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 1.29.2016

Happy Friday! Now that winter storm Jonas is behind us, we can get back to tackling biodefense updates. Unless you’ve been avoiding the news, you’ve undoubtedly seen the surge in reports on Zika virus. Imported cases are popping up throughout the US, raising concerns about vulnerability and response. We’ll be covering the latest in Zika news, not to mention a pretty amazing disease modeling system, plague history, and how Brazil is prepping for the 2016 Olympics. Fun History Fact Friday: on January 28th, 2000, a US government study finally conceded that the cancer and premature deaths of several workers from a nuclear weapons plant (in service since WWII) were caused by radiation and chemicals and sticking with the nuclear weapon theme, on January 29th, 1964, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Atomic Bomb premiered.

Open Source Disease Modeling: to Combat the Next Pandemic
GMU Biodefense PhD student, Nereyda Sevilla, has teamed up with Global Biodefense to discuss how transportation advances of the 21st century make outbreak preparedness and response extremely difficult. In most cases, health alerts and travel restrictions are reactionary to an outbreak that has already reached epic proportions. In response to this, scientists are working to predict disease spread and potential interventions through disease modeling. Spatiotemporal Epidemiological Modeler (STEM)  is one of these modeling systems that looks at several variables and parameters within the spread of an infectious disease and then models the efficacy of interventions. “The unique nature of STEM is that it is a multi-disciplinary, collaborative modeling platform.  The open-source characteristics of the system allow researchers and programmers to add, compare, refine, and validate different scenarios as well as add denominator data based on specialty.  For example, an infectious disease specialist in dengue working in South America may have unique disease characteristics and population data that could be tailored into STEM.” The best part? STEM is already pre-loaded with country data regarding national borders, transportation networks, air travel, and environmental conditions. Utilizing customized graphs and spatial maps, it can even be used to “create a spatial map of animal pens on a farm and to import that graph into the model to study the spread of a veterinary disease.” STEM can easily be downloaded and even has sample projects that many researchers from around the world have shared, like the 2014 Ebola outbreak, dengue fever, H1N1, etc. STEM is undoubtedly a significant weapon in the global health security arsenal to combat future pandemics.

Zika Virus Outbreak Updates
While 200,000 Brazilian troops are being mobilized to battle mosquitoes in a house-to-house strategy, Zika virus has reached 23 countries. As of January 28th, 2016, the WHO has set up an emergency team to respond to the growing epidemic. Meeting on Monday, the WHO team will decide if the Zika virus outbreak should be treated as a global emergency, as they are predicting “three to four million cases” in the Americas. Fear continues to grow in the US as cases are popping up in Los Angeles Country, CA Virginia, New York, and Arkansas, in a returned travelers. President Obama just called for a speeding up of Zika virus research to battle the growing outbreak. Sydney has also confirmed imported cases. While many worry that returning travelers are bringing the mosquito-borne disease back home, it’s important to note that it’s during the first week of infection that the virus is found in the blood and can be transmitted via mosquitoes.  Vertical transmission (from mother to child) is possible if the maternal infection is near the time of delivery, but there haven’t been cases of Zika virus in breast milk. To date, there has been one case of transmission through blood transfusions and one possibly spread through semen and sexual contact. Researchers are working to piece together the origins of this particular outbreak, but one hypothesis is that it came to Brazil from a major sporting event, specifically the 2014 World Cup. At this point, cases have been seen in 23 countries and the WHO has warned that it’s likely to “spread across nearly all of the Americas”. While no local transmission has occurred in the US, locally acquired cases are occurring in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The CDC has also released interim guidance on the evaluation and testing of infants with possible congenital Zika virus.

Brazil’s Olympic Woes

Courtesy of The Guardian & EPA
Courtesy of The Guardian & EPA

The growing outbreak of Zika virus and subsequent concerns over fetal microcephaly are just another public health issue on the laundry list of concerns for Brazil in their Olympic preparations. Building the infrastructure to support such a massive event is taxing on even the most industrialized country. Despite Brazil’s initial dismissal of water quality issues, there have been flourishing concerns over water safety for Olympians (the linked BBC pictures alone would have me rowing the boat back to land at record speed). 13 of the 40-member US rowing team experienced gastroenteritis after a trial run in a lake. While the exact culprit of the GI illness was never identified, it amplified the already increasing fears regarding water quality. It’s never a good sign when rowers are warned not to splash water or jump in at the end of a race, or when a sailor has to be hospitalized due to a severe MRSA infection after field tests. As we mentioned a few months back, an Associated Press investigation found dangerous viral and bacterial levels in the Olympic and Paralympic water venues. “Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated. Raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites. As a result, Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7m times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.” Water issues aside, vector-borne diseases like Zika virus, dengue, malaria, and even yellow fever, can pose a threat to those attending and participating in the events. The Brazilian health ministry has announced response plans in wake of the growing Zika virus outbreak. These large-scale events also raise security concerns, especially after the Paris attacks. Brazilian officials have promised “to guarantee absolute peace”  during the Olympics.

Congrats to 2015 GMU Biodefense MS alum, Francisco Cruz, on his acceptance as a fellow in UPMC’s 2016 Class of Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative (ELBI) The UPMC ELBI is a highly selective program that brings together and fosters partnerships within the biosecurity field. Biodefense MS alum, Francisco Cruz, will accompany several other prominent members of the biosecurity community in meetings, conferences, and networking. Congrats Francisco!

DNA Investigations from the Great Plague of Marseille
Always a sucker for a mixture of history and epidemiology, I was excited to come across this archaeological gem. Despite its initial devastation in the fourteenth century, the bubonic plague resurged and hit Europe with another destructive wave, “leading to continued high mortality and social unrest over the next three centuries.” Considered to be the last outbreak of medieval plague in Europe, the Great Plague of Marseille (1720-1722) has provided archaeologists with samples that allowed them to reconstruct the complete pathogen genome. Harnessing DNA from the teeth of victims within the Marseille plague pits, their results point to the disease hiding within the shadows of Europe for hundreds of years. Computational analyst Alexander Herbig notes, “we faced a significant challenge in reconstructing these ancient genomes. To our surprise, the 18th century plague seems to be a form that is no longer circulating, and it descends directly from the disease that entered Europe during the Black Death, several centuries earlier”. While they continue their work on tracing the origins of the disease and its mysterious disappearance, I’m hopeful that archaeogenetics is the new inspiration for future Indiana Jones films…

Stories You May Have Missed: 

  • Listeria Outbreak Associated With Dole Salads- A Dole production plan in Springfield, OH, is being linked to an outbreak of Listeria throughout the US and Canada. Twelve cases were identified in the US and another seven were found across five provinces in Canada. All twelve cases involved hospitalization and there has been one associated death. The CDC is continuing updates here.
  • USDA Updates on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Fall Plan- The USDA has updated their plans to combat the highly pathogenic avian influenza with more details regarding reimbursement on virus elimination activities and additional information on the August 2015 industry survey on preparedness.
  • British Government and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Roll Out New Plan to Combat Malaria –  The British government has teamed up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to pledge three billion pounds to help stop malaria in the next fifteen years. Bill Gates and British Chancellor George Osborne stated, “We both believe that a malaria-free world has to be one of the highest global health priorities.” Britain will invest 500 million pounds a year over the next five years and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have put up $200 million this year and will continue with annual donations.
  • Tales from the Front Lines in the Ebola Fight-  Confusion, disorganization, fear, and communication gaps fill the notes from the ground in this interview with VICE correspondent, Danny Gold, during his time in West Africa during the outbreak.

Enjoying your weekly dose of the Pandora Report? Sign up to receive it every week so the fun never ends! 

Pandora Report: 11.27.2015

We hope you’re having a lovely holiday week and recovering from a day of full of tryptophan overload! This week we’re starting off with a look at the Government Accountability Office’s review of the BioWatch program. We’re discussing another panel review of the WHO Ebola response efforts, the role of tacit knowledge in bioweapons development, and how the Beagle Brigade is fighting bioterrorism one belly-rub at a time. Fun history fact Friday: on November 26, 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt declared the government would bar strikes “at plants under government contract to provide war materials for the US military and its allies” and on November 25, 1915, Albert Einstein published his equations on the Theory of General Relativity!

Government Accountability Office Finds BioWatch Unreliable
The BioWatch program was introduced in 2003 to perform active environmental surveillance for potential bioweapon use. The struggle has been to accurately discern between organisms that are naturally occurring and those that are being intentionally released. With several false alarms, the program has been under heavy scrutiny. Timothy M. Persons, chief scientist of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), states that authorities “need to have assurance that when the system indicates a possible attack, it’s not crying wolf. You can’t claim it works”. DHS official Jim H. Crumpacker, points out that the system is used as an early warning and there is an inherent level of uncertainty and limitation. The report (published in October but not publicly released until November 23, 2015), which you can read here, states that from 2003-2014, BioWatch made 149 mistaken detections that were “false positives”. The report says that “GAO recommends DHS not pursue upgrades or enhancements for Gen-2 until it reliably establishes the system’s current capabilities.”

Expert Review of Ebola Outbreak Response
A 19 member review panel, convened by the Harvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, reviewed the Ebola outbreak response as a gateway to “public debates alongside reports on outbreak response and preparedness”. Led by Dr. Peter Piot, one of the scientists to discover Ebola in 1976, the group pointed to several issues needing attention on a global scale. Findings pushed for the WHO to reorganize their disease outbreak functions and streamline processes to “avoid political pressure, build country core capacities, and ensure adequate funding”. The ten suggested reforms heavily emphasize the importance of core capacities within countries to be able to detect and respond to outbreaks. Strengthening a country’s capacity to do surveillance, response, and prevention is crucial in reducing the risk of multi-national outbreaks that spread like wildfire. The report also suggests incentives for early outbreak reporting and more science-based justifications for economic impacts like travel restrictions, etc.

Tacit Knowledge and the Bioweapons Convention
GMU Biodefense Professor, Dr. Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, takes on the August 2015 Biological Weapons Convention and the exciting inclusion of tacit knowledge in bioweapons development. Dr. Ben Ouagrham-Gormley has contributed heavily to the field of biodefense, specifically on the role that tacit knowledge plays as a key determinant of bioweapons development. In past nonproliferation efforts, tacit knowledge has been widely neglected. Tacit knowledge “consists of unarticulated skills, know-how, or practices that cannot be easily translated into words, but are essential in the success of scientific endeavors.” Simply put, it takes more than a manual or YouTube video to truly perform a scientific experiment, etc. Tacit knowledge is seen in scientists that have spent years not only learning, but experiencing the quirks and challenges of performing experiments. The lessons of failed endeavors, teachings of fellow scientists, and instincts built by years of experience, are all components in tacit knowledge. Dr. Ben Ouagrham-Gormley points to the role tacit knowledge has played in the history of failed bioweapons programs (state and non-state). While some analysts believe the advancing biotechnologies will “de-skill” the field and lower the bar for bioweapons development, Dr. Ben Ouagrham-Gormley highlights that tacit knowledge is a massive roadblock. Pointing towards the new focus on tacit knowledge, she notes that this will only help “advance key mandates of the bioweapons convention, naming the assessment of new technologies, the improvement of national implementation, and the strengthening of cooperation among member states.”

The New Line of Biodefense: Adorable Dogs

Courtesy of BarkPost
Courtesy of BarkPost

There are few times when I get to combine a love of rescue dogs and biodefense nerdom and fortunately, today is that day! The Beagle Brigade is a group of rescue beagles that have been specially trained “to sense for items used for bioterror which include contraband money, pests, and unlawful wildlife”. Even more, the Beagle Brigade is part of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). They work in baggage-claim areas at international airports, wearing green jackets, to help identify any meat, animal byproducts, fruit, or vegetables that could be carrying any diseases or pests that have the potential to cause a devastating outbreak in the US. They’ve been specially trained to pick up “restricted” (fruit, vegetable, etc.) versus non-restricted items and have a 90% success rate! I think we can safely say the Beagle Brigade wins the award for “most adorable biodefense strategy”.

Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Battle Malaria 
Recently published work shows how researchers used “a controversial method called ‘gene drive’ to ensure that an engineered mosquito would pass on its new resistance genes to nearly all of its offspring – not just half, as would normally be the case.” These “mutant mosquitoes” are engineered to resist the parasite that causes malaria infections. This particular work solves the issue that many were facing when it came to passing down resistant genes through a species. While this may mark the end of a long battle against malaria, many are pointing to the ethical and dual-use concerns of such work. The growing concern surrounds the high speed of such technological innovation and the lagging of regulatory and policy guidelines, especially regarding work in wild populations. The potential to alter an entire ecosystem has many concerned over the ramifications of such work. The research team is currently working to prepare mosquitoes for field tests, however they are non-native mosquitoes.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Stories From A Biodefense PhD Student- GMU Biodefense PhD student, Craig Wiener, discusses his journey from master’s student to PhD candidate. Craig explains what sparked his interest in not only biodefense, but GMU’s program, and how that’s translated into real-world experiences. “Mason has provided me the depth and breadth of knowledge that I needed to converse with senior policymakers, technologists, and scientists,” he says. “It bridged the gap between science and policy so I could be respected in both worlds because I knew what I was talking about.”
  • East Bronx Legionnaires’ Outbreak Traced to Psychiatric Center–  The New York City Health Department announced that the cooling tower at  the Bronx Psychiatric Centre was the likely source of the break that hit East Bronx earlier this fall. Samples from four cases matched those taken from the water tower. Remediation and disinfection is being performed on the water tower.
  • Liberia Reports Death of Boy – A boy who was part of the family cluster of Ebola cases in Liberia, has died of the disease. The 15-year-old boy was one of the three confirmed cases reported on November 20th, which marked the end of the Ebola-free period for Liberia since September 3rd. There are currently 153 contacts and 25 healthcare workers being monitored.

Pandora Report 8.16.15

It looks like the blog isn’t the only place with a lull during the summer. This week was oddly slow for news; maybe it’s an August thing? For our top stories we’ve got ISIS with chemical weapons and, from our neighbor to the north, a disease diagnosing fabric. We’ve even got a few stories you may have missed.

Have a great week!

U.S. Investigating ‘Credible’ Reports that ISIS Used Chemical Weapons

The U.S. is investigating what it believes are credible reports that ISIS fighters used mustard agent against Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Makhmour in Northern Iraq. ISIS posted about the attack on social media, but American officials have stated they have independent information that left them believing that a chemical weapon was used. A German Ministry of Defense spokesman echoed that they cannot confirm or rule out that a chemical weapons attack occurred. The major question for U.S. officials is to determine if it was mustard gas, and if so, how ISIS came to possess it.

CNN—“Blake Narenda, a spokesperson for the State Department’s Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Bureau, said, “We continue to take these and all allegations of chemical weapons use very seriously. As in previous instances of alleged ISIL use of chemicals as weapons, we are aware of the reports and are seeking additional information. We continue to monitor these reports closely, and would further stress that use of any chemicals or biological material as a weapon is completely inconsistent with international standards and norms regarding such capabilities.”

CNN has previously reported claims from monitoring groups that ISIS used chlorine weapons against Kurdish forces.”

Halifax Scientist Develops High-Tech Fabric that Helps Diagnose Diseases

Yes, you read that right. Christa Brosseau, an analytical chemist at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is working on the development of a chemical sensor which can be built into fabric and can detect diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS.  How is this even possible? First the scientists make Nanoparticles, then aggregate those particles which ends up as a silver Nanoparticle paste. That paste can be placed on a fabric chip and it then ready to use. The fabric chip interacts with bodily fluids like sweat, saliva, or urine, and is then scanned for information.

CTV—“The technology picks up disease biomarkers and the scientists are able to get results in approximately 30 seconds, by using hand held units, the size of a TV remote control, to scan the samples. The size of the units makes them convenient for working in the field.

Eventually, the scientists hope to see the technology deployed in exercise headbands, or cloth inserts in infant diapers, to better monitor the state of health.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: U.S. Army

Pandora Report 6.28.15

It was a big week, right? The Supreme Court was making declarations and in California the General Assembly was making some decisions of their own. We’ve got the mandate for childhood vaccines in California, World War II chemical weapons testing, and other stories you may have missed.

There will be no news round up next week, in honor of one of my favorite holidays, Independence Day! I’ll be wearing red, white, and blue, watching July 4th themed movies, and celebrating with all the American spirit I can muster. I wish all of you the same!

See you back here in July!

California Passes Bill to Require Vaccines and Ban Religious Exemptions

On Thursday, the California State Assembly passed SB 277, which mandates that children attending day care or public school must be vaccinated. The bill eliminated personal-belief and religious exemptions. Largely, this bill was in response to the outbreak of measles that began at Disneyland last year. Children who cannot receive vaccinations for medical reasons can still receive the vaccine exemption. Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign the bill into law.

Slate—“The New York Times quoted Christina Hildebrand, the founder of A Voice for Choice, a nonprofit organization that has lobbied against the bill, about her unsuccessful campaign to stop this legislation, “There are large numbers of parents who are very concerned about the fact that we’re going to have mandated medical treatment against a fundamental right to education. Parental freedom is being taken away by this, because the fear of contagion is trumping it.’”

Secret World War II Chemical Experiments Tested Troops by Race

According to documents declassified in the 1990s, the U.S. Army conducted secret chemical weapons tests on minority soldiers in order to determine the effect weapons had on non-white skin. African-American and Puerto Rican soldiers were tested upon to see if their darker pigment made them less susceptible to the weapons. Japanese-Americans were used to determine how the weapons would affect enemy Japanese soldiers. The soldiers were subjected to mustard gas and lewisite and volunteered for the assignment.

NPR—“All of the World War II experiments with mustard gas were done in secret and weren’t recorded on the subjects’ official military records. Most do not have proof of what they went through. They received no follow-up health care or monitoring of any kind. And they were sworn to secrecy about the tests under threat of dishonorable discharge and military prison time, leaving some unable to receive adequate medical treatment for their injuries, because they couldn’t tell doctors what happened to them.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: David Monniaux

The Pandora Report 8.9.13

Highlights include camels as MERS’ vectors, anti-bacterial chemicals hiding Salmonella, a new malaria vaccine, BioWatch in DC, H5N1 in Nepal, African Swine Fever in Belarus, and in case you missed it: mutating H7N9. Happy Friday!

Camels may be source of Middle East’s Sars-like virus

Can we all just take a moment to appreciate the level of epidemiological sleuthing which went in to uncovering this? Researchers attempting to determine the vector of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) ended up sampling 50 Omani racing camels, and 105 Canary Islander tourist camels. All camels sampled from Oman, and 15 of those from the Canary Island, possessed antibodies to MERS, indicating prior infection. While the presence of antibodies is compelling, the virus itself was not found in any of the dromedary (vocab word of the day, meaning an Arabian camel with one hump) camels sampled. Also, Oman has reported no human cases of MERS. However, with camels as a possible vector, follow up investigations into whether those people infected had any contact with camels, their meat, or their milk can be conducted.  MERS has infected 94 people to date, killing almost half.

The Guardian – “The scientists said the virus could be slightly different – maybe more transmissible in Oman – or the camels might have been kept in circumstances that made it less likely to spread in the Canaries. But it is also possible that the virus was brought in by one of the three oldest Canary Island camels, who arrived from Morocco more than 18 years ago. ‘We cannot rule out that the population might have once had an outbreak but that by the time of sampling, antibody titres had waned and no new introductions of the virus had occurred,’ they write. ‘The camels have contact with wild rodents, pigeons, and other doves, and possibly also bats. Seven insectivorous bat species, including three pipistrellus [species], are native to the Canary Islands, while Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) have been introduced.'”

USDA reviews whether bacteria-killing chemicals are masking Salmonella

According to recent research, the use of stronger anti-bacterial chemicals at poultry-processing plants may be cloaking the presence of Salmonella and other foodbourne pathogens which remain on the processed meat. Apparently the more stringent chemicals are too strong for current Salmonella tests, potentially resulting in false negatives. The USDA has stepped in to further investigate the research’s claims. For those of you who (like me) didn’t know, apparently the bird is treated with four different chemicals on average.

Washington Post – “To check that most bacteria have been killed, occasional test birds are pulled off the line and tossed into plastic bags filled with a solution that collects any remaining pathogens. That solution is sent to a lab for testing, which takes place about 24 hours later. Meanwhile, the bird is placed back on the line and is ultimately packaged, shipped and sold. Scientists say in order for tests to be accurate, it is critical that the pathogen-killing chemicals are quickly neutralized by the solution — something that routinely occurred with the older, weaker antibacterial chemicals. If the chemicals continue to kill bacteria, the testing indicates that the birds are safer to eat than they actually are.”

Investigational malaria vaccine found safe and protective

A new, live-attenuated malaria vaccine has successfully completed Phase I clinical trials. The vaccine, known as PfSPZ Vaccine, has been shown in a recent NIH to be safe, immunogenic, and  effectively confer immunity. However, a significant drawback of the new vaccine is its intravenous administration – most vaccines are administered subcutaneously, intradermally, or, ideally, orally.  Nonetheless, researchers are optimistic, and a set of follow-up studies are scheduled. According the the WHO, in 2010 (most recent sampling year), malaria caused an estimated 219 million cases globally, with 660,000 deaths, predominantly amongst African children.

Medical Xpress – “The Phase I trial, which took place at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, received informed consent from and enrolled 57 healthy adult volunteers ages 18 to 45 years who never had malaria. Of these, 40 participants received the vaccine and 17 did not. To evaluate the vaccine’s safety, vaccinees were split into groups receiving two to six intravenous doses of PfSPZ Vaccine at increasing dosages. After vaccination, participants were monitored closely for seven days. No severe adverse effects associated with the vaccine occurred, and no malaria infections related to vaccination were observed…Based on blood measurements, researchers found that participants who received a higher total dosage of PfSPZ Vaccine generated more antibodies against malaria and more T cells—a type of immune system cell—specific to the vaccine.”

DHS wants LRS Federal to continue collecting BioWatch air samples for another six months

BioWatch isn’t dead yet, at least if you live in the DC metro region. The Department of Homeland Security has decided to award LRS Federal a six-month contract extension for maintenance of BioWatch in the DC metro area. The $759,000 awarded in the renewal will go towards maintenance of the program, including salaries of those who collect the daily samples and upkeep. No new developments on Gen 3 writ-large.

Government Security News Magazine – “LRS Federal currently manages the teams that perform daily sample collections and routine equipment maintenance on portable air sampling units located throughout the National Capital Region’s ‘BioWatch Jurisdiction,’ in Washington, DC; Baltimore, MD; Richmond, VA; and elsewhere. The notice says that LRS is the only firm that can continue supporting the program’s immediate requirements. ‘Otherwise, the Government will be without support to detect and mitigate the threat of biological air-borne pathogens,’ it added.”

International Recap:

Nepal: H5N1 is still raging in Nepal, with the government considering an extension of the current ban on poultry-product sales. In the weeks following this most recent outbreak, the  Nepali government had come under fire for apparently pandering to poultry groups, resulting in an increase in the virus’ spread. However, it has since began a widespread campaign of restriction of poultry sales and culling. Fears of the virus spreading south to neighboring India remain.  Read more here.

Belarus: It’s not often we get to write about Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship (no Putin jokes, please). The Eastern European country is currently experiencing an outbreak of African Swine Fever, which only affects pigs. Belarus has admitted difficulty in containing the outbreak. We’ve been unable to track down official numbers (it’s Belarus), but concerns over the disease spreading to Western Europe are mounting. Read more here.

In case you missed it:

– Researchers Mutating H7N9, increasing virulence and able to transmit person-to-person

(image courtesy of Jason Wain/Flickr)