Pandora Report 9.16.2016

Is it time to outsource key tasks out of the WHO and into more capable agencies? On Monday, the U.S. carried out a massive airstrike on a suspected ISIS chemical weapons facility in Mosul, Iraq. Sri Lanka has made history by being declared malaria-free after three years since its last case. Sri Lanka had previously tried to eradicate malaria over fifty years ago, but the effort was met with failure and is frequently cited by malaria experts. Do you subscribe to the “five-second rule” when it comes to your food? You may want to give it a second thought as Rutgers researchers have recently disproven the notion – sadly, cross-contamination can’t be avoided in most cases. The CDC has added Bacillus cereus Biovar anthraces to the list of Tier 1 Select Agents.

GMU Biodefense Graduate Info Sessions
In case you missed last night’s MS Open House in Arlington, we’ve got plenty more graduate program information sessions. GMU will be hosting several more events this Fall, so make sure not to miss one! The next MS information session (for both in-person and online programs) is on Wednesday October 19th, 6:30pm in Founders Hall, room 126. If you’re looking at a PhD in biodefense, come to our information session on Wednesday, October 12th, from 7-8:30pm, at the Johnson Center in the Fairfax Campus, room 334. From Anthrax to Zika, we cover all the biodefense topics and applications in our information sessions.

Biological Threats in the 21st Century Book Launch!  
On October 14th, join us in celebrating the book launch of Biological Threats in the 21st Century! Biological Threats in the 21st Century introduces readers to the politics, people, science and historical roots of contemporary biological threats through rigorous and accessible chapters written by leading scholars and supplemented by expert point-of-view contributions and interviews. The book launch will feature a panel discussion on the threat of biological weapons and the role of scientists in bioweapons non-proliferation and disarmament. The event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be available beginning at 11:45 AM so please RSVP. Attendants will also be able to pick up the book at a 15% discount.

Identifying Future Disease Hot Spots
Check out the latest RAND report in which researchers are asking which countries might be particularly vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks and how the U.S. can help support these countries to better prepare and respond to public health events. Pulling from a wide variety of literature and data, “authors created an index for identifying potentially vulnerable countries and then ranked countries by overall vulnerability score.” Researchers looked at the 25 most-vulnerable countries, which include the “disease belt” in the Sahel region of Africa. Of the 25 noted countries, 22 are in Africa, and the remaining are Afghanistan, Yemen, and Haiti. “Conflict or recent conflict is present among more-vulnerable countries. Seven of the ten most-vulnerable countries are current conflict zones. Of the 30 most-vulnerable countries, 24 form a solid, near-contiguous belt from the edge of West Africa to the Horn of Africa in Somalia — a disease hot spot belt. Were a communicable disease to emerge within this chain of countries, it could easily spread across borders in all directions.” The 25 least-vulnerable countries were found to be in Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific. The least-vulnerable countries were found to have larger medical systems and expenditures, better health indicators, less corrupt and more stable governments, better human rights, and often technological sophistication.

Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (PACCARB) 
You can join (in listen-only) this teleconference and webcast on Monday, September 19th, to gain further insight into the battle of microbial stewardship. “With participation of Member States, non-governmental organizations, civil society, the private sector and academic institutions, the primary objective of this pubic meeting is to summon and maintain strong national, regional and international political commitment in addressing antimicrobial resistance comprehensively and multi-sectorally, and to increase and improve awareness of antimicrobial resistance.”

Ebola & Zika: Cautionary Tales 20988_lores
In the latest issue of Science, Michael T. Osterholm discusses the challenges of combating infectious disease outbreaks and the struggles to respond with vaccine development. Osterholm points to the need to drive development and funding mechanisms in coordination with surveillance of emerging infectious diseases (EID). Upon the indication that an EID is bubbling up, it would be prudent to have vaccines (even if they’re not licensed yet), ready for large trials. Moreover, the looming threat of EID’s should be the best motivator for developing candidate vaccines. “The handwriting is on the wall regarding the current Zika outbreak in the Americas. High human infection rates in the major impact regions, caused by virus-carrying mosquitoes and human sexual transmission, will continue for several more years. Eventually, the number of cases will drop as more of the community develops immunity. Zika vaccine trials in the Americas may be too late to be tested on the current high number of cases.” Pointing to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), he emphasizes the need to fill the vaccine preparedness hole. Current practices are slow and on an “as-needed” basis, but the truth is that we already have the incentives and EID presence to make the push towards correcting the insufficient process.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Dialogue with Students
The UN Security Council 1540 Committee and the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs collaborated with the Stimson Center to create an international essay contest for students. On September 30th, from 10:30am-4pm, they will be hosting an on-the-record discussion regarding the proliferation of WMD’s and honoring the winners of the essay contest.  The winners will be announced and some will even be presenting their ideas at this event. “The goals of the competition were to involve the younger generation in understanding and addressing the important issue of proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), i.e., chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and to solicit innovative student approaches to implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004) to support the Council’s Comprehensive Review of the resolution this year.” Panel discussions will include speakers such as Dana Perkins (Senior Science Advisor, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, former 1540 Expert), Will Tobey (Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University), Craig Finkelstein (Coordinator for the Working Group of the 1540 Committee on Transparency and Outreach), and more! The event will be at Harvard University’s Tubman Building in Cambridge, MA. You can RSVP for all or part of the event here.

Latest Zika News
As more outbreaks occur, the question is quickly becoming – should government officials “allocate resources to support the advancement of traditional drugs and vaccines or emerging broad-spectrum therapies?” If you’re a Miami Beach resident, free Zika testing is now being offered at the Miami Beach Police Department. Utah is keeping public health investigators on their toes with a mystery Zika case.  CDC officials are investigating a man who contracted Zika but was not exposed via a mosquito or sexual contact. Recently published in the CDC’s MMWR, “Patient A was known to have had close contact (i.e., kissing and hugging) with the index patient while the index patient’s viral load was found to be very high,” CDC researchers said in the report. “Although it is not certain that these types of close contact were the source of transmission, family contacts should be aware that blood and body fluids of severely ill patients might be infectious.” If you need a laugh, the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah addressed Zika in a recent episode. Singapore is quickly becoming a Zika hot spot, leaving many researchers stumped about the strain. Experts are suspecting a significant mutation that ramped up the virus’s capability to spread. “What is most intriguing is the question as to whether some mutation has occurred in the Zika virus to make it more transmissible by the Aedes albopictus mosquito—this would be analogous to what happened with chikungunya,” said Paul Anantharajah Tambyah, the secretary-general of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection. The CDC has reported, as of September 14th, 3,176 cases of Zika virus in the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Biodefense in the Age of Synthetic Biology – the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has a new contract with the U.S. DoD’s Office of the Deputy Assistant Security of Defense, Chemical, and Biological Defense (NCB/CBD) to assess the nature of biothreats given the innovations within synthetic biology. “NAS will appoint an ad hoc committee to study the manipulation of biological functions, systems, or microorganisms resulting in the production of a disease-causing agents or toxins. The study will start with development of a strategic framework to guide an assessment of the potential security vulnerabilities related to advances in biology and biotechnology, with a particular emphasis on synthetic biology.”
  • Evidence of Airborne H5N2 Found in Distant Barns – a recent study found H5N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza in air samples collected “inside, immediately outside, and up to 70 meters from affected barns during the 2015 outbreak in the Midwest”. The researchers also found H5N2 RNA in air samples collected 1 kilometer from the infected barns. “A total of 26 of 37 (67%) sampling events collected inside and 18 of 40 (45%) collected at 5 meters were positive for H5N2. Sampling at distances from 70 meters to 1 kilometer resulted in about 2% positives and 58% suspected findings. The researchers found HPAI H5N2 viruses in particles up to 2.1 micrometer in diameter.”
  • History of the War on Superbugs – The war on antibiotic resistance may seem new, but it’s actually been waging on for over 60 years. Even Alexander Flemming knew the potential for antibiotic misuse and resistance, noting that “There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily undergoes himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.” Sadly, even the identification of penicillin-resistant germs didn’t scare people, simply because it was a time of antibiotic renaissance – developments were happening all around us and that calmed the fear that should have been brewing.

Pandora Report 05.17.15

Yowza! That’s another semester in the books for the GMU Biodefense students. Please excuse the sparse activity on the blog, but with the semester over, things should be getting back to normal.

This weekend we have a updates on Ebola and the bird flu outbreak in the U.S., plus other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week, (enjoy the Mad Men finale!) and see you back here next weekend!

Ebola is (still) living in an American doctor’s eye

As an update, Liberia has (finally) been declared Ebola free, the number of cases in Guinea continue to rise due to transmissions at funerals, and those in Sierra Leone are dying less from Ebola than from other diseases due to the collapse of the healthcare system. It’s been over a year and we are still learning things about Ebola and its persistence on hospital surfaces, sexual fluids, and now, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the eye. WHO volunteer Ian Crozier was diagnosed in Sierra Leone and transported to Emory University where he was treated. Months later he returned to the hospital with symptoms like blurred vision and acute pain in his left eye. The cause? Ebola.

The Washington Post—“Ebola may have found refuge in patients’ eyes because, researchers said, the eye is walled off from the immune system. As the New York Times put it: “The barriers are not fully understood, but they include tightly packed cells in minute blood vessels that keep out certain cells and molecules, along with unique biological properties that inhibit the immune system.” This phenomenon is called “immune privilege” — and it means the eye can harbor viruses.”

America’s $45 Billion Poultry Industry Has a (Really) Bad Case of Bird Flu

The title says it all, frankly. Since early December 2014 three strains of highly pathogenic avian influenza have been circulating in North America. A state of emergency has been declared in Iowa (one of the hardest hit states) and over 21 million birds have been killed to contain and prevent the spread of the virus. Beyond the culling of birds, the outbreak is having an affect on business—China, South Korea, and Mexico have banned imports of U.S. poultry (to protect their own industries.)

The Motley Fool—“Falling exports could hurt farmers, but it could also help to offset domestic price increases from less supply. Although, with tens of millions of bird deaths and no end in sight to the pandemic, domestic food prices could be the largest casualty in the end.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: 8thstar

Pandora Report 2.7.15

Whatta week, right?! Let’s jump right in to the stories. We’ve got the Subway, flu forecasting, American chemical weapons, and stories you may have missed.

Have a great weekend and a safe and healthy week!

A Close Look at the Germs Crawling Around the Subway

Every single day I ride the metro to work, and every single day, the first thing I do when I get to the office is wash my hands. And, really, that’s what everyone should be doing. A research team from the Weill Cornell Medical College spent the summer of 2013 swabbing turnstiles, subway poles, kiosks, benches, and other “human penetrated surfaces” in all 466 NYC subway stations.

Gothamist—“And they found quite a few signs of life—15,152 types of DNA, in fact—nearly half of which they identified as bacteria. Shocking!

[They] did manage to find some scary stuff, with E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus (skin infections, respiratory disease and food poisoning), Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), and even Yersinia pestis, which is associated with the bubonic plague, popping up in some swabs. Nearly all the stations harbored an antibiotic resistant bacteria called Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, one that often causes respiratory infections in hospitals.”

Forecasts May Soon Predict Flu Patterns

What if we could predict the flu like we predict the weather? That is what teams of researchers are looking at; devising and testing methods to predict the start, peak, and end of flu season. How will they do this? By combining data from the present with knowledge of past patterns to project what might happen in the future.

The Boston Globe—“If the CDC had a flu-season preview in hand, the agency could better time messages on use of vaccines and flu-fighting drugs.

Hospitals could plan staffing for patient surges or make sure key personnel are not on vacation when it appears the epidemic will probably peak. Parents could even take flu forecasts into account in scheduling birthday parties and play dates.”

U.S. to Destroy Largest Remaining Chemical Weapons Cache

Syria isn’t the only country working on destruction of its chemical weapons cache. The Pueblo Chemical Depot, in Southern Colorado, will begin neutralization of 2,600 tons of aging mustard agent in March. This action moves towards American compliance with a 1997 treaty that banned all chemical weapons.

USA Today—“‘The start of Pueblo is an enormous step forward to a world free of chemical weapons,” said Paul Walker, who has tracked chemical warfare for more than 20 years, first as a U.S. House of Representatives staffer and currently with Green Cross International, which advocates on issues of security, poverty and the environment.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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 10.4.14

This week the round up includes Russian bird flu, pregnancy and flu, ISIS threats to British troops, and of course, an Ebola update.

Have a great weekend, don’t forget your flu shot, and keep smart about your news!

Russia Reports First Cases of Deadly Bird Flu in Two Years

Domestic chicken, geese, and ducks in the Altai Krai region of Russia, near the border of Kazakhstan, were found to be infected with the H5N1 serotype of bird flu. These are the first cases of the highly pathogenic flu in this area in nearly two years.

Reuters—“The latest outbreaks in Russia, which led to the death or culling of 344 birds, were thought to have come from wild birds. “Probably, hunted ducks and geese trophies had been placed in backyards where mortality occurred later in domestic birds,” the farm ministry said in its report.”

Why is Flu Virus Higher Risk for Pregnant Women? 

While HHS continues to prepare for pandemic flu, which could kill 60 million people, researchers at Stanford University have looked at the effects flu has on pregnant women. A pregnant woman’s immune system is strongly suppressed, but researchers say this alone cannot explain vulnerability to influenza. Researchers looked at the proportion and behavior of natural killer cells and T cells, which in the presence of flu increased and changed in function. These findings offer a possible treatment path—changing inflammatory response rather than just fighting replication of the virus.

Star Tribune—“Women who get the flu while pregnant have a much higher risk of hospitalization and death and are four times more likely to deliver a premature baby. During the 1918 epidemic, in fact, the death rate among pregnant women was at least 28 times that of the general population.”

ISIS Threatens to Gas British Troops in Iraq: Soldiers Ordered to Carry Chemical Suits

British Special Forces training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and identifying RAF bombing targets in Northern Iraq have started carrying chemical protection suits. Intelligence sources warned that ISIS fighters may have stolen poison gas from Syrian forces who withheld the agents from destruction. ISIS is thought to have stolen sarin and chlorine gases when they raided a Syrian Air Force base two months ago.

The Mirror—“The [British] soldiers now carry nuclear and biological warfare protection and respirators. All vehicles are being fitted with gas detectors and an RAF Regiment trained in chemical warfare is on standby to fly to the region.”

This Week in Ebola

Oh, Ebola. The big story this week is that the virus arrived on American shores, with the first confirmed case in Dallas and potential cases of Ebola in the DC area being ruled out, the CDC is using contact modeling to help track potential cases in Texas. Arrival in the U.S. has caused an absolute avalanche of news stories and opinion pieces throughout the media. They have ranged from fear mongering about an epidemic in the U.S. and how quarantines would be ineffective, to why you shouldn’t worry about Ebola as a bioweapon. We saw the White House urging calm (and making awesome infographics) and medical facilities saying the average American citizen has nothing to worry about. Meanwhile, there were reports that Ebola poses a greater risk than SARS and AIDS and Louis Farrakhan tweeted that Ebola is a bioweapon against Africans. Use of hyperbole and misinformation do a disservice to those trying to responsibly inform Americans. We saw a case of a doctor in Liberia who quarantined herself in order to keep others safe and another Liberian doctor who seems to have effectively treated Ebola using HIV drugs. And, of course, the biggest problem was that Ebola could affect the cocoa trade. Oh wait, no, that’s what we in “the biz” call a #champagneproblem.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Pregnant In The City