My apologies for no update last week, I had to make an unexpected, emergency, work-related trip to Dulles Airport, my old stomping grounds. But everything is under control and we’re back at it, covering stories from the past two weeks. Fittingly, we start off with airport screening, and also cover the Black Death, chemical weapons in Libya, Ebola, and other stories you may have missed.
Have a great week and stay safe in the weather out there!
Airport Screening for Viruses Misses Half of Infected Travelers
A team led by UCLA researchers has found that airport screening—for viruses like H1N1 and Ebola—misses at least half of infected travelers. The team found that no more than 25% of passengers answered honestly about their exposure to influenza in 2009 and that some may have been able to hide symptoms by taking over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen. Timing of the screening may impact detection ability, too.
Science 2.0—“‘We found that for diseases with a long incubation period, such as Marburg and Ebola, taking passenger’s temperature to test for fever is particularly ineffective at the start of the epidemic but does pick up more cases as the epidemic stabilizes,” said Katelyn Gostic, a lead author of the study and a UCLA doctoral student in the laboratory of Professor James Lloyd-Smith. “With diseases such as swine flu, which take a shorter time to incubate, fever screening is the most effective method throughout an epidemic.’”
Plague Pandemic May Have Been Driven by Climate, Not Rats
Rats may have been incorrectly receiving centuries of blame for European plague, or Black Death. According to Nils Stenseth, of the University of Oslo, the introduction, and re-introduction, of the disease to Europe may have been caused by Asian climate events. Additionally, black rats where rare in Northern Europe, so the likely rodent culprit may have actually been gerbils. Moreover, the plague is not naturally found in Europe, but it is endemic in Asia in the rodents that live there. However, when the climate becomes warmer and wetter, rodent numbers drop and the fleas seek out alternative hosts, like domestic animals and humans.
Smithsonian—“The scientists will need more data to prove that Asian climate was responsible for all the reintroductions of plague to Europe. For instance, analysis of plague DNA from European victims who died at different time periods could strengthen the link between climate and outbreaks. “If our theory of climate-driven successive reintroductions is correct, we would expect to find great genetic bacterial variation between plague victims across time,” Stenseth explains. If the bacteria had instead come from a single introduction, there would be less genetic variation in the pathogen’s DNA, even when taken from victims from different times and locations.”
ISIS Chemical Weapons Libya: Military Warns Islamic State Might Have Mustard Gas, Sarin
Islamic State fighters in Libya have allegedly seized large amounts of chemical weapons including mustard gas and Sarin that reportedly belonged to the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. Last year, though, Libyan officials said they destroyed the last known stockpile from Gadhafi’s regime.
International Business Times—“The weapons are likely 10 years old and in a degraded state, but remain dangerous, former British Army officer Hamish de Bretton-Gordon told The Daily Mail Sunday. “While we don’t know how much IS has acquired, and though the Libyan Sarin dates back to the Gadhafi era, it would still have a toxicity and pose a danger,” he said. “Libya is virtually Europe and so the fear factor from a European perspective is huge. I should think the security forces will be watching this situation very closely.’”
This Week in Ebola
It’s been awhile since an Ebola update, but there was some good news worthy of coverage as schools re-opened in Liberia on February 16, as a sign that life is starting to return to normal. Countries are still keeping an eye out for the virus, including, inexplicably, North Korea, who has banned foreign runners from their April marathon (yes, that is actually a thing!) A piece appeared in the Journal of the American Society of Microbiology that indicated it is “very likely that at least some degree of Ebola virus transmission currently occurs via infectious aerosols generated from the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract, or medical procedures.” However, there is some good news including a new product, similar to hand sanitizer, that can kill bacteria and viruses within 15 second of application and can work for up to six hours and a rapid diagnostic test for both Ebola and Dengue. Lastly, it wouldn’t be an Ebola update without a questionable article—this one is about a Baltimore wedding gown designer who went to New York Fashion with an Ebola suit. Sigh.
Stories You May Have Missed
- Former head of the South African bioweapons program—known as Project Coast—Wouter Basson, has once again evaded sentencing. Dr. Basson, who currently works as a cardiologist in Capetown, was found guilty in 2013 of “acting unprofessionally” as the director of the biological and chemical warfare unit.
- RiVax, Soligenix’s ricin vaccine, has demonstrated success in early studies involving nonhuman primates. Subjects that received three doses of RiVax produced antibodies that prevented symptoms when exposed to the agent.
- Did you enjoy Contagion as much as I did? Then maybe Resistance will be equally as interesting!
- The measles outbreak in the U.S. has brought about discussion of the importance of vaccines. In Germany, their measles outbreak—the worst in decades—has brought about calls for mandatory vaccination.
- This story made the rounds this week and may be helpful for your summer vacation planning. The International Health Risk Map outlines the world’s safest and most dangerous places for health care.
- The WHO warns of a predicted cholera outbreak in Syria where other water-borne diseases are on the rise due to poor sanitation.
- Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) which kills up to half the patients who contract them, made headlines after seven patients at a Los Angeles hospital caught CRE after routine endoscopic treatments.
- More than 11,000 cases of H1N1 have been reported in India since mid-December. The flu outbreak has resulted in more than 700 deaths.
Image Credit: Micah Sittig