Pandora Report 7.11.15

Sorry for the late update here at Pandora Report. We’ve got how the plague turned so deadly, an Ebola update, and of course other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week!

These Two Mutations Turned Not-so-Deadly Bacteria Into the Plague

Researchers at Northwestern University have been investigating how Yersinia pestis—the bacteria that causes bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic plague—became the infective cause of the Black Death. They discovered two mutations that help to explain the bacteria’s lethality.

Smithsonian.com—“The first mutation gave the bacteria the ability to make a protein called Pla. Without Pla, Y. pestis couldn’t infect the lungs. The second mutation allowed the bacteria to enter deeper into the bodies, say through a bite, to infect blood and the lymphatic system. In other words, first the plague grew deadly, then it found a way to leap more easily from infected fleas or rodents to humans.

Ebola Strain Found on Teen in Liberia Genetically Similar to Viruses in Same Area Months Ago

I’m sure you’ve heard that there were three new cases of Ebola in Liberia—a country that was declared free of the disease on May 9. According to the World Health Organization, samples taken from a teenager who died from Ebola two weeks prior indicate that the disease is genetically similar to strains that infected people in the same area over six months ago—while the outbreak was still ongoing.

US News and World Report—“That finding by genetic sequencing suggests it is unlikely the virus was caught from travel to infected areas of Guinea or Sierra Leone, the group said. “It also makes it unlikely that this has been caused by a new emergence from a natural reservoir, such as a bat or other animal,” it said.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: en.wikipedia

Pandora Report 6.21.15

Changing things up this week, our lead story is a nuclear photo essay. We’ve also got Russian nuclear posturing and a bunch of other stories you may have missed.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Next Exit, Armageddon: Photos of America’s Nuclear Weapons Legacy

I love a good photo essay, especially those focused on abandoned places—so this is the perfect* combination of that and nuclear history. Many times on the blog I’ve made somewhat flippant comments about visiting nuclear sites on summer vacation. However, evidently there is great public interest in this. As such, the National Park Service and the Department of Energy will establish the Manhattan Project National Historical Park that will include sites as Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Hanford.

VICE News—“Elsewhere in the US, the ruins of the Manhattan Project and the arms race that followed remain overlooked. In North Dakota, a pyramid-like anti-missile radar that was built to detect an incoming nuclear attack from the Soviet Union pokes through the prairie grass behind an open fence. In Arizona, a satellite calibration target that was used during the Cold War to help American satellites focus their lenses before spying on the Soviet Union sits covered in weeds near a Motel 6 parking lot. And in a suburban Chicago park, where visitors jog and bird watch, nuclear waste from the world’s first reactor — developed by Italian physicist Enrico Fermi for the Manhattan Project in 1942 — sits buried beneath a sign that reads ‘Caution — Do Not Dig.’”

*Check out the photos. They’re truly extraordinary.

Putin: Russia to Boost Nuclear Arsenal with 40 Missiles

Everything old is new again, it seems. This week Vladimir Putin announced that Russia will put more than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles into service in 2015. It is said that the new missiles are part of a military modernization program. However, the announcement comes on the heels of a US proposal to increase its own military presence in NATO states in Eastern Europe.

BBC—“Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the statement from Mr. Putin was “confirming the pattern and behaviour of Russia over a period of time; we have seen Russia is investing more in defence in general and in its nuclear capability in particular”.

He said: “This nuclear sabre-rattling of Russia is unjustified, it’s destabilising and it’s dangerous.” He added that “what Nato now does in the eastern part of the alliance is something that is proportionate, that is defensive and that is fully in line with our international commitments.’”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: Federal Government of the United States

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 12.13.14

It’s the end of the semester, and I don’t know about all you out there, but I plan to watch a lot of TV during the next five weeks. But, as we know, the news never stops, so this week we’ve got Time’s Person of the Year, ISIS and their potential dirty bomb, the crisis of growing antibiotic resistance and of course, an Ebola update.

Have a great week!

‘Time’ names ‘Ebola Fighters’ as Person of the Year

Normally a story like this would go in the Ebola roundup, but this story is big. Big big.

Every year, Time selects a “man, woman, couple or concept that the magazine’s editors feel had the most influence on the world during the previous 12 months.” With runners up like the Ferguson, MO protestors and Vladimir Putin, this issue features people on the front lines of the outbreak in West Africa including CDC Director Tom Frieden, ambulance supervisor Foday Gallah, the first American doctor to be evacuated for treatment in the U.S. Kent Brantly, and nurse Kaci Hickox.

USA Today—“‘Ebola is a war, and a warning,” Time editor Nancy Gibbs writes in announcing the magazine’s choice for most influential newsmaker of 2014. “The global health system is nowhere close to strong enough to keep us safe from infectious disease, and ‘us’ means everyone, not just those in faraway places where this is one threat among many that claim lives every day. The rest of the world can sleep at night because a group of men and women are willing to stand and fight.’”

ISIS Has the Materials to Build a Dirty Bomb, but It’s Nothing to Worry About

This week, experts said that IS have acquired the materials necessary to make a dirty bomb, but that the weapon is more effective as a means of causing fear than causing damage. According to a twitter account belonging to a British jihadist, the materials were acquired from Mosul University, after IS seized control of the city. However, Dina Esfandiary and Matthew Cottee, research associates at the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies point out that even if IS has the materials, they likely lack the knowhow to make the bomb.

Newsweek—“‘The materials they have are not radioactive enough to cause a great deal of damage or function as a working device,” says Esfandiary. “Where the weapon is effective is to cause fear.’”

New Antibiotic Resistance Report is the Stuff of Nightmares

A report published by researchers from RAND Europe and KPMG projects that growing antibiotic resistance could lead to 10 million people dying each year by 2050. The report covers not only the mortality statistics but the projected economic effects of growing drug resistance—$100 trillion USD worldwide and a reduction of 2%-3.5% GDP.

Forbes—“Currently, deaths due to antibiotic resistance are estimated at 700,000/yr, less than car accident fatalities (1.2 million), diabetes (1.5 million), [and] cancer (8.2 million). [This] “translates to 1,917 people killed every day, or 80 every hour. Ten million extra deaths per year would mean 23,397 deaths per day, or 1,141 deaths per hour.’”

This Week in Ebola

Despite nearly 7,000 deaths in this Ebola outbreak, stories are, annoyingly, becoming harder to find. As this happens, there is worry that as the disease becomes more invisible that complacency will set in. Even in Liberia, where there are still approximately a dozen new cases per day, officials worry that Liberians aren’t worried enough and Dr. Frieden urges the nation to remain alert. A new outbreak in Sierra Leone’s Kono District has resulted in a two week Ebola ‘lockdown’ and as exponential growth has slowed, it becomes even more important to have accurate data to ensure tracking of the disease.

Stateside, Ebola Czar Ron Klain will return to his private sector job on March 1. Meanwhile, a clinical trial of a potential Ebola vaccine was halted after patients complained of joint pains in their hands and feet, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has offered liability protection to drug makers who are developing Ebola vaccines. Lastly, an ER doctor at Texan Health Presbyterian Hospital admitted to missing key symptoms when first treating Thomas Eric Duncan and not considering Duncan’s travel history.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Time.com

Pandora Report 10.11.14

With so many stories being dedicated to Ebola, I was absolutely delighted to see coverage of influenza this week. We’ve also got stories about the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bugs in nursing homes, George Washington as the first father of vaccination, and of course, an Ebola update.

There will be no news round up next week, so I will see you all back here on October 25. Enjoy your weeks and don’t forget your flu shot!

Ebola’s Bad, but Flu’s Worse

With the coverage of the Ebola outbreak in media (and even on this blog) it may have inadvertently caused unreasonable panic in the American populace. The fact of the matter is one person in the U.S. has died from Ebola. Every year, according to the CDC, more than “226,000 Americans are hospitalized with flu and approximately 36,000 die from flu-related complications.” News outlets this week quietly reported on flu vs. Ebola and offered points of clarification about both diseases as well as tips for staying well. These include getting your flu vaccination, washing hands frequently especially after using the restroom and before eating or preparing food, and avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth to limit spread of germs.

Times Union—“‘The reality is there are vaccinations and treatment options available for the flu that are not available for Ebola. The reason for concern is there is no magic bullet to stop Ebola,’ said [Dr.Edward] Waltz [director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at the University at Albany]. ‘I think the most important message to get is, take action on the things that you can control. We have so many things that affect our health that we can’t control, get yourself a vaccination if it is available.’”

Medical Superbugs: Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria Carried by More than a Third of Nursing Home Residents

A study out of Melbourne, Australia, reported that more than 1/3 of nursing home residents tested were carriers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And this problem isn’t just plaguing other countries. In fact, a report from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found rising rates of pneumonia, urinary tract infections, viral hepatitis and MRSA. The Australian study also found that more than half of the tested residents had received antibiotics within three months of being tested. Overuse of antibiotics can lead to higher rates of superbugs or other infections like C. difficile, which can be lethal in seniors. (On a personal note, my grandmother recently died from complications after a C. diff infection.)

ABC—“‘(Our concern is) that nursing homes are acting as a kind of reservoir, if you like, of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. We know these residents have fairly frequent movement in and out of acute care institutions, and this obviously poses risks to acute care hospitals for transmission. It could be transmitted to other patients in an acute care hospital, if the resident actually has an infection they might be infected with a more resistant bacteria – they’re the two main concerns.’”

George Washington, the First Vaxxer

This week, the Daily Beast provided an excerpt from historian Tom Shachtman’s new book, Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries: The Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment. At a time where people are choosing to forgo vaccinations and alarm over Ebola grows worldwide, it is amazing to see George Washington—Virginian, 1st President, Founding Father, serious boss, and old fashioned speller—decide that army immunization would not only save the lives of soldiers, but indirectly safeguard a young American nation. Shachtman recounts a February 1777 letter from Washington to John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress.

The Daily Beast—“‘The small pox has made such Head in every Quarter that I find it impossible to keep it from spreading thro’ the whole Army in the natural way. I have therefore determined, not only to innoculate all the Troops now here, that have not had it, but shall order Docr Shippen to innoculate the Recruits as fast as they come in to Philadelphia. They will lose no time, because they will go thro’ the disorder while their cloathing Arms and accoutrements are getting ready.’”

This Week in Ebola

The first (and only) patient with a domestically diagnosed case of Ebola died this week in Dallas, TX amid calls, and responses, about tightening airport screening and travel restrictions. Six major American international airports have enhanced screening for travellers arriving from West Africa while airline workers at LaGuardia have protested over what they say are inadequate protections from potential Ebola exposure. In other air travel related news, a passenger was removed from a US Airways flight after joking about being infected with Ebola and a sick passenger traveling from West Africa to Newark airport does not have Ebola. A nurse in Spain did get infected with the virus this week, as other European nations fear further spread inside their countries. American Ebola survivor Dr. Rick Sacra was hospitalized and treated this week for pneumonia and another American Ebola survivor, Dr. Kent Brantly donated his blood in order to help treat an infected NBC cameraman.

Evidently one fifth of Americans, according to a Gallup poll, are concerned about getting Ebola which is causing the ‘apocalypse business’ to boom. Meanwhile, West Africans living in the U.S. are taking action to spread information within their communities about the virus and there was a wonderful piece on how Nigeria beat Ebola. Finally, CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden spoke this week on how this Ebola outbreak is like the AIDS epidemic and why he doesn’t support a travel ban to combat the outbreak. All of this comes at a point in time where the number of deaths from the outbreak has reached over 4000.

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: Immunize.ca

Pandora Report 4.18.14

I think I was coming down with something yesterday. It manifested as a pretty debilitating headache, so I am pretty sure it wasn’t Ebola, but I also had no desire to drink water, so it might have been rabies. Either way, I’m feeling much better today, and am excited to bring you a Saturday issue of Pandora Report. In fact, I’m pretty sure there is nothing that is more fun on the weekend…so let’s get into it!


Highlights include Bird Flu in North Korea, a TB drug that may be the answer to drug resistance, a new strain of Ebola, MERS CoV’s spread to Asia, and Tamiflu’s real utility. Have a great weekend and see you here next Friday!

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak in North Korea

On April 16, the North Korean veterinary authority sent a notice to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) alerting them to two H5N1 outbreaks among poultry in the isolated nation. This is a surprisingly transparent move. The first outbreak occurred at the Hadang chicken factory in Hyongjesan starting on March 21. All 46,217 birds died. A second outbreak occurred on March 27 in the same region at the Sopo chicken factory where an unreported number of birds died in the same cage. The source of the infection remains unknown.

The Poultry Site—“Usual control measures have been put in place to control the spread of infection: quarantine, movement control inside the country, screening and disinfection of infected premises/establishment(s). There is no vaccination and no treatment of affected birds.”

Could a new TB drug be the answer to resistance?

A research study at the University of Illinois shows that a new drug under clinical trials for tuberculosis treatment—SQ109—may be the basis for an entirely new class of drugs that could act against bacterial, fungal, and parasite infection and yet evade resistance. Lead researcher, chemistry professor Eric Oldfield, believes that multiple-target drugs like SQ109 and its analogs hold the key to new antibiotic development in the era of drug resistance and “the rise of so-called ‘superbugs’.” His claim is bolstered by experiments with SQ109 and TB where no instances of resistance have been reported.

Science Codex—“’Drug resistance is a major public health threat,” Oldfield said. “We have to make new antibiotics, and we have to find ways to get around the resistance problem. And one way to do that is with multi-target drugs. Resistance in many cases arises because there’s a specific mutation in the target protein so the drug will no longer bind. Thus, one possible route to attacking the drug resistance problem will be to devise drugs that don’t have just one target, but two or three targets.’”

Outbreak in West Africa is caused by a new strain of Ebola virus

As the death toll from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa climbs above 120, scientists are reporting that the virus is not the same strain that has killed in other African nations.  While the source of the virus is still unknown, blood samples from Guinea victims has confirmed that it is not imported strains of Ebola Zaire—the original strain of the virus discovered in Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire.)

The Huffington Post—“‘It is not coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has not been imported to Guinea” from that country or from Gabon, where Ebola also has occurred, [Dr. Stephan] Gunther [of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany] said.

Researchers think the Guinea and other strains evolved in parallel from a recent ancestor virus. The Guinea outbreak likely began last December or earlier and might have been smoldering for some time unrecognized. The investigation continues to try to identify “the presumed animal source.’”

MERS CoV leaves the Middle East and travels to Asia

Though the method of transmission of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) remains unknown—a report last week from the CDC finds the virus can stay alive in Camel milk—and thankfully, transmission from human to human has been rare, the disease has now spread beyond the Middle East to Asia via an infection emerging in Malaysia. A Malaysian man returning from Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, tested positive for, and died from, MERS on April 13. So far, a reported 33 people who have travelled to the Middle East for the Haj have tested negative for presence of the virus in neighboring Singapore.

Today Online—“There is currently no advisory against travel to countries of the Arabian Peninsula, or to countries reporting imported cases of MERS-CoV (including Malaysia).

Frequent travellers to the Middle East and Umrah/Haj pilgrims have been advised to take precautions, such as being vaccinated against influenza and meningitis. Those aged 65 years and above or with chronic medical conditions should also get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections before travelling. Pilgrims with pre-existing chronic medical conditions like diabetes, chronic heart and lung conditions should consult a doctor before traveling, to assess whether they should make the pilgrimage.”

A closer look at Tamiflu

With seasonal flu season behind us in the U.S., maybe it is time to look at better treatment options. A study published last week in the British Medical Journal, calls into question the effectiveness of Oseltamivir—brand name, Tamiflu. The international team of researchers found that while Tamiflu can shorten flu symptoms it does not reduce hospital admissions or medical complications. The study also demonstrated that Tamiflu can also cause nausea and vomiting and increases the risk of headaches and renal and psychiatric symptoms.

Global Biodefense—“‘The trade-off between benefits and harms should be borne in mind when making decisions to use oseltamivir for treatment, prophylaxis, or stockpiling,” concludes the study authors from The Cochrane Collaboration, an independent global healthcare research network. “There is no credible way these drugs could prevent a pandemic,” Carl Heneghan, one of the lead investigators of the review and a professor at Oxford University, told reporters. “Remember, the idea of a drug is that the benefits should exceed the harms. So if you can’t find any benefits, that accentuates the harms.’”

(Image credit: Robert Sharp/Flickr)