Pandora Report 5.24.15

Two quick updates before we get into the weekly wrap-up.

First, the Early Registration Deadline for the Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security professional education course at the GMU Arlington Campus has been extended to June 15. For more information and registration, please click here.

Second, we here at Pandora Report wanted to let you know about a new website designed to provide resources for biosecurity professionals and practitioners and key stakeholders. The International Biosecurity Prevention Forum (IBPF) brings together the world’s leading experts from the health and security communities to share expertise on key biosecurity and bioterrorism prevention issues. Registering to join IBPF is free and easy. Go to http://www.ibpforum.organd click the “Request Membership” button to request an IBPF member account. Members get access to a discussion section and projects, resources, and best practices submitted by other members. Contact the IBPF support team at IBPForum@ic.fbi.gov if you have any questions or problems.

Now, onto the news. This weekend we have stories about British nuclear submarines, anti-vaccine legislation in California, the development of bird flu vaccines, and other stories you may have missed.

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!!

Britain Investigates Sailor’s Disaster Warning Over Nuclear Subs

Able Seaman William McNeilly—a weapons engineer who served aboard HMS Vanguard, one of the four British submarines carrying Trident missiles—wrote a “lengthy dossier” released on the internet which says that the “Trident nuclear defense system was vulnerable both to enemies and to potentially devastating accidents because of safety failures.” McNeilly has since gone AWOL and both police and naval officials are trying to locate him.

The Japan Times—“The Royal Navy said it totally disagreed with McNeilly’s “subjective and unsubstantiated personal views,” describing him as a “very junior sailor.” But it added it was investigating both his claims and the “unauthorized release” of his dossier. “The naval service operates its submarine fleet under the most stringent safety regime and submarines do not go to sea unless they are completely safe to do so,” a spokeswoman said.”

A Blow to Anti-Vaxxers: California Approves Forced Vaccination Bill

By now, we all know that the measles outbreak that started last winter at Disneyland was a result of unvaccinated individuals. In California, the State Senate has passed a bill which limits parent’s use of the “personal belief exemption” in order to get out of getting their children vaccinated. Under the bill, parents who don’t get their children vaccinated would not be able to send their kids to state-licensed schools, nurseries, or day care centers.

State Column—“Only children who have a medical reason for why they can’t be vaccinated would still be allowed to attend schools without receiving their vaccinations under Senate Bill 277, which was sponsored by a California Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacremento), a pediatrician, and Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), a former school board member and the son of a survivor of polio, according to a Forbes report.”

Vaccines Developed for H5N1, H7N9 Avian Flu

Findings appearing in the Journal of Virology indicate that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases have developed a vaccine for both H5N1 and H7N9—two strains of avian influenza which can be transmitted from poultry to humans. The vaccine was developed by cloning the Newcastle disease virus and transplanting a small section of the H5N1 virus into it; the same method was used for the H7N9 vaccine.

Toronto Sun—“‘We believe this Newcastle disease virus concept works very well for poultry because you kill two birds with one stone, metaphorically speaking,” Richt said. “You use only one vector to vaccinate and protect against a selected virus strain of avian influenza.’”

Stories You May Have Missed

  

Image Credit: UK Ministry of Defence

Pandora Report 3.15.15

For those of us at Mason, Spring Break is nearing its end. For the rest of us, however, it’s business as usual. This week we’ve got stories about engineering nuclear worries in South Africa, the eradication of guinea worm, the lasting health impacts of Ebola, and other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week, enjoy the longer daylight hours, and we’ll see you back here next weekend!

U.S. Unease about Nuclear-Weapons Fuel Takes Aim at a South African Vault

Located in a former silver vault at a nuclear research center near Pretoria, South Africa, is enough nuclear weapons explosive to fuel half a dozen bombs. Roughly 485 pounds of highly enriched uranium exist as remnants of the apartheid regime’s nuclear weapons program. U.S. officials worry that not only does this stockpile give South Africa the theoretical ability to regain its status as a nuclear-weapons state, but the stockpile’s vulnerability makes it a target for terrorist thieves. This isn’t a far-fetched concept, because in November 2007 two teams of raiders breached the fences at the nuclear center, entered the site, and broke into the central alarm station. Obama has urged President Jacob Zuma to transform the nuclear explosives into benign reactor fuel—with U.S. assistance—to no avail.

The Washington Post—“‘The bottom line is that South Africa has a crime problem,” [arms control expert Jon] Wolfsthal said. “They have a facility that is holding onto material that they don’t need and a political chip on their shoulder about giving up that material. That has rightly concerned the United States, which is trying to get rid of any cache of HEU [highly enriched uranium] that is still out there.’”

Tug of War: On the Verge of the Greatest Public Health Triumph of the 21st Century

As people work around the world to eradicate Polio, another public health enemy is about to be eliminated first—guinea worm. This parasite, found in rivers and streams, enters the body in larval form through contaminated drinking water. The larvae mature inside the body and move towards the skin’s surface in the form of a burning blister. When the infected human puts water on the blister, the worm bursts out into water, continuing the source infection cycle. However, the number of cases of guinea worm is way down—from 3.5 million cases in 1986 to 126 cases in 2014—thanks to a simple nylon filter attached to a drinking straw. The weave on the nylon is tight enough to filter out the larvae from drinking water.

Slate—“Vanquishing guinea worm would be arguably the first great public health triumph of the 21st century. It would also give new life to the human disease eradication movement, which suffered through 35 mostly frustrating years following the conquest of smallpox in 1980. The victory would prove to governments and private foundations that we can still accomplish eradication.”

Ebola Could Cause Thousands More Deaths—By Ushering in Measles

As Liberia removed their Ebola crematorium—with the declaration that the outbreak is contained—new cases of the disease are still popping up in Sierra Leone and Guinea and have resulted in nearly a dozen American volunteers returning to U.S. facilities for treatment.  And this week, in Science, researchers from NIH and four universities have warned that Ebola’s interruption in other health services—like immunization campaigns—could result in epidemics of preventable diseases with larger fatality numbers than Ebola. Specifically, they warn that up to 100,000 cases of measles could result in 16,000 additional deaths.

Wired—“Measles is already present in West Africa, so the team is not arguing that Ebola will revive an eradicated disease — although, poignantly, hard work in the three countries had recently forced measles incidence way down. “Between 1994 and 2003, the countries reported — and this is just how many they reported, not necessarily how many occurred — about 100,000 cases of measles,” Lessler said. “Whereas in the last decade, they’ve only reported 7,000. So they’ve done an excellent job of controlling the virus compared to the previous (decade).’”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: FEMA

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 1.25.15

This week, we’re going to focus on stories revolving around disease eradication—or the lack thereof. We look at Measles in California, Polio in Pakistan, and TB in Britain. We’ve also got an Ebola update and (lots) of stories you may have missed.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and have a safe and healthy week!

Melinda Gates Shames Anti-Vaxxers “Who Have Forgotten What Measles Death Looks Like”

At least 85 measles cases in seven states have been linked to an outbreak that started at Disneyland in Southern California. Reportedly, at least 28 affected people never received the measles vaccine. Melinda Gates, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has long worked to help people in developing countries receive basic healthcare treatment, including vaccines, and she fired back at parents in the U.S. who have declined to take advantage of vaccines.

Mother Jones—“‘We take vaccines so for granted in the United States,” Gates explained during an appearance on HuffPost Live Thursday. “Women in the developing world know the power of [vaccines]. They will walk 10 kilometers in the heat with their child and line up to get a vaccine because they have seen death.” In detailing the struggle parents in the developing world endure to have their children vaccinated, Gates said Americans have simply “forgotten what measles death looks like.’”

A New Polio Case in Pakistan and an Unsolved Epidemic

The Gates Foundation has also worked on eradicating Polio. Despite their efforts, and the tireless efforts of others since 1988, polio remains endemic in three countries—Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria—with cases in seven others. In some good news, it has been nearly six months since a diagnosed case of polio in Nigeria. But Pakistan, who registered its first case of 2015, remains a concern due to strong, and sometimes violent, opposition to polio vaccination.

Wired—“Among the endemic countries, Pakistan is clearly now the major challenge — more of one than Nigeria was, even though Nigeria in its worst outbreaks had more cases. I say that because the barriers to vaccination in Nigeria depended on internal sectarian politics. The children who were not being vaccinated were always technically reachable by vaccinators, once local communities decided to let them in; and there was never a threat to the lives of the vaccination teams. In Pakistan, though, the conflict is bigger than one party versus another, and the areas where children are not being vaccinated are literal no-go zones.”

Europe’s Tuberculosis Hub in Britain Seeks to Wipe Out the Disease

Often thought of as a disease of the past, tuberculosis has stubbornly persisted in Britain. In fact, London is known as the continent’s “TB capital.” On Monday, health authorities launched a $17.4 million plan in order to tackle Britain’s persistent TB problem, in an effort to wipe out the extremely contagious lung disease all together. The plan involves working with the National Health Service (NHS) to target the most vulnerable, and improve access to screening, testing, treatment, and outreach services.

Fox News—“TB rates in the United Kingdom are nearly five times those in the United States. If current trends continue, England alone will have more TB cases than the whole of the U.S. in two years. “TB should be consigned to the past, and yet it is occurring in England at higher rates than most of Western Europe,” said Paul Cosford, a director at the government’s health agency, Public Health England (PHE). “This situation must be reversed.’”

This Week in Ebola

On Friday, the World Health Organization announced that the number of new cases of Ebola in West Africa have fallen to their lowest number in months. In fact, during the week of January 18, there were only 8 new cases in Liberia—compared to the 300 new cases per week in August and September—which has left the U.S. built treatment centers largely empty. There were many reports this week that Ebola clinical trials will soon begin in Liberia.  In Guinea, the number of cases of Ebola has also fallen off—only 42 cases the first week of January, the lowest total since mid-August—and the government has begun a new campaign: zero Ebola cases in 60 days.

So, maybe this will be the last Ebola update? Probably not. The stories keep coming, but they are now more focused on the long term effects or lessons from the outbreak. For example, Ebola has been more deadly for the great apes than it has for humans. Among gorillas the mortality rate is about 95% and for chimpanzees it is 77%–for humans it has been about 50%. There has also been analysis of the response, including an upcoming lecture by the President of the World Bank Group titled “Lessons from Ebola: A post-2015 Strategy for Pandemic Response” which will stream live online.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Regional Center of Orange County

Pandora Report 06.01.14

Highlights include Ebola research at UVA, No person-to-person MERS transmission in the U.S., Syria’s inability to meet deadlines, and the continuing negative impact of Anxi-Vaxxers.  Have a great Sunday!

 

Ebola’s Fist: UVA Unlocks How Deadly Virus Smashes into Human Cells

Further proving the superiority of public universities in Virginia, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have discovered how the Ebola virus enters the cytoplasm of human cells. This discovery comes at a critical time when Ebola is still raging in West Africa.

Augusta Free Press—“UVA’s new discovery offers important insight into how the virus works its way into cells. After the virus is engulfed by the cell, it is contained within a vesicle where it can do no harm. But Ebola quickly escapes the vesicle, and now scientists understand how. UVA researcher Lukas Tamm, PhD, of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, and his team discovered that the pH level inside the vesicle triggers the surface glycoprotein on the virus to form a “fist” that lets the virus punch its way into the cell’s cytoplasm, where it can effectively turn the cell into a factory for virus production.”

 

Nevermind! It Turns Out the Guy Who Tested Positive for MERS Doesn’t Have it

Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief! It turns out that the Illinois man who tested positive for MERS after shaking hands with an infected man never really had it. The tests used for diagnostics registered a false positive. This means that the only cases of MERS in the United States have been imported and have not passed through person-to-person transmission.

ABC News—“‘There is good news here,” ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said. “It was concerning that this man supposedly got infected through minimal contact – a couple of meetings and a handshake. Now that it’s clear that he was not infected, we’re back to a situation where those who have been infected have either been health care workers caring for MERS patients or close contacts, often family members.’”

 

Syria Set to Miss Deadline for Chemical Weapons Destruction

During the past week not only was a chemical weapons inspection team ambushed and held captive in Syria, but reports are coming out that the Syrian government will not meet the June 30, 2014, deadline for removal and destruction of their chemical weapons arsenal.  UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, also voiced concerned about allegations that chlorine gas has been used in recent fighting in Syria.

The Moscow Times—“The Syrian government has missed several deadlines, most recently its own promise to hand over the remaining chemicals by April 27. It has also failed to destroy a dozen facilities that were part of the chemical weapons program. The government has blamed those failures on security problems and rebel activities, but Western officials have voiced skepticism about those explanations.”

 

The New Measles Outbreak: Blame the Anti-Vaxxers

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that new measles cases in the United States are at a 20 year high for the first five months of 2014.  The CDC reports that 97% of measles cases have been imported by people who have travelled to other countries and brought the disease back with them and that 90% of the infections have occurred among unvaccinated individuals. In his scathing Time piece, Jeffrey Kluger highlights the worldwide struggle to eradicate polio and the capriciousness of those in the U.S. choosing to not be vaccinated against preventable, and long-dormant, diseases.

Time—“Make no mistake, the measles outbreak in the U.S. is an act of choice, of election, of a decision to get sick—or a decision by parents to put their children at risk. Fully 90% of the new cases are among people who are unvaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown. And nearly all of those people are unvaccinated for personal, philosophical or religious reasons—as opposed to any medical condition that requires them to avoid vaccines. This is true too of recent outbreaks of mumps and whooping cough, and of the dangerously declining rate of vaccination in the U.S. overall. Nearly all of that folly can be blamed on the rumors and outright lies that continue to be spread about various conditions vaccines are said to cause—autism, ADHD, vaguely defined immune system disorders and on and on depending on which celebrity or health faddist is telling the tale.” 

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

ALERT: MEASLES EXPOSURE IN FAIRFAX COUNTY

Potential Measles Exposures May 11-15

The Virginia Department of Health reports that “out of an abundance of caution, health officials are investigating potential exposures to a second person with measles in the National Capital Region.”

New potential exposure sites and times have been identified that occurred between May 11-15. The locations in Fairfax County include McLean, Herndon, Fairfax, Reston and more. Visit the VDH website for more details.

This new investigation expands the recent one of a measles case in late April in Loudoun and Fairfax Counties. The second case of measles was confirmed in a person who was a close contact of the first case. Regional health officials are mounting a coordinated effort to identify people who may have been exposed to this second case.

After you check the list, please share this information with your family, friends, co-workers and more.

 

From the Fairfax County Emergency Information blog

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Pandora Report 5.16.14

There has been a lot on MERS this week as it continued to spread within the U.S. and Europe. The topic was so big that it was even covered on Buzzfeed (the web aggregator mostly known for quizzes and viral videos.) This made me think, “I wonder what sorts of biodefense topics are covered in traditional, mainstream news sources?” So, in celebration of the end of the Spring 2014 semester, this week I bring you just that!


We’ve got the U.S. Military’s defense plan for Zombies, measles and polio as a possible cancer cure, a photo essay about New York’s lost TB ward, and a doctor’s report from the Ebola fields of West Africa. Congrats to our newest graduates and have a wonderful weekend!

The Pentagon Has a Plan to Stop the Zombie Apocalypse. Seriously.

If you’re worried about the zombie apocalypse like I am (and let’s face it, you probably are since you’re here), here is one less thing to worry about. Like many other contingency plans, the Pentagon has one for dealing with the un-dead. Instead of using fictionalized versions of real countries, this scenario strings together a group of seemingly impossible scenarios that could never be mistaken for a real plan including “vegetarian zombies,” “chicken zombies,” and even (yes, this is not a joke) “evil magic zombies.”

Foreign Policy—“‘This plan fulfills fictional contingency planning guidance tasking for U.S. Strategic Command to develop a comprehensive [plan] to undertake military operations to preserve ‘non-zombie’ humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde,” CONOP 8888’s plan summary reads. “Because zombies pose a threat to all non-zombie human life, [Strategic Command] will be prepared to preserve the sanctity of human life and conduct operations in support of any human population — including traditional adversaries.’”

Can Measles or Polio be the Next Cure for Cancer?

Popular science speaks of viruses as something to be avoided, but what if injecting a person with large amounts of virus could actually cure cancer? That’s what researchers at the Mayo Clinic and Duke University Medical Center did when using measles virus to destroy cancer cells. The results? In very small patient trials the researchers saw significant successes including total remission!

Fox News—“This research is all part of a new medical field of oncolytic virotherapy.  The “proof of concept” studies stem from many years of animal research, analyzing how viruses can penetrate certain types of cancer cells.  A typical cancer cell moves very fast and replicates very rapidly.  Therefore, some viruses have an affinity to get into these cells and use them as incubators, so the viruses can multiply at a fast rate, as well.  But once these viruses are attached, the cancer cells essentially explode and release the virus into the body.”

The Mysterious New York City Island You’ve Never Heard Of

Those who have watched the History Channel’s Life After People or read Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us may find this story especially interesting. Photographer Christopher Payne, became aware of North Brother Island—which lies in the East River—and was allowed by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to conduct a photo survey of landscape. Used for a variety of purposes until its abandonment in the 1960s, between the 1880s and the 1930s, North Brother Island was the site of Riverside Hospital, where those suffering from infectious disease were treated in isolation.

Slate—“While Payne knew the island’s story, he often had trouble finding physical evidence of its past. “It was very hard for me to find the artifacts I expected to find. They really just didn’t exist. Most of the time you’re looking at the shell of a building, and it’s so far gone you can’t even tell what it was used for. It forced me to look closer, to see graffiti on the walls or to look on the floor,” he said. “A lot of it was detective work. It was like trying to invent a life for something, trying to find a shot or a view that suggested what it used to be.’”

Windsor Doctor Returns Home after Treating Deadly Ebola Outbreak

As the numbers of infected and deaths continue to rise in the Western Africa Ebola outbreak, one of the stories we haven’t heard often is from physicians working there. In this piece for The Windsor Star, Dr. Tim Jagatic, writes about his experience working for three weeks in Conakry, Guinea, as a member of Doctors without Borders.  He writes about the efforts of Doctors Without Borders and the WHO on stopping the spread of the virus as well as providing care for those infected. When not providing medical care, he reported that doctors would perform triage assessments or perform outreach looking for new patient cases.

The Windsor Star—“Jagatic and his fellow physicians would often encounter resistance to their efforts. “We have to work on demystifying the disease,” said Jagatic.“So many people who were infected with it, they were stigmatized. They were banished from their communities, their families, one thing I was really trying to push is that this is really just a virus, like the measles, like the flu, when you get it you treat it, you go home and you’re done. And you’re just like you were beforehand.’”

 

Image Credit: Christopher Payne

Measles making a comeback through unvaccinated individuals

By Chris Healey

Unvaccinated individuals are promoting the spread of measles in the United States.

In a public statement on February 21, health officials said seven of fifteen confirmed measles cases in a 2014 California outbreak were reported in individuals who never received a measles vaccine. Health officials have not determined the vaccination status of 6 cases in the outbreak but it is known that in two cases the patients received the vaccine. Over 39,000 cases of measles were reported in California before the measles vaccine was licensed in 1963. In 2005, a record low of four cases were reported.

This outbreak in California is part of a measles resurgence facilitated by rising numbers of unvaccinated individuals. Similar measles trends have been reported across the U.S. According to the CDC, the average number of U.S. measles cases from 2001 to 2010 was 69.  In 2013, there were 189 cases.

Measles vaccines are delivered in one of two products produced by Merck– M-M-R II and ProQuad. Both are live-attenuated vaccines, which uses viruses incapable of replication as the pharmacologically-active ingredient. Health experts consider live-attenuated vaccines the most effective of all vaccine types. The measles vaccine schedule recommended by the CDC is 99% effective in conferring immunity.

Vaccination of children after measles vaccine licensure was credited with the elimination of measles in the U.S. in 2000. Measles occurs in the U.S. when individuals are exposed abroad and return to the country.  Health officials said three cases in the California outbreak recently traveled to the Philippines. Two traveled to India. Other cases had contact with individuals who traveled abroad.

A growing number of individuals are choosing not to vaccinate their children. Vaccination avoidance has been fueled by unsubstantiated claims of vaccines causing autism in children. The CDC maintains there is no evidence to support a relationship between vaccination and autism. In fact, a recent study published in The Journal of Pediatrics showed no causal link between vaccination and autism.

The CDC’s website states symptoms of measles include fever, cough, inflammation of the mucous membrane, conjunctivitis and a characteristic maculopapular rash. Symptomatic individuals have a chance of developing acute encephalitis and subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, or SSPE, a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. SSPE causes seizures, behavioral problems and intellectual deterioration.

Measles has a fatality rate ranging from one to three deaths for every 1000 cases in the U.S.

Unvaccinated individuals should consult their doctor about receiving a measles vaccine.

 

Photo Credit: CDC/ Amanda Mills

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)