Pandora Report 8.9.15

My apologies for lack of update last weekend…but that means a SUPER UPDATE this weekend! This week marked the 70th anniversary of atomic bombs being dropped in Japan. Rather than find an insufficient story that attempted to address the gravity of that event, we’re focusing on a successful Ebola vaccine trial, UN consensus on Syrian chemical weapons, and airplane bathrooms (because I can’t help myself when I see a story like that!) We’ve also got stories you may have missed.

Have a great week!

Vaccine Success Holds Hope for End to Deadly Scourge of Ebola

Some great news from West Africa: an Ebola vaccine trial in Guinea has returned results that are 100% effective. 4,000 people who had been in close contact with a confirmed Ebola case showed complete protection after ten days. A ring vaccination strategy—where those who have close contact with an infected person—was used, and after success was demonstrated, the vaccine is now being extended to 13-17 year olds, and possibly 6-12 year old children.

Reuters—“The success of the Guinea trial is a big relief for researchers, many of whom feared a sharp decline in cases this year would scupper their hopes of proving a vaccine could work. Another major trial in Liberia, which had aimed to recruit some 28,000 subjects, had to stop enrolling after only reaching its mid-stage target of 1,500 participants. Plans for testing in Sierra Leone were also scaled back. That left the study in Guinea, where Ebola is still infecting new victims, as the only real hope for demonstrating the efficacy of a vaccine.”

U.N. Approves Resolution on Syria Chemical Weapons

The UN Security Council unanimously—yes, even Russia—adopted a resolution aimed at identifying those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria over the past two years. The resolution established an investigative body that would assign blame for the attacks “so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice.”

Salt Lake Tribune—“‘Pointing a finger matters,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the council. “This sends a clear and powerful message to all those involved in chemical weapons attacks in Syria that the [new investigative body] will identify you if you gas people.” But she added that prosecuting perpetrators will take time because there is still no tribunal to investigate alleged crimes during the war in Syria, which has killed at least 250,000 people since it began in March 2011, according to the U.N.”

Airplane Toilets Can Help Researchers Find Disease Outbreaks

A recent study in Scientific Reports finds that researchers can tell what continent you’re from and give early indication of disease outbreaks, all from the poop left in airplanes. (I think this is the first time I’ve been able to say “poop” here on the blog.) The researchers gathered samples from 18 airplanes that departed from nine cities and landed in Copenhagen and were able to identify continental trends. Microbes from Southeast Asia had higher incidence of antibiotic resistance; food transmitted microbes were also more frequent in the Southeast Asian samples; and C. diff was much more common in the North American samples.

Popular Science—“These findings led the researchers to believe that they could start to create a typical microbiome for each continent. And any big shifts that happen in their makeup—say, the concentration of C. diff rises dramatically in samples from Southeast Asia—could indicate a growing public health issue. If it’s caught early enough, public health officials could take preventative action.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: CDC Global

Pandora Report 6.28.15

It was a big week, right? The Supreme Court was making declarations and in California the General Assembly was making some decisions of their own. We’ve got the mandate for childhood vaccines in California, World War II chemical weapons testing, and other stories you may have missed.

There will be no news round up next week, in honor of one of my favorite holidays, Independence Day! I’ll be wearing red, white, and blue, watching July 4th themed movies, and celebrating with all the American spirit I can muster. I wish all of you the same!

See you back here in July!

California Passes Bill to Require Vaccines and Ban Religious Exemptions

On Thursday, the California State Assembly passed SB 277, which mandates that children attending day care or public school must be vaccinated. The bill eliminated personal-belief and religious exemptions. Largely, this bill was in response to the outbreak of measles that began at Disneyland last year. Children who cannot receive vaccinations for medical reasons can still receive the vaccine exemption. Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign the bill into law.

Slate—“The New York Times quoted Christina Hildebrand, the founder of A Voice for Choice, a nonprofit organization that has lobbied against the bill, about her unsuccessful campaign to stop this legislation, “There are large numbers of parents who are very concerned about the fact that we’re going to have mandated medical treatment against a fundamental right to education. Parental freedom is being taken away by this, because the fear of contagion is trumping it.’”

Secret World War II Chemical Experiments Tested Troops by Race

According to documents declassified in the 1990s, the U.S. Army conducted secret chemical weapons tests on minority soldiers in order to determine the effect weapons had on non-white skin. African-American and Puerto Rican soldiers were tested upon to see if their darker pigment made them less susceptible to the weapons. Japanese-Americans were used to determine how the weapons would affect enemy Japanese soldiers. The soldiers were subjected to mustard gas and lewisite and volunteered for the assignment.

NPR—“All of the World War II experiments with mustard gas were done in secret and weren’t recorded on the subjects’ official military records. Most do not have proof of what they went through. They received no follow-up health care or monitoring of any kind. And they were sworn to secrecy about the tests under threat of dishonorable discharge and military prison time, leaving some unable to receive adequate medical treatment for their injuries, because they couldn’t tell doctors what happened to them.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: David Monniaux

Pandora Report 5.24.15

Two quick updates before we get into the weekly wrap-up.

First, the Early Registration Deadline for the Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security professional education course at the GMU Arlington Campus has been extended to June 15. For more information and registration, please click here.

Second, we here at Pandora Report wanted to let you know about a new website designed to provide resources for biosecurity professionals and practitioners and key stakeholders. The International Biosecurity Prevention Forum (IBPF) brings together the world’s leading experts from the health and security communities to share expertise on key biosecurity and bioterrorism prevention issues. Registering to join IBPF is free and easy. Go to http://www.ibpforum.organd click the “Request Membership” button to request an IBPF member account. Members get access to a discussion section and projects, resources, and best practices submitted by other members. Contact the IBPF support team at IBPForum@ic.fbi.gov if you have any questions or problems.

Now, onto the news. This weekend we have stories about British nuclear submarines, anti-vaccine legislation in California, the development of bird flu vaccines, and other stories you may have missed.

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!!

Britain Investigates Sailor’s Disaster Warning Over Nuclear Subs

Able Seaman William McNeilly—a weapons engineer who served aboard HMS Vanguard, one of the four British submarines carrying Trident missiles—wrote a “lengthy dossier” released on the internet which says that the “Trident nuclear defense system was vulnerable both to enemies and to potentially devastating accidents because of safety failures.” McNeilly has since gone AWOL and both police and naval officials are trying to locate him.

The Japan Times—“The Royal Navy said it totally disagreed with McNeilly’s “subjective and unsubstantiated personal views,” describing him as a “very junior sailor.” But it added it was investigating both his claims and the “unauthorized release” of his dossier. “The naval service operates its submarine fleet under the most stringent safety regime and submarines do not go to sea unless they are completely safe to do so,” a spokeswoman said.”

A Blow to Anti-Vaxxers: California Approves Forced Vaccination Bill

By now, we all know that the measles outbreak that started last winter at Disneyland was a result of unvaccinated individuals. In California, the State Senate has passed a bill which limits parent’s use of the “personal belief exemption” in order to get out of getting their children vaccinated. Under the bill, parents who don’t get their children vaccinated would not be able to send their kids to state-licensed schools, nurseries, or day care centers.

State Column—“Only children who have a medical reason for why they can’t be vaccinated would still be allowed to attend schools without receiving their vaccinations under Senate Bill 277, which was sponsored by a California Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacremento), a pediatrician, and Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), a former school board member and the son of a survivor of polio, according to a Forbes report.”

Vaccines Developed for H5N1, H7N9 Avian Flu

Findings appearing in the Journal of Virology indicate that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases have developed a vaccine for both H5N1 and H7N9—two strains of avian influenza which can be transmitted from poultry to humans. The vaccine was developed by cloning the Newcastle disease virus and transplanting a small section of the H5N1 virus into it; the same method was used for the H7N9 vaccine.

Toronto Sun—“‘We believe this Newcastle disease virus concept works very well for poultry because you kill two birds with one stone, metaphorically speaking,” Richt said. “You use only one vector to vaccinate and protect against a selected virus strain of avian influenza.’”

Stories You May Have Missed

  

Image Credit: UK Ministry of Defence

Pandora Report 4.19.15

Sunday has to be the biggest brunch day of the week, so it is only fitting that our lead story looks at the many (delicious and nutritious) uses of maple syrup. We also look at Dengue fever in Brazil, missteps in the U.S. fight against Ebola, and other stories you may have missed.

Once you’re updated, get out there and enjoy the rest of your weekend and the beautiful weather! Have a great week!

Syrup Extract Found to Make Antibiotics More Effective Against Bacteria

It seems like we look at growing antibiotic resistance every week here at Pandora Report. This week, researchers at McGill University in Montreal reported that a “concentrated extract of maple syrup makes disease-causing bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics.” This finding suggests that combining the extract with antibiotics could increase their effectiveness and lead to lower antibiotic usage overall. Honestly, is there anything maple syrup can’t make better?!

Infection Control Today—“‘We would have to do in vivo tests, and eventually clinical trials, before we can say what the effect would be in humans,” [Professor Nathalie] Tufenkji says. “But the findings suggest a potentially simple and effective approach for reducing antibiotic usage. I could see maple syrup extract being incorporated eventually, for example, into the capsules of antibiotics.’”

Brazilian Teams on Alert because of Dengue Fever Outbreak

Brazilian soccer teams are on high alert because of a dengue fever outbreak that has already affected some of the country’s top teams. This week three players were diagnosed with the mosquito borne disease, which normally takes about two weeks to recover from. Players have been forced to use insect repellent during games and practices and health officials have been asked to check fields and training centers for mosquito breeding sites.

USA Today—“Cases of dengue fever have increased significantly across Brazil this year, with most of them reported in Sao Paulo state. Brazil’s health ministry said there have been more than 460,000 cases of the disease in the country in 2015, which accounts for almost 5,000 cases a day. More than 130 people have died so far this year, the ministry said.”

Empty Ebola Clinics in Liberia Are Seen as A Misstep in U.S. Relief Effort

After spending hundreds of millions of dollars and deploying 3,000 U.S. troops to build Ebola treatment centers (E.T.C.) in Liberia, the facilities have largely sat empty. Only 28 Ebola patients have been treated at the 11 E.T.C.s built by the U.S. military. Nine of the centers never had a single Ebola patient. Looking back, the emphasis on building E.T.C.s had far less of an impact than the “inexpensive, nimble measures taken by residents to halt the outbreak.”

The New York Times—“Had the Americans and other donors been more flexible, critics and some officials contend, the money could have been put toward rebuilding Liberia’s shattered health care system—or backing the efforts of local communities—instead of focusing on treatment centers that would scarcely be used.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Dvortygirl

Pandora Report 3.15.15

For those of us at Mason, Spring Break is nearing its end. For the rest of us, however, it’s business as usual. This week we’ve got stories about engineering nuclear worries in South Africa, the eradication of guinea worm, the lasting health impacts of Ebola, and other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week, enjoy the longer daylight hours, and we’ll see you back here next weekend!

U.S. Unease about Nuclear-Weapons Fuel Takes Aim at a South African Vault

Located in a former silver vault at a nuclear research center near Pretoria, South Africa, is enough nuclear weapons explosive to fuel half a dozen bombs. Roughly 485 pounds of highly enriched uranium exist as remnants of the apartheid regime’s nuclear weapons program. U.S. officials worry that not only does this stockpile give South Africa the theoretical ability to regain its status as a nuclear-weapons state, but the stockpile’s vulnerability makes it a target for terrorist thieves. This isn’t a far-fetched concept, because in November 2007 two teams of raiders breached the fences at the nuclear center, entered the site, and broke into the central alarm station. Obama has urged President Jacob Zuma to transform the nuclear explosives into benign reactor fuel—with U.S. assistance—to no avail.

The Washington Post—“‘The bottom line is that South Africa has a crime problem,” [arms control expert Jon] Wolfsthal said. “They have a facility that is holding onto material that they don’t need and a political chip on their shoulder about giving up that material. That has rightly concerned the United States, which is trying to get rid of any cache of HEU [highly enriched uranium] that is still out there.’”

Tug of War: On the Verge of the Greatest Public Health Triumph of the 21st Century

As people work around the world to eradicate Polio, another public health enemy is about to be eliminated first—guinea worm. This parasite, found in rivers and streams, enters the body in larval form through contaminated drinking water. The larvae mature inside the body and move towards the skin’s surface in the form of a burning blister. When the infected human puts water on the blister, the worm bursts out into water, continuing the source infection cycle. However, the number of cases of guinea worm is way down—from 3.5 million cases in 1986 to 126 cases in 2014—thanks to a simple nylon filter attached to a drinking straw. The weave on the nylon is tight enough to filter out the larvae from drinking water.

Slate—“Vanquishing guinea worm would be arguably the first great public health triumph of the 21st century. It would also give new life to the human disease eradication movement, which suffered through 35 mostly frustrating years following the conquest of smallpox in 1980. The victory would prove to governments and private foundations that we can still accomplish eradication.”

Ebola Could Cause Thousands More Deaths—By Ushering in Measles

As Liberia removed their Ebola crematorium—with the declaration that the outbreak is contained—new cases of the disease are still popping up in Sierra Leone and Guinea and have resulted in nearly a dozen American volunteers returning to U.S. facilities for treatment.  And this week, in Science, researchers from NIH and four universities have warned that Ebola’s interruption in other health services—like immunization campaigns—could result in epidemics of preventable diseases with larger fatality numbers than Ebola. Specifically, they warn that up to 100,000 cases of measles could result in 16,000 additional deaths.

Wired—“Measles is already present in West Africa, so the team is not arguing that Ebola will revive an eradicated disease — although, poignantly, hard work in the three countries had recently forced measles incidence way down. “Between 1994 and 2003, the countries reported — and this is just how many they reported, not necessarily how many occurred — about 100,000 cases of measles,” Lessler said. “Whereas in the last decade, they’ve only reported 7,000. So they’ve done an excellent job of controlling the virus compared to the previous (decade).’”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: FEMA

Pandora Report 2.7.15

Whatta week, right?! Let’s jump right in to the stories. We’ve got the Subway, flu forecasting, American chemical weapons, and stories you may have missed.

Have a great weekend and a safe and healthy week!

A Close Look at the Germs Crawling Around the Subway

Every single day I ride the metro to work, and every single day, the first thing I do when I get to the office is wash my hands. And, really, that’s what everyone should be doing. A research team from the Weill Cornell Medical College spent the summer of 2013 swabbing turnstiles, subway poles, kiosks, benches, and other “human penetrated surfaces” in all 466 NYC subway stations.

Gothamist—“And they found quite a few signs of life—15,152 types of DNA, in fact—nearly half of which they identified as bacteria. Shocking!

[They] did manage to find some scary stuff, with E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus (skin infections, respiratory disease and food poisoning), Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), and even Yersinia pestis, which is associated with the bubonic plague, popping up in some swabs. Nearly all the stations harbored an antibiotic resistant bacteria called Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, one that often causes respiratory infections in hospitals.”

Forecasts May Soon Predict Flu Patterns

What if we could predict the flu like we predict the weather? That is what teams of researchers are looking at; devising and testing methods to predict the start, peak, and end of flu season. How will they do this? By combining data from the present with knowledge of past patterns to project what might happen in the future.

The Boston Globe—“If the CDC had a flu-season preview in hand, the agency could better time messages on use of vaccines and flu-fighting drugs.

Hospitals could plan staffing for patient surges or make sure key personnel are not on vacation when it appears the epidemic will probably peak. Parents could even take flu forecasts into account in scheduling birthday parties and play dates.”

U.S. to Destroy Largest Remaining Chemical Weapons Cache

Syria isn’t the only country working on destruction of its chemical weapons cache. The Pueblo Chemical Depot, in Southern Colorado, will begin neutralization of 2,600 tons of aging mustard agent in March. This action moves towards American compliance with a 1997 treaty that banned all chemical weapons.

USA Today—“‘The start of Pueblo is an enormous step forward to a world free of chemical weapons,” said Paul Walker, who has tracked chemical warfare for more than 20 years, first as a U.S. House of Representatives staffer and currently with Green Cross International, which advocates on issues of security, poverty and the environment.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Pandora Report 9.20.14

We are introducing a new feature for the news round up—“Stories You May Have Missed.” This final section consists of fascinating articles I’ve found throughout the week that couldn’t fit in the report. This week the round up includes the UN Security Council’s resolution about Ebola, ISIS using chemical weapons in Iraq, a surprising source to combat antibiotic resistance, and of course, an Ebola update.

Lastly, you know what time of year it is, flu season is starting…don’t forget to get your flu shot!

Have a great weekend!

With Spread of Ebola Outpacing Response, Security Council Adopts Resolution 2177

On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and unanimously adopted resolution 2177 (2014). 2177 established the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) and calls on Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea to speed up establishment of national mechanisms to deal with this outbreak and to coordinate efficient utilization of international assistance, including health workers and relief supplies. The resolution also calls on other countries to lift their border and travel restrictions saying that isolation of the affected countries could undermine efforts to respond to the outbreak.

The United Nations—“United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the Ebola crisis had evolved into a complex emergency, with significant political, social, economic, humanitarian and security dimensions.  The number of cases was doubling every three weeks, and the suffering and spillover effects in the region and beyond demanded the attention of the entire world.  “Ebola matters to us all,” he said.”

ISIS Uses Chemical Weapons Against Army in Iraq

There were reports this week that the IS terrorist group has used chemical weapons in an attack on the Iraqi army in Saladin province. The reported attack took place Wednesday and Thursday in Dhuluiya, which has been under control of the group for more than two months. The attack affected approximately a dozen people.

One India—“Iraq’s Ambassador to the UN, Mohamed Ali Alhakim said in a letter that remnants of 2,500 chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin were kept along with other chemical warfare agents in a facility 55 km northwest of Baghdad. He added that the site’s surveillance system showed that some equipment had been looted after “armed terrorist groups” penetrated the site June 11.”

Vaginas May be the Answer to the Fight Against Drug-Resistant Bacteria

A naturally occurring bacterium found by scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, School of Pharmacy might be the key to addressing the threat of a post antibiotic future. Found in the female vagina, Lactobacillus gasseri is the basis for Lactocilin, a possible antibiotic alternative. This discovery comes at a time where the WHO has declared antimicrobial resistance as “an increasingly serious threat to global public health.”

Medical Daily—“This isn’t the only implication for the L. gasseri bacteria. Researchers are also hopeful to find similar-acting bacteria in different parts of the human body. “We think they still have bacteria producing the same drug, but it’s just a different bacterial species that lives in the mouth and has not yet been isolated,” lead researcher Micheal Fischbach told HuffPost. Even though the bacteria were harvested in females, researchers are confident it will have equal results when used in men.”

This Week in Ebola

It was a terrible week for Ebola, absolutely terrible. Above, we already learned that the UN Security Council declared the virus a threat to international peace and security, but that wasn’t all that happened. President Obama pledged 3,000 troops to fight Ebola in West Africa. The WHO said that the number of Ebola cases could begin doubling every three weeks and expressed concern about the black market trade of Ebola survivors’ blood. Eight aid workers and journalists were murdered in Guinea leaving many to fear that violence could stymy relief efforts and in Sierra Leone, the government instituted a three-day lockdown in order to help health care workers find and isolate patients.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Pandora Report 06.01.14

Highlights include Ebola research at UVA, No person-to-person MERS transmission in the U.S., Syria’s inability to meet deadlines, and the continuing negative impact of Anxi-Vaxxers.  Have a great Sunday!

 

Ebola’s Fist: UVA Unlocks How Deadly Virus Smashes into Human Cells

Further proving the superiority of public universities in Virginia, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have discovered how the Ebola virus enters the cytoplasm of human cells. This discovery comes at a critical time when Ebola is still raging in West Africa.

Augusta Free Press—“UVA’s new discovery offers important insight into how the virus works its way into cells. After the virus is engulfed by the cell, it is contained within a vesicle where it can do no harm. But Ebola quickly escapes the vesicle, and now scientists understand how. UVA researcher Lukas Tamm, PhD, of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, and his team discovered that the pH level inside the vesicle triggers the surface glycoprotein on the virus to form a “fist” that lets the virus punch its way into the cell’s cytoplasm, where it can effectively turn the cell into a factory for virus production.”

 

Nevermind! It Turns Out the Guy Who Tested Positive for MERS Doesn’t Have it

Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief! It turns out that the Illinois man who tested positive for MERS after shaking hands with an infected man never really had it. The tests used for diagnostics registered a false positive. This means that the only cases of MERS in the United States have been imported and have not passed through person-to-person transmission.

ABC News—“‘There is good news here,” ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said. “It was concerning that this man supposedly got infected through minimal contact – a couple of meetings and a handshake. Now that it’s clear that he was not infected, we’re back to a situation where those who have been infected have either been health care workers caring for MERS patients or close contacts, often family members.’”

 

Syria Set to Miss Deadline for Chemical Weapons Destruction

During the past week not only was a chemical weapons inspection team ambushed and held captive in Syria, but reports are coming out that the Syrian government will not meet the June 30, 2014, deadline for removal and destruction of their chemical weapons arsenal.  UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, also voiced concerned about allegations that chlorine gas has been used in recent fighting in Syria.

The Moscow Times—“The Syrian government has missed several deadlines, most recently its own promise to hand over the remaining chemicals by April 27. It has also failed to destroy a dozen facilities that were part of the chemical weapons program. The government has blamed those failures on security problems and rebel activities, but Western officials have voiced skepticism about those explanations.”

 

The New Measles Outbreak: Blame the Anti-Vaxxers

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that new measles cases in the United States are at a 20 year high for the first five months of 2014.  The CDC reports that 97% of measles cases have been imported by people who have travelled to other countries and brought the disease back with them and that 90% of the infections have occurred among unvaccinated individuals. In his scathing Time piece, Jeffrey Kluger highlights the worldwide struggle to eradicate polio and the capriciousness of those in the U.S. choosing to not be vaccinated against preventable, and long-dormant, diseases.

Time—“Make no mistake, the measles outbreak in the U.S. is an act of choice, of election, of a decision to get sick—or a decision by parents to put their children at risk. Fully 90% of the new cases are among people who are unvaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown. And nearly all of those people are unvaccinated for personal, philosophical or religious reasons—as opposed to any medical condition that requires them to avoid vaccines. This is true too of recent outbreaks of mumps and whooping cough, and of the dangerously declining rate of vaccination in the U.S. overall. Nearly all of that folly can be blamed on the rumors and outright lies that continue to be spread about various conditions vaccines are said to cause—autism, ADHD, vaguely defined immune system disorders and on and on depending on which celebrity or health faddist is telling the tale.” 

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons