A briefer report this week due staff illness (one of the many drawbacks of studying biodefense is the crippling hypochondria that comes with it – we’re pretty sure we’ve come down with MERS). Highlights include actual cases of MERS, Hajj starting and outbreak fears, dengue in Houston, and the government shutdown leaving us exposed. Happy Friday!
Event Note: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the efforts in destroying chemical weapons. Our October Biodefense Policy Seminar, happening Wednesday Oct. 16th, features Dr. Paul Walker, who was recently rewarded the prestigious Swedish Rights Livelihood Award for his personal contributions to the destruction of chemical weapons. Join us and Dr. Walker as we discuss disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile Wednesday evening.
Hajj is finally upon us, will millions of pilgrims flooding the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca for the annual muslim pilgrimige, culminating on October 15th. Doctors in hospitals across Southern California have been alerted by state health departments to watch for fever and respiratory symptoms in individuals returning from the Middle East. Here’s to hoping for the best.
LA Times – “The hajj, which typically draws more than 10,000 from the U.S. and culminates Oct. 15 this year, is just the sort of environment where a virus can spread efficiently. Conditions can be hot and crowded, said Jihad Turk, a religious advisor for the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles and president of Bayan Claremont, an Islamic graduate school in Claremont. Pilgrims retrace the steps of the biblical Abraham, his wife Hagar and their son Ishmael, considered the founders of the Islamic people. In one key ritual, they march seven times around the cube-shaped Kaaba in Mecca, said to have been built by Abraham and Ishmael.’You have a million people all at the same time walking around the Kaaba,’ said Turk, who has participated in the hajj twice. ‘It’s like being in a crowded subway in New York for hours and hours at a time.”
Speaking of MERS, another study has emerged linking the virus’ origins to bats. To date there have been 136 cases of the resipatory syndrome, with 58 fatalities.
Infectious Disease News – “Previous research suggested that MERS uses the DPP-4 receptor to enter the cell. Researchers from Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity at the University of Sydney in Australia analyzed seven bat genomes to determine the sequence of the DPP4 gene. They compared these findings with those from other mammalian species. They found three residues in bat DPP-4 receptors that directly interact with the viral surface glycoprotein. The mutations in the bat genes also occurred at a faster rate, which suggests that the virus existed in bats for a long period and has evolved before it began to infect humans.”
Dengue, the mosquito-borne virus which ravages so much of the developing world, has re-emerged in Houstan. According to a new study from Baylor College, antibodies to the disease where present in 47 individuals sampled as part of a larger West Nile study, suggesting an outbreak in 2003.
Houston Chronicle – “‘Dengue virus can cause incredibly severe disease and death,’ [study researcher] Murray said. ‘This study shows that Houston may be at risk of an outbreak, that people need to be on the lookout.’ While no blood and cerebrospinal fluid samples from after 2005 are available for study, Murray said the virus likely is still in Houston. Dengue fever is widespread in other parts of the world. Whenever it appears in the U.S., local officials hope to contain it. It can cause severe body aches, high fever and rash. Its most severe forms can cause severe bleeding and death. In central Florida, 20 cases of dengue fever have been reported this year.”
We can attest first hand that flu season has definitely started. As we mentioned last week, it’s happening without the watchful eye of the CDC surveillance system. While there has been some private industry pull-through, the supplemental surveillance isn’t enough to provide a good national picture of flu trends.
MedPage – “But it’s not just data and it’s not just flu, according to Gregory Poland, MD, an infectious diseases specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.’There are an endless number of infectious disease threats that, as we often say, are an airplane ride away from us,’ Poland said. And the CDC is the ‘only entity’ that tracks infectious disease on a national scale, he added. ‘So now you’ve got a week, 2 weeks, who knows how long, where there’s no one really responsible for watching what’s happening nationally.’ He painted a grim picture of what might happen while the agency is all-but-shuttered.
“‘Worst-case scenario is a novel infectious disease is imported into the U.S.,’ he said, with cases scattered at first across a dozen states. ‘Nobody understands that it’s happening simultaneously in real time and we don’t have 12 cases, we have 1,200 cases before we realize what’s going on.'”