,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 107, No. 21 (2010): pp. 9556 – 9561

[11] Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, “History of US Biodefense Strategy and Policy” (lecture, Biodefense 609 at GMU, Fairfax, VA, September 5, 2012)

[12] Dove, “Bioterrorism Becomes One of the Hottest US Research Fields,”

[13] Ibid.

[14] Dias, Reyes-Gonzalez, Veloso et al, “Effects of the USA PATRIOT Act”: p. 9561

[15] “About the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity,” National Institutes of Health Online: Office of Science Policy, accessed 01/28/2014, http://oba.od.nih.gov/biosecurity/about_nsabb.html

[16] J Miller, S Engelberg and W Broad, Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War (New York City, NY: Simon and Schuester, 2001): p. 309

[17] Ibid., p. 295

[18] “Convention of the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bateriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and of their Destruction,” Federatin of American Scientists Online, accessed 01/28/2014, http://www.fas.org/nuke/control/bwc/text/bwc.htm

[19] “Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Compliance Protocol,” Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) Online, accessed 01/24/2014, http://www.nti.org/e_research/e3_02.html

[20] Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, “Allergic Reaction: Washington’s Response to the BWC Protocol,” Arms Control Association Online, accessed 01/24/2014, http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2001_07-08/rosenbergjul_aug01

The Pandora Report 2.21.14

Editor’s note: Hello all Pandora Report subscribers! This is unfortunately my last week as author of the Pandora Report. It’s been such a pleasure having the opportunity to write the Pandora Report, and I would like to thank all of you for taking the time to subscribe and read it. I leave you all in the trusty hands of the new Pandora Report team – goodbye, thank you, and remember to stay away from the bats.

Highlights include PEDv, 1918 Spanish Flu, MERS-CoV, and Ebola. Happy Friday!

As deadly pig virus spreads, USDA warns of impact on hog supply

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv)has spread to a further two states, with Montana and Idaho reporting cases for the first time. The virus, which has a fatality rate approaching 100% in piglets, has swept across the country, with 3,528 cases in 25 states. Contaminated feed was recently put forth as a potential source of the virus’ spread. Before you start autoclaving your pork products, remember that the virus poses no threat to humans.

Chicago Tribune – “PEDv causes diarrhea, vomiting and severe dehydration in pigs. Research by the U.S. hog industry determined it is spread orally through infected pig manure, and can be carried by trucks, boots, clothes and water. But feed containing porcine by-products, including but not limited to plasma, recently came into focus as a means of transmission. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) found the virus in samples of U.S.-origin plasma from a third-party manufacturer for Grand Valley Fortifiers, a livestock feed company based in the province of Ontario. The company recalled the feed.”

Study revives bird origin for 1918 flu pandemic

According to a new study published in Nature, the 1918 (H1N1) Spanish flu virus originated not from reassortment in pigs, but from domestic water and shore birds. This most recent study contradicts finding in a persuasive 2009 study which found the virus to have circulated in humans and pigs for up to 15 years prior to the pandemic. Historical epidemiology is critical to better understanding, and therefore predicting, emerging  pandemic threats.

Nature – “The virus that caused the 1918 influenza pandemic probably sprang from North American domestic and wild birds, not from the mixing of human and swine viruses. A study published today in Nature1 reconstructs the origins of influenza A virus and traces its evolution and flow through different animal hosts over two centuries. ‘The methods we’ve been using for years and years, and which are crucial to figuring out the origins of gene sequences and the timing of those events, are all flawed’, says lead author Michael Worobey, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Worobey and his colleagues analysed more than 80,000 gene sequences from flu viruses isolated from humans, birds, horses, pigs and bats using a model they developed to map evolutionary relationships between viruses from different host species. The branched tree that resulted showed that the genes of the deadly 1918 pandemic virus are of avian origin.”

Saudi Arabia’s MERS Death Toll Reaches 60

The sixtieth MERS-CoV fatality in Saudi Arabia was a 22-year old male with previously existing conditions. The young man was also battling cancer. There have been 182 cases of the virus globally, of which 165 have been in Saudi Arabia. All but nineteen of the fatalities have been in Saudi Arabia. No word yet on whether he had previous contact with camels.

Gulf Business – “The virus, which first appeared in 2012, has affected around 182 people globally and has resulted in 79 deaths till date, according to World Health Organisation (WHO). MERS, a deadly but less transmissible virus than SARS, has symptoms such as coughing, fever and pneumonia. Although the worldwide number of MERS infections is fairly small, the high death rate among confirmed cases and the spread of the virus beyond the Middle East is keeping scientists and public health officials on alert. Cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, UAE, Oman and Tunisia as well as in several countries in Europe.”

Man steals phone from Ebola patient, gets infected

As this is my last Pandora Report, it is only appropriate Ebola is mentioned at least once. This story is making the rounds again following it’s use in a promotional AARP blog post (bold move, AARP, bold move). Its moral? Don’t steal things from hospitals. Especially things located in a hospital’s active quarantine zone. Especially things located in a hospital’s active quarantine zone during an Ebola outbreak.

The Daily Monitor (Uganda) – “Security and medical officials in Kibaale District have registered a case in which a man allegedly went in an isolation ward at Kagadi Hospital and stole a cellular phone from one of the Ebola patients…Police detectives began tracking him after he apparently began communicating to his friends using the phone. But as police zeroed in on him, he developed symptoms similar to those of Ebola and sought medication at the hospital…In his confession made to the police, the suspect, now patient, claimed he had visited the isolation ward to give them comfort although he confessed to knowing none in person.”

(image courtesy of NIAID)

H1N1 Deaths on the Rise

From the Washington Post – “The H1N1 virus responsible for the 2009 global pandemic is back. State health officials from across the country say the resurgence is resulting in a dramatic rise in flu deaths in young and middle-aged adults and in children this season. While the reported death tolls so far are only a fraction of what they were four years ago, they are significantly higher than last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the flu has been killing at epidemic levels since mid-January. Graphic Since October, 6,655 Americans were hospitalized with the flu. Click Here to View Full Graphic Story Since October, 6,655 Americans were hospitalized with the flu. With one month to six weeks to go in the flu season, which typically ends in March or April, the CDC said the number of people visiting doctors and hospitals for flu-like symptoms is declining overall, but some states are continuing to see high levels of flu activity or even increases in activity. Although the flu usually disproportionately affects the very old and the very young, this season 60 percent of those hospitalized for influenza have been age 18 to 64.”

Read more here.

Image of the Week: Influenza

For those of you wondering what influenza’s mechanism of infection looks like, please see the below! Hemagglutinin is the H portion, and neuraminidase is the N – H1N1 therefore refers to the H1 hemagglutinin and the N1 neuraminidase. Both are surface glycoproteins responsible for host cell binding.

influenza

(Image: Arizona Department of Health)

Delving Deeper: Everything You Wanted to Know About PHSBPRA (Part Two)

This is Part Two of our series on PHSBPRA – read the first part here.

By Yong-Bee Lim

III. The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness Response Act of 2002: Purpose and Implementation

Part of the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 was meant to build on the precedent of the Patriot Act: the tradition of further defining and narrowing the scope in which individuals and institutions could legitimately have access and possess select biological agents. In fact, the Act greatly expanded upon previous legislation related to the possession, transport, and use of select agents. However, the Act also sought to make many improvements to the public health and emergency preparedness infrastructures.

The Act itself has five core titles. Four of these titles outline a plan to prepare for, respond to, and protect against biological agents. The last title, Title 28, is an additional amendment to the Public Health Services Act. While all of the titles involved in this particular piece of legislation have to do with public health emergency preparedness and bioterrorism, the two titles of greatest importance for this paper are those of Title 1 and Title Two: National Preparedness for Bioterrorism and Other Public Health Emergencies, and Enhancing Controls on Dangerous Biological Agents and Toxins, respectively.[1]

Title 1 of the Act highlights five goals that need to be addressed to achieve better national and public health preparedness. These goals include

  • Goal 1: “Providing effective assistance to state and local governments in the event of bioterrorism or some other public health emergency”
  • Goal 2: “Ensuring that state and local governments have appropriate capacity to detect and respond effectively to emergencies through effective public health surveillance and reporting mechanisms at state and local levels, appropriate laboratory readiness, properly trained and equipped personnel, proper health and safety protection of workers responding to emergencies, efficient coordination of health and mental health services during and after emergencies, and participation in communication networks that can effectively disseminate relevant information in a timely and secure manner to appropriate public and private entities”
  • Goal 3: “Developing and maintaining medical countermeasures (such as drugs, vaccines, and other biological products, medical devices, and other supplies) against biological agents and toxins that may be involved in acts of bioterrorism or other public health emergencies”
  • Goal 4: “Ensuring coordination and minimizing duplication of federal, state, and local planning, preparedness and response activities during investigation of a suspicious disease outbreak or other potential public health emergency”
  • Goal 5: “Enhancing the readiness of hospitals and other health care facilities to respond effectively to various types of emergencies”[2]

Title 2 of the Act gets more into fundamentally defining, expanding, and enhancing legal and accountability structures for select agents. This Title mandates:

  • “The formation of lists of biological agents and toxins that have the potential to pose severe threats to the public’s health and safety by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA)”
  • “The promulgation of regulations by HHS and USDA in establishing safety measures for select agents including proper training and appropriate skills to handle select agents and proper laboratory facilities to contain and dispose of the agents; the security of select agents to prevent their use in domestic and international terrorism; procedures to protect the public safety in the event of the transfer of such materials in violation of the act; and ensure the availability of biological agents and toxins for research, education and other legitimate purposes”
  • “The promulgation of regulations by HHS and USDA for the possession, use, and transfer of select agents, registration of individuals including provisions to ensure that persons register have a lawful purpose to possess, use, and transport the agents; and procedures to identify and characterize the agents held at a facility”
  • “Prompt notification of the release of a select agent outside the biocontainment area”
  • “The promulgation of regulations by HHS and USDA to ensure that appropriate ssafeguards and security arrangements for persons possession, using, or transferring the agents exist at a facility. Registered persons shall have their names and other identifying information submitted to the Department of Justice (DOJ). Access shall be denied to those identified as restrict persons; access shall be granted to only those individuals identified by the Secretaries of HHS, USDA, and DOJ; the DOJ shall use criminal, immigration, national security and other electronic databases to determine if a person is a restricted person or otherwise suspected of committing a crime, being involved in an organization that engages in domestic or international terrorism, or being an agent of a foreign power”
  • “That DOJ establishes penalties for violation of the Act”[3]

As seen in the act, a number of agencies are required to work independently, as well as in concert, to effectively implement the PHSBPRA. One such agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was originally crafted in November 2002 following the reorganization of 22 disparate Federal agencies. DHS’s mission is primarily responsible for protecting the nation and managing national emergency preparedness. Current manifestations of DHS’s role within the structure of the PHSBPRA includes Management Direct (MD) 026-03, which entrusts “the Undersecretary for Science and Technology at DHS with the responsibility of ensuring the proper implementation of and compliance with the statues and related regulations for the safeguard of select agents and toxins in activities conducted or sponsored by DHS.”[4]

Another key agency in the PHSBPRA is the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This agency, which had already been in existence, was designated as the primary federal agency responsible for implementing activities relating to public health and hospital emergency preparedness. To this end, HHS led itself and its partners to gradually move from a threat-based to an all-hazards approach of emergency preparedness.[5] In addition, the Bioterrorism Act vested new authorities concerning food safety and security within the domain of HHS. Intiatives such as the Strategic Partnership Program Initiative promoted collaboration between federal, state, and industry partners through the use of a vulnerability assessment tool to identify sector-wide vulnerabilities involving food security.[6]


Yong-Bee Lim is a PhD student in Biodefense at George Mason University. He holds a B.S. in Psychology and an M.S. in Biodefense from George Mason University as well. Contact him at ylim3@masonlive.gmu.edu or on Twitter @yblim3.

[1] “Bill Text: 107th Congress (2001 – 2002): HR 3448.ENR,” The Library of Congress (Thomas), accessed 01/16/2014, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?c107:1:./temp/~c107EKVknu:e947:

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “MD Number 026-03: Select Agent and Toxin Security,” Department of Homeland Security: Directives System, accessed on 01/16/2014, http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/foia/mgmt-directive-026-03-select-agent-and-toxin-security.pdf

[5] Secretary of HHS, Michael O. Leavitt, “On HHS Bioterrorism and Public Health Emergency Preparedness before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions,” Testimony for the United States Senate at Washington, DC, March 16, 2006.

[6] Ibid.

The Pandora Report 2.14.14

Highlights include H7N9 in Hong Kong, H5N1, a new case of MERS, and a new global initiative to counter infectious diseases. Happy Friday, stay warm, and Happy Valentine’s day!

Hong Kong Reports Fifth H7N9 Bird Flu Case

We wrote earlier this week about the H7N9 case in Malaysia, in which a Chinese tourist brought the virus to Malaysia. Hong Kong has since reported its fifth case of the virus. The patient is a 65 year old male with underlying medical conditions.  Tensions are understandably running high in the area, with Chinese authorities recently arresting a man for spreading false rumors about the virus.

Naharnet – “Preliminary investigations showed the man had traveled to the neighboring Chinese province of Guangdong from January 24 to February 9, and had purchased a slaughtered chicken in the village near his residence on January 29. Seven family members had remained asymptomatic, with five classified as close contacts to be admitted to hospital for observation and testing. Hong Kong late last month slaughtered 20,000 chickens after the deadly H7N9 bird flu virus was found in poultry imported from Guangdong. Fears over avian flu have grown following the deaths of three men from the H7N9 strain in the city. All had recently returned from mainland China.”

Canadian who died from H5N1 flu might have caught it in illegal bird market
It is thought the Canadian who contracted H5N1 became infected after passing through an illegal live poultry market in Beijing. Such markets have been banned in the city since 2005 – local demand for fresh poultry, however, has caused a thriving illicit industry to spring up.

CBC – “The source of the woman’s infection has been a mystery; she spent her entire trip in Beijing, where H5N1 reportedly hasn’t been discovered for some time, and her travelling companion said she did not have contact with live birds while there. But scientists from Beijing’s Centre for Disease Prevention and Control are hypothesizing that illegal live bird markets may have been the source of the woman’s infection.”

Camel-owner in Abu Dhabi in intensive care after contracting MERS virus
A camel-owner in the UAE has presented with MERS, giving further credence to the theory of camels as potential hosts. The 67-year old man had previously existing medical conditions, becoming symptomatic on January 20th.  There have been 182 laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus to date, with 79 deaths.

The National – “A camel owner in the emirate has become the latest person to be infected with the Mers coronavirus. The Emirati, 66, is in intensive care after complaining of respiratory problems and was found to have contracted the virus, it was confirmed on Thursday…He owns camels in the UAE and had recently travelled to Oman where he was in contact with other beasts, the World Health Organisation says.”

U.S. launches new global initiative to prevent infectious disease threats
Working with WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health, the US launched a new global initiative to help countering emerging infectious diseases. Speaking about the threat of emergent infectious diseases, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen , “A threat anywhere is indeed a threat everywhere”.

Washington Post – “Faced with what they describe as a perfect storm of converging threats from infectious-disease epidemics, U.S. officials launched a global effort Thursday with more than two dozen countries and international organizations to prevent deadly outbreaks from spreading. The goal is to prevent, detect and respond to infectious-disease threats where they start. That’s more effective and less costly than treating sick people after diseases spread. The new initiative is intended to bolster security at infectious-disease laboratories, streng-then immunization programs and set up emergency-response centers that can react to outbreaks within two hours.”

First H7N9 Case Outside of China

The first case of H7N9 detected outside of China has been detected in Malaysia. A Chinese tourist in the country fell ill and has subsequently been stabilized in a local hospital.

From The Star (Malaysia) – “The Health Ministry has confirmed the first Influenza A (H7N9) case in the country, involving a female tourist from China. The import case involves a 67-year-old Chinese woman, who had travelled from Guangdong, China, to Kuala Lumpur on Feb 4. The woman went to Sandakan, Sabah the next day before going on to Kota Kinabalu on Feb 6. ‘The woman was referred to a private hospital in Kota Kinabalu on Feb 7, and (after two screenings) on Feb 11, the sample tested positive for the Influenza A (H7N9) virus. She is currently receiving treatment in the ICU, put on ventilator and is in a stable condition,’ Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam said in a press conference, here, Wednesday. Dr Subramaniam stressed that there was no cause for panic over the matter as the risk for human transmission of H7N9 is ‘very low’.”

 

Image of the Week: Hantavirus!

This week in viral wallpaper, we’d like to present…Hantavirus!

hantavirus

Image and caption from  the CDC: “This image reveals some of the cytoarchitectural features seen in a lymph node specimen that had been extracted from a patient suspected of a Hantavirus illness. Note the concentration of lymphohistiocytic infiltrates, almost all cases have expanded paracortical regions, or T-cell regions with immunoblasts, which sometimes extend into the cortex and into the medulla.”