Pandora Report 11.6.2015

Happy Friday! The world of biodefense and global health security has been busy this week – between a growing outbreak of E. coli associated with Chipotle restaurants, to a review of Select Agent lab practices, and a recap of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, there’s more than enough to keep you busy! Fun history fact Friday (it’s our version of “flashback Friday”), did you know that on November 6, 1971, the US Atomic Energy Commission tested the largest US underground hydrogen bomb (code name Cannikin) on Amchitka Island?

CDC/Select Agent List- 90 Day Internal Review
We’ve seen a lot of news lately regarding lab safety and biodefense reform/recommendations. With so much scrutiny regarding biosafety practices, it’s not surprising the CDC would do a deep dive into “how the agency inspects select agent labs” with a 90 day review. The review notes that while it didn’t duplicate the recommendations from Presidential Order 13546, it did find several areas for improvement, leading to nine observations and ten actionable recommendations. The categories for recommendations are inspections, incident reporting, and transparency. The findings point to several areas for improvement, ranging from the standardization of risk assessments to identify high risk activities, to the sharing of inspection data to better encourage public understanding of the work practices performed with these agents. The report highlights several areas for improvement that will hopefully lead to more stable biosecurity and public understanding of how we handle select agents. You can also check out the Federal Select Agent Program for a list of the agents and regulations involved.

2016 Presidential Candidates on Nonproliferation
GMU’s Greg Mercer is at it again with round three of his review on 2016 presidential candidates and their comments on nonproliferation. As of now, he’s reviewed the Republican candidates, but now he’s delving into the Democratic candidates. Greg reviews Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley, noting that ” in contrast to Republicans, most Democrats support the Iran deal, and generally tend to favor international arms control regimes.” With the race only heating up, stay tuned  for more of Greg’s candidate-by-candidate reviews on nonproliferation in the 2016 election.

GMU Master’s Open House and Application Deadlines!
Considering a master’s degree? Come check out the GMU School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs (SGPIA) Open House on Wednesday, November 18th, 6:30pm at our Arlington Campus in Founders Hall (Room 126). There’s even a pre-session for veterans and active duty military at 5:45pm! The Open House is a great way to learn about our different Master’s programs (Biodefense, International Security, Political Science, etc.) and ask real-time questions with faculty. Our Biodefense Program Director, Dr. Koblentz, will be there to discuss global health security and tell you about the pretty amazing things we get to do at GMU! If you’ve already attended or are planning to apply, just a friendly reminder that PhD program applications are due December 1st, and Biodefense Master’s Spring applications are due December 1st as well.

Zika Virus Outbreak in Colombia
Nine new cases have been identified in Sincelejo, Colombia, with an additional three being investigated in Barranquilla. Zika virus is a vectorborne disease that is transmitted through Aedes mosquitos. The CDC notes that vertical transmission (from mother to child) can occur if the mother is infected near her delivery and Zika can be spread through blood transfusion (although no cases have occurred this way) and sexual contact (one case of sexually transmitted Zika virus has occurred to date). Common signs and symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes that last several days to a week. In the past, transmission has occurred in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, however, there have been cases in 2015 in Brazil and Colombia. We’ll keep you updated if transmission continues in South America!

There have also been cases of Chikungunya springing up throughout the Caribbean and Americas. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) initially reported just over 2,400 cases a few weeks ago, however a new report is showing 13,476 new cases. Initially starting in December 2013, this epidemic began with a single locally acquired case on St. Martin island, and is now totaling 1, 760,798 cases.

Chipotle E.coli Outbreak 
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Chipotle (we reported that Minnesota  Chipotle customers experienced a Salmonella outbreak in August), an E. coli outbreak is making headlines in Washington and Oregon. Public health officials updated the case total to 41 people as of 11/4, with 6 patients requiring hospitalization. The source of the outbreak hasn’t been identified yet but as a precautionary measure, they’ve closed 14 restaurants. So far, the identified cases have been tied to five restaurants across six counties.

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Stories you May Have Missed

  • CRISPR-Cas9 Utility Broadens – researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have improved on the utility of CRISPR-Cas9 through application via bacterial sources. The team “reports evolving a variant of SaCas9 – the Cas9 enzyme from Streptococcus aureus bacteria – that recognizes a broader range of nucleotide sequences, allowing targeting of the genomic sites previously inaccessible to CRISPR-Cas9 technology.” The new application allows a more precise targeting within the genomic sequence, which may translate to therapeutic applications. CRISPR-Cas9 has been a hot topic within the science and biodefense community in relation to its potential labeling as dual use research of concern (DURC) and certain ethical debates.
  • Unvaccinated Babies Refused By Some Physicians– Vaccination status is something I’ve grappled with working in pediatrics and is one of the rare things that can turn a calm physician (or infection preventionist for that matter) red-faced and needing a breather. The Boston Globe reported on a recent survey from the American Academy of Pediatrics that touched on pediatricians dismissing families that refused vaccines. The study found that all pediatricians surveyed had encountered at least one parent refusing vaccination for their child and 20% of pediatricians “often” or “always” dismissed families who refuse one or more vaccine. Interestingly, researchers found that “doctors in private practice, those located in the South, and those in states without philosophical exemption laws were the most likely to dismiss families refusing to vaccinate their infant”.
  • Guinea Ebola Tranmission – Guinea continues to experience new cases. As we mentioned last week, the cluster of four patients from the Kondeyah village is being monitored by public health officials. An infected newborn, whose mother died from Ebola recently, is also under observation and care. The infant’s mother was a confirmed case prior to her delivery and died after giving birth. The WHO is currently monitoring 382 contacts in Guinea during this time.

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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 9.6.14

This week we cover dengue in Japan, dog flu in NYC, more forgotten lethal specimens in government labs, and of course, an Ebola update.

Canine Influenza Cases Spreading in Manhattan

Flu season is rapidly approaching, and evidently, it doesn’t only affect humans. Veterinarians in Manhattan have reported cases throughout the borough. The cases are likely due to dogs playing with other infected dogs at parks and dog runs. Vets warn owners to watch for coughing dogs and if they are present to take their dog to another area. The good news is, just like their human counterparts, dogs, too, can receive a flu vaccine.

The Gothamist—“According to the ASPCA, symptoms include coughing, sneezing, difficulty breathing, fever, lethargy and loss of appetite; most dogs will recover within a month, but secondary infections like pneumonia can be problematic.”

 

New Cases of Dengue Fever Should be a Wake-Up Call for Japan

As many as 70 people in Japan have been infected with Dengue fever—traditionally, a disease found in tropical climates—the country’s first outbreak since 1945. The diagnoses prompted authorities to fumigate an area of Yoyogi Park in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, which was the apparent source of the infections. Dengue fever is transmitted by mosquitos and produces an extremely high fever and pain in the joints. The disease is not transmitted person to person.

The Asahi Shimbun—“The most effective way to deal with a global dengue epidemic is to step up the efforts to exterminate mosquitoes in countries with a large number of patients, especially in urban areas.”

 

Forgotten Vials of Ricin, Plague, and Botulism found in U.S. Government Lab 

A strong feeling of deja vu hit this week when we learned about yet another case of forgotten vials of dangerous pathogens at U.S. labs. In this case, the containers were discovered during an investigation of NIH facilities after scientists found vials of smallpox earlier this summer. This search discovered a century (!!) old bottle of ricin, as well as samples of tularemia and meliodosis. The FDA also reported they found an improperly stored sample of staphylococcus enterotoxin.

The Independent—“The NIH does have laboratories that are cleared to use select agents, and those pathogens are regularly inventoried, the director of research services Dr. Alfred Johnson said. However, these samples were allowed to be stored without regulation.”

 

This Week in Ebola

We learned that new cases of Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo are genetically unrelated to the West African strain and that researchers from the Broad Institute and Harvard are working to sequence and analyze virus genomes from the West African outbreak. Senegal is working hard to manage contacts with the Guinean student who tested positive for the virus in the capital, Dakar. Human trials of an Ebola vaccine continued in the U.S. and are planned to take place in Mali, the U.K., and Gambia. A third American infected with Ebola will return to the U.S. and will be treated at a Nebraska medical containment unit which was built for the SARS outbreak. I read an article that hypothesized that Ebola may be able to be transmitted sexually which could account for a high number of cases, while the Washington Post pointed to the fact that the West Africa outbreak is drawing attention from diseases which are more widespread and kill more people—it’s the Kardashian of diseases. Lastly, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said that this outbreak of Ebola is “threatening the stability” of affected and neighboring countries, and Dr. Daniel Lucey, of the Georgetown University Medical Center, predicts that the current outbreak “will go on for more than a year, and will continue to spread unless a vaccine or other drugs that prevent or treat the disease are developed.”

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons