The Pandora Report 11.22.13

Highlights this week include dengue in New York, detecting ricin, a suspected al Qaeda biological weapons expert, the evolution of flu, and polio and the Taliban. Happy Friday, and have a bacteria-free Thanksgiving!

‘Locally-Acquired’ Dengue Fever Case Reported In New York

For the first time, a locally-acquired case of dengue fever has popped up in the state of New York. The infected individual had not left the region at any point during the incubation period. This suggests that the probable route of infection was a mosquito which had taken a blood meal from an infected person before biting the New York patient. The patient has made a full recovery. However, this case highlights the truly global nature of infectious disease today. Dengue  is considered a “neglected disease” by the WHO, meaning its research on its treatment and cure receive comparatively less funding. This is especially unfortunate as the virus, which is considered “pandemic-prone” causes an estimated 100 million infections every year in 100 different countries. It’s easy to dismiss dengue as a disease which affects other people in far-flung parts of the world, but this simply isn’t the case anymore.  The prevalence of international travel means relative geographical isolation is no longer the protective boundary it once was.

Global Dispatch – “‘Given the recent introduction of Aedes albopictus into New York State and the high level of travel in New York to areas of the world endemic for dengue, it is not surprising that a locally acquired case of dengue has been found in the state,’ said State Health Commissioner, Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H. ‘This finding emphasizes the need for physicians to be aware of signs and symptoms of diseases common in tropical countries, but may occasionally present themselves in New York.'”

Army Scientists Improve Methods to Detect Ricin

The CDC has sponsored research on decontaminating ricin. While the utility of spending large amounts of money on vaccine development against certain pathogens can sometimes be questionable, decon is an area of real importance that is under-researched. A letter containing ricin may not kill a lot of people, but its particles can linger for a very long time at each of the mail facilities it traveled through.

Military News – “The paper, which is entitled, ‘Surface Sampling of a Dry Aerosol Deposited Ricin,’ examines swab materials commonly used to sample biological threat agents from surfaces. The paper documents his studies, which demonstrates the need for accurate dissemination techniques to effectively evaluate sampling technologies in an environment mimicking the ‘real-world’ environment where the toxin may be present.”

Israel Holding Suspected al-Qaida Bio Weapons Expert

Israel is currently in a bit of a bind over it’s holding of a suspected biological weapons expert. According to court documents released this week,  Samer Hilmi Abdullatif al-Barq was trained as a microbiologist in Pakistan, had military training in Afghanistan, and eventually was recruited by Ayman al-Zawahiri into the al Qaeda weapons program. Israeli courts have yet to try al-Burq, due to lack of sufficient evidence, but his actions in the area, including attempted recruitment of others into al Qaeda, render him too dangerous to release. Moreover, attempts to release him into the custody of neighboring states have been politely declined. It’s clearly a complicated case.

New York Times – “In a document presented to the court, the military prosecutors described Mr. Barq as an operative in the global Qaeda organization with ‘a rich background in the field of nonconventional weapons, with an emphasis on the biological field,’ having studied microbiology in Pakistan. The prosecutors argued that Mr. Barq’s release at this time to the West Bank, where he is a resident, would constitute ‘a point of no return in the development of a significant global jihadist infrastructure in the area.'”

Scientists zero in on flu virus defenses

A recent study published in the journal Science details novel research on the hemagglutinin protein (HA) of the H3N2 flu strain. The work examined mutations in the protein between 1968 and 2003 which prompted structural changes.  In doing so, researchers were able to pinpoint changes in seven key amino acids that prompted evolutionary change in the virus.  Better understanding the virus’ points and methods of evolution could help in the creation of more efficacious vaccines.

ABC Australia – “The researchers confirmed their findings by engineering changes to these seven amino acids and testing the antibody response to the new virus in ferrets. Importantly, the amino acids singled out by Barr and colleagues are close to the site on the HA protein that binds to host cells. This limits the number of amino acid substitutions that are possible as many changes will alter the protein’s structure, interfering with the virus binding process. ‘The virus can evolve in a number of different directions,” says Barr. “If we can narrow that down to a small number of directions then we’ve got a better chance of trying to work out which particular virus might be the one which is going to turn up in a year’s time.'”

The Surge

Wired has an excellent long-form piece on polio vaccinations and the Taliban. The six-part article is interactive, and includes audio interviews, photo galleries, and infographics on why eradicating polio is so important and so challenging. Obviously, we highly recommend it!

Excerpts – “The virus typically infects only the mucosal tissues of the gastrointestinal system for a few weeks, where the immune system clears it before any harm is done. After that, the infected person would be immune to future infections from the same strain. However, in less than 1 percent of infections, the virus attacks the central nervous system and causes paralysis. Typically this affects just the legs. But in 5 to 10 percent of paralytic cases (that is, 0.05 percent of total infections), polio paralyzes the breathing muscles, meaning that without artificial respiration the patient will suffocate. All this explains why polio is so difficult to annihilate. For every one person who actually gets sick, nearly 200 are carrying the virus and infecting others…

“[T]he math of cost-benefit analyses runs aground when it comes to eradication campaigns, because the benefits, in theory, are infinite. That is: No one will ever die from—or spend a dime on vaccinating against—smallpox for the remainder of human history, barring a disaster involving one of the few lingering military stockpiles. According to a 2010 study, polio eradication would generate $40 billion to $50 billion in net benefits by 2035.”

(image:  Sgt. Mike R. Smith, National Guard Bureau)

The Pandora Report 10.25.13

Highlights include a new dengue serotype, bird flu in Australia, Peruvian bats and influenza A, mutating viruses, and HHS bolstering international pandemic preparedness. Happy Friday, and Happy Halloween!

First New Dengue Virus Type in 50 Years

For the first time in half a century, a new serotype of dengue has been discovered. The strain, found in Malaysia, is phylogenetically distinct from the existing four serotypes. The discovery will complicate existing vaccine efforts, which are already quite complex – prior to this discovery, dengue possessed four distinct serotypes. To date, this newest serotype has only been identified in one outbreak.

Science – “Scientists have discovered a new type of the virus that causes a centuries-old pestilence, dengue. The surprising find, announced at a major dengue conference here today, is bound to complicate efforts to develop a vaccine against a tropical disease that is becoming a more pervasive global menace. But it could shed light on where the pathogen came from and whether it is evolving into a greater threat. The finding “may change the way we think about dengue virus evolution and emergence,” says Duane Gubler, a dengue expert at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore.”

Second bird flu outbreak in Australia

New South Wales has experienced its second outbreak of avian influenza. For some reason, none of the press is including the nueraminidase type, refering to the virus simply as “H7” or as HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza). This is misleading – the strain is actually H7N2, which has a low pathogenicity. While a serious threat to poultry farmers – 18,000 birds have died from the virus already and a further 400,000 have been culled – it isn’t a serious threat to humans at this point.

ABC Australia – “Initial testing at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute confirmed the virus earlier today and the infected property has been placed under strict quarantine. The department says tests are being carried out to try to confirm the origin of the latest incidence, but it’s the H7 strain, not the H5N1 strain that’s dangerous to humans. It says all eggs and poultry in NSW remain safe to eat. NSW DPI chief vet, Ian Roth, says he can’t yet confirm how the virus spread.”

New flu virus found in Peruvian bats

If there’s one thing we’ve learned here at the Pandora Report it’s never touch a bat. Just don’t do it. Halloween is great, bats can be cute, but as carriers of everything from rabies (scary) to Ebola (very scary), we’re keeping our distance.  In further confirmation of this truism, a new influenza virus has been discovered in Peruvian bats. The Influenza A virus, appropriately named A/bat/Peru/10, and contains hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N) surface proteins entirely distinct from any seen before, prompting researchers to classify them as novel – H18N11. While the virus is thought to be capable of infecting humans.  thus far researchers have been unable to culture it in human cells. Hopefully, it will stick to bats – H18N11 is just too hard to say.

LiveScience – “The researchers found the new virus after testing samples from 114 bats in Peru. One sample, from a flat-faced fruit bat known as Artibeus planirostris, was found to have H18N11. Blood testing of other bats suggested that they may have been infected with H18N11 in the past. The researchers still do not know how H18N11 attaches to cells to enter them…So far, flu viruses from bats are not known to infect people. But bats are known reservoirs for other types of pathogens that have found their way to humans, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Bats are also are suspected to be the original source of the virus causing the current outbreak of MERS.”

Single mutation gives virus new target

By changing a single amino acid in the BK polyomavirus, researchers were able to completely alter its preferential binding site. Understanding this mechanism is a small step towards understanding things like why a virus switches to infect different cells (potentially increasing pathogenicity) or, in the case of viruses like MERS and H7N9, different hosts. Understanding this mechanism can help us predict which viruses may switch hosts  to eventually infect us.

R&D Mag – “Different cells have different bindings targets on their surfaces. A change in a virus’s binding target preference can be a key step in changing how that virus would affect different cells in a victim—or move on to a different species…Brown postdoctoral researcher Stacy-ann Allen, one of two lead authors on the paper, said the team learned of the single amino acid difference by comparing high-resolution structural models of the two polyomaviruses bound to their favorite sugars. Collaborators, including co-lead author Ursula Neu and co-corresponding author Thilo Stehle at the Univ. of Tübingen in Germany, produced those models using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.”

HHS Boosts Global Ability to Respond to Pandemics

HHS through BARDA has awarded four interrelated grants, to the WHO, PATH, Utah and North Carolina States universities respectively to boost funding for pandemic preparedness in developing countries. The WHO is receiving approximately $10 million in grants to support H7N9 preparedness in developing countries, while the university grants are each supporting onsite training programs in the same countries. This makes a lot of sense – helping other states by providing them the tools to develop their own pandemic preparedness efforts makes us all  healthier.

PharmPro – “The program provides cost-sharing to build vaccine manufacturing facilities that can produce influenza and other vaccines in developing countries and trains personnel from developing countries at U.S.-based universities in advanced vaccine production. The program also supports technical assistance for foreign countries to operate and regulate their facilities and to conduct clinical trials with influenza vaccines produced in the facilities.”

And because everyone needs a little good news occasionally: Baby born with HIV is still showing no sign of the infection after treatment stopped 18 months ago

(image via Leyo/Wikimedia)

The Pandora Report 10.11.13

A briefer report this week due staff illness (one of the many drawbacks of studying biodefense is the crippling hypochondria that comes with it  – we’re pretty sure we’ve come down with MERS). Highlights include actual cases of MERS, Hajj starting and outbreak fears, dengue in Houston, and the government shutdown leaving us exposed. Happy Friday!

Event Note: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the efforts in destroying chemical weapons. Our October Biodefense Policy Seminar, happening Wednesday Oct. 16th, features Dr. Paul Walker, who was recently rewarded the prestigious Swedish Rights Livelihood Award for his personal contributions to the destruction of chemical weapons. Join us and Dr. Walker as we discuss disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile Wednesday evening

Virus hangs over Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca

Hajj is finally upon us, will millions of pilgrims flooding the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca for the annual muslim pilgrimige, culminating on October 15th. Doctors in hospitals across Southern California have been alerted by state health departments to watch for fever and respiratory symptoms in individuals returning from the Middle East. Here’s to hoping for the best.

LA Times – “The hajj, which typically draws more than 10,000 from the U.S. and culminates Oct. 15 this year, is just the sort of environment where a virus can spread efficiently. Conditions can be hot and crowded, said Jihad Turk, a religious advisor for the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles and president of Bayan Claremont, an Islamic graduate school in Claremont. Pilgrims retrace the steps of the biblical Abraham, his wife Hagar and their son Ishmael, considered the founders of the Islamic people. In one key ritual, they march seven times around the cube-shaped Kaaba in Mecca, said to have been built by Abraham and Ishmael.’You have a million people all at the same time walking around the Kaaba,’ said Turk, who has participated in the hajj twice. ‘It’s like being in a crowded subway in New York for hours and hours at a time.”

Genome studies link MERS origin to bats

Speaking of MERS, another study has emerged linking the virus’ origins to bats. To date there have been 136 cases of the resipatory syndrome, with 58 fatalities.

Infectious Disease News – “Previous research suggested that MERS uses the DPP-4 receptor to enter the cell. Researchers from Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity at the University of Sydney in Australia analyzed seven bat genomes to determine the sequence of the DPP4 gene. They compared these findings with those from other mammalian species. They found three residues in bat DPP-4 receptors that directly interact with the viral surface glycoprotein. The mutations in the bat genes also occurred at a faster rate, which suggests that the virus existed in bats for a long period and has evolved before it began to infect humans.”

Study: Dengue fever found in Houston

Dengue, the mosquito-borne virus which ravages so much of the developing world, has re-emerged in Houstan. According to a new study from Baylor College, antibodies to the disease where present in 47 individuals sampled as part of a larger West Nile study, suggesting an outbreak in 2003.

Houston Chronicle – “‘Dengue virus can cause incredibly severe disease and death,’ [study researcher] Murray said. ‘This study shows that Houston may be at risk of an outbreak, that people need to be on the lookout.’ While no blood and cerebrospinal fluid samples from after 2005 are available for study, Murray said the virus likely is still in Houston. Dengue fever is widespread in other parts of the world. Whenever it appears in the U.S., local officials hope to contain it. It can cause severe body aches, high fever and rash. Its most severe forms can cause severe bleeding and death. In central Florida, 20 cases of dengue fever have been reported this year.”

Idle CDC Worries Experts as Flu Season Starts

We can attest first hand that flu season has definitely started. As we mentioned last week, it’s happening without the watchful eye of the CDC surveillance system. While there has been some private industry pull-through, the supplemental surveillance isn’t enough to provide a good national picture of flu trends.

MedPage – “But it’s not just data and it’s not just flu, according to Gregory Poland, MD, an infectious diseases specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.’There are an endless number of infectious disease threats that, as we often say, are an airplane ride away from us,’ Poland said. And the CDC is the ‘only entity’ that tracks infectious disease on a national scale, he added. ‘So now you’ve got a week, 2 weeks, who knows how long, where there’s no one really responsible for watching what’s happening nationally.’ He painted a grim picture of what might happen while the agency is all-but-shuttered.

“‘Worst-case scenario is a novel infectious disease is imported into the U.S.,’ he said, with cases scattered at first across a dozen states. ‘Nobody understands that it’s happening simultaneously in real time and we don’t have 12 cases, we have 1,200 cases before we realize what’s going on.'”

Using a Fish Army to fight Dengue

In what has to be one of the strangest public health strategies to date, health officials in the Punjab districts of Pakistan have released over a million Tilapia into pools, ponds, large puddles – just about any body of standing water – in an effort to combat dengue. Pakistan has a long rainy season which creates thousands of pools of water where the mosquitoes who carry dengue lay their eggs. By releasing the fish into these pools, the larvae are eaten before they can hatch, killing the virus’ vector and preventing its spread.

While it may be tempting to dismiss the strategy as a bizarre version of the woman-who-swallowed-the-fly nursery rhyme, don’t – apparently, it’s working. In 2011, the Punjab districts had over 20,000 cases of dengue, including 300 fatalities. So far this year, following the release of over 1.6 million fish, there have been just 100 cases total.  The question of what happens to the fish when the pools evaporate has not yet been addressed, but we’re still impressed – can you imagine having to pitch this idea to your superiors?

Read more about this very innovative use of fish at the Guardian.

(Image: Tilapia farmer in Pakistan, courtesy of USDA/Flickr)

The Pandora Report 8.2.13

Highlights include H5N1 raging in Nepal, using your phone to detect toxins,  Honduras battling dengue, mutated polio in Pakistan, West Nile rearing its ugly head early, and Ebola, gorillas, and tourism. Happy Friday!

Nepal Avian flu situation “getting out of hand” 

H5N1 is currently raging in Nepal, which is experiencing its 15th outbreak of the poultry-transmitted flu virus in the last couple weeks alone. Local health officials are calling on the government to step in and help stop the virus’ spread, following the death of nearly 25,000 chickens in three districts in the last 20 days. Meanwhile, there are disturbing rumors surrounding the government’s hesitancy to intervene, including lobbying on the part of the Nepali poultry association. With the virus spreading to another two districts in the last week, containment is critical.

eKantipur – “According to the experts, farmers selling the potentially infected chickens in the market in the absence of effective monitoring has worsened the situation. ‘There is total impunity; the authorities know who is at fault, but still they have failed to take immediate action,’ said Dr Shital Kaji Shrestha, General Secretary of the Nepal Veterinary Association. While some farmers have dumped dead birds openly in public places, others have buried them secretly without following the standard procedures. Such practices have increased the chances of the epidemic spreading, experts said. The police on Monday seized 426 chickens that were being transported to Birgunj for sale from a flu-affected farm in Bhaktapur.”

Smartphone cradle, app detect toxins, bacteria

This app/cradle combo turns your average smartphone into a mini biosensor. It was developed for people with food allergies in mind, but we think it could be tweaked for more homeland security/non proliferation purposes (not that allergies are to be taken lightly, peanuts are everywhere these days).

The Sacramento Bee – “The handheld biosensor was developed by researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. A series of lenses and filters in the cradle mirror those found in larger, more expensive laboratory devices. Together, the cradle and app transform a smartphone into a tool that can detect toxins and bacteria, spot water contamination and identify allergens in food. Kenny Long, a graduate researcher at the university, says the team was able to make the smartphone even smarter with modifications to the cellphone camera.”

Honduras declares state of emergency over dengue fever

Honduras has declared a state of emergency in an effort to bolsters its attempts to contain its dengue outbreak. To date, the outbreak has caused approximately 12,000 cases, of which approximately 1,800 are serious. According the the WHO, 40% of the world’s population, or nearly 2.5 billion people, are at risk for dengue infection.

BBC – “Honduras has declared a state of emergency after an outbreak of dengue fever that has killed 16 people so far this year. The government has promised to step up its fight against the mosquitoes that spread dengue fever. Health Minister Salvador Pineda said more than half of Honduras’ municipalities have registered cases of the viral infection this year.”

Mutated virus heightens polio worries

This is depressing for a couple of reasons. First, Pakistan is one of just three countries in the world where polio is endemic. The last thing they need is a mutated strain. Second, public health officials attempting to halt the virus’ spread do so at tremendous personal risk – tribal leaders earlier this month declared their support for the Taliban’s ban on polio vaccination, as a protest against US drone strikes in the area.  Absurd, yes, but not without possible provocation – keep in mind a 2011 US vaccination campaign in Abbottabad was actually a covert CIA operation, in which the doctors, rather than administering vaccines, were collecting DNA from locals. This resulted in those administering legitimate polio vaccines being labelled as “Western spies”, and refused entry into villages.

DAWN – “Dr Alias Durray, chief of the World Health Organisation’s polio eradication programme in Pakistan, confirmed to Dawn that the strain, which has close genetic similarities with the globally eradicated P2 strain, has paralysed a baby boy in Mastung district of Balochistan…The polio virus has three types of strains termed P1, P2 or P3 strain. Immunity from any one strain does not protect a person from the other strains. The P2 virus had been eradicated globally in 1998, and only the P1 and P3 strains remain. What is sad is that a strain similar to the mutated polio virus had been stopped after it first broke out and struck 15 children in Qila Abdullah area of Balochistan in 2011.”

West Nile Virus Making Early Appearance This Summer

A big part of our job is keeping a close eye on any biodefense-related news (duh), and lately our inbox has been full of West Nile updates. Every day another US county seems to be reporting the virus appearance. With it already active in 29 states, and the worst months in terms of spread to come, it looks like West Nile is fast on the way to a very strong year. If you’re going to be outside at all, now is definitely the time, if you haven’t already, to invest in some mosquito repellent.

The Wall Street Journal –  “West Nile virus is transmitted through bites from infected mosquitoes. Although only one in five people who contract the virus develop symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches or vomiting, the virus can cause serious neurological illnesses that can be fatal, such as encephalitis or meningitis. The 2012 West Nile virus outbreak was the deadliest on record since the illness was first detected in the United States in 1999: 5,674 cases of West Nile virus were reported nationwide, including 286 deaths. Health officials expect the disease to continue to be a formidable public health issue. Because no human vaccine exists, preventing mosquito bites is the most effective way to avoid contracting West Nile virus…”

Saving the Gorillas—and Launching a Nation’s Tourism Economy

There was a very interesting piece in the Atlantic yesterday looking at Ebola in Congolese gorilla populations, and the disease’s impact on preservation efforts. Understanding local populations interaction with potentially infected animals helps create a more complete picture of the virus’ potential spread during an outbreak. Check it out if you have a spare minute and are need to read a news piece with a happy(ish) ending.

The Atlantic – “In November 2002, gorilla trackers outside the village of Mbomo, in the Republic of the Congo, came upon a group of apes that were stressed. One of the trackers described the females as crying. Then the men began finding carcasses in the forest: heaps of matted hair and liquefied organs oozing blood. In a period of four months, 130 of the 143 gorillas the trackers were following died. Later that same year, another 91 of 95 gorillas they were studying were gone. Few words cause a greater chill in any language than ‘Ebola,’ the hemorrhagic fever and lethal virus first detected in equatorial Africa in 1976. Most initial human cases come from contact with infected animals, including consuming them as bush meat–often the most-accessible source of protein in places where there aren’t cattle.”

(A Nepali woman sells chickens in Kathmandu – image via Flickr/oliphant)

Costa Rica experiencing dual outbreaks of Dengue and H1N1

Public health officials in Costa Rica are scrambling to contain two ongoing outbreaks of dengue and H1N1 respectively. Dengue, one the WHO’s “neglected tropical diseases”, has been making the rounds in Central America, with limited outbreaks of dengue in Nicaragua and Honduras. Costa Rica is currently working on vector control to stop the spread of the mosquito-bourne virus. Meanwhile, Costa Rica is also working to contain a limited H1N1 outbreak, but is struggling with maintaining sufficient numbers of vaccines.

Costa Rica Star – “According to online news daily Costa Rica Hoy, health officials from la Caja estimate that more than $500 million have been spent on treatment and paid sick leave of patients who fall ill from dengue fever. According to actuaries studying figures from La Caja’s hospital and epidemiological expenditures, the costs in 2013 have not only been higher than in the previous year; they are also higher than similar costs during 2008 and 2009 combined. Dengue hemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal, has already claimed a couple of lives in Costa Rica. The Ministry of Health has been actively involved in controlling the vector population of Aedes aegypti, the carrier mosquito that breeds in stagnant pools of water located in the tropics. Efforts in controlling this potentially deadly insect include habitat destruction and fumigation.”

Read more here.


Dengue’s powers of cross protection

Check out this NY Times piece clarifying dengue’s capacity for cross protection. Dengue is a mostquito-born virus which often causes flu-like symptoms in humans. While it is known that infection with one strain of the virus results in a brief period of protection from the three other strains, the duration of this protective period has remained unclear until now. Researchers have determined that infection provides a two-year window of cross protection. However, a secondary infection with a different strain which occurs after the two year window increases the risk of extremely virulent symptoms, including dengue hemorrhagic fever.

Dengue is considered one of the WHO’s “neglected tropical diseases“, due to its endemic nature in over 100, primarily poorer, countries and its comparative neglect in terms of vaccine and antiviral research.

Excerpt: “Infection with one strain of the dengue virus gives people protection against the other three strains for about two years, a new biostatistics study has found. The study, by Thai and American researchers, was based on 38 years’ worth of laboratory records from one children’s hospital in Bangkok. By measuring how long each strain predominated and then faded in importance, researchers could calculate how long protection lasted against alternate strains.”

Read the full article here.

The Pandora Report

Highlights include: patenting viruses pt. II, BioWatch Gen 3 or the lack thereof, West Nile, Dengue detection, and US live hog imports restricted as PEDV rages. Happy Friday!

Why a Saudi Virus Is Spreading Alarm

A less discussed aspect of studying novel microorganisms is the corporate red tape often involved. We talked about this a couple weeks ago, but the most recent case of this is the patenting (or at least, creating of a Material Transfer Agreement) of the MERS virus by Ron Fouchier’s Dutch laboratory. Under the MTA, all labs who request samples of the virus are contractually bound not to develop vaccines or products without first asking for permission from the Dutch lab. As you can imagine, this creates extra hurdles for Saudi scientists trying to stem the virus’ spread across Saudi Arabia. Lest one believe this is simply “the way things are done” in virology, China released samples of its H7N9 virus to open source sites within a month of the first case being identified.

Council on Foreign Relations – “But impeding an effective response is a dispute over rights to develop a treatment for the virus. The case brings to the fore a growing debate over International Health Regulations, interpretations of patent rights, and the free exchange of scientific samples and information. Meanwhile, the epidemic has already caused forty-nine cases in seven countries, killing twenty-seven of them…’The virus was sent out of the country and it was patented, contracts were signed with vaccine companies and anti-viral drug companies, and that’s why they have a MTA [Material Transfer Agreement] to be signed by anybody who can utilize that virus, and that should not happen,’ [Saudi Arabia’s deputy health minister] Memish said.”

Autonomous Detection Sought For BioWatch Surveillance Systems

BioWatch Gen 3 is currently on the back burner, as officials explore alternative options (analysis of alternatives, or AoA). Everyone agrees that some form of detection is necessary, everyone agrees that 24 hours is too long of a lag time, and everyone definitely agrees that local and state health officials need to be involved, but not everyone agrees that the current funding proposals for BioWatch are feasible. Does anyone else feel like this is a disaster waiting to happen?

Homeland Security Newswire – “Options for upgrading the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) BioWatch biosurveillance program monitoring systems for biological agents to autonomous detectors is continuing to be explored — and the department plans eventually to do so in collaboration with state and local officials. But DHS currently has no formal program to produce the next generation of BioWatch monitoring technology, said BioWatch Program Manager Michael Walter in remarks at the National Academies of Science (NAS) Tuesday.”

West Nile Virus Logs Deadliest Year After Hotter Summer

Last year was a bad year for West Nile, with 286 deaths and 5,674 cases. The CDC is closely monitoring the number of cases as we enter the peak season (July through September), as reasons for last year’s large case number remains unclear. However, a warmer, wetter summer is thought to be a big part of it.

Bloomberg –  “While there are only six reported cases of the virus this year through June, according to the CDC’s website, more than 90 percent of infections from last year occurred between July and September.’West Nile virus is going to be a factor in the U.S. every year now,’ Marc Fischer, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC’s arboviral diseases branch, said in a telephone interview. ‘People need to take precautions and protect themselves.'”

The ‘Gold’ Standard: A Rapid, Cheap Method of Detecting Dengue Virus

Scientists are using gold nanoparticles to develop cheap, quick diagnostics for detecting dengue. While we understand this is very important in terms of helping reduce the spread of a globally present (50-100 million cases annually) and deadly virus, we also are a little pleased by the “gold” standard pun.

Science Daily – “The development of an easy to use, low cost method of detecting dengue virus in mosquitoes based on gold nanoparticles is reported in BioMed Central’s open access journal Virology Journal. The assay is able to detect lower levels of the virus than current tests, and is easy to transport and use in remote regions…Researchers from the University of Notre Dame, USA, used a DNAzyme linked to gold nanoparticles which recognises a short sequence of the viral RNA genome common to all four types of Dengue. Once bound, adding magnesium and heating to 37C causes the DNAZyme to cut the RNA leaving the gold nanoparticles free to clump together. This aggregation can be easily seen as a red to clear/colourless colour change.”

USDA working for removal of Mexican restrictions on live hog imports

The USDA is scrambling to get restrictions on US live pigs lifted by Mexico, following an outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV). The outbreak of PEDV has spread to 13 states in couple weeks since the virus’ first emergence.

Reuters – “A spokeswoman for the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said on Thursday the agency has sent Mexico information requested in connection with the outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, a swine virus deadly to young pigs never before seen in North America. She did not state what information had been requested.”