Pandora Report 7.26.15

Mason students are working through their summer courses and I’m happy to say mine is OVER! Let the summer begin (two months late)! This week we’ve got great news about Polio in Nigeria and a somber anniversary in Japan. We’ve also got other stories you may have missed.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and have a great week!

A-Bomb Victims Remembered in Potsdam, Where Truman Ordered Nuclear Strikes

Coming up on the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, German and Japanese citizens in the city of Potsdam held a remembrance ceremony for both the victims that died in the blast and the future. Japan has become, according to the former President of the International Court of Justice, the world’s conscience against nuclear weapons and power. Why? Japan is “the only country in the world to have been the victim of both military and civilian nuclear energy, having experienced the crazy danger of the atom, both in its military applications, destruction of life and its beneficial civilian use, which has now turned into a nightmare with the serious incidents of Fukushima.”

Japan Times—“The Potsdam Conference was held between July 17 and Aug. 2 in 1945. The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and another bomb on Nagasaki three days later. On Aug. 15 that year, Emperor Hirohito announced to the nation that Japan had accepted the Potsdam Declaration, in which the United States, Britain and China demanded the nation’s unconditional surrender.”

Nigeria Beats Polio

Very, very, very exciting news: Nigeria has not had a case of polio in a year. A year! This makes Nigeria polio free and the last country in Africa to eliminate the disease. The achievement was possible with contributions from the Nigerian government (where elimination of the disease was a point of “national pride”), UNICEF, the WHO, the CDC, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International, and other organizations. With Nigeria’s accomplishment, there are only two other countries in the world where polio still exists—Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Voice of America—“Carol Pandek heads Rotary International’s polio program. She told VOA via Skype that a year being polio-free is a milestone for Nigeria, but noted that it is not over. “Now they need to continue to do high quality immunization campaigns for the next several years,” she said, as well as have a strong surveillance system so, should there be any new cases, they can be identified as soon as possible.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Fg2

Pandora Report 1.25.15

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

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

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

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

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

A New Polio Case in Pakistan and an Unsolved Epidemic

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

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

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

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

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

This Week in Ebola

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

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

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Regional Center of Orange County

Terrorist Groups Sharply Criticize Pakistani Taliban for School Attack

By Erik Goepner

Fellow extremists quickly condemned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for their brazen attack on Pakistani school children. The attack began the morning of December 16th as seven armed TTP gunmen entered the Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar. They killed 148 during the eight-hour siege, including 132 children. All of the attackers died, either by detonating their suicide vests or during the fighting with Pakistani commandos.

Shortly after the attack, the Afghan Taliban called the actions un-Islamic and expressed their sympathies to the grieving families. The regional al Qaeda affiliate wrote of “hearts bursting with pain and grief” over the incident.

The noteworthy criticism from the Afghan Taliban raises the question: why would TTP specifically target children and risk pushing their allies away? TTP and the Afghan Taliban both align themselves under Mullah Omar. The TTP’s top commander, Mullah Fazlullah, fought in Afghanistan during the early 2000s and reportedly had quite favorable relations with the Afghan Taliban. Additionally, Mullah Fazlullah, as both cleric and scholar, enjoyed the respect of many fellow jihadists.

Much less is known about the regional TTP commander, Umar Mansoor (aka Umar Adizai), who apparently planned the attack. He is thought to be in his mid-30s and a father of three. According to the scant reports, he attended school in Islamabad before later entering a madrassa.

So, why might TTP have targeted the children and risked alienating allies?

Did the subordinate commander, Umar Mansoor, go rogue and disobey Fazlullah or, perhaps, fail to share his plans with the TTP leader?

While there is little reported on the relationship between Umar Mansoor and Fazlullah, what exists suggests their relationship is close. If those reports are true, it becomes more difficult to accept that Umar Mansoor acted on his own.

Was the attack related to the infighting within TTP?

Somewhat, perhaps. In 2013, Mullah Fazlullah took command of TTP. His assumption represented a significant shift in TTP leadership from that of the previous seven years, as he was neither a member of the Mehsud or Wazir tribes nor a resident of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Earlier this year, the factiousness bubbled over and the Mehsud tribe formally broke with TTP.

However, it is hard to see how Fazlullah would benefit from the attack. No doubt he was familiar with Mullah Omar’s previous admonitions to be discriminant in selecting targets and the application of force. Perhaps, though, the stress within TTP resulted in the horrific, and seemingly counterproductive decision.

The most likely reason, though, may just be the one given by TTP: an attack to avenge their losses, both adults and children, from sustained Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas home to many of them. Perhaps Pakistan has finally gotten serious about fighting the Taliban and other insurgent groups. When my team and I were in southern Afghanistan in 2010, Afghan government officials and village elders alike routinely criticized Pakistan and their security service for actively supporting the Taliban. Questions have long remained regarding the Pakistani government’s resolve to fight the Taliban, with many suggesting they secretly helped “good” Taliban fighting in Afghanistan, while providing an air of commitment in fighting the “bad” Taliban who conduct attacks in Pakistan. The TTP with approximately 900 attacks over the past seven years would seem to fit the bill of “bad” Taliban.

Time will tell, but perhaps Pakistan’s latest military offensive is really having an impact on the TTP. If so, the TTP may have targeted the children to both avenge their own losses and to show, in a distorted and tragic way, that their strength remains.

Image Credit: yowoto

Pandora Report 12.7.14

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! There were a lot of stories to consider for this extra long (extra late) week in review. We cover the AIDS pandemic, Avian Influenza, Polio in Pakistan, and, of course, Ebola. For those of you in school, I hope your papers and exams aren’t too overwhelming! For everyone else, have a wonderful week, hopefully paper and exam-free week!

AIDS Campaigners Say Pandemic Has Finally Reached Tipping Point

A report released by the ONE campaign to mark World AIDS Day on December 1 said that “the world has finally reached “the beginning of the end” of the AIDS pandemic that has infected and killed millions in the past 30 years.” What is the tipping point? The number of newly infected HIV patients is lower than the number of HIV positive patients who have access to retroviral medications that keep AIDS at bay. However, this doesn’t mean the fight is over.

Reuters—“‘We’ve passed the tipping point in the AIDS fight at the global level, but not all countries are there yet, and the gains made can easily stall or unravel,” said Erin Hohlfelder, ONE’s director of global health policy.”

FAO, OIE Warn of Avian Influenza’s Rapid Spread

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Organization for Animal Health have warned that the new avian flu strain detected in Europe is similar to those found in Asia and pose a significant threat to the poultry sector. Evidence of H5N8 has been found in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, as well as China, Japan, and South Korea. So far, it doesn’t appear this strain is infecting people, however, this week there were reported human cases and deaths from H5N1.

The Poultry Site—“The new virus strain provides a stark reminder to the world that avian influenza viruses continue to evolve and emerge with potential threats to public health, food security and nutrition, to the livelihoods of vulnerable poultry farmers, as well as to trade and national economies. Therefore extreme vigilance is strongly recommended while progressive control efforts must be sustained and financed.”

Pakistan Polio Outbreak ‘Will Probably be Fixed Next Year’ says WHO Official

So far this year there have been 262 cases of polio detected in Pakistan, which is the highest number of cases in 14 years. Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world, including Afghanistan and Nigeria, where the virus remains endemic. Despite these numbers, a WHO official in Pakistan says the disease will “most probably be fixed in the first half of 2015.” Military campaigns around the country have not only made vaccination more difficult but have faced tribal militants who banned all vaccinations.

The Guardian—“Persistent public awareness campaigns have not fully quashed popular fears that the drops given to children – a solution of highly weakened polio virus – are part of a western conspiracy to make Muslims infertile.

The Pakistani Taliban have attacked and killed health workers who conduct door-to-door campaigns, forcing the government to mount massive security operations during major vaccination drives.”

This Week in Ebola

We’ve got a lot of news from the last two weeks, so today, let’s start stateside.

The CDC says you can stop worrying because it is very unlikely that Ebola will become airborne, so you can stop cancelling your African safaris. Ebola anxiety has left the U.S. buying up all the PPEs leaving little for workers in West Africa, while the Director of the Harvard School of Public Health Emergency Preparedness has said that U.S. quarantine policy could discourage volunteers from going to help the outbreak. However, recently, no one has been caught in quarantines entering New York and New Jersey airports. 35 American hospitals have been designated as Ebola centers and already the U.S. government is looking past Ebola for the next health disaster. Meanwhile, the first human trial of an experimental vaccine for the virus has produced promising results.

Overseas, the German airline Lufthansa adapted an A340-300 to transport Ebola patients. In Liberia, the President has banned election rallies and mass gatherings under the reasoning that they risk worsening the spread of the virus and Ebola moves out of the cities, it is ‘pingponging’ into rural areas. In Sierra Leone there are approximately 80-100 new cases of Ebola daily, they are running out of beds, and in protest of non-payment, burial workers are dumping bodies in public in the city of Kenema. One piece of good news coming out of this outbreak that has affected more than 16,000 people is that female genital mutilation is on the decline. Also, a new 15-minute test for Ebola is being tested in Guinea, which, if it works, will help medical staff identify and isolate Ebola patients sooner.

The UN warns that the longer the disease is allowed to spread unchecked in West Africa, the more likely it is that Ebola will appear in new places in the world but EcoHealth journal notes that closer study of zoonotic diseases could help prevent Ebola and other diseases from affecting humans. Don’t worry though, according to North Korea Ebola isn’t a zoonotic disease, it is a bioweapon created by the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Free Internet Pictures

Terrorism in 2013

By Erik Goepner

An estimated 61% more people perished from terrorist attacks in 2013[1] than did in 2012. As the Global Terrorism Index Report authors note, those 18,000 deaths far surpassed the 3,361 deaths from terrorist attacks in 2000. Drawing on data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s Global Terrorism Database, the report and the data it contains have much to offer.

Interested in how terrorist group ideology has morphed over the past decade and a half? Check out the following graphic and observe how the religious-based groups have come to dominate terrorist activity.

Terrorism 2013(Source: Global Terrorism Index 2014, p. 31)

Who conducted the attacks? Two-thirds of the fatalities were caused by four groups: the Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda and its affiliates. As the report noted, “extreme interpretations of Wahhabi Islam” were the key commonality among the groups.

Unsurprisingly, more than 50% of the fatalities occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria accounted for another 30% of the fatalities.  In total, those five countries bore the brunt for 82% of terrorist-caused fatalities last year.

Looking at the details of the attacks, half of them resulted in no fatalities. Approximately 40% killed between one and five people, while 10% took the lives of six or more human beings. The most lethal form of attack was suicide bomber. While suicide attacks had the highest failure rate (56%), they caused an average of 11 fatalities per attack as compared to two fatalities for all other forms of terrorist attack.

Last year, suicide attacks only accounted for five percent of all terrorist attacks. Of concern, though, the Islamic State conducted 58 of the suicide attacks. By comparison, the two most prolific suicide attack groups over the past decade—al-Qaeda in Iraq and Tehrik-I-Taliban in Pakistan—have averaged 13 and 14 suicide attacks per year, respectively.

As a final note—perhaps for balance, perhaps to recognize the role of fear in terrorism—how might we understand the tragic loss of 18,000 lives to terrorism last year as compared to the 430,000[2] who were killed in homicides?

 

Image Credit: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Terrorism Prevention


[1] The authors of the report note that the manner of data collection for the Global Terrorism Database became more automated in 2011. As a result, some events that may have been missed in prior years would now be collected, possibly inflating numbers for 2011 and following years. In response, they modeled three approaches. For example, their conservative model indicated the number of terrorist events rose by 475% since 2000, as compared to a 689% increase for the upper bounded model.

[2] See the Global Study on Homicide 2013 available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/publications-by-date.html

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 7.4.14

I have to offer my apologies and my thanks. Please let me apologize for the lack of Pandora Report and the light coverage on the blog over these past two weeks. The month of June was absolutely insane between work and summer courses. Fortunately, all that craziness is finally over, so let me thank you most sincerely for your patience and understanding. With this special July 4th edition of Pandora Report, please consider things around here back to normal.

Now, onto the news!  Highlights include Syrian chemical weapon disarmament, the arrival of Chikungunya to the U.S., an anthrax incident at the CDC, an Etihad Airlines based polio campaign, and Ebola devastation in West Africa.


Syrian Chemical Weapons Transfer Complete

Earlier this week, the Pentagon reported that the transfer of Syrian chemical weapons, from a Danish cargo ship to the U.S. vessel that will neutralize and destroy the weapons, is complete. The weapons and associated materials were transferred to the Cape Ray, which will travel from Italy into international waters where the weapons will be dismantled and neutralized. The Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby reported that the process should take several weeks to complete.

Al Arabiya News—“The disposal process marks the culmination of a program to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stockpile after the outcry that followed chemical attacks by the Bashar al-Assad regime in the suburbs of Damascus on August 23 last year, that may have killed as many as 1,400 people.”

Polio Awareness Videos to be Shown on Flights to Pakistan

Much of my month of June was spent at Dulles airport, so I might be more excited about this story than your average person, but get ready for the coolest news story you have likely ever read about an airline! United Arab Emirates based Etihad Airlines, in response to the polio epidemic in Pakistan, will show a short in-flight movie on all their flights to Pakistan. Etihad said that the goal of the movie, titled “Leap of Faith,” is to raise awareness about “this crippling and potentially fatal disease among thousands of Pakistani workers returning home to visit their families.”

Business Standard—“‘By showing this engaging story on board our flights, Etihad Airways is supporting the efforts of the UAE in helping to eradicate polio in Pakistan,” said James Hogan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Etihad Airways.

Asif Durrani, Pakistan Ambassador to the UAE, said, “With approximately 1.25 million expatriate Pakistanis in the UAE, this is a perfect opportunity to educate our people during their journey home and ultimately help in the overall eradication of this terrible disease in our country.’”

CDC Reassigns Director of Lab Behind Anthrax Blunder 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sometime between June 6 and 13, up to 84 lab employees at the headquarters in Altanta, were possibly exposed to anthrax. The possible exposure, which was caused by technicians not following laboratory protocol, resulted not only in employees taking powerful antibiotics as prophylactics but also in the reassignment of the head of the Bioterror Rapid Response and Advanced Technology Laboratory, Michael Farrell, while the incident is investigated.

Reuters—“CDC spokesman Skinner on Sunday said the bioterror lab sent the anthrax bacteria to other labs in closed tubes. The recipients agitated the tubes and then removed the lids, raising concerns that live anthrax could have been released into the air.”

Mosquitos Carry Painful Chikungunya Virus to Americas

Chikungunya, a viral disease spread by the same mosquitos that spread Dengue fever, has made its way to the Americas. Fortunately, the type of mosquito that spreads the viruse, the Aedes aegypti, is not native to the United States. However, its close breed “cousin” Aedes albo, lives as far north as Chicago and is believed to be able to spread Chikungunya.

National Geographic—“There is no vaccine or medication that can change the course of the disease, though patients are given painkillers and told to drink a lot of fluids….To avoid getting chikungunya while staying in affected areas, take the usual precautions against mosquitoes: Wear long sleeves, use repellents, and keep outside areas free of standing water where mosquitoes can breed.”

West Africa Ebola Epidemic is ‘Out of Control’

With a current death count of 467, the Ebola outbreak affecting Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia has become dire. Doctors without Borders’ (MSF) Director of Operations said “the epidemic is out of control.” He continued, “we have reached our limits. Despite the human resources and equipment deployed by MSF in the three affected countries, we are no longer able to send teams to the new outbreak sites.”

The Huffington Post—“The outbreak of the deadly disease is already the largest and deadliest ever, according to the WHO, which previously put the death toll at 399 as of June 23, out of 635 cases. The 17 percent rise in deaths and 20 percent jump in cases in the space of a week will add urgency to an emergency meeting of 11 West African health ministers in Accra, Ghana on Wednesday and Thursday, which aims to coordinate a regional response.”

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


From the Pandora Report and all of us at the George Mason Biodefense program, we wish you a happy and safe Independence Day!!

Pandora Report 05.24.14

Highlights include the CIA and their “Immunization Campaigns,” Ricin Sentencing, Dengue Warning for the World Cup, and Bacteria and E-Cigarettes. Have a safe and wonderful Memorial Day weekend!!

CIA Drops Vaccination Cover Story in the Wake of Polio Outbreak

Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor, provided polio vaccinations in the city of Abbottabad as a cover for the CIA-backed effort to obtain DNA samples from children at a compound where Osama bin Laden was later found and killed in 2011. This week, however, the White House assured the deans of prominent U.S. Public Health Schools that the CIA will no longer use vaccination programs as a cover for spy operations. The agency also agreed not to use genetic materials obtained through such programs.  This announcement comes at a time when Polio cases are growing and spreading in Pakistan—in 2013 cases in Pakistan accounted for more than 20% of all new polio cases worldwide.

CBC—“The CIA’s use of a polio vaccine program to spy on bin Laden’s compound undercut Obama’s own high-profile speech to the Muslim world in 2009, in which he touted U.S. efforts to slash the growth of polio in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. With Obama administration assurances, Muslim scholars in two international groups issued religious decrees urging parents to vaccinate their children.”

Mississippi Man Sentenced in Ricin Letter Investigation

This week, James Dutschke was sentenced to 25 years in prison for developing and possessing Ricin. Dutschke mailed the ricin-laced letters to the President, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, and a Lee County Mississippi Judge.

FBI—“Following an investigation, Dutschke was arrested on April 27, 2013, and indicted by a federal grand jury on June 3, 2013. A superseding indictment was filed on November 20, 2013. Dutschke pled guilty on January 17, 2014, to one count of developing and possessing ricin and three subsequent counts of mailing threatening letters laced with the substance. According to the plea agreement between Dutschke and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that was filed in U.S. District Court in Oxford, Dutschke had agreed to serve a 300-month prison sentence and had waived his right to appeal.”

Scientists Warn of Dengue Fever Risk during Brazil’s World Cup

This topic has been circulating for weeks, if not months, but with the beginning of the World Cup a few weeks away, this story has been popping up in the news on a daily basis. Of the 12 World Cup host cities, the risk of Dengue fever has prompted a high alert in three—Natal, Fortaleza, and Recife—and an increased risk in four—Rio, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, and Manaus.

Dengue fever, sometimes called “breakbone fever,” is a viral infection transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. It can range from a mild, flu-like illness to a potentially deadly one, which occurs in approximately 5% of patients. There are no vaccines or effective treatments for Dengue Fever. Brazil has had more cases of the disease than anywhere in the world—more than seven million infections between 2000 and 2013.

Chicago Tribune—“Rachel Lowe, from the Catalan Institute of Climate Sciences in Barcelona, who helped develop the warning system, said the possibility of an outbreak during the World Cup large enough to infect visitors and spread back to their home countries will depend on a combination of factors. This include having large numbers of mosquitoes, a susceptible population and a high rate of mosquito-human contact, she said.”

Here’s Why Bacteria Like E-Cigs

Many, including everyone’s favorite anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy, claim that e-cigs are safer for their health than traditional cigarettes. However, it addition to the harm cigarettes inflict on the immune cell, it turns out that either type of cigarette may be just as bad for the body’s natural bacteria.

Time—“Dr. Laura Crotty Alexander, from the University of California at San Diego and the VA San Diego Healthcare System, found that the vapor from e-cigs prompts bacteria to become more resistant to antibiotics. In the presence of e-cig vapor, for example, methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) became more resistant to the natural anti-microbial agents that the body makes. Cigarette smoke also produces the same effect, but Crotty Alexander was surprised that the e-cig vapors did as well, given that they were not supposed to contain the health-harming carcinogens that tobacco smoke does.”

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Two Killed in Polio Vaccination Drive in Pakistan

A bomb killed two and injured 20 others during a polio vaccination drive in Pakistan. Pakistanis one of just three remaining states where polio remains endemic. An anti-Taliban group member and police officer comprised the fatalities. This is just the latest in a long campaign against aid workers, doctors, nurses, and public health officials working to try and eradicate the crippling disease in the region. The vaccinators, often relatively poor women, often work to inoculate local populations at great personal risk, usually travelling door-to-door in an attempt to reach as many children as possible.

Poliomyelitis, or polio, is an often fatal disease spread by the poliovirus. Once contracted, the disease is incurable, and can result in complete paralysis of the legs. The disease is easily preventable through a vaccine administered as oral drops.

The Independent – “When the authorities are unable to provide sufficient security, these women bear the brunt of the Taliban attacks. Last year, gunmen killed four female polio workers in the city of Karachi on the same day, and two women were killed in Peshawar, very close to where Monday morning’s bomb was detonated, apparently by remote control. In Nigeria, Islamist gunmen killed nine health workers in February.”

Read more here.

Using a Fish Army to fight Dengue

In what has to be one of the strangest public health strategies to date, health officials in the Punjab districts of Pakistan have released over a million Tilapia into pools, ponds, large puddles – just about any body of standing water – in an effort to combat dengue. Pakistan has a long rainy season which creates thousands of pools of water where the mosquitoes who carry dengue lay their eggs. By releasing the fish into these pools, the larvae are eaten before they can hatch, killing the virus’ vector and preventing its spread.

While it may be tempting to dismiss the strategy as a bizarre version of the woman-who-swallowed-the-fly nursery rhyme, don’t – apparently, it’s working. In 2011, the Punjab districts had over 20,000 cases of dengue, including 300 fatalities. So far this year, following the release of over 1.6 million fish, there have been just 100 cases total.  The question of what happens to the fish when the pools evaporate has not yet been addressed, but we’re still impressed – can you imagine having to pitch this idea to your superiors?

Read more about this very innovative use of fish at the Guardian.

(Image: Tilapia farmer in Pakistan, courtesy of USDA/Flickr)