Pandora Report 1.25.15

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

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

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

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

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

A New Polio Case in Pakistan and an Unsolved Epidemic

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

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

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

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

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

This Week in Ebola

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

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

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Regional Center of Orange County

Pandora Report 1.4.15

Happy 2015! I hope all of you enjoyed a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season. As we get back into things, this week we will look at Seasonal Flu, 1980s Chemical Weapons, and, of course, Ebola. Please also enjoy a wrap up of other stories from the last two weeks in the Stories You May Have Missed section.

Have a fabulous week!

This Season’s Flu Activity Has Reached the Epidemic Threshold, the CDC Says

On the heels of the announcement that this year’s flu vaccine is not as effective as hoped, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that they are seeing elevated activity in all their influenza surveillance systems and that this year’s seasonal flu has reached epidemic levels. The Virginia Department of Health has called the flu “widespread” in our state. The CDC urges it is still too early to determine if this season will be worse than others but preliminary data seems to reflect that it may be.

The Washington Post—“The influenza season reaches an epidemic level when the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza reaches a certain threshold: 6.8 percent. According to the CDC’s latest available information on the flu season, the percentage is currently at the threshold.”

Secret Papers: UK Studied Chemical Weapons Buildup in the 1980s

Newly released, formerly secret, documents show that in the early 1980s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government considered rebuilding Britain’s chemical weapons arsenal in the face of a perceived looming threat of the Soviet Union. Thatcher’s defense chiefs were worried that the country would have only nuclear weapons in order to respond to a possible Soviet chemical attack.

ABC News—“In the papers, Thatcher states that it might be considered “negligent” of the government not to develop a credible response to a Soviet chemical attack short of using nuclear weaponry. She also suggests urging the Americans to modernize their chemical arsenal.

The lack of a chemical capacity was called a “major gap” in NATO’s military capacity by Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine in a secret 1984 document. He said the threat of a nuclear response lacked credibility.”

This Week in Ebola

While we were celebrating and enjoying the holidays, Ebola, of course, didn’t take a break. In the spirit of the season the UK’s Queen praised the selflessness of those fighting the ongoing epidemic in West Africa. And while Christmas gatherings were cancelled in Sierra Leone and Guinea, those in Liberia made sure their Christmas spirit was on full display. As 2014 came to an end, there were many looks back at the year in Ebola and the possible source of the start of the outbreak. The first case of Ebola was diagnosed in Britain by a nurse who contracted the disease in West Africa and there were reports of a possible lab error exposure to the virus at the CDC.

There are some reasons for optimism as 2015 begins, including survival rates increasing for cases in Sierra Leone and promising news on the vaccine front. Vaccines tested in Uganda against Ebola and the related filovirus Marburg have proven to be safe and effective in generating an immune response to the deadly viruses  and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded contracts worth $43 million to develop two possible Ebola vaccines more quickly. According to the UN’s Anthony Banbury, 2015 should see the number of Ebola cases brought to zero by the end of the year and Al Jazeera America argues that this year should be focused on immunization and investment in West African health systems.

The last two Ebola updates are entirely unrelated and include the unverified possibility that ISIS militants have contracted Ebola and interesting coverage by NPR of how Ebola has affected love and sex.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: The Washington Post

Pandora Report 12.7.14

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

AIDS Campaigners Say Pandemic Has Finally Reached Tipping Point

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

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

FAO, OIE Warn of Avian Influenza’s Rapid Spread

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week in Ebola

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

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

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

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

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Free Internet Pictures

Pandora Report 11.23.14

Thanksgiving is mere days away so it makes sense to look at some stories that can provide appropriate dinner discussion during those awkward lulls, right? These stories may provide that, though, I suppose that depends on who you eat your holiday dinner with (my family is very tolerant of my eccentricities.) With that said, this week we will look at plague in Madagascar, polio in Africa, antibiotic resistance in turkeys, and, of course, an Ebola update.

In observance of Thanksgiving there will not be a news wrap up next weekend. From all of us at the Pandora Report, we wish you a safe, warm, and delicious Thanksgiving!

Madagascar Plague Outbreak Kills 40, Says WHO

The World Health Organization has reported that an outbreak of plague in Madagascar has killed 40 and infected almost 80 others. The WHO warned that rapid spread of the disease could take place in the capital, Antananarivo. Humans usually develop the bubonic form of plague after being bitten by an infected flea carried by a rodent. This type, if diagnosed early, can be treated with antibiotics. However, 2% of the cases in Madagascar are pneumonic plague, which can be spread much more easily from person-to-person through coughing.

BBC—“Last year health experts warned that the island was facing a plague epidemic unless it slowed the spread of the disease. It said that inmates in Madagascar’s rat-infested jails were particularly at risk.”

Africa Nears Polio Eradication, CDC Says 

Maybe Ebola will be a topic of conversation at your Thanksgiving table. Maybe not. If you want to share some great news out of Africa, share this story. According to the Centers for Disease Control, wild polio virus has nearly been eradicated! The drop in cases in Africa has been attributed to successful vaccination campaigns in Nigeria.

Time—“No case of polio has been recorded on the continent since August, the report finds. There have been 22 cases of polio in Africa overall since the beginning of 2014, six of which were in Nigeria, one of the last three endemic nations alongside Pakistan and Afghanistan. The latest tally marked a drastic reduction from 49 cases in Nigeria the previous year.”

To Slow Down Drug Resistance in Health Care, Buy an Antibiotic-Free Turkey for Thanksgiving

We’ve seen, here at Pandora Report, that growing antibiotic resistance is a problem that spans countries and continents. Just in time for the best holiday, the Health Care without Harm nonprofit has suggested that health care workers (and, well, everyone else, too) can contribute to slowing the growth of antibiotic resistance by buying an antibiotic-free turkey for Thanksgiving. If you haven’t yet bought your turkey, maybe you’ll be motivated by what they say.

Wired—“Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem that more and more patients and providers are facing each day, and antibiotic overuse is a major contributor to this problem. While as many as 50% of antibiotic prescriptions may be overly broad or even unnecessary, animal agriculture uses four times the amount of antibiotics as human medicine, and mostly in healthy animals for growth promotion or disease prevention on crowded farms…

We are advocating for a broader concept of antimicrobial stewardship.”

This Week in Ebola

The doctor who was flown to Nebraska for treatment for Ebola died this week from a very advanced case of the disease. The need for hospitals in the U.S. and Africa that are qualified to deal with Ebola has not waned and there is an urgent need for the reinforcement of public health systems. In the meantime, New York Senator Chuck Schumer has called for New York City to be reimbursed for the costs it incurred to quarantine and treat Dr. Craig Spencer. In airport news, the Department of Homeland Security has said that they are adding additional screening for passengers arriving from Mali as there are signs of wider Ebola exposure in that country and officials in India have quarantined a man who recovered from Ebola after treatment in Liberia in September. And while UN officials have warned that the epidemic is “not even close to over” there is good news coming out of Liberia where CDC officials say that the spread of the disease has definitely slowed. Lastly, the Gates Foundation has pledged $5.7 million to test treatments for Ebola in Guinea and other countries in West Africa and Band Aid has put together a new recording of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” with proceeds going to the Ebola fight. (There are two other amazing anti-Ebola songs, in this link, too!)

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Oregon Live

Pandora Report 11.2.14

For this edition of the Pandora Report we look at Jonas Salk, avian influenza in China, TB and diabetes as a co-epidemic, and, of course, an Ebola update. As the weather is turning cooler, don’t forget to get your flu shot, and remember to protect yourself by washing your hands!

Have a great week!

On Jonas Salk’s 100th Birthday, A Celebration of his Polio Vaccine

If you visited Google.com on Tuesday you may have seen one of their famous doodles dedicated to Jonas Salk. Salk’s polo vaccine was declared safe and effective in 1955 and was, interestingly enough, never patented. “The notion handed down to us is that Salk decided not to patent the vaccine as a noble act of self-abnegation.”

The Los Angeles Times—“But the more important reason the vaccine went unpatented, as related by David M. Oshinsky in his 2005 book, “Polio: An American Story,” is that legally it was thought to be unpatentable. The National Foundation and the University of Pittsburgh, where much of the work was done, had looked into patenting the vaccine. They were dissuaded by Salk, who informed them that his techniques weren’t novel and his work had been based on years of prior work by others.”

Five Strains of H5 Avian Flu Reported Across China 

The Chinese veterinary authority reported outbreaks of five different subtypes of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) to the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) on October 24. There were a total of 51 positive findings of the following strains; H5N3, H5N8, H5N2, H5N6, and H5N1. A map of all strain outbreaks is available here.

CIDRAP—“Two of the strains—H5N8 and H5N3—have not been reported by China to the OIE before. Two outbreaks of the former were reported in September, each involving one bird (a duck and an unspecified bird) sampled during a national surveillance plan. One was at a slaughterhouse and the other in a wetland area; both were in Liaoning province in the northeast.”

Unlikely Marriage of Diseases: TB and Diabetes Form a ‘Co-Epidemic’

A white paper presented on Wednesday at the 45th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Barcelona, Spain, warns, “diabetes is fueling the spread of TB.” The paper warns that having diabetes increases the risk that a person will become sick with TB will make TB more difficult to manage, adding that a patient with both diseases is more likely to have complications that do not exist when only one disease is present.

NPR—“The TB/diabetes double-whammy has at least two important differences from the TB/HIV co-epidemic. [1.] It involves the interaction of an infectious disease (TB is the world’s second-deadliest, next to HIV/AIDS) and a non-communicable chronic disease, rather than two infections. [2.] It has potentially more global impact. The TB/HIV co-epidemic was concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, where 18 countries saw TB rates quadruple because of HIV. Many more countries have high rates of TB and, increasingly, of diabetes.”

This Week in Ebola

Not sure if it was because of Halloween or what, but it seemed to me there were fewer Ebola stories this week. Dallas nurse Amber Vinson, was finally released from Emory Hospital, free of the Ebola virus. Many other stories this week focused on quarantine. Kaci Hickox, the nurse who worked treating patients in Sierra Leone, first protested over her isolation in New Jersey, and then broke her quarantine in Maine, was reportedly ‘humbled’ when a judge in her home state of Maine ruled she can come and go as she pleases. She was still in this news this weekend as it was reported that her roommate in Africa tested positive for Ebola and there was a skit about her on SNL. President Obama has said that quarantines may dissuade doctors and nurses from traveling to West Africa, while Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has said that U.S. military personnel returning from West Africa will be subject to a 21-day quarantine. The WHO reported that Ebola infections are slowing in Liberia, and the New England Journal of Medicine says they have a suspect zero for this whole outbreak.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Google

Pandora Report 10.11.14

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

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

Ebola’s Bad, but Flu’s Worse

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

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

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

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

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

George Washington, the First Vaxxer

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

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

This Week in Ebola

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

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

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: Immunize.ca

Pandora Report 7.4.14

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

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


Syrian Chemical Weapons Transfer Complete

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

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

Polio Awareness Videos to be Shown on Flights to Pakistan

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

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

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

CDC Reassigns Director of Lab Behind Anthrax Blunder 

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

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

Mosquitos Carry Painful Chikungunya Virus to Americas

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

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

West Africa Ebola Epidemic is ‘Out of Control’

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

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

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


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

Pandora Report 05.24.14

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

CIA Drops Vaccination Cover Story in the Wake of Polio Outbreak

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

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

Mississippi Man Sentenced in Ricin Letter Investigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Why Bacteria Like E-Cigs

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

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

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Pandora Report 5.16.14

There has been a lot on MERS this week as it continued to spread within the U.S. and Europe. The topic was so big that it was even covered on Buzzfeed (the web aggregator mostly known for quizzes and viral videos.) This made me think, “I wonder what sorts of biodefense topics are covered in traditional, mainstream news sources?” So, in celebration of the end of the Spring 2014 semester, this week I bring you just that!


We’ve got the U.S. Military’s defense plan for Zombies, measles and polio as a possible cancer cure, a photo essay about New York’s lost TB ward, and a doctor’s report from the Ebola fields of West Africa. Congrats to our newest graduates and have a wonderful weekend!

The Pentagon Has a Plan to Stop the Zombie Apocalypse. Seriously.

If you’re worried about the zombie apocalypse like I am (and let’s face it, you probably are since you’re here), here is one less thing to worry about. Like many other contingency plans, the Pentagon has one for dealing with the un-dead. Instead of using fictionalized versions of real countries, this scenario strings together a group of seemingly impossible scenarios that could never be mistaken for a real plan including “vegetarian zombies,” “chicken zombies,” and even (yes, this is not a joke) “evil magic zombies.”

Foreign Policy—“‘This plan fulfills fictional contingency planning guidance tasking for U.S. Strategic Command to develop a comprehensive [plan] to undertake military operations to preserve ‘non-zombie’ humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde,” CONOP 8888’s plan summary reads. “Because zombies pose a threat to all non-zombie human life, [Strategic Command] will be prepared to preserve the sanctity of human life and conduct operations in support of any human population — including traditional adversaries.’”

Can Measles or Polio be the Next Cure for Cancer?

Popular science speaks of viruses as something to be avoided, but what if injecting a person with large amounts of virus could actually cure cancer? That’s what researchers at the Mayo Clinic and Duke University Medical Center did when using measles virus to destroy cancer cells. The results? In very small patient trials the researchers saw significant successes including total remission!

Fox News—“This research is all part of a new medical field of oncolytic virotherapy.  The “proof of concept” studies stem from many years of animal research, analyzing how viruses can penetrate certain types of cancer cells.  A typical cancer cell moves very fast and replicates very rapidly.  Therefore, some viruses have an affinity to get into these cells and use them as incubators, so the viruses can multiply at a fast rate, as well.  But once these viruses are attached, the cancer cells essentially explode and release the virus into the body.”

The Mysterious New York City Island You’ve Never Heard Of

Those who have watched the History Channel’s Life After People or read Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us may find this story especially interesting. Photographer Christopher Payne, became aware of North Brother Island—which lies in the East River—and was allowed by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to conduct a photo survey of landscape. Used for a variety of purposes until its abandonment in the 1960s, between the 1880s and the 1930s, North Brother Island was the site of Riverside Hospital, where those suffering from infectious disease were treated in isolation.

Slate—“While Payne knew the island’s story, he often had trouble finding physical evidence of its past. “It was very hard for me to find the artifacts I expected to find. They really just didn’t exist. Most of the time you’re looking at the shell of a building, and it’s so far gone you can’t even tell what it was used for. It forced me to look closer, to see graffiti on the walls or to look on the floor,” he said. “A lot of it was detective work. It was like trying to invent a life for something, trying to find a shot or a view that suggested what it used to be.’”

Windsor Doctor Returns Home after Treating Deadly Ebola Outbreak

As the numbers of infected and deaths continue to rise in the Western Africa Ebola outbreak, one of the stories we haven’t heard often is from physicians working there. In this piece for The Windsor Star, Dr. Tim Jagatic, writes about his experience working for three weeks in Conakry, Guinea, as a member of Doctors without Borders.  He writes about the efforts of Doctors Without Borders and the WHO on stopping the spread of the virus as well as providing care for those infected. When not providing medical care, he reported that doctors would perform triage assessments or perform outreach looking for new patient cases.

The Windsor Star—“Jagatic and his fellow physicians would often encounter resistance to their efforts. “We have to work on demystifying the disease,” said Jagatic.“So many people who were infected with it, they were stigmatized. They were banished from their communities, their families, one thing I was really trying to push is that this is really just a virus, like the measles, like the flu, when you get it you treat it, you go home and you’re done. And you’re just like you were beforehand.’”

 

Image Credit: Christopher Payne

Pandora Report 5.9.14

The stories this week cover topics that I am especially interested in: avian flu in Antarctica, wild poliovirus, and the Russia biological weapons program. Have a great weekend!

Avian Influenza Present in Antarctic Penguins

A team of international researchers have discovered a new strain of avian influenza among Adelie penguin populations in Antarctica which has been identified as H11N2. Presence of this strain of influenza was found in eight penguins from a sample size of 301 swabbed penguins and 270 penguins who had had blood drawn. Though the six adult penguins and two chicks only represent 2.6% of the total group, approximately 16% of the samples contained antibodies for H11N2, indicating the virus has likely been present in the population for “some length of time.”

Guardian Liberty Voice—“There has already been a theory posited which might explain how the H11N2 virus was transmitted to the Antarctic region. Due to both the relatively small incidence of the virus in the sample population, and the region from which the sample size was drawn. Hurt has posited that the introduction of the virus into the Antarctic ecosystem was conducted by migratory birds from South America, such as the yellow-billed pintail duck. This conclusion has been supported by the fact that distant similarities between the H11N2 strain of the virus and South American AIVs, primarily from Brazil and Chile, do in fact exist.”

Wild Poliovirus Making a Comeback, WHO says

In a statement made on Monday, the WHO applauded worldwide efforts to eradicate polio while cautioning that the wild poliovirus is spreading and may negate the hard fought eradication efforts. They declared this spread of wild poliovirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and warned that if the spread remains unchecked “this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases.” The WHO declared that Pakistan, Cameroon, and Syria pose the greatest risk of wild poliovirus exportation while Afghanistan, Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and Nigeria are infected with wild poliovirus but are not exporting it.

National Geographic—“The effort is to break the chains of transmission. The WHO is recommending that countries currently infected with polio ensure that their people who are traveling outside the country get vaccinated. About 72 percent of the people who are infected with the polio virus have no symptoms, but they can still spread the disease. Polio is now in just a few countries. The concern is not to re-infect the countries that have gotten rid of polio.”

Lawmakers Mull Biological Weapons Threat from Russia

Providing an opportunity for me to majorly geek out, the U.S. House of Representatives held a committee hearing this week regarding the biological weapons threat from Russia and beyond. Witnesses included Dr. Christopher Davis, a biomedical weapons expert and former member of the U.K.’s Defense Intelligence Staff; Dr. Amy E. Smithson, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies; Milton Leitenberg, a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland and author of The Soviet Biological Weapons Program; and Dr. David Franz, former Commander of USAMRIID.

Time—“Leitenberg said it’s almost impossible to evaluate the extent of the Russian biological weapons stockpile because three Russian laboratories remain closed to outside inspection. “We don’t know what they’re doing,” Leitenberg said. ‘They may or may not have an active offensive program—I presume they do. I do not believe that the U.S. government thinks they are producing and stockpiling agent any more, but we don’t know that.’”

A recording of the hearing is available here.

 

Image Credit: Andrew Mandemaker/ Wikimedia Commons