Pandora Report: 3.4.2016

Dirty bombs, Zika virus, and biosecurity in Iraq? That’s just a taste of the biodefense news we’ve got in store for you this week. While norovirus hits the East Coast (thanks, oysters!) and an additional three cases were confirmed in the seven-month-long Listeria outbreak associated with Dole salads, it’s no wonder there’s been work to build a new US food safety system. Next month the CDC will be working with state and local officials to establish plans in the most hard-hit Zika areas.

Assessing America’s Soft Underbelly and The Threat of Agroterrorism
The House Committee on Homeland Security’s Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications Subcommittee held a hearing on Friday in which they discussed and reviewed the risk of agroterrorism or natural agro-disasters. Disruption to the agriculture infrastructure and economy could be devastating to the US. Regardless if it’s private or public sectors, preparedness is vital to reduce calamitous damage. “US food and agriculture accounts for roughly one-fifth of the nation’s economic activity, contributed $835 billion to the US gross domestic product in 2014, and is responsible for one out of every 12 US jobs, according to Subcommittee Chairman Martha McSally (R-AZ).” Consider the impact of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) on their respective sectors and country economies. Some of the highlighted vulnerabilities and challenges were insufficient quantity of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) vaccine, gaps in US biosecurity, traceability, gaps in detection, data sharing for regulated disease, and more.

Strengthening Biosecurity in Iraq: Development of a National Biorisk Management SystemScreen Shot 2016-03-04 at 10.02.47 AM
GMU Biodefense director and professor, Dr. Gregory Koblentz, and Mahdi al-Jewari, director of the biology department for the Iraqi National Monitoring Authority in the Iraq Ministry of Science of Technology, have joined together to discuss the furthering of Iraqi biosecurity. Mahdi al-Jewari visited GMU in early 2015 to speak on global biorisk management, hosted by the GMU School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs. In their research, Dr. Koblentz and Mr. al-Jewari discuss Iraq’s implementation of its non-proliferation commitments, highlighting that since 2004 “Iraq has taken a series of practical steps to implement its obligations under international non-proliferation treaties to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery to states and non-state actors.” The Iraqi National Monitoring Authority, established in 2012, strives to strengthen their biosecurity program through three primary functions: compliance, monitoring of dual-use materials, and capacity building. The National Biorisk Management System has also highlighted four priorities to “counter biological threats: establishing a national pathogen list, building laboratory capacity, developing the capability to conduct joint law enforcement–public health investigations, and establishing a biorisk management law. The NBMC has established sub-committees charged with developing new policies and programs to achieve these four objectives.” While sustainability will be the most challenging hurdle for Iraq, commitment to investments  in infrastructure, IT, biosecurity, and biosurveillance systems can help them overcome these difficulties.

Just How Far Down the Zika Rabbit Hole Are We So Far?
It seems like every week we’re learning new things about Zika virus and how much work needs to be done. I wonder, how far have we made it down the rabbit hole for Zika and how much more do we have to go? While the Aedes mosquito is the reigning king of Zika virus infections, what about animals? The CDC recently released information regarding the concerns over zoonotic cases. Originally discovered in a monkey in the Zika Forest in 1940’s Uganda , the CDC maintains that “at this time, animals do not appear to be involved in the spread” and that there is no evidence of zoonotic transmission. “Nonhuman primates (apes and monkeys) have shown the ability to become infected with Zika virus; but, only a few naturally and experimentally infected monkeys and apes have had any signs of illness at all, and then it was only a mild, transient fever without any other symptoms.” As international public health teams descend upon the outbreak regions, we will surely be learning more about this outbreak. Perhaps the most challenging issue is the dissemination of information, especially in regions of high transmission. University of Arizona Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health infectious disease professor, Dr. Kacey Ernst, is one of the top vector-borne researchers and she recently explained: “The Zika virus pandemic, thought to be primarily caused by transmission of the virus through Ae. aegypti requires urgent action to determine the role of the virus in neurological sequalea, including microcephaly as well as the relative transmission potential of Ae. albopictus. Given the important role of communities in preventing the proliferation of the peridomestic, anthropophilic Ae. aegypti, communication between the scientific communities and the public must be heightened to ensure timely dissemination of surveillance information. While much of the United States is currently too cold to allow high densities of the primary vector of Zika virus, Ae. aegypti, the growing evidence surrounding the role of sexual transmission in the spread of Zika could imply that outbreaks of disease are possible even when transmission by the mosquito is not. More research is needed to delineate the two modes of transmission and the role that sexual transmission may be playing in the explosive spread of Zika across Latin America and the Caribbean.” In more Zika updates, blood samples from French Polynesia patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) during their Zika virus outbreak are revealing the first look into the reality that Zika may actually cause GBS. The CDC is also urging pregnant women to avoid the summer Olympics in Brazil due to the outbreak. The FDA also just issued their Emergency Use Authorization for a Zika diagnostic tool for qualified countries. As of March 2nd, the CDC has reported 153 travel-associated Zika virus cases within the US.

Education Gaps on Dirty Bombs
David Ropeik from Scientific American discusses the impact that poor education and fear regarding dirty bombs can pose during an emergency. “The prospect of such a bomb seems terrifying, but anyone who knows the basic science of radiation biology knows that it wouldn’t cause much health damage, because the dose of radioactivity to which most people might be exposed would be very low. And experts know, based on the 65 year Life Span Study of the survivors of atomic bomb explosions in Japan, that even at extraordinarily high doses, ionizing radiation only raises lifetime cancer mortality rates a little bit—just two thirds of one percent for survivors who were within three kilometers of ground zero.” Few people know that low doses from a dirty bomb exposure pose little (not zero, but minimal) health risks, but rather people tend to hear “radioactive” or “nuclear radiation” and run screaming to the hills like a zombie hoard is approaching. While Ropeik points out that there will of course be devastation and economic damage, the resulting stress, fear, and public outcry for retaliation can be just as damaging. So what can we do? He points to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and CDC educational sites, but emphasizes that in the end, a communication campaign to combat fear would “take at least some power of a dirty bomb to terrorize us out of the hands of the terrorists”.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Biosurviellance Ecosystem- The DoD and DHS are currently working on a new system that would allow epidemiologists to “scan the planet for anomalies in human and animal disease prevalence, warn of coming pandemics, and protect warfighters and others worldwide.” The Biosurveillance Ecosystem (BSVE) is a brain child that would allow epidemiologists to customize and collaborate – better yet, it’s being developed using open-source software and works “as a dashboard-like service from the cloud, accessible through an Internet browser”.
  • Select Agent Guidance– The Federal Select Agent Program (FSAP) is asking for community members to submit comments regarding the Guidance for Nonviable Select Agents and Nonfunctional Select Toxins. If you’re a member of the regulated community, help the FSAP become more transparent and strengthen biosecurity efforts! Comments will be accepted through March 14, 2016.
  • Giant Virus Secret Weapon: An Immune System – Whether it’s Frankenvirus or one of the other hundreds of giant viruses researchers have been finding, they’re teaching us a lot about secret weapons within the virus arsenal. Researchers working with a few of the giant viruses reported on Monday that some of the genes actually provide an immune system. Even crazier? The immune system “works a lot like the CRISPR system in bacteria that scientists have co-opted as a powerful gene editing tool.”

Pandora Report: 2.19.2016

TGIF! We hope you had a lovely week while avoiding RAW Meal Organic Shake and Meal Replacement products. The FDA recently reported an outbreak of Salmonella Virchow linked to the moringa powder within these products. 11 people across nine states were impacted by the outbreak, leading to an expanded recall due to the contamination. In this week’s Pandora Report, we’re covering Zika virus, CRISPR, GMU’s Biodefense Open House, ISIS use of chemical weapons, and much more. Before we begin, you’ll be happy to hear that as of today, airline passengers flying from Guinea to the US will no longer have to fly through designated airports and undergo screening for Ebola.

Zika Response Plans 
The WHO just released their Zika Strategic Response Framework & Joint Operations Plan for January-June 2016. Within the report, readers can find a timeline of the outbreak, a current situation report (sitrep) and the three objectives, which include surveillance, response, and research. Response strategies include community engagement, control efforts for the Aedes mosquito, and efforts to support and guide “the potential impact on women of childbearing age and those who are pregnant, as well as families with children affected by Zika virus.” The WHO estimates that the community engagement components requires $15.4 million, 10 partners, and will involve public health risk communication, community engagement, and health care personnel. Overall, the WHO estimates that to “kickstart” the international response, it will take $56 million. Fortunately, the World Bank announced it’s commitment of $150 million to combat the growing epidemic. The FDA just released blood donation recommendations related to the outbreak to mitigate risk of contamination. They are recommending that “those at risk of having been infected with the Zika virus should not donate blood for four weeks. These include those who have had Zika virus symptoms or sexual contact with people who have traveled to countries known to have ongoing transmissions.” According to the CDC, as of February 10th, there have been 52 travel-associated Zika virus associated cases in the US. On Thursday, Pope Francis suggested that women could justifiably use contraception to avoid pregnancy in Zika affected countries.

Upcoming Events: SPGIA Master’s Open House and Biodefense Seminar!Biodefense_320x180
Interested in furthering your education and getting to study topics like bioweapons, disease outbreaks, and terrorism? Check out the GMU Master’s Open House on Thursday, February 25th, 6:30pm at our Arlington Campus in Founder’s Hall, Room 126. Dr. Koblentz, GMU biodefense program director and one of our amazing professors, will also be holding an informational session at 7pm. You can even virtually attend if you’re looking to get more details on the biodefense graduate program and what kinds of adventures it entails. Once you’ve gotten your feet wet by attending one of the Open Houses, try our Biodefense Course Sampler on Wednesday, March 2nd, at 7pm in Founders Hall (GMU Arlington Campus), room 502. Dr. Koblentz will be hosting the event to discuss the unique challenges the US faces when it comes to global health security. Ranging from biosafety to natural disasters, and even zombies, this is a great way to get a taste of the GMU Biodefense program! Make sure to RSVP though, since space is limited.

Workshop on Women’s Health in Global Perspective
GMU’s School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs will be hosting this engaging and informational workshop on March 3, 2016 (8:45am-4:45pm), at our Arlington campus, in Founders Hall 111 and 1113. The keynote address will be from Dr. Nancy Lee, director of the Office of Women’s Health in the Department of Health and Human Services. Panels will discuss contraception and prenatal care, violence against women, dealing with disease, cross border concerns, and the role of gender disparities in women’s health outcomes. Lunch will be provided and while this event is free and open to the public, you’ll need to register here.

ISIS Use of Chemical Weapons
On Friday, CIA director John Brennan, confirmed that ISIS fighters have not only utilized chemical weapons, but also have the means and capabilities to make them. Reports indicate that ISIS is capable of making small quantities of chlorine and mustard gas. Brennan also pointed to potential exportation of chemical weapon to the West for financial incentives, noting that “there’s always a potential for that. This is why it’s so important to cut off the various transportation routes and smuggling routes they have used.” Confirmatory lab results from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) established the definitive presence of mustard gas in the attacks on Kurdish forces last year. “The OPCW will not identify who used the chemical agent. But the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the findings have not yet been released, said the result confirmed that chemical weapons had been used by Islamic State fighters. The samples were taken after the soldiers became ill during fighting against Islamic State militants southwest of Erbil, capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.” Given their successful use of mustard gas and growing concerns over development capabilities, Brennan noted that “US intelligence is actively involved in being part of the efforts to destroy ISIS and to get as much insight into what they have on the ground inside Syria and Iraq.”

Ongoing Challenges and Future Considerations for DHS Biosurveillance Efforts 
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently published their findings regarding the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) biosurveillance efforts, specifically the National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC) and the BioWatch program. Initial findings in 2009 found that NBIC wasn’t “fully equipped to carry out its mission because it lacked key resources—data and personnel—from its partner agencies, which may have been at least partially the result of collaboration challenges it faced.” Recommendations were made and then in August 2012, NBIC released its Strategic Plan in response to the deficiencies, of which focal points included clarification of its mission and efforts to fulfill its roles of analyzer, coordinator, and innovator. Since 2012 though, GAO has noted several challenges DHS has faced in attempts to justify the BioWatch program. In 2015, “GAO found that DHS lacks reliable information about the current system’s technical capabilities to detect a biological attack, in part because in the 12 years since BioWatch’s initial deployment, DHS has not developed technical performance requirements for the system. GAO reported in September 2015 that DHS commissioned tests of the current system’s technical performance characteristics, but without performance requirements, DHS cannot interpret the test results and draw conclusions about the system’s ability to detect attacks.” Based off their findings, GAO recommended DHS not pursue the upgrades it was considering to the program. Some of the changes NBIC will be pursuing include its modification to the Daily Monitoring List  and better integration of projections and forecasts. You can find the report here, which also includes a table regarding benefits and challenges for structural changes within NBIC. Coincidentally, there was a webinar this week on “Defending Against Bioterror with Improved BioWatch Standards”. During the webinar, the presenters (Dr. Georges Benjamin and Dr. Bruce Budowle) emphasized that BioWatch is an integrated system that “needs to be used with care and caution, but it’s really a marvelous piece of technology.” They also spent time discussing how PCR results may pose problematic for end users and how BioWatch “is a good investment that should continue”.

Mental Health Challenges in Ebola Fighters
The 2014 outbreak left untold damages upon the affected countries. Unfortunately, mental health is one that may have gone unnoticed. While doctors and nurses raced to respond to the outbreak, the response to mental health was given little thought. Fighters in the Ebola battle are now fighting personal struggles with alcoholism, depression, and drug addiction. In countries that have even fewer mental health professionals than medical doctors, many are in desperate need. Some of these include young men that signed up to bury the bodies of Ebola patients in the grassy mud within Liberia. Drew Hinshaw discusses how these “burial boys” found themselves digging graves for their own children and are now left struggling to find work and are suffering from severe PTSD and the emotional effects of such an ordeal. “Liberia has just one psychiatrist for a population of four million, according to the health ministry. Sierra Leone, home to seven million, also has only one. The mental-health wing of the Liberian health ministry has just two staffers on payroll.” The truth is simple- the impact of an outbreak of this magnitude, especially within impoverished countries, has rippling effects that go on for years. Perhaps future outbreak response and preparedness models should include mental health support during and following the outbreak?

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Future of CRISPR– CRISPR technology has been making headlines since it’s initial discovery, especially with Science naming it the Breakthrough of the Year. Its ease of use has raised many red flags for those within the science and biosecurity community. One of its discoverers, Jennifer Doudna, worked to answer questions and dispel concerns regarding mis-use, stating that “she considers it one of her responsibilities as a researcher to ensure that she educates people about the technology and listens to their questions and concerns about its use. She says one of her biggest fears is “waking up one morning and reading about the first CRISPR baby, and having that create a public backlash where people ban or regulators shut this down, and I think that could be very detrimental to the progress of the field.”
  • UK Parliament Report – Lesson Learned from Ebola – The UK Parliament has released their findings on the 2014 Ebola outbreak and the UK’s response efforts. Pointing to the necessity of strong and reliable communication, they emphasized that research must be started swiftly during such events. “The willingness of Government agencies, third sector organisations, health and aid workers, universities, and pharmaceutical companies to go above and beyond to help tackle the outbreak was phenomenal. The swift pace at which clinical trials were approved and conducted particularly stood out.” For updates on the outbreak, you can see the WHO sitrep here.
  • MERS-CoV Updates – A new report from Emerging Infectious Diseases discusses the infection of alpacas in a region where MERS-CoV is endemic. Given the susceptibility of alpacas, this could broaden the geographical distribution of potential cases. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) has started a Phase 1 clinical trial (the first to be tested in humans) for a MERS-CoV vaccine.

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Pandora Report 10.16.2015

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

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

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

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

west-africa-distribution-map
Source: CDC

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

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

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

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

Stories You May Have Missed:

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

Pandora Report 3.28.15

This week we’re covering a new treatment for inhalation anthrax, Russian nuclear threats, chlorine accelerating antibiotic resistance and other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week and see you back here next weekend!

FDA Approves Emergent BioSolutions’ Inhaled Anthrax Treatment

Considered one of the most likely agents to be used in biological warfare, Anthrax now has a new enemy—Anthrasil. This treatment, developed by Emergent BioSolutions Inc., neutralizes toxins of Bacillus anthracis and requires only two doses to confer immunity, versus the three of BioThrax (the current treatment for inhaled anthrax).

Reuters—“The company developed the treatment, Anthrasil, as part of a $160 million contract it signed in 2005 with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a part of the HHS. Anthrasil, which is approved in combination with other antibacterials, is already being stored in the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile, the company said on Wednesday. The drug is made using plasma from healthy, screened donors who have been immunized with Emergent Bio’s Anthrax vaccine, BioThrax, the only FDA-licensed vaccine for the disease. Anthrasil has an orphan drug designation and qualifies for seven years of market exclusivity.”

Russia Threatens to Aim Nuclear Missiles at Denmark Ships if it Joins NATO Shield

Denmark has said that in August it will contribute radar capacity on some of its warships to NATO’s missile defense system. Russia has now threatened to aim nuclear missiles at Danish warships if Copenhagen goes through with its actions. Moscow opposes the system arguing that it reduces the effectiveness of the Russian nuclear arsenal and could lead to a new Cold War-style arms race.

The World Post—“‘We have made clear that NATO’s ballistic missile defense is not directed at Russia or any country, but is meant to defend against missile threats. This decision was taken a long time ago, so we are surprised at the timing, tone and content of the statements made by Russia’s ambassador to Denmark,” [NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu] said. “Such statements do not inspire confidence or contribute to predictability, peace or stability.’”

Chlorine Treatment Can Accelerate Antibiotic Resistance, Study Says

Research presented at the American Chemical Society meeting last week shows that chlorine treatment of wastewater may actually encourage the formation of new antibiotics—rather than eliminating the drug residues. While scientists are looking for new antibiotics, this isn’t good news. ACS says that upon re-entering the environment, the new drugs—in theory—can promote the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria. In a test, doxycycline was exposed to chlorine; the results are described below.

Gizmodo—“The study evaluated the changes in the antibacterial activity of the products that form in the reaction between doxycycline and chlorine using antibiotic resistance assays. The results showed that some of the transformation products have antibiotic properties. The products of chlorination were also examined…and several chlorinated products were detected. These transformation products may still select for antibiotic resistant micro-organisms in the environment even in the absence of the parent doxycycline molecule. This suggests that re-evaluation of wastewater disinfection practices may be needed.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Pandora Report 9.13.14

This week we look at a report that claims DHS is not prepared for a pandemic and information about Chemical Weapons in Syria, still. We also have an Ebola update, and if you’re interested in learning more about the West African outbreak, join us Wednesday for our September Biodefense Policy Seminar!

Have a great weekend!

Homeland ill-prepared for Pandemic, Doesn’t Even Have Enough Drugs to Protect Secret Service

In a recently released report, the Office of the Inspector General claims that “the Department of Homeland Security may not be able to provide sufficient pandemic preparedness supplies to its employees to continue operations during a pandemic.” DHS, however, has disagreed with much of the report claiming it misrepresents the agency’s preparedness for an outbreak.

The Washington Times—“One of the biggest problems, investigators said, is that most of the stockpiles are of antiviral drugs that are expiring. By the end of 2015, the IG said that 81 percent of Homeland Security’s stockpiled antiviral medication will be past its shelf life. In addition, 84 percent of the agency’s stock of hand sanitizer has already expired, some batches by as long as four years, inspectors said.”

Watchdog Says Chlorine Gas Used as a Chemical Weapon in Syria

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reports that chlorine gas was used “systematically and repeatedly” as a weapon in northern Syria earlier this year. U.S. officials say that the Assad regime is the only force capable of launching such an attack. Even after the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, chlorine is not a forbidden substance under the CWC. However, the use of any chemical as a weapon is prohibited by the CWC. This news comes among concerns that any hidden weapons stockpiles may fall into the hands of terrorist or extremist groups, like ISIS

The Wall Street Journal—“The OPCW team traveled to the sites of attacks and interviewed victims, doctors and witnesses. According to the report, victims’ symptoms and the effect of the gas led the mission ‘to conclude with a high degree of confidence that chlorine, either pure or in mixture, is the toxic chemical in question.’”

This Week in Ebola

Another American Ebola patient was sent to Emory University in Atlanta for treatment and American Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly donated blood to the American patient, Dr. Rick Sacra, who is being treated in Nebraska. The thought is that Dr. Brantly’s blood will help confer passive immunity to Dr. Sacra. On last Sunday’s Meet the Press, President Obama pledged U.S. military assistance in setting up isolation units and providing security for health workers in West Africa but House Republicans indicated they would provide less than half of the White House’s requested funding for fighting Ebola. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations has pledged to contribute $50 million to support emergency efforts to contain the outbreak in West Africa. There were reports this week of a U.S. air marshal who was injected with a syringe at the Lagos Airport in Nigeria. Though it appears that the syringe was not infected with Ebola, it has caused fears that Ebola could be used as a weapon. All of this comes at a time when disease modelers at Northeastern University predict that as many as 10,000 cases of Ebola could be detected by the end of the month and there have been 60 cases resulting in 35 deaths from the Ebola outbreak in Congo.

Image Credit: WGBH News