Pandora Report 5.24.15

Two quick updates before we get into the weekly wrap-up.

First, the Early Registration Deadline for the Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security professional education course at the GMU Arlington Campus has been extended to June 15. For more information and registration, please click here.

Second, we here at Pandora Report wanted to let you know about a new website designed to provide resources for biosecurity professionals and practitioners and key stakeholders. The International Biosecurity Prevention Forum (IBPF) brings together the world’s leading experts from the health and security communities to share expertise on key biosecurity and bioterrorism prevention issues. Registering to join IBPF is free and easy. Go to http://www.ibpforum.organd click the “Request Membership” button to request an IBPF member account. Members get access to a discussion section and projects, resources, and best practices submitted by other members. Contact the IBPF support team at IBPForum@ic.fbi.gov if you have any questions or problems.

Now, onto the news. This weekend we have stories about British nuclear submarines, anti-vaccine legislation in California, the development of bird flu vaccines, and other stories you may have missed.

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!!

Britain Investigates Sailor’s Disaster Warning Over Nuclear Subs

Able Seaman William McNeilly—a weapons engineer who served aboard HMS Vanguard, one of the four British submarines carrying Trident missiles—wrote a “lengthy dossier” released on the internet which says that the “Trident nuclear defense system was vulnerable both to enemies and to potentially devastating accidents because of safety failures.” McNeilly has since gone AWOL and both police and naval officials are trying to locate him.

The Japan Times—“The Royal Navy said it totally disagreed with McNeilly’s “subjective and unsubstantiated personal views,” describing him as a “very junior sailor.” But it added it was investigating both his claims and the “unauthorized release” of his dossier. “The naval service operates its submarine fleet under the most stringent safety regime and submarines do not go to sea unless they are completely safe to do so,” a spokeswoman said.”

A Blow to Anti-Vaxxers: California Approves Forced Vaccination Bill

By now, we all know that the measles outbreak that started last winter at Disneyland was a result of unvaccinated individuals. In California, the State Senate has passed a bill which limits parent’s use of the “personal belief exemption” in order to get out of getting their children vaccinated. Under the bill, parents who don’t get their children vaccinated would not be able to send their kids to state-licensed schools, nurseries, or day care centers.

State Column—“Only children who have a medical reason for why they can’t be vaccinated would still be allowed to attend schools without receiving their vaccinations under Senate Bill 277, which was sponsored by a California Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacremento), a pediatrician, and Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), a former school board member and the son of a survivor of polio, according to a Forbes report.”

Vaccines Developed for H5N1, H7N9 Avian Flu

Findings appearing in the Journal of Virology indicate that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases have developed a vaccine for both H5N1 and H7N9—two strains of avian influenza which can be transmitted from poultry to humans. The vaccine was developed by cloning the Newcastle disease virus and transplanting a small section of the H5N1 virus into it; the same method was used for the H7N9 vaccine.

Toronto Sun—“‘We believe this Newcastle disease virus concept works very well for poultry because you kill two birds with one stone, metaphorically speaking,” Richt said. “You use only one vector to vaccinate and protect against a selected virus strain of avian influenza.’”

Stories You May Have Missed

  

Image Credit: UK Ministry of Defence

Pandora Report 3.15.15

For those of us at Mason, Spring Break is nearing its end. For the rest of us, however, it’s business as usual. This week we’ve got stories about engineering nuclear worries in South Africa, the eradication of guinea worm, the lasting health impacts of Ebola, and other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week, enjoy the longer daylight hours, and we’ll see you back here next weekend!

U.S. Unease about Nuclear-Weapons Fuel Takes Aim at a South African Vault

Located in a former silver vault at a nuclear research center near Pretoria, South Africa, is enough nuclear weapons explosive to fuel half a dozen bombs. Roughly 485 pounds of highly enriched uranium exist as remnants of the apartheid regime’s nuclear weapons program. U.S. officials worry that not only does this stockpile give South Africa the theoretical ability to regain its status as a nuclear-weapons state, but the stockpile’s vulnerability makes it a target for terrorist thieves. This isn’t a far-fetched concept, because in November 2007 two teams of raiders breached the fences at the nuclear center, entered the site, and broke into the central alarm station. Obama has urged President Jacob Zuma to transform the nuclear explosives into benign reactor fuel—with U.S. assistance—to no avail.

The Washington Post—“‘The bottom line is that South Africa has a crime problem,” [arms control expert Jon] Wolfsthal said. “They have a facility that is holding onto material that they don’t need and a political chip on their shoulder about giving up that material. That has rightly concerned the United States, which is trying to get rid of any cache of HEU [highly enriched uranium] that is still out there.’”

Tug of War: On the Verge of the Greatest Public Health Triumph of the 21st Century

As people work around the world to eradicate Polio, another public health enemy is about to be eliminated first—guinea worm. This parasite, found in rivers and streams, enters the body in larval form through contaminated drinking water. The larvae mature inside the body and move towards the skin’s surface in the form of a burning blister. When the infected human puts water on the blister, the worm bursts out into water, continuing the source infection cycle. However, the number of cases of guinea worm is way down—from 3.5 million cases in 1986 to 126 cases in 2014—thanks to a simple nylon filter attached to a drinking straw. The weave on the nylon is tight enough to filter out the larvae from drinking water.

Slate—“Vanquishing guinea worm would be arguably the first great public health triumph of the 21st century. It would also give new life to the human disease eradication movement, which suffered through 35 mostly frustrating years following the conquest of smallpox in 1980. The victory would prove to governments and private foundations that we can still accomplish eradication.”

Ebola Could Cause Thousands More Deaths—By Ushering in Measles

As Liberia removed their Ebola crematorium—with the declaration that the outbreak is contained—new cases of the disease are still popping up in Sierra Leone and Guinea and have resulted in nearly a dozen American volunteers returning to U.S. facilities for treatment.  And this week, in Science, researchers from NIH and four universities have warned that Ebola’s interruption in other health services—like immunization campaigns—could result in epidemics of preventable diseases with larger fatality numbers than Ebola. Specifically, they warn that up to 100,000 cases of measles could result in 16,000 additional deaths.

Wired—“Measles is already present in West Africa, so the team is not arguing that Ebola will revive an eradicated disease — although, poignantly, hard work in the three countries had recently forced measles incidence way down. “Between 1994 and 2003, the countries reported — and this is just how many they reported, not necessarily how many occurred — about 100,000 cases of measles,” Lessler said. “Whereas in the last decade, they’ve only reported 7,000. So they’ve done an excellent job of controlling the virus compared to the previous (decade).’”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: FEMA

Pandora Report 12.7.14

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! There were a lot of stories to consider for this extra long (extra late) week in review. We cover the AIDS pandemic, Avian Influenza, Polio in Pakistan, and, of course, Ebola. For those of you in school, I hope your papers and exams aren’t too overwhelming! For everyone else, have a wonderful week, hopefully paper and exam-free week!

AIDS Campaigners Say Pandemic Has Finally Reached Tipping Point

A report released by the ONE campaign to mark World AIDS Day on December 1 said that “the world has finally reached “the beginning of the end” of the AIDS pandemic that has infected and killed millions in the past 30 years.” What is the tipping point? The number of newly infected HIV patients is lower than the number of HIV positive patients who have access to retroviral medications that keep AIDS at bay. However, this doesn’t mean the fight is over.

Reuters—“‘We’ve passed the tipping point in the AIDS fight at the global level, but not all countries are there yet, and the gains made can easily stall or unravel,” said Erin Hohlfelder, ONE’s director of global health policy.”

FAO, OIE Warn of Avian Influenza’s Rapid Spread

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Organization for Animal Health have warned that the new avian flu strain detected in Europe is similar to those found in Asia and pose a significant threat to the poultry sector. Evidence of H5N8 has been found in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, as well as China, Japan, and South Korea. So far, it doesn’t appear this strain is infecting people, however, this week there were reported human cases and deaths from H5N1.

The Poultry Site—“The new virus strain provides a stark reminder to the world that avian influenza viruses continue to evolve and emerge with potential threats to public health, food security and nutrition, to the livelihoods of vulnerable poultry farmers, as well as to trade and national economies. Therefore extreme vigilance is strongly recommended while progressive control efforts must be sustained and financed.”

Pakistan Polio Outbreak ‘Will Probably be Fixed Next Year’ says WHO Official

So far this year there have been 262 cases of polio detected in Pakistan, which is the highest number of cases in 14 years. Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world, including Afghanistan and Nigeria, where the virus remains endemic. Despite these numbers, a WHO official in Pakistan says the disease will “most probably be fixed in the first half of 2015.” Military campaigns around the country have not only made vaccination more difficult but have faced tribal militants who banned all vaccinations.

The Guardian—“Persistent public awareness campaigns have not fully quashed popular fears that the drops given to children – a solution of highly weakened polio virus – are part of a western conspiracy to make Muslims infertile.

The Pakistani Taliban have attacked and killed health workers who conduct door-to-door campaigns, forcing the government to mount massive security operations during major vaccination drives.”

This Week in Ebola

We’ve got a lot of news from the last two weeks, so today, let’s start stateside.

The CDC says you can stop worrying because it is very unlikely that Ebola will become airborne, so you can stop cancelling your African safaris. Ebola anxiety has left the U.S. buying up all the PPEs leaving little for workers in West Africa, while the Director of the Harvard School of Public Health Emergency Preparedness has said that U.S. quarantine policy could discourage volunteers from going to help the outbreak. However, recently, no one has been caught in quarantines entering New York and New Jersey airports. 35 American hospitals have been designated as Ebola centers and already the U.S. government is looking past Ebola for the next health disaster. Meanwhile, the first human trial of an experimental vaccine for the virus has produced promising results.

Overseas, the German airline Lufthansa adapted an A340-300 to transport Ebola patients. In Liberia, the President has banned election rallies and mass gatherings under the reasoning that they risk worsening the spread of the virus and Ebola moves out of the cities, it is ‘pingponging’ into rural areas. In Sierra Leone there are approximately 80-100 new cases of Ebola daily, they are running out of beds, and in protest of non-payment, burial workers are dumping bodies in public in the city of Kenema. One piece of good news coming out of this outbreak that has affected more than 16,000 people is that female genital mutilation is on the decline. Also, a new 15-minute test for Ebola is being tested in Guinea, which, if it works, will help medical staff identify and isolate Ebola patients sooner.

The UN warns that the longer the disease is allowed to spread unchecked in West Africa, the more likely it is that Ebola will appear in new places in the world but EcoHealth journal notes that closer study of zoonotic diseases could help prevent Ebola and other diseases from affecting humans. Don’t worry though, according to North Korea Ebola isn’t a zoonotic disease, it is a bioweapon created by the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Free Internet Pictures

Pandora Report 11.9.14

We’ve got some timely stories this week: just in time for Veteran’s Day, we look at military exposure to chemical agents in Iraq, and at the beginning of flu season we look at the newest suspension of Yoshihiro Kawaoka’s H5N1 research. We’ve also got an Ebola update.

Have a great week!

More Than 600 Reported Chemical Exposure in Iraq, Pentagon Acknowledges

With Veteran’s Day on Tuesday, The New York Times uncovered an unfortunate military oversight that could affect over 600 service members. Originally, NYT found 17 soldiers who had been exposed to abandoned, damaged, or degraded chemical weapons in Iraq. Later 25 more came forward, and after a review of Pentagon records, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that hundreds of troops told the military they were exposed. The Pentagon says it will now expand outreach to veterans who believe they may have been exposed.

The New York Times—“Phillip Carter, who leads veterans programs at the Center for a New American Security, called the Pentagon’s failure to organize and follow up on the information “a stunning oversight.” Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the military must restore trust by sharing information.”

Kawaoka’s Controversial Flu Research at UW-Madison On Hold Again

Once again, Yoshihiro Kawaoka has halted his research of H5N1 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kawaoka created an altered version of the H5N1 flu virus to look at transmissibility between mammals. On October 17, the Obama administration said they would postpone federal funding for gain-of-function studies, including those involving flu, SARS and MERS. Roughly 50% of Kawaoka’s work involves gain of function, and he paused all experiments that “might enhance pathogenicity or transmissibility.”

Wisconsin State Journal—“The White House announcement comes in response to incidents this year involving anthrax, flu and smallpox at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. “The incidents occurring at federal facilities this summer have underscored the importance of laboratory safety, and they also prompted calls for a reassessment of the risks and benefits that are associated with research involving dangerous pathogens,” Samuel Stanley, chairman of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, said during a meeting of the group Oct. 22.”

This Week in Ebola

The Ebola ‘outbreak’ in Texas is over and MSF has confirmed the decline of cases in Liberia, however, Ebola cases have risen ‘sharply’ in Sierra Leone. While Kari Hickox remained in the news explaining the reasons she fought against quarantine, it appears, as feared, that mandatory quarantine for volunteers returning from West Africa is causing some to re-consider their commitments. Meanwhile the U.S. Army has identified five possible bases for returning troop quarantine and the Pentagon has awarded a $9.5 million contract Profectus BioSciences, Inc. for development of an Ebola vaccine. President Obama asked Congress for $6 billion to fight Ebola in the U.S. and West Africa. NBC News reported that “The U.S. is keen to be seen as leading the international response to Ebola” but there is another country in the Americas contributing to the fight—Cuba. Also in the Americas, Canada’s policy of denying visas for people coming from West Africa is called into question, and five American airports are learning a lot about infection control. Back in West Africa, Nigeria’s success in fighting Ebola has been attributed to their fight against polio. Lastly, on the heels of Mark Zuckerberg’s $25 million donation to fight Ebola, he launched a button at the top the newsfeed that links users to places where they can donate, too.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: NBC News

Pandora Report 11.2.14

For this edition of the Pandora Report we look at Jonas Salk, avian influenza in China, TB and diabetes as a co-epidemic, and, of course, an Ebola update. As the weather is turning cooler, don’t forget to get your flu shot, and remember to protect yourself by washing your hands!

Have a great week!

On Jonas Salk’s 100th Birthday, A Celebration of his Polio Vaccine

If you visited Google.com on Tuesday you may have seen one of their famous doodles dedicated to Jonas Salk. Salk’s polo vaccine was declared safe and effective in 1955 and was, interestingly enough, never patented. “The notion handed down to us is that Salk decided not to patent the vaccine as a noble act of self-abnegation.”

The Los Angeles Times—“But the more important reason the vaccine went unpatented, as related by David M. Oshinsky in his 2005 book, “Polio: An American Story,” is that legally it was thought to be unpatentable. The National Foundation and the University of Pittsburgh, where much of the work was done, had looked into patenting the vaccine. They were dissuaded by Salk, who informed them that his techniques weren’t novel and his work had been based on years of prior work by others.”

Five Strains of H5 Avian Flu Reported Across China 

The Chinese veterinary authority reported outbreaks of five different subtypes of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) to the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) on October 24. There were a total of 51 positive findings of the following strains; H5N3, H5N8, H5N2, H5N6, and H5N1. A map of all strain outbreaks is available here.

CIDRAP—“Two of the strains—H5N8 and H5N3—have not been reported by China to the OIE before. Two outbreaks of the former were reported in September, each involving one bird (a duck and an unspecified bird) sampled during a national surveillance plan. One was at a slaughterhouse and the other in a wetland area; both were in Liaoning province in the northeast.”

Unlikely Marriage of Diseases: TB and Diabetes Form a ‘Co-Epidemic’

A white paper presented on Wednesday at the 45th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Barcelona, Spain, warns, “diabetes is fueling the spread of TB.” The paper warns that having diabetes increases the risk that a person will become sick with TB will make TB more difficult to manage, adding that a patient with both diseases is more likely to have complications that do not exist when only one disease is present.

NPR—“The TB/diabetes double-whammy has at least two important differences from the TB/HIV co-epidemic. [1.] It involves the interaction of an infectious disease (TB is the world’s second-deadliest, next to HIV/AIDS) and a non-communicable chronic disease, rather than two infections. [2.] It has potentially more global impact. The TB/HIV co-epidemic was concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, where 18 countries saw TB rates quadruple because of HIV. Many more countries have high rates of TB and, increasingly, of diabetes.”

This Week in Ebola

Not sure if it was because of Halloween or what, but it seemed to me there were fewer Ebola stories this week. Dallas nurse Amber Vinson, was finally released from Emory Hospital, free of the Ebola virus. Many other stories this week focused on quarantine. Kaci Hickox, the nurse who worked treating patients in Sierra Leone, first protested over her isolation in New Jersey, and then broke her quarantine in Maine, was reportedly ‘humbled’ when a judge in her home state of Maine ruled she can come and go as she pleases. She was still in this news this weekend as it was reported that her roommate in Africa tested positive for Ebola and there was a skit about her on SNL. President Obama has said that quarantines may dissuade doctors and nurses from traveling to West Africa, while Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has said that U.S. military personnel returning from West Africa will be subject to a 21-day quarantine. The WHO reported that Ebola infections are slowing in Liberia, and the New England Journal of Medicine says they have a suspect zero for this whole outbreak.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Google

Pandora Report 10.11.14

With so many stories being dedicated to Ebola, I was absolutely delighted to see coverage of influenza this week. We’ve also got stories about the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bugs in nursing homes, George Washington as the first father of vaccination, and of course, an Ebola update.

There will be no news round up next week, so I will see you all back here on October 25. Enjoy your weeks and don’t forget your flu shot!

Ebola’s Bad, but Flu’s Worse

With the coverage of the Ebola outbreak in media (and even on this blog) it may have inadvertently caused unreasonable panic in the American populace. The fact of the matter is one person in the U.S. has died from Ebola. Every year, according to the CDC, more than “226,000 Americans are hospitalized with flu and approximately 36,000 die from flu-related complications.” News outlets this week quietly reported on flu vs. Ebola and offered points of clarification about both diseases as well as tips for staying well. These include getting your flu vaccination, washing hands frequently especially after using the restroom and before eating or preparing food, and avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth to limit spread of germs.

Times Union—“‘The reality is there are vaccinations and treatment options available for the flu that are not available for Ebola. The reason for concern is there is no magic bullet to stop Ebola,’ said [Dr.Edward] Waltz [director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at the University at Albany]. ‘I think the most important message to get is, take action on the things that you can control. We have so many things that affect our health that we can’t control, get yourself a vaccination if it is available.’”

Medical Superbugs: Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria Carried by More than a Third of Nursing Home Residents

A study out of Melbourne, Australia, reported that more than 1/3 of nursing home residents tested were carriers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And this problem isn’t just plaguing other countries. In fact, a report from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found rising rates of pneumonia, urinary tract infections, viral hepatitis and MRSA. The Australian study also found that more than half of the tested residents had received antibiotics within three months of being tested. Overuse of antibiotics can lead to higher rates of superbugs or other infections like C. difficile, which can be lethal in seniors. (On a personal note, my grandmother recently died from complications after a C. diff infection.)

ABC—“‘(Our concern is) that nursing homes are acting as a kind of reservoir, if you like, of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. We know these residents have fairly frequent movement in and out of acute care institutions, and this obviously poses risks to acute care hospitals for transmission. It could be transmitted to other patients in an acute care hospital, if the resident actually has an infection they might be infected with a more resistant bacteria – they’re the two main concerns.’”

George Washington, the First Vaxxer

This week, the Daily Beast provided an excerpt from historian Tom Shachtman’s new book, Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries: The Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment. At a time where people are choosing to forgo vaccinations and alarm over Ebola grows worldwide, it is amazing to see George Washington—Virginian, 1st President, Founding Father, serious boss, and old fashioned speller—decide that army immunization would not only save the lives of soldiers, but indirectly safeguard a young American nation. Shachtman recounts a February 1777 letter from Washington to John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress.

The Daily Beast—“‘The small pox has made such Head in every Quarter that I find it impossible to keep it from spreading thro’ the whole Army in the natural way. I have therefore determined, not only to innoculate all the Troops now here, that have not had it, but shall order Docr Shippen to innoculate the Recruits as fast as they come in to Philadelphia. They will lose no time, because they will go thro’ the disorder while their cloathing Arms and accoutrements are getting ready.’”

This Week in Ebola

The first (and only) patient with a domestically diagnosed case of Ebola died this week in Dallas, TX amid calls, and responses, about tightening airport screening and travel restrictions. Six major American international airports have enhanced screening for travellers arriving from West Africa while airline workers at LaGuardia have protested over what they say are inadequate protections from potential Ebola exposure. In other air travel related news, a passenger was removed from a US Airways flight after joking about being infected with Ebola and a sick passenger traveling from West Africa to Newark airport does not have Ebola. A nurse in Spain did get infected with the virus this week, as other European nations fear further spread inside their countries. American Ebola survivor Dr. Rick Sacra was hospitalized and treated this week for pneumonia and another American Ebola survivor, Dr. Kent Brantly donated his blood in order to help treat an infected NBC cameraman.

Evidently one fifth of Americans, according to a Gallup poll, are concerned about getting Ebola which is causing the ‘apocalypse business’ to boom. Meanwhile, West Africans living in the U.S. are taking action to spread information within their communities about the virus and there was a wonderful piece on how Nigeria beat Ebola. Finally, CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden spoke this week on how this Ebola outbreak is like the AIDS epidemic and why he doesn’t support a travel ban to combat the outbreak. All of this comes at a point in time where the number of deaths from the outbreak has reached over 4000.

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: Immunize.ca

Pandora Report 4.18.14

I think I was coming down with something yesterday. It manifested as a pretty debilitating headache, so I am pretty sure it wasn’t Ebola, but I also had no desire to drink water, so it might have been rabies. Either way, I’m feeling much better today, and am excited to bring you a Saturday issue of Pandora Report. In fact, I’m pretty sure there is nothing that is more fun on the weekend…so let’s get into it!


Highlights include Bird Flu in North Korea, a TB drug that may be the answer to drug resistance, a new strain of Ebola, MERS CoV’s spread to Asia, and Tamiflu’s real utility. Have a great weekend and see you here next Friday!

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak in North Korea

On April 16, the North Korean veterinary authority sent a notice to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) alerting them to two H5N1 outbreaks among poultry in the isolated nation. This is a surprisingly transparent move. The first outbreak occurred at the Hadang chicken factory in Hyongjesan starting on March 21. All 46,217 birds died. A second outbreak occurred on March 27 in the same region at the Sopo chicken factory where an unreported number of birds died in the same cage. The source of the infection remains unknown.

The Poultry Site—“Usual control measures have been put in place to control the spread of infection: quarantine, movement control inside the country, screening and disinfection of infected premises/establishment(s). There is no vaccination and no treatment of affected birds.”

Could a new TB drug be the answer to resistance?

A research study at the University of Illinois shows that a new drug under clinical trials for tuberculosis treatment—SQ109—may be the basis for an entirely new class of drugs that could act against bacterial, fungal, and parasite infection and yet evade resistance. Lead researcher, chemistry professor Eric Oldfield, believes that multiple-target drugs like SQ109 and its analogs hold the key to new antibiotic development in the era of drug resistance and “the rise of so-called ‘superbugs’.” His claim is bolstered by experiments with SQ109 and TB where no instances of resistance have been reported.

Science Codex—“’Drug resistance is a major public health threat,” Oldfield said. “We have to make new antibiotics, and we have to find ways to get around the resistance problem. And one way to do that is with multi-target drugs. Resistance in many cases arises because there’s a specific mutation in the target protein so the drug will no longer bind. Thus, one possible route to attacking the drug resistance problem will be to devise drugs that don’t have just one target, but two or three targets.’”

Outbreak in West Africa is caused by a new strain of Ebola virus

As the death toll from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa climbs above 120, scientists are reporting that the virus is not the same strain that has killed in other African nations.  While the source of the virus is still unknown, blood samples from Guinea victims has confirmed that it is not imported strains of Ebola Zaire—the original strain of the virus discovered in Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire.)

The Huffington Post—“‘It is not coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has not been imported to Guinea” from that country or from Gabon, where Ebola also has occurred, [Dr. Stephan] Gunther [of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany] said.

Researchers think the Guinea and other strains evolved in parallel from a recent ancestor virus. The Guinea outbreak likely began last December or earlier and might have been smoldering for some time unrecognized. The investigation continues to try to identify “the presumed animal source.’”

MERS CoV leaves the Middle East and travels to Asia

Though the method of transmission of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) remains unknown—a report last week from the CDC finds the virus can stay alive in Camel milk—and thankfully, transmission from human to human has been rare, the disease has now spread beyond the Middle East to Asia via an infection emerging in Malaysia. A Malaysian man returning from Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, tested positive for, and died from, MERS on April 13. So far, a reported 33 people who have travelled to the Middle East for the Haj have tested negative for presence of the virus in neighboring Singapore.

Today Online—“There is currently no advisory against travel to countries of the Arabian Peninsula, or to countries reporting imported cases of MERS-CoV (including Malaysia).

Frequent travellers to the Middle East and Umrah/Haj pilgrims have been advised to take precautions, such as being vaccinated against influenza and meningitis. Those aged 65 years and above or with chronic medical conditions should also get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections before travelling. Pilgrims with pre-existing chronic medical conditions like diabetes, chronic heart and lung conditions should consult a doctor before traveling, to assess whether they should make the pilgrimage.”

A closer look at Tamiflu

With seasonal flu season behind us in the U.S., maybe it is time to look at better treatment options. A study published last week in the British Medical Journal, calls into question the effectiveness of Oseltamivir—brand name, Tamiflu. The international team of researchers found that while Tamiflu can shorten flu symptoms it does not reduce hospital admissions or medical complications. The study also demonstrated that Tamiflu can also cause nausea and vomiting and increases the risk of headaches and renal and psychiatric symptoms.

Global Biodefense—“‘The trade-off between benefits and harms should be borne in mind when making decisions to use oseltamivir for treatment, prophylaxis, or stockpiling,” concludes the study authors from The Cochrane Collaboration, an independent global healthcare research network. “There is no credible way these drugs could prevent a pandemic,” Carl Heneghan, one of the lead investigators of the review and a professor at Oxford University, told reporters. “Remember, the idea of a drug is that the benefits should exceed the harms. So if you can’t find any benefits, that accentuates the harms.’”

(Image credit: Robert Sharp/Flickr)

The Pandora Report 2.14.14

Highlights include H7N9 in Hong Kong, H5N1, a new case of MERS, and a new global initiative to counter infectious diseases. Happy Friday, stay warm, and Happy Valentine’s day!

Hong Kong Reports Fifth H7N9 Bird Flu Case

We wrote earlier this week about the H7N9 case in Malaysia, in which a Chinese tourist brought the virus to Malaysia. Hong Kong has since reported its fifth case of the virus. The patient is a 65 year old male with underlying medical conditions.  Tensions are understandably running high in the area, with Chinese authorities recently arresting a man for spreading false rumors about the virus.

Naharnet – “Preliminary investigations showed the man had traveled to the neighboring Chinese province of Guangdong from January 24 to February 9, and had purchased a slaughtered chicken in the village near his residence on January 29. Seven family members had remained asymptomatic, with five classified as close contacts to be admitted to hospital for observation and testing. Hong Kong late last month slaughtered 20,000 chickens after the deadly H7N9 bird flu virus was found in poultry imported from Guangdong. Fears over avian flu have grown following the deaths of three men from the H7N9 strain in the city. All had recently returned from mainland China.”

Canadian who died from H5N1 flu might have caught it in illegal bird market
It is thought the Canadian who contracted H5N1 became infected after passing through an illegal live poultry market in Beijing. Such markets have been banned in the city since 2005 – local demand for fresh poultry, however, has caused a thriving illicit industry to spring up.

CBC – “The source of the woman’s infection has been a mystery; she spent her entire trip in Beijing, where H5N1 reportedly hasn’t been discovered for some time, and her travelling companion said she did not have contact with live birds while there. But scientists from Beijing’s Centre for Disease Prevention and Control are hypothesizing that illegal live bird markets may have been the source of the woman’s infection.”

Camel-owner in Abu Dhabi in intensive care after contracting MERS virus
A camel-owner in the UAE has presented with MERS, giving further credence to the theory of camels as potential hosts. The 67-year old man had previously existing medical conditions, becoming symptomatic on January 20th.  There have been 182 laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus to date, with 79 deaths.

The National – “A camel owner in the emirate has become the latest person to be infected with the Mers coronavirus. The Emirati, 66, is in intensive care after complaining of respiratory problems and was found to have contracted the virus, it was confirmed on Thursday…He owns camels in the UAE and had recently travelled to Oman where he was in contact with other beasts, the World Health Organisation says.”

U.S. launches new global initiative to prevent infectious disease threats
Working with WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health, the US launched a new global initiative to help countering emerging infectious diseases. Speaking about the threat of emergent infectious diseases, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen , “A threat anywhere is indeed a threat everywhere”.

Washington Post – “Faced with what they describe as a perfect storm of converging threats from infectious-disease epidemics, U.S. officials launched a global effort Thursday with more than two dozen countries and international organizations to prevent deadly outbreaks from spreading. The goal is to prevent, detect and respond to infectious-disease threats where they start. That’s more effective and less costly than treating sick people after diseases spread. The new initiative is intended to bolster security at infectious-disease laboratories, streng-then immunization programs and set up emergency-response centers that can react to outbreaks within two hours.”

The Pandora Report 1.17.14

Just a quick note that the Biodefense Policy Seminars are back on! Our February speaker is Charles Duelfer, former Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence for Iraq WMD and former Deputy Executive Chairman of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM). Free and open to the public – click here for more information!

Highlights include Salmonella,  H5N1 in Canada, H7N9 picking up in China, and Chikungunya in St. Martin. Happy Friday!

Why Salmonella bacteria is a near perfect killer
Much like an action film protagonist, Salmonella biofilms are notoriously difficult to kill. According to new research from the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, once Salmonella bacteria are able to form biofilms on a given surface, three different common disinfectants all are rendered ineffective. Salmonella’s ongoing hardiness explains in part the difficulty in effectively containing outbreaks.

ANI – “Mary Corcoran, a researcher on the study, said that they found that it was not possible to kill the Salmonella cells using any of the three disinfectants if the biofilm was allowed to grow for seven days before the disinfectant was applied, asserting that even soaking the biofilms in disinfectant for an hour and a half failed to kill them.”

H5N1 strain from Alberta nurse resembles Chinese strain
The strain of H5N1 which killed a nurse in Canada closely resembles a Chinese strain of the virus. The nurse, in her early 20s, had recently returned from a three-week visit to Beijing. However, as she had no reported contact with poultry, and Beijing has not reported any recent outbreaks of H5N1, the source of infection and method of transmission remain unclear.

CBC – “Virologist Kevin Fonseca of Alberta Health Services and his colleagues said the patient experienced symptoms of malaise, chest pain, and fever during the return flight on Dec. 27 and went to the local emergency department on Dec. 28…After a chest X-ray and CT scan suggested a diagnosis of pneumonia, the woman was prescribed an antibiotic and discharged home. The patient came back to the same emergency department on Jan. 1 with worsening inflammation of the membrane surrounding the lung, chest pain, shortness of breath, a mild headache that felt worse when she moved her head, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms, Fonseca’s team said in their posting on ProMed, an internet-based disease alert system. On Jan. 2, the patient reported visual changes and a continuing headache. As oxygen needs increased, doctors admitted her to the ICU for intubation and ventilation. In the early morning of Jan. 3, she had sudden tachycardia or fast heart rate and severe hypertension, followed by hypotension. Doctors took steps to keep her heart beating. At this point, the patient’s pupils were dilated and there was no response to pain. Further tests and a neurologic exam indicated brain death.”

New cases put H7N9 pace near last year’s peak
The number of H7N9 cases in China are picking up again, with nearly 35 cases reported in the last week. This is just three under peak numbers during the height of the infection at the virus’ initial emergence. Health officials monitoring the situation remain split on the implications of the increased numbers – however, the prevailing opinion seems to be that as long as the virus remains poorly transmitted between people, we don’t panic.

CIDRAP – “The steady stream of new cases could mean that Chinese health officials are better at detecting cases, but he added that it doesn’t look like they missed many cases last year in the early months of the outbreak. ‘There must be a similar widespread circulation in poultry,’ said Osterholm, who is the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, publisher of CIDRAP News, Recent H7N9 developments raise questions about what’s being done to minimize the risks to humans and should be setting off bells, whistles, and sirens warning about the threat, he said. ‘Each one [case] is another throw at the genetic roulette table’.”

Chikungunya virus spreads in Caribbean just weeks after breaking out in tiny St. Martin
In the two weeks since Chikungunya made it to the Caribbean, it has quickly spread to over 200 people. The virus can cause febrility, joint pain, and intense myalgia. Trouble in paradise (it had to be said)?

FOX – “The virus then spread to neighboring Dutch St. Maarten, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says new cases have also been confirmed in the French Caribbean islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Barthelemy. The British Virgin Islands reported three cases Monday. CDC epidemiologist Erin Staples said Tuesday that ‘further spread to other Caribbean islands and to the surrounding mainland areas is possible in the coming months and years’.”

The Pandora Report 1.10.14

Highlights include PEDv thriving in the polar vortex, H5N1 in Canada, archaeological epidemiology,  H7N9 in China, and MERS in Oman. Happy Friday!

Cold, wet weather may help spread deadly pig virus: USDA
Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) has officially spread to 22 states, helped in part by the colder weather, and affecting over 2,000 hogs. The virus, which causes diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and death in piglets, reaches as far west as California. The cooler weather enables the hardy virus freezes on clothes and on the bottom of shoes, enabling spread.

Baltimore Sun – “‘The virus likes cold, wet and cloudy days,’ said Rodney Baker, a swine veterinarian at Iowa State University at Ames, Iowa, the top pork producing state in the United States.Earlier this week several hog producing states experienced double digit sub zero temperatures, and forecasters now are calling for warmer temperatures as highs climb toward 30 degrees Fahrenheit by the weekend. Baker told Reuters the virus can remain viable after a single, maybe even a couple of freeze-thaw cycles. Cold weather and cloudy conditions protect the virus, but heat and sunlight will deactivate it, Baker said. The spread of the disease has heightened scrutiny of the U.S. trucking industry as livestock transport trailers are seen as a means of transmission.”

H5N1 bird flu death confirmed in Alberta, 1st in North America
The first H5N1 fatality in North America occurred in Canada last week. A Canadian woman returning from China became symptomatic on December 27th, was hospitalized January 1st, and died January 3rd. The woman had not visited any live farms, not had she come in contact with poultry – the method of transmission remains unclear. Remember, while H5N1 has a fatality rate of 60%,  there is currently no indication the virus is readily transmissible person-to-person. It’s just not well adapted to our immune system – for now at least, it prefers the birds.

CBC – “Dr. Gregory Taylor, deputy chief public health officer, said the avian form of influenza has been found in birds, mainly poultry, in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East….The officials added that the woman was otherwise healthy and it’s not yet clear how the person contracted H5N1. Speaking to Evan Solomon, host of CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, Taylor said the patient was relatively young. ‘This was a relatively young — well, a young person compared to me, with no underlying health conditions,’ he said. Taylor is 58 [reports have listed the girl as 20 years old]. Officials emphasized that this is not a disease transmitted between humans.”

Scientists unlock evolution of cholera, identify strain responsible for early pandemics
The next time you’re in Philadelphia, instead of visiting the well-trod landmarks, consider visiting the Mütter museum, home to the 200-year old intestinal samples. Those samples, taken during a cholera epidemic at the turn of the 18th century, has helped scientists characterize the classical biotype of cholera, thought to be responsible for seven outbreaks during the 19th century. Scientists had thus far been unable to study the classical biotype, due to its preference for the intestines – unlike bones which can linger for millennia, the transience of intestines makes collecting DNA samples over time challenging.

Medical Express – “Researchers carefully sampled a preserved intestine from a male victim of the 1849 pandemic and extracted information from tiny DNA fragments to reconstruct the Vibrio cholera genome. The results, currently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, could lead to a better understanding of cholera and its modern-day strain known as El Tor, which replaced the classical strain in the 1960s for unknown reasons and is responsible for recent epidemics, including the devastating post-earthquake outbreak in Haiti. ‘Understanding the evolution of an infectious disease has tremendous potential for understanding its epidemiology, how it changes over time, and what events play a role in its jump into humans,’ explains Poinar, associate professor and director of the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre and an investigator with the Michael G. DeGroote Institute of Infectious Disease Research, also at McMaster University.”

WHO: China Reports Eight New Cases of H7N9
China reported eight new cases of H7N9 in the last five days, including three cases in which exposure to live poultry could not be confirmed. Again, a slight increase in case numbers was expected with the cooler weather, and as of yet, there remains no confirmed, ongoing transmission person-to-person.  For a full breakdown of the seven cases (the eighth case was announced by health authorities in Hong Kong), see the GAR above.

WHO – “The National Health and Family Planning Commission of China has notified WHO of seven additional laboratory-confirmed cases of human infection with avian influenza A(H7N9) virus. On 4 January 2014, WHO was notified of an 86-year-old man from Shanghai City became ill on 26 December and was admitted to hospital on 30 December. He is currently in critical condition. He has a history of exposure to live poultry. On 5 January 2014, WHO was notified of 34 year old woman from Shaoxing City, Zhejiang Province became ill on 29 December and was admitted to hospital on 2 January. She is currently in critical condition.”

New Case of MERS in Oman
A 59-year-old man has died of MERS in Oman, bringing the total number of cases globally up to 178. The patient became symptomatic on December 24th, was hospitalized on December 28th, and died on December 30th. The patient had extensive exposure to camels, including participation in camel racing events.  It looks more and more like camels, everyone.

WHO – “Globally, from September 2012 to date, WHO has been informed of a total of 178 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including 75 deaths. Based on the current situation and available information, WHO encourages all Member States to continue their surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) and to carefully review any unusual patterns.”

(Image depicting jar of intestine, credit: McMaster University)