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 3.8.15

This whole “spring forward” thing is the worst, right? We won’t get that hour of sleep back until November! No matter, we must press on. This week we’ve stories about engineering TB-resistant Cows, McDonald’s chicken, Ebola vaccine strategy, and loads of other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week, enjoy the warm weather, and we’ll see you back here next weekend!

Tuberculosis-Resistant Cows Engineered in China

We often talk of tuberculosis as a problem for humans, but the bacterial disease also affects animals—from circus elephants, to badgers, and cows. This week, scientists in China announced production of a heard of genetically modified cattle capable of resisting bovine tuberculosis. This was done through the insertion of a TB resistant mouse gene, into the cow’s genetic makeup. Though the work is still in the early stages, a genetically modified cow could have massive benefits for farmers who could minimize the overuse of antibiotics within their herds.

Popular Science—“Many countries have tried unsuccessfully to get rid of the disease, often slaughtering thousands of cattle per year to try to stem the disease’s spread. The United Kingdom in particular is waging a war against the disease. In 2013, the government announced that it would wipe the disease out of the country in 25 years. But even a timeline of a quarter century a tricky proposition, as cattle aren’t the only host for the disease. Bovine TB can also thrive in wildlife like badgers, elk, and even deer, which can pass the disease to cattle and vice versa.”

Your McNuggets: Soon Without a Side of Antibiotics

First Chipotle, then Chick fil-A, now McDonalds. The fast food giant announced this week that within two years the company will stop buying chicken raised with certain antibiotics for its U.S. stores. This move doesn’t stop the overuse of antibiotics on farms, however, McDonald’s is the largest food-service buyer of chicken in America, so the decision could affect other restaurants and the production of other meats.

Wired—“The reason this announcement is so important is that, for decades, researchers have been linking the use of antibiotics in livestock-raising (and to a lesser extent in fish farming and fruit production) to the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. Multiple pieces of research show that low-dose antibiotic use on farms — use that doesn’t cure animal illness, but promotes growth and prevents infections — creates resistant bacteria that move off farm properties in water, dust and the meat that animals become. Those bacteria infect humans directly — via meat or because the bacteria contaminate a home or restaurant cooking surface — and they pass their resistance DNA to other bacteria as well.”

Guinea Ebola Vaccine Trial Uses Smallpox Strategy

Two different vaccines are being tested in the three West African countries affected by the recent Ebola outbreak. As the last Ebola patient in Liberia heads home, and the Vice President of Sierra Leone has put himself in voluntary quarantine after the death of one of his security personnel, Guinea looks to the successful eradication of smallpox as their model for their Ebola vaccination plan, which began on March 7. This, of course, was the use of “ring vaccination” in the 1970s.

NBC News—“Ring vaccination involves finding all the direct contacts of new Ebola cases and vaccinating them, creating a “ring” of immunity around patients.

“An effective vaccine to control current flare-ups could be the game-changer to finally end this epidemic and an insurance policy for any future ones,” said WHO assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: Christopher Michel

Pandora Report 1.18.15

For those who’ve been reading for awhile, you’ve probably surmised that one of my personal health interests is seasonal and pandemic flu. There were plenty of stories about that this week, so that’s what we’ll focus on. We’ll also look at Ebola and other stories you may have missed. My apologies for posting delays this week, I’m dealing with some rotator cuff and carpal tunnel issues in my right arm, and let me tell you, it is HARD to type with your dominant arm in a sling!

Enjoy your holiday Monday (if you have one) and have a safe and healthy week!

Texas Health Experts Say Universal Flu Vaccine Could be a Reality

The CDC has said that this year’s seasonal flu vaccine was only 23% effective due to unanticipated antigenic drift—meaning the predicted strains in the vaccine didn’t match the dominant strains of the virus that are currently circulating. In order to combat this in the future, scientists at Mount Sinai health system in New York are in the process of testing a universal flu vaccine which will go into clinical trials this year.

KLTV.com—“‘There is work going on to see if, perhaps a different kind of vaccine could be developed maybe against a different part of the flu virus, one that is not so subject to this antigenic drift or to change as readily from one year to the next,” [Dr. Levin of UT Health Northeast] says.”

Scientists Find Brain Protein Aids Influenza Recovery

Scientists at Washington State University in Spokane have found a brain protein that boosts the healing power of sleep and speeds recovery from the flu in mice. Professor James M. Kruger said this discovery could lead to alternative treatments for flu and other infectious diseases by stimulating production of the brain protein called AcPb. This discovery comes at a time where avian influenza is prevalent in Taiwan, Japan, Nigeria, China, Egypt, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Washington State University—“Krueger showed this recovery involves AcPb and an immune system signaling chemical called interleukin-1. AcPb links up with interleukin-1 to help regulate sleep in healthy animals. It also prompts infected animals to spend more time sleeping during an illness.

In the study, mice who lacked the gene for AcPb slept less after being infected with influenza virus. They also became chilled, grew sluggish, lost their normal circadian rhythms and ultimately died in higher numbers than the mice who slept longer.”

This Week in Ebola

As GMU students return to classes, so do students in Ebola affected Guinea. Schools in Guinea will re-open Monday, and schools in Liberia are set to re-open “next month.” No date has been set for schools in Sierra Leone. Despite this, the President of Sierra Leone has declared that there will be zero new confirmed Ebola cases by the end of March the country will be Ebola-free, by WHO standards, by May. These announcements come at a time when Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the CDC, has said he was “very confident we can get to zero cases in this epidemic if we continue the way we’re going and nothing unexpected happens” and the outbreak appears to be slowing down. Last week brought record low numbers—for Guinea, the lowest total since mid-August; for Liberia, the lowest total since the first week of June; for Sierra Leone the second week of declines and the lowest level since the end of August. However, there are still “at least 50 micro-outbreaks” underway throughout West Africa.

Pauline Cafferkey, the Scottish nurse infected with Ebola, is “showing signs of improvement” and an American soldier who was found dead in Texas after his deployment in West Africa reportedly showed no signs of Ebola leaving officials to remark that there was “no evidence of a public health threat.”

A seemingly large amount of good news this week left space for new ruminations on Ebola and outbreaks in general. Wired  had an interesting piece on Nanobiophysics and how it could stop future global pandemics while The Chicago Tribune looked at bats and their likely role in Ebola outbreaks and CNBC looked at the price of protection from global pandemics—would you believe $343.7 billion?

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: NBC News

Pandora Report 1.11.15

Dirt is all around, I mean, truly, all around. We wash it off our produce, get it smashed into the soles of our shoes, and vacuum it out of our homes. But is dirt really that bad? The stories this week look at dirt as a source of antibiotics and a disposal method for chemical weapons. We also look at Ebola and other stories you may have missed.

Have a fabulous week!

DARPA Wants to Turn Chemical Weapons Into Dirt

DARPA has a new idea for eliminating chemical weapons—breaking them into safe compounds like oxides and earth metal salts, in other words, soil. Considering the drawbacks for current disposal methods, the agency’s Agnostic Compact Demilitarization of Chemical Weapons program has put out a call for proposals for a weapons-to-dirt plan.

Popular Mechanics—“The defense research agency is looking for a transportable system that can fit in a 40-foot-long shipping container and process at least 55 gallons of chemical weapons and precursor material every hour for a 48-hour period. Processing will be conducted near the chemical weapons storage site, use local materials (such as dirt of plant matter), and produce no hazardous waste.”

New Class of Antibiotic Found in Dirt Could Prove Resistant to Resistance

A study published this week in Nature looks at a new antibiotic, called Teixobactin, which could keep working for “longer than any other” before bacteria could develop resistance. It is still at least four years away from availability and can only treat gram-positive bacteria like staph, strep, and TB. And where was this new antimicrobial found? Dirt from a grassy field in Maine.

The Washington Post—“Most microbiologists only ever work with around 1 percent of microbes—the ones that will grow politely in the lab. But the rest refuse to grow on traditional growth media, like petri dishes. But there are potential antibiotics all over the world being created by plants, fungi, and microorganisms. Lewis and his colleagues sandwiched soil between two semi-permeable membranes, effectively tricking soil microbes into growing in a “natural” environment that was actually a lab culture.

Among the 10,000 organisms and 25 antibiotics they grew in this new type of culturing method is Teixobactin. It successfully obliterated MRSA and drug-resistant TB in cell cultures and in mice, and did so without any signs that the bacteria might become resistant to it.”

This Week in Ebola

Ebola has reached beyond health. Since the outbreak began, in Sierra Leone a combination of curfew, a ban on public gatherings, plummeting GDP, and inflation have fueled economic freefall. And remember when Texas nurse Amber Joy Vinson got on a plane to Ohio to shop for bridesmaid gowns for her own wedding? Well the store, announced it will be going out of business due to flagging sales and stigma of being the “Ebola” bridal store.  The pharmaceutical industry is chugging along in creation of and testing of possible vaccines for the Ebola virus; all of this comes at a time where the number of deaths is over 8,200 and the number of cases stands at over 20,000. The Economist has an amazing series of charts, maps, and graphs that look at the scope of the outbreak.

Meanwhile, the British nurse diagnosed with Ebola is in critical, but stable, condition, and an American health care worker was transported to the Nebraska Medical Center’s specialized biocontainment unit for observation. Travelers from Mali will no longer face enhanced screening when they arrive in the U.S., as the last case in Mali was December 5 and there are no active cases in the country.

Lastly, there were two interesting first-person stories from those who have returned from West Africa. First, an NPR correspondent in Washington DC writes about the terrifying moment when he woke up with a fever within 21 days of his return from Liberia. Then, an Australian MSF nurse wrote about the “sheer brutality” of the Ebola virus he experienced while in Liberia.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: United Nations University

Pandora Report 1.4.15

Happy 2015! I hope all of you enjoyed a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season. As we get back into things, this week we will look at Seasonal Flu, 1980s Chemical Weapons, and, of course, Ebola. Please also enjoy a wrap up of other stories from the last two weeks in the Stories You May Have Missed section.

Have a fabulous week!

This Season’s Flu Activity Has Reached the Epidemic Threshold, the CDC Says

On the heels of the announcement that this year’s flu vaccine is not as effective as hoped, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that they are seeing elevated activity in all their influenza surveillance systems and that this year’s seasonal flu has reached epidemic levels. The Virginia Department of Health has called the flu “widespread” in our state. The CDC urges it is still too early to determine if this season will be worse than others but preliminary data seems to reflect that it may be.

The Washington Post—“The influenza season reaches an epidemic level when the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza reaches a certain threshold: 6.8 percent. According to the CDC’s latest available information on the flu season, the percentage is currently at the threshold.”

Secret Papers: UK Studied Chemical Weapons Buildup in the 1980s

Newly released, formerly secret, documents show that in the early 1980s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government considered rebuilding Britain’s chemical weapons arsenal in the face of a perceived looming threat of the Soviet Union. Thatcher’s defense chiefs were worried that the country would have only nuclear weapons in order to respond to a possible Soviet chemical attack.

ABC News—“In the papers, Thatcher states that it might be considered “negligent” of the government not to develop a credible response to a Soviet chemical attack short of using nuclear weaponry. She also suggests urging the Americans to modernize their chemical arsenal.

The lack of a chemical capacity was called a “major gap” in NATO’s military capacity by Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine in a secret 1984 document. He said the threat of a nuclear response lacked credibility.”

This Week in Ebola

While we were celebrating and enjoying the holidays, Ebola, of course, didn’t take a break. In the spirit of the season the UK’s Queen praised the selflessness of those fighting the ongoing epidemic in West Africa. And while Christmas gatherings were cancelled in Sierra Leone and Guinea, those in Liberia made sure their Christmas spirit was on full display. As 2014 came to an end, there were many looks back at the year in Ebola and the possible source of the start of the outbreak. The first case of Ebola was diagnosed in Britain by a nurse who contracted the disease in West Africa and there were reports of a possible lab error exposure to the virus at the CDC.

There are some reasons for optimism as 2015 begins, including survival rates increasing for cases in Sierra Leone and promising news on the vaccine front. Vaccines tested in Uganda against Ebola and the related filovirus Marburg have proven to be safe and effective in generating an immune response to the deadly viruses  and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded contracts worth $43 million to develop two possible Ebola vaccines more quickly. According to the UN’s Anthony Banbury, 2015 should see the number of Ebola cases brought to zero by the end of the year and Al Jazeera America argues that this year should be focused on immunization and investment in West African health systems.

The last two Ebola updates are entirely unrelated and include the unverified possibility that ISIS militants have contracted Ebola and interesting coverage by NPR of how Ebola has affected love and sex.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: The Washington Post

Pandora Report 10.26.14

This late weekend Pandora Report covers antibiotics in fish, ISIS and chemical weapons, the UN and Cholera, and, of course, an Ebola update. Don’t forget to get your flu shot, and remember to protect yourself by washing your hands! Have a great week!

There Are Antibiotics in Your Fish

A study in the Journal of Hazardous Materials has found antibiotics present in both farmed and wild fish, including those labeled as ‘antibiotic free’. The good news for the food producers is that all traces of the drugs were within the legal limit for food. The bad news is twofold; one, for there to be any traces after processing and freezing means that at one point, there was a lot more antibiotics, and two, levels of antibiotics in the food we eat contributes to growing antibiotic resistance in humans.

Time—“Antibiotics are used in fish largely to treat and prevent disease, not to promote growth… They’re dispersed into the water in fish farms and are sometimes injected into fish directly. And once they get into the fish, they generally stay there, even though their concentration diminishes over time.”

Islamic State Accused of Using Chemical Weapons

Iraqi officials claim that ISIS fighters have used chemical weapons—chlorine bombs—during clashes last month in Duluiya and Balad, towns north of Baghdad. Approximately 40 troops were affected and were then treated at a hospital where they recovered quickly. Iraqi forces claim that two other chlorine gas attacks have taken place over recent months, as well.

Sky News—“‘These allegations are extremely serious and we are seeking additional information in order to be able to determine whether or not we can confirm it,’ John Kerry told reporters. ‘The use of any chemical weapons is an abhorrent act, it’s against international law, and these recent allegations underscore the importance of the work that we are currently engaged in.’”

U.S. Judge Considers Whether UN Can Be Sued

In 2010 an earthquake ravaged the island nation of Haiti. Shortly after United Nations peacekeepers arrived, the nation experienced one of the worst cholera epidemics in history. Last week, a lawyer representing the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti presented an argument that the UN should be held responsible for the outbreak which led to the deaths of over 8,500 people. Lawyers from the U.S. government are representing the UN in this case. The judge will decide if the case can proceed to criminal trial.

China Central Television—“Evidence from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later provided strong indication that UN peacekeepers were the source of the outbreak, but the UN has denied any links, and its own investigation into the cause was inconclusive.”

This Week in Ebola

Well, the number of Ebola cases this week reached over 10,000 with nearly 5,000 deaths including the first death in Mali. As the disease spreads within the U.S., Africa, and Europe, it might be a smart time to look at how SARS was stoppedChina is a good case study. After the diagnosis of an American health worker returned from West Africa, the states of New Jersey, New York and Illinois have moved to automatically quarantine health workers returning from the affected region. All this comes at a time when federal officials and the WHO say vaccine trials could begin in West Africa as early as January. Average Americans still have very little risk of catching Ebola, but that hasn’t stopped the culture of fear and concerns about state use of Ebola as a weapon. But don’t worry, National Geographic puts the Ebola epidemic in historical perspective. Still worried? You can blame Richard Preston.

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Antibiotic Anomaly: Disparity Between Lawmakers and Health Experts on Antibiotics

By Chris Healey

State lawmakers are working to protect doctors who prescribe antibiotics in excess of recommended guidelines. Those efforts come after the CDC declared antibiotic resistance from antibiotic overuse one of the greatest threats to public health.

The controversy stems from state lawmakers in northeastern states affected by Lyme disease, an amorphous bacterial illness transmitted through tick bites. The Infectious Disease Society of America endorses a four-week antibiotic regimen which they say cures most cases. However, some individuals claim their symptoms persist after the conclusion of antibiotic therapy, a condition called Post Lyme Disease Syndrome.

Individuals reporting Post Lyme Disease Syndrome often harangue doctors for further antibiotic treatment, believing previous treatment was ineffective or inadequate. However, studies on Post Lyme Disease Syndrome indicate persistent infection is unlikely. Instead, lingering perceptions of malaise are likely the result of lasting physiological damage from infection known as sequela. Doctors often resume antibiotic treatment at patient request despite research findings not supportive of continued treatment.

Antibiotics are not harmless therapeutics. They produce negative effects in patients and bacteria alike. Extended antibiotic treatments sometimes lead to severe physiological damage including mitochondrial impairment, aplastic anemia, and Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Unless absolutely necessary, antibiotics should be avoided.

Harm from lengthy antibiotic regimens extend beyond the patient. Prolonged antibiotic exposure allows more opportunity for bacterial selection of respective antibiotic resistance. Bacteria can pass resistance to posterity, complicating treatment in new patients.

A 2013 report released by the CDC served as a call to arms for the medical community concerning the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. The report lists four core actions to stymie resistance. One of the four is improved stewardship – commitment to antibiotic use within established guidelines. The CDC report, and other efforts to increase antibiotic resistance awareness, has placed pressure on health officials to conform to new standards of judicious antibiotic use.

Instead of allowing antibiotic conformity pressure to curb prescriptions, lawmakers have interpreted it as an occupational nuisance in need of remedy. An article in the Wall Street Journal discusses bills in the Vermont and New York state legislature to protect doctors from punishment for over prescribing antibiotics.

There is a clear disconnect between government health officials and state lawmakers. Misguided attempts to protect doctors from antibiotic reform pressures reflect a lack of antibiotic understanding. Health officials must improve efforts to communicate the importance and severity of antibiotic resistance.

Pandora Report 4.18.14

I think I was coming down with something yesterday. It manifested as a pretty debilitating headache, so I am pretty sure it wasn’t Ebola, but I also had no desire to drink water, so it might have been rabies. Either way, I’m feeling much better today, and am excited to bring you a Saturday issue of Pandora Report. In fact, I’m pretty sure there is nothing that is more fun on the weekend…so let’s get into it!


Highlights include Bird Flu in North Korea, a TB drug that may be the answer to drug resistance, a new strain of Ebola, MERS CoV’s spread to Asia, and Tamiflu’s real utility. Have a great weekend and see you here next Friday!

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak in North Korea

On April 16, the North Korean veterinary authority sent a notice to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) alerting them to two H5N1 outbreaks among poultry in the isolated nation. This is a surprisingly transparent move. The first outbreak occurred at the Hadang chicken factory in Hyongjesan starting on March 21. All 46,217 birds died. A second outbreak occurred on March 27 in the same region at the Sopo chicken factory where an unreported number of birds died in the same cage. The source of the infection remains unknown.

The Poultry Site—“Usual control measures have been put in place to control the spread of infection: quarantine, movement control inside the country, screening and disinfection of infected premises/establishment(s). There is no vaccination and no treatment of affected birds.”

Could a new TB drug be the answer to resistance?

A research study at the University of Illinois shows that a new drug under clinical trials for tuberculosis treatment—SQ109—may be the basis for an entirely new class of drugs that could act against bacterial, fungal, and parasite infection and yet evade resistance. Lead researcher, chemistry professor Eric Oldfield, believes that multiple-target drugs like SQ109 and its analogs hold the key to new antibiotic development in the era of drug resistance and “the rise of so-called ‘superbugs’.” His claim is bolstered by experiments with SQ109 and TB where no instances of resistance have been reported.

Science Codex—“’Drug resistance is a major public health threat,” Oldfield said. “We have to make new antibiotics, and we have to find ways to get around the resistance problem. And one way to do that is with multi-target drugs. Resistance in many cases arises because there’s a specific mutation in the target protein so the drug will no longer bind. Thus, one possible route to attacking the drug resistance problem will be to devise drugs that don’t have just one target, but two or three targets.’”

Outbreak in West Africa is caused by a new strain of Ebola virus

As the death toll from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa climbs above 120, scientists are reporting that the virus is not the same strain that has killed in other African nations.  While the source of the virus is still unknown, blood samples from Guinea victims has confirmed that it is not imported strains of Ebola Zaire—the original strain of the virus discovered in Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire.)

The Huffington Post—“‘It is not coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has not been imported to Guinea” from that country or from Gabon, where Ebola also has occurred, [Dr. Stephan] Gunther [of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany] said.

Researchers think the Guinea and other strains evolved in parallel from a recent ancestor virus. The Guinea outbreak likely began last December or earlier and might have been smoldering for some time unrecognized. The investigation continues to try to identify “the presumed animal source.’”

MERS CoV leaves the Middle East and travels to Asia

Though the method of transmission of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) remains unknown—a report last week from the CDC finds the virus can stay alive in Camel milk—and thankfully, transmission from human to human has been rare, the disease has now spread beyond the Middle East to Asia via an infection emerging in Malaysia. A Malaysian man returning from Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, tested positive for, and died from, MERS on April 13. So far, a reported 33 people who have travelled to the Middle East for the Haj have tested negative for presence of the virus in neighboring Singapore.

Today Online—“There is currently no advisory against travel to countries of the Arabian Peninsula, or to countries reporting imported cases of MERS-CoV (including Malaysia).

Frequent travellers to the Middle East and Umrah/Haj pilgrims have been advised to take precautions, such as being vaccinated against influenza and meningitis. Those aged 65 years and above or with chronic medical conditions should also get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections before travelling. Pilgrims with pre-existing chronic medical conditions like diabetes, chronic heart and lung conditions should consult a doctor before traveling, to assess whether they should make the pilgrimage.”

A closer look at Tamiflu

With seasonal flu season behind us in the U.S., maybe it is time to look at better treatment options. A study published last week in the British Medical Journal, calls into question the effectiveness of Oseltamivir—brand name, Tamiflu. The international team of researchers found that while Tamiflu can shorten flu symptoms it does not reduce hospital admissions or medical complications. The study also demonstrated that Tamiflu can also cause nausea and vomiting and increases the risk of headaches and renal and psychiatric symptoms.

Global Biodefense—“‘The trade-off between benefits and harms should be borne in mind when making decisions to use oseltamivir for treatment, prophylaxis, or stockpiling,” concludes the study authors from The Cochrane Collaboration, an independent global healthcare research network. “There is no credible way these drugs could prevent a pandemic,” Carl Heneghan, one of the lead investigators of the review and a professor at Oxford University, told reporters. “Remember, the idea of a drug is that the benefits should exceed the harms. So if you can’t find any benefits, that accentuates the harms.’”

(Image credit: Robert Sharp/Flickr)

Pandora Report 3.14.14

Editor’s note: As Managing Editor, I know my job is never done because the news never stops. As a social scientist, I know there is always more than one side to any story. As such, before we get into the news roundup for March 14, here are two follow up articles from our report last week.

Mount Sinai Scientists Discover How Marburg Virus Grows in Cells

Last week we learned about BCX4430, a drug that could possibly treat Marburg virus. This week, news coming out of Mount Sinai in New York outlines further research findings on the virus that can lead to greater understanding or possible development of virus inhibitors. The full findings of this research are available at Cell Reports.

Newswise — “A protein that normally protects cells from environmental stresses has been shown to interact Marburg virus VP24, allowing the deadly Marburg virus to live longer and replicate better, according to a cell culture study led by scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The investigators say that deciphering the molecular details of how Marburg virus and the host protein interact may help in developing inhibitors of the virus.”

Nazi Scientists May Have Plotted Malaria Mosquito Warfare (Redux)

As was pointed out by our eagle-eyed reader Jean Pascal Zanders, there, of course, is disagreement about the supposed Nazi insect weapons program. Jean writes about it on his blog, and GMU Biodefense’s own, Dr. Gregory Koblentz, is incredulous.

National Geographic – “‘Research to assess the threat posed by different biological agents and vectors, such as May’s research on mosquitoes and malaria, is especially hard to categorize as offensive or defensive,’ Koblentz says. ‘Even if May’s intent was offensive, it was very preliminary-many steps away from actually producing a viable insect-borne biological weapon.’”


And now for our regularly scheduled Friday news…

Highlights include Project BioShield, Destruction of Syrian chemical weapons, and  Clostridium difficile with antibiotics. Happy Friday!

The Only Thing Scarier Than Bio-Warfare is the Antidote

Should we be afraid of bio-terror or bio-error? In this massive, front-page Newsweek story, the author looks at the creation of the Project BioShield Act and its resulting effects including the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act and increased availability of biological threat agents used for scientific research. The Soviet bioweapons program, BSL-4 labs, and the intersection of science and government are also addressed.

Newsweek – “Though BioShield’s initial goals made sense when the threat of biological warfare seemed imminent, the act may have permanently undermined some of the essential protections against unsafe practices in at least one area of science research: the regulations that keep untested drugs off the market, and labs from leaking deadly biological agents into the environment.”

Greeks protest against Syria chemical weapon destruction at sea

Under the UN Security Council backed deal to deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapon arsenal, provisions are included for this to happen aboard a U.S. cargo ship in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.  Under the plan, hydrolysis systems aboard the ship are to mix heated water and other chemicals to break down the lethal agents, resulting in a sludge equivalent to industrial toxic waste. This plan has prompted protests in Italy, Malta, and Greece despite assurances there will be no negative impact on the surrounding environments.

Agence France-Presse – “‘If this happens it will obliterate the island’s economy, will pollute the sea and will lead the people of the Mediterranean to a grim future.’ Pavlos Polakis, mayor of the city of Sfakia told AFP.”

Severe diarrheal illness in children linked to antibiotics prescribed in doctor’s offices

According to the CDC, an overwhelming percentage of cases of pediatric Clostridium difficileinfection occur in children who were prescribed antibiotics during the 12 weeks prior to illness for unrelated conditions—such as ear, sinus, or upper respiratory infections.  C. difficile is a bacteria that causes severe diarrhea and is potentially life threatening.

CDC – “Taking antibiotics is the most important risk factor for developing C. difficile infections for both adults and children.  When a person takes antibiotics, beneficial bacteria that protect against infection can be altered or even eliminated for several weeks to months. During this time, patients can get sick from C. difficile picked up from contaminated surfaces or spread from a health care provider’s hands.”

 

(image courtesy of CDC/James Gathany)

Pandora Report 3.7.14

Editor’s note: Greetings Pandora Report subscribers! I hope you enjoyed that goofy video last week. For my first official Pandora Report, I rounded up some great stories (including a look back at history. As a social scientist, I really couldn’t help myself!)

Highlights include Botulism research and development, CDC antibiotic warning, the Nazi insect weapons program, and Marburg. Happy Friday!

Hawaii Biotech awarded $5.5M contract to develop anti-botulism drugs

Hawaii Biotech Inc. received a $5.5 million contract from the Department of Defense to continue development of drugs to treat botulinum toxin—a life threatening disease which currently has no known treatment. This grant was in addition to an existing $7.4 million grant held by Hawaii Biotech to develop anti-anthrax drugs.

Pacific Business News – “Under the contract, Hawaii Biotech will be working to improve its current anti-botulinum toxin inhibitor drug candidates that have demonstrated activity in pre-clinical testing with the goal of enhancing the stability, bioavailability and safety of these drug candidates so they can be used in humans.”

CDC: Antibiotic Overuse Can Be Lethal

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Tuesday criticizing the overuse of antibiotics in hospitals and the consequences of these actions. Though prescribing practices vary between hospitals and doctors, the report highlights discrepancies across patients with similar symptoms and illnesses and urges caution in use of powerful antibiotics.

The Wall Street Journal – “Overprescribing antibiotics is making many of these drugs less effective because superbugs resistant to them are developing so fast. The practice also can sicken patients, by making them vulnerable to other types of infections such as Clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection.”

Nazi scientists planned to use mosquitoes as biological weapon

In 1942, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, ordered the creation of an entomological institute at the Dachau concentration camp. But why? Supposedly it was to study lice, fleas, and similar pests that were causing problems for German soldiers. However, a recent report offers an additional answer.

The Guardian – “In 1944, scientists examined different types of mosquitoes for their life spans in order to establish whether they could be kept alive long enough to be transported from a breeding lab to a drop-off point. At the end of the trials, the director of the institute recommended a particular type of anopheles mosquito, a genus well-known for its capacity to transmit malaria to humans.

With Germany having signed up to the 1925 Geneva protocol, Adolf Hitler had officially ruled out the use of biological and chemical weapons during the Second World War, as had allied forces. Research into the mosquito project had to be carried out in secret.”

Army one step closer to treatment against deadly Marburg virus

Exciting news, this week, regarding the development of a drug which may be able to prevent Marburg hemorrhagic fever virus from replicating in animals. The drug, BCX4430, was developed in partnership with BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc. through a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The Frederick News-Post – “‘The drug works by using a compound that “tricks” the virus during the RNA replication process by mimicking it,’ said Travis Warren, [a principal researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick.] ‘Once the virus incorporates BCX4430 into its RNA, the virus is forced to end further replication. If the virus can’t effectively replicate its RNA genome, it can’t produce more infectious virus. It has no other options than to end that replication cycle.’”

(image courtesy of CDC/ James Gathany)