Pandora Report 3.24.2017

Welcome to the start of the weekend and World TB Day! The WHO estimates that just in 2015, 1/3 of people with TB missed out on quality care and 480,000 people developed multidrug-resistant TB.

Public Health Concerns in Trump’s New Budget
President Trump’s newly released proposed budget blueprint makes drastic cuts to many programs, of which, one of the hardest hit is HHS. On top of the cuts to science and public health, there is something buried within the budget that is concerning ex-CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden. Frieden worries about the proposal to award block grants to states, which would allow them to decide how to respond to public health issues (think Ebola, Zika, etc.). “That proposal is ‘a really bad idea,’ according to Dr. Tom Frieden, who until this past January was director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, the CDC experts work with state and local governments to devise evidence-based plans to respond to public health issues, such as foodborne and infectious disease outbreaks. With a block grant, states can use the federal money to replace their own spending in certain areas or spend the money unwisely, ‘and never have to report what they have done or be held accountable for it,’ Frieden said.” A withdrawal of one fifth of NIH’s budget would mean a deep slash to biomedical and science research funding.  These cuts will also impact foreign aid, which has many worried about the role of public health interventions in foreign countries. Bill Gates recently talked to TIME magazine regarding the safety implications of cutting foreign aid. “I understand why some Americans watch their tax dollars going overseas and wonder why we’re not spending them at home. Here’s my answer: These projects keep Americans safe. And by promoting health, security and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.” Gates points to the role of overseas public health work like polio eradication, Ebola outbreak response, and America’s global HIV/AIDS effort (PEPFAR), which points to the stabilizing role that strengthening public health can have in a country.

Summer Workshop on Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and Global Health Security
From Anthrax to Zika, we’ve got the place to be in July for all things biodefense. This three-day workshop will provide you with not only seminars from experts in the field, but also discussions with others interested in biodefense. You can check out the flyer and register for the event here. The best part is that we’re doing an early-bird registration discount of 10% if you sign up before May 1st. A returning participant, GMU student/alumni, or have a group of three or more? You’re eligible for an additional discount! Check out the website to get the scoop on all our expert instructors and the range of topics the workshop will be covering.

Unseen Enemy Documentary 
Mark your calendars for this upcoming infectious documentary on the lurking pandemics that worry experts. Airing on April 7th, Unseen Enemy will follow researchers looking for the early warning signs of diseases that could cause the next pandemic. The National Academy of Medicine will be hosting a special D.C. premiere of the film on April 2nd, that you can even attend.

Expert Views on Biological Threat Characterization for the U.S. Government: A Delphi Study 
Biological threat characterization (BTC) is mixed bag of risk and reward. The laboratory research involving deadly pathogens as a means for biodefense can translate to better risk assessments but also the potential for biosafety failures. To better address this issue, researchers performed a Delphi study to gather opinions from experts around the country. “Delphi participants were asked to give their opinions about the need for BTC research by the U.S. government (USG); risks of conducting this research; rules or guidelines that should be in place to ensure that the work is safe and accurate; components of an effective review and prioritization process; rules for when characterization of a pathogen can be discontinued; and recommendations about who in the USG should be responsible for BTC prioritization decisions.” Following their assessment, the researchers found that experts agree that BTC research is necessary, but there is also a need for continued oversight and review of the research to reduce as much risk as possible. “It also demonstrates the need for further discussion of what would constitute a ‘red line’ for biothreat characterization research—research that should not be performed for safety, ethical, or practical reasons—and guidelines for when there is sufficient research in a given topic area so that the research can be considered completed.”

GMU Schar School PhD Info Session
If you love global health security and have been wanting to further your education, come check out our PhD info session next Wednesday, March 29th at 7pm in Arlington. You can come learn about our biodefense PhD program from the director, Dr. Koblentz, and hear from several students about their experiences. The info session is a great way to find out what a GMU Schar PhD entails, the application process, and what current students think!

What Biosecurity and Cybersecurity Research Have In Common
Kendall Hoyt is looking at the similarities between these two research fields and how work into the unknown can often expose and create vulnerabilities. Did I mention Kendall is one of the instructors at our biodefense Summer Workshop? Hoyt provides two examples to really hone in on this point – to defend against a dangerous pathogen, we have to isolate and grow it to try and develop treatment or a vaccine and to defend against a cyberattack, we need to know how to break into the computer system. That whole dual-use dilemma creates a lot of risk-versus-reward scenarios for biosecurity and cybersecurity researchers. While the research is highly relevant and necessary, government efforts to control or maintain oversight have been challenging. Do we pull back the reigns on innovation or run the risk of a security breach or a big “whoops” moment? “Intellectual property and cybersecurity legislation—namely the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act—has similarly stifled legitimate scientific and commercial activities and delayed defensive applications. In one well-known example, fear of prosecution under DMCA deterred a Princeton graduate student from reporting a problem that he discovered: Unbeknownst to users, Sony BMG music CDs were installing spyware on their laptops.” Hoyt also points out the biosecurity efforts that have begun looking not just at the pathogens and publications, but the laboratory techniques that are used for such research. Certain experiments (like gain of function work) have the capacity to increase transmissibility or host range. “For all of their similarities, key differences between biosecurity and cybersecurity risks and timelines will dictate varied regulatory strategies. For example, zero-day exploits—that is, holes in a system unknown to the software creator—can be patched in a matter of months, whereas new drugs and vaccines can take decades to develop. Digital vulnerabilities have a shorter half-life than biological threats. Measures to promote disclosures and crowd-sourced problem-solving will therefore have a larger immediate impact on cybersecurity. Still, both fields face the same basic problem: There are no true ‘choke points’ in either field. The U.S. government is not the only source of research funds and, thanks in large part to the internet itself, it is increasingly difficult to restrict sensitive information.” In the end, Hoyt notes that both fields and their regulations will need to relax the governance process and be a bit more flexible and mobile with how they control items. Both fields are constantly evolving, which means regulators need to be just as fluid.

How To Prepare For A Pandemic
NPR decided to create a “Pandemic Preparedness Kit” based off the continuous questions related to the ongoing news of increasing infectious disease threats but little info in terms of practical things people can do. While these aren’t things you can go out and buy for your home, the list hits close to home in terms of things we should be focusing our efforts and funding on. Firstly, vaccines. This is a no brainer and yet, we’ve become the habitual users of the theme “create it when we’re struggling to contain an outbreak”. Secondly, virus knowledge. “One of your best weapons during a disease outbreak is knowledge, says Dr. Jonathan Temte of the University of Wisconsin. ‘Keep up with the news and try to understand what threats might be out there,’ he says. For example, new types of influenza are one of the biggest threats right now — in terms of pandemic potential, Temte says. But if you know how to protect yourself from one type of influenza, you can protect yourself from all of them.” Lastly, and my personal favorite, is very clean hands. While every disease is different, one of the most basic and fundamental truths for infection prevention and control is hand hygiene. These three are solid ways to better prepare for future outbreaks, pandemics, emerging infectious diseases, and just about anything infectious that makes you a bit worried.

CARB-X MissionWhen I first read the name of this group, I thought it was some kind of fitness fuel, but I was pleasantly surprised to see this initiative is working to fight antibiotic resistance. CARB-X is a collaboration between NIAID and BARDA to help accelerate the development of antibacterials over the next 25 years. The goal is to help combat antimicrobial resistance through a diverse portfolio and partnership. Make sure not to miss their March 30th meeting from 11am-noon on antibiotic resistance. “CARB-X (Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Accelerator) was launched in August 2016 to accelerate pre-clinical product development in the area of antibiotic-resistant infections, one of the world’s greatest health threats. CARB-X was established by BARDA and NIAID of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services along with Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. This partnership has committed $450 million in new funds over the next five years to increase the number of antibacterial products in the drug-development pipeline.” While CARB-X may not be the latest workout supplement, it’s definitely a boost to performance in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

New Roles and Missions Commission on DHS Is Urgently Needed
GMU biodefense PhD alum, Daniel Gerstein, is looking at DHS and pointing to the need for a Roles and Missions Commission. It’s been almost 15 years since DHS was created under rapid and urgent circumstances, which means that it’s time to look introspectively. “More generally, a roles and missions review could also examine whether the department is properly resourced for all its missions. For example, a joint requirement council was recently established for the department composed of less than 10 government civilians. Is this adequate for supporting requirements development activities for a department of over 240,000 personnel?” Gerstein looks at some of the big issues that require a comprehensive review, like centralization versus decentralization, management of R&D and engineering, and critical infrastructure issues related to national security and safety. Another component needing review is the human factors issue that impacts homeland security. How are the relationships between departments, with state and local authorities, or with the public? “The effort should not necessarily be viewed as a requirement for change, but rather an opportunity to reexamine DHS and its relations with the rest of government, the nation and its citizens, and even with our international partners across the globe. Finally, a homeland security roles and mission commission would be an ideal lead-in to a much needed update to the original 2002 authorizing legislation.”

Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs
Don’t miss this event on Thursday, March 30th, hosted by New America with speakers Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker. “In today’s world, it is easier than ever for people and material to move around the planet, but at the same time it is easier than ever for diseases to move as well. Outbreaks of Ebola, MERS, yellow fever, and Zika have laid bare the world’s unpreparedness to deal with the threat from infectious diseases. In Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs Dr. Michael Osterholm and Mark Olshaker marshal the latest medical science, case studies, and policy research to examine this critical challenge.”

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • The Feds Are Spending Millions to Help You Survive Nuclear War – North Korea’s recent firing of four ballistic missiles from Pyongyang into the ocean off Japan’s coast has brought back worries of nuclear attacks. While the days of stocking a bomb shelter are in the past, the U.S. government isn’t slowing down efforts to protect Americans. “Over the last ten years the US has poured millions of dollars into technologies and treatments it hopes to never have to use, but could, in the event of a nuclear catastrophe. From assays that measure radiation exposure to cell therapies that restore dwindling blood cells to liquid spray skin grafts, government officials are now far better equipped to deal with diagnosing and treating people if the unthinkable were to happen. And the next generation of treatments are being funded right now.” DHHS projects like BARDA and Project BioShield are just some of the sources for ongoing research to strengthen protection, whether it be a nuclear blast or reactor melt-down.
  • Disinfection and the Rise of the Superbug – GMU biodefense PhD student Saskia Popescu is addressing the growing disinfection needs as we teeter on the edge of the antibiotic abyss. Disinfection is already a challenge in healthcare however, the rise of more resistant germs means that efforts often need to be ramped up. The recent influx of Candida auris infections that we talked about last week really brings this issue to point in that this emerging infection is difficult to get rid of via traditional disinfection routes. “As new organisms are identified and existing ones become resistant to antimicrobials, the availability of strong disinfecting products has become even more pivotal.”
  • China and EU Cut Brazilian Meat Imports Amid Scandal– If you’re a fan of importing Brazilian meat, you may have to hold off for a while. A recent police anti-corruption probe is accusing inspectors of taking bribes to allow the sale of rotten and salmonella-contaminated meats from the largest exporter of beef and poultry. As the news unfolds, the Brazilian government is criticizing gate police as alarmist. “As the scandal deepened, Brazil’s Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said the government had suspended exports from 21 meat processing units.”
  • Study on Interferon for Treatment of Ebola Infection – The common hepatitis treatment is now being tested out on Ebola patients to help alleviate their symptoms. The pilot study was performed from March-June of 2015 and  had some interesting results. “When compared to patients who received supportive treatment only, 67 per cent of the interferon-treated patients were still alive at 21 days in contrast to 19 per cent of the former patients. Additionally, the viral blood clearance was faster in those patients treated with Interferon ß-1a. Many clinical symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea were also relieved earlier in the interferon-treated patients. A further 17 patients in other Guinean treatment centres who matched the interferon-treated patients based on age and the amount of Ebola virus in their blood were included in the analysis. These added patients, who did not receive interferon, more than doubled their risk of dying as a result of not being treated with the drug.”

Pandora Report 12.25.2015

Happy Holidays fellow biodefense gurus! We at the Pandora Report would like to wish you and yours a lovely holiday season, filled with happiness, health, and a side of relaxation. Your favorite weekly dose of biodefense news be taking a few weeks off from reporting while I venture to the land of Oz. Rest assure, should there be a zombie outbreak, I’ll report it first hand! Since we’ll be radio silent for a couple of weeks, we’ve compiled a pretty swanky “I love biodefense and need more of it” reading list to keep you busy. Before you venture down the biodefense rabbit hole, here is fun history fact Friday: on December 24th, 1814, the war of 1812 ended and on December 24, 1936, the first radioactive isotope medicine was administered by Dr. John Lawrence

The Revolving Door of Biosafety7898_lores
GMU Biodefense Master’s student and lab guru, Scott McAlister discusses the importance of biosafety in the changing world of global health. Through his review of the 2009 report by the Trans-Federal Task Force on Optimizing Biosafety and Biocontainment Oversight and a 2015 memorandum released by the White House to enhance biosafety, he discusses the ever changing components of US biosafety. Scott breaks down and compares each report’s recommendations, language, and what these translate to within US laboratories. Moreover, given the recent failures, have US biosecurity practices and recommendations evolved over the past 6 years? Take a look into this review to see where we hope to be and if we’ve progressed since 2009.

National Action Plan for Combating Multidrug-Resistant TB
This week the White House released its national plan for combating the growing threat of multidrug resistant tuberculosis. While US rates of TB cases have dropped, the growing threat of multidrug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively resistant TB (XDR-TB) requires action. This new plan is set to span over 3-5 years and has three goals that will focus on strengthening domestic capacity, improving international capacity and collaboration, and accelerating basic and applied research and development. Extensive collaboration within US agencies and international partners will be necessary to combat the evolving threat of drug resistant tuberculosis.

We’re Not Prepared for a Biological Attack
GMU Biodefense PhD alum, Dr. Daniel M. Gersteindiscusses biopreparedness and where the US stands in his work for US News  & World Report. Throughout his in-depth analysis, Dr. Gerstein emphasizes the importance of US leadership within the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). Pointing to the disappointing Seventh and Eighth Review Conferences, Dr. Gerstein notes, “biological warfare can no longer be considered the purview of only state actors. And this democratization of biotechnology means that the world is literally one rogue microbiologist away from a potentially devastating biological attack.” Dr. Gerstein emphasizes that authorities often fail to realize that biological weapons may not act like naturally occurring diseases or outbreaks.

Holiday Biodefense Book Club
During the cold winter months it’s always nice to curl up by the fire with a good book and relax. GMU Biodefense Master’s student, Rebecca Earnhardt, and I have picked a handful of books to spark your interest. If we could have a book club with our awesome readers, we would love it, but in the mean time, here are our recommendations for a few literary works that you might enjoy!

  • Phantom Menace or Looming Danger?: A New Framework for Assessing Bioweapons Threats By Kathleen M. Vogel — Johns Hopkins Press, 2012. The military has gathered reconnaissance of a possible biological research facility, evidence of a paper trail indicating procurement of weapons delivery systems, and collection of specialized personnel to manufacture biological agents.  Do all of these pieces point to an imminent biological weapons danger?  Kathleen M. Vogel, in Phantom Menace, argues that there is more to the picture of biological weapons development than the technical and physical aspects of manufacturing.  Through examination of three case studies, Vogel highlights the shortcomings of the dominant biotech revolution frame within biological weapons assessments.  The biotech revolution frame, as described by Vogel, misses the important social and contextual factors that affect biological weapons innovation.  The alternative offered by Vogel is termed the biosocial frame.  Vogel highlights in her biosocial frame how tacit knowledge and hands-on experience is vital to biological weapons assessments.  While Vogel does not particularly focus on political influences, I enjoyed the book because of her explanation of the importance in incorporating sociological aspects into biological weapons assessments.  I think this makes Vogel’s work a key book in the field of biodefense.
  • Innovation, Dual Use, and Security: Managing the Risks of Emerging Biological and Chemical Technologies. Editor: Jonathan B. Tucker — MIT Press, 2012. The hotly debated concept of ‘dual-use’ is explored extensively through this multipart work edited by the late chemical and biological weapons expert, Jonathan B. Tucker.  This book takes on the conceptual nuances of dual-use with four parts focused on emerging technologies within the areas of directed design, acquisition of novel molecular parts, modification of biological systems, and enhanced production and packaging capabilities.  Each section, authored by leading experts in the field of biodefense research, including Filippa Lentzos and Gerald Epstein, applied Tucker’s framework of risk assessment for dual-use potential and governability.  This framework incorporates key aspects of assessing dual-use potential, including technological monitoring, technology assessments, and governability of the technology.  The strength of this framework lies in its applicability to emerging technologies, which may enable policy makers to continuously review a particular technology or an emerging area of research.  In the concluding chapter, Kirk Bansak and Jonathan Tucker redirect attention to the intervening social processes that construct relationships between the technology and its users, and how these social processes may create an environment ripe for misuse.  To me, this book is a highly valuable and informative work on the range of dual-use issues and conceptual applications.  I think this book is an important read not only because it covers a variety of dual-use issues, but also in its wide-ranging review of relatively recent biotechnology and life science innovations.  The variety of case studies makes this book an enjoyable read!
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the next Human Pandemic by David Quammen. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Not only is David Quammen one of my favorites, but his overview of zoonotic diseases and the concept of spillover will both captivate and inform you. Ranging from West Nile Virus to Ebola, Quammen presents several of the zoonotic diseases you may have heard of and others that may cause you to reconsider kissing a horse anytime soon. Each chapter presents a new disease, it’s history, and a new outbreak that should raise our attention to global health security. While he doesn’t touch much on avian influenza or multi-drug resistant organisms, his points on humans infringing upon animal ecosystems and the resulting disease spillovers are harrowing. Quammen’s adventures remind me of a microbial Indiana Jones (hint hint Hollywood, that would make an excellent movie!), even with the cheeky wit. I would recommend Spillover as a gateway to understanding the role of zoonotic diseases and the emphasis we’re seeing on One Health. While his parts on Ebola aren’t as dramatic as Richard Preston, you’ll be sure to enjoy his approach to epidemiology and the impact of spillover on global health. Quammen did extend his sections on Ebola into another book that includes information related to the 2014/2015 outbreak. If you enjoy on-the-ground reporting, you’ll find this within Quammen’s book.
  • Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor. Woodstock: Overlook Duckworth, 2003. As a lover of all things biodefense and classical, I was excited when I cam across Adrienne Mayor’s book. Combining ancient history and bioweapons? Sold! Mayor’s breakdown throughout the book reveals the mythical and historical accounts of chemical and biological weapons in the ancient world. While a bit dramatic and sometimes repetitive, I found her book to be enjoyable in that few people have combined ancient history and chem/bioweapons to such an extent. Mayor makes sure to include references to mythology that heavily impact these ancient societies. While the lines of chemical and biological weapons were sometimes muddied and some generalizations related to classical history did occur, I would recommend her book to anyone who enjoys history (especially ancient history), mythology, and CBW. Realistically, with such a catchy title, how could you resist?

Stories You May Have Missed:

Pandora Report 7.11.15

Sorry for the late update here at Pandora Report. We’ve got how the plague turned so deadly, an Ebola update, and of course other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week!

These Two Mutations Turned Not-so-Deadly Bacteria Into the Plague

Researchers at Northwestern University have been investigating how Yersinia pestis—the bacteria that causes bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic plague—became the infective cause of the Black Death. They discovered two mutations that help to explain the bacteria’s lethality.

Smithsonian.com—“The first mutation gave the bacteria the ability to make a protein called Pla. Without Pla, Y. pestis couldn’t infect the lungs. The second mutation allowed the bacteria to enter deeper into the bodies, say through a bite, to infect blood and the lymphatic system. In other words, first the plague grew deadly, then it found a way to leap more easily from infected fleas or rodents to humans.

Ebola Strain Found on Teen in Liberia Genetically Similar to Viruses in Same Area Months Ago

I’m sure you’ve heard that there were three new cases of Ebola in Liberia—a country that was declared free of the disease on May 9. According to the World Health Organization, samples taken from a teenager who died from Ebola two weeks prior indicate that the disease is genetically similar to strains that infected people in the same area over six months ago—while the outbreak was still ongoing.

US News and World Report—“That finding by genetic sequencing suggests it is unlikely the virus was caught from travel to infected areas of Guinea or Sierra Leone, the group said. “It also makes it unlikely that this has been caused by a new emergence from a natural reservoir, such as a bat or other animal,” it said.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: en.wikipedia

Pandora Report 5.24.15

Two quick updates before we get into the weekly wrap-up.

First, the Early Registration Deadline for the Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security professional education course at the GMU Arlington Campus has been extended to June 15. For more information and registration, please click here.

Second, we here at Pandora Report wanted to let you know about a new website designed to provide resources for biosecurity professionals and practitioners and key stakeholders. The International Biosecurity Prevention Forum (IBPF) brings together the world’s leading experts from the health and security communities to share expertise on key biosecurity and bioterrorism prevention issues. Registering to join IBPF is free and easy. Go to http://www.ibpforum.organd click the “Request Membership” button to request an IBPF member account. Members get access to a discussion section and projects, resources, and best practices submitted by other members. Contact the IBPF support team at IBPForum@ic.fbi.gov if you have any questions or problems.

Now, onto the news. This weekend we have stories about British nuclear submarines, anti-vaccine legislation in California, the development of bird flu vaccines, and other stories you may have missed.

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!!

Britain Investigates Sailor’s Disaster Warning Over Nuclear Subs

Able Seaman William McNeilly—a weapons engineer who served aboard HMS Vanguard, one of the four British submarines carrying Trident missiles—wrote a “lengthy dossier” released on the internet which says that the “Trident nuclear defense system was vulnerable both to enemies and to potentially devastating accidents because of safety failures.” McNeilly has since gone AWOL and both police and naval officials are trying to locate him.

The Japan Times—“The Royal Navy said it totally disagreed with McNeilly’s “subjective and unsubstantiated personal views,” describing him as a “very junior sailor.” But it added it was investigating both his claims and the “unauthorized release” of his dossier. “The naval service operates its submarine fleet under the most stringent safety regime and submarines do not go to sea unless they are completely safe to do so,” a spokeswoman said.”

A Blow to Anti-Vaxxers: California Approves Forced Vaccination Bill

By now, we all know that the measles outbreak that started last winter at Disneyland was a result of unvaccinated individuals. In California, the State Senate has passed a bill which limits parent’s use of the “personal belief exemption” in order to get out of getting their children vaccinated. Under the bill, parents who don’t get their children vaccinated would not be able to send their kids to state-licensed schools, nurseries, or day care centers.

State Column—“Only children who have a medical reason for why they can’t be vaccinated would still be allowed to attend schools without receiving their vaccinations under Senate Bill 277, which was sponsored by a California Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacremento), a pediatrician, and Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), a former school board member and the son of a survivor of polio, according to a Forbes report.”

Vaccines Developed for H5N1, H7N9 Avian Flu

Findings appearing in the Journal of Virology indicate that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases have developed a vaccine for both H5N1 and H7N9—two strains of avian influenza which can be transmitted from poultry to humans. The vaccine was developed by cloning the Newcastle disease virus and transplanting a small section of the H5N1 virus into it; the same method was used for the H7N9 vaccine.

Toronto Sun—“‘We believe this Newcastle disease virus concept works very well for poultry because you kill two birds with one stone, metaphorically speaking,” Richt said. “You use only one vector to vaccinate and protect against a selected virus strain of avian influenza.’”

Stories You May Have Missed

  

Image Credit: UK Ministry of Defence

Pandora Report 4.19.15

Sunday has to be the biggest brunch day of the week, so it is only fitting that our lead story looks at the many (delicious and nutritious) uses of maple syrup. We also look at Dengue fever in Brazil, missteps in the U.S. fight against Ebola, and other stories you may have missed.

Once you’re updated, get out there and enjoy the rest of your weekend and the beautiful weather! Have a great week!

Syrup Extract Found to Make Antibiotics More Effective Against Bacteria

It seems like we look at growing antibiotic resistance every week here at Pandora Report. This week, researchers at McGill University in Montreal reported that a “concentrated extract of maple syrup makes disease-causing bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics.” This finding suggests that combining the extract with antibiotics could increase their effectiveness and lead to lower antibiotic usage overall. Honestly, is there anything maple syrup can’t make better?!

Infection Control Today—“‘We would have to do in vivo tests, and eventually clinical trials, before we can say what the effect would be in humans,” [Professor Nathalie] Tufenkji says. “But the findings suggest a potentially simple and effective approach for reducing antibiotic usage. I could see maple syrup extract being incorporated eventually, for example, into the capsules of antibiotics.’”

Brazilian Teams on Alert because of Dengue Fever Outbreak

Brazilian soccer teams are on high alert because of a dengue fever outbreak that has already affected some of the country’s top teams. This week three players were diagnosed with the mosquito borne disease, which normally takes about two weeks to recover from. Players have been forced to use insect repellent during games and practices and health officials have been asked to check fields and training centers for mosquito breeding sites.

USA Today—“Cases of dengue fever have increased significantly across Brazil this year, with most of them reported in Sao Paulo state. Brazil’s health ministry said there have been more than 460,000 cases of the disease in the country in 2015, which accounts for almost 5,000 cases a day. More than 130 people have died so far this year, the ministry said.”

Empty Ebola Clinics in Liberia Are Seen as A Misstep in U.S. Relief Effort

After spending hundreds of millions of dollars and deploying 3,000 U.S. troops to build Ebola treatment centers (E.T.C.) in Liberia, the facilities have largely sat empty. Only 28 Ebola patients have been treated at the 11 E.T.C.s built by the U.S. military. Nine of the centers never had a single Ebola patient. Looking back, the emphasis on building E.T.C.s had far less of an impact than the “inexpensive, nimble measures taken by residents to halt the outbreak.”

The New York Times—“Had the Americans and other donors been more flexible, critics and some officials contend, the money could have been put toward rebuilding Liberia’s shattered health care system—or backing the efforts of local communities—instead of focusing on treatment centers that would scarcely be used.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Dvortygirl

Pandora Report 4.11.15

It’s a public health weekend here at Pandora Report as we check out stories on TB and Polio. We also have other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week and see you back here next weekend!

Ancient Hungarian Crypt Offers Clues to Tuberculosis Origins

As one of the leading infectious disease killers, Tuberculosis, a bacterial infection, holds interest for scientists who disagree over the origins of the human disease. However, a new study in Nature Communications uses a cutting-edge approach called metagenomics to analyze corpses that were naturally mummified in a Hungarian crypt. Of 14 genomes found in eight of the corpses, researchers discovered that multiple strains were circulating in Hungary in the 18th century when these people died.

The Toronto Star—“‘All the historic genomes belonged to lineages that we see today,” said senior author Dr. Mark Pallen, a professor of microbial genomics at the University of Warwick. “So TB hasn’t changed much in 200 years … (and) it turns out that the most common ancestor of the Euro-American lineage that all our (tuberculosis) genomes belonged to dates back to late Roman times.’”

Polio, Cancer—One Nemesis May Counter the Other

Tomorrow, April 12, is the 60th anniversary of when Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was declared to be effective. Today, as the world inches closer to full polio eradication, interesting news highlighted on “60 Minutes” looks at the polio virus’ ability to kill another lethal illness—Cancer. A genetically engineered strain of polio virus appears to thwart lethal brain cancer tumors.

The Huffington Post—“The modified polio virus seems to deactivate the cancer tumor’s ability to defeat immune capacities. Freed up, the immune system works at defeating the tumor. Miraculously, the immunotherapy workings spare healthy tissues, while killing cancer cells.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: Pudelek

Pandora Report 3.8.15

This whole “spring forward” thing is the worst, right? We won’t get that hour of sleep back until November! No matter, we must press on. This week we’ve stories about engineering TB-resistant Cows, McDonald’s chicken, Ebola vaccine strategy, and loads of other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week, enjoy the warm weather, and we’ll see you back here next weekend!

Tuberculosis-Resistant Cows Engineered in China

We often talk of tuberculosis as a problem for humans, but the bacterial disease also affects animals—from circus elephants, to badgers, and cows. This week, scientists in China announced production of a heard of genetically modified cattle capable of resisting bovine tuberculosis. This was done through the insertion of a TB resistant mouse gene, into the cow’s genetic makeup. Though the work is still in the early stages, a genetically modified cow could have massive benefits for farmers who could minimize the overuse of antibiotics within their herds.

Popular Science—“Many countries have tried unsuccessfully to get rid of the disease, often slaughtering thousands of cattle per year to try to stem the disease’s spread. The United Kingdom in particular is waging a war against the disease. In 2013, the government announced that it would wipe the disease out of the country in 25 years. But even a timeline of a quarter century a tricky proposition, as cattle aren’t the only host for the disease. Bovine TB can also thrive in wildlife like badgers, elk, and even deer, which can pass the disease to cattle and vice versa.”

Your McNuggets: Soon Without a Side of Antibiotics

First Chipotle, then Chick fil-A, now McDonalds. The fast food giant announced this week that within two years the company will stop buying chicken raised with certain antibiotics for its U.S. stores. This move doesn’t stop the overuse of antibiotics on farms, however, McDonald’s is the largest food-service buyer of chicken in America, so the decision could affect other restaurants and the production of other meats.

Wired—“The reason this announcement is so important is that, for decades, researchers have been linking the use of antibiotics in livestock-raising (and to a lesser extent in fish farming and fruit production) to the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. Multiple pieces of research show that low-dose antibiotic use on farms — use that doesn’t cure animal illness, but promotes growth and prevents infections — creates resistant bacteria that move off farm properties in water, dust and the meat that animals become. Those bacteria infect humans directly — via meat or because the bacteria contaminate a home or restaurant cooking surface — and they pass their resistance DNA to other bacteria as well.”

Guinea Ebola Vaccine Trial Uses Smallpox Strategy

Two different vaccines are being tested in the three West African countries affected by the recent Ebola outbreak. As the last Ebola patient in Liberia heads home, and the Vice President of Sierra Leone has put himself in voluntary quarantine after the death of one of his security personnel, Guinea looks to the successful eradication of smallpox as their model for their Ebola vaccination plan, which began on March 7. This, of course, was the use of “ring vaccination” in the 1970s.

NBC News—“Ring vaccination involves finding all the direct contacts of new Ebola cases and vaccinating them, creating a “ring” of immunity around patients.

“An effective vaccine to control current flare-ups could be the game-changer to finally end this epidemic and an insurance policy for any future ones,” said WHO assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: Christopher Michel

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 12.21.14

The winter holidays are here and with them comes the final 2014 news roundup. This week we look at superspreaders, dengue fever, and, of course, Ebola.

There will be no roundup next week as I will be spending time with family and friends. I hope all of you have the opportunity to do the same and are surrounded by those you love during this time of year. It has been a privilege and a pleasure serving as the Managing Editor of the Pandora Report since March. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

I hope to see you right back here again in 2015!

The 20% Who Spread Most Disease

How did Typhoid Mary spread the disease to dozens of people but never get sick herself?

Researchers at Stanford University are looking into the science behind “superspreaders”—the idea that some people spread more disease than others. Recent experiments have suggested that the body’s immune response might play a role in helping to spread pathogens to others, however, it isn’t clear if the immune system of the superspreader or their behavior plays a bigger role in the passage of disease.

The Wall Street Journal—“‘It’s telling us that these superspreaders…are tolerant of high levels of the pathogen and any little disturbance and added inflammation that this antibiotic treatment did to them,” said Dr. Monack. “I wouldn’t say they have stronger immune systems. I would say it’s in a state that protected them from this added disturbance in the gut.’”

Dengue Fever Vaccine on the Cards After Novel Antibody Discovery

Over the past 50 years cases of dengue fever have soared—nearly 100 million per year. Normally the infection causes a fever which lasts about a week, but some develop hemorrhagic fever which kills about 22,000 a year. Gavin Screaton at the Imperial College in London warns “it’s likely that without a vaccine this disease is not going to be controlled.” That’s why a discovery of a new antibody brings hope that vaccine development may be closer than we thought.

The Guardian—“The researchers spotted the new group of antibodies while they were studying blood drawn from patients who picked up dengue infections in south-east Asia.

They found that about a third of the immune reaction launched by each patient came from a new class of antibodies. Instead of latching on to a single protein on the virus surface – as usually happens – the new group of antibodies latches on to a molecular bridge that joins two virus proteins together.”

This Week in Ebola

It’s been a hard year in West Africa with the worst Ebola outbreak in history still ongoing. In Sierra Leone, the country with the most cases, treatment centers are overflowing with patients. The President has announced that Christmas has been cancelled as news came that the most senior doctor—Victor Willoughby—died. Dr. Willoughby was the 11th of Sierra Leone’s 120 doctors to die from the virus. For the lucky ones who survive, they must cope with after effects including blindness and joint pain. And don’t forget the stigma—a heart breaking article in the New York Times describes the plight of Ebola orphans who aren’t taken in for fear that they are ticking disease time bombs. Cuban doctors are some of the most active on the front lines, but news this week came that the U.S. embargo has delayed payment of those doctors. There are glimmers of hope though, as the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa urged debt cancellation for Ebola affected West African countries and experimental serum therapy treatment made from the blood of recovered patients arrived in Liberia.

Stateside, a child flying though O’Hare Airport in Chicago was quarantined when a high fever was discovered after screening. Johns Hopkins University was chosen as one of the winners in a global competition to create an improved protection suit for those fighting Ebola on the front lines. Lastly, an American doctor—Richard Sacra—who was infected with Ebola in Liberia and returned to the U.S. for treatment, has said that he will return to Liberia in January to continue fighting the outbreak.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Free Images

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