Pandora Report: 4.8.2016

Happy National Public Health Week! The American Public Health Association is celebrating the importance of public health partnerships with a full week dedicated to increasing awareness and participation. Enjoy some vaccine history by taking a trip down memory lane with this great infographic. Before we get started, researchers have found a possible pathway for the emergence of zoonotic malaria.

GMU Master’s and PhD Open Houses!
Whether you’re looking to get a Master’s Degree (we have both online or in-person programs!) or a PhD in Biodefense, we’ve got you covered. Come check out the GMU’s School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs (SPGIA) open houses. The Master’s Open House is on Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 6:30pm in our Arlington Campus, Founders Hall, room 126. GMU Biodefense professor and graduate program director, Dr. Koblentz, will be there to answer questions and then lead a biodefense break-out (or should I say outbreak?) session afterwards. If you can’t attend in person, we’re offering the biodefense info session virtually around 7pm (give or take a few minutes) that night. The PhD informational session will be Thursday, April 21, 7-8pm in our Arlington Campus, Founders Hall, room 126. 

MSF Ebola Research
Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has released their report on the research they undertook throughout the Ebola outbreak in 2014. MSF was perhaps the strongest and most well coordinated response team on the ground during this outbreak. While their work heavily focused on medical care, they also performed a wide variety of research that ranges from public health to anthropology, and much more. “MSF carried out research in a number of areas including epidemiology (describing the disease and its spread), vulnerable patient groups, clinical trials for new treatments, community views of Ebola, operational issues and effects of the outbreak on general healthcare.” Their report ties together their research with the six pillars of Ebola control – isolation of cases and supportive medical and mental health care in dedicated ETC’s, contact tracing, awareness raising in the community, a functioning surveillance and alert system, safe burials and house spraying, and maintaining healthcare for non-Ebola patients. MSF research on vulnerable groups and community response to returned survivors is both fascinating and important for better response in future outbreaks.

Islamic State Hijacks Mosul University Chemistry Lab to Make Bombs
Having gained control of the “well-stocked university chemistry lab” in Mosul, Iraq, ISIS has been working for the past year to build “a new generation of explosive devices and train militants to make them”. General Hatem Magsosi, Iraq’s top explosives officers, notes that gaining control of this lab has highly strengthened the Islamic State’s capabilities. “They have found ‘peroxide-based chemical bombs and suicide bomb vests like the ones used in the Brussels attacks and by at least some of the Paris attackers.’ The lab also contained ‘nitrate-based explosives and chemical weapons.”

GMU Biodefense Student Awarded ASIS Scholarship
Congrats to Biodefense MS student, Rebecca Earnhardt for receiving the ASIS National Capital Chapter Scholarship! The ASIS scholarship helps support and encourage students to follow a career in the security field. We love getting to celebrate the awesome work and achievements of our biodefense students, and between her dedication to the global health security field, scholarship, and work at START, we’re so happy to have her apart of the GMU Biodefense program!

Leaked UN Report Highlights Poor Sanitation at Haiti Bases

Courtesy of The Haitian Times
Courtesy of Haitian Times

Despite consistent denial regarding their role in the cholera outbreak during the 2010 recovery efforts in Haiti, recent documents have supported the UN’s responsibility. “The report, which was commissioned a month into the cholera crisis in November 2010, found a series of alarming problems in several UN peacekeeping bases including sewage being dumped in the open as well as a lack of toilets and soap.” The authors of the report also alerted UN leadership regarding the ramifications of the sewage disposal failures and “and the poor oversight of contractors carrying out this work has left the mission vulnerable to allegations of disease propagation and environmental contamination.” The recently released report will not only add pressure upon the UN to admit internal failures, but also support the recent lawsuit that was brought forth from 1,500 Haitians. Sadly, the UN has maintained a steadfast refusal to accept liability, despite growing data to support their responsibility for the outbreak. The lawsuit focusses on UN failure to screen the peacekeepers from Nepal for cholera and how a UN-hired contractor neglected to ensure “sanitary conditions and adequate infrastructure” for the UN camps.

Your Weekly Dose of Zika
On Wednesday, it was announced that federal funds left over from Ebola response will be moved to fight Zika virus. $589 million will be provided to aid in research and help limit the spread of the disease. The use of unspent funds was planned for helping to implement the GHSA, however now the focus will now be on Zika virus R&D. For many, the greatest concern is reaching women in their child-bearing years. The WHO is highlighting a case study in Martinique, specifically their first case of Zika-related microcephaly.  You can read the letter here, but the goals of such case-studies are to help researchers better understand the infection, especially the high-risks associated with infection during pregnancy. Following the CDC Zika Summit, some are wondering if the U.S. can coordinate response efforts and cope with the impending advance of mosquitoes.  The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes require a unique approach to vector elimination due to their propensity to live in and around homes.  “CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said health departments need to take a ‘four corners approach,’ targeting the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes indoors and outdoors as well as focusing on killing both larvae and adult insects.” As of March 7, there have been 346 travel-associated cases in the U.S.

Ebola vs. Zika- Why Did the WHO Respond So Differently?
Many have wondered, why was the WHO so quick with Zika, but so slow with Ebola? Interestingly, political science and the workings of international organizations are helping Amy Patterson from The Washington Post, ask these very questions. Firstly, it starts with an outbreak being declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The WHO was slow to call Ebola a PHEIC, especially since it had only used the designation twice before. While the WHO blames the delayed response on budget cuts and poor communication between the ground teams and the WHO headquarters, it has also said that the quick response for Zika was due to a “need for greater scientific knowledge”, not to mention trying to repair their reputation from the slow Ebola response. “Political scientists would argue that the story is still more complicated. In ‘Rules for the World,’ Michael Barnett and Martha Finnemore show that international organizations’ internal workings and technical expertise influence their actions in ways that are sometimes at odds with the goals of the countries that set up these organizations to work on their behalf.” Patterson notes several factors – the WHO has six autonomous regional offices that behave differently, the WHO cares about its reputation among powerful countries, and the message matters. This last point drives home the role of health issue framing and the way messages are conveyed for audiences and policymakers. “What’s more, Ebola aligned with what Priscilla Wald terms the “outbreak narrative.” That’s the conventional view that poor countries have disease outbreaks, and that powerful states only care about those outbreaks when their spread threatens those states. Zika hit far closer to powerful countries — and hit “threat perception” level before Ebola.”

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Global Health Impacts of Vector-Borne Diseases – The resurgence of vector-borne diseases in new locations and with new organisms has shown devastating global impacts. “Domestic and international capabilities to detect, identify, and effectively respond to vector-borne diseases are limited. Few vaccines have been developed against vector-borne pathogens.”
  • Angola Battles Yellow Fever – Over 450 people have been infected in the worst yellow fever outbreak Angola has seen in 30 years. There have been 178 deaths and the global shortage of yellow fever vaccine is alarming many in the world health community. There have also been imported, travel-associated cases in China and Kenya.
  • FDA Releases Final Rule to Ensure Food Safety During Transport- a new food safety rule was finalized by the FDA under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The new rule “will help to prevent food contamination during transportation. The rule will require those involved in transporting human and animal food by motor or rail vehicle to follow recognized best practices for sanitary transportation, such as properly refrigerating food, adequately cleaning vehicles between loads and properly protecting food during transportation.”

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Pandora Report: 3.25.2016

Happy Friday! Ready for some global health security news? Down the rabbit hole we go….the FDA has just approved ANTHIM injection, a new treatment for inhalation anthrax in adults and children. Researchers are considering the possibility that the highly virulent E. coli O104:H4 strain that hit Germany in 2011 may have been an intentional act. “The sudden and unexplainable emerging of a fast increasing number of cases and deaths from bloody diarrhea and HUS might have been caused naturally, accidentally, or intentionally,” a Serbian-German research team writes in the European Journal of Public Health Advance Access for April 15.

The Finances of A Pandemic
From SARS to Ebola and now Zika, the growing threat of emerging infectious diseases doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Has this become our new normal? Will we learn from these outbreaks and start putting the resources and support into prevention? “Ebola has infected almost 30,000 people, killed more than 11,000 and cost more than $2 billion in lost output in the three hardest-hit countries. SARS infected 8,000 and killed 800; because it hit richer places, it cost more than $40 billion. Predicting these losses is hard, but a recent report on global health risks puts the expected economic losses from potential pandemics at around $60 billion a year.” So how do we defend against these international security threats? America’s National Academy of Medicine recently made the suggestion that $4.5 billion a year solely dedicated to pandemic preparedness and defense could halt this impending reality. Even more interesting? This estimate accounts to roughly 3% of what “rich countries spend on development aid”, while the world spends about $2 trillion annually on defense.

U.S. Biothreat Defense Inadequate
American response to Ebola and now Zika reveals a startling trend of slow response, inadequate supplies, and poor cooperation and coordination between agencies. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper states that “Gaps in disease surveillance and reporting, limited health care resources, and other factors contributed to the outpacing of the international community’s response in West Africa,”. The National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC) is one such agency that was developed in 2007 in attempts to “be a hub of information and coordination for federal agencies tracking disease and biological threats”, however it has been frustrated by poor relationships and sharing from other agencies like the CDC. In essence, agencies that are developed for global health security, like NBIC, suffer from poor cooperation that then trickles into their reputation and capabilities in the eyes of their federal partners. “Congress has put forth a potential legislative fix. The CBRNE Defense Act of 2015 would create a new office within DHS, the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives Office, which would place both NBIC and BioWatch under integrated new management.” Just as we reported from the Blue Ribbon Study Panel, federal biodefense efforts and resources need to be better organized and developed.

Rare Blood Infection Outbreak
Elizabethkingiam is currently causing dozens of cases in Wisconsin and now a Michigan resident is suffering from the bloodstream infection. The bacteria that causes the infection, Elizabethkingia meningoseptica, is commonly found in soil but has also caused infections in hospitals. Typical infections have resulted in bacteremia and neonatal meningitis related to the gram-negative bacillus, although it is naturally found in soil, fresh water, and salt water. Most of the 54 cases in Wisconsin have been in patients 65 years and older, of which 17 have died. Public health officials are working to identify the source of the outbreak and the links between the Michigan case and those in Wisconsin. The concerning aspects of this rising outbreak is also the difficulty in treating the organism and prevalence of multi-drug resistant organisms in seniors.

Complex Engineering by Violent Non-State Actors
Check out this special issue on complex engineering by violent non-state actors (VSNAs). “Why and how different VNSAs remain low-level and localized or undertake and achieve complex engineering tasks in pursuit of their objectives are at the heart of understanding the threat environment faced by states.” The authors address several terrorist groups like Aum Shinrikyo (the chapter was actually co-authored by GMU Biodefense Alum Benjamin Ash!), Hamas (also co-authored by GMU Biodefense Alum Alena James!), the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), etc.  “The approach of this collection moves beyond weapons and embraces facilitating or logistical aspects that support the operations and objectives of the various actors”. This special edition, with an introduction by Jez Littlewood, reviews these organizations and their resources and strategies. The authors also consider the attitudes of leadership regarding innovation in detail to assess the role of complex engineering by VSNAs. Through this close look into the VSNA use of complex engineering, further research and preparedness can occur to understand the threats posed by these actors.

All Roads Lead to Zika 
Now that Spring has officially begun, the impending summer rains are right around the corner, and with those – mosquitoes. Many worry about the potential for local transmission in countries where imported cases have already been identified. The US isn’t immune to these concerns as the CDC reports 273 travel-related cases. Dr. Nabel mirrors the sentiments of Sanofi’s global R&D head, Dr. Elias Zherouni, who emphasizes the need for changes in global public health outbreak response. He notes that “we just run from one crisis to another. It’s not an optimal way to respond. Not when the stakes are so high and when so many people can either lose their lives or have their whole lives changed because of one five-day infection. That’s no way to protect the world’s population. We have to step back and we have to say, ‘Is there a more systematic way to gather the intelligence that we have about these viruses, recognize where they stand in terms of the threat level, and then develop a systematic program where, when the next Ebola outbreak occurs, it’s not that we haven’t done anything since the last outbreak, that we’ve actually moved things forward?’ That’s all possible. It’s just that we have not had the collective will to do it.” Panama has also announced their first case of microcephaly linked to Zika virus outside of Brazil. Chris Mooney from The Washington Post discusses why Zika virus, among other diseases, could disproportionally impact America’s poorer populations.  He notes that scientists have found that more mosquitoes are found in lower-income neighborhoods due to persistent trash and abandoned buildings, which creates a ripe environment for standing water and thus mosquito breeding. Researchers found that when compared to wealthier neighborhoods in New Jersey, “poverty was positively correlated with number of [Asian tiger mosquitoes] captured and accounted for over half the variation”. Many are saying that the “U.S. is botching the Zika fight” due to the problems within the FDA and the Agriculture Department regarding turf. “A genetically tweaked mosquito could stop the illness, but regulators won’t test it. Why would that be?” The combination of worrying reasons, like “budgetary concerns and antagonism to genetic engineering among some senior USDA officials”, leave many feeling that instead of getting ahead of the outbreak, “the U.S. is falling behind, solely because of bureaucratic muddle.” On the other hand, on Friday, the WHO rallied for pilot projects on two projects that would involve genetically modified mosquitoes to help stop the spread of Zika virus. In the meantime, the FDA gave emergency approval for a 3-in-1 test for Zika, Chikungunya, and Dengue.

Syria and the Future of the Chemical Weapons Taboo 

Courtesy of E-International Relations
Courtesy of E-International Relations

Brett Edwards and Mattia Cacciatori tackle the responses that the international security community has taken regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the resulting reinforcement of “a long standing prohibition norm.” The authors discuss the characteristics of chemical weapons taboo and and the significance that the international community gives to these weapons. “This alone does not support the claim episode has strengthened the global norm against chemical weapons. In this piece we have highlighted how this is not immediately apparent due to the fact that problem cases tend to be externalized from dominant institutional discourses, often justified in terms of the need to protect the sanctity of the chemical weapon norm, as well as those institution’s which embody the norm – especially the OPCW.” Overall, the more problematic cases, like those of incapacitating chemical agents, will grow to alter the existing foundation of chemical weapons norms if left ignored or unchecked.

New Ebola Flare Up
The west African Ebola outbreak is like a campfire that wasn’t put out properly – everyone thinks the flames are extinguished, but those hidden embers lurking in the ash end up causing a spark that leads to a massive forest fire. A fifth person has died from the recent flare in Guinea. The most recent death occurred in a man 200k from the initial four cases. Prior to this death, a young girl died from the village of Korokpara following her hospitalization in an Ebola treatment facility in Nzerekore. It’s still not clear how this specific surge began, but many worry about the lingering traces of the virus in the eyes, CNS, and bodily fluids. In response to the fifth death, Liberia has partially shut its bordersEmergency meetings are now underway and the WHO is sending specialist teams in to try and stop the outbreak before it grows beyond the 11,300 mortality count. On a positive note, Sierra Leone has gone two incubations periods (42 days) without a case, which means they’re Ebola-free since their last flare up.

GMU SPGIA Gettysburg Trip
GMU students interested in learning more about the battle of Gettysburg- the Center for Security Policy Studies (CSPS) will be hosting an informational session on April 6th from 4:30-6pm in Merten Hall 1203 regarding the April 9th trip! GMU students and staff will walk the battlefield, discussing the factors that caused the battle to unfold as it did. They will also link the battle into larger discussions about the causes of war and grand strategy.  The cost for the trip will be $35.  Bus transportation will be provided, and will pick up participants from both the Fairfax and Arlington campuses.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • U.N. Sued Over Haiti Cholera Outbreak– starting in October of 2014, Haiti was hit with an intense wave of cholera that is believed to have started with U.N. peacekeepers. “Poor sanitation at a U.N. camp for peacekeepers allowed cholera-contaminated sewage to enter a tributary of Haiti’s largest river, the Artibonite. Within days, hundreds of people downstream, like Jean-Clair Desir and his mother, were falling ill. The disease subsequently spread to the entire country.” The case is currently being reviewed in US courts and the lawsuit was brought forth by the Institute for Justice in Democracy, asking that the U.N. “end cholera by installing a national water and sanitation system; pay reparations to cholera victims and their families; and publicly apologize for bringing cholera to Haiti.”
  • Exploiting the Challenges to Bioweapons Development – Janne E. Nolan discusses GMU Biodefense Professor, Dr. Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley’s book, Barriers to Bioweapons, in regards to the misleading and often exaggerated notion of easy WMD development. Nolan discusses that understanding both the internal and external factors that impact BW program success would allow the international community to “devise better ways to realistically stem BW proliferation”. He notes that “Ben Ouagrham-Gormley s book is a fascinating study of the phenomenology of scientific knowledge, providing a compelling analysis of how knowledge is acquired, developed, transmitted, and, at the same time, diluted or lost as a result of organizational, social, economic, political, and ultimately very human factors that vary widely within countries and over time.” You can also access it here: Nolan final
  • Five Outbreaks That Stump Epidemiologists– As much as I’d love to say that all outbreaks are investigated and solved, the truth is that epidemiologists are often left with the nagging of an unresolved case. Outbreaks are squirrelly at best, often challenging even the best teams with confounders and biases. Here are some that have stumped public health teams over the years.
  • Lassa Fever Outbreak– Three people are suspected of having the viral infection after coming into contact with an infected American. The initial case was a medical director of a missionary hospital in Togo, who died last month. While there are conflicting reports of disease confirmation, several sources are saying the three contacts of this initial case have been diagnosed and are under observation. The outbreak in Nigeria and Benin has continued to grow, resulting in CDC travel warnings. In Nigeria there have been 254 cases and Benin has seen 71.

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Pandora Report 1.11.15

Dirt is all around, I mean, truly, all around. We wash it off our produce, get it smashed into the soles of our shoes, and vacuum it out of our homes. But is dirt really that bad? The stories this week look at dirt as a source of antibiotics and a disposal method for chemical weapons. We also look at Ebola and other stories you may have missed.

Have a fabulous week!

DARPA Wants to Turn Chemical Weapons Into Dirt

DARPA has a new idea for eliminating chemical weapons—breaking them into safe compounds like oxides and earth metal salts, in other words, soil. Considering the drawbacks for current disposal methods, the agency’s Agnostic Compact Demilitarization of Chemical Weapons program has put out a call for proposals for a weapons-to-dirt plan.

Popular Mechanics—“The defense research agency is looking for a transportable system that can fit in a 40-foot-long shipping container and process at least 55 gallons of chemical weapons and precursor material every hour for a 48-hour period. Processing will be conducted near the chemical weapons storage site, use local materials (such as dirt of plant matter), and produce no hazardous waste.”

New Class of Antibiotic Found in Dirt Could Prove Resistant to Resistance

A study published this week in Nature looks at a new antibiotic, called Teixobactin, which could keep working for “longer than any other” before bacteria could develop resistance. It is still at least four years away from availability and can only treat gram-positive bacteria like staph, strep, and TB. And where was this new antimicrobial found? Dirt from a grassy field in Maine.

The Washington Post—“Most microbiologists only ever work with around 1 percent of microbes—the ones that will grow politely in the lab. But the rest refuse to grow on traditional growth media, like petri dishes. But there are potential antibiotics all over the world being created by plants, fungi, and microorganisms. Lewis and his colleagues sandwiched soil between two semi-permeable membranes, effectively tricking soil microbes into growing in a “natural” environment that was actually a lab culture.

Among the 10,000 organisms and 25 antibiotics they grew in this new type of culturing method is Teixobactin. It successfully obliterated MRSA and drug-resistant TB in cell cultures and in mice, and did so without any signs that the bacteria might become resistant to it.”

This Week in Ebola

Ebola has reached beyond health. Since the outbreak began, in Sierra Leone a combination of curfew, a ban on public gatherings, plummeting GDP, and inflation have fueled economic freefall. And remember when Texas nurse Amber Joy Vinson got on a plane to Ohio to shop for bridesmaid gowns for her own wedding? Well the store, announced it will be going out of business due to flagging sales and stigma of being the “Ebola” bridal store.  The pharmaceutical industry is chugging along in creation of and testing of possible vaccines for the Ebola virus; all of this comes at a time where the number of deaths is over 8,200 and the number of cases stands at over 20,000. The Economist has an amazing series of charts, maps, and graphs that look at the scope of the outbreak.

Meanwhile, the British nurse diagnosed with Ebola is in critical, but stable, condition, and an American health care worker was transported to the Nebraska Medical Center’s specialized biocontainment unit for observation. Travelers from Mali will no longer face enhanced screening when they arrive in the U.S., as the last case in Mali was December 5 and there are no active cases in the country.

Lastly, there were two interesting first-person stories from those who have returned from West Africa. First, an NPR correspondent in Washington DC writes about the terrifying moment when he woke up with a fever within 21 days of his return from Liberia. Then, an Australian MSF nurse wrote about the “sheer brutality” of the Ebola virus he experienced while in Liberia.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: United Nations University

Pandora Report 10.26.14

This late weekend Pandora Report covers antibiotics in fish, ISIS and chemical weapons, the UN and Cholera, and, of course, an Ebola update. Don’t forget to get your flu shot, and remember to protect yourself by washing your hands! Have a great week!

There Are Antibiotics in Your Fish

A study in the Journal of Hazardous Materials has found antibiotics present in both farmed and wild fish, including those labeled as ‘antibiotic free’. The good news for the food producers is that all traces of the drugs were within the legal limit for food. The bad news is twofold; one, for there to be any traces after processing and freezing means that at one point, there was a lot more antibiotics, and two, levels of antibiotics in the food we eat contributes to growing antibiotic resistance in humans.

Time—“Antibiotics are used in fish largely to treat and prevent disease, not to promote growth… They’re dispersed into the water in fish farms and are sometimes injected into fish directly. And once they get into the fish, they generally stay there, even though their concentration diminishes over time.”

Islamic State Accused of Using Chemical Weapons

Iraqi officials claim that ISIS fighters have used chemical weapons—chlorine bombs—during clashes last month in Duluiya and Balad, towns north of Baghdad. Approximately 40 troops were affected and were then treated at a hospital where they recovered quickly. Iraqi forces claim that two other chlorine gas attacks have taken place over recent months, as well.

Sky News—“‘These allegations are extremely serious and we are seeking additional information in order to be able to determine whether or not we can confirm it,’ John Kerry told reporters. ‘The use of any chemical weapons is an abhorrent act, it’s against international law, and these recent allegations underscore the importance of the work that we are currently engaged in.’”

U.S. Judge Considers Whether UN Can Be Sued

In 2010 an earthquake ravaged the island nation of Haiti. Shortly after United Nations peacekeepers arrived, the nation experienced one of the worst cholera epidemics in history. Last week, a lawyer representing the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti presented an argument that the UN should be held responsible for the outbreak which led to the deaths of over 8,500 people. Lawyers from the U.S. government are representing the UN in this case. The judge will decide if the case can proceed to criminal trial.

China Central Television—“Evidence from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later provided strong indication that UN peacekeepers were the source of the outbreak, but the UN has denied any links, and its own investigation into the cause was inconclusive.”

This Week in Ebola

Well, the number of Ebola cases this week reached over 10,000 with nearly 5,000 deaths including the first death in Mali. As the disease spreads within the U.S., Africa, and Europe, it might be a smart time to look at how SARS was stoppedChina is a good case study. After the diagnosis of an American health worker returned from West Africa, the states of New Jersey, New York and Illinois have moved to automatically quarantine health workers returning from the affected region. All this comes at a time when federal officials and the WHO say vaccine trials could begin in West Africa as early as January. Average Americans still have very little risk of catching Ebola, but that hasn’t stopped the culture of fear and concerns about state use of Ebola as a weapon. But don’t worry, National Geographic puts the Ebola epidemic in historical perspective. Still worried? You can blame Richard Preston.

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons