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)

The Pandora Report 11.8.13

Highlights include MERS in Spain and Abu Dhabi, a possible H1N1 fatality in Alaska, polio potentially spreading to Europe, and differing containment strategies for H5N1 outbreaks in Cambodia and Vietnam. Be sure to check out this week’s “Delving Deeper”, in which GMU Biodefense’s Yong-Bee Lim explores the threats and challenges of synthetic biology. Happy Friday!

MERS in Spain; Abu Dhabi

Both Spain and Abu Dhabi have identified their first cases of the Middle Eastern Respiratory Virus (MERS). The Spanish case involved a Moroccan citizen who lives in Spain and recently returned from hajj-related travel to Saudi Arabia. Health officials with Spain and the WHO are attempting to determine if the patient was treated in Saudi Arabia, whether she had contact with animals, and whether she flew commercially or by private plane (hopefully the latter). In Abu Dhabi, a 75-year-old Omani man has contracted the virus – it remains unclear where or how he became infected. In both cases, concerns over infection stemming from contact during the Muslim pilgrimage of hajj remain. If the two cases do involve hajj-related transmission, we may start to see similar cases popping up in regions with no prior incidence of the virus (North America, anyone?)

Spain reports its first MERS case; woman travelled to Saudi Arabia for Hajj

Vancouver Sun – “In its press release, the ministry said it is following up with people who were in contact with [the patient] to determine if others have contracted the sickness. That will likely involve tracking people who travelled on the same plane or planes with the ill woman, who journeyed back to Spain shortly before being hospitalized. The woman was already sick before she left the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a World Health Organization expert said Wednesday. ‘She became symptomatic while she was in KSA,’ said Dr. Anthony Mounts, the WHO’s point person for the new virus, a cousin of the coronavirus that caused the 2003 SARS outbreak.

Mers coronavirus diagnosed in patient in Abu Dhabi hospital

The National (UAE) – “The victim, who was visiting the UAE, began to suffer from respiratory symptoms last month and is now in intensive care. The diagnosis of Middle East respiratory syndrome was revealed by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi today, reported the state news agency Wam. The health authority is coordinating with the Ministry of Health and other organisations as it treats the patient. The authority said it had taken the necessary precautionary measures in line with international standards and recommendations set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO).”

H1N1 Fatality in Alaska?

A young adult patient in Anchorage has died from what is thought to be the 2009 strain of H1N1. According to Alaskan health officials, it is still too early to tell if H1N1 will be the dominant strain for their flu season – however, the majority of flu cases reported to health officials in the area involved the H1N1 strain. People, even sometimes young, healthy people, die of flu – get vaccinated.

Alaska Dispatch – “The hospital sent out an email Wednesday informing employees of the death of a young adult who had tested positive for what in-depth results could reveal as H1N1. The email also noted that some of the patients admitted to the medical center during the past week who tested positive for flu are ‘seriously ill’…It’s the time of year when flu cases increase, although flu is difficult to predict, said Donna Fearey, a nurse epidemiologist in the infectious disease program with the state of Alaska. There’s no way to know how severe the flu will be or how long it will last, she said.”

Polio emergence in Syria and Israel endangers Europe

In an article published in the Lancet today, two German scientists argue that the outbreak of wildtype poliovirus 1 (WPV1) in Syria, as well as the discovery of the virus in Israeli sewage, may pose a serious threat to nearby Europe. The vast majority of polio infections are asymptomatic – only one in 200 cases results in acute flaccid paralysis. Therefore, the flood of refugees streaming out of Syria and seeking asylum in European countries may serve as a large pool of asymptomatic carriers, resulting in the virus’ silent spread. Following polio’s eradication in Europe in 2002, many states limited their vaccination campaigns, resulting in large, unprotected populations, and a recipe for reintroduction of the crippling disease. This is why we should all care about eliminating polio from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria – because the one thing an asymptomatic virus can do well is spread

The Lancet – “It might take more than 30 generations of 10 days (5) —nearly 1 year of silent transmission—before one acute flaccid paralysis case is identified and an outbreak is detected, although hundreds of individuals would carry the infection. Vaccinating only Syrian refugees—as has been recommended by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (6)—must be judged as insufficient; more comprehensive measures should be taken into consideration. Oral polio vaccination provides high protection against acquisition and spreading of the infection, but this vaccine was discontinued in Europe because of rare cases of vaccination-related acute flaccid paralysis. Only some of the European Union member states still allow its use and none has a stockpile of oral polio vaccines.2 Routine screening of sewage for poliovirus has not been done in most European countries, (2) but this intensified surveillance measure should be considered for settlements with large numbers of Syrian refugees.”

H5N1 Epidemics in Cambodia; Vietnam

Both Cambodia and Vietnam are experiencing small outbreaks of H5N1, with the Cambodian outbreak infecting over 23 humans and the Vietnamese outbreak concentrated mainly within farm animals in two regions. To date, twelve of the 23 Cambodian cases have resulted in fatalities, compared with just two cases of human H5N1 in Vietnam. Vietnamese containment of the virus is attributed to the prevalence of larger, commercial farms, in which culling can occur quickly and effectively. This is unfortunately not the case in Cambodia, in which farming is largely sustenance-driven.  The differing methods of spread and containment in two otherwise similar countries help shed light on what practices can be undertaken to limit the virus’ reach.

Cambodia Daily – “But managing [the virus] in backyards, we are dealing with free-range poultry who run around villages and transmit it from one poultry to another,” he said, adding that 80 percent of Cambodian poultry are kept in people’s backyards. In all 23 avian influenza cases reported this year, the victims had contact with dead or sick animals. The Cambodian government also does not provide compensation for farmers whose poultry needs to be killed, which many experts say provides a disincentive to report sick birds.”

Tuoitre News (Vietnam) -“The southern Tien Giang Province People’s Committee on Wednesday declared an epidemic of the H5N1 avian flu in two communes, where the disease spread widely with most of the 557 affected ducks having died. The declaration was issued by deputy chairwoman of the Committee, Tran Thi Kim Mai, who asked the local Veterinary Sub-Department and other concerned agencies to take measures to control and drive back the epidemic in accordance with the Ordinance on Veterinary. All concerned agencies are required to tighten control over poultry-related activities and absolutely ban transporting of poultry into or out of epidemic areas, the authorities said.”

In case you missed it:
Delving Deeper: Synthetic Biology and National Security Policy
Fourth Case of H7N9 in China

(Image: Syrian refugees on the Turkish border, via Henry Ridgwell/VOA/Wikimedia Commons)

Image of the Week: H1N1

Pictured below is H1N1, the pandemic virus better known (however unfairly) as “swine flu”. As many of you undoubtedly recall, H1N1 swept the globe in 2009, causing approximately 17,000 deaths.


“Colorized transmission electron micrograph showing H1N1 influenza virus particles. Surface proteins on the virus particles are shown in black.” Image and caption: NIAID

The Pandora Report 9.13.13

Highlights this week include further evidence linking camels to MERS, a big innovator turning his eye to biodefense, tracking influenza A in Norwegian birds, the “eradicated” measles in the US,  tripling Tamiflu to help us all survive a serious H1N1 pandemic, and this week’s weird piece. Happy Friday!

Blame the Camel

It looks like dromedary camels are indeed the vector transmitting MERS from its proposed bat reservoir to humans. Antibodies against the deadly respiratory virus have been found in blood samples collected from camels across the Middle East, including Egypt, Sudan, Oman, and the Canary Island. However, before everyone starts shunning the desert beast of burden, it should be noted that the vast majority or MERS cases have had no contact with the animals, further suggesting person-to-person spread. Officials are calling for greater surveillance, which to date has been spotty in most states.

New York Times – “…it appears that the first confirmed or suspected cases in three separate clusters may have [had contact with camels], and in two cases, the camels were observed to be ill. According to the Saudi newspaper Asharq, a 38-year-old man from Batin, Saudi Arabia, who died of what was diagnosed as bacterial pneumonia was a camel dealer with at least one obviously sick camel. Later, other members of his family, including a mother, daughter and cousin, fell ill with what was diagnosed as MERS, and two died. They were part of a cluster of cases reported Sept. 7 by the World Health Organization.”

Tech Visionary Focuses Now On Biological Weapons Threat

An interesting interview with a tech mogul formerly associated with Microsoft. Like so many of us in the biodefense field, he’s worried about a domestic terror threat operating out of a small lab. It’s refreshing to see someone outside of the industry, with potential means, getting involved with biodefense in a way that doesn’t just involve anthrax.

NPR – “Biological terror is interesting because it is so damn cheap and yet can be even more lethal than nuclear…In this case, the adversary is going to be hidden. It’s going to be a small lab of people who could be cooking up a bio-terror weapon. They’re very unlikely to announce themselves until after the attack.”

Influenza virus in wild birds in Norway

A group of researchers in Norway have determined that ducks and gulls are a natural host of influenza A. Dabbling ducks in particular are the most prevalent host of the virus. Researchers were interested in determining the primary host in order to better understand patterns of seasonal infection. – “The complete genetic material from a total of five influenza viruses from mallard and common gull were sequenced and characterized. The results showed that the genes of the Norwegian viruses resembled the genes found in influenza viruses from other wild birds in Europe…Due to limited overlap between the routes used by migratory birds in Eurasia and America, influenza viruses with different genetic material have developed between these two continents. However, in some areas, it has been observed that genes can be exchanged between influenza viruses from Eurasia and America.”

Measles still poses threat to US, health officials warn

Measles is making a comeback in the US, thanks to the groups of people who think that vaccinating for measles is a bad idea. Of the 159 cases last year, 82 percent involved those who had not been vaccinated. Technically the disease has been eradicated in the US.

FOX – “Of the patients who had not received measles immunizations, 79 percent had philosophical objections to vaccination, federal health officials said. Results of a National Immunization Survey released today show that 90.8 percent of U.S. toddlers between the ages of 19 and 35 months have received at least one dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) – just above the federal government’s target of 90 percent. However, federal health officials warned that measles imported from other countries can still cause large outbreaks in the U.S., especially if introduced into areas with clusters of unvaccinated persons.”

Triple Dose Tamiflu Beats Back H1N1

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. A study from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg revealed that patients critically ill with H1N1 were able to clear the virus within five days if given triple the normal dose of Tamiflu. According to study researcher Dr. Anand Kumar, amongst those patients administered the triple dose of the flu drug, 79%  cleared the virus within the 5-day timeframe, compared with just 11% of patients given the normal dose. It should be noted that past studies involving the doubling  of Tamiflu doses did not yield significant clearance times.

MedPage Today – “‘What we found was that the treatment was well-tolerated, and there were many more patients achieving viral clearance at day 5, which was our study endpoint,’ Kumar said during a session at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. Kumar noted that the 5-day endpoint was important because of increased survival benefits from the shortened clearance time and the reduced amount of time a patient has to endure in continued isolation, “which is a source of significant manpower demand for an intensive care unit.”

This week’s weird piece: ‘US provided chemical and biological weapons to Saddam Hussein’ – retired military officer

Disclaimer: This is from Voice of Russia, which is  the Russian government’s broadcast network and therefore not exactly a pillar of journalistic integrity.

(image Adam Foster/Flickr)

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.


The Pandora Report 7.12.13

Highlights: the Science, Safety, and Security newsletter, wild polio in Israel, proliferation concerns in Syria, H7N9 – the pandemic?, and H1N1 in Chile. Happy Friday!

S3 Newsletter June 2013

For those of you who may have missed it, the Science, Safety, and Security Quarterly June newsletter is out, and features articles on dual use research of concern, HHS’ recent international participation in BWC activities, and the International Biological Threat Reduction program. It’s an excellent resource for anyone working in fields related to biodefense, biosecurity, or non-proliferation.

WHO Sends Mission to Israel Following Detection of Wild Poliovirus in Sewage

The World Health Organization last week completed a five-day mission in Israel, following detection of wild polio virus in the sewage of the country’s Southern District. Despite detection of the virus, no new polio cases have emerged. In response to the virus’ detection, Israel is starting a supplemental oral vaccination campaign, in addition to existing vaccination matters.  This isn’t an overreaction. For those of you who may not know, polio eradication remains a top priority of the international health community, with the eradication efforts rendering the virus’ endemic in just 3 countries. Therefore any time it pops up naturally, people get understandably nervous.

WHO – “Israel has systematically conducted environmental sampling for many years, and the poliovirus was detected thanks to this vigilance. Public health authorities continue to monitor the situation carefully, and measures have been taken to increase surveillance and reporting for possible human cases, regardless of age. The aim of the supplementary immunization campaign is to protect any children in the country who may have missed routine vaccinations for any reason. In southern areas, adults are also being assessed and those thought to be susceptible are being immunized.”

Proliferation concerns mount in Syria

As the civil war in Syria continues, the United Kingdom is considering supplying the rebels with protective equipment against  biological and chemical agents. UK intelligence reports have listed ricin, VX, mustard gas, and sarin as all possible chemical and biological agents in Assad’s armory. Concerns over proliferation of the agents and weapons to terrorist organizations were fueled by last month’s report that al Qaeda had attempted to access chemical weapons stockpiles in support of the Syrian rebels. Does anyone else feel like that “red line” is looking pretty darn thin?

Irish Times – “The danger was underlined by MI6 chief Sir John Sawers who told the committee there was the risk of ‘a highly worrying proliferation around the time of the regime fall’. The committee said: ‘There has to be a significant risk that some of the country’s chemical weapons stockpile could fall into the hands of those with links to terrorism, in Syria or elsewhere in the region – if this happens, the consequences could be catastrophic.’ British prime minister David Cameron disclosed last month that al-Qaeda-linked elements fighting the regime had already attempted to acquire chemical weapons for probable use in Syria.”

Scientists: H7N9 Avian Flu Has Pandemic Potential

Just when you thought it was gone! In a piece published in Nature on Wednesday,  an international team of scientists determined that H7N9 could be just a couple amino acid mutations away from effective person-to-person transmission pandemic potential. The two teams, from  the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Tokyo, determined that H7N9 replicates effectively in several mammamlian hosts with immune systems similar to humans, among them monkeys and ferrets. The good news? Most of the strains tested are susceptible to standard antivirals.

Rianovosti – “They also established that approximately one third of ferrets became infected by droplet spread.’H7N9 viruses combine several features of pandemic influenza viruses, that is their ability to bind to and replicate in human cells and the ability to transmit via respiratory droplets,’ [flu expert Yoshihiro Kawaoka] said. These two features are necessary, although not sufficient, to cause a pandemic.’ In monkeys, the virus could efficiently infect cells in both the upper and lower respiratory tract. Conventional human flu viruses are typically restricted to the upper airway of infected nonhuman primates.”

Chile confirms 33 deaths from H1N1

The Chilean health ministry confirmed Wednesday that of the 33 H1N1 deaths this year, nearly half had occurred in the last few weeks. The South American nation is currently experiencing a small  outbreak, with a large and effective vaccination campaign halting the virus’ spread.

APA – “‘Today it appears to be under control, I say this with extreme caution. In epidemiologic week number 27, we do not have serious new cases,’  [Health Minister] Manalich said at a press conference. ‘We just have three patients with the flu in the intensive care unit of the hospital of the town of Iquique,’ said Manalich, adding ‘walk-in consultations due to the flu have fallen 25 percent from what we had before.'”

(image courtesy of the Polio Eradication Initiative)