Pandora Report: 12.18.2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stories You May Have Missed:

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

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Pandora Report 9.25.2015

You didn’t think a Papal visit would slow us down, did you? Even in the event of a zombie apocalypse, we GMU Biodefense folks would still find a way to get out the weekly report – perhaps pigeon carrier? Until that happens, don’t forget to check us out on Twitter! This week saw a lot of great focus on collaborations to fight public health threats like antimicrobial resistance and epidemics. Schools in Chicago were closed for concerns over Legionnaires’ disease, yours truly provided a piece on Ebola infection prevention, and we have a wonderful opportunity to contribute to World Medical & Health Policy regarding women’s health on a global stage.

Learned Lessons from Ebola in the US
Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of Health & Human Services, discusses the clinical complexity and reality that “our clinical approach to treating Ebola in a hospital setting posed different challenges.” Several key US health experts weighed in on the pivotal first patient, Thomas Duncan, to unknowingly bring Ebola to the US. The implications for healthcare and preparedness sent a tidal wave of response across US hospitals. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), also highlights three main lessons from not only the cases in Dallas, but also the Ebola epidemic as a whole. He points to the necessity of a strong surveillance and response system, need for rapid international aid, and better infection control in hospitals….which segues beautifully into our next story.

The Infection Prevention Angle of the 2014 Ebola Crisis
Reports and analyses from a range of responders to the crisis have been trickling out for several months now, but there’s a constant in all of them – infection control. Given my background and experiences in this field, I wanted to take our readers down the rabbit hole of what exactly it was like to be an Infection Preventionist during this time. A hopeful start to a series of pieces on this subject, it will give you a taste of not only the daily struggles, but the brevity of what potential Ebola patients meant for US healthcare preparedness.

Partnerships to Support Antibiotic Development
564px-Penicillin_Past,_Present_and_Future-_the_Development_and_Production_of_Penicillin,_England,_1943_D16963The ASPR’s (Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response) Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) is part of a larger initiative to use Other Transaction Authority (OTA – flexible advanced research and development funding instruments) to start developing business relationships between government and private industry. The relationships are mutually beneficial, allowing both parties to invest and develop products for biodefense and the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. Given the slowing of new antibiotic development, this joint agreement comes at a pivotal time for antimicrobial resistance efforts.

Three Chicago-area Schools Close in Response to Legionnaires’ Disease Concerns
Three schools in the Illinois U-46 district were shut down on Wednesday and Thursday after cooling tower test results showed “higher than normal levels of Legionella bacteria”. The OSHA recommended threshold is no higher than 1,000 CFU/ml (colony-forming units per milliliter) and with the outbreak among residents of the Illinois Veteran’s Home, it’s not surprising to see many water towers being frequently tested, etc. The important thing to note is that Legionella pneumophila infections are a result of the intensity of the exposure and the immune status of the exposed person. Legionella can’t be totally eradicated from the water supply and a majority cooling towers will contain some amount of growth.

Call for Papers – Women’s Health in Global Perspective
Papers sought for a special issue and workshop of World Medical & Health Policy on “Women’s Health in Global Perspective,” to contribute to understanding and improve policy related to women’s health and wellbeing.  Forces ranging from the economic to the climactic have human repercussions whose genesis and solutions demand consideration of their global context.  A wealth of recent research and inquiry has considered the particular plight of women, who often suffer disproportionately from lack of education, compromised nutrition, poverty, violence and lack of job opportunities and personal freedom.  The Workshop on Women’s Health in Global Perspective will consider the broad ranging social determinants of health on a global scale that importantly influence health outcomes for women everywhere, which in turn has implications for economic, political and social development.
Abstract submission deadline (250 words): October 16, 2015 
Contact: Bonnie Stabile, Deputy Editor, bstabile@gmu.edu
Notification of selected abstracts: November 13, 2015
Workshop March 3rd, 2016
Completed papers due: March 11, 2016

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Personal Microbial Cloud – researchers found that a person’s microbiome form a cloud around them, allowing scientists to identify a specific person just by sampling their microbial cloud. Food for thought: would this be our microbial cloud version of a fingerprint?
  • C. Difficile Drug Success – Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine were successful in their ability to get rid of the deadly gastrointestinal toxin via a drug that didn’t focus on the organism, Clostridium difficile, but rather the toxin itself. C. difficile is responsible for 250,000 hospitalizations and 15,000 deaths per year while costing the US more than $4 billion in healthcare expenses. Yay for successful treatments!
  • EC, EU, and WHO Work To Better Share Private Drug Data – The European Commission, European Medicines Agency, and World Health Organization are working to “step up coordination” on EU medicines regarding safety, quality, and efficacy of new drug candidates. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing you have one, right? The new focus on global public health threats is one we can all appreciate!
  • WHO Makes Changes to Southern Hemisphere Flu Vaccine – The WHO committee recommended changes for two of the three trivalent influenza vaccines for the Southern Hemisphere next year due to changes in the circulating viral strains. They suggested using H1N1, H3N2 an A/Hong Hong/4801/2014-like virus, and for influenza B, the Brisbane/60/2008-like virus. In the quadrivalent vaccine, they recommended adding the influenza B Yamagata lineage component, with the A/H1N1 strain staying.

Pandora Report 2.7.15

Whatta week, right?! Let’s jump right in to the stories. We’ve got the Subway, flu forecasting, American chemical weapons, and stories you may have missed.

Have a great weekend and a safe and healthy week!

A Close Look at the Germs Crawling Around the Subway

Every single day I ride the metro to work, and every single day, the first thing I do when I get to the office is wash my hands. And, really, that’s what everyone should be doing. A research team from the Weill Cornell Medical College spent the summer of 2013 swabbing turnstiles, subway poles, kiosks, benches, and other “human penetrated surfaces” in all 466 NYC subway stations.

Gothamist—“And they found quite a few signs of life—15,152 types of DNA, in fact—nearly half of which they identified as bacteria. Shocking!

[They] did manage to find some scary stuff, with E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus (skin infections, respiratory disease and food poisoning), Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), and even Yersinia pestis, which is associated with the bubonic plague, popping up in some swabs. Nearly all the stations harbored an antibiotic resistant bacteria called Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, one that often causes respiratory infections in hospitals.”

Forecasts May Soon Predict Flu Patterns

What if we could predict the flu like we predict the weather? That is what teams of researchers are looking at; devising and testing methods to predict the start, peak, and end of flu season. How will they do this? By combining data from the present with knowledge of past patterns to project what might happen in the future.

The Boston Globe—“If the CDC had a flu-season preview in hand, the agency could better time messages on use of vaccines and flu-fighting drugs.

Hospitals could plan staffing for patient surges or make sure key personnel are not on vacation when it appears the epidemic will probably peak. Parents could even take flu forecasts into account in scheduling birthday parties and play dates.”

U.S. to Destroy Largest Remaining Chemical Weapons Cache

Syria isn’t the only country working on destruction of its chemical weapons cache. The Pueblo Chemical Depot, in Southern Colorado, will begin neutralization of 2,600 tons of aging mustard agent in March. This action moves towards American compliance with a 1997 treaty that banned all chemical weapons.

USA Today—“‘The start of Pueblo is an enormous step forward to a world free of chemical weapons,” said Paul Walker, who has tracked chemical warfare for more than 20 years, first as a U.S. House of Representatives staffer and currently with Green Cross International, which advocates on issues of security, poverty and the environment.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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