Pandora Report 10.30.2015

The witching hour is upon us! Halloween is tomorrow and with that we must ask, how good are your zombie fighting skills? Good news if you’re in Arlington, VA, as it’s considered one of the top ten cities to survive the zombie apocalypse – good thing GMU has a campus there (we biodefense folks are the ultimate planners!). This week was busy with the release of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense’s National Report. I was able to attend the panel event, so read on for my comments and your weekly dose of biodefense news!

DSC_3586GMU Biodefense Program News & Alumni 
We’ve added a new page to salute our biodefense alumni and all that they do with their GMU education. GMU Biodefense students have a diverse background in their education, experiences, and interests, and we absolutely love getting to brag about all the amazing things they accomplish after their studies. Whether it’s a new publication or an award, we hope to pass along their accolades, so please check out our new page to see how GMU Biodefense alumni are contributing to the world of global health security!

12111966_10104338304988922_3051154411712634566_n-1Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense Releases Report– I had the pleasure of attending the Blue Ribbon panel on Wednesday, in which they reviewed their report, “A National Blueprint for Biodefense: Leadership and Major Reform Needed to Optimize Efforts”. The panel event saw Senator Joe Lieberman, former Governor Tom Ridge, and former Homeland Security Advisor, Kenneth L. Wainstein, discuss the challenges of biodefense, the report, and answer several questions regarding their findings. The report is comprised of 33 recommendations that range from unification of biodefense budgeting to optimizing the National Biosurveillance Integration System and to improving surveillance and planning for animal and zoonotic outbreaks. Along with these 33 recommendations, there are 100 action items. Perhaps one of the biggest take-aways from the report is the recommendation that the Office of the Vice President of the US assume authority over biodefense efforts. There is heavy emphasis on a unified budget and centralization to combat the redundancy and current siloing we see in existing programs.  Senator Lieberman discussed the role of the research and private sector’s involvement, with former Gov. Ridge noting that “we need to start thinking differently about how we incentivize the private sector.” The panel discussed that despite our past efforts, the Ebola outbreak in 2014 showed that the “threat is real, lets not wait for it to occur” and as former Gov. Ridge noted, “we don’t give bioweapon threats the attention they need. The threat is ahead of us.” Senator Lieberman commented on the Ebola situation,  noting that our response was dismal and despite 10 months of warning, basic human errors led to a failure in providing hospitals with general guidelines. Whether it is an intentional bioweapons attack, outbreak of an emerging infectious disease, or unintentional, accidental release due to lab safety errors, the panel’s goal of having centralized leadership reveals the complex nature of these challenges. Also, did I mention that they included infection control in their guidelines (#18)?! Overall, I found the event highly engaging and was pleased to hear the panel members approach these topics with not only a sense of urgency, but a holistic manner to meet the challenges of biodefense.

Jump Start – Accelerating Government Response to A National Biological Crisis
UPMC Center for Health Security has released their July 2015 report that “examines a scenario in which the US is suddenly faced with a newly emerged intentional biological threat that could produce catastrophic public health consequences and threaten our economy, government, and social structure.” The report reviews governance, public health response, medical countermeasures, healthcare system response, decontamination and remediation, and environmental detection, while making recommendations. Utilizing published literature and subject matter expert interviews, the Jump Start report scenario occurs in central Moscow subway stations and Red Square. It discusses responses in a post-Amerithrax world and highlights the need to stop the spread of infectious diseases while emphasizing that in a similar scenario, the US government should push out table-top exercises at a national level to test readiness to biothreats. The role of healthcare infrastructure and capacity comes into play, highlighting the limitations that diagnostic testing plays – even if the solutions aren’t available. I’d be curious to see a more detailed analysis of how we approach novel agents and the time-lag this can often cause in diagnosis. Also – what would be the ethical dilemmas regarding invasive medical treatments for a novel agent? Medical ethics became a very real issue during Ebola preparedness (perhaps not as well discussed in media circuits) as the invasive care capabilities of healthcare professionals in the US correlates with increasing risk for disease transmission.

White House Calls for Better Biosafety –  As fallout from several lab safety breaches, the White House issued recommendations that focus on labs that are registered to work with pathogens from the Select Agents list. Ranging from increased training to assessing the number of high containment labs we have in the US, this memo, with a deadline for the recommendations, sets the tone for change when it comes to biosafety.

Saudi Arabi MERS Cluster – reports from Saudi Arabi’s Ministry of Health have confirmed a healthcare-associated cluster of MERS-CoV cases that involved seven individuals. The initial patient was seen in the emergency department of Almana General Hospital, with five other patients exposed in the hospital, and an additional case that is believed to not have had a healthcare exposure. All patients are under observation in the King Fahad Hospital. One of the patients is reported to be a nurse. In previous weeks, there was a cluster of cases related to janitors living together in Riyadh.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) has approved a $33.3 million grant towards a Post Ebola Recovery Social Investment Fund (PERSIF) for efforts in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The US State Department is contributing a $5 million grant towards this to help support livelihood development for women, girls, and orphans from the affected countries. The goal is to build resilience in the affected countries and strengthen the economic systems while improving governance and communication.
  • Nigeria was just removed from the WHO’s list of polio-endemic countries! After halting the spread of wild poliovirus transmission during a 15 month period, Nigeria was declared free of the disease! The WHO is continuing to work on the remaining two polio-endemic countries; Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Three more cases of Ebola in Guinea were reported this week. The three patients are all family members, with one being a pregnant woman. Guinea experienced several cases last week while Liberia has been EVD-free since September 3rd and Sierra Leone just passed their six week mark without a new case.
  • The WHO announces that TB surpassed HIV as the leading cause of death from infectious disease in 2014. Better surveillance enabled global public health teams to identify new cases. In Indonesia alone, there were one million new cases reported this year. The WHO notes that while surveillance efforts are revealing new cases, progress is still insufficient, especially in regards to drug resistance.

 

Pandora Report 10.16.2015

What a busy week in the world of biodefense! First, let’s give a round of applause for Global Handwashing Day (and now, go wash your hands!). This week we saw a nurse from the UK experience Ebola-associated complications months after her recovery. The CDC released a report stating that 17 states exceeded their recommendations for Ebola screening/monitoring and a recent study discussed vaccination rates and herd immunity. Let’s not forget that we’ve got another segment on 2016 Presidential candidate chatter on nonproliferation, a call for papers, and an open house on GMU’s Master’s program. Grab your morning coffee/tea and let’s explore this week’s biodefense news!

Global Handwashing Day 
Global Handwashing Day was Thursday, October 15th, but really we should be celebrating it every day! It may seem like a simple thing but the truth is that hand hygiene is one of the most important things you can do to prevent the spread of infection. Whether it’s a hospital-acquired infection or avoiding illness in the workplace, hand hygiene is the first line of defense. The WHO estimates that hand hygiene, just in healthcare, saved millions of lives in the last years. The CDC even calls it the “do-it-yourself” vaccine – five simple steps (wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry) to help prevent the spread of infections. Many people think it’s a small or “easy” thing, but coming from an infection preventionist, it’s the small things that make the biggest difference. You’d be surprised how many organisms we carry around on our hands and on fomites, so using alcohol-based hand sanitizer or washing with soap and water is the only way to get rid of those. University of Arizona professor, Dr. Gerba, (we lovingly referred to him as Dr. Germ – funny enough, he even gave one of his children the middle name of Escherichia!) has focussed much of his research on the household and public objects we may not realize are covered in germs. Perhaps the most important take-away from Global Handwashing Day isn’t just its importance in healthcare, but its role as an important part of disease prevention everywhere. In the U.S.  we’re fortunate to have access to the resources that allow us to have phenomenal hand hygiene practices however, it’s the behavior we tend to fall short on. From today forward, I encourage you to make a personal decision to be vigilant in hand hygiene.

Last Call for Papers – Women’s Health in Global Perspective!
Papers sought for a special issue and workshop of World Medical & Health Policy on “Women’s Health in Global Perspective,” to contribute to understanding and improve policy related to women’s health and wellbeing.  Forces ranging from the economic to the climactic have human repercussions whose genesis and solutions demand consideration of their global context.  A wealth of recent research and inquiry has considered the particular plight of women, who often suffer disproportionately from lack of education, compromised nutrition, poverty, violence and lack of job opportunities and personal freedom.  The Workshop on Women’s Health in Global Perspective will consider the broad ranging social determinants of health on a global scale that importantly influence health outcomes for women everywhere, which in turn has implications for economic, political and social development.
Abstract submission deadline (250 words): October 16, 2015 Contact: Bonnie Stabile, Deputy Editor, bstabile@gmu.edu
Notification of selected abstracts: November 13, 2015

Presidential Candidates on Nonproliferation Part II
GMU’s Greg Mercer has put together a wonderful second part to his series on one of our favorite topics (nonproliferation) and what the 2016 presidential candidates are saying about it. Check out Greg’s review of these candidates’ stance so we can track how they might change over the course of the election.

west-africa-distribution-map
Source: CDC

Updates and Mapping Ebola
BBC recently published a nice overview of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Since the first case 18 months ago, it has been a whirlwind, in more ways than one, for those of us in the public health/global health security world. Cheerfully, the outbreak region has officially gone two weeks without a new case! Unfortunately, Pauline Cafferkey, the Scottish nurse who was treated and recovered from Ebola in December of 2014, is in critical condition due to a late Ebola-related complication. It was just released that her complications are neurological, including severe central nervous system (CNS) disorder and that the virus was detected in her spinal fluid. Scottish public health officials did identify 58 close contacts and offered them the SV-EBOV vaccine.

Master’s Open House
Learn more about the GMU School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs Masters’ programs on Wednesday, October 21, 2015 at 6:30pm at our Arlington Campus, Founders Hall, Room 126. This informational sessional will discuss our Master’s programs ranging from Public Administration, Biodefense, Political Science, Health and Medical Policy, etc.

Imported Measles and Need for Vaccination –This past week at the IDWeek 2015 meeting, scientists reported on a study reviewing measles vaccination rates in the US and susceptible children in relation to the number of measles cases that have occurred. They noted, “this analysis highlights the need for high measles vaccination coverage to support population-level immunity and prevent reestablishment of indigenous measles transmission in the United States.” The Daily Beast also incorporated this into an article on diminishing herd immunity and anti-vaxxers.

Avian Influenza Vaccine Added to National Veterinary Stockpile
APHIS (United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services) awarded contracts to two companies to ensure manufacturing of the vaccine for avian influenza. The goal is to strengthen the Agency National Veterinary Stockpile. “This action is being taken to develop the Agency’s National Veterinary Stockpile., and does not signal a decision to vaccinate for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). While APHIS has not approved the use of vaccine to respond to HPAI, the Agency is preparing to ensure that vaccine is available should the decision be made to use it during a future outbreak.”

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • International Infection Prevention Week is next week! October 18-24, 2015 will celebrate the importance of infection prevention and control in healthcare. Let’s celebrate by not just washing our hands, but also considering all the small ways we can prevent the spread of germs in our homes and workplaces!
  • Salmonella Cucumber Outbreak – The CDC has released new data on the Salmonella Poona outbreak related to imported Mexican cucumbers. As of October 14th, there have been 757 people infected across 36 states and 4 deaths related to the outbreak.
  • DHS Wants to Revive Terrorism Alert System – In wake of the attacks in Chattanooga, President Obama’s security officials are initiating a review of the nation’s terrorism alert system to support what many consider a growing threat of domestic attacks. DHS wishes to revise and restart the National Terrorism Alert System to better respond to these evolving attacks.

Pandora Report 9.11.15

Miss us? Good news – the Pandora Report weekly update is back! With a new school year comes new faces and some organizational change-up. Dr. Gregory Koblentz is now the Senior Editor of Pandora Report and Saskia Popescu (yours truly) will be taking over from Julia Homstad as the Managing Editor. I come from the world of epidemiology, public health, and infection control. Having just started in the GMU Biodefense PhD program, I look forward to venturing down the rabbit hole that is the Pandora Report!

There’s been some pretty fascinating news over the past few weeks, so let’s try and catch up…

Lab Safety Concerns Grow 

Our very own Dr. Gregory Koblentz, director of the GMU Biodefense program, was interviewed by USA Today regarding the lab security issues that now involve mislabeled samples of plague. “Since there are now concerns about the biosafety practices at multiple DoD labs there needs to be an independent review of the military’s biosafety policies and practices,” Koblentz said Thursday. He said the Critical Reagents Program is an important biodefense resource. “It’s crucial that all problems with handling and shipping inactivated samples be resolved quickly so the program can resume its important role in strengthening U.S. biopreparedness.”

Reviving a 30,000-Year-Old Virus…Isn’t This How the Zombie Apocalypse Starts?

You may recall last year that French scientists stumbled across a 30,000-year-old virus frozen in the Siberian permafrost. Considered to be a “giant virus” (doesn’t that give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside?), this is actually the fourth ancient, giant viral discovery since 2003. The new plan is to try to revive the virus in order to better study it.

Dr. Claverie told Agency France-Presse, “If we are not careful, and we industrialise these areas without putting safeguards in place, we run the risk of one day waking up viruses such as smallpox that we though were eradicated.” Given the recent concerns over biosafety lab specimen transport, we’re all curious to see how this new organism, coined “Frankenvirus”, turns out!

Cucumbers and A Multi-State Salmonella Outbreak

CDC updates regarding the Salmonella Poona outbreak reveal the brevity of the potentially contaminated product. As of September 9th, there have been two deaths, 70 hospitalizations, and 341 confirmed cases across 30 states. Perhaps the most worrisome is that 53% of affected individuals are children under the age of 18. While the produce company, Andrew & Williamson, issued a voluntary recall of their “slicer” or “American cucumber on September 4th, there have been 56 additional cases reported since then. Isolated samples from cucumbers in question were found in Arizona, California, Montana, and Nevada. The California Department of Public Health issued a warning and pictures of the affected cucumbers. 

Stories You May Have Missed:

Pandora Report 8.23.15

We’re starting this update with some big blog news, are you sitting down? This will actually be the last weekend update…at least for a while. We’re in discussion with how to proceed with the blog and social media for GMU Biodefense. Please check back at pandorareport.org and on twitter @PandoraReport for updates as they happen.

Looking back, there have been times since I’ve started as managing editor that the news has been sad, or, frankly, downright depressing. So, for this edition, lets focus on some of the good in the world. The first story comes from (probably the nicest human on the face of the Earth) Jimmy Carter. We’ve also got good news about Polio. Then, of course, we’ve got stories you may have missed.

Thank you for reading… and don’t forget to wash your hands!

Jimmy Carter Wants to See the Last Guinea Worm Die Before He Does

This week, former President Jimmy Carter announced that his cancer had spread to his brain. Though many members of his immediate family died from cancer, Carter said “I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes.” Rather than fear or sadness over his diagnosis, Carter instead focused on meeting one of the long-term goals of his nonprofit organization—the Carter Center—the eradication of Guinea worm. In 1986 when the Carter Center began its work there were 3.5 million cases of across 21 countries. In 2014 there were 126 cases; today, there are 11.

The Huffington Post—“When Guinea worm has been eradicated, it will be only the second time in human history that a disease has been totally wiped out. The first, smallpox, was eradicated in 1977, according to the World Health Organization. Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that Guinea worm will meet the same fate — a final piece in Carter’s legacy.”

WHO Declares Africa Free of ‘Wild’ Cases of Polio

According to the World Health Organization, Africa has been free of wild cases of Polio since July. This doesn’t mean that there are no cases on the continent; there is still ongoing work in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia, but transmission of the illness has been interrupted. The director of the Polio Global Eradication Initiative has said that even though Africa is now free of wild cases, there are still challenges when it comes to eradication, for example, surveillance of the disease.

io9—“The goal of the Initiative has been to interrupt the natural transmission (wild cases) of the virus, which seems to be the case so far. The next step, according to WHO, will be to continue to monitor the region for additional cases. If none appear in the next two years, the continent will be certified Polio-Free.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Commonwealth Club

New from the Biodefense Faculty

On this #FacultyFriday, we’ve got a recent publication from Dr. Trevor Thrall and Pandora Report staff writer Erik Goepner on the fall of Ramadi. They say,

Though a city of moderate strategic value considering its proximity to Fallujah and Baghdad, Ramadi does not spell victory for ISIS anymore than Iraq’s retaking of Tikrit from the insurgents spelled defeat for ISIS (despite suggestions to the contrary from the Obama administration). The battle for Iraq will depend on the ability of the Iraqi government to mobilize enough effective fighting power to stop the ISIS expansion. Unfortunately for Iraq, despite over a decade of U.S. investment in training and equipment, Iraq’s military appears incapable of mustering consistent fighting effectiveness to deal a decisive blow to ISIS on the battlefield.

Their entire piece is available on The National Review, here.

LAST DAY: SUMMER COURSE EARLY REGISTRATION

The early registration discount for the professional education summer course Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security (July 22-24 in Arlington, VA) expires today, May 15, 2015. 


This three-day, non-credit course introduces participants to the challenges facing the world at the intersection of public health, the life sciences, and national security. The course is designed for professionals and academics in public health, life sciences, industry, international affairs, emergency management, law enforcement, and national security who have responsibilities for preventing, preparing for, or responding to pandemics or bioterrorism. The course faculty are internationally recognized experts who have been extensively involved with research and policymaking on public health, biodefense and national security issues.

Sign up by May 15 for a discounted registration rate. Discounts are also available for GMU alum and groups of three or more from the same organization. For more information and to register, visit ocpe.gmu.edu/PBIS.htm

New From The Biodefense Faculty

On this #FacultyFriday, we’ve got recent publications from two George Mason Biodefense faculty members.


Dr. Gregory Koblentz looks at America’s next big nuclear challenge from Iran.

The April 2 framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran fails to address an important risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Through a combination of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities and facilities and more intrusive verification mechanisms, the framework adequately addresses two major risks posed by Iran’s nuclear program—breakout and sneakout. The framework, however, completely ignores the risk of leakout: the proliferation of nuclear technology and expertise from Iran to other countries. Iran, once the recipient of foreign nuclear assistance, is now poised to provide that assistance, either deliberately or through unauthorized acts by scientists or companies, to other countries.

His entire piece in The National Interest can be found here.


Dr. Trevor Thrall (and Pandora Report staff writer Erik Goepner) make the case against ground engagement with the Islamic State.

The most common argument made by hawks for U.S. engagement is to prevent future Islamic State-sponsored terrorism against the U.S. homeland. Our track record on homeland security since 9/11, however, reveals that a ground war is unnecessary. In the 13 years before 9/11, Islamist-inspired groups launched five attacks on U.S. soil. In the same period since 9/11, just four attacks have been carried out in the U.S. despite the rapid rise in Islamist mobilization and growth in global terrorism. From 2000 to 2013, the number of Islamic-inspired terrorist groups on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations spiked 185 percent, while the estimated number of Islamist fighters rose 243 percent. Clearly, the United States’ success at limiting attacks on its homeland has come not from destroying terrorist groups abroad, but through improved intelligence and other homeland security-focused efforts.

Their piece in The Detroit News can be found here.

New from the Biodefense Faculty

On this #FacultyFriday, we’ve got recent publications and appearances from two George Mason Biodefense faculty members.


Dr. Gregory Koblentz appeared on CBC Radio’s The Current to disucuss the recent Canada-India uranium deal. Listen to the whole segment here.


Charles Blair reflects on the Oklahoma City bombing as the 20th anniversary of the event nears.

Often erroneously explained away as psychopathic, Timothy McVeigh actually comported with psychologist and terrorism expert Clark R. McCauley’s finding that, “the best documented generalization is negative; terrorists do not show any striking psychopathology.” Though abhorrent, McVeigh’s actions are certainly intelligible. Examined extensively by psychiatrist John Smith in the months after the attack, McVeigh was judged as sane—“not delusional.” When asked why McVeigh “would commit such a terrible crime,” Smith concluded that “it was a conscious choice on his part, not because he was deranged … or misinterpreting reality … but because he was serious.”

His entire piece in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists can be found here.

New from the Biodefense Faculty

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in their Agree to Disagree roundtable, is hosting a Winter-Safe Deterrence Debate. The premise of the debate follows:

In a recent opinion column for the Bulletin, “Deterrence, without nuclear winter,” Seth Baum argued that the biggest danger posed by world nuclear arsenals is a nuclear winter that could be sparked by even a limited exchange of nuclear weapons. Baum’s piece went on to suggest that “the world’s biggest nuclear powers [might] meet their deterrence needs without keeping the large nuclear arsenals they maintain today. They could practice a winter-safe deterrence, which would rely on weapons that pose no significant risk of nuclear winter.”

Baum’s column and the study from which it draws, “Winter-safe Deterrence: The Risk of Nuclear Winter and Its Challenge to Deterrence,” published in the journal Contemporary Security Policy, have been vigorously disputed in social media. In this roundtable, security experts Gregory Koblentz, Martin Furmanski, Brett Edwards, Gigi Kwik Gronvall, and Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley and Baum debate his column and winter-safe deterrence ideas in more depth.

GMU Biodefense Faculty members Gregory Koblentz and Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley have each offered two replies in the debate which are available here and here for Koblentz and here and here for Ouagrham-Gormley.

All replies in the debate are available here.

GMU Biodefense Published

Dr. Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, Associate Professor in the George Mason Graduate Program in Biodefense, has published a new book, Barriers to Bioweapons: The Challenges of Expertise and Organization for Weapons Development.

The New Scientist has reviewed it, and this is just one of the wonderful things they had to say:

Her fascinating book, Barriers to Bioweapons, also shows that anyone wanting to develop biological weapons faces a raft of other difficulties. Of the five main bioweapons programmes to date, their key feature has been their failures, not their successes. In a forensic and compelling analysis, she describes how the Soviet Union, the US, South Africa and the Japanese terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo, all fell well short, despite spending billions of dollars over decades

Click here to read the whole review or click here to purchase the book online.