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 3.17.2017

Happy Friday! In honor of  John Snow‘s birthday (the father of epidemiology), our featured image is the Broad Street pump map he used to combat cholera in the 19th century. Don’t miss out on the early registration discount for our biodefense summer workshop!

NAS Calls for Increased Federal Regulatory Agency Preparation for Growing Biotechnology Products 
The National Academies of Science (NAS) recent press release is emphasizing the need for federal regulatory agencies to prepare for greater quantities and ranges of biotechnology products. As the biotech world constantly evolves, regulatory agencies have struggled to keep up and this latest report states that in the next five to ten years, the pace will outmatch the U.S. regulatory system. According to the report, biotechnology, like CRISPR, has a rapidly growing scale and scope, which already stresses existing staff, expertise, and resources available at agencies like the EPA, FDA, and USDA. “To respond to the expected increase and diversity of products, the agencies should develop risk-analysis approaches tailored to the familiarity of products and the complexity of their uses, the report says. For biotechnology products that are similar to products already in use, established risk-analysis methods can be applied or modified, and a more expedited process could be used. For products that have less-familiar characteristics or more complex risk pathways, new risk-analysis methods may need to be developed.  Regulatory agencies should build their capacity to rapidly determine the type of risk-analysis approaches most appropriate for new products entering the regulatory system.” Within the report, NAS notes that the federal government needs to develop a strategy to combat the current issues and strengthen their ability to scan for future biotechnology products to better prioritize.

GMU Schar School Master’s Open House 
Have you ever wanted to study topics like CRISPR, bioterrorism, global health security, and pathogens of biological weapons? Good news – we’ve got just the program for you! Come check out GMU’s biodefense MS program at our Open House on Wednesday, March 22nd at our Arlington Campus, Founders Hall (Room 126) at 6:30pm. You can talk to some of our biodefense faculty and learn about our program. Whether you’re looking to take classes in person or earn a degree online, the biodefense MS is the best for the intersection of science and policy.

DARPA Works Towards “Soldier Cell” To Fight Bioweapons 
A bio-control system to fight off invading pathogens? Sounds like something out of a science fiction movie! Well, researchers at Johns Hopkins University just received funding from DARPA to develop the capacity to “deploy single-cell fighters” that would target and eliminate the lethality of certain pathogens. “‘Once you set up this bio-control system inside a cell, it has to do its job autonomously, sort of like a self-driving car,’ said Pablo A. Iglesias, principal investigator on the project. Iglesias, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Whiting School, shifted his research focus from man-made to biological control systems about 15 years ago. ‘Think about how the cruise control in your car senses your speed and accelerates or slows down to stay at the pace you’ve requested,’ Iglesias said. ‘In a similar way, the bio-control systems we’re developing must be able to sense where the pathogens are, move their cells toward the bacterial targets, and then engulf them to prevent infections among people who might otherwise be exposed to the harmful microbes’.” This angle, which is being focused on bacteria outside of the body, is just one potential tool in the biodefense arsenal.

Yellow Fever Outbreak in Brazil 
Since December of 2016, Brazilian health officials have reported an ongoing outbreak of yellow fever. The CDC has moved the alert to a  Level 2 – Practice Enhanced Precautions. A report recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine looks at the outbreak and the potential for cases in U.S. territories. In Brazil, there were 234 cases and 80 deaths reported between December and February. “Although it is highly unlikely that we will see yellow fever outbreaks in the continental United States, where mosquito density is low and risk of exposure is limited, it is possible that travel-related cases of yellow fever could occur, with brief periods of local transmission in warmer regions such as the Gulf Coast states, where A. aegypti mosquitoes are prevalent.”

GMU Biodefense Represented At Biothreats Conference
If you missed out on our coverage of ASM’s 2017 Biothreats conference, here’s a spotlight on GMU biodefense students attending this captivating three-day event. GMU’s biodefense program sent four graduate students to experience and report on the conference, which addressed biothreat research, policy, and response. “The program was exciting, according to the George Mason students in attendance. Mercer and Goble recall that the conference engaged topics of specific interest to them, their degree, and their futures. ‘I attended a panel that was very closely related to disease forecasting, my graduate thesis topic,’ Mercer said. ‘I was able to hear some of the cutting-edge research in that field, which was really helpful’. ‘I didn’t really have a part I didn’t like,’ Goble said. ‘I enjoyed the niche topics that were presented in both panel discussions and poster  sessions, from emergency operations to the FDA. All of these specific topics were extremely interesting to hear about and to know they are being researched’.”

Just How Well Did the 2009 Pandemic Flu Vaccine Strategy Work?
Researchers from the University of Nottingham recently looked at the success of vaccines in terms of preventing pandemic flu and reducing hospitalizations. Their work looked at the 2009 WHO-declared pandemic of the novel A(H1N1) virus, which infected around 61 million people around the world. Vaccines against the virus were rolled out globally between September and December of 2009, with the majority being inactivated A(H1N1)pdm09 influenza virus. Their work involved reviewing 38 studies between June 2011 and April 2016 regarding the effectiveness of the inactivated vaccine, which covered around 7.6 million people. “We found that the vaccines produced against the swine flu pandemic in 2009 were very effective in both preventing influenza infection and reducing the chances of hospital admission due to flu. This is all very encouraging in case we encounter a future pandemic, perhaps one that is more severe,” noted Professor Van Tam said. “Of course, we recognize that it took five to six months for pandemic vaccines to be ready in large quantities; this was a separate problem. However, if we can speed up vaccine production times, we would have a very effective strategy to reduce the impact of a future flu pandemic.” The 2009 pandemic A(H1N1) vaccine was 73% effective against laboratory confirmed cases and 61% against preventing hospitalizations. Interestingly, when looking at the vaccines’ effectiveness in different age groups, “they were shown to be less effective in adults over 18 years than in children, and effectiveness was lowest in adults over 50 years of age. Adjuvanted vaccines were found to be particularly more effective in children than in adults against laboratory confirmed illness (88 per cent in children versus 40 per cent in adults) and hospitalization (86 per cent in children versus 48 per cent in adults).”

Deadly Fungal Infection Arrives in U.S. 
While many are asking if surveillance methods for tracking the deadly CRE bacteria are adequate, a new issue is emerging in U.S. hospitals. Despite WHO’s recent plea for increased R&D surrounding certain resistant pathogens, it seems that more and more organisms of concern are springing up in U.S. hospitals. Since last summer, roughly three dozen people have been diagnosed with a highly resistant Candida auris infection. The fungal infection has caused worry ever since it was identified in 2009 due to its capacity as an emerging and resistant organism. Candida yeast infections are pretty common and known to cause urinary tract infections however, this strain is especially concerning because it easily causes bloodstream infections, has a stronger capacity for transmission between people, and is much more hardy in terms of living on skin and environmental surfaces. “Of the first seven cases that were reported to the CDC last fall, four patients had bloodstream infections and died during the weeks to months after the pathogen was identified. Officials said they couldn’t be sure whether the deaths were caused by the infection because all the individuals had other serious medical conditions. Five patients had the fungus initially isolated from blood, one from urine, and one from the ear.”

CDC Director Warns Loss of DHHS Funds Could Weaken Infectious Disease Prevention
Acting CDC director, Anne Schuchat, recently testified before Congress to make the case for for increased funding for several programs (one being the DHHS’s Prevention and Public Health Fund). Among other things, the Prevention and Public Health Fund is responsible for 12% of the CDC’s budget. Dr. Schucat’s testimony emphasized the previous usage of these funds in terms of vaccine delivery, disease surveillance, monitoring of water supplies, and tracking hospital-acquired infections. The growth of antibiotic resistance made her testimony and plea to Congress that much more relevant and urgent. “The CDC and other government agencies have in recent years cited the numerous public health threats posed by infectious diseases in general, and have lobbied officials for increased funding for research and development of novel vaccines and treatments as well as programs to effectively distribute interventions as needed. In 2016, for example, the CDC, DHHS, and National Institutes of Health requested federal funding to combat Zika, a request that was not approved until late in the year.”

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Science on Screen – Don’t miss this great event hosted by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory! On March 18th, you can watch the second installment of the Science on Screen series, featuring “Lawrence Livermore scientists Monica Borucki and Jonathan Allen, who will present ‘Reconstructing a Rabies Epidemic: Byte by Byte.’ This informative and entertaining lecture will explain how biologists and computer scientists used cutting-edge, ultra-deep sequencing technology to study the dynamics of a 2009 rabies outbreak. This case study, based on a dramatic increase (more than 350 percent) in the gray fox population infected with a rabies variant for which striped skunks serve as the reservoir hosts, will be used to help illustrate the changes in the viral genome during cross-species viral transmission. This lecture is appropriately paired with the feature-length film, “Contagion” (PG-13).”
  • Clorox Gets Spot on EPA A-Team – Clorox just earned its varsity spot on the team against hospitality-acquired infections. The EPA approved two of the company’s products in killing clostridium difficile spores. C-diff is a constant battle in healthcare facilities, so having the new tool in the infection prevention and environmental disinfection toolkit, is a huge advantage for many. “In addition, the cleaners and wipes recently become EPA-registered to disinfect against other bacterial infections, such as those caused by Staphylococcus epidermidis, Candida glabrata, and Enterococcus hirae. Moreover, the products are also effective against several viral pathogens, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), measles, and Influenza A and B, among others.”

 

Pandora Report: 2.10.2017

Have you ever wondered what some of the most deadly diseases looked like in person? Check out this video depicting some of these germs and how they’d appear if you sat next to an infected person. Fortunately, this week was full of disease-filled media like this germ history video regarding the golden age of germs and how humans cause pandemics (spillover anyone?)

The Colosseum that is CRISPR Patent Wars
It seems like the ultimate display of gladiator games – researchers from major university (UC-Berkley, Harvard, and MIT) are in the midst of a battle for patent protection. You can check out the timeline here, but it seems that despite it being over two months since proceedings started, we’re not much closer to a conclusion. “A key feature of the U.S. debate is over which research group was the true first inventor of the CRISPR/Cas9 system, especially its use in eukaryotic cells. At the time the first patent applications were filed, the U.S. had a ‘first-to-invent’ system—which means the first person to develop an invention is entitled to have the patent, even if they were not the first to file a patent application (or the first to get a patent granted) for that invention. UCal has started “interference proceedings” against the Broad Institute to determine who was the first to invent the CRISPR/Cas9 system. UCal claims that they were the first to invent the use of the CRISPR/Cas9 system for gene editing, and that their earliest patent application enabled gene editing in eukaryotic cells. In contrast, The Broad Institute are arguing that UCal had not invented the use in eukaryotic cells at the time of filing its first patent application and are therefore claiming that The Broad Institute were the first to invent the use of CRISPR/Cas9 in eukaryotic cells.”

Public Health’s Greatest Threats 
We all have opinions regarding the greatest global threat- especially in terms of public health. Is it obesity? Cancer? Exposure to toxins or new emerging diseases? What about bioterrorism or bioerror? Dr. Larry Brilliant is an epidemiologist who focuses on the worst disease throughout history. He notes that the greatest threats to public health can be divided into biological and socio-political. “In the last 30 years, there have been at least 30 heretofore unknown viruses that have jumped from animals to humans, for worrying reasons Brilliant attributes to modernity and our increase in animal protein consumption. Still, the socio-political threats are the more immediately dangerous. There are centrifugal forces at play that are pushing society to two extreme camps. The domestic and global division caused President Trump’s ‘America First’ mentality and disregard for public health leaves us vulnerable to new viruses that, if they aren’t detected early enough, could be the next pandemic. ‘Right now because of the re-organization and nationalism… and dislike for the United Nations and its agencies, I think we’re in a period of grave vulnerability,’ says Brilliant.” Dr. Brilliant points to the reality that public health threats aren’t just biological, and as we saw with the 2014/2015 ebola outbreak (and Zika), the socio-political response can hinder or help public health efforts. While we’re always vulnerable to new diseases, are we becoming increasingly more susceptible from a socio-political standpoint?

ASM Biothreats 2017
From synthetic biology to national bioterror emergency response, the ASM conference was packed with biodefense goodies. We’ll be providing a detailed overview regarding certain sessions and the conference as a whole, so make sure to keep your eye out next week!

Find Out What New Viruses Are Brewing In your Backyard  screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-7-47-55-am
NPR is looking at what causes pandemics and where new diseases tend to spring up. By reviewing EcoHealth Alliance data, they note that within the past sixty years, the amount of new diseases appearing has quadrupled. Scarier yet, the number of outbreaks occurring each year has more than tripled since 1980. “We’re in a hyperinfectious disease world,” says epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who directs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in Minneapolis. While the tools for surveillance and detection have gotten better, it also became apparent to researchers that old diseases are returning from the grave, while emerging diseases are transgressing into new regions. “So the big question is: Why? Why is this era of new diseases happening now? ‘Well, we’ve been boiling the frog for a long time. Eventually, it’s cooked,’ says Toph Allen, a data scientist with EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit that is trying to prevent pandemics by looking for diseases in wildlife. Wait. We’re boiling the frog? You mean, humans are responsible? Yes. Many scientists say we, humans, are to blame for this new disease era. That we’re responsible for turning harmless animal viruses into dangerous human viruses.” Unfortunately, it seems that humans have become especially skilled at causing spillover.

Center for Global Security Research Student Internship
Calling all GMU biodefense students! Lawerence Livermore National Laboratory’s Center for Global Security Research is looking for a student intern! The center has “openings for undergraduate and graduate students and recent bachelors or master’s level graduates within one year, to engage in practical research experience to further their educational goals.” The student may conduct “research in the fields of nuclear engineering, computational sciences, materials science and engineering, cyber security, interactive data mining, political science and international relations to support United States (US) policy and decision makers in developing strategies for national and international security. The Center for Global Security Research’s (CGSR) mission is to provide technology, analysis, and expertise to aid the US government in preventing the spread or use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and examining the policy implications of proliferation of WMD, as well as deterrence.”

Zika’s New Strategy – Spillback?
With over 5,000 cases in the U.S. alone, the Zika virus outbreak may be slowing, but it’s not gone. We’ve talked about spillover before, but what about spillback? We tend to worry about diseases spilling over from animals into humans, but what about the opposite direction? Researchers are now worried about Zika spillback into monkeys. “In areas where Zika infections are prevalent among humans and mosquitoes are abundant, the virus may be transmitted to wild primates, disease ecologist Barbara Han said February 6 at the American Society for Microbiology Biothreats meeting. If the disease gets established in monkeys or other wild primates, the animals may serve as reservoirs for future human outbreaks.” As scientists work to study this process and establish potential at-risk species, it’s a helpful reminder that infectious diseases like to keep us on our toes. Or should I say, paws?

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Over 350 Organizations Write Trump About Vaccine Safety – More than 350 organizations have written to President Trump highlighting their “unequivocal support for the safety of vaccines”. Leading medical organizations and healthcare professionals have resorted to this measure since the January meeting Trump had with Robert F. Kennedy regarding a potential commission on autism and vaccines. “Vaccines protect the health of children and adults and save lives,” the letter opens. “Vaccines have been part of the fabric of our society for decades and are one of the most significant medical innovations of our time.” It continues: “Claims that vaccines are unsafe when administered according to expert recommendations have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature.”
  • Got C-diff? Grab Some Vancomycin!Clostridium difficile is an infection preventionist’s worst nightmare. This spore-forming bug is tough to kill, can cause mortality, and often wreaks havoc on hospitals. A recent study looked at the treatment efficacy of vancomycin versus metronidazole, with the goal of preventing recurrence of the disease. “Analysis of the data showed that there was no difference in risk of recurrence between those treated with vancomycin or metronidazole in any of the severity groups. And in patients with mild-to-moderate disease, there was no significant difference found in the risk of all-cause 30-day mortality. But among the patients with severe infection, patients treated with vancomycin were 4% less likely to die within 30 days of any cause than those treated with metronidazole. Stevens and her colleagues calculated that to prevent one death among patients with severe C difficile infection, 25 would need to be treated with vancomycin.”
  • Fighting Cholera– Cholera has been a scourge throughout history and sadly, we’re still battling it. Researchers have finally developed an effective vaccine and stockpiled it, however efforts are still in progress to get it to the most hard-hit countries, like Bangladesh. “Merely creating that stockpile — even of a few million doses — profoundly improved the way the world fought cholera, Dr. Margaret Chan, secretary general of the W.H.O., said last year. Ready access to the vaccine has made countries less tempted to cover up outbreaks to protect tourism, she said. That has sped up emergency responses and attracted more vaccine makers, lowering costs. ‘More cholera vaccines have been deployed over the last two years than in the previous 15 years combined,’ Dr. Chan said.”

 

 

Pandora Report 12.23.2016

microbiallsnowmanHappy Holidays from your friends at the Pandora Report and GMU Biodefense! If you’re starting a New Year’s resolutions list for things to improve, it sounds like you’ve got company – the WHO is rethinking how it responds to outbreaks.

The Grim Forecast of Antimicrobial Resistance 
In the wake of the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance, it seems that the worried voices are getting louder but the barriers are growing higher. The return to colistin use points to a growing desperation as physicians are forced to use antibiotics that were previously avoided due to such harsh side effects. Many hospitals have shared their tales of MDRO outbreaks – some stopping as mysteriously as they began, while others have clear culprits. Some hospitals have even begun initiating isolation for any patient who was hospitalized abroad within the last couple of years. It’s also becoming increasingly common for hospitals to pre-emptively test patients via MDRO screening to more rapidly isolate them. The concern is also that few truly new antibiotics have been developed in recent years. “Thirty-seven antibiotics are currently undergoing clinical trials, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, which keeps track of the U.S. pipeline. Most, however, are based on existing drugs. While these derivatives are cheaper and easier to develop than new classes of drugs, bacteria have a head start in developing resistance to them.Further, most drugs in the pipeline target so-called Gram-positive bacteria, a group that includes the well-known superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). But recently, the main emerging threats have come from the group known as Gram negatives, which are harder to treat because they are encased in tough membranes that repel many drugs.” Many are pointing to a tipping point in 2017 – antibiotics will be consumed by farm animals more than humans worldwide. The UN General Assembly is calling for countries to start getting smart in terms of antibiotic usage but hasn’t set specific goals. Sadly, it seems that there aren’t many more ways this impending reality can be shared – data, shocking titles, future predictions, etc. Check out this factsheet on the use of antibiotics in agriculture and why it impacts resistance. The report has some great suggestions for future work, like refining antibiotic labels and working to collect and report better data. Here’s a spot of good news in this dismal truth – the FDA has just cleared a new one-hour MRSA test to help rapidly identify the lead bug in healthcare-associated infections.

Homeland Biodefense: Science & Technology Capability Review
Just in time for the holidays, it’s like the National Science and Technology Council just knew what biodefense geeks wanted. This report is the product of a comprehensive review of U.S biodefense capabilities, which aided in the prioritization of S&T issues to better strengthen response. The end result is a product of two phases- stage 1: “The goal of this activity was to identify S&T needs articulated by Federal subject matter experts including both science program managers and agency officials in charge of operational programs, to elicit feedback on where additional S&T investments could address operational needs.” Stage 2: “The goal of this activity was to provide coordinated interagency feedback on which needs represent the highest priority to the interagency working group, and to identify which Department or Agency should recommend or coordinate on actions to respond to each of those priority needs.” Scenarios were limited to a handful of events like aerosolized anthrax, avian influenza outbreak (possibly deliberate), food-borne attacks, etc. Perhaps some of the most notable findings were the need to improve abilities to systematically assess how much risk has been mitigated by biodefense investments, understand the impact of bioattacks on companion animals and wildlife, several deficiencies in regards to technical staff and lab infrastructure, etc.

Greek Food Terrorism Threats 
Member of an eco-anarchy group in Greece, FAI/IRF, are announcing their threats for food terrorism over the holiday. The time frame for attacks is December 22nd – January 5th, 2017 and the group has said that their focus is on causing economic disruption, not poisoning people. FAI/IRF has shown their process for poisoning various food and beverage items as their targets include Coca-Cola, Nestle, Unilever, and Delta. Many of these companies have chosen to withdraw specific products from an area in Greece. The group has shown how they can poison foods/beverages with chlorine and hydrochloric acid while leaving the packaging in place. “The four companies that withdrew products were named in the FAI/IRF statements. The eco-anarchists claim to be opposed to both capitalism and Marxism. They contend in their statement that Coke profits from ‘forced labor’ in China and Nestle is ‘held responsible’ for the death of 1.5 million children in the third world. No substantiation was provided for either claim.”

80140100189470lThe Commandant’s Reading List 
In the latest Army Chemical Review (Professional Bulletin of the Chemical Corps) you can find the Commandant’s Reading Program, compiled by Lieutenant Colonel James P. Harrell, which contains a great assortment of books to add to your reading list (or last minute shopping list!). From Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague to Michael Oldstone’s Viruses, Plagues, & History, you can pick up some top CBW books. GMU Biodefense’s very own director and professor, Gregory Koblentz, had his book, Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security, make this list, so make sure not to miss it!

Test Driving Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes
Take a tour through the world of genetically engineered mosquitoes at Imperial College London with genetic engineer, Andrew Hammond. What makes these particular mosquitoes especially unique is the use of gene drive to ensure virtually all offspring acquire the desired effects. “Hammond’s team is genetically engineering the Anopheles gambiae mosquito, which is the primary species that spreads the malaria parasite. Nearly all of the offspring of the modified mosquitoes inherit mutations that knock out the genes females need to make eggs. ‘If we can sterilize the females,’ he says, we ‘can actually eliminate a whole mosquito population without affecting those mosquitoes that don’t have the capability to transmit malaria’.” Hammond gives a great tour of the process for creating gene-drive mosquitoes while discussing the dangers of gene drive and genetic engineering. While there is a wealth of opportunity to do good with tools like CRISPR, there’s also the concern that there could be unintended consequences or events we can’t even imagine. To combat the potential risks, there are also research teams working to keep CRISPR in check.  “A team of scientists that previously identified genes within bacteriophage genomes that code for anti-CRISPR proteins has now discovered phages that harbor an antidote to the Cas9 enzyme that is a key component of the predominant CRISPR system that is today used as a gene-editing tool. The team, led by the University of Toronto’s Alan Davidson, described three bacteriophage-encoded, anti–Cas9 genes and showed that the corresponding proteins are able to block the activity of CRISPR-Cas9—derived from bacterial type II CRISPR-Cas systems—in human cells.”

FEMA’s Ricin Mishap 
Going through the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) training a few years back was a fascinating experience – how many times do you get to train with ricin or anthrax and then move into a pandemic preparedness exercise? For this biodefense student, that’s what I call a good time! Sadly, CDP just announced their entry into the club of biosafety failures. The facility is blaming an outside lab for shipping the wrong form of ricin powder…since 2011. “The training center says it submitted order forms asking for a type of ricin extract that is unlikely to cause serious harm. But officials from Toxin Technology, the Florida company that sent nine shipments to the center since 2011, told USA TODAY that its ricin products were all accurately labeled as ‘RCA60’ – a scientific name for the whole ricin toxin, which can be deadly. It’s unclear why training center staff didn’t recognize for years that they were working with a far more dangerous substance.” The news broke late last week and on Saturday, I received an email from CDP regarding the suspension of those classes and some comments on the incident. Here are some of the highlights:
-In November 2016, while making a purchase of ricin A-chain for training, CDP staff recognized an ongoing discrepancy in the documentation related to the type of ricin being provided. The vendor has now said the more toxic holotoxin version of the materials was provided since 2011. It was previously believed that all remaining ricin on campus had been destroyed. This week, it became known that, while CDP had indeed destroyed all of the ricin in question, additional ricin training material, a solution marked A-chain remains securely stored on the premises. This material was not received from the vendor in question and we are working with the appropriate authorities to safely dispose of the additional ricin material.
-As an example, the protective gear you wore exceeded what would be required for working with ricin slurry.  Students who trained with the agent were in full Level C personal protective equipment at all times when training.  We have no indication that students were exposed directly to the holotoxin or harmed by it.

Zika Outbreak Updates
Not surprisingly, researchers are pointing to the impacts of climate change on infectious diseases. Recently, many have noted the role of climate change and El Niño on laying the groundwork for Zika to spread so quickly and proficiently throughout South America. A new study describes interworking of the virus and the mechanisms it utilizes for damage in pregnant women and developing babies. The CDC has reported 4,756 cases in the U.S. as of December 21st.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Public Health Preparedness Assessment for Each State – The Trust For America’s Health assessment was just released for each state based on 10 indicators for preparedness. Sadly, it seems that most states are not prepared for disaster. Twenty-six states and Washington, D.C. scored a six or lower on the indicators for public health preparedness. “The most striking are gaps in the ability of the health care system to care for a mass influx of patients during a major outbreak or attack and lack of a coordinated biosurveillance system. ‘Biosurveillance does remain a major ongoing gap,’ Segal said. Given all the recent technological advances, there is the potential for a ‘near real-time’ surveillance system to detect outbreaks and to track containment effort, yet the dream eludes our government, she said.”
  • How A Pandemic Might Play Out Under Trump – The Atlantic’s Ed Yong is looking at how the incoming administration will handle the growing threat of emerging infectious diseases. Outbreaks can make or break leaders and often are canaries in the coal mine for systemic weaknesses. “They demand diplomacy, decisiveness, leadership, humility, and expertise—and they quickly unearth any lack of the same. ‘As far as I can tell, Trump has zero experience on this,’ says Jack Chow from Carnegie Mellon University, who has worked at both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the State Department under Colin Powell. ‘If I asked him, ‘What is your stance on global health?,’ I don’t know what he’d say. I don’t think anyone really does’.”

Pandora Report 9.16.2016

Is it time to outsource key tasks out of the WHO and into more capable agencies? On Monday, the U.S. carried out a massive airstrike on a suspected ISIS chemical weapons facility in Mosul, Iraq. Sri Lanka has made history by being declared malaria-free after three years since its last case. Sri Lanka had previously tried to eradicate malaria over fifty years ago, but the effort was met with failure and is frequently cited by malaria experts. Do you subscribe to the “five-second rule” when it comes to your food? You may want to give it a second thought as Rutgers researchers have recently disproven the notion – sadly, cross-contamination can’t be avoided in most cases. The CDC has added Bacillus cereus Biovar anthraces to the list of Tier 1 Select Agents.

GMU Biodefense Graduate Info Sessions
In case you missed last night’s MS Open House in Arlington, we’ve got plenty more graduate program information sessions. GMU will be hosting several more events this Fall, so make sure not to miss one! The next MS information session (for both in-person and online programs) is on Wednesday October 19th, 6:30pm in Founders Hall, room 126. If you’re looking at a PhD in biodefense, come to our information session on Wednesday, October 12th, from 7-8:30pm, at the Johnson Center in the Fairfax Campus, room 334. From Anthrax to Zika, we cover all the biodefense topics and applications in our information sessions.

Biological Threats in the 21st Century Book Launch!  
On October 14th, join us in celebrating the book launch of Biological Threats in the 21st Century! Biological Threats in the 21st Century introduces readers to the politics, people, science and historical roots of contemporary biological threats through rigorous and accessible chapters written by leading scholars and supplemented by expert point-of-view contributions and interviews. The book launch will feature a panel discussion on the threat of biological weapons and the role of scientists in bioweapons non-proliferation and disarmament. The event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be available beginning at 11:45 AM so please RSVP. Attendants will also be able to pick up the book at a 15% discount.

Identifying Future Disease Hot Spots
Check out the latest RAND report in which researchers are asking which countries might be particularly vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks and how the U.S. can help support these countries to better prepare and respond to public health events. Pulling from a wide variety of literature and data, “authors created an index for identifying potentially vulnerable countries and then ranked countries by overall vulnerability score.” Researchers looked at the 25 most-vulnerable countries, which include the “disease belt” in the Sahel region of Africa. Of the 25 noted countries, 22 are in Africa, and the remaining are Afghanistan, Yemen, and Haiti. “Conflict or recent conflict is present among more-vulnerable countries. Seven of the ten most-vulnerable countries are current conflict zones. Of the 30 most-vulnerable countries, 24 form a solid, near-contiguous belt from the edge of West Africa to the Horn of Africa in Somalia — a disease hot spot belt. Were a communicable disease to emerge within this chain of countries, it could easily spread across borders in all directions.” The 25 least-vulnerable countries were found to be in Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific. The least-vulnerable countries were found to have larger medical systems and expenditures, better health indicators, less corrupt and more stable governments, better human rights, and often technological sophistication.

Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (PACCARB) 
You can join (in listen-only) this teleconference and webcast on Monday, September 19th, to gain further insight into the battle of microbial stewardship. “With participation of Member States, non-governmental organizations, civil society, the private sector and academic institutions, the primary objective of this pubic meeting is to summon and maintain strong national, regional and international political commitment in addressing antimicrobial resistance comprehensively and multi-sectorally, and to increase and improve awareness of antimicrobial resistance.”

Ebola & Zika: Cautionary Tales 20988_lores
In the latest issue of Science, Michael T. Osterholm discusses the challenges of combating infectious disease outbreaks and the struggles to respond with vaccine development. Osterholm points to the need to drive development and funding mechanisms in coordination with surveillance of emerging infectious diseases (EID). Upon the indication that an EID is bubbling up, it would be prudent to have vaccines (even if they’re not licensed yet), ready for large trials. Moreover, the looming threat of EID’s should be the best motivator for developing candidate vaccines. “The handwriting is on the wall regarding the current Zika outbreak in the Americas. High human infection rates in the major impact regions, caused by virus-carrying mosquitoes and human sexual transmission, will continue for several more years. Eventually, the number of cases will drop as more of the community develops immunity. Zika vaccine trials in the Americas may be too late to be tested on the current high number of cases.” Pointing to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), he emphasizes the need to fill the vaccine preparedness hole. Current practices are slow and on an “as-needed” basis, but the truth is that we already have the incentives and EID presence to make the push towards correcting the insufficient process.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Dialogue with Students
The UN Security Council 1540 Committee and the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs collaborated with the Stimson Center to create an international essay contest for students. On September 30th, from 10:30am-4pm, they will be hosting an on-the-record discussion regarding the proliferation of WMD’s and honoring the winners of the essay contest.  The winners will be announced and some will even be presenting their ideas at this event. “The goals of the competition were to involve the younger generation in understanding and addressing the important issue of proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), i.e., chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and to solicit innovative student approaches to implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004) to support the Council’s Comprehensive Review of the resolution this year.” Panel discussions will include speakers such as Dana Perkins (Senior Science Advisor, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, former 1540 Expert), Will Tobey (Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University), Craig Finkelstein (Coordinator for the Working Group of the 1540 Committee on Transparency and Outreach), and more! The event will be at Harvard University’s Tubman Building in Cambridge, MA. You can RSVP for all or part of the event here.

Latest Zika News
As more outbreaks occur, the question is quickly becoming – should government officials “allocate resources to support the advancement of traditional drugs and vaccines or emerging broad-spectrum therapies?” If you’re a Miami Beach resident, free Zika testing is now being offered at the Miami Beach Police Department. Utah is keeping public health investigators on their toes with a mystery Zika case.  CDC officials are investigating a man who contracted Zika but was not exposed via a mosquito or sexual contact. Recently published in the CDC’s MMWR, “Patient A was known to have had close contact (i.e., kissing and hugging) with the index patient while the index patient’s viral load was found to be very high,” CDC researchers said in the report. “Although it is not certain that these types of close contact were the source of transmission, family contacts should be aware that blood and body fluids of severely ill patients might be infectious.” If you need a laugh, the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah addressed Zika in a recent episode. Singapore is quickly becoming a Zika hot spot, leaving many researchers stumped about the strain. Experts are suspecting a significant mutation that ramped up the virus’s capability to spread. “What is most intriguing is the question as to whether some mutation has occurred in the Zika virus to make it more transmissible by the Aedes albopictus mosquito—this would be analogous to what happened with chikungunya,” said Paul Anantharajah Tambyah, the secretary-general of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection. The CDC has reported, as of September 14th, 3,176 cases of Zika virus in the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Biodefense in the Age of Synthetic Biology – the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has a new contract with the U.S. DoD’s Office of the Deputy Assistant Security of Defense, Chemical, and Biological Defense (NCB/CBD) to assess the nature of biothreats given the innovations within synthetic biology. “NAS will appoint an ad hoc committee to study the manipulation of biological functions, systems, or microorganisms resulting in the production of a disease-causing agents or toxins. The study will start with development of a strategic framework to guide an assessment of the potential security vulnerabilities related to advances in biology and biotechnology, with a particular emphasis on synthetic biology.”
  • Evidence of Airborne H5N2 Found in Distant Barns – a recent study found H5N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza in air samples collected “inside, immediately outside, and up to 70 meters from affected barns during the 2015 outbreak in the Midwest”. The researchers also found H5N2 RNA in air samples collected 1 kilometer from the infected barns. “A total of 26 of 37 (67%) sampling events collected inside and 18 of 40 (45%) collected at 5 meters were positive for H5N2. Sampling at distances from 70 meters to 1 kilometer resulted in about 2% positives and 58% suspected findings. The researchers found HPAI H5N2 viruses in particles up to 2.1 micrometer in diameter.”
  • History of the War on Superbugs – The war on antibiotic resistance may seem new, but it’s actually been waging on for over 60 years. Even Alexander Flemming knew the potential for antibiotic misuse and resistance, noting that “There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily undergoes himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.” Sadly, even the identification of penicillin-resistant germs didn’t scare people, simply because it was a time of antibiotic renaissance – developments were happening all around us and that calmed the fear that should have been brewing.

Pandora Report: 7.29.2016

Happy Friday! With the Olympics right around the corner, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding the games (not just Aedes mosquitoes) and the athlete living quarters. Make sure to watch the PBS special, “Spillover- Zika, Ebola & Beyond“, on August 3rd at 10/9c. The special will look at the rise of spillover diseases like Nipah and the impact of human behavior on the spread of zoonotic diseases. The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) reported a new study that finds three key factors increase the risk for patient-to-patient transmission of the extremely resistant CP-CRE. The Democratic National Convention closed last night and Hilary Clinton made it a point to say, “I believe in science”, which highlights  the stark differences between the candidates on topics like climate change and stem cell research. 

What Damage Could CRISPR Do To The BWC?
Daniel Gerstein points to the approaching Eighth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention and the assessment of new technologies, like CRISPR. Since James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, stated that genome editing is a global danger, many are waiting to see what the convention will say about the future threats of technologies like CRISPR. Gerstein notes that, “if the seven previous review conferences are any indication, the gathering in November will recognize Crispr’s contribution to the biotech field, then enthusiastically declare the convention fit to address any problems it might create. But will that be enough?” The flexible nature of the convention is meant to support the ever-changing world of science and technology, however this also means that any potential bans on experiments are that much more challenging. In his article, Gerstein discusses the assessment of CRISPR as a nonproliferation threat and the risks associated with limiting technological innovation. Despite the challenges of banning certain biotechnologies, there are things that can still be done within the conference. Surveillance and training are imperative, especially in terms of “spotting the development of new pathogens or the modification of existing ones”, and national responsibility needs to be part of this equation. Gerstein’s points on not just national implementation, but also national responsibility emphasizes the transition from a traditional method into an emphasis on people and activities. Practices need to match the pace of biotech development, which means expanding the Implementation Support Unit, strengthening surveillance capabilities, and reinforcing institutional structures. “Those gathering at the review conference in November must seriously consider whether advances in biotechnology have made the existing bioweapons convention obsolete, but they must also ask what more the convention can do, as the reigning body for regulating biological weapons, to ensure that new biotechnologies continue to be used for peaceful purposes only.”

Half of Americans Say Infectious Disease Threats Are Growing  

Courtesy of Pew Research Center
Courtesy of Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center conducted a recent survey in the wake of the very public Zika virus outbreak. While some may have noted that Americans aren’t as worried about Zika, the survey found that 51% of U.S. adults feel that, compared to 20 years ago, there are more infectious diseases threats to health today. 82% of Americans polled stated that they pay at least some attention to the news regarding infectious disease outbreaks and 58% believe that Zika is a major threat to the health of women who are pregnant. 31% believe that Zika is a major threat to the U.S. population as a whole, while 58% felt it was a minor threat. The poll also found that more people had heard of Ebola at the time of the 2014 outbreak than Zika as a problem right now. Broken down by demographics, those most worried about Zika include older adults, especially women.

Containment: Lessons Learned and Cringe-Worthy Moments2015_0326_Biohazard_Suits
Tuesday nights won’t be the same since Containment ended – what will we do without the asymptomatic super-spreaders like Thomas, the overly gory hemorrhaging, or the suspension of infection prevention practices? Like any science-based show, there are moments of accuracy and moments of pure dramatic exaggeration. Check out our list of the things we enjoyed about the show and some of the more eye-rolling moments. While it’s rare to have a prime-time show involving an outbreak, we’re hoping that the future will hold more scientifically accurate series that will dismantle the hysteria we too often see during public health emergencies.

Australia Utilizes Bioterrorism Algorithm to Predict Flu Outbreaks
Victoria’s health department is currently using a tool, EpiDefend, that can “accurately predict flu outbreaks up to eight weeks in advance.” Combining environmental data, lab results, and more, the tool is funded by the US Department of Defense and designed by the Australian Department of Science and Technology (DST) to aid in Australian disease prediction practices and strengthen global bio-surveillance. ”Our team’s goal is dual-purpose, we want to fulfil our defence charter, protecting our forces against intentionally released biological agents; but disease forecasting will also support the national security and public health areas,” said Tony Lau, defence scientist. EpiDefend incorporates electronic health records (EHR) via the healthcare sector, which means it can be especially powerful, but also requires the presence and reliability of EHR. The system uses an algorithm that is still being refined. “Particle filtering is a technique which helps us close in on the degree of uncertainty by the help of information gathered from particular situation. In other words, it helps the algorithm churn out more precise readings.”

Zika Virus
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has published a webpage on what you need to know about Zika virus. A recent study is estimating that as many as 1.65 million women in Latin American could be infected while pregnant. Researchers, from another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, are pointing to a low risk for international Zika spread from the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.  Researchers calculated “the worst-case estimates of travel-associated Zika virus by assuming visitors encounter the same infections exposures as local residents. This is highly unlikely, as visitors would be staying in screened and air-conditioned accommodations, as well as taking personal preventive measures. But under the authors’ pessimistic conditions, they estimate an individual traveler’s probability to acquire infection in Rio de Janeiro is quite low. Specifically, they estimate anywhere from 6 to 80 total infections with between and one and 16 of those infected experiencing any symptoms.” Florida officials announced the investigation of another two potential cases of local-transmission. These new cases have pushed the FDA to curb blood collection in Florida. A new study performed a real-time Zika risk assessment in the U.S, suggesting that 21 Texas counties along the Texas-Mexico border, the Houston Metro area, and throughout the I-35 corridor (San Antonio to Waco) have the greatest risk for sustained transmission. As of July 27th, the CDC has reported 1,658 cases of Zika in the U.S. 

Stories You May Have Missed: 

  • CSIS Curated Conversations on Pandemic Preparedness & the World Bank – The Center for Strategic & International Studies has made its Curated Conversations podcast available on iTunes, which means you can check out the June 3rd episode, “the World Bank President on Preventing the Next Pandemic”. The World Bank Group president, Jim long Kim, discusses funding to help prevent the next pandemic and lessons learned from Ebola.
  • Joint West Africa Biopreparedness Efforts – The DOD is investing in the Joint West Africa Research Group to help improve and sustain biopreparedness within the region. Following the Ebola outbreak, this new program will build upon existing programs and strengthen lab and clinical resources, as well as biosurveillance efforts.
  • Yellow Fever in the Americas? The Pan American Health Organization is currently investigating a case of yellow fever in a man who traveled to Angola. Genetic testing is underway, but there is concern that the virus could ramp up in the Americas during a vaccine shortage.

Pandora Report: 7.15.2016

Happy Friday! Don’t forget to read that Federal Select Agent Program report we revealed last week, as many are shocked to find the 199 lab mishaps that occurred. Check out these One Health researchers who are trying to predict and prevent the next disease that will run rampant like Ebola. You can also listen to Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, talk about how superbugs are beating us. Have we reached the end of the Golden Age of antibiotics? 

International Security & Foreign Policy Implications of Overseas Disease Outbreaks Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 8.40.13 AM
A recent report by the International Security Advisory Board (a Federal  Advisory Committee) has been released regarding the security implications of infectious disease outbreaks and the efforts of the WHO, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), international academies, etc. Within the report there is a heavy focus on how the Department of State should prepare for such global health challenges and a series of structural solutions, capacity issues, and opportunities that can be taken. The National Bureau of Economic Research recently found that a global pandemic would cost $570 billion per year. “The links between disease and security have become clearer as more disease threats have emerged and global interconnectedness makes a threat anywhere, a threat everywhere. There are few threats to the United States and its global interests that match the potential scale and scope of the threat to life and security and economic interests than those from infectious disease outbreaks, whether naturally occurring or intentionally caused.” Some of the recommendations emphasized the strengthening of U.S. government coordination through the development of plans for responding to such public health emergencies in areas out of control of a central government and/or hostile to U.S. government involvement. Additional recommendations included strengthening by fully integrating public health emergencies and the associated challenges into the national security agenda by “providing resources, developing organizational leadership within the U.S. and internationally, and developing and exercising appropriate plans for preparing for, preventing, and responding to threats.” Whether they are natural, deliberate, or accidental, globalization makes the threat of these outbreaks that much more dangerous.”Public health is now a national security challenge and must be treated as such in terms of planning, resources, and organizational support. It is essential to refocus the U.S. approach to this threat, and to invest in the appropriate level of ‘insurance’ just as we do for traditional defense related needs.”

The National Biodefense Strategy Act of 2016
Introduced in May by Sen. Ron Johnson, the bill amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 “to require the President to establish a Biodefense Coordination Council to develop a national strategy to help the federal government prevent and respond to major biological incidents.” The bill defines biodefense as “any involvement in mitigating the risks of major biological incidents and public health emergencies to the United States, including with respect to- threat awareness, prevention and protection, surveillance and detection, response and recovery, and attribution of an intentional biological incident.” Within the bill, the President must establish a Biodefense Coordination Council and develop a National Biodefense Strategy in which there must be status updates to Congress every 180 days. The strategy must be updated at least every five years and the bill also requires that an annual report with detailed expenditures and their relevance to the strategy is submitted. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released its summary on the costs of S. 2967 – “CBO estimates that enacting S. 2967 would cost less than $500,000 annually and about $2 million over the 2017-2021 period; any such spending would be subject to the availability of appropriated funds.”

The Growing Cost of the Next Flu Pandemic
A recent study from researchers at the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) utilized advanced methodology to calculate the total cost of an influenza outbreak. SRA’s work concluded that if the public used flu vaccines during the pandemic, the U.S. GDP loss would be $34.4 billion. In the event that flu vaccines weren’t used, the cost would rise to $45.3 billion. This particular study is unique in that it addresses public, government, and business responses to an epidemic. Conducted as part of a project by the the Department of Homeland Security’s National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC), the study estimates “the relative prominence of the various economic consequence types,’ as well as complicating factors, many of them not addressed in any prior study. These complicating factors include different types of avoidance behavior, such as the already noted avoidance of public events and facilities.”

A New Case of Super Resistant E. Coli 
A second patient in the U.S. has been found to carry the colistin-resistant E. coli that raised concern in late May when it was also found in Pennsylvanian woman. Colistin resistance means that the antibiotic of last resort, colistin, is no longer effective at killing the organism. The most recent was reported to have had surgery in a New York hospital last year, which begs the question – is this where it was acquired? Were post-operative antibiotics not discontinued properly? The second case is fueling public health fear over the spread of this resistant gene, especially in regards to bacteria that are currently only susceptible to colistin. In the wake of these findings, many are pushing for increased surveillance and focus on antibiotic resistance. “The CDC is planning to establish seven regional laboratories this fall that will have the capacity to do better and faster testing for a broad range of antimicrobial resistance.”

One Health & Antimicrobial Resistance 
On Wednesday, the One Health Commission held a webinar on antimicrobial resistance in the environment. Led by Dr. Laura Kahn, the presentation focussed on the challenges of feeding billions, the growth of antibiotic use in meat, and the reality that antibiotic resistance is an integral part of 21st century challenges. In general, people are eating more meat, with China shouldering a 147% growth in meat consumption, while the U.S. has remained unchanged. Antibiotic usage in meat is not the only concerning source as sewage sludge can easily be a source of antibiotic exposure for animals. Dr. Kahn also discussed that from 2000-2010, global human antibiotic consumption has grown 37% and the top antibiotic consumers are India, China, and the U.S. Interestingly, India and Pakistan have some of the most resistance microbes in the world. A Dutch study looking at archived soil from 1942-2008 found that there were increasing concentrations of resistant genes as time progressed. Expanding human population and demand for animal proteins, rising human and animal waste production, poor sanitation, indiscriminate antibiotic usage, and land/water contamination are all fueling the rise of antibiotic resistance and altering the “global resistome”. So what can be done? Dr. Kahn noted the potential role of bacteriophages as a means of fighting bacteria and the growing threat of microbial resistance. Overall, we need to understand the microbial world better, decrease antimicrobial usage, and tap into the bacteriophage resource.

Weekly Zika News
As more Zika cases are found within the U.S., many are wondering why Congress is holding up funding. Here’s a map of California and where you can expect to find mosquitoes that have the potential to transmit Zika. The CDC has a national map you can also reference with estimated range of the Aedes mosquitoes. Infectious disease and mosquito control expert, Duane Gubler, notes that spraying may not be successful against the Aedes mosquito.  The difficultly lies in that the Aedes mosquitoes tend to live in harder-to-reach areas (garbage, closets, indoors, etc.) and spraying is most effective against mosquitoes living in floodwater. Olympic risk for Zika is considered low following a CDC analysis, which concluded that the visitors expected at the games represent less than 0.25% of the total travel volume to Zika-affected countries. “Estimated travel to the U.S. from Rio for the Games is 0.11% of all 2015 U.S. travel from countries where Zika is now spreading, the CDC said.” You can read the official MMWR release here. Colombia’s low volume of microcephaly and birth defects following Zika infection during pregnancy offer some home that the outbreak may not be as bad as early estimates suggested. A new study published in the Lancet looks to women as possible modes of sexual transmission for Zika. “Our findings raise the threat of a woman potentially becoming a chronic Zika virus carrier, with the female genital tract persistently expressing the virus RNA. Additional studies are underway to answer those essential questions and to assess what would then be the consequences for women of child-bearing age”. CDC Director, Dr. Tom Frieden, writes about the lessons we can learn from the fading Ebola epidemic and how we can apply these to Zika.  Researchers have also recently written that the epidemic in Latin America is “likely to run its course within the next 18 months” – you can read their article in Science here. The CDC has reported 1,306 cases of Zika virus in the U.S as of July 13, 2016. 

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Malaria and the Duration of Civil War The Journal of Conflict Resolution recently published an article regarding the prolonging of civil war in relation to malaria. Just as geographical factors can impact the duration of civil war, researchers note that malaria can inflict costs and can “indirectly prolong civil war by helping to maintain a socio-geographic environment that is conducive to insurgency”. The rotation of government forces also means they’re likely to have exposures to malaria.
  • The Current State of Our Immunity – Infectious disease physician Dr. Amesh Adalja discusses 21st century immunity to disease. Drawing from points made in Taylor Antrim’s Immunity (set in a post-pandemic world following the 4% loss of global life due to a genetic recombinant of influenza and Lassa Fever), Dr. Adalja relates many of the lessons from his experiences during the West Africa Ebola outbreak and the impact of poverty on resilience. “Today, worldwide extreme poverty — in real terms — is at its lowest. Smallpox has been vanquished with polio and guinea worm about to follow suit. Even Ebola, because of major advances that have occurred in the basic understanding of the clinical illness as well as in vaccine technology since the last outbreak, has been substantially defanged.”
  • The Growing Misuse of Toxic Weapons: Attend the seminar on Monday, July 18th (3:30-5pm) at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (1400 K St. NW, Suite 1225, Washington, DC). “We are witnessing today a global threat of toxic chemicals as a means of warfare or terror.  The recent use of chemical weapons and dual-use toxic chemicals in both Syria and Iraq, and possible terrorist attacks against chemical infrastructure, are visible confirmations of a growing threat of misuse of chemicals. This seminar, organized by Green Cross International and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, will present the results of Chemss2016, an April conference in Poland, including its Summit Declaration which addressed challenges, goals, guidelines, and principles of global cooperation against chemical threats today.”

 

Pandora Report: 7.1.2016

Happy Friday from your favorite source for all things global health security – from Anthrax to Zika, we’ve got you covered…like germs on a kitchen sink! If you’re hoping to catch the Washington D.C. fireworks over the holiday, check out this article regarding the state of D.C.’s preparedness for anything from traffic issues to lone-wolf terrorism. You can also get some insight into the Strategic National Stockpile via an interview with the director of the program, Greg Burel. Ever wonder the economic impact of a pandemic influenza outbreak? A recent study analyzed the consequences of such a health emergency.

Behind the Scenes at Porton Down
BBC will be airing a new documentary on the work that takes place within the secretive site of Porton Down. Located in Wiltshire, England, this government military science park falls under the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (also known as Dstl). Dstl is an Executive Agency within the Ministry of Defense. Dstl’s website states that it “ensures that innovative science and technology contribute to the defense and security of the UK” however the facility has a long and controversial history. Considered to be one of the sites for research regarding biological and chemical weapons, the work within the 7,000 acres is extremely sensitive and secretive. “Inside Porton Down will also take viewers inside some of the site’s most secure biological research labs, where scientists have been tasked to find out how Ebola – potentially one of the biggest public threats facing us today – has the power to spread.”

Why We Need to Start Worrying About Yellow Fever Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 6.26.37 AM
It’s been a few months since we started reporting on the yellow fever outbreak in Angola and as much as we’d like to reveal that this outbreak was quickly put out….a more sinister accelerant was added to the epidemic – a vaccine shortage. The outbreak has spilled over into surrounding countries, with 1,000 suspected cases in the DRC. There are only four major manufacturers of the yellow fever vaccine…that’s right, four. These four manufacturers don’t have the capacity to make vaccine at the rate it would take should the outbreak jump to Asia, which is the growing concern as Chinese workers visit the affected areas. The WHO maintains a stockpile of 6 million doses however, this outbreak is already burning through them and the factories that can make the vaccines are only capable of 2.4 million doses per month. Simply put, the vaccine manufacturing capacity will not be effective if this outbreak spreads much further. This particular detail is why we should be worrying about yellow fever. While it may not be as deadly as Ebola or as contagious as influenza, it’s preventable through vaccination….and yet we’re running out of vaccines. Even scarier is the presence of fake vaccination certificates. Coupled with globalization, yellow fever could easily make its way back to the U.S. and remind us of a history we’d rather not relive. “A yellow fever epidemic might seem anachronistic to people in the United States and Europe, where the disease no longer poses a threat. But some of the most devastating urban outbreaks of yellow fever have occurred in America. In the 18th century, the disease was called the ‘American plague.'”

Who Isn’t Equipped For A Pandemic or Bioterror Attack?
Annie Sparrow of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists asks this question and points to the sad reality that the WHO is the front runner for this unfortunate title. Pointing to the origins of the WHO in the days of the early cholera epidemics, Sparrow notes that despite WHO claiming they were a catalyst for multilateral cooperation, the reality is much less prestigious. “But in fact, the first six International Sanitary Conferences were entirely unproductive due to conflicting interests: government fears about losing profits from trans-Atlantic trade took priority over the need to reduce the international death toll. Consensus was achieved only at the seventh conference in 1892, after the opening of the Suez Canal for use by all countries made standardized quarantine regulations necessary.” The slow WHO responses to Ebola and then Zika brought attention to the discrepancies between the WHO’s role as a front-line defense for pandemics (and bioterrorism) and what was actually happening. Many have called for a reform of the WHO and the necessity to address systemic and deep-rooted problems within the organization. Sparrow hits on several key obstacles the WHO needs to overcome if it’s going to truly serve its purpose – “increase its financial resources, eliminate the undue influence of donors and member states, and redress its subservient relationship with governments who are themselves responsible for health crises.” The WHO must also address its practices when dealing with health issues in conflict zones or transitioning states. Lastly, Sparrow highlights the suggestions that transferring global health programs to the UN would not be beneficial, but rather there needs to be a push for rehabbing the WHO. In the end, the world aspect of the WHO needs to provide some muscle behind this work, especially in times of political assertion of sovereignty.

The Up-Hill Battle of Antibiotic Resistance in the World of Infection Prevention
The recent findings of a Pennsylvanian woman with colistin-resistant E. coli in her urine sent title waves throughout the health community. It was the exact moment an organism that was so resistant we have no effective antibiotics to treat it, had reached U.S. soil. In truth, the presence of multi-drug resistant organisms (MDRO’s) isn’t new…they just aren’t as flashy as bugs like Zika or Ebola. In this article, I talk about the framing of MDRO’s and the infection preventionist perspective. “Public framing and hysteria brought Ebola to the forefront. But where is this sense of urgency for organisms so resistant that we have no means of treating them? The case in Pennsylvania received fleeting public attention but it has long been the concern and fear of those working in healthcare and biology. IPs have been working for years on MDRO surveillance and isolation. ”

WHO Appoints Emergency Unit Leader 
While we’re on the subject of WHO emergency response, it was recently announced that Peter Salama was appointed as the leader for the health emergencies unit. The Australian epidemiologist is currently with UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa, but will lead the new team that was established following criticism of the WHO’s response during the West African Ebola outbreak. The new unit was set into place to provide rapid (not rabid…but there’s some infectious disease humor for you), support to a country or community experiencing a “health emergency arising from disease, natural or man-made disasters or conflict”. The WHO website has more information here, regarding the Health Emergencies Programme.

Brexit and Public Health
Unless you’ve been vacationing in a remote part of the globe, the Brexit referendum has been taking over the news. The British vote to leave the European Union (EU) has set into motion a global wave of economic uncertainty. While many are discussing the financial, trade, and labor force implications of the Brexit, there are also far-reaching public health outcomes. Just prior to the vote, an article was published in the Journal of Public Health regarding the impact of the EU laws on public health. Aside from environmental issues ranging from water quality to emissions, the EU has also focussed on tobacco cessation. The EU has developed strong skills for information exchange to better support a healthy public. “The EU has provided continued bold and effective action on public health policy and designed an excellent funding framework for collaborative health research. The loss of the UK’s strong participation and policy voice in the EU would, as Lord Hague, the former Conservative Foreign Secretary, recently quipped ‘not be a very clever day’s work’.” While globalization makes the spread of disease easier, it would make the new British isolation extremely impacting. The isolation via Brexit could create issues regarding cross-border information sharing, which becomes especially vital during outbreaks or in cases of public health emergencies.

The Scoop on Zika
I was recently gifted (as a joke) this amazing device to fend off the Zika-carrying mosquitos…what could possibly go wrong with an electric zapping racket? University of Michigan researchers performed an analysis looking at the political response to Ebola and how that may bubble over to Zika management. Reviewing the U.S. response to Ebola they looked at the “fragmented system with no clear leadership and considerable ‘strategic politicization’ due to the outbreak’s arrival during a midterm election year.” Scott Greer of the U-M School of Public Health noted that “Republicans are going to continue not to give Obama the federal dollars he seeks to combat Zika. They don’t trust him. But when the virus starts to affect people anywhere south of Indianapolis there will be an elaborate game of blaming the administration for not doing it right.” Good news- Cuba recently announced that they have had no Zika transmission since March and Dengue is all but eliminated due to their wide-spread, military supported fumigation efforts. New studies are looking to the efficacy of Zika transmission via urine and saliva as a research team from Brazil’s Fiocruz Institute isolated live virus from such samples. U.S. Zika funding is still in limbo as Senate Democrats derailed the $1.1 billion bill on Tuesday over “objections to attached measures such as birth control restrictions.” Florida health officials reported microcephaly in a baby born to a woman from Haiti. Researchers are also finding that microcephaly may be just the tip of the iceberg, as findings suggest other developmental delays in babies born without microcephaly. There is also concern for the impact of the Zika on fetal brain tissue, causing cell death.  Despite the hold-up on Zika funding, the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has started work on a research study regarding the mechanisms that allow Zika to be sexually transmitted.  As of June 29, 2016, the CDC has reported 935 Zika cases within the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Stopping Lab-Created Global Disasters One Scientist at a Time – Biotechnologist Kevin Esvelt talks about the shaky future of genetic engineering technologies like CRISPR. Esvelt notes, “We are walking forwards blind. We are opening boxes without thinking about consequences. We are going to fall off the tightrope and lose the trust of public. Lots of people are going to die.” Since he and his colleagues first suggested, two years ago, that CRISPR could create gene drive, he has been working hard to warn how dangerous the technology is.
  • One Health and the Politics of Antibiotic Resistance– Check out this webinar on July 7, 2016 from 11am-noon EDT. Dr. Laura Kahn will discuss the rise of certain MDRO’s, the different policy approaches in Europe and the U.S., and the history behind low-dose antibiotic use in agriculture.
  • Healthcare Worker Gloves and Disease Transmission– Researchers recently revealed results from a study reviewing “cross-transmission rates between contained gloves of healthcare workers and hospital surfaces.” Not surprisingly, results showed that contaminated gloves increased the likelihood of transmission among healthcare workers and in the environment.

 

Pandora Report 6.10.2016

Summer temperatures are soaring (Arizona hit 115F last week, so I guess it’s time to start baking cookies on the dashboard again- just make sure not to use General Mills flour!) and we’ve got your weekly biodefense cool down. Check out this global outbreak monitor, where you can keep an eye on all your favorite cases. The DoD is currently conducting market research to identify vaccine developers for medical countermeasure manufacturing. They’re looking for “advanced manufacturing platforms which are adaptable to incorporating known antigens for use as a prophylaxis countermeasure against weaponizable biological agents.” Before we venture down the biodefense rabbit hole, the Pandora Report will be on hiatus next week (June 17th), but don’t fear- we’ll return the week of June 24th!

Infectious Disease Threat Management
Are emerging infectious disease outbreaks an anomaly or are these events the new norm? Dr. Daniel M. Gerstein points to a 2014 study on the global rise of these outbreaks, which point to the growing threat of zoonotic disease spillover. Gerstein discusses the common trend of failure to predict such events but also the poor response in medical countermeasures and diagnostics. Between West Nile Virus, Ebola, H1N1, and now Zika, we’ve had ample time to get both preparedness and response right. “A recent commentary by Ronald A. Klain — a former White House Ebola response coordinator — should be required reading on the United States’ lack of preparedness for responding to the Zika virus. In it, Klain provided both a dire assessment of Congress’ uncertain funding support for the current response, and made longer-term recommendations for improving our rapid response to infectious disease outbreaks. Yet while these recommendations are spot on, including calls for a dedicated organization with specialized capability to respond to disease outbreaks, more must be done to ensure adequate preparedness against emerging infectious disease in the future.” U.S. preparedness measures utilize epidemiology and biosurveillance, however these are both passive methods that rely on reactive measures, rather than proactive. “This reactive approach to emerging infectious disease should be augmented with an anticipatory model that accounts for the dramatic changes occurring through globalization, greater interactions between human and zoonotic populations, and changes to the environment and climate patterns.” He points to the need for predictive analytical tools and modeling to better focus research and development efforts in order to control and prevent such events. Gerstein acknowledges the long-term and challenging realities of such efforts though, pointing to the need for private sector contributions and strategies to focus on anticipating infectious disease threats.

CDC Biosafety Failures – “Like a Disaster Movie” 
The stories of biosafety failures in U.S. labs working with select agents is enough to send chills through even the toughest of pathologists. Reporters recently gained access to records from the CDC regarding the 2009 events in which safety mechanisms in a CDC biosafety level 4 lab failed. “The gasket seal around the exit door to the changing room deflated to the point that the scientists could see light coming in. And as they held that door shut and started an emergency chemical deluge, things got even worse.” Records include emails that hoped to avoid federal lab regulatory reporting. While these reports are shocking to biosafety experts like Richard Ebright from Rutgers University, CDC officials claim there was no risk from the equipment failures. The release of these records draws further attention to the failures but also the CDC response and challenges in even getting the records released under the Freedom of Information Act. You can read more of the records released to USAToday here and here.

Back to the Future in Global Health Security? 
People frequently think back to the days of the Black Death as a reminder of the progress we’ve made in disease defense. Are we really in a better position though? Globalization, growing populations, rising global temperatures, urbanization, and easy international travel all make it possible for diseases to jump around in a matter of hours. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan noted that “For infectious diseases, you cannot trust the past when planning for the future. What we are seeing is a dramatic resurgence of the threat from emerging and reemerging infectious diseases. The world is not prepared to cope.” The lessons from Ebola, H1N1, and even Zika haven’t truly sunken in yet and there are more outbreaks on the horizon. “International mechanisms must be established to coordinate the upstream research and development (R&D) of new medical tools to respond to priority pathogens and the downstream testing, manufacturing, and delivery of those tools as part of the larger humanitarian response to an ongoing outbreak.” Researchers have suggested four lessons from our past to encourage technological innovation to better prevent and respond to health crises – ensure adequate and sustainable long-term investment, coordinate R&D around a roadmap of priority goals, engage and energize a network of geographically distributed multi-sector partners, and remember that sustainability depends on adequate systems and equitable access. Establishing an environment of coordination and sustainability will be vital to move from a reactive to a proactive practice of global health security.

DoD Biosafety Report
GMU Biodefense MS student, Stevie Kiesel discusses the report the DoD Inspector General published regarding the biosafety and biosecurity failures within DoD labs that work with biological select agents and toxins (BSAT). Stevie’s deep dive into this report addresses the systematic failures that led to such events. Inconsistent internal or external technical or scientific peer reviews and even inspection standards led to not only missing inspections, but also duplicative ones. “Some inspectors failed to review specific vulnerability assessments for their assigned labs to ensure that shortcomings identified during previous inspections had been mitigated.  In some cases, these vulnerability assessments were not reviewed because they had never been conducted, or had not been conducted annually as required.”

Immune System Education and the Realities of the Antibiotic Resistance
Autoimmune diseases and antibiotic resistance have risen in the past half-century…but what does this really mean? The human microbiome (your body’s own community of microbes that help run your immune system) is now being considered as a potential puzzle piece for the increase in autoimmune issues. Have these microbiome communities changed so largely that our entire society is being impacted? “To test this possibility, some years ago, a team of scientists began following 33 newborns who were genetically at risk of developing Type 1 diabetes, a condition in which the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. After three years, four of the children developed the condition. The scientists had periodically sampled the children’s microbes, and when they looked back at this record, they discovered that the microbiome of children who developed the disease changed in predictable ways nearly a year before the disease appeared. Diversity declined and inflammatory microbes bloomed. It was as if a gradually maturing ecosystem had been struck by a blight and overgrown by weeds.” Coupled with several other studies, there is a growing thought that toughening the immune system early in life can alter our response later in life or that the kind of microbiome you have will determine your response to viral infections. So what happens if our immune systems begin to fail us and antibiotics are a thing of the past? That’s a pretty devastating notion and it’s right before the weekend, so let’s scale it back to just consider a world without antibiotics – would you still shake hands or take an international flight? Physiologist Kevin Fong notes “If we are to avoid a return to the pre-antibiotic landscape with all its excess mortality we must be bold. To squander the advantage we have so recently gained against microorganisms in the fight for life would be unthinkable.”

The Race Against Zika Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 1.40.13 PM
The debate regarding the 2016 Rio Olympics took a turn this week as the WHO stated it will look again at the Zika risk during the games.  150 international experts penned an open letter to the WHO regarding their “irresponsible” actions and that the organization was rejecting calls to move or postpone the games due to it’s official partnership with the International Olympic Committee. What are the actual risks? Will the Rio Olympics put the rest of the world at risk for Zika? Here is an interesting infographic and article on that exact question. Bringing thousands of people from different countries together is definitely a gold medal strategy for spreading infectious disease. The ECDC has posted their epidemiological data here, as well as their risk assessment. A new study looks at sexual transmission and the persistence of Zika virus in semen, finding that RNA can persist in semen for 62 days. Researchers found a case of a woman with Zika virus presenting 44 days after the onset of symptoms in her partner, which “corresponds to a sexual transmission occurring between 34 and 41 days after the index case.” This announcement comes after there were no previously reported secondary cases more than 19 days after the onset of signs in a man. Concerns regarding congenital eye issues in babies without microcephaly were also raised after a case was identified. As of June 8th, the CDC has reported 691 travel-associated cases within the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • CRISPR’s Gene-Editing Skills on RNA – researchers have now established a method for targeting and cutting RNA. “The new cutting tool should help researchers better understand RNA’s role in cells and diseases, and some believe it could one day be useful in treatments for illnesses from Huntington’s to heart disease.” The process involves using CRISPR to create “blades”. Given the concerns around CRISPR and dual-use technologies of concern, researchers are pointing out that there are far less ethical concerns regarding manipulation of RNA.
  • Legionnaires’ On the Rise – sadly this isn’t the name of a new historical action flick, but rather a public health concern that has the CDC looking into water system integrity. Cases of Legionnaires’ disease have quadrupled since 2000. The CDC has stated that the reason for such a stark increase is most likely due to aging building water systems, an aging population, and better surveillance/reporting systems.
  • Ebola Stability Under Hospital and Environmental Conditions – a new study looks at the role of fomites in EVD transmission, especially in healthcare settings. “To assess the potential contribution of fomites to human infections with EBOV, we tested EBOV stability in human blood spotted onto Sierra Leonean banknotes and in syringe needles under hospital and environmental conditions.” Researchers found that the virus survived more than 30 days in blood in syringes, despite hot/humid conditions, and six days on paper money under experimental conditions.

 

Pandora Report: 6.3.2016

Which country do you think is the biggest consumer of antibiotics? You’ll be shocked to see the results in this infographic. The organization, No More Epidemics, has also created an infographic on pathogens and poverty, depicting the “general trajectory of infectious disease outbreaks from outbreak to epidemic, showing the potential power of interventions to interrupt the course of progression.” You may want to rethink baking this weekend as the CDC is currently working to control an E. coli outbreak related to General Mills flour. Before we start our adventure down the biodefense rabbit hole, check out this experiment showing just how far sneezes really spread (brace yourself for a “violent explosion of saliva and mucus”).

The Importance of a Resilient Health System
Sure, this may seem like a pretty obvious concept but it’s something we still struggle with. The 2014 Ebola outbreak proved it and Zika virus is just adding some salt with a side of lime juice to the wound. Between climate change, spillover, and antibiotic resistance, the need for a resilient and robust public health system has never been more dire. “The point is that resilience in the health sector is not static but rather an ongoing and evolving state of affairs. Well-performing health systems provide sustained, equitable access to essential services for all without financial hardship. They are better able to bounce back when adversity strikes; are prepared to detect and respond to emerging disease threats; are able to adapt to adverse conditions; address a wide range of health challenges; and offer innovative solutions by leveraging diverse skills and views.” USAID is working to help fix holes in the existing system through their initiatives like Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development and the newer Combating Zika and Future Threats Grand Challenge. The world is moving at a rapid pace and with innovation and globalization, the potential for a pandemic is only a flight away. Now is the time to strengthen our public health system.

NSABB Select Agent & Gain of Function Progress
A few weeks back we discussed the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity’s (NSABB)’s meetings regarding Gain-of-Function (GoF) work and their risk assessment with subsequent recommendations for evaluation and oversight of proposed GoF research. Six meetings and two workshops later, NSABB approved the final proposal. The May 24th, 2016 version is similar to the earlier draft however, specific examples of “studies of concern” were provided. Seasonal flu GoF studies are not considered concerning and NSABB did modify its definition of GoF Research of Concern. “The report has new wording that is apparently aimed at critics who have argued that the HHS should not review studies it funds, because that would represent a conflict of interest. The report says the HHS review ‘should be structured to avoid real or apparent conflicts of interest,’ but doesn’t specify how that can be done.” While implementation will be challenging and require immediate initiation, it’s believed that agencies won’t have trouble adapting to the new policy. You can also check out Gryphon Scientific’s final analysis on the risks and benefits of GoF research. Enjoy Chapter 11 regarding the loss of trust in science -GMU Biodefense MS student Julia Homestead helped write it!

Ancient Plague Epidemiology F2.large
Get your Indiana Jones hat ready, we’re going back in time to look at bioarcheology and the Eyam plague outbreak of 1665-1666. Researchers used a stochastic compartmental model and Bayesian analytical models to study this outbreak that started in September 1665 in the Derbyshire village of Eyam. Updated data from parish records allowed scientists to study this specific outbreak in a more in-depth manner, leading to the discovery that both rodent-to-human and human-to-human transmission played an important role in the spread of the disease. “We also found that the force of infection was stronger for infectious individuals living in the same household compared with the rest of the village. Poverty significantly increased the risk of disease, whereas adulthood decreased the risk. These results on the Eyam outbreak contribute to the current debate on the relative importance of plague transmission routes.”

Health on the G7 Summit Agenda
Last week, international officials met for the G7 Summit and during this gathering the topic of infectious diseases and control methods came to the table. “At the G7 Ise-Shima Summit, leaders will consider issues including strengthening the response to public health emergencies, by taking into account the lessons learned from previous outbreaks, such as Ebola. In addition, they will discuss ensuring the provision of lifelong healthcare services, from maternal, newborn and child health, through to non-communicable diseases and aging, in the pursuit of universal health coverage (UHC)”. Ebola, Zika virus, and Yellow Fever are all hot topics (see what I did there…) of concern. Improving investment in pandemic response was a vital part of the G7, as well as endorsement of the Global Health Security Agenda. Hopefully, with more international awareness and investment, the practice of putting out infectious disease fires will be a thing of the past.

Zika Weekly Roundup
The WHO has released their latest global response report on the Zika virus outbreak. The report gives an overview regarding the Strategic Response Framework and Joint Operations Plan as well as current funding gaps for “critical activities until the end of June 2016, as well as the approach to setting a new strategy from July 2016 onwards.” You can also find a scoping review of the Zika literature here. 233 studies were compiled with findings that “several knowledge gaps were identified by this review with respect to ZIKV epidemiology, the importance of potential non-human primates and other hosts in the transmission cycle, the burden of disease in humans, and complications related to human infection with ZIKV.” A woman in New Jersey has given birth to a baby girl with microcephaly, making her the second Zika-related microcephaly case in the U.S. Entomologists and medical experts are participating in a Zika Symposium and you can check out some of the presentations here. President Obama commented on the need for Zika funding during his speech in Elkhart, IN, this week, noting that “we need more who are willing to work with us to lower health care costs, give us the funding we need to fight public health challenges like Zika and the opioid epidemic — Joe Donnelly is working on that diligently.” Researchers are looking at the risk factors for eye abnormalities in congenital Zika infections and scientists are now raising concern over transmission related to oral sex. Lastly, as of June 1st, 2016, the CDC has reported 618 travel-associated cases in the U.S. 

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • First Locally-Acquired Chikungunya Case in Texas–  The Texas Department of State Health Services has confirmed the first case of local transmission. ” A Cameron County resident got sick with the illness in November 2015 and was diagnosed with a lab test in January 2016. The case, however, was not reported to the local health department until last month. The investigation performed by the Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services determined the patient had not traveled, and the case was confirmed last week by testing at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
  • Edge of the Antibiotic Abyss – There’s been a lot of talk about antibiotic resistance and the impending dangers if we don’t act soon. Here’s an overview of the concerns and recent case that is causing so much worry. While it may not get the media attention of Zika virus, this is a very real issue and recent estimates indicate that we’re teetering on the edge of the antibiotic abyss.
  • India’s HIV Blood Transfusion Transmission Reality– The National AIDS Control Organization has released their report following a petition by activist Chetan Kothari, revealing that at least 2,234 Indians have contracted HIV while receiving blood transfusions. Scarier yet, these cases occurred in the past 17 months. Kothari has pushed for investigations, citing that while it is mandatory for hospitals to screen donors, the cost of the test and limited availability of testing facilities (Mumbai has only three private hospitals with HIV testing facilities) makes this a growing threat to anyone requiring blood transfusions. India currently has around 2.09 million people living with HIV/AIDS.
  • The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – The ECDC has updated its rapid risk assessment for the current yellow fever outbreak that is impacting Angola, DRC, and Uganda. “In the EU/EEA, the risk of yellow fever virus being introduced is limited to unvaccinated viraemic travellers coming from areas with active local transmission.”