The Pandora Report 10.25.13

Highlights include a new dengue serotype, bird flu in Australia, Peruvian bats and influenza A, mutating viruses, and HHS bolstering international pandemic preparedness. Happy Friday, and Happy Halloween!

First New Dengue Virus Type in 50 Years

For the first time in half a century, a new serotype of dengue has been discovered. The strain, found in Malaysia, is phylogenetically distinct from the existing four serotypes. The discovery will complicate existing vaccine efforts, which are already quite complex – prior to this discovery, dengue possessed four distinct serotypes. To date, this newest serotype has only been identified in one outbreak.

Science – “Scientists have discovered a new type of the virus that causes a centuries-old pestilence, dengue. The surprising find, announced at a major dengue conference here today, is bound to complicate efforts to develop a vaccine against a tropical disease that is becoming a more pervasive global menace. But it could shed light on where the pathogen came from and whether it is evolving into a greater threat. The finding “may change the way we think about dengue virus evolution and emergence,” says Duane Gubler, a dengue expert at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore.”

Second bird flu outbreak in Australia

New South Wales has experienced its second outbreak of avian influenza. For some reason, none of the press is including the nueraminidase type, refering to the virus simply as “H7” or as HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza). This is misleading – the strain is actually H7N2, which has a low pathogenicity. While a serious threat to poultry farmers – 18,000 birds have died from the virus already and a further 400,000 have been culled – it isn’t a serious threat to humans at this point.

ABC Australia – “Initial testing at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute confirmed the virus earlier today and the infected property has been placed under strict quarantine. The department says tests are being carried out to try to confirm the origin of the latest incidence, but it’s the H7 strain, not the H5N1 strain that’s dangerous to humans. It says all eggs and poultry in NSW remain safe to eat. NSW DPI chief vet, Ian Roth, says he can’t yet confirm how the virus spread.”

New flu virus found in Peruvian bats

If there’s one thing we’ve learned here at the Pandora Report it’s never touch a bat. Just don’t do it. Halloween is great, bats can be cute, but as carriers of everything from rabies (scary) to Ebola (very scary), we’re keeping our distance.  In further confirmation of this truism, a new influenza virus has been discovered in Peruvian bats. The Influenza A virus, appropriately named A/bat/Peru/10, and contains hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N) surface proteins entirely distinct from any seen before, prompting researchers to classify them as novel – H18N11. While the virus is thought to be capable of infecting humans.  thus far researchers have been unable to culture it in human cells. Hopefully, it will stick to bats – H18N11 is just too hard to say.

LiveScience – “The researchers found the new virus after testing samples from 114 bats in Peru. One sample, from a flat-faced fruit bat known as Artibeus planirostris, was found to have H18N11. Blood testing of other bats suggested that they may have been infected with H18N11 in the past. The researchers still do not know how H18N11 attaches to cells to enter them…So far, flu viruses from bats are not known to infect people. But bats are known reservoirs for other types of pathogens that have found their way to humans, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Bats are also are suspected to be the original source of the virus causing the current outbreak of MERS.”

Single mutation gives virus new target

By changing a single amino acid in the BK polyomavirus, researchers were able to completely alter its preferential binding site. Understanding this mechanism is a small step towards understanding things like why a virus switches to infect different cells (potentially increasing pathogenicity) or, in the case of viruses like MERS and H7N9, different hosts. Understanding this mechanism can help us predict which viruses may switch hosts  to eventually infect us.

R&D Mag – “Different cells have different bindings targets on their surfaces. A change in a virus’s binding target preference can be a key step in changing how that virus would affect different cells in a victim—or move on to a different species…Brown postdoctoral researcher Stacy-ann Allen, one of two lead authors on the paper, said the team learned of the single amino acid difference by comparing high-resolution structural models of the two polyomaviruses bound to their favorite sugars. Collaborators, including co-lead author Ursula Neu and co-corresponding author Thilo Stehle at the Univ. of Tübingen in Germany, produced those models using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.”

HHS Boosts Global Ability to Respond to Pandemics

HHS through BARDA has awarded four interrelated grants, to the WHO, PATH, Utah and North Carolina States universities respectively to boost funding for pandemic preparedness in developing countries. The WHO is receiving approximately $10 million in grants to support H7N9 preparedness in developing countries, while the university grants are each supporting onsite training programs in the same countries. This makes a lot of sense – helping other states by providing them the tools to develop their own pandemic preparedness efforts makes us all  healthier.

PharmPro – “The program provides cost-sharing to build vaccine manufacturing facilities that can produce influenza and other vaccines in developing countries and trains personnel from developing countries at U.S.-based universities in advanced vaccine production. The program also supports technical assistance for foreign countries to operate and regulate their facilities and to conduct clinical trials with influenza vaccines produced in the facilities.”

And because everyone needs a little good news occasionally: Baby born with HIV is still showing no sign of the infection after treatment stopped 18 months ago

(image via Leyo/Wikimedia)

The Pandora Report 9.13.13

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

Blame the Camel

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

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

Tech Visionary Focuses Now On Biological Weapons Threat

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

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

Influenza virus in wild birds in Norway

A group of researchers in Norway have determined that ducks and gulls are a natural host of influenza A. Dabbling ducks in particular are the most prevalent host of the virus. Researchers were interested in determining the primary host in order to better understand patterns of seasonal infection.

Phys.org – “The complete genetic material from a total of five influenza viruses from mallard and common gull were sequenced and characterized. The results showed that the genes of the Norwegian viruses resembled the genes found in influenza viruses from other wild birds in Europe…Due to limited overlap between the routes used by migratory birds in Eurasia and America, influenza viruses with different genetic material have developed between these two continents. However, in some areas, it has been observed that genes can be exchanged between influenza viruses from Eurasia and America.”

Measles still poses threat to US, health officials warn

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

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

Triple Dose Tamiflu Beats Back H1N1

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

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

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

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

(image Adam Foster/Flickr)