Pandora Report 4.22.2016

Happy Friday from your friends at GMU Biodefense! We’ve got some great updates in your weekly dose of global health security. First, check out this wonderful infographic on the hurdles ahead for Zika virus response. France, Myanmar, and Taiwan have all recently reported avian influenza outbreaks. Good news- researchers have found that a new technique of low-energy nuclear reaction imaging is able to detect concealed nuclear materials (weapons-grade uranium and plutonium).

Findings of Investigations into 2014 NIH Smallpox Discovery
Following the recent GAO report on security of U.S. bioresearch labs, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations released its own memo ahead of the hearing on Wednesday, April 20, 2016 (you can watch it here). The hearing addressed the investigations that surrounded the finding of potentially live smallpox in cardboard boxes in cold storage rooms within the NIH.  Some of the issues that were identified and discussed were: failure to account for regulated select agents, failure to conduct comprehensive inventory of all select agent material, and failure to restrict unauthorized access to select agents. “There’s a problem when the government somehow loses track of smallpox and other deadly agents, only to have them turn up in a soggy cardboard box. What’s worse, the urgency that should accompany such a discovery has failed to spur absolutely necessary changes,” said full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA). “Today serves as an important opportunity to ask some of the agencies in question about their next steps to ensure safety for those working in the labs, as well as the general public.”

Re-Wiring the Funding of Pandemic Response 
Jeremy Farrar, head of biomedical research charity, the Wellcome Trust, believes that governments should invest in fighting and defending against pandemics the same way they invest in the military. “We spend gazillions to defend ourselves from military attacks, but from the beginning of the twentieth century far more people have died from infection. We are hugely vulnerable from a public health perspective,”. He emphasizes that public health funding shouldn’t be left to private companies, as they will ultimately make decisions based upon commercial return. Globalization means that a disease can jump from one country to the next through a single flight and we need to be able to respond just as quickly. “We’ve had Ebola for the last two to three years, now Zika. Since 1998 I’ve been involved in about eight major epidemics including SARS and bird flu. This is the new world. These are not rare events,”. If nothing else, it’s important to consider the economics of an outbreak. The financial cost of an epidemic is staggering – cited at $60 billion annually. He notes that now is the time to share information and work towards quicker vaccine and diagnostic interventions.

Neglected Dimensions of Global Security
Researchers are discussing the Global Health Risk Framework Commission’s strategy to defend human and economic security from pandemic threats. Global health threats, like that of SARS and Ebola, have forced leaders to consider not just response, but also preparedness. “In each case, governments and international organizations seemed unable to react quickly and decisively. Health crises have unmasked critical vulnerabilities—weak health systems, failures of leadership, and political overreaction and underreaction.” Global coordination in the event of a health crisis is extremely challenging, as we saw with Ebola, and these authors are pointing to the need for “international norms and well-functioning institutions”. The recommendations also include public accountability for timely reporting and multilateral financing for pandemic preparedness and response resources.

GMU Biodefense Students Earn Prestigious Fellowship
We’re excited to provide an official announcement and interview with GMU Biodefense students, Fracisco Cruz and Siddha Hover, regarding their acceptance into the Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity (ELBI) Fellowship. Francisco earned his MS in 2015 and Siddha is a current PhD student in GMU’s Biodefense program. Check out their comments on both the ELBI Fellowship and their experiences within GMU’s Biodefense graduate programs. “For two George Mason Biodefense students to be selected for this prestigious fellowship is a great recognition of the contribution that our students and alums are already making to biodefense and global health security and the potential they have to play even stronger roles in the future,” said Associate Professor Gregory D. Koblentz, director of the Biodefense program in Mason’s School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs.

Federal Research Database on Genomic Data 
The new GenPort database will allow researchers to access enormous amounts of genomic data from research studies. The benefit of the new system is that it will allow people to review several studies at the same time and track individuals within different trials, creating “synthetic cohorts”. “The Health and Human Services Department is currently looking for small businesses who can help build that hub, so even researchers without informatics or genomics training can make ‘practical use’ of data from cohort studies other scientists have already conducted.” The plan is for GenPort to be open source, transportable, and freely shared via a cloud. Let’s just hope genomic data from certain deadly pathogens doesn’t make its way onto the cloud!

Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea Sparks Concern
While Zika virus and Ebola are quick to grab the headlines, there is another global health security threat we should be worried about. Antibiotic resistance may not have the hype that emerging infectious disease outbreaks do, but the realities of a world without effective antibiotics are pretty terrifying. Consider the re-emergence of diseases we had long eradicated and now have no effective treatment methods. With the rising incidence of multi-drug resistant organisms, the threat of a drug-resistant sexually transmitted infection is pretty terrifying. Public health officials in England are urging the public to practice safe sex with the growing rates of Azithromycin-resistant gonorrhea. Cases initially started in November 2014 however, they have been increasing. The CDC has also issued information about the threats of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea.

The Fight Against Zika VirusScreen Shot 2016-04-19 at 8.59.38 AM
Where are we with Zika? What does the future hold for this ever-changing  outbreak? Some are saying that it is a delayed epidemic. The long-term effects of the disease means we’re all trailing behind it. The lack of a vaccine or commercially available test makes it even more challenging. “Human Zika virus infection appears to have changed in character while expanding its geographical range,” the WHO paper concludes. “The change is from an endemic, mosquito-borne infection causing mild illness across equatorial Africa and Asia, to an infection causing, from 2007 onwards, large outbreaks, and from 2013 onwards, outbreaks linked with neurological disorders.” With Zika, it seems like we’re constantly rushing to catch up. Shifting U.S. funds from Ebola to Zika is just another example of the reactive approach public health tends to take. Why are we constantly rushing from fire to fire? The recent cuts to public health funding are also being highlighted since the Zika outbreak began. Many are pointing to the inability to truly prepare or respond with limited public health resources. In the mean time, many cities, like New Orleans, are organizing preparedness plans as the rainy season approaches. There are also concerns regarding the growing threat of Zika as new maps reveal 2.2 billion people reside in “at risk” areas. The Senate may also be closer to an agreement regarding emergency funding for Zika virus response. 

Americans Want More Biosecurity Preparedness Investment
A survey performed by the Alliance for Biosecurity, the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense and Trust for America’s Health, looked at the general public’s perception of preparedness and where they think we should be. Findings noted that eight out of ten Americans are concerned about naturally-occurring diseases like Ebola and Zika, and nine out of ten are concerned about the use of chemical or biological weapons by terrorists against the U.S. The survey found that only half of Americans have confidence that the U.S. government is prepared to address the next biosecurity threat. The survey also found that 88% of Americans support increasing the budget for preventative measures for biological threats.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Health Security Special Issue on Climate Change – Check out the special edition of Health Security that includes articles on adapting to health impacts of climate change and the potential for Zika and microcephaly epidemics in post-Ebola West Africa. 
  • Science Perfects the Art of Hand-Sanitizing Techniques – infection prevention researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University recently released a report on the most effective way to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Reviewing bacterial count, they published in hopes of reducing the spread of disease in healthcare through better hand hygiene.
  • MERS Contamination – MERS-CoV has caused considerable concern regarding transmission in healthcare settings since the large 2015 outbreak in South Korea. Researchers have found that MERS-CoV contamination occurred in the air and surrounding environment within the MERS outbreak units. MERS-CoV was found in 4/7 air samples from two patient rooms, one patient’s restroom, and one common corridor. “In addition, MERS-CoV was detected in 15 of 68 surface swabs by viral cultures. IFA on the cultures of the air and swab samples revealed the presence of MERS-CoV. EM images also revealed intact particles of MERS-CoV in viral cultures of the air and swab samples.”
  • California Salmonella Outbreak– California continues to investigate a five-month long Salmonella outbreak. Public health officials are considering a Mexican-style soft cheese and are currently testing samples from a woman’s home. These specific samples are being considered as the woman imported cheese from Mexico (via family members) and was selling it online.

Pandora Report 12.4.2015

This week, Washington, DC hosted the Summit on Human Gene Editing, where the ethical and legal implications of gene editing technologies, like CRISPR-Cas9, were heavily discussed. In this week’s report, Greg Mercer works his magic, revealing the internet and social media trends following the shootdown of a Russian SU-24 on November 24th. We’re also reporting updates in the Zika virus and dengue fever outbreaks as well as the Harvard-LSHTM Panel Report on Global Response to Ebola. France is currently experiencing an increase of highly pathogenic avian influenza cases while a Black Angus beef cow in Alberta was discovered to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Fun history fact Friday – on December 3, 1967, the first human heart transplant was performed in Cape Town, South Africa and on December 4, 1945, the Senate approved US participation in the UN. Before we start our weekly roundup, make sure to mark your calendars to attend GMU’s seminar on Ebola surveillance and laboratory response this Monday, December 7th from 4:30-6pm at our Fairfax campus (details below!).

Zika Virus Outbreak – Updates
The growing outbreak of Zika virus has now seen locally acquired cases reach ten countries, causing the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to issue an alert, “urging countries in the region to be on the lookout for the disease and to watch for unusual patterns in newborn.” Brazil has been hit hard with a rise from 739 on November 27th, to 1,248 cases reported on November 30th. Six of the ten countries saw cases occur in November, hinting that the outbreak could just be starting. The growing concerns regarding the outbreak are also related to the newest evidence linking microcephaly and maternal cases. Zika virus genome was found in the amniotic fluid of two pregnant women and fetal diagnosis of microcephaly was performed via ultrasound. Even more so, French Polynesian health officials reported an unusual spike in nervous system malformations in babies that were born during a Zika virus outbreak in the region from 2014 to 2015. The concern regarding neurological conditions raises red flags as Brazilian health officials are reporting neurological complications, like that of Guillain-Barre syndrome, in Zika virus patients. The WHO reported 739 Brazilian microcephaly cases in newborns and while there is only ecological evidence linking the virus and microcephaly, investigations are ongoing. The outbreak first started in February 2014, on Easter Island (Chile) and has seen been identified in Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico, Paraguay, Panama (confirmed cases as of December 4, 2015), Suriname, and Venezuela. Spread by Aedes mosquitoes, this vector-borne organism has similar symptoms to dengue fever and illness tends to last between four and seven days.

Event: Ebola Surveillance & Laboratory Response – Lessons for Global Health SecurityScreen Shot 2015-12-03 at 9.34.57 AM
Time/Location: Monday, December 7, 2015 from 4:30pm-6pm in Robinson A-203 at George Mason University.
As the recently released Harvard-London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Independent panel on the Global Response to Ebola indicates, the West African Ebola epidemic highlighted
many gaps in national and international health and response systems that are critical for protecting global health security.  Join leaders and experts who helped to lead the U.S. response for Ebola to discuss the international response to the epidemic, the importance of robust biosurveillance systems, and how the experience with Ebola influences our approach to Global Health Security. Speakers:

  • Dr. Matthew Lim, Senior Policy Advisor for Global Health Security, HHS, fmr Civil-Military Liaison Officer to WHO
  • May Chu, Ph.D. fmr Assistant Director for Public Health, Office of Science Technology and Policy, White House; Senior Science Advisor, CDC
  • Jeanette Coffin, Manager U.S. mobile laboratory deployment, MRIGlobal

It’s Definitely Maybe World War 3
GMU’s Greg Mercer breaks down the November 24th Turkish shootdown of a Russian SU-24. Greg reviews the media attention following the event and the “immediate buzz about declarations of war, what exactly NATO owes Turkey vis-à-vis Russia, and the possibility of military confrontation between Russia and the West.” Through his use of google trends and Twitter, Greg shows just how much hype and concern the notion of WWIII got during this time. Take a look at his recap and debunking of the WWIII buzz and how quickly it caught like wild fire.

Reporting from the Panel on the Final Report of the Harvard-LSHTM Independent Review of the Global Response to Ebola
If you missed the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) Global Health Policy Center’s Launch of the final report of the Harvard-LSHTM Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola, don’t worry! I was fortunate to attend and a great deal of the report (we reported on last week) heavily emphasized “on the ground” capacity. Dr. Peter Piot, Director and Handa Professor of Global Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), joined via video link and started by saying that this would not be a WHO-bashing event. As one of the original researchers on Ebola during its 1976 discovery, he mentioned that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a great example of local capacity in their success of ridding themselves of the disease within a few months of the outbreak starting. Dr. Piot heavily emphasized the work of several countries and how the WHO brought together multiple ethicists to review research during such a terrible outbreak. Lastly, Dr. Piot noted that “we risk focussing too much on global and not enough on local” in our future efforts. Dr. Suerie Moon, Research Director and Co-Chair of the Forum on Global Governance for Health at Harvard Global Health Institute, then spoke on the “weak coordination of global response” and how it severely aided the spread of Ebola. Dr. Moon highlighted the need for a global strategy to ensure adequate funding (external financing for the poorer countries and transparent tracking of financing) and the necessity for external assessment of country capacity. She pointed to the need for political and economic incentives and disincentives to not only report cases but also discourage the hiding of outbreaks. Reviewing each recommendation, the panel noted that “human health is a vital part of human security”. In one of her closing comments, Dr. Moon stated that “there are many unanswered questions regarding ebola response and we need to address a number of aspects that went wrong” and “a major theme is accountability at all levels, across all types of players.” Dr. Moon pointed out that the necessity of so many reforms shows just how much work is needed and that now is the time to see political support occur. Muhammad Pate, former Nigerian Minister of State for Health, expressed that “one of the lessons, at the national level, in terms of surveillance and accountability to respond, was missing and something that national leaders need to own up to is building their own public health systems.” Dr. Sophie Delaunay, Doctors Without Borders/MSF, then discussed the role of medical innovations and how the outbreak provided us with a unique opportunity to collect data. Dr. Delaunay said it will “be a complete nightmare to connect all the dots” in this outbreak and there is a desperate need for better R&D regarding disease outbreaks and response. “We ask for governments and policy makers to support collaboration on R&D to demonstrate their willingness to be more effective in the next outbreak” noted Dr. Delaunay. She heavily pushed for global financing efforts to facilitate investment in R&D and response. After the initial panel, there was a secondary group that shared their thoughts on the report, including Dr. Tom Frieden (CDC Director), Julie Gerberding (Exec. VP for Strategic Communications, Global Public Policy and Population Health, Merck) and Ron Klain (Former US Ebola Response Coordinator, White House and General Counsel, Revolution LLC). Ron Klain pointed to the failure of the WHO and “if institutions failed us, individuals shined. We did see extraordinary compassion from the rest of the world and tremendous outpouring of support. ” Mr. Klain mentioned that “the scariest thing about Ebola is the warning signs of how badly we failed this when the threat could’ve been worse and the epidemic we face could be much much more dangerous in the future.” Dr. Frieden emphasized the need of human resources management improvement at the WHO and how global outbreak response could work to support each other better. Lastly, Dr. Frieden emphasized a topic near and dear to my heart; infection control and it’s necessity in global disease prevention. Overall, the panel touched on several key points to the outbreak, emphasizing the need for the biggest players (including MSF) to lead by example via data sharing, etc. The push for political support on incentives and local capacity/accountability was perhaps one of the biggest recommendations and points emphasized from this event.

Gene Editing and CRISPR!
This was a busy week in the biotech world. The International Gene Editing Summit kicked off in Washington, DC. Bringing together experts from around the world, the summit touched on the newest technical innovations, ethical and legal concerns, and even social implications of genome editing advances. Genome Web has provided a great overview of the summit. Nature also published their Four Big Questions related to genome editing, touching on points related to editing the human germline and the ethical implications for technology that “researchers are still grappling with the known unknowns”. Recently, biologist, Emmanuelle Charpentier, discussed CRISPR-Cas9 and that it’s simply too early to begin gene editing as “the tools are not ready” and “as of today, I’m in favor of not having the manipulation of the human germlines. As long as they’re not perfect and ready, I think it’s good to have this ban against editing the germline.” Buzzfeed noted that over the course of the conference, there was a substantial push for a delay in the use of genetic engineering in fertility clinics due to the risk of making “designer babies”. Given the heavily debated nature of this topic it’s not surprising that the US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the UK’s Royal Society, and the Chinese Academy of Science, all agreed that it “would be irresponsible to proceed with any clinical use of germline editing.” While the future is left open to gene editing on humans, there was heavy accentuation throughout the conference on the ethics and societal views of these scientific breakthroughs and the necessity to revisit their applications on a regular basis.

Dengue Fever Outbreak in Hawaii 
The Dengue fever outbreak on Hawaii Island is still growing. Now at 122 confirmed cases, this is one of the biggest outbreaks they’ve seen with local transmission. As of 12/2, the confirmed cases involved 106 Hawaii Island residents and 16 visitors. The Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH) has published information, hoping to aid prevention efforts, regarding the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitos that are responsible for spreading the disease. There have been 313 reported potential cases and you can even find a map of the case distribution here!

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • 2015/2016 Flu Season- Where Are We?– The CDC 2015/2016 influenza activity showed a bit of a spike during the November 15-21 week. Influenza A (H3) is still the predominant species in laboratory confirmed cases. If you’re looking to keep an eye on seasonal flu, Google Flu Trends may no longer be operational, but you can still keep an eye on Flu Near You or the CDC’s page.
  • MERS-CoV Severity and Incubation Period– The CDC & Emerging Infectious Diseases published a report regarding the association of severe MERS-CoV illness and a shorter incubation period. Analyses of 170 patents in South Korea revealed a longer incubation period associated with a decreased risk for death while “patients who died had a shorter incubation period.” This mirrors the results of a previous study that had similar results with SARS coronavirus.
  • Salmonella Outbreak Associated With Recalled Nut Butters – The CDC is currently investigating 11 illnesses across nine states that may be linked to recalled nut butters. The Salmonella serotype is Paratyphoid B variant L (+) tatrate (+) (previously called Salmonella Java) and has caused illness in California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina, and New Jersey.
  • Taiwan CDC Holds Bioterrorism Drill – Involving 70 participants, the course utilized a subway union station to allow people to simulate first responders and real-life operations. “CDC bioterrorism teams are tasked with the investigation and identification of biological threats and attacks. Members take on containment and mitigation of damage for any individuals that are harmed during and as a result of an attack.” Go Taiwan!

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Pandora Report 10.30.2015

The witching hour is upon us! Halloween is tomorrow and with that we must ask, how good are your zombie fighting skills? Good news if you’re in Arlington, VA, as it’s considered one of the top ten cities to survive the zombie apocalypse – good thing GMU has a campus there (we biodefense folks are the ultimate planners!). This week was busy with the release of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense’s National Report. I was able to attend the panel event, so read on for my comments and your weekly dose of biodefense news!

DSC_3586GMU Biodefense Program News & Alumni 
We’ve added a new page to salute our biodefense alumni and all that they do with their GMU education. GMU Biodefense students have a diverse background in their education, experiences, and interests, and we absolutely love getting to brag about all the amazing things they accomplish after their studies. Whether it’s a new publication or an award, we hope to pass along their accolades, so please check out our new page to see how GMU Biodefense alumni are contributing to the world of global health security!

12111966_10104338304988922_3051154411712634566_n-1Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense Releases Report– I had the pleasure of attending the Blue Ribbon panel on Wednesday, in which they reviewed their report, “A National Blueprint for Biodefense: Leadership and Major Reform Needed to Optimize Efforts”. The panel event saw Senator Joe Lieberman, former Governor Tom Ridge, and former Homeland Security Advisor, Kenneth L. Wainstein, discuss the challenges of biodefense, the report, and answer several questions regarding their findings. The report is comprised of 33 recommendations that range from unification of biodefense budgeting to optimizing the National Biosurveillance Integration System and to improving surveillance and planning for animal and zoonotic outbreaks. Along with these 33 recommendations, there are 100 action items. Perhaps one of the biggest take-aways from the report is the recommendation that the Office of the Vice President of the US assume authority over biodefense efforts. There is heavy emphasis on a unified budget and centralization to combat the redundancy and current siloing we see in existing programs.  Senator Lieberman discussed the role of the research and private sector’s involvement, with former Gov. Ridge noting that “we need to start thinking differently about how we incentivize the private sector.” The panel discussed that despite our past efforts, the Ebola outbreak in 2014 showed that the “threat is real, lets not wait for it to occur” and as former Gov. Ridge noted, “we don’t give bioweapon threats the attention they need. The threat is ahead of us.” Senator Lieberman commented on the Ebola situation,  noting that our response was dismal and despite 10 months of warning, basic human errors led to a failure in providing hospitals with general guidelines. Whether it is an intentional bioweapons attack, outbreak of an emerging infectious disease, or unintentional, accidental release due to lab safety errors, the panel’s goal of having centralized leadership reveals the complex nature of these challenges. Also, did I mention that they included infection control in their guidelines (#18)?! Overall, I found the event highly engaging and was pleased to hear the panel members approach these topics with not only a sense of urgency, but a holistic manner to meet the challenges of biodefense.

Jump Start – Accelerating Government Response to A National Biological Crisis
UPMC Center for Health Security has released their July 2015 report that “examines a scenario in which the US is suddenly faced with a newly emerged intentional biological threat that could produce catastrophic public health consequences and threaten our economy, government, and social structure.” The report reviews governance, public health response, medical countermeasures, healthcare system response, decontamination and remediation, and environmental detection, while making recommendations. Utilizing published literature and subject matter expert interviews, the Jump Start report scenario occurs in central Moscow subway stations and Red Square. It discusses responses in a post-Amerithrax world and highlights the need to stop the spread of infectious diseases while emphasizing that in a similar scenario, the US government should push out table-top exercises at a national level to test readiness to biothreats. The role of healthcare infrastructure and capacity comes into play, highlighting the limitations that diagnostic testing plays – even if the solutions aren’t available. I’d be curious to see a more detailed analysis of how we approach novel agents and the time-lag this can often cause in diagnosis. Also – what would be the ethical dilemmas regarding invasive medical treatments for a novel agent? Medical ethics became a very real issue during Ebola preparedness (perhaps not as well discussed in media circuits) as the invasive care capabilities of healthcare professionals in the US correlates with increasing risk for disease transmission.

White House Calls for Better Biosafety –  As fallout from several lab safety breaches, the White House issued recommendations that focus on labs that are registered to work with pathogens from the Select Agents list. Ranging from increased training to assessing the number of high containment labs we have in the US, this memo, with a deadline for the recommendations, sets the tone for change when it comes to biosafety.

Saudi Arabi MERS Cluster – reports from Saudi Arabi’s Ministry of Health have confirmed a healthcare-associated cluster of MERS-CoV cases that involved seven individuals. The initial patient was seen in the emergency department of Almana General Hospital, with five other patients exposed in the hospital, and an additional case that is believed to not have had a healthcare exposure. All patients are under observation in the King Fahad Hospital. One of the patients is reported to be a nurse. In previous weeks, there was a cluster of cases related to janitors living together in Riyadh.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) has approved a $33.3 million grant towards a Post Ebola Recovery Social Investment Fund (PERSIF) for efforts in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The US State Department is contributing a $5 million grant towards this to help support livelihood development for women, girls, and orphans from the affected countries. The goal is to build resilience in the affected countries and strengthen the economic systems while improving governance and communication.
  • Nigeria was just removed from the WHO’s list of polio-endemic countries! After halting the spread of wild poliovirus transmission during a 15 month period, Nigeria was declared free of the disease! The WHO is continuing to work on the remaining two polio-endemic countries; Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Three more cases of Ebola in Guinea were reported this week. The three patients are all family members, with one being a pregnant woman. Guinea experienced several cases last week while Liberia has been EVD-free since September 3rd and Sierra Leone just passed their six week mark without a new case.
  • The WHO announces that TB surpassed HIV as the leading cause of death from infectious disease in 2014. Better surveillance enabled global public health teams to identify new cases. In Indonesia alone, there were one million new cases reported this year. The WHO notes that while surveillance efforts are revealing new cases, progress is still insufficient, especially in regards to drug resistance.

 

Pandora Report 8.23.15

We’re starting this update with some big blog news, are you sitting down? This will actually be the last weekend update…at least for a while. We’re in discussion with how to proceed with the blog and social media for GMU Biodefense. Please check back at pandorareport.org and on twitter @PandoraReport for updates as they happen.

Looking back, there have been times since I’ve started as managing editor that the news has been sad, or, frankly, downright depressing. So, for this edition, lets focus on some of the good in the world. The first story comes from (probably the nicest human on the face of the Earth) Jimmy Carter. We’ve also got good news about Polio. Then, of course, we’ve got stories you may have missed.

Thank you for reading… and don’t forget to wash your hands!

Jimmy Carter Wants to See the Last Guinea Worm Die Before He Does

This week, former President Jimmy Carter announced that his cancer had spread to his brain. Though many members of his immediate family died from cancer, Carter said “I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes.” Rather than fear or sadness over his diagnosis, Carter instead focused on meeting one of the long-term goals of his nonprofit organization—the Carter Center—the eradication of Guinea worm. In 1986 when the Carter Center began its work there were 3.5 million cases of across 21 countries. In 2014 there were 126 cases; today, there are 11.

The Huffington Post—“When Guinea worm has been eradicated, it will be only the second time in human history that a disease has been totally wiped out. The first, smallpox, was eradicated in 1977, according to the World Health Organization. Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that Guinea worm will meet the same fate — a final piece in Carter’s legacy.”

WHO Declares Africa Free of ‘Wild’ Cases of Polio

According to the World Health Organization, Africa has been free of wild cases of Polio since July. This doesn’t mean that there are no cases on the continent; there is still ongoing work in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia, but transmission of the illness has been interrupted. The director of the Polio Global Eradication Initiative has said that even though Africa is now free of wild cases, there are still challenges when it comes to eradication, for example, surveillance of the disease.

io9—“The goal of the Initiative has been to interrupt the natural transmission (wild cases) of the virus, which seems to be the case so far. The next step, according to WHO, will be to continue to monitor the region for additional cases. If none appear in the next two years, the continent will be certified Polio-Free.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Commonwealth Club

Pandora Report 6.14.15

I’ve got brunch reservations this morning so the big story about the coming egg shortage is hitting close to home. We’ve also got a story about ISIS’ WMD and a bunch of stories you may have missed.

As a final reminder, the Early Registration Deadline for the Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security is tomorrow, Monday, June 15. For more information and registration, please click here.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Egg Shortage Scrambles U.S. Food Industries

The unprecedented outbreak of avian influenza in the U.S. has meant massive losses in the domestic poultry industry which has left experts warning that U.S. consumers are very likely to see an increase in egg prices. Cases of avian flu have been reported in 15 states, with Iowa and Minnesota being some of the hardest hit. “In Minnesota, the number of lost turkeys represent about 11 percent of our total turkey production…of the chickens we’ve lost that are laying eggs, 32 percent… have been affected by this” In Iowa, about 40 percent of the state’s egg-laying chickens and 11 percent of its turkeys have been affected. All these losses will mean a shortage of whole eggs and other egg-based products.

U.S. News and World Report—“Consumers haven’t felt the pinch too much just yet, but they are unlikely to emerge with their pocketbooks unscathed, [Rick] Brown [Senior VP at Urner Barry, a food commodity research and analysis firm]. He says two-thirds of all eggs produced in the U.S. remain in a shell, many of which are placed in cartons and sold in grocery stores. This stock of eggs has been hit significantly less by the avian flu outbreak than those used in the egg products industry, which Brown says encompasses “everything from mayonnaise to salad dressings to cake mixes to pasta to bread.”

Australian Official Warns of Islamic State Weapons of Mass Destruction

You may have already seen this, since this story was everywhere this week. Julie Bishop, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said the Islamic State (ISIS) already has and is already using chemical weapons. Bishop made these comments in an address to the Australia Group—a coalition of 40 countries seeking to limit the spread of biological and chemical weapons. In a follow-up interview, Bishop also said that NATO was concerned about the theft of radioactive material and what that could mean for nuclear weapons proliferation.

The Washington Post—“‘The use of chlorine by Da’ish, and its recruitment of highly technically trained professionals, including from the West, have revealed far more seriou­s efforts in chemical weapons development,” Bishop said, using an alternate name for the Islamic State in a speech reported by the Australian. She did not specify the source of her information.  “… Da’ish is likely to have amongst its tens of thousands of recruits the technical expertise necessary to further refine precursor materials and build chemical weapons.’”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Hannahdownes

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 6.7.14

We’re taking the bad news with the good news this week. Highlights include miscalculations in the MERS toll, rising numbers of Ebola deaths, innovations in vaccine delivery using rice, and progress with MRSA. Enjoy your weekend!

Saudi Arabia Reports Big Jump in MERS cases, Including 282 Deaths

On Tuesday, the Saudi Ministry of Health reported that 282 people have died from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) which is a major increase from the previously known official death toll of 190. The same day as the announcement, Deputy Health Minister Dr. Ziad Memish was “relieved” from his post according to the Saudi Health Minister. No reason was given.

CNN—“MERS is thought to have originated on the Arabian Peninsula in 2012. No one knows exactly where it came from, but evidence implicating camels is emerging. In a recently published study in mBio, researchers said they isolated live MERS virus from two single-humped camels, known as dromedaries. They found multiple substrains in the camel viruses, including one that perfectly matches a substrain isolated from a human patient.”

Resurgence of Ebola Epidemic in West Africa

Though overall the number of new cases of Ebola appears to be declining, new cases have been recently reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins San Frontieres have been supporting health authorities in both countries, treating patients, and working to put measures in place to control the epidemic. They have sent over 44 tons of equipment and supplies to assist the outbreak which has infected over 300 people and killed at least 125.

Doctors Without Borders—“The rise in cases may be due to a reluctance on the part of patients to go to hospital. The movement of infected people and cadavers is also a major issue. Families frequently transport dead bodies themselves in order to organize funerals in other towns. The multiplication of affected areas makes it difficult to treat patients and control the epidemic.”

Fighting Deadly Disease, With Grains of Rice

In an effort to fight common diarrheal illnesses including cholera and rotavirus, researchers at the University of Tokyo are working on bioenginerring rice in order to turn it into an easy and low-cost storage and delivery medium to combat these common illnesses.  According to the World Health Organization, cholera alone kills as many as 120,000 annually.  Both the cholera vaccine and rotavirus antibody versions of the rice have been tested on laboratory mice with plans to test on humans within the next few years in a country like Bangladesh where cholera is a major public health threat. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as several pharmaceutical companies have shown interest in developing drugs based on the research.

The New York Times—“Vaccines  or antibodies for both exist but require refrigerated storage, Yoshikazu Yuki, an assistant professor of mucosal immunology, said in an interview. Bioengineering vaccines or antibodies into rice would allow them to be stockpiled easily, without the cost of cold storage, for up to three years at room temperature, he said. The rice could be ingested orally, ground into a paste and drunk, delivering the antibodies to the intestine.”

A New Weapon in the Battle Against MRSA

Among serious concern for the growing levels of antibiotic resistant superbugs, it appears there is some promising news. Durata Therapeutics have developed a new drug, Dalvance, which in clinical trials has proven as effective as vancomycin—another powerful antibiotic—against acute skin and soft tissue infections including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA.) According to Durata, more than 4.8 million people were admitted to hospitals with skin and soft tissue infections between 2005 and 2011 and nearly 60% of these staph infections were the methicillin-resistant variety.

The Washington Post—“The drug, Dalvance, is the first approved by the FDA under the government’s Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now program, its effort to encourage pharmaceutical companies to produce new drugs to combat the growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Even asthe problem has grown around the world, the number of new drugs in the pipeline has dwindled, with drug companies focused on more profitable medications.”

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons