Pandora Report 2.1.15

No themed coverage this week, sadly. However, we’ve got stories covering the Federal fight against antibiotic resistance, ISIS airstrikes, and super mosquitoes in Florida. All this in addition to stories you may have missed.

Have a fun Super Bowl Sunday (go team!) and a safe and healthy week!

Obama Asking Congress to Nearly Double Funding to Fight Antibiotic Resistance to $1.2 Billion

One of The White House’s goals for 2015 was to combat growing antibiotic resistance through research into new antibiotics and efforts to prevent the over prescription of these vital drugs. President Obama is requesting that Congress add additional funding to this fight, bringing the total to $1.2 billion. The funding will be a start, but there are many other things that can happen in order to fight this extremely important problem.

U.S. News & World Report—“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 23,000 Americans die every year from infections that can withstand some of the best antibiotics. The World Health Organization said last year that bacteria resistant to antibiotics have spread to every part of the world and might lead to a future where minor infections could kill.”

Air Strike Kills IS ‘Chemical Weapons Expert’

News came Saturday morning that U.S. airstrikes in Iraq last week killed a mid-level Islamic State militant who specialized in chemical weapons. Killed on January 24, Abu Malik had worked at Saddam Hussein’s Muthana chemical weapons production facility before joining Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2005.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty—“Officials say his death could “temporarily degrade” the group’s ability to produce and use chemical weapons. Coalition air strikes have pounded the Mosul area over the past week [and] The U.S.-led coalition has carried out more than 2,000 air raids against IS militants in Syria and Iraq since August 8.”

Millions of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Could Fight Disease in Florida

On January 11, we had a small note about the possibility of genetically modified mosquitos controlling diseases like chikungunya and dengue, but this week coverage on this issue absolutely exploded! British biotech firm Oxitec plans to release millions of genetically modified mosquitos in Florida to control the existing population and help control the spread of these diseases. The A. Aegypti species of mosquito is extremely prevalent in Florida and recently has become resistant to most chemical pesticides. Residents, of course, are up in arms over the potential release of this “mutant mosquito”.

The Weather Channel—“Technology similar to this is already in use in Florida and other states, Entomology Today points out. Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) employs a similar technique, sterilizing insects so that when they mate, no offspring are produced. “Florida spends roughly $6 million a year using SIT to prevent Mediterranean fruit fly infestations, while California spends about $17 million a year,” Entomology Today wrote.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Pandora Report 1.18.15

For those who’ve been reading for awhile, you’ve probably surmised that one of my personal health interests is seasonal and pandemic flu. There were plenty of stories about that this week, so that’s what we’ll focus on. We’ll also look at Ebola and other stories you may have missed. My apologies for posting delays this week, I’m dealing with some rotator cuff and carpal tunnel issues in my right arm, and let me tell you, it is HARD to type with your dominant arm in a sling!

Enjoy your holiday Monday (if you have one) and have a safe and healthy week!

Texas Health Experts Say Universal Flu Vaccine Could be a Reality

The CDC has said that this year’s seasonal flu vaccine was only 23% effective due to unanticipated antigenic drift—meaning the predicted strains in the vaccine didn’t match the dominant strains of the virus that are currently circulating. In order to combat this in the future, scientists at Mount Sinai health system in New York are in the process of testing a universal flu vaccine which will go into clinical trials this year.

KLTV.com—“‘There is work going on to see if, perhaps a different kind of vaccine could be developed maybe against a different part of the flu virus, one that is not so subject to this antigenic drift or to change as readily from one year to the next,” [Dr. Levin of UT Health Northeast] says.”

Scientists Find Brain Protein Aids Influenza Recovery

Scientists at Washington State University in Spokane have found a brain protein that boosts the healing power of sleep and speeds recovery from the flu in mice. Professor James M. Kruger said this discovery could lead to alternative treatments for flu and other infectious diseases by stimulating production of the brain protein called AcPb. This discovery comes at a time where avian influenza is prevalent in Taiwan, Japan, Nigeria, China, Egypt, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Washington State University—“Krueger showed this recovery involves AcPb and an immune system signaling chemical called interleukin-1. AcPb links up with interleukin-1 to help regulate sleep in healthy animals. It also prompts infected animals to spend more time sleeping during an illness.

In the study, mice who lacked the gene for AcPb slept less after being infected with influenza virus. They also became chilled, grew sluggish, lost their normal circadian rhythms and ultimately died in higher numbers than the mice who slept longer.”

This Week in Ebola

As GMU students return to classes, so do students in Ebola affected Guinea. Schools in Guinea will re-open Monday, and schools in Liberia are set to re-open “next month.” No date has been set for schools in Sierra Leone. Despite this, the President of Sierra Leone has declared that there will be zero new confirmed Ebola cases by the end of March the country will be Ebola-free, by WHO standards, by May. These announcements come at a time when Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the CDC, has said he was “very confident we can get to zero cases in this epidemic if we continue the way we’re going and nothing unexpected happens” and the outbreak appears to be slowing down. Last week brought record low numbers—for Guinea, the lowest total since mid-August; for Liberia, the lowest total since the first week of June; for Sierra Leone the second week of declines and the lowest level since the end of August. However, there are still “at least 50 micro-outbreaks” underway throughout West Africa.

Pauline Cafferkey, the Scottish nurse infected with Ebola, is “showing signs of improvement” and an American soldier who was found dead in Texas after his deployment in West Africa reportedly showed no signs of Ebola leaving officials to remark that there was “no evidence of a public health threat.”

A seemingly large amount of good news this week left space for new ruminations on Ebola and outbreaks in general. Wired  had an interesting piece on Nanobiophysics and how it could stop future global pandemics while The Chicago Tribune looked at bats and their likely role in Ebola outbreaks and CNBC looked at the price of protection from global pandemics—would you believe $343.7 billion?

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: NBC News

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 10.4.14

This week the round up includes Russian bird flu, pregnancy and flu, ISIS threats to British troops, and of course, an Ebola update.

Have a great weekend, don’t forget your flu shot, and keep smart about your news!

Russia Reports First Cases of Deadly Bird Flu in Two Years

Domestic chicken, geese, and ducks in the Altai Krai region of Russia, near the border of Kazakhstan, were found to be infected with the H5N1 serotype of bird flu. These are the first cases of the highly pathogenic flu in this area in nearly two years.

Reuters—“The latest outbreaks in Russia, which led to the death or culling of 344 birds, were thought to have come from wild birds. “Probably, hunted ducks and geese trophies had been placed in backyards where mortality occurred later in domestic birds,” the farm ministry said in its report.”

Why is Flu Virus Higher Risk for Pregnant Women? 

While HHS continues to prepare for pandemic flu, which could kill 60 million people, researchers at Stanford University have looked at the effects flu has on pregnant women. A pregnant woman’s immune system is strongly suppressed, but researchers say this alone cannot explain vulnerability to influenza. Researchers looked at the proportion and behavior of natural killer cells and T cells, which in the presence of flu increased and changed in function. These findings offer a possible treatment path—changing inflammatory response rather than just fighting replication of the virus.

Star Tribune—“Women who get the flu while pregnant have a much higher risk of hospitalization and death and are four times more likely to deliver a premature baby. During the 1918 epidemic, in fact, the death rate among pregnant women was at least 28 times that of the general population.”

ISIS Threatens to Gas British Troops in Iraq: Soldiers Ordered to Carry Chemical Suits

British Special Forces training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and identifying RAF bombing targets in Northern Iraq have started carrying chemical protection suits. Intelligence sources warned that ISIS fighters may have stolen poison gas from Syrian forces who withheld the agents from destruction. ISIS is thought to have stolen sarin and chlorine gases when they raided a Syrian Air Force base two months ago.

The Mirror—“The [British] soldiers now carry nuclear and biological warfare protection and respirators. All vehicles are being fitted with gas detectors and an RAF Regiment trained in chemical warfare is on standby to fly to the region.”

This Week in Ebola

Oh, Ebola. The big story this week is that the virus arrived on American shores, with the first confirmed case in Dallas and potential cases of Ebola in the DC area being ruled out, the CDC is using contact modeling to help track potential cases in Texas. Arrival in the U.S. has caused an absolute avalanche of news stories and opinion pieces throughout the media. They have ranged from fear mongering about an epidemic in the U.S. and how quarantines would be ineffective, to why you shouldn’t worry about Ebola as a bioweapon. We saw the White House urging calm (and making awesome infographics) and medical facilities saying the average American citizen has nothing to worry about. Meanwhile, there were reports that Ebola poses a greater risk than SARS and AIDS and Louis Farrakhan tweeted that Ebola is a bioweapon against Africans. Use of hyperbole and misinformation do a disservice to those trying to responsibly inform Americans. We saw a case of a doctor in Liberia who quarantined herself in order to keep others safe and another Liberian doctor who seems to have effectively treated Ebola using HIV drugs. And, of course, the biggest problem was that Ebola could affect the cocoa trade. Oh wait, no, that’s what we in “the biz” call a #champagneproblem.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Pregnant In The City