Pandora Report 3.24.2017

Welcome to the start of the weekend and World TB Day! The WHO estimates that just in 2015, 1/3 of people with TB missed out on quality care and 480,000 people developed multidrug-resistant TB.

Public Health Concerns in Trump’s New Budget
President Trump’s newly released proposed budget blueprint makes drastic cuts to many programs, of which, one of the hardest hit is HHS. On top of the cuts to science and public health, there is something buried within the budget that is concerning ex-CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden. Frieden worries about the proposal to award block grants to states, which would allow them to decide how to respond to public health issues (think Ebola, Zika, etc.). “That proposal is ‘a really bad idea,’ according to Dr. Tom Frieden, who until this past January was director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, the CDC experts work with state and local governments to devise evidence-based plans to respond to public health issues, such as foodborne and infectious disease outbreaks. With a block grant, states can use the federal money to replace their own spending in certain areas or spend the money unwisely, ‘and never have to report what they have done or be held accountable for it,’ Frieden said.” A withdrawal of one fifth of NIH’s budget would mean a deep slash to biomedical and science research funding.  These cuts will also impact foreign aid, which has many worried about the role of public health interventions in foreign countries. Bill Gates recently talked to TIME magazine regarding the safety implications of cutting foreign aid. “I understand why some Americans watch their tax dollars going overseas and wonder why we’re not spending them at home. Here’s my answer: These projects keep Americans safe. And by promoting health, security and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.” Gates points to the role of overseas public health work like polio eradication, Ebola outbreak response, and America’s global HIV/AIDS effort (PEPFAR), which points to the stabilizing role that strengthening public health can have in a country.

Summer Workshop on Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and Global Health Security
From Anthrax to Zika, we’ve got the place to be in July for all things biodefense. This three-day workshop will provide you with not only seminars from experts in the field, but also discussions with others interested in biodefense. You can check out the flyer and register for the event here. The best part is that we’re doing an early-bird registration discount of 10% if you sign up before May 1st. A returning participant, GMU student/alumni, or have a group of three or more? You’re eligible for an additional discount! Check out the website to get the scoop on all our expert instructors and the range of topics the workshop will be covering.

Unseen Enemy Documentary 
Mark your calendars for this upcoming infectious documentary on the lurking pandemics that worry experts. Airing on April 7th, Unseen Enemy will follow researchers looking for the early warning signs of diseases that could cause the next pandemic. The National Academy of Medicine will be hosting a special D.C. premiere of the film on April 2nd, that you can even attend.

Expert Views on Biological Threat Characterization for the U.S. Government: A Delphi Study 
Biological threat characterization (BTC) is mixed bag of risk and reward. The laboratory research involving deadly pathogens as a means for biodefense can translate to better risk assessments but also the potential for biosafety failures. To better address this issue, researchers performed a Delphi study to gather opinions from experts around the country. “Delphi participants were asked to give their opinions about the need for BTC research by the U.S. government (USG); risks of conducting this research; rules or guidelines that should be in place to ensure that the work is safe and accurate; components of an effective review and prioritization process; rules for when characterization of a pathogen can be discontinued; and recommendations about who in the USG should be responsible for BTC prioritization decisions.” Following their assessment, the researchers found that experts agree that BTC research is necessary, but there is also a need for continued oversight and review of the research to reduce as much risk as possible. “It also demonstrates the need for further discussion of what would constitute a ‘red line’ for biothreat characterization research—research that should not be performed for safety, ethical, or practical reasons—and guidelines for when there is sufficient research in a given topic area so that the research can be considered completed.”

GMU Schar School PhD Info Session
If you love global health security and have been wanting to further your education, come check out our PhD info session next Wednesday, March 29th at 7pm in Arlington. You can come learn about our biodefense PhD program from the director, Dr. Koblentz, and hear from several students about their experiences. The info session is a great way to find out what a GMU Schar PhD entails, the application process, and what current students think!

What Biosecurity and Cybersecurity Research Have In Common
Kendall Hoyt is looking at the similarities between these two research fields and how work into the unknown can often expose and create vulnerabilities. Did I mention Kendall is one of the instructors at our biodefense Summer Workshop? Hoyt provides two examples to really hone in on this point – to defend against a dangerous pathogen, we have to isolate and grow it to try and develop treatment or a vaccine and to defend against a cyberattack, we need to know how to break into the computer system. That whole dual-use dilemma creates a lot of risk-versus-reward scenarios for biosecurity and cybersecurity researchers. While the research is highly relevant and necessary, government efforts to control or maintain oversight have been challenging. Do we pull back the reigns on innovation or run the risk of a security breach or a big “whoops” moment? “Intellectual property and cybersecurity legislation—namely the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act—has similarly stifled legitimate scientific and commercial activities and delayed defensive applications. In one well-known example, fear of prosecution under DMCA deterred a Princeton graduate student from reporting a problem that he discovered: Unbeknownst to users, Sony BMG music CDs were installing spyware on their laptops.” Hoyt also points out the biosecurity efforts that have begun looking not just at the pathogens and publications, but the laboratory techniques that are used for such research. Certain experiments (like gain of function work) have the capacity to increase transmissibility or host range. “For all of their similarities, key differences between biosecurity and cybersecurity risks and timelines will dictate varied regulatory strategies. For example, zero-day exploits—that is, holes in a system unknown to the software creator—can be patched in a matter of months, whereas new drugs and vaccines can take decades to develop. Digital vulnerabilities have a shorter half-life than biological threats. Measures to promote disclosures and crowd-sourced problem-solving will therefore have a larger immediate impact on cybersecurity. Still, both fields face the same basic problem: There are no true ‘choke points’ in either field. The U.S. government is not the only source of research funds and, thanks in large part to the internet itself, it is increasingly difficult to restrict sensitive information.” In the end, Hoyt notes that both fields and their regulations will need to relax the governance process and be a bit more flexible and mobile with how they control items. Both fields are constantly evolving, which means regulators need to be just as fluid.

How To Prepare For A Pandemic
NPR decided to create a “Pandemic Preparedness Kit” based off the continuous questions related to the ongoing news of increasing infectious disease threats but little info in terms of practical things people can do. While these aren’t things you can go out and buy for your home, the list hits close to home in terms of things we should be focusing our efforts and funding on. Firstly, vaccines. This is a no brainer and yet, we’ve become the habitual users of the theme “create it when we’re struggling to contain an outbreak”. Secondly, virus knowledge. “One of your best weapons during a disease outbreak is knowledge, says Dr. Jonathan Temte of the University of Wisconsin. ‘Keep up with the news and try to understand what threats might be out there,’ he says. For example, new types of influenza are one of the biggest threats right now — in terms of pandemic potential, Temte says. But if you know how to protect yourself from one type of influenza, you can protect yourself from all of them.” Lastly, and my personal favorite, is very clean hands. While every disease is different, one of the most basic and fundamental truths for infection prevention and control is hand hygiene. These three are solid ways to better prepare for future outbreaks, pandemics, emerging infectious diseases, and just about anything infectious that makes you a bit worried.

CARB-X MissionWhen I first read the name of this group, I thought it was some kind of fitness fuel, but I was pleasantly surprised to see this initiative is working to fight antibiotic resistance. CARB-X is a collaboration between NIAID and BARDA to help accelerate the development of antibacterials over the next 25 years. The goal is to help combat antimicrobial resistance through a diverse portfolio and partnership. Make sure not to miss their March 30th meeting from 11am-noon on antibiotic resistance. “CARB-X (Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Accelerator) was launched in August 2016 to accelerate pre-clinical product development in the area of antibiotic-resistant infections, one of the world’s greatest health threats. CARB-X was established by BARDA and NIAID of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services along with Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. This partnership has committed $450 million in new funds over the next five years to increase the number of antibacterial products in the drug-development pipeline.” While CARB-X may not be the latest workout supplement, it’s definitely a boost to performance in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

New Roles and Missions Commission on DHS Is Urgently Needed
GMU biodefense PhD alum, Daniel Gerstein, is looking at DHS and pointing to the need for a Roles and Missions Commission. It’s been almost 15 years since DHS was created under rapid and urgent circumstances, which means that it’s time to look introspectively. “More generally, a roles and missions review could also examine whether the department is properly resourced for all its missions. For example, a joint requirement council was recently established for the department composed of less than 10 government civilians. Is this adequate for supporting requirements development activities for a department of over 240,000 personnel?” Gerstein looks at some of the big issues that require a comprehensive review, like centralization versus decentralization, management of R&D and engineering, and critical infrastructure issues related to national security and safety. Another component needing review is the human factors issue that impacts homeland security. How are the relationships between departments, with state and local authorities, or with the public? “The effort should not necessarily be viewed as a requirement for change, but rather an opportunity to reexamine DHS and its relations with the rest of government, the nation and its citizens, and even with our international partners across the globe. Finally, a homeland security roles and mission commission would be an ideal lead-in to a much needed update to the original 2002 authorizing legislation.”

Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs
Don’t miss this event on Thursday, March 30th, hosted by New America with speakers Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker. “In today’s world, it is easier than ever for people and material to move around the planet, but at the same time it is easier than ever for diseases to move as well. Outbreaks of Ebola, MERS, yellow fever, and Zika have laid bare the world’s unpreparedness to deal with the threat from infectious diseases. In Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs Dr. Michael Osterholm and Mark Olshaker marshal the latest medical science, case studies, and policy research to examine this critical challenge.”

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • The Feds Are Spending Millions to Help You Survive Nuclear War – North Korea’s recent firing of four ballistic missiles from Pyongyang into the ocean off Japan’s coast has brought back worries of nuclear attacks. While the days of stocking a bomb shelter are in the past, the U.S. government isn’t slowing down efforts to protect Americans. “Over the last ten years the US has poured millions of dollars into technologies and treatments it hopes to never have to use, but could, in the event of a nuclear catastrophe. From assays that measure radiation exposure to cell therapies that restore dwindling blood cells to liquid spray skin grafts, government officials are now far better equipped to deal with diagnosing and treating people if the unthinkable were to happen. And the next generation of treatments are being funded right now.” DHHS projects like BARDA and Project BioShield are just some of the sources for ongoing research to strengthen protection, whether it be a nuclear blast or reactor melt-down.
  • Disinfection and the Rise of the Superbug – GMU biodefense PhD student Saskia Popescu is addressing the growing disinfection needs as we teeter on the edge of the antibiotic abyss. Disinfection is already a challenge in healthcare however, the rise of more resistant germs means that efforts often need to be ramped up. The recent influx of Candida auris infections that we talked about last week really brings this issue to point in that this emerging infection is difficult to get rid of via traditional disinfection routes. “As new organisms are identified and existing ones become resistant to antimicrobials, the availability of strong disinfecting products has become even more pivotal.”
  • China and EU Cut Brazilian Meat Imports Amid Scandal– If you’re a fan of importing Brazilian meat, you may have to hold off for a while. A recent police anti-corruption probe is accusing inspectors of taking bribes to allow the sale of rotten and salmonella-contaminated meats from the largest exporter of beef and poultry. As the news unfolds, the Brazilian government is criticizing gate police as alarmist. “As the scandal deepened, Brazil’s Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said the government had suspended exports from 21 meat processing units.”
  • Study on Interferon for Treatment of Ebola Infection – The common hepatitis treatment is now being tested out on Ebola patients to help alleviate their symptoms. The pilot study was performed from March-June of 2015 and  had some interesting results. “When compared to patients who received supportive treatment only, 67 per cent of the interferon-treated patients were still alive at 21 days in contrast to 19 per cent of the former patients. Additionally, the viral blood clearance was faster in those patients treated with Interferon ß-1a. Many clinical symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea were also relieved earlier in the interferon-treated patients. A further 17 patients in other Guinean treatment centres who matched the interferon-treated patients based on age and the amount of Ebola virus in their blood were included in the analysis. These added patients, who did not receive interferon, more than doubled their risk of dying as a result of not being treated with the drug.”

Pandora Report 1.20.2017

We’ve got lots of biodefense goodies for you this week, so grab your PPE and let’s get rolling!

Billion-Dollar Vaccine and Epidemic Preparedness Project 
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) launched this week at the World Economic Forum with an initial $460 million backing from Norway, Germany, Japan, the Welcome Trust, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. CEPI expects to raise the rest of the needed $1 billion by the end of the year. Their focus is on pre-emptively developing and stockpiling vaccines to better prevent and respond to outbreaks. CEPI marks the largest vaccine development initiative and their plan is to start with vaccines against Nipah virus, MERS-CoV, and Lassa fever. While this is wonderful news, it may just be one step closer to marginalizing the WHO, which has been struggling to stay both relevant and effective. The WHO response to Ebola started drawing more recent attention to the organization’s struggles which were only fueled by slow vaccine procurement/development. These issues culminated with their recommendations to dilute the yellow fever vaccines during last year’s outbreak in Africa due to poor planning. Vaccine development and stockpiling is truly vital to outbreak response. “The CEPI intends to support research at every stage, from basic lab work to vaccine discovery and clinical trials. It also made its first call for research proposals on 18 January, and teams have until 8 March to submit preliminary proposals for grants. ‘For too long, we have separated out the academic work from the next step of taking it into all that is actually required to make a vaccine,’ says Farrar. There is also no market for vaccines against ‘potential’ epidemic threats, he notes, which explains why there is no commercial incentive to take research leads out of the lab and into clinical development’.”

ABSA DURC Roundtable
Don’t miss the Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC) Roundtable Discussion offered by ABSA International on March 15th! This distance learning opportunity will be offered from 12-2pm (CDT), and will aid the user in finding resources and guidance on the U.S. government DURC policies, developing a network of biosafety professionals, and more! “One size does not fit all when it comes to solutions to comply with research policy. The goal of this webinar is to provide best practices, provide insight on how several different institutions are meeting the DURC policy requirements, and help participants troubleshoot issues surrounding DURC that they may have at their institutions. Participants will have the opportunity to submit questions regarding DURC prior to the start of the webinar as well as during the live webinar.”

GMU Trains First Responders Against Infectious Disease  firstrespondertraining3_davefarris
GMU’s Office of Safety, Emergency, and Enterprise Rise Management is now providing local and national first responders with infectious disease training so that they’re better able to protect themselves during outbreaks. The program was made available through a three-year grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “This training is a natural extension of a program Mason’s Biomedical Research Lab biosafety manager Diann Stedman has offered to regional emergency response personnel since the 2010 opening of the lab on the Science and Technology Campus. Stedman is leading the training with Julie Zobel, assistant vice president of safety, emergency and enterprise risk management, and David Farris, executive director of safety and emergency management. Collectively, the three have more than 30 years of experience in the health and safety field, much of it focused on biological safety.”

Completing the Development of Ebola Vaccines 
CIDRAP and Welcome Trust have just released their report – Completing the Development of Ebola Vaccines: Current Status, Remaining Challenges, and Recommendations. “This is the third major report from the Wellcome Trust–CIDRAP Ebola Vaccine Team B. The first report, Recommendations for Accelerating the Development of Ebola Vaccines: Report and Analysis, was released in February 2015, and the second, Plotting the Course of Ebola Vaccines: Challenges and Unanswered Questions, was released in March 2016. In this report, similar to our previous efforts, we have three primary objectives. The first is to track progress toward ensuring that safe, effective, and durable multivalent Ebola vaccines are readily available and can be rapidly deployed when the next outbreak occurs. The second is to identify challenges and barriers where additional efforts are needed, although some of the remaining issues are complex and will require substantial resources to resolve. Our third objective is to provide a set of high-level recommendations that we believe, if implemented, will facilitate the goal of having a robust Ebola virus disease (EVD) prevention program in place that allows prophylactic vaccination of high-risk frontline workers and provides well- maintained vaccine stockpiles to facilitate rapid control of Ebola outbreaks.” The report highlights current clinical evaluations of Ebola vaccine candidates, funding, and regulatory activities. Some of the recommendations include reassessing the leadership structure for Ebola vaccine preparedness, developing strategies for mitigating the financial uncertainties and risks for manufacturers, etc. This report has left many experts pointing to the reality that we’re just not ready for another Ebola outbreak. 

Center for Health Security Joins Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School 
The Center for Health Security has a new home in Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health! Previously affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the CHS will now have significant new opportunities for research and work in national and international public health policy. Originally founded in 1998 by the late D.A. Henderson at Johns Hopkins, the center has been affiliated with UPMC since 2003. “The mission of our center is a perfect fit with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health because we share a commitment to improving global health and to protecting lives through large-scale change,” says Tom Inglesby, director and CEO of the Center for Health Security. “Moving to the Bloomberg School will expand the reach of the center and help us collaborate with and tap into the universe of great talent at Johns Hopkins. We look forward to joining our expertise on health security and preparedness policy to Johns Hopkins’ internationally recognized community of scientists and public health scholars.” We’re looking forward to seeing all the great work that will be done as the center returns to Johns Hopkins!

Zika Outbreak Updates
As the dust settles, some are looking to the WHO and public health infrastructure failures regarding the Zika outbreak as many are pointing out how the response failed millions. “But the positives were counterbalanced by many negatives, experts said. They harshly criticized the partisan bickering that delayed a Zika-funding bill in Congress for months, and they decried the failure of every city in the hemisphere — other than Miami — to control mosquitoes.” You can also read an opinion piece here, from a pregnant woman living in Miami who tested positive for the Zika. As of January 18th, the CDC has reported 4,900 cases of Zika in the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-12-31-34-pmCDC Director’s Departing Words- As CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden, prepares to leave office after 8 years, he’s offering some words of wisdom. Dr. Frieden has been tested by major health events like Ebola, Zika, MERS, 2009’s H1N1, and a growing domestic overdose issue. “Fundamentally, Americans are healthier and safer because of the work CDC has done over the last eight years. Americans are safer because we have better capacities in place, better infrastructure in place in this country and around the world to find threats early, stop them quickly and prevent them wherever possible. We’ve done that through laboratory work that looks at microbial genomics so we can stop outbreaks sooner. We’ve done that by training the next generation of public health specialists — more than 1,000 of them, fresh out of college and graduate school — deployed out to state and local governments. These people will be protecting Americans for decades to come.”
  • Proposed Presidential Autism-Vaccine Panel Could Help Spread Disease– The potential panel is drawing increasing attention as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is poised to be the leader. The environmental lawyer has been vocal in his vaccine skepticism, which has led many to worry in terms of federal support for vaccine programs. “Although the autism–vaccine claim has been studied and debunked, the president-elect has also suggested a connection. His team later hedged about the panel, saying that nothing had been decided. (Kennedy’s office declined an interview request.) Nevertheless, public health experts and autism advocates are deeply worried that an effort with presidential backing could undermine public confidence in vaccines and trigger epidemics of all-but-eradicated diseases.”
  • Assad Linked to Syrian Chemical Attacks – The Syrian President has officially been linked to a series of chlorine bomb attacks in 2014/2015. “International investigators have said for the first time that they suspect President Bashar al-Assad and his brother are responsible for the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict, according to a document seen by Reuters. A joint inquiry for the United Nations and global watchdog the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had previously identified only military units and did not name any commanders or officials.”

Pandora Report 5.6.2016

May has arrived, summer is upon us, and we’ve got your weekly biodefense scoop..Thursday was Hand Hygiene Day – don’t forget that clean hands save lives! Check out these wonderful infographics on the impact of vaccines on battling infectious diseases in the 20th century. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 30% of oral antibiotics prescribed in U.S. outpatient healthcare facilities (urgent cares, etc.) are unnecessary. Hocking a loogie may now be a diagnostic method as researchers have found that people have saliva fingerprints. The study revealed that this new analysis could lead to non-invasive methods of disease detection. Think you know your chem-bio weapons? Take a quiz to see if your knowledge is expert level or if you need a review from anthrax to Zika. 

Potential Anthrax Attack Foiled in Kenya 
Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 7.07.53 AM Kenyan police are claiming to have foiled a “large-scale” bioterrorism attack using anthrax. Three individuals associated with a terrorist group with links to ISIS were arrested. The terrorist group was not named but was noted to have a presence in Kenya, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. Police stated that “Mohammed Abdi Ali, a medical intern at a Kenyan hospital, was in charge of a ‘terror network… planning large-scale attacks akin to the Westgate Mall attack‘ in which 67 people were killed in 2013 in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.” Mr. Ali is said to have a network that includes medical professionals who would have the tacit knowledge to develop anthrax bioweapons. The Kenyan police chief, Joseph Boinnet, posted the official documents on his Twitter. While there has been no additional information on the terrorist group or the details of their planned bioweapons attack, we’ll continue to keep you updated as more information is released.

Let Loose Your Inner Epi With EpiCore
Ramp up your epidemiology game with the EpiCore community. EpiCore is a joint effort from Skoll Global Threats Fund, HealthMap, ProMED, and TEPHINET. EpiCore is a virtual community that brings together epidemiologists using new surveillance methods. It’s “a new system that is finding and reporting outbreaks faster than traditional disease surveillance methods alone. EpiCore enables faster global outbreak detection and reporting by linking a worldwide member network of health experts through a secure online reporting platform.”

Whole Foods Salad Bar Attack
The FBI has recently arrested a man in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who poured a liquid onto items in the prepared foods bars. Reminiscent of the Rajneeshee attack in 1984, investigators are taking the situation very seriously. Authorities found that the man was spraying mouse poison in fresh foods at three Ann Arbor grocery stores. “According to the FBI, an investigation points to the man spraying a mixture of what is believed to be mouse poison, hand cleaner, and water on open food bars in three stores in the town over the last couple of weeks.” The FBI has also noted that the suspect had visited other grocery stores in recent months and they are currently investigating if those other stores were involved in the poisoning. Would you consider him a bioterrorist or prankster?

Is Texas A New Hot Zone?
Between Ebola and Zika, Texas hasn’t been able to catch a break from emerging infectious diseases (EID’s). The Center for  Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) discusses that the EID attraction to the Lone Star State really began back in 2003 with the first urban dengue fever epidemic in decades. Texas is also “now an epicenter of Chagas disease and leishmaniasis transmission in the United States (parasitic infections transmitted by kissing bugs and sandflies, respectively), as well as murine typhus (transmitted by fleas) and West Nile virus infection.” Many are wondering, why Texas? What makes Texas such a nexus for infectious diseases? CSIS points to several factors – poverty (large population + poverty rate around 16% = ranking one or two in terms of having the largest volume of people below the poverty line), urbanization (when combined with poverty, this rapid growth means the crowded poor neighborhoods are perfect for opportunistic disease), being a global commercial and migration hub (coastal gateway ports), and climate change. These four qualities have created the perfect blend for both emerging and neglected infectious disease presence in Texas. Fortunately, Texas has a strong emergency management system and heightened public health department investment and resources. While Ebola and Zika have surely reinforced preparedness practices in Texas, are they enough? You may remember in December, we recounted the Trust for America’s Health report on state specific preparedness for preventing, detecting, diagnosing, and responding to outbreaks. States were graded on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best score). Interestingly, Texas was ranked right in the middle with a score of 5. Despite all their recent EID events, I’m surprised Texas is not ranked higher (Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, New York, and Virginia ranked highest with a score of 8). If Texas is the new epicenter of emerging and neglected infectious diseases, let’s hope their capabilities and capacity to respond to such diseases improves in the future.

Lessons Learned from TV/Movie Outbreaks
The CW recently began their new miniseries, Containment. While any show or movie on an outbreak instantly captures my interest, this one is particularly captivating for the same reasons as Outbreak – it’s so bad, it’s good. A recent ranking of the most plausible pathogen and zombie virus outbreaks in movies points to our affinity for outbreak movies with poor scientific backing. I’m a fan of watching these movies, and now Containment on Tuesday evenings, to see not just how wrong people can get outbreak response, but what they think the general public wants to see when it comes to a dramatic epidemic depiction. Did I mention the plethora of epidemiology/infection control faux pas? We’ve all watched a movie or show with a disease outbreak and picked out some ridiculous (and usually hilarious) blunders. The Pandora Report is now starting a list of ways the show demonstrates how NOT to stop/prevent an outbreak. We’re hoping to publish the list after the season ends and would love to include anything YOU find while watching it. Whether it’s the ridiculous infection prevention habits, over-the-top quarantine practices, or SWAT house calls, we want to know what you find while watching the show. Please email (spopesc2@gmu.edu) or tweet with #GMUBiodefense and we’ll incorporate them into our overall list.

Zika Updates
The WHO has released a one-year overview of the outbreak, pointing to the reasons why “an obscure disease became a global health emergency.” They emphasized the potential staying power of the virus and the challenges of diagnostic testing in the field. Many experts are predicting that once there is local transmission in the U.S., Zika virus will become endemic and a “constant low-level threat” requiring annual vaccination. The FDA has issued Emergency Use Authorization to approve the first commercial U.S. Zika virus test. “The Zika Virus RNA Qualitative Real-Time RT-PCR test from Focus Diagnostics, a Quest Diagnostics wholly-owned subsidiary, is a proprietary molecular test is intended for the qualitative detection of RNA from the Zika virus in human serum specimens.” Prior to this, all testing was done at specific laborites designated by the CDC and had limited availability to physicians. The availability of a rapid test will allow for more accurate and timely surveillance and diagnoses. Brazil has reported roughly 1,300 Zika-linked microcephaly cases.  Researchers are finding that mosquitoes infected with the bacterium, Wolbachia, may help stop the spread of Zika. “We are pretty sure that mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia will have a great impact on Zika transmission in the field,” said Luciano A. Moreira, a biologist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and the lead author of a new report on the researchers’ findings, published on Wednesday in the journal Cell Host & Microbe. There is also a growing concern about the potential impact the virus may have in the U.S. as researchers have found Zika in Asian tiger (Aedes albopictus) mosquitoes. This particular mosquito has a larger range within the U.S. and travels farther north. As of May 4, 2016, the CDC has reported 472 travel-associated cases in the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Ebola Survivor Household Contacts At Higher Risk – a recent study in Sierra Leone found that nearly half of household contacts of Ebola survivors contracted the illness. The risk of infection was correlated with level of exposure, but researchers also found that it varied by age. “The adjusted risk also varied by age: 43% for children under 2 years, 30% for those 5 to 14 years; 41% for those 15 to 19, 51% for adults 20 to 29 years, and more than 60% for adults over 30.”
  • Ebola Re-Emergence Involves Virus With Reduced Evolutionary Rate – A recent study found that the mutational rate has waned a bit in the Ebola virus that re-emerged in Liberia. Performing genomic comparisons of the virus in flare-ups, the research “team saw declining genetic divergence in the flare-up strains, perhaps due to diminished evolutionary rates in individuals with persistent infection. Still, the sequence data supported the notion that the flare-ups involved strains related to those in the main outbreak, ruling out re-introduction from a reservoir animal or transmission of distinct strains from active infections elsewhere”.
  • Chinese Espionage and Traded Nuclear Information –  a former Florida Power & Light manager is accused of trading nuclear information for cash to aid a Chinese nuclear power company. He was “recruited by Szuhsiung Ho, also known as Allen Ho, to help China General Nuclear Power Co. develop special nuclear material in China, according to the grand jury indictment.”

 

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Pandora Report 1.29.2016

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

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

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

Brazil’s Olympic Woes

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

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

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

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

Stories You May Have Missed: 

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

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Pandora Report 12.25.2015

Happy Holidays fellow biodefense gurus! We at the Pandora Report would like to wish you and yours a lovely holiday season, filled with happiness, health, and a side of relaxation. Your favorite weekly dose of biodefense news be taking a few weeks off from reporting while I venture to the land of Oz. Rest assure, should there be a zombie outbreak, I’ll report it first hand! Since we’ll be radio silent for a couple of weeks, we’ve compiled a pretty swanky “I love biodefense and need more of it” reading list to keep you busy. Before you venture down the biodefense rabbit hole, here is fun history fact Friday: on December 24th, 1814, the war of 1812 ended and on December 24, 1936, the first radioactive isotope medicine was administered by Dr. John Lawrence

The Revolving Door of Biosafety7898_lores
GMU Biodefense Master’s student and lab guru, Scott McAlister discusses the importance of biosafety in the changing world of global health. Through his review of the 2009 report by the Trans-Federal Task Force on Optimizing Biosafety and Biocontainment Oversight and a 2015 memorandum released by the White House to enhance biosafety, he discusses the ever changing components of US biosafety. Scott breaks down and compares each report’s recommendations, language, and what these translate to within US laboratories. Moreover, given the recent failures, have US biosecurity practices and recommendations evolved over the past 6 years? Take a look into this review to see where we hope to be and if we’ve progressed since 2009.

National Action Plan for Combating Multidrug-Resistant TB
This week the White House released its national plan for combating the growing threat of multidrug resistant tuberculosis. While US rates of TB cases have dropped, the growing threat of multidrug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively resistant TB (XDR-TB) requires action. This new plan is set to span over 3-5 years and has three goals that will focus on strengthening domestic capacity, improving international capacity and collaboration, and accelerating basic and applied research and development. Extensive collaboration within US agencies and international partners will be necessary to combat the evolving threat of drug resistant tuberculosis.

We’re Not Prepared for a Biological Attack
GMU Biodefense PhD alum, Dr. Daniel M. Gersteindiscusses biopreparedness and where the US stands in his work for US News  & World Report. Throughout his in-depth analysis, Dr. Gerstein emphasizes the importance of US leadership within the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). Pointing to the disappointing Seventh and Eighth Review Conferences, Dr. Gerstein notes, “biological warfare can no longer be considered the purview of only state actors. And this democratization of biotechnology means that the world is literally one rogue microbiologist away from a potentially devastating biological attack.” Dr. Gerstein emphasizes that authorities often fail to realize that biological weapons may not act like naturally occurring diseases or outbreaks.

Holiday Biodefense Book Club
During the cold winter months it’s always nice to curl up by the fire with a good book and relax. GMU Biodefense Master’s student, Rebecca Earnhardt, and I have picked a handful of books to spark your interest. If we could have a book club with our awesome readers, we would love it, but in the mean time, here are our recommendations for a few literary works that you might enjoy!

  • Phantom Menace or Looming Danger?: A New Framework for Assessing Bioweapons Threats By Kathleen M. Vogel — Johns Hopkins Press, 2012. The military has gathered reconnaissance of a possible biological research facility, evidence of a paper trail indicating procurement of weapons delivery systems, and collection of specialized personnel to manufacture biological agents.  Do all of these pieces point to an imminent biological weapons danger?  Kathleen M. Vogel, in Phantom Menace, argues that there is more to the picture of biological weapons development than the technical and physical aspects of manufacturing.  Through examination of three case studies, Vogel highlights the shortcomings of the dominant biotech revolution frame within biological weapons assessments.  The biotech revolution frame, as described by Vogel, misses the important social and contextual factors that affect biological weapons innovation.  The alternative offered by Vogel is termed the biosocial frame.  Vogel highlights in her biosocial frame how tacit knowledge and hands-on experience is vital to biological weapons assessments.  While Vogel does not particularly focus on political influences, I enjoyed the book because of her explanation of the importance in incorporating sociological aspects into biological weapons assessments.  I think this makes Vogel’s work a key book in the field of biodefense.
  • Innovation, Dual Use, and Security: Managing the Risks of Emerging Biological and Chemical Technologies. Editor: Jonathan B. Tucker — MIT Press, 2012. The hotly debated concept of ‘dual-use’ is explored extensively through this multipart work edited by the late chemical and biological weapons expert, Jonathan B. Tucker.  This book takes on the conceptual nuances of dual-use with four parts focused on emerging technologies within the areas of directed design, acquisition of novel molecular parts, modification of biological systems, and enhanced production and packaging capabilities.  Each section, authored by leading experts in the field of biodefense research, including Filippa Lentzos and Gerald Epstein, applied Tucker’s framework of risk assessment for dual-use potential and governability.  This framework incorporates key aspects of assessing dual-use potential, including technological monitoring, technology assessments, and governability of the technology.  The strength of this framework lies in its applicability to emerging technologies, which may enable policy makers to continuously review a particular technology or an emerging area of research.  In the concluding chapter, Kirk Bansak and Jonathan Tucker redirect attention to the intervening social processes that construct relationships between the technology and its users, and how these social processes may create an environment ripe for misuse.  To me, this book is a highly valuable and informative work on the range of dual-use issues and conceptual applications.  I think this book is an important read not only because it covers a variety of dual-use issues, but also in its wide-ranging review of relatively recent biotechnology and life science innovations.  The variety of case studies makes this book an enjoyable read!
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the next Human Pandemic by David Quammen. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Not only is David Quammen one of my favorites, but his overview of zoonotic diseases and the concept of spillover will both captivate and inform you. Ranging from West Nile Virus to Ebola, Quammen presents several of the zoonotic diseases you may have heard of and others that may cause you to reconsider kissing a horse anytime soon. Each chapter presents a new disease, it’s history, and a new outbreak that should raise our attention to global health security. While he doesn’t touch much on avian influenza or multi-drug resistant organisms, his points on humans infringing upon animal ecosystems and the resulting disease spillovers are harrowing. Quammen’s adventures remind me of a microbial Indiana Jones (hint hint Hollywood, that would make an excellent movie!), even with the cheeky wit. I would recommend Spillover as a gateway to understanding the role of zoonotic diseases and the emphasis we’re seeing on One Health. While his parts on Ebola aren’t as dramatic as Richard Preston, you’ll be sure to enjoy his approach to epidemiology and the impact of spillover on global health. Quammen did extend his sections on Ebola into another book that includes information related to the 2014/2015 outbreak. If you enjoy on-the-ground reporting, you’ll find this within Quammen’s book.
  • Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor. Woodstock: Overlook Duckworth, 2003. As a lover of all things biodefense and classical, I was excited when I cam across Adrienne Mayor’s book. Combining ancient history and bioweapons? Sold! Mayor’s breakdown throughout the book reveals the mythical and historical accounts of chemical and biological weapons in the ancient world. While a bit dramatic and sometimes repetitive, I found her book to be enjoyable in that few people have combined ancient history and chem/bioweapons to such an extent. Mayor makes sure to include references to mythology that heavily impact these ancient societies. While the lines of chemical and biological weapons were sometimes muddied and some generalizations related to classical history did occur, I would recommend her book to anyone who enjoys history (especially ancient history), mythology, and CBW. Realistically, with such a catchy title, how could you resist?

Stories You May Have Missed:

Pandora Report: 12.18.2015

Hungry, hungry anthrax hippos? If there’s one thing we love about the science community, it’s when a gem pops up in your inbox like this (thanks ProMed!). In Ebola news, public health officials are exploring the possibility that survivors may be a potential source of case surges. Fun history fact Friday: On December 18, 1620, the Mayflower docked at Plymouth Harbor and passengers began settlement and on December 14, 1980, the CIA issued a warning about Soviet arms sales to Third World nations. Take a break from holiday preparations with this week’s Pandora Report – we’re discussing everything from zombies to Bob Dylan lyrics!

Epidemiology of a Zombie Outbreak
Tara C Smith and the writers of The BMJ certainly know how to hook a biodefense nerd – epidemiology of zombie infections? Don’t mind if we do! Using historical tales and movie outbreaks, Smith takes us through several hypothetical zombie outbreaks we’ve experienced as viewers or readers for the past few decades. Tracing the origins of certain outbreaks and the transmission patterns via bite, this scientific approach to one of our favorite topics is fascinating.  Potential etiological considerations included weaponized Yersinia pestis, a mutation of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or a genetically modified form of the Ebola virus that was tested on chimpanzees (that later escaped!). Last but not least, we can’t forget to consider the ethical implications of such an outbreak. How do we handle resource depletion or quarantine? All things to consider before the zombie apocalypse!

Risk & Benefit Analysis of Gain of Function Research 
With the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) meeting fast approaching (January 7-8, 2016!), we’re recapping the role of gain-of-function (GoF) research in biodefense. Earlier this year, Gryphon Scientific was awarded a NIH contract related to assessment of GoF research and the risk-versus-benefits that may impact future federal funding. With the intent to make future recommendations, the assessment had three major tasks: a risk analysis (RA) of accidents and natural disasters, a biosecurity RA, and a benefit assessment. Extensive review and analysis of data from the intelligence and law enforcement community reviewed potential gaps within security practices. “The biosecurity RA is delivered in two parts because risks posed by malicious acts targeting laboratories that conduct GoF required a different analytical approach than the assessment of the risk generated by the misuse of published GoF research.” GMU Biodefense alum and previous Pandora Report editor, Julia Homstad, is also the lead author on Chapter 11 (Risk of Loss of Trust in Science). Perhaps one of my favorite points from the report was that “this assessment requires the identification of scientific and non-scientific barriers to the realization of these benefits.” You can also find Michael Selgelid’s White Paper regarding the ethical implications of GoF research. While the 1,001 pages may seem a daunting task, this is not only a highly relevant report, but approaches GoF concerns and risks in an engaging and holistic manner.

Bob Dylan Lyrics in Medical Literature?
Have you ever read a scientific article and felt a complete unknown, like a rolling stone? Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have been sneaking Bob Dylan song lyrics into their papers as part of a long-standing bet since 1997. “It all started in 1997 with a review in Nature Medicine entitled ‘Nitric oxide and inflammation: the answer is blowing in the wind.'” Carl Gornitzki and colleagues from The BMJ decided to do some additional digging in Medline and found that 213 of 727 found references were unequivocally citing Bob Dylan. Starting a few years after his musical debut, research papers included a variety of biomedical topics, like those of Hermanson et al., who managed to work “like a rolling stone” into their paper on epigenetics. The variety of lyrics found throughout the literature is certainly more than a simple twist of fate.

Outbreak Preparedness 2015 Report
Ever wonder how your state ranks in terms of emerging infectious disease preparedness? Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently published their 2015 report regarding state capabilities to protect against new infectious disease threats (MERS-CoV, multi-drug resistant organisms, etc.) and “resurging illnesses like whooping cough, tuberculosis, and gonorrhea.” The report found that over half of US states ranked at five or lower on a scale of ten. The five all-star states (scoring eight) were Delaware, Kentucky, Main, New York, and Virginia (go Virigina!). The report findings noted that “the nation must redouble efforts to protect Americans” and included points on healthcare-associated infections, flu vaccination rates, food safety, and superbugs. Check out the report to find where your state ranked!

Fighting Antibiotic Resistance in the United States18170_lores
On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee presented the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, which revealed discretionary funding plans for the federal government. Buried in new legislation, the FDA and NIH will receive part of this discretionary funding to help fight antibiotic resistant bacteria and “advance prevision medicine initiatives”. The FDA is set to receive $2.7 billion, which was over a $10 million increase from FY2015. Within the bill, there is “funding for the Combating Antibiotic Resistance Bacteria (CARB) initiative ($8,732,000), the precision medicine initiative ($2,392,000), and the Orphan Product Development Grants Program ($2,500,000). The NIH will receive an extra $2 billion for FY2016, which supported projects specially for Alzheimer’s diseases research, brain research, antibiotic resistance, the Precision Medicine Initiative, etc. Given last week’s report on the phantom menace CRE and growing cases of multi-drug resistant organisms, it’s extremely important antibiotic resistance be given more attention.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • CDC Establishing Flu Vaccine Efficacy Lab Network – The CDC has provided funding for a network of US institutions to collect and analyze information related to annual flu vaccine effectiveness. “Participating institutions will coordinate enrollment of patients with acute respiratory illness, confirm influenza infection using a standardized reverse-transcription PCR (RT-PCR) assay, and estimate vaccine effectiveness.” The 30 million dollar funded project will run from July 2016-2021.
  • Avian Influenza in France – France has reported 30 outbreaks of avian influenza, specifically one of the highly pathogenic influenza. Unfortunately the strain in the most recent cases hasn’t been identified, but these outbreaks been attributed to one of the H5 strains.
  • Hawaiian Dengue Outbreak Update – Cases of dengue virus on Hawaii Island have now reached 157. There are 7 individuals considered still infectious and the Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH) continues their efforts to identify cases and reduce transmission. 140 of the cases are Hawaii Island residents, and 34 of the overall cases have been children under the age of 18.

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Pandora Report 11.6.2015

Happy Friday! The world of biodefense and global health security has been busy this week – between a growing outbreak of E. coli associated with Chipotle restaurants, to a review of Select Agent lab practices, and a recap of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, there’s more than enough to keep you busy! Fun history fact Friday (it’s our version of “flashback Friday”), did you know that on November 6, 1971, the US Atomic Energy Commission tested the largest US underground hydrogen bomb (code name Cannikin) on Amchitka Island?

CDC/Select Agent List- 90 Day Internal Review
We’ve seen a lot of news lately regarding lab safety and biodefense reform/recommendations. With so much scrutiny regarding biosafety practices, it’s not surprising the CDC would do a deep dive into “how the agency inspects select agent labs” with a 90 day review. The review notes that while it didn’t duplicate the recommendations from Presidential Order 13546, it did find several areas for improvement, leading to nine observations and ten actionable recommendations. The categories for recommendations are inspections, incident reporting, and transparency. The findings point to several areas for improvement, ranging from the standardization of risk assessments to identify high risk activities, to the sharing of inspection data to better encourage public understanding of the work practices performed with these agents. The report highlights several areas for improvement that will hopefully lead to more stable biosecurity and public understanding of how we handle select agents. You can also check out the Federal Select Agent Program for a list of the agents and regulations involved.

2016 Presidential Candidates on Nonproliferation
GMU’s Greg Mercer is at it again with round three of his review on 2016 presidential candidates and their comments on nonproliferation. As of now, he’s reviewed the Republican candidates, but now he’s delving into the Democratic candidates. Greg reviews Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley, noting that ” in contrast to Republicans, most Democrats support the Iran deal, and generally tend to favor international arms control regimes.” With the race only heating up, stay tuned  for more of Greg’s candidate-by-candidate reviews on nonproliferation in the 2016 election.

GMU Master’s Open House and Application Deadlines!
Considering a master’s degree? Come check out the GMU School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs (SGPIA) Open House on Wednesday, November 18th, 6:30pm at our Arlington Campus in Founders Hall (Room 126). There’s even a pre-session for veterans and active duty military at 5:45pm! The Open House is a great way to learn about our different Master’s programs (Biodefense, International Security, Political Science, etc.) and ask real-time questions with faculty. Our Biodefense Program Director, Dr. Koblentz, will be there to discuss global health security and tell you about the pretty amazing things we get to do at GMU! If you’ve already attended or are planning to apply, just a friendly reminder that PhD program applications are due December 1st, and Biodefense Master’s Spring applications are due December 1st as well.

Zika Virus Outbreak in Colombia
Nine new cases have been identified in Sincelejo, Colombia, with an additional three being investigated in Barranquilla. Zika virus is a vectorborne disease that is transmitted through Aedes mosquitos. The CDC notes that vertical transmission (from mother to child) can occur if the mother is infected near her delivery and Zika can be spread through blood transfusion (although no cases have occurred this way) and sexual contact (one case of sexually transmitted Zika virus has occurred to date). Common signs and symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes that last several days to a week. In the past, transmission has occurred in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, however, there have been cases in 2015 in Brazil and Colombia. We’ll keep you updated if transmission continues in South America!

There have also been cases of Chikungunya springing up throughout the Caribbean and Americas. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) initially reported just over 2,400 cases a few weeks ago, however a new report is showing 13,476 new cases. Initially starting in December 2013, this epidemic began with a single locally acquired case on St. Martin island, and is now totaling 1, 760,798 cases.

Chipotle E.coli Outbreak 
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Chipotle (we reported that Minnesota  Chipotle customers experienced a Salmonella outbreak in August), an E. coli outbreak is making headlines in Washington and Oregon. Public health officials updated the case total to 41 people as of 11/4, with 6 patients requiring hospitalization. The source of the outbreak hasn’t been identified yet but as a precautionary measure, they’ve closed 14 restaurants. So far, the identified cases have been tied to five restaurants across six counties.

10759_lores

Stories you May Have Missed

  • CRISPR-Cas9 Utility Broadens – researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have improved on the utility of CRISPR-Cas9 through application via bacterial sources. The team “reports evolving a variant of SaCas9 – the Cas9 enzyme from Streptococcus aureus bacteria – that recognizes a broader range of nucleotide sequences, allowing targeting of the genomic sites previously inaccessible to CRISPR-Cas9 technology.” The new application allows a more precise targeting within the genomic sequence, which may translate to therapeutic applications. CRISPR-Cas9 has been a hot topic within the science and biodefense community in relation to its potential labeling as dual use research of concern (DURC) and certain ethical debates.
  • Unvaccinated Babies Refused By Some Physicians– Vaccination status is something I’ve grappled with working in pediatrics and is one of the rare things that can turn a calm physician (or infection preventionist for that matter) red-faced and needing a breather. The Boston Globe reported on a recent survey from the American Academy of Pediatrics that touched on pediatricians dismissing families that refused vaccines. The study found that all pediatricians surveyed had encountered at least one parent refusing vaccination for their child and 20% of pediatricians “often” or “always” dismissed families who refuse one or more vaccine. Interestingly, researchers found that “doctors in private practice, those located in the South, and those in states without philosophical exemption laws were the most likely to dismiss families refusing to vaccinate their infant”.
  • Guinea Ebola Tranmission – Guinea continues to experience new cases. As we mentioned last week, the cluster of four patients from the Kondeyah village is being monitored by public health officials. An infected newborn, whose mother died from Ebola recently, is also under observation and care. The infant’s mother was a confirmed case prior to her delivery and died after giving birth. The WHO is currently monitoring 382 contacts in Guinea during this time.

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Pandora Report 10.23.2015

Happy Infection Prevention Week! Make sure to give any infection preventionists you know a big hug or at least a hearty handshake (only clean hands though!). Not only do we get to celebrate National Infection Prevention week, but it’s also National Biosafety Stewardship Month, so get your party hand sanitizer ready to go and let the frivolity begin! Foodborne illness is the name of the game this week and we’ll be discussing outbreaks. Friendly reminder – the influenza vaccine is available in most offices/clinics now, so get your flu shot as there have already been cases springing up across the US. Fun fact – did you know that a report published this week identified Yersinia pestis in the tooth of a Bronze Age individual, which means there were plague infected humans 3,300 years earlier than we thought!

National Biosafety Stewardship Month – October is National Biosafety Stewardship Month (thanks NIH!) to celebrate and encourage people to focus on biosafety policies, practices, and procedures. Given the lab biosafety issues we’ve seen recently, I think we can all safely (or should I say, “biosafely”?) agree that a little extra attention to these issues and the promotion of better practices is a great thing. Institutions are encouraged to use more of a just culture approach to incident reporting and to promote public transparency. Happy National Biosafety Stewardship Month!

Water Quality for the Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, 2016
The 2016 Summer Olympics are fast approaching and with any large event, health issues become a main concern. The WHO is providing technical advice to the Brazilian national authorities regarding public health concerns, as well as to the International Olympic Committee and the Local Organizing Committee. Clean drinking water, sewage pollution, and a host of other health issues can become a nightmare during such a large-scale event. While there aren’t recommendations for specific viral testing of the water, the WHO does encourage additional testing in the event of an outbreak. Sanitary inspections and other preventative procedures are being recommended to avoid outbreaks and public health issues. As we get closer to the 2016 Olympics, it is very likely concerns over vector-borne diseases will be addressed through vector control and public health education.

CDC Launches Redesigned FOOD Tool for Foodborne Outbreaks 

Courtesy of CDC FOOD Tool
Courtesy of CDC FOOD Tool

The CDC has updated their online foodborne illness outbreak investigation tool! The Foodborne Outbreak Online Database Tool (FOOD Tool) allows the user to search the outbreak database by state, food, ingredient, year, location of food preparation, and organism. The FOOD Tool also provides the case information related to the outbreak, so users can see the number of affected persons, hospitalizations, deaths and laboratory-confirmed organisms. This database pulls from CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System (FDOSS) and allows users to not only look at data and trends over time, but also compare their cases to other outbreaks.

Syrian Refugee Resettlement and Why We Should Be Letting Them All In 
Dr. Trevor Thrall, one of our amazing GMU Biodefense professors, has written a piece for The Atlantic on the importance and benefits of taking in all Syrian refugees. Dr. Thrall discusses the limitations of addressing the root cause of the Syrian conflict and how the US and its European allies should take in refugees. Discussing the military alternatives to the Syrian crisis, he states, “going in militarily is not the answer, then. Instead, those civilians under threat should get out. Refugees typically receive support in the countries to which they flee, but the vast numbers involved in this case threaten to overwhelm Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, which have so far accommodated the vast majority of the outflow.” Dr. Thrall points out that while resettlement would cost a substantial amount of money, it would cost far less than military intervention and you simply can not ignore the moral superiority in aiding refugees.

Chipotle’s Bad Tomatoes Came From Nation’s Largest Field Producer
To our readers in Minnesota, did you happen to eat at a Chipotle in August? If so, we hope you weren’t one of the affected individuals that contracted Salmonella Newport as a result of contaminated tomatoes. The Minnesota Department of Health investigated the 64 cases resulting from this outbreak, however it was just released that the contaminated tomatoes were actually supplied by Six L’s Packing Co (doing business as Lipman Produce), which is actually one of the largest tomato suppliers in the US. Packing 15 million boxes of tomatoes this past year, Lipman was later dropped as a supplier by Chipotle after learning of the source of contaminated produce. The tomatoes were removed but it’s estimated that during the window of exposure, roughly 560,000 people consumed Chipotle. The good news is that we’re out of the incubation period, so if you happened to eat at a Minnesota Chipotle, you’re in the clear.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • 80 Illnesses Linked to Shigella Outbreak; CA Seafood Restaurant Closed –  Mariscos San Juan in San Jose, CA is currently closed after the Santa Clara County Health Department connected a recent outbreak of Shigella to their food. While the exact source hasn’t been identified, over 93 people were sickened in relation to contaminated food at the restaurant.
  • Subway to Phase Out Poultry Products Raised With Antibiotics–  On Tuesday, Subway Restaurants announced that they will be transitioning to only serve poultry products that have been raised without antibiotics by early next year. Other chain restaurants, like Chick-fil-A and Chipotle, are jumping on the train to phase out chicken and turkey products that were raised with antibiotics.
  • Scottish Nurse and Ebola Complications – Pauline Cafferkey continues to battle post-Ebola complications. Reports last week noted neurological issues and it was recently reported that she has meningitis after the virus persisted in her brain and CSF after her initial recovery. Ongoing research is looking into the long-term effects of the disease as the West African outbreak was the largest in history and researchers have never had the opportunity to look at chronic issues associated with disease recovery.