Image of the Day: Camp Funston

Camp Funston

 

This photo depicts an influenza ward at Camp Funston in Kansas during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. This flu outbreak occurred between 1918 and 1920 and was one of the most deadly in history, infecting approximately 500 million people and killing 3-5% of the world population (50-100 million.)

That’s killed 3-5% of the entire world–not just infected 3-5% of the world!

Many historical resources cover this worldwise pandemic, also known as “Spanish Flu”, its effects, it causes, and the lasting legacy. Two include flu.gov and John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza.

 

Pandora Report 4.11.14

Ebola is still raging in West Africa and experts are planning for a long battle, however, every week can’t be about Ebola. So let’s jump into it!

Highlights include The START treaty, Chemical Weapons in Syria, H1N1 in otters and public outcry over Chilis (but not their baby back ribs.) Have a great weekend!

New START Data Show Russian Increase, US Decrease Of Deployed Warheads

With many Russia watchers nervously waiting to see if moves are made towards Ukraine, new data this week shows that Russia has actually increased their counted deployed strategic nuclear forces since September 2013 under the START treaty. Under the new treaty, by 2018, both Russia and the U.S. agree to no more than 1,550 strategic warheads on 700 deployed launchers. Russia has been under this limit since 2012—before the treaty was even signed—while the U.S. has yet to reduce below the treaty limits.

Federation of American Scientists– “Since the treaty was signed in 2010, the United States has reduced its counted strategic forces by 104 deployed launchers and 215 warheads; Russia has reduced its counted force by 23 launchers and  25 warheads. The reductions are modest compared with the two countries total inventories of nuclear warheads: Approximately 4,650 stockpiled warheads for the United States (with another 2,700 awaiting dismantlement) and 4,300 stockpiled warheads for Russia (with another 3,500 awaiting dismantlement).”

Another Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria?

 After Syria signed a chemical weapons dismantlement agreement in September 2013 (brokered by Russia, the U.S. and the UN), it appears they have reneged on their word. Reports from “credible” sources say that there have been chemical weapons attacks in the cities of Harasta and Jobar over the past couple weeks. With the eyes of the world on Russia and Ukraine, and U.S. naval destroyers loaded with tomahawk missiles departed from the Mediterranean, Assad may be benefitting from a lack of international oversight.

The Wall Street Journal-“There is no credible evidence to suggest that rebel groups in the Damascus area have acquired the materials or know-how to mount chemical weapons on conventional artillery pieces in their possession. It can therefore be concluded that unless the rebels theatrically fabricated the effects of a chemical attack, the Assad regime was likely responsible for carrying them out. Notably, on March 25, Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari distributed a letter specifically warning that rebels would use chemical weapons in Jobar in order to blame the government. But if any party in the conflict would be prone to such conspiracy, it would be the Assad regime, whose decades of tutelage under the Russian KGB made their Mukhabarat (secret service) frighteningly efficient at false-flag tactics meant to smear the opposition.”

Swine Flu From 2009 Pandemic Also Struck Sea Otters

Turns out, the H1N1 pandemic from 2009 didn’t only affect humans…it affected otters! New research shows that otters off the Western coast of the United States were also infected with H1N1 as it affected people throughout the U.S. Seventy percent of the otters tested in 2011 showed antibodies (demonstrating previous infection) for H1N1. Previous research also showed that elephant seals living off the coast of California had been infected with H1N1 too.

U.S. News and World Report-“‘Our study shows that sea otters may be a newly identified animal host of influenza viruses,” study-co-author and USGS scientist Hon Ip said in a government news release. “We are unsure how these animals became infected,” lead author and CDC scientist Zhunan Li said in the news release. “This population of sea otters lives in a relatively remote environment and rarely comes into contact with humans.” The study was published in the May issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.”

Chili’s cancels fundraiser with National Autism Association

Last weekend, my favorite mid-range American restaurant, Chili’s announced that they would be partnering with the National Autism Association for a benefit on Monday, April 7. However, outcry over the NAA—and its anti-vaccination stance—forced Chili’s to change its mind (and continue to keep my business.) It is a striking demonstration of the power of consumers and social media and strikes a victory for those in favor of vaccinations and the good they bring to communities and herd immunity.

CNN-“The Chili’s spokeswoman said that the NAA was originally selected for the fundraiser “based on the percentage of donations that would go directly to providing financial assistance to families and supporting programs that aid the development and safety of children with autism.”

Chili’s, which is owned by Brinker International (EAT), went on to say, “While we remain committed to supporting the children and families affected by autism, we canceled Monday’s Give Back Event based on the feedback we heard from our guests.”’

 

(image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/ Dave Bezaire & Susi Havens-Bezaire)

The Pandora Report 2.21.14

Editor’s note: Hello all Pandora Report subscribers! This is unfortunately my last week as author of the Pandora Report. It’s been such a pleasure having the opportunity to write the Pandora Report, and I would like to thank all of you for taking the time to subscribe and read it. I leave you all in the trusty hands of the new Pandora Report team – goodbye, thank you, and remember to stay away from the bats.

Highlights include PEDv, 1918 Spanish Flu, MERS-CoV, and Ebola. Happy Friday!

As deadly pig virus spreads, USDA warns of impact on hog supply

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv)has spread to a further two states, with Montana and Idaho reporting cases for the first time. The virus, which has a fatality rate approaching 100% in piglets, has swept across the country, with 3,528 cases in 25 states. Contaminated feed was recently put forth as a potential source of the virus’ spread. Before you start autoclaving your pork products, remember that the virus poses no threat to humans.

Chicago Tribune – “PEDv causes diarrhea, vomiting and severe dehydration in pigs. Research by the U.S. hog industry determined it is spread orally through infected pig manure, and can be carried by trucks, boots, clothes and water. But feed containing porcine by-products, including but not limited to plasma, recently came into focus as a means of transmission. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) found the virus in samples of U.S.-origin plasma from a third-party manufacturer for Grand Valley Fortifiers, a livestock feed company based in the province of Ontario. The company recalled the feed.”

Study revives bird origin for 1918 flu pandemic

According to a new study published in Nature, the 1918 (H1N1) Spanish flu virus originated not from reassortment in pigs, but from domestic water and shore birds. This most recent study contradicts finding in a persuasive 2009 study which found the virus to have circulated in humans and pigs for up to 15 years prior to the pandemic. Historical epidemiology is critical to better understanding, and therefore predicting, emerging  pandemic threats.

Nature – “The virus that caused the 1918 influenza pandemic probably sprang from North American domestic and wild birds, not from the mixing of human and swine viruses. A study published today in Nature1 reconstructs the origins of influenza A virus and traces its evolution and flow through different animal hosts over two centuries. ‘The methods we’ve been using for years and years, and which are crucial to figuring out the origins of gene sequences and the timing of those events, are all flawed’, says lead author Michael Worobey, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Worobey and his colleagues analysed more than 80,000 gene sequences from flu viruses isolated from humans, birds, horses, pigs and bats using a model they developed to map evolutionary relationships between viruses from different host species. The branched tree that resulted showed that the genes of the deadly 1918 pandemic virus are of avian origin.”

Saudi Arabia’s MERS Death Toll Reaches 60

The sixtieth MERS-CoV fatality in Saudi Arabia was a 22-year old male with previously existing conditions. The young man was also battling cancer. There have been 182 cases of the virus globally, of which 165 have been in Saudi Arabia. All but nineteen of the fatalities have been in Saudi Arabia. No word yet on whether he had previous contact with camels.

Gulf Business – “The virus, which first appeared in 2012, has affected around 182 people globally and has resulted in 79 deaths till date, according to World Health Organisation (WHO). MERS, a deadly but less transmissible virus than SARS, has symptoms such as coughing, fever and pneumonia. Although the worldwide number of MERS infections is fairly small, the high death rate among confirmed cases and the spread of the virus beyond the Middle East is keeping scientists and public health officials on alert. Cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, UAE, Oman and Tunisia as well as in several countries in Europe.”

Man steals phone from Ebola patient, gets infected

As this is my last Pandora Report, it is only appropriate Ebola is mentioned at least once. This story is making the rounds again following it’s use in a promotional AARP blog post (bold move, AARP, bold move). Its moral? Don’t steal things from hospitals. Especially things located in a hospital’s active quarantine zone. Especially things located in a hospital’s active quarantine zone during an Ebola outbreak.

The Daily Monitor (Uganda) – “Security and medical officials in Kibaale District have registered a case in which a man allegedly went in an isolation ward at Kagadi Hospital and stole a cellular phone from one of the Ebola patients…Police detectives began tracking him after he apparently began communicating to his friends using the phone. But as police zeroed in on him, he developed symptoms similar to those of Ebola and sought medication at the hospital…In his confession made to the police, the suspect, now patient, claimed he had visited the isolation ward to give them comfort although he confessed to knowing none in person.”

(image courtesy of NIAID)

H1N1 Deaths on the Rise

From the Washington Post – “The H1N1 virus responsible for the 2009 global pandemic is back. State health officials from across the country say the resurgence is resulting in a dramatic rise in flu deaths in young and middle-aged adults and in children this season. While the reported death tolls so far are only a fraction of what they were four years ago, they are significantly higher than last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the flu has been killing at epidemic levels since mid-January. Graphic Since October, 6,655 Americans were hospitalized with the flu. Click Here to View Full Graphic Story Since October, 6,655 Americans were hospitalized with the flu. With one month to six weeks to go in the flu season, which typically ends in March or April, the CDC said the number of people visiting doctors and hospitals for flu-like symptoms is declining overall, but some states are continuing to see high levels of flu activity or even increases in activity. Although the flu usually disproportionately affects the very old and the very young, this season 60 percent of those hospitalized for influenza have been age 18 to 64.”

Read more here.

The Pandora Report 1.23.14

Highlights include dengue in Texas, H7N9 spiking ahead of the Chinese New Year, renaming the 1918 influenza, and a man selling abrin on the black market. Happy Friday (stay warm)!

Rare Disease Linked to Dengue Virus Caused Texas Woman’s Death
A Texan woman thought to have been infected and died with West Nile Virus has been discovered to have actually succumbed to   dengue. The woman’s case was recently published by the CDC, which warned of the need for effective surveillance. Dengue thankfully remains relatively rare in the US – the woman represented just the third case in nearly a decade.

LiveScience – “The woman died after her dengue infection brought on another condition called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), in which white blood cells build up in the skin, spleen and liver, and destroy other blood cells. HLH is most frequently associated with Epstein Barr virus infection, but also has been linked to dengue, according to the researchers, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

H7N9: Bird flu cases surge ahead of Chinese New Year
As the Chinese New Year approaches, the number of H7N9 cases has steadily increased, with  73 cases in the last three weeks alone. This is making people very nervous  – Chinese New Year often means millions of people travelling in very close quarters, over long periods of times. However, health officials are careful to point out that influenza case numbers, across strains, increase in the colder months. As long as the virus remains poorly transmitted person-to-person, things are fine.

BBC – “Proffesor John McCauley, the director of a WHO collaborating centre on influenza in London, said: ‘I’ve been worried all the time about H7N9; it’s highly virulent and the case fatality is about one in three, so it poses a threat.’ The range of the virus had also spread, he added, with cases in Guangdong province, further south and east than previously. He said the winter might not be the whole explanation, particularly in southern provinces closer to the equator. ‘It may be seasonal, or an alternative is more poultry exposure in the build-up to Chinese New Year, and more poultry going through the markets. They might need to reconsider closure of the markets’.”

1918 Flu Pandemic That Killed 50 Million Originated in China, Historians Say
The 1918 Spanish influenza, like so many strains of the virus, has apparently suffered for decades under an egregious misnomer. According to a new hypothesis, proposed by historian Mark Humphries, the grandfather of modern H1N1 strains may have originated in China. Humphries published his research in the journal War in History, in it arguing that the importation of almost 100,000 Chinese laborers to support the British and French lines may have introduced the virus to Europe. For those of you wondering, the pandemic strain was dubbed the Spanish flu apparently because Spain was one of the only countries to report on its heavy case numbers during the otherwise heavily censored WWI.

National Geographic – “In the new report, Humphries finds archival evidence that a respiratory illness that struck northern China in November 1917 was identified a year later by Chinese health officials as identical to the Spanish flu. He also found medical records indicating that more than 3,000 of the 25,000 Chinese Labor Corps workers who were transported across Canada en route to Europe starting in 1917 ended up in medical quarantine, many with flu-like symptoms…Writing in the January issue of the journal War in History, Humphries acknowledges that his hypothesis awaits confirmation by viral samples from flu victims. Such evidence would tie the disease’s origin to one location.”

Feds: Fla. man sold deadly toxin to NJ agent
A 19 year old in Florida has been apprehended after selling to toxin abrin to an undercover FBI agent. The deal was agreed upon online, with the FBI agent posing as a buyer on an intermediary cyber black market. The suspect was arrested after directing the FBI agent to two candles filled with the toxin, left in a fast food bag at a rest stop in Florida. A McDonalds bag, for those of you wondering about the culinary preferences of illicit toxin sellers. On a less flippant note, abrin is tremendously potent – while it presents similarly to ricin, it is 75 times more toxic.

The Grand Island Independent – “Prosecutors said Korff negotiated over the Internet with the undercover agent in New Jersey.’He allegedly peddled the poison on a virtual black market of illegal and dangerous good, hidden in the shadow of a secretive computer network favored by cybercriminals,’ said New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman. Korff received $1,500 over the Internet from the agent and left the toxin hidden in two candles at a rest stop near Fort Myers, Fla., authorities said. Korff was arrested after the candles were found to contain abrin.”

(image:Calvin Teo)

The Pandora Report 1.3.13

The first Pandora Report of the new year, and it’s (unsurprisingly) flu heavy. Highlights include H1N1 attacking the young, new MERS-CoV cases, H7N9 in Taiwan, H5N1 in China, and the gain-of-function debate (so more H5N1). Happy Friday!

Notice to Clinicians: Early Reports of pH1N1-Associated Illnesses for the 2013-14 Influenza Season
The CDC has a health alert out, detailing the tendency of this season’s predominant flu strain (which, as we’ve said before, looks like its going to be H1N1) to disproportionately affect the young. This is possibly because the elder amongst us are more resilient, due to cross-reactive immunity – they’ve been around longer, which means there’s a greater chance they have been exposed to similar viruses. The upshot is if you’re young and healthy, get a flu shot.

CDC – “From November through December 2013, CDC has received a number of reports of severe respiratory illness among young and middle-aged adults, many of whom were infected with influenza A (H1N1) pdm09 (pH1N1) virus. Multiple pH1N1-associated hospitalizations, including many requiring intensive care unit (ICU) admission, and some fatalities have been reported. The pH1N1 virus that emerged in 2009 caused more illness in children and young adults, compared to older adults, although severe illness was seen in all age groups. While it is not possible to predict which influenza viruses will predominate during the entire 2013-14 influenza season, pH1N1 has been the predominant circulating virus so far. For the 2013-14 season, if pH1N1 virus continues to circulate widely, illness that disproportionately affects young and middle-aged adults may occur.”

Six new cases of MERS virus hit Saudi Arabia, UAE
The WHO has reported six new cases of MERS-CoV. Of the six, five are Saudi nationals, with one case in the United Arab Emirates. Three of the cases, including one involving a wife tending to an ill husband, are reportedly asymptomatic. Ages of the new patients range from 59 to 73 years old, with the latter succumbing to the virus. The new cases bring the global total to 176, with 74 deaths. There is still no substantive information on the virus’ source, transmission, or vector. Sadly, “it might be camels” remains our most conclusive evidence to date – which is not to impugn the work of the scientists involved, which has been fastidious, but rather to bemoan the complexity of the virus itself.

Reuters – “MERS emerged in the Middle East in 2012 and is from the same family as the SARS virus. It can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia. Although the worldwide number of MERS infections is fairly small, the more than 40 percent death rate among confirmed cases and the spread of the virus beyond the Middle East is keeping scientists and public health officials on alert. Cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Tunisia as well as in several countries in Europe, and scientists are increasingly focused on a link between the human infections and camels as a possible ‘animal reservoir’ of the virus.”

Hundreds monitored in Taiwan after H7N9 strain of bird flu after infected tourist discovered
A tourist infected with H7N9 spent over a week travelling through Taiwan from mainland China before being hospitalized. Health authorities in Taiwan are scrambling to reach all people he potentially came in contact with during his tour. Three medical personal who had dealings with the infected patient have subsequently developed symptoms of upper respiratory infections themselves. However, it should be emphasized that there remains no conclusive evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission of the virus.

Channel Asia – ”  As many as 500 people may have had contact with him, all of whom are being asked to report to doctors should they develop possible symptoms, the statement added. The 149 people who may have had close contact include two family members accompanying him on the tour, the tour guide, bus driver, medical personnel and patients sharing the same hospital ward, it said.”

China confirms H5N1 bird flu outbreak in Guizhou
Following the death of approximately 8,500 birds on a farm in Southwest China,  health authorities have confirmed an outbreak of H5N1 amongst poultry in the area. The area has subsequently been sealed off, with a further 23,000 birds culled for safety. As of yet, no human cases have been reported in the area.

Xinhua – “The southwest China province of Guizhou has reported an outbreak of H5N1 in poultry, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) announced Thursday. Some chickens at a farm in a village of Libo County in the prefecture of Qiannan in Guizhou showed symptoms of suspected avian flu and 8,500 chickens died on Dec. 27, 2013. The National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory confirmed the epidemic was H5N1 bird flu after testing samples collected at the farm, according to the MOA.”

European Researchers Urge H5N1 Caution
The debate over gain-of-function (GOF) research continues to rage in the scientific community – in the most recent move, fifty scientists have drafted an open letter to the head of the European Commission, urging him to hold a press conference to discuss the merits of GOF research. For those of you not interested in macropolitics within the scientific community, gain-of-function research involves experiments in which viruses are carefully but deliberately mutated to increase pathogenicity in some way – in this case, by increasing transmissiblility between mammals. The research which launched the current maelstrom was Ron Fouchier’s  mutation of H5N1 to make it more transmissible between ferrets (and therefore, also, humans). We’ll leave the polemic arguments to those who are better informed, but in the meantime, the  letter is available here.

Science – “Fouchier’s struggles, which included the Dutch government using export regulations to bar him from publishing his results, compelled the European Society for Virology (ESV) to write its own letter to the EC in October. That letter expressed concern that the Dutch government’s tactics were inappropriate and threatened to set a precedent that could stymie the dissemination of research findings elsewhere. On the scientific side of the debate, some have argued that gain-of-function research, especially those studies that engineer deadly strains of the bird flu virus, can potentially result in inadvertent escapes from the lab and widespread infection. Proponents of the work argue that studying how mutations confer the ability to infect new individuals via novel routes can yield key insights into how the pathogens spread.”

(image of H1N1 via CDC/ Doug Jordan, M.A.)

Flu Season Approaching Peak

The flu is officially here in 10 states, with the dominant strain this season being the H1N1 strain. Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming are all reporting widespread activity. The flu season normally peaks in January or early February.

CNN  – “The previous week, only Alabama, Louisiana, New York and Texas reported widespread flu. “Widespread” means that more than 50% of geographic regions in a state — counties, for example — are reporting flu activity. It addresses the spread of the flu, not its severity. However, six states — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas — reported a high proportion of outpatient visits to health care providers for flu-like illnesses. So far, ‘it’s a typical influenza season, if I can use that word,’ said Dr. Michael Jhung, a medical officer in the CDC’s flu division.”

Read more here.

(image via CDC)

The Pandora Report 12.27.13

Highlights include H1N1 in Texas, 59 people with TB, a H7N9 fatality, H5N2 in ostriches, and vaccines coming to a mountain train near you. Happy Friday, and as our last Pandora Report from 2013, Happy New Year!

H1N1 Causes Early Spikes in Flu Cases
The flu season is in full swing, a couple weeks earlier than expected, with five deaths in Texas already. Luckily, the vaccine for this year’s flu contains the H1N1 strain currently predominant. Everyone please get vaccinated!

KUT – “‘[H1N1] is actually in the vaccines this year. So we’re finding that people who have been vaccinated, even if they come down with the illness, have a less severe course of it,’ Hydari said. He added that vaccine shortages that complicated flu season in the past is not an issue this year. Hydari also said that flu vaccines take about two weeks to take affect, and because the flu season typically peaks in January it’s not too late to get a shot this year.”

Dozens Test Positive For Tuberculosis After Exposure at Hospital Neonatal Unit
Fifty-nine people have tested positive for TB following exposure at a hospital in Nevada. A mother and her newborn twins are thought to have brought the bacteria to the hospital over the summer. All three died in the hospital, and were not discovered to have TB until after an autopsy was performed on the mother. Following hospital staff falling ill, and 977 people potentially exposed and subsequently tested, just two had active infections – the 59  mentioned above are latent cases. TB is still very real, and very scary – as this case illustrates, as few as three people can potentially infect dozens.

ABC – “‘Unfortunately, this situation is a hospital epidemiologist’s worst nightmare as neonates are highly susceptible to contracting TB and their infections can progress quite rapidly,’ he said. A mother and her newborn twins died of tuberculosis at Summerlin Hospital over the summer, prompting an investigation by the Southern Nevada Health District. Hospital staff didn’t realize the infected woman had tuberculosis until after she and one of the twins died and they performed an autopsy, according to KTNV, ABC’s Las Vegas affiliate. The other twin was in the NICU being treated without being under quarantine. The second twin also tested positive for tuberculosis and died in August, health department spokeswoman Stephanie Bethel told ABCNews.com.”

 Hong Kong confirms first death from H7N9 bird flu
An eighty-year old male has died from H7N9 in Hong Kong. Still, no confirmed, sustained person-to-person transmission yet.

Reuters – “The man, the second person in Hong Kong to be diagnosed with the virus strain, lived in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen and had eaten poultry there, media reported. The H7N9 strain was first reported in humans in February in mainland China, and has infected at least 139 people in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, killing more than 40. Experts say there is no evidence of any easy or sustained human-to-human transmission of H7N9, and so far all people who came into contact with the man had tested negative for the strain, authorities said.”

Low Pathogenic Bird Flu in Western Cape Ostriches
Small outbreaks of H5N2 have been reported in South African ostriches. The low pathogenic influenza strain has been reported in seven farms and roughly 2,000 birds. Authorities remain uncertain as to the source of the outbreaks.

Poultry Site – “The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) received follow-up report no. 4 on 23 December. The report states that the affected population comprises commercial ostriches. A total of 10,171 birds were involved, out of which 2,230 tested positive for the virus. None died or been destroyed. According to the OIE’s Animal Health Information Department, H5 and H7 avian influenza in its low pathogenic form in poultry is a notifiable disease as per Chapter 10.4. on avian influenza of the Terrestrial Animal Health Code (2013).”

Keeping Vaccines Fresh
Apparently silicon packets can keep more than your new shoes fresh – scientists at the University of Portland have managed to preserve virus pathogenicity over time by coating the little zombies in a layer of silica. Some viruses subsequently cleansed of the silica coating retained infectivity. While this apparently means viruses may actually be able to survive inside volcanoes (we definitely feel there’s a movie in this somewhere), it also is good news for developing vaccines for use in places lacking widespread refrigeration.

New York Times – “Most vaccines are made of weakened virus or viral bits, and many need refrigeration. Keeping them cold is a major challenge when it comes to protecting children living in villages without electricity.’It’s hard to put a fridge on the back of a donkey,’ said Kenneth M. Stedman, a biologist at Portland State and the lead author of the study. By recreating the chemical-laden hot-spring environment, Dr. Stedman’s team coated four types of virus with silica, stored them, then washed off the silica and tried to infect cells. One heavily studied virus, phage T4, which infects the cells of E. coli bacteria, retained 90 percent of its infectivity for almost a month. The virus used in smallpox vaccines also did well, but it is naturally able to be stored dry.”

(Image: Afrikanischer/Strauss/Wikicommons)

The Pandora Report 12.20.13

Highlights include more pneumonic plague in Madagascar, H1N1  in Texas, Chikungunya in the Caribbean, H7N9 in Hong Kong, and MERS in Saudi Arabia. Happy Friday, and a very happy holiday season to everyone.

Pneumonic Plague Cases Up in Madagascar
The latest numbers in the plague outbreak in Madagascar suggest as many as  17 of 43 cases may be pneumonic plague – the highly virulent, highly infectious, transmissible person-to-person form of the traditional bacteria. As we’ve mentioned before, the case fatality rate for pneumonic plague is 100% unless antibiotics are prescribed in the first 24 hours following infection. However, as the disease’s incubation period can be up to three days, and as it often presents initially with flu-like symptoms, timely detection can be very challenging. We’ll keep you posted.

Madagascar-Tribune (originally in French) – ” 43 suspected cases of pneumonic plague and bubonic plague were detected Mandritsara since 20 November until 5 December 2013. 17 suspected cases of pneumonic plague were detected Analanjirofo. 15 cases of bubonic plague have been recorded in the district of Ikongo. In the district of Tsiroanomandidy, 3 cases of bubonic plague have been suspected.”

Montgomery County, Texas: Mystery Illness Likely H1N1 Virus
A regional hospital in Texas has reported eight cases of an as yet diagnosed illness – of the eight, four patients have subsequently died. One of the remaining four patients has subsequently been diagnosed with H1N1The CDC is working with local health authorities to determine the pathogen in play.

Houston Chronicle – “Recent mystery deaths in Montgomery County could be attributed to the H1N1 virus. Conroe Regional Hospital this month reported eight cases of a mystery illness to the county’s public health department. Two of the patients tested negative for all flu viruses. Nichols-Contella said the 2013 influenza vaccine protects against the H1N1 virus. None of the patients who died had received a flu shot, the release said.”

Chikungunya Outbreak Grows In Caribbean
Chikungunya has struck the sunny Caribbean, with two cases reported to the WHO last week. Since the initial outbreak, a further 10 cases have emerged. Chikungunya is an Alphavirus, and is spread through arthropods, primarily mosquitoes. The outbreak on St. Martin signifies the first time the virus has appeared in the Western hemisphere. There was no international travel in the case histories of the patients involved. Fortunately, very few people understand better than epidemiologists the tendency of infectious diseases to spread with vigor, so surveillance systems are already in place.

NPR – “Except for a small number of imported cases each year, chikungunya has stayed out of the Americas until now. But U.S. health officials have been on the lookout for its arrival. The chikunguyna virus was discovered in 1955 by two scientists in Tanzania. ‘Microbes know no boundaries, and the appearance of chikungunya virus in the Western Hemisphere represents another threat to health security,’ CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden wrote in statement Wednesday. ‘CDC experts have predicted and prepared for its arrival for several years, and there are surveillance systems in place to help us track it.’ With about 9 million Americans traveling to the Caribbean each year, the CDC anticipates chikungunya will be a more frequent visitor to the U.S. in the next few years. One of the mosquitoes that carries the virus — the Asian tiger mosquito — is already a familiar pest in many parts of the U.S. during the summer.”

Two more H7N9 bird flu cases linked to Shenzhen’s Longgang district
Two individuals who lived or worked near the wet markets which tested positive for H7N9 last week have subsequently contracted the virus themselves. The two have been hospitalized and are in critical condition.  Again, the reemergence of the virus is consistent with expected seasonal patterns.

South China Morning Post – “Three patients who have contracted the H7N9 strain of bird flu had visited the Longgang district of Shenzhen, including the latest case announced yesterday, mainland health authorities said. A 38-year-old Shenzhen man was in critical condition after being diagnosed with the deadly strain of the flu, Shenzhen’s centre for disease control and prevention said. The patient is a migrant worker who lives and works in Nanwan Street, in Longgang district, near one of the infected markets where authorities found the H7N9 virus on December 11. A second patient, a 39-year-old man from Dongguan, commuted to the district. The pair follow Tri Mawarti, a domestic helper who was the first person in Hong Kong diagnosed with the virus. She is believed to have handled a live chicken at a flat in Nanwan Street before falling ill.”

WHO: Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) – update
A further two cases of MERS-CoV have been confirmed in Saudi Arabia. The two patients are both female, aged 51 and 26 respectively. The former has no know exposure to the virus, whereas the latter had previously been exposed to an infected patient. Globally, there have been 165 cases to date, with 71 deaths.

WHO – “The first case is a 51 year-old female from Saudi Arabia, living in Jawf province with onset of symptoms on 20 November 2013. She has underlying chronic disease and was transferred to Riyadh for treatment in an intensive care unit. She had no reported contact with animals. The epidemiological investigation is ongoing. The second case is a 26 year-old female who is a non-Saudi healthcare worker in Riyadh. She is asymptomatic. She had reported contact with a 37 year-old male laboratory confirmed case that was reported to WHO on 21 November 2013.”

(image: Clavius66/Wikimedia)

The Pandora Report 11.29.13

Highlights include a new Q-fever vaccine, MERS in Qatari camels, revised 2009 H1N1 deaths, black silicon the bacteria slayer, and the new, FDA-approved, H5N1 vaccine. Happy Friday!

Eyeing Terrorist Potential, Pentagon Seeks Vaccine Against Cold War-Era Bioweapon

The Pentagon is pushing forward with plans to develop a vaccine against Q-fever, the disease caused by the bacterial agent Coxiella burnetii. While the majority of Q-fever cases are asymptomatic, C.burnetti is a spore former, and is therefore both hardy and stable. However, as the primary reservoirs of the disease are sheep, goats and cattle, the disease tends to be confined within slaughterhouse workers. The acute form of the disease has a fatality rate of less than one percent, while the chronic form ranges from five to 25%.

National Journal – “The United States investigated the agent’s warfare potential and the Soviet Union fully weaponized it decades ago, long before both countries formally denounced biological arms in the 1970s. The disease also occurs in nature and has affected hundreds of U.S. troops deployed overseas. It can produce fever, pneumonia, and numerous other symptoms associated with a variety of pathogens. Certain antibiotics are considered effective against the bacteria, but no vaccine is presently sold in the United States, according to the Federation of American Scientists. An existing vaccination available abroad reportedly can cause side effects such as abscesses and swollen joints.”

MERS virus found in camels in Qatar, linked to human spread

The Middle Eastern Respiratory virus has been detected in three Qatari camels, according to an unpublished study. While the press release does not detail whether live virus or antibodies to the virus were detected, there have been two confirmed cases of human infection related to the barn housing the infected camels. Although camels and bats are the leading candidates for potential reservoirs of the virus, there still exists too little conclusive evidence supporting either.

Reuters – “British researchers who conducted some of the very first genetic analyses on MERS last September said the virus, which is from the same family as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, was also related to a virus found in bats…Ab Osterhaus, a professor of virology at the Erasmus Medical Centre in The Netherlands that worked on the camel study, told Reuters the results were confirmed by a range of tests including sequencing and antibody testing. Dutch scientists said in August they had found strong evidence that the MERS virus is widespread among one-humped dromedary camels in the Middle East – suggesting people who become infected may be catching it from camels used for meat, milk, transport and racing.”

W.H.O. Estimate of Swine Flu Deaths in 2009 Rises Sharply

The WHO has significantly revised its fatality estimates for the 2009 outbreak of H1N1, which are estimated be ten times too low. It’s original numbers were just over 18,000 – according to a study published this week, the number of fatalities from the virus alone was actually closer to 203,000. When fatalities resulting from secondary conditions because of the virus are counted, the number approaches 400,000. There are a couple of  important reasons for revising fatality counts, the first of which is it remedies accusations of sensationalizing the potential threat to sell vaccines.

New York Times  – “The estimated death toll closely matches that of a study published in June 2012 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That study, based on early data, estimated that 201,000 people died of flu and respiratory causes and another 83,000 died of related cardiac problems. Both counts were many more than the 18,449 laboratory-confirmed cases that the W.H.O. stood by as its official count in 2009 because agency officials were reluctant to guess at fatality rates. Some politicians, particularly in Europe, used the low official W.H.O. death rate to argue that fear of the pandemic had been overblown. They accused vaccine companies of fanning the public’s fears to sell more of their product.”

Bactericidal activity of black silicon

From dragonfly’s wings to black silicon? In a recent study originating from Australia, scientists discovered that dragonfly wings were absolute shredders of bacteria. The structure of the wings destroys bacterial cell walls of both gram positive and gram negative bacteria upon contact. Now, shown that black silicon has similar bactericidal properties as well. While black silicon is not readily mass produced, there are several substances with similar nano features which can be. Our first thoughts here are hospitals and doorknobs.

Nature – “Both surfaces are highly bactericidal against all tested Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, and endospores, and exhibit estimated average killing rates of up to ~450,000 cells min−1 cm−2. This represents the first reported physical bactericidal activity of black silicon or indeed for any hydrophilic surface. This biomimetic analogue represents an excellent prospect for the development of a new generation of mechano-responsive, antibacterial nanomaterials.”

FDA approves H5N1 bird flu vaccine

The FDA has approved the first adjuvanted H5N1 vaccine, designed primarily for those who have frequent interactions with poultry. As the vaccine is adjuvanted, less antigen is required to stimulate an immune response. The vaccine, which is administered in two doses three weeks apart, is designed to support existing vaccine supplies in the national stockpile.

Disaster News – “The vaccine, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, was developed in partnership with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which is under the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.’This vaccine could be used in the event that the H5N1 avian influenza develops the capability to spread efficiently from human to human, resulting in the rapid spread of disease across the glove.’ Dr. Karen Midthun, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in the news release. Among people who have become infected with H5N1, mortality is about 60%, according to WHO. Health officials have determined the H5N1 strain of influenza has ‘pandemic potential’ because it continues to affect wild birds and poultry populations, and most humans have no immunity to it.”

(image: Bahman Farzad/Flickr)