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 1.4.15

Happy 2015! I hope all of you enjoyed a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season. As we get back into things, this week we will look at Seasonal Flu, 1980s Chemical Weapons, and, of course, Ebola. Please also enjoy a wrap up of other stories from the last two weeks in the Stories You May Have Missed section.

Have a fabulous week!

This Season’s Flu Activity Has Reached the Epidemic Threshold, the CDC Says

On the heels of the announcement that this year’s flu vaccine is not as effective as hoped, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that they are seeing elevated activity in all their influenza surveillance systems and that this year’s seasonal flu has reached epidemic levels. The Virginia Department of Health has called the flu “widespread” in our state. The CDC urges it is still too early to determine if this season will be worse than others but preliminary data seems to reflect that it may be.

The Washington Post—“The influenza season reaches an epidemic level when the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza reaches a certain threshold: 6.8 percent. According to the CDC’s latest available information on the flu season, the percentage is currently at the threshold.”

Secret Papers: UK Studied Chemical Weapons Buildup in the 1980s

Newly released, formerly secret, documents show that in the early 1980s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government considered rebuilding Britain’s chemical weapons arsenal in the face of a perceived looming threat of the Soviet Union. Thatcher’s defense chiefs were worried that the country would have only nuclear weapons in order to respond to a possible Soviet chemical attack.

ABC News—“In the papers, Thatcher states that it might be considered “negligent” of the government not to develop a credible response to a Soviet chemical attack short of using nuclear weaponry. She also suggests urging the Americans to modernize their chemical arsenal.

The lack of a chemical capacity was called a “major gap” in NATO’s military capacity by Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine in a secret 1984 document. He said the threat of a nuclear response lacked credibility.”

This Week in Ebola

While we were celebrating and enjoying the holidays, Ebola, of course, didn’t take a break. In the spirit of the season the UK’s Queen praised the selflessness of those fighting the ongoing epidemic in West Africa. And while Christmas gatherings were cancelled in Sierra Leone and Guinea, those in Liberia made sure their Christmas spirit was on full display. As 2014 came to an end, there were many looks back at the year in Ebola and the possible source of the start of the outbreak. The first case of Ebola was diagnosed in Britain by a nurse who contracted the disease in West Africa and there were reports of a possible lab error exposure to the virus at the CDC.

There are some reasons for optimism as 2015 begins, including survival rates increasing for cases in Sierra Leone and promising news on the vaccine front. Vaccines tested in Uganda against Ebola and the related filovirus Marburg have proven to be safe and effective in generating an immune response to the deadly viruses  and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded contracts worth $43 million to develop two possible Ebola vaccines more quickly. According to the UN’s Anthony Banbury, 2015 should see the number of Ebola cases brought to zero by the end of the year and Al Jazeera America argues that this year should be focused on immunization and investment in West African health systems.

The last two Ebola updates are entirely unrelated and include the unverified possibility that ISIS militants have contracted Ebola and interesting coverage by NPR of how Ebola has affected love and sex.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: The Washington Post

Pandora Report 12.21.14

The winter holidays are here and with them comes the final 2014 news roundup. This week we look at superspreaders, dengue fever, and, of course, Ebola.

There will be no roundup next week as I will be spending time with family and friends. I hope all of you have the opportunity to do the same and are surrounded by those you love during this time of year. It has been a privilege and a pleasure serving as the Managing Editor of the Pandora Report since March. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

I hope to see you right back here again in 2015!

The 20% Who Spread Most Disease

How did Typhoid Mary spread the disease to dozens of people but never get sick herself?

Researchers at Stanford University are looking into the science behind “superspreaders”—the idea that some people spread more disease than others. Recent experiments have suggested that the body’s immune response might play a role in helping to spread pathogens to others, however, it isn’t clear if the immune system of the superspreader or their behavior plays a bigger role in the passage of disease.

The Wall Street Journal—“‘It’s telling us that these superspreaders…are tolerant of high levels of the pathogen and any little disturbance and added inflammation that this antibiotic treatment did to them,” said Dr. Monack. “I wouldn’t say they have stronger immune systems. I would say it’s in a state that protected them from this added disturbance in the gut.’”

Dengue Fever Vaccine on the Cards After Novel Antibody Discovery

Over the past 50 years cases of dengue fever have soared—nearly 100 million per year. Normally the infection causes a fever which lasts about a week, but some develop hemorrhagic fever which kills about 22,000 a year. Gavin Screaton at the Imperial College in London warns “it’s likely that without a vaccine this disease is not going to be controlled.” That’s why a discovery of a new antibody brings hope that vaccine development may be closer than we thought.

The Guardian—“The researchers spotted the new group of antibodies while they were studying blood drawn from patients who picked up dengue infections in south-east Asia.

They found that about a third of the immune reaction launched by each patient came from a new class of antibodies. Instead of latching on to a single protein on the virus surface – as usually happens – the new group of antibodies latches on to a molecular bridge that joins two virus proteins together.”

This Week in Ebola

It’s been a hard year in West Africa with the worst Ebola outbreak in history still ongoing. In Sierra Leone, the country with the most cases, treatment centers are overflowing with patients. The President has announced that Christmas has been cancelled as news came that the most senior doctor—Victor Willoughby—died. Dr. Willoughby was the 11th of Sierra Leone’s 120 doctors to die from the virus. For the lucky ones who survive, they must cope with after effects including blindness and joint pain. And don’t forget the stigma—a heart breaking article in the New York Times describes the plight of Ebola orphans who aren’t taken in for fear that they are ticking disease time bombs. Cuban doctors are some of the most active on the front lines, but news this week came that the U.S. embargo has delayed payment of those doctors. There are glimmers of hope though, as the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa urged debt cancellation for Ebola affected West African countries and experimental serum therapy treatment made from the blood of recovered patients arrived in Liberia.

Stateside, a child flying though O’Hare Airport in Chicago was quarantined when a high fever was discovered after screening. Johns Hopkins University was chosen as one of the winners in a global competition to create an improved protection suit for those fighting Ebola on the front lines. Lastly, an American doctor—Richard Sacra—who was infected with Ebola in Liberia and returned to the U.S. for treatment, has said that he will return to Liberia in January to continue fighting the outbreak.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Free Images

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 11.16.14

Its getting pretty cold outside, right? So what better way to spend your Sunday than catching up on all the best stories of the week! This week we’ve got Wikipedia as a predictive took for the spread of disease, a catchy new name for Chikungunya, MERS CoV in Saudi Arabia, some stories you may have missed, and, of course, an Ebola update.

How Wikipedia Reading Habits Can Successfully Predict the Spread of Disease

In my absolute favorite story of the week, researchers have identified a link between the spread of disease and the corresponding page hits of those diseases on Wikipedia. No, the Internet isn’t giving people E-bola, but page views seem to have a predictive effect on infectious disease spread. During the three-year study, looking at readers’ habits, the researchers could predict the spread of flu in the U.S., Poland, Thailand, and Japan, and dengue in Brazil and Thailand at least 28 days before those countries’ health ministries.

The Washington Post—“Official government data—usually released with a one- or two-week lag time—lagged four weeks behind Wikipedia reading habits, according to Del Valle; people, she said, are probably reading about the illnesses they have before heading to the doctor.”

The ‘Vacation Virus’

As Chikungunya makes it way through the Americas, awareness of the disease becomes more important—including the creation of a catchy nickname! The vector, transmissibility, and symptoms are similar to Dengue and with Chikungunya being relatively new to the western hemisphere, a story like this one may be helpful in putting a human face on a growing problem.

The Atlantic—“It might be parochial to call Chikungunya a “vacation virus”; however, as Americans prepare to hit the Caribbean beaches in the coming winter months, awareness campaigns are ramping up. Last week, the travel section of the New York Times ran a feature on Chikungunya highlighting how tourism agencies and organizations are both downplaying the scope of the outbreak and advising simple measures to deal with the virus. (Avoid mosquitos.)”

MERS Cases on the Rise in Saudi Arabia

Since September 5, there have been 38 new cases of MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia, bringing the total number of cases in Saudi Arabia to 798. The WHO said that due to the non-specific symptoms of MERS, it is critical that health care facilities consistently apply standard precautions with all patients regardless of their initial diagnosis. Furthermore, until more is understood about MERS, immunocompromised individuals should practice general hygiene measures, like hand washing, and avoid close contact with sick animals. Nearly one third of the new cases were reported by patients who had recently had close contact with camels.

Outbreak News Today—“The continued increase in cases prompted Anees Sindi, deputy commander of the Command and Control Center (CCC) to say, “MERS-CoV is active and we need to be on full alert.” In addition, the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health launched a new public information campaign in Taif in response to the recent spike in new cases of MERS-CoV in the region. Medical professionals will be made available at public locations with the aim of educating citizens on the need to avoid unprotected contact with camels because of the risk of infection with MERS-CoV, underlining the crucial role of the community in preventing the spread of the disease in the Kingdom.”

This Week in Ebola

Ebola is on the rise again in Sierra Leone bringing the number of deaths to 5,147 and cases to 14,068. It appears that the virus is finding new pockets to inhabit including villages outside the Liberian capital and in Bamako, the capital of Mali (eclipsing earlier success in that country at containment.) Despite these new infections outside of Monrovia, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has ended the state of emergency in that country. Unsurprisingly, the epidemic has imposed a financial burden on the affected countries including losses in agricultural trade and the service industries. Elsewhere in Africa, Ugandan health officials have declared the country free of an Ebola-like Marburg virus. Stateside, a new report from the CDC outlines steps taken in Dallas to prevent further virus spread and a third Ebola patient headed to the bio containment unit at the Nebraska Medical Center for treatment. Finally, 80 U.S. Military personnel helping to fight Ebola in Liberia returned home this week, and though none are displaying symptoms, they will be monitored for 21 days at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Pandora Report 9.27.14

This week the round up includes concern of growing antibiotic resistance, MERS CoV transmission, and of course, an Ebola update.

Have a great weekend (and don’t forget to get your flu shot)!

White House Orders Plan for Antibiotic Resistance

On Thursday, President Obama signed an executive order to form a government task force and presidential advisory council to address antibiotic-resistant germs. The order calls for new regulations of antibiotic use in hospitals and urges the development of new antibiotics. Scientists at MIT are looking at creating a new class of antibiotic that targets and destroys resistance genes within bacteria.

WTOP—“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic-resistant infections are linked to 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses in the United States annually. The impact to the U.S. economy is as high as $20 billion, the White House said, or more, if you count lost productivity from those who are sickened. And the problem is worsening.”

Camels are Primary Source of MERS-CoV Transmission 

A study designed by scientists from Colorado State University and NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has transmitted a strain of MERS CoV from human patient to camels. The camels developed a respiratory infection and showed high levels of virus in nasal secretions for up to a week after the infection. Though the camels recovered quickly, the nasal secretions could be the source of transmission to people who handle these animals.

Business Standard—“The researchers theorized that vaccinating camels could reduce the risk of MERS-CoV transmission to people and other camels; NIAID and others are supporting research to develop candidate vaccines for potential use in people and camels.”

This Week in Ebola

This week, the CDC estimated that there could be 500,000 to 1.4 million cases of Ebola by January if the outbreak continues unchecked. Meanwhile, a professor teaching at Delaware State University is telling Liberians that the U.S. Department of Defense, among others, has manufactured Ebola and warns them that doctors are not actually trying to treat them. Claims like this make it even more difficult for those on the ground to relay accurate information about the virus. However, a reverend in Monrovia is working to spread awareness of proper hand washing and social distancing within his congregation and alumni from a State Department funded exchange program help to spread news of the virus throughout neighborhoods. Unsurprisingly, the Ebola outbreak has essentially crippled the fragile Liberian health system which means people are dying from routine medical problems.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Pandora Report 9.20.14

We are introducing a new feature for the news round up—“Stories You May Have Missed.” This final section consists of fascinating articles I’ve found throughout the week that couldn’t fit in the report. This week the round up includes the UN Security Council’s resolution about Ebola, ISIS using chemical weapons in Iraq, a surprising source to combat antibiotic resistance, and of course, an Ebola update.

Lastly, you know what time of year it is, flu season is starting…don’t forget to get your flu shot!

Have a great weekend!

With Spread of Ebola Outpacing Response, Security Council Adopts Resolution 2177

On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and unanimously adopted resolution 2177 (2014). 2177 established the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) and calls on Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea to speed up establishment of national mechanisms to deal with this outbreak and to coordinate efficient utilization of international assistance, including health workers and relief supplies. The resolution also calls on other countries to lift their border and travel restrictions saying that isolation of the affected countries could undermine efforts to respond to the outbreak.

The United Nations—“United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the Ebola crisis had evolved into a complex emergency, with significant political, social, economic, humanitarian and security dimensions.  The number of cases was doubling every three weeks, and the suffering and spillover effects in the region and beyond demanded the attention of the entire world.  “Ebola matters to us all,” he said.”

ISIS Uses Chemical Weapons Against Army in Iraq

There were reports this week that the IS terrorist group has used chemical weapons in an attack on the Iraqi army in Saladin province. The reported attack took place Wednesday and Thursday in Dhuluiya, which has been under control of the group for more than two months. The attack affected approximately a dozen people.

One India—“Iraq’s Ambassador to the UN, Mohamed Ali Alhakim said in a letter that remnants of 2,500 chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin were kept along with other chemical warfare agents in a facility 55 km northwest of Baghdad. He added that the site’s surveillance system showed that some equipment had been looted after “armed terrorist groups” penetrated the site June 11.”

Vaginas May be the Answer to the Fight Against Drug-Resistant Bacteria

A naturally occurring bacterium found by scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, School of Pharmacy might be the key to addressing the threat of a post antibiotic future. Found in the female vagina, Lactobacillus gasseri is the basis for Lactocilin, a possible antibiotic alternative. This discovery comes at a time where the WHO has declared antimicrobial resistance as “an increasingly serious threat to global public health.”

Medical Daily—“This isn’t the only implication for the L. gasseri bacteria. Researchers are also hopeful to find similar-acting bacteria in different parts of the human body. “We think they still have bacteria producing the same drug, but it’s just a different bacterial species that lives in the mouth and has not yet been isolated,” lead researcher Micheal Fischbach told HuffPost. Even though the bacteria were harvested in females, researchers are confident it will have equal results when used in men.”

This Week in Ebola

It was a terrible week for Ebola, absolutely terrible. Above, we already learned that the UN Security Council declared the virus a threat to international peace and security, but that wasn’t all that happened. President Obama pledged 3,000 troops to fight Ebola in West Africa. The WHO said that the number of Ebola cases could begin doubling every three weeks and expressed concern about the black market trade of Ebola survivors’ blood. Eight aid workers and journalists were murdered in Guinea leaving many to fear that violence could stymy relief efforts and in Sierra Leone, the government instituted a three-day lockdown in order to help health care workers find and isolate patients.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Pandora Report 8.22.14

Did you see that the destruction of Syria’s most lethal chemicals is now complete? Well, it is! Its good news among so many biodefense stories covering Ebola. I have no interest in making the Pandora Report the “All Ebola, All the Time” newsletter. As such, we will look at one Ebola story as well as stories covering new discoveries in tuberculosis and influenza.

Have a fabulous weekend, and students, enjoy your last one before classes start on Monday!

Tuberculosis is Newer Than Thought, Study Says

A recent study published in Nature reports that tuberculosis originated less than 6,000 years ago and was carried to the new world by seals. Seals! This new research contradicts original timeline and species genesis and some scientists think this study provides more questions than answers.

The New York Times—“In the new paper, the team proposes that humans acquired tuberculosis in Africa around 5,000 years ago. The disease spread to people across the Old World along trade routes. Meanwhile, Africans also spread the disease to animals such as cows and goats. Seals that hauled out onto African beaches to raise their pups became infected. The bacteria then spread through seal populations until reaching South America. Ancient hunters there became infected when they handled contaminated meat.”

Enzyme Holds the Door for Influenza

As the fall season and semester approach, the flu season travels with it. I was delighted to read that Walgreens, in addition to CVS, will now offer seasonal flu shots in their stores. More interesting news about flu came out of Vanderbilt University, too. Researches have investigated enzyme phospholipase D (PLD) and it ability to help the influenza virus escape immune response. Blocking PLD could assist in preventing the flu.

Bioscience Technology Online—“Normally the virus slips into its host cell in the epithelial lining of the lungs through internalized membrane compartments called endosomes. By delaying this process, the researchers propose, PLD2 inhibitors may give the cell’s innate immune response more time to destroy it.”

Patient Checked for Ebola Virus in Sacramento

Internationally, the good news is that quarantines have been set up in Liberia, in attempt to contain the spread of Ebola. The bad news is that they have become fairly violent. Stateside, this week Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol were released from Emory University Hospital after recovering from Ebola infections acquired in West Africa.

There was news of a possible case in Northern California. With few details provided as to the patient and transmission route, we learned that there is a patient being tested for Ebola in Sacramento. California Department of Health reported that the cases is low risk but that testing is being done out of “abundance of caution.”

San Francisco Chronicle—“‘In order to protect our patients, staff and physicians, even though infection with the virus is unconfirmed, we are taking the actions recommended by the CDC as a precaution, just as we do for other patients with a suspected infectious disease,” said Dr. Stephen Parodi, an infectious disease specialist at Kaiser Permanente North California. “This includes isolation of the patient in a specially equipped negative pressure room and the use of personal protective equipment by trained staff, coordinated with infectious disease specialists.’”

 

Image Credit

Pandora Report 08.09.14

I spent about 12 hours at Dulles Airport yesterday. I didn’t fly anywhere, but I was ensuring that 120 international students were able to get from Washington DC to their host families all over the country. You may have noticed that in the security areas of Dulles Airport they have televisions that go over proper security screening procedures. On these same screens, they also show CDC travel alerts.

In June (when I was ensuring that 450 students were able to get back to their home countries), the alerts were for MERS and mosquito borne diseases like dengue and Chikungunya. Yesterday, Ebola was on alert for travelers to West Africa.

Last week we looked at the fever pitch of Ebola, today, lets look at the diseases designated by the CDCs travel alerts at Dulles.

 

Zika Virus: Another Threat from the Asian Tiger Mosquito

Travel alerts from the CDC often include Chickungunya and Dengue fever, but another disease from the same vector—the tiger mosquit0—is receiving alerts as well. Zika Fever, was isolated in humans in the 1970s, but has relatively few documented cases. In 2007, the virus demonstrated epidemic capacity with 5,000 cases in Micronesia. In 2013 there were 55,000 cases in Polynesia. Today the CDC has issued Watch Level 1 alerts for Zika in Easter Island, French Polynesia, and the Cook Islands and urges travelers to practice usual precautions.

Entomology Today—“Originally from Asia, the tiger mosquito was introduced to Africa in 1991 and detected in Gabon in 2007, where its arrival undoubtedly contributed to the emergence of dengue, chikungunya, and as shown by this new study, zika. The rapid geographic expansion of this invasive species in Africa, Europe, and America allows for a risk of propagation of zika fever around the world.”

 

Ramadan pilgrimage season in Saudi Arabia mostly free from MERS

Saudi Arabia reported only ten new cases of MERS from June 28- July 28 during the month of Ramadan. In April and May of 2014, hundreds of people were infected by MERS, which raised concerns about infection rates during Ramadan and during the Hajj, which will take place in October, when millions of pilgrims will travel to Mecca. Since 2012, Saudi Arabia has confirmed over 700 cases of infection resulting in nearly 300 deaths. The CDC designates the Hajj as an Alert Level 2, and urges U.S. residents to practice enhanced precautions.

Al Arabiya—“Saudi Arabia and the World Health Organization have said they are imposing no travel or other restrictions due to MERS during the Hajj, but have encouraged very young or old pilgrims, and those suffering from chronic disease, not to come this year.”

 

WHO: Ebola ‘an international emergency’

This week, the World Health Organization declared that the spread of Ebola in West Africa is an international health emergency. They urged coordinated response in order to keep the spread of the virus under control. Though no travel or trade bans have been enacted, the WHO recommends that Ebola cases or contacts should not travel internationally. This comes at a time when states of emergency have been declared in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone and the number of total cases has reached nearly 1,800 with over 950 deaths. The CDC designates outbreaks in these countries as a Warning Level 3, and urges U.S. residents to avoid non-essential travel.

BBC—“WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan appealed for help for the countries hit by the ‘most complex outbreak in the four decades of this disease.’

The decision by the WHO to declare Ebola a public health emergency is, by its own definition, an ‘extraordinary event’ which marks ‘a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease’.”

 

Image Credit: The Denver Channel

Pandora Report 4.4.14

It’s been a busy week in the biodefense world, between the continuing outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa and the realization that the Black Death may actually have been pneumonic plague rather than bubonic plague, so let’s take a moment this Friday to slow things down.


Highlights include Ebola travel restrictions, a possible source for the Ebola outbreak, and how to protect yourself during the most serious pandemic of all—the zombie pandemic. Have a great weekend!

When planning your vacation to Guinea, keep this in mind…

As of April 1, the number of suspect Ebola cases in Guinea has risen to 127 with 83 deaths (for a case fatality rate of 65%) according to the WHO. Liberia now has eight suspected cases with five deaths. Sierra Leone has had only two deaths after two bodies were repatriated after dying from Ebola. In neighboring Mali, the government has instituted thermal scans for those travelling to Mali as well as restricting movement within the capital city of Bamako. Meanwhile, Senegal has closed their border with Guinea and Saudi Arabia has suspended visas for Muslim pilgrims coming from Guinea and Liberia. Despite all of this, the WHO does not recommend travel restrictions.

Philippine Daily Inquirer—“The international health agency said there was not enough reason to push for the imposition of travel restrictions in response to the Ebola outbreak. “WHO does not recommend that any travel or trade restrictions be applied with respect to this event,” it said in a statement.”

And while on vacation, here are some foods to avoid…

In another response to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, officials have taken an unusual step of banning the consumption of bats as food—including grilled bat, bat soup and “other local delicacies.” It has long been suspected that bats are somehow instrumental in the spread of Ebola either as a vector or a reservoir for the disease.

CBS News—“‘We discovered the vector [infectious] agent of the Ebola virus is the bat,” Remy Lamah, the country’s [Guinea] health minister, told Bloomberg News. “We sent messages everywhere to announce the ban. People must even avoid consumption of rats and monkeys. They are very dangerous animals.’”

The good news is, in the event of a serious pandemic, you may have new protection!

Just in time for the Walking Dead finale last weekend, the American Chemical Society released new research related to the chemistry of death, and how that chemistry can shield us from the flesh and brain eating horde of zombies.

Science is a serious subject and pandemic possibilities are crises in the making…but that doesn’t mean science can’t be fun for a general audience!

Zombie Apocalypse Survival Chemistry: Death Cologne