Pandora Report 11.16.14

Its getting pretty cold outside, right? So what better way to spend your Sunday than catching up on all the best stories of the week! This week we’ve got Wikipedia as a predictive took for the spread of disease, a catchy new name for Chikungunya, MERS CoV in Saudi Arabia, some stories you may have missed, and, of course, an Ebola update.

How Wikipedia Reading Habits Can Successfully Predict the Spread of Disease

In my absolute favorite story of the week, researchers have identified a link between the spread of disease and the corresponding page hits of those diseases on Wikipedia. No, the Internet isn’t giving people E-bola, but page views seem to have a predictive effect on infectious disease spread. During the three-year study, looking at readers’ habits, the researchers could predict the spread of flu in the U.S., Poland, Thailand, and Japan, and dengue in Brazil and Thailand at least 28 days before those countries’ health ministries.

The Washington Post—“Official government data—usually released with a one- or two-week lag time—lagged four weeks behind Wikipedia reading habits, according to Del Valle; people, she said, are probably reading about the illnesses they have before heading to the doctor.”

The ‘Vacation Virus’

As Chikungunya makes it way through the Americas, awareness of the disease becomes more important—including the creation of a catchy nickname! The vector, transmissibility, and symptoms are similar to Dengue and with Chikungunya being relatively new to the western hemisphere, a story like this one may be helpful in putting a human face on a growing problem.

The Atlantic—“It might be parochial to call Chikungunya a “vacation virus”; however, as Americans prepare to hit the Caribbean beaches in the coming winter months, awareness campaigns are ramping up. Last week, the travel section of the New York Times ran a feature on Chikungunya highlighting how tourism agencies and organizations are both downplaying the scope of the outbreak and advising simple measures to deal with the virus. (Avoid mosquitos.)”

MERS Cases on the Rise in Saudi Arabia

Since September 5, there have been 38 new cases of MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia, bringing the total number of cases in Saudi Arabia to 798. The WHO said that due to the non-specific symptoms of MERS, it is critical that health care facilities consistently apply standard precautions with all patients regardless of their initial diagnosis. Furthermore, until more is understood about MERS, immunocompromised individuals should practice general hygiene measures, like hand washing, and avoid close contact with sick animals. Nearly one third of the new cases were reported by patients who had recently had close contact with camels.

Outbreak News Today—“The continued increase in cases prompted Anees Sindi, deputy commander of the Command and Control Center (CCC) to say, “MERS-CoV is active and we need to be on full alert.” In addition, the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health launched a new public information campaign in Taif in response to the recent spike in new cases of MERS-CoV in the region. Medical professionals will be made available at public locations with the aim of educating citizens on the need to avoid unprotected contact with camels because of the risk of infection with MERS-CoV, underlining the crucial role of the community in preventing the spread of the disease in the Kingdom.”

This Week in Ebola

Ebola is on the rise again in Sierra Leone bringing the number of deaths to 5,147 and cases to 14,068. It appears that the virus is finding new pockets to inhabit including villages outside the Liberian capital and in Bamako, the capital of Mali (eclipsing earlier success in that country at containment.) Despite these new infections outside of Monrovia, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has ended the state of emergency in that country. Unsurprisingly, the epidemic has imposed a financial burden on the affected countries including losses in agricultural trade and the service industries. Elsewhere in Africa, Ugandan health officials have declared the country free of an Ebola-like Marburg virus. Stateside, a new report from the CDC outlines steps taken in Dallas to prevent further virus spread and a third Ebola patient headed to the bio containment unit at the Nebraska Medical Center for treatment. Finally, 80 U.S. Military personnel helping to fight Ebola in Liberia returned home this week, and though none are displaying symptoms, they will be monitored for 21 days at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Pandora Report 9.20.14

We are introducing a new feature for the news round up—“Stories You May Have Missed.” This final section consists of fascinating articles I’ve found throughout the week that couldn’t fit in the report. This week the round up includes the UN Security Council’s resolution about Ebola, ISIS using chemical weapons in Iraq, a surprising source to combat antibiotic resistance, and of course, an Ebola update.

Lastly, you know what time of year it is, flu season is starting…don’t forget to get your flu shot!

Have a great weekend!

With Spread of Ebola Outpacing Response, Security Council Adopts Resolution 2177

On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and unanimously adopted resolution 2177 (2014). 2177 established the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) and calls on Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea to speed up establishment of national mechanisms to deal with this outbreak and to coordinate efficient utilization of international assistance, including health workers and relief supplies. The resolution also calls on other countries to lift their border and travel restrictions saying that isolation of the affected countries could undermine efforts to respond to the outbreak.

The United Nations—“United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the Ebola crisis had evolved into a complex emergency, with significant political, social, economic, humanitarian and security dimensions.  The number of cases was doubling every three weeks, and the suffering and spillover effects in the region and beyond demanded the attention of the entire world.  “Ebola matters to us all,” he said.”

ISIS Uses Chemical Weapons Against Army in Iraq

There were reports this week that the IS terrorist group has used chemical weapons in an attack on the Iraqi army in Saladin province. The reported attack took place Wednesday and Thursday in Dhuluiya, which has been under control of the group for more than two months. The attack affected approximately a dozen people.

One India—“Iraq’s Ambassador to the UN, Mohamed Ali Alhakim said in a letter that remnants of 2,500 chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin were kept along with other chemical warfare agents in a facility 55 km northwest of Baghdad. He added that the site’s surveillance system showed that some equipment had been looted after “armed terrorist groups” penetrated the site June 11.”

Vaginas May be the Answer to the Fight Against Drug-Resistant Bacteria

A naturally occurring bacterium found by scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, School of Pharmacy might be the key to addressing the threat of a post antibiotic future. Found in the female vagina, Lactobacillus gasseri is the basis for Lactocilin, a possible antibiotic alternative. This discovery comes at a time where the WHO has declared antimicrobial resistance as “an increasingly serious threat to global public health.”

Medical Daily—“This isn’t the only implication for the L. gasseri bacteria. Researchers are also hopeful to find similar-acting bacteria in different parts of the human body. “We think they still have bacteria producing the same drug, but it’s just a different bacterial species that lives in the mouth and has not yet been isolated,” lead researcher Micheal Fischbach told HuffPost. Even though the bacteria were harvested in females, researchers are confident it will have equal results when used in men.”

This Week in Ebola

It was a terrible week for Ebola, absolutely terrible. Above, we already learned that the UN Security Council declared the virus a threat to international peace and security, but that wasn’t all that happened. President Obama pledged 3,000 troops to fight Ebola in West Africa. The WHO said that the number of Ebola cases could begin doubling every three weeks and expressed concern about the black market trade of Ebola survivors’ blood. Eight aid workers and journalists were murdered in Guinea leaving many to fear that violence could stymy relief efforts and in Sierra Leone, the government instituted a three-day lockdown in order to help health care workers find and isolate patients.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Pandora Report 08.09.14

I spent about 12 hours at Dulles Airport yesterday. I didn’t fly anywhere, but I was ensuring that 120 international students were able to get from Washington DC to their host families all over the country. You may have noticed that in the security areas of Dulles Airport they have televisions that go over proper security screening procedures. On these same screens, they also show CDC travel alerts.

In June (when I was ensuring that 450 students were able to get back to their home countries), the alerts were for MERS and mosquito borne diseases like dengue and Chikungunya. Yesterday, Ebola was on alert for travelers to West Africa.

Last week we looked at the fever pitch of Ebola, today, lets look at the diseases designated by the CDCs travel alerts at Dulles.

 

Zika Virus: Another Threat from the Asian Tiger Mosquito

Travel alerts from the CDC often include Chickungunya and Dengue fever, but another disease from the same vector—the tiger mosquit0—is receiving alerts as well. Zika Fever, was isolated in humans in the 1970s, but has relatively few documented cases. In 2007, the virus demonstrated epidemic capacity with 5,000 cases in Micronesia. In 2013 there were 55,000 cases in Polynesia. Today the CDC has issued Watch Level 1 alerts for Zika in Easter Island, French Polynesia, and the Cook Islands and urges travelers to practice usual precautions.

Entomology Today—“Originally from Asia, the tiger mosquito was introduced to Africa in 1991 and detected in Gabon in 2007, where its arrival undoubtedly contributed to the emergence of dengue, chikungunya, and as shown by this new study, zika. The rapid geographic expansion of this invasive species in Africa, Europe, and America allows for a risk of propagation of zika fever around the world.”

 

Ramadan pilgrimage season in Saudi Arabia mostly free from MERS

Saudi Arabia reported only ten new cases of MERS from June 28- July 28 during the month of Ramadan. In April and May of 2014, hundreds of people were infected by MERS, which raised concerns about infection rates during Ramadan and during the Hajj, which will take place in October, when millions of pilgrims will travel to Mecca. Since 2012, Saudi Arabia has confirmed over 700 cases of infection resulting in nearly 300 deaths. The CDC designates the Hajj as an Alert Level 2, and urges U.S. residents to practice enhanced precautions.

Al Arabiya—“Saudi Arabia and the World Health Organization have said they are imposing no travel or other restrictions due to MERS during the Hajj, but have encouraged very young or old pilgrims, and those suffering from chronic disease, not to come this year.”

 

WHO: Ebola ‘an international emergency’

This week, the World Health Organization declared that the spread of Ebola in West Africa is an international health emergency. They urged coordinated response in order to keep the spread of the virus under control. Though no travel or trade bans have been enacted, the WHO recommends that Ebola cases or contacts should not travel internationally. This comes at a time when states of emergency have been declared in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone and the number of total cases has reached nearly 1,800 with over 950 deaths. The CDC designates outbreaks in these countries as a Warning Level 3, and urges U.S. residents to avoid non-essential travel.

BBC—“WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan appealed for help for the countries hit by the ‘most complex outbreak in the four decades of this disease.’

The decision by the WHO to declare Ebola a public health emergency is, by its own definition, an ‘extraordinary event’ which marks ‘a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease’.”

 

Image Credit: The Denver Channel

Pandora Report 7.26.14

Highlights this week include, Dr. Frieden goes to Washington, top Ebola doc comes down with the virus, a TB patient on the loose in California, and a plague based shut-down in China. Have a great weekend!

CDC Director to Tackle MERS, Measles, Global Health Threats

It was my absolute pleasure to be able to attend a talk given by Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at the National Press Club on Tuesday.  Though Dr. Frieden briefly covered the stated topics, he spoke primarily about the dangers of growning antibiotic resistance and hospital acquired infections. He urged everyone, including the CDC, to work hard(er) to combat these issues that may usher us into a “post-antibiotic era.” The entire speech is available here. (You may even notice me in the lower left corner chowing down on a CDC cupcake!)

USA Today—“‘Anti-microbial resistance has the potential to harm or kill anyone in the country, undermine modern medicine, to devastate our economy and to make our health care system less stable,” Frieden said.

To combat the spread of resistant bacteria, Frieden said the CDC plans to isolate their existence in hospitals and shrink the numbers through tracking and stricter prevention methods.”

 

Sierra Leone’s Top Ebola Doctor Infected as the Worst Outbreak in History Continues

You may have seen this story pop up earlier this week in our facebook or twitter, but it certainly bears repeating. Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, who has been credited with treating more than 100 Ebola victims, has come down with the virus too. He is now one of hundreds who have been affected by the virus in West Africa, which has killed over 600.

The Washington Post-“In late June, Khan seemed keenly aware of the risk he faced. “I am afraid for my life, I must say, because I cherish my life,” he told Reuters. “Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by disease. Even with the full protective clothing you put on, you are at risk.’”

 

California Police Seek Man Who Refused Tuberculosis Treatment

Prosecutors in Northern California have obtained an arrest warrant for Eduardo Rosas Cruz, a 25 year old transient, who was diagnosed with TB and disappeared before he started treatment. Rosas Cruz needed to complete a nine-month course of treatment. Tuberculosis spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is not known if Rosas Cruz is currently contagious. By law, health officials cannot force a patient to be treated but courts can be used to isolate an infectious individual from the public at large.

FOX News—“County health officials asked prosecutors to seek the warrant, in part, because Rosas Cruz comes from a part of Mexico known for its drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis. County health officials are searching for Rosas Cruz, and his name is in a statewide law enforcement system, San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Stephen Taylor said.”

 

In China, A Single Plague Death Means an Entire City Quarantined

Parts of Yumen City, in Gansu Province, were quarantined after a farmer died from bubonic plague. The man developed the disease after coming in contact with a dead marmot on a plain where his animals were grazing. According to experts, Chinese authorities categorize plague as a Class 1 disease, which enables them to label certain zones as “infection areas” and seal them off. 151 people were affected by the quarantine, which was lifted after none developed symptoms.

The Guardian—“The World Health Organization’s China office praised the Chinese government’s handling of the case. “The Chinese authorities notified WHO of the case of plague in Gansu province, as per their requirements under the International Health Regulations,” it said in a statement to the Guardian. “The national health authorities have advised us that they have determined this to be an isolated case, though they are continuing to monitor the patient’s close contacts.’”

 

Image Credit: RT

Pandora Report 4.4.14

It’s been a busy week in the biodefense world, between the continuing outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa and the realization that the Black Death may actually have been pneumonic plague rather than bubonic plague, so let’s take a moment this Friday to slow things down.


Highlights include Ebola travel restrictions, a possible source for the Ebola outbreak, and how to protect yourself during the most serious pandemic of all—the zombie pandemic. Have a great weekend!

When planning your vacation to Guinea, keep this in mind…

As of April 1, the number of suspect Ebola cases in Guinea has risen to 127 with 83 deaths (for a case fatality rate of 65%) according to the WHO. Liberia now has eight suspected cases with five deaths. Sierra Leone has had only two deaths after two bodies were repatriated after dying from Ebola. In neighboring Mali, the government has instituted thermal scans for those travelling to Mali as well as restricting movement within the capital city of Bamako. Meanwhile, Senegal has closed their border with Guinea and Saudi Arabia has suspended visas for Muslim pilgrims coming from Guinea and Liberia. Despite all of this, the WHO does not recommend travel restrictions.

Philippine Daily Inquirer—“The international health agency said there was not enough reason to push for the imposition of travel restrictions in response to the Ebola outbreak. “WHO does not recommend that any travel or trade restrictions be applied with respect to this event,” it said in a statement.”

And while on vacation, here are some foods to avoid…

In another response to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, officials have taken an unusual step of banning the consumption of bats as food—including grilled bat, bat soup and “other local delicacies.” It has long been suspected that bats are somehow instrumental in the spread of Ebola either as a vector or a reservoir for the disease.

CBS News—“‘We discovered the vector [infectious] agent of the Ebola virus is the bat,” Remy Lamah, the country’s [Guinea] health minister, told Bloomberg News. “We sent messages everywhere to announce the ban. People must even avoid consumption of rats and monkeys. They are very dangerous animals.’”

The good news is, in the event of a serious pandemic, you may have new protection!

Just in time for the Walking Dead finale last weekend, the American Chemical Society released new research related to the chemistry of death, and how that chemistry can shield us from the flesh and brain eating horde of zombies.

Science is a serious subject and pandemic possibilities are crises in the making…but that doesn’t mean science can’t be fun for a general audience!

Zombie Apocalypse Survival Chemistry: Death Cologne