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!
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.”
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
- I had to restrain myself from making this the top news story: Lindsay Lohan has Chikungunya. Oh, and don’t forget, Angelina Jolie had the Chicken Pox.
- The only thing I like about the New Year is all the year in review stories: here is one from Slate about the most important medical stories from 2014. Guess which virus’ arrival in America landed in the #1 spot.
- Did you hear that 25 NHL players, across six teams, and officials have been diagnosed with the mumps or mumps-like symptoms? This isn’t the first time a contagious disease has affected hockey—the 1919 Stanley Cup was cancelled due to pandemic flu!
- A new antibiotic—Zerbaxa—was approved by the FDA which should aid in the effort to combat growing antibiotic resistance. Zerbaxa is the first drug to treat gram-negative bacteria to be approved under the GAIN Act.
- Curious as to why Cholera bacteria is so virulent in the human gut? A new study appearing in Science looks at how Cholera bacteria “spear” neighboring cells in order to infect.
- For those film buffs in the readership, there was an interesting piece by NPR about an “unboring documentary about polio” vaccination called Every Last Child. The trailer is available here.
Image Credit: The Washington Post