Biodefense Image of the Week: Select Agents & Toxins

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 1.11.08 PM

 

wakawaka ebola

 

 

 

 

 

If you love infographics as much as I do (and I’m sure you do) you’ll appreciate this one created by Waka Waka. Forward and share with friends and colleagues, because remember, sharing is caring and knowledge is power!

GMU Biodfense faculty in the Washington Post

This week, GMU Biodefense Deputy Director Gregory Koblentz contributed to and Director Trevor Thrall was quoted this week in the Washington Post article titled “If news media had covered Ebola sooner, could latest outbreak have been contained?” Read the whole article here.

“Some of the American media’s indifference to the story may have reflected entrenched attitudes toward Africa, said A. Trevor Thrall, the director of George Mason’s biodefense graduate program. “Thanks to low public interest in Africa and the fact that very few U.S. news organizations have any footprint in Africa, Africa is more or less invisible in the U.S. media most of the time,” he said. “With a few exceptions, Africa shows up only when something happens that directly affects Americans or when the U.S. government takes some kind of action.”’

Pandora Report 9.27.14

This week the round up includes concern of growing antibiotic resistance, MERS CoV transmission, and of course, an Ebola update.

Have a great weekend (and don’t forget to get your flu shot)!

White House Orders Plan for Antibiotic Resistance

On Thursday, President Obama signed an executive order to form a government task force and presidential advisory council to address antibiotic-resistant germs. The order calls for new regulations of antibiotic use in hospitals and urges the development of new antibiotics. Scientists at MIT are looking at creating a new class of antibiotic that targets and destroys resistance genes within bacteria.

WTOP—“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic-resistant infections are linked to 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses in the United States annually. The impact to the U.S. economy is as high as $20 billion, the White House said, or more, if you count lost productivity from those who are sickened. And the problem is worsening.”

Camels are Primary Source of MERS-CoV Transmission 

A study designed by scientists from Colorado State University and NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has transmitted a strain of MERS CoV from human patient to camels. The camels developed a respiratory infection and showed high levels of virus in nasal secretions for up to a week after the infection. Though the camels recovered quickly, the nasal secretions could be the source of transmission to people who handle these animals.

Business Standard—“The researchers theorized that vaccinating camels could reduce the risk of MERS-CoV transmission to people and other camels; NIAID and others are supporting research to develop candidate vaccines for potential use in people and camels.”

This Week in Ebola

This week, the CDC estimated that there could be 500,000 to 1.4 million cases of Ebola by January if the outbreak continues unchecked. Meanwhile, a professor teaching at Delaware State University is telling Liberians that the U.S. Department of Defense, among others, has manufactured Ebola and warns them that doctors are not actually trying to treat them. Claims like this make it even more difficult for those on the ground to relay accurate information about the virus. However, a reverend in Monrovia is working to spread awareness of proper hand washing and social distancing within his congregation and alumni from a State Department funded exchange program help to spread news of the virus throughout neighborhoods. Unsurprisingly, the Ebola outbreak has essentially crippled the fragile Liberian health system which means people are dying from routine medical problems.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Dr. Gregory Koblentz on Background Briefing with Ian Masters

KoblentzLast week, Dr. Gregory Koblentz, Deputy Directory of the GMU Biodefense Program was interviewed on Background Briefing with Ian Masters to discuss the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He covers the role of the Pentagon in combating the disease in Liberia and the virulence of Ebola that was weaponized as a biological weapon in the former Soviet Union.

You can listen to the interview here.

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

Dr. Michael Smith at the September BPS Talk

WP_20140917_004On Wednesday, September 17, Dr. Michael Smith, Director of the Department of Defense’s Critical Reagents Program (CRP) was the first speaker in the GMU Biodefense Program’s Biodefense Policy Seminars for Fall 2014. Dr. Smith’s spoke on the “Ebola Virus Epidemic 2014: Where the Rubber Met the Roadmap.”

Dr. Smith discussed the role of the Critical Reagents Program (CRP) in DoD’s biodefense program and its role in the West African Ebola outbreak. CRP is responsible for the characterization, production, and distribution of reagents and consumables employed on deployed diagnostic and detection platforms and those under development by other programs. The CRP provides standardized assays which can detect the presence of certain biological agents such as bacteria or viruses to the U.S. Government, companies with U.S. government contracts, and foreign governments. The CRP also maintains a large collection of microbial cultures, antibodies, and antigens for research and development purposes.

During the 2012 Ebola outbreak in Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, Dr. Smith and his team learned that the assay they had developed to test for the Ebola virus did not detect that specific strain of virus effectively. Learning this enabled the CRP to re-work their testing, which has been of great benefit during this 2014 outbreak. When Ebola virus emerged in Guinea—the first time the disease had appeared in West Africa—CRP was able to provide the new tests—free of charge—to neighboring Sierra Leone before the first case emerged in that country.

Given Sierra Leone’s almost complete lack of public health laboratory capacity, diagnosis and treatment had been based solely on clinical judgment. Since the initial stages of Ebola virus disease are similar to the early signs of other diseases such as malaria, basing diagnosis on clinical presentation is unreliable. The pre-positioning of advanced diagnostic systems in Sierra Leone enabled the country to identify patients much more quickly than during previous Ebola outbreaks.

While the use of the new assays has enabled real time confirmation of virus, Dr. Smith discussed other obstacles to getting the outbreak under control. The medical system in Sierra Leone relies on family members providing patients with food and supplies at hospitals that have no electricity or air conditioning. In situations like this, many patients may stay home rather than going to a clinic or isolation unit. Because of this, it is very possible that the numbers of infections and deaths could be significantly higher than estimated. According to reports cited by Dr. Smith, an estimated 1 in 3 individuals infected with Ebola are not seeking medical attention. In densely populated cities in West Africa, this provides an opportunity for the unchecked spread of the disease.

Despite these obstacles, however, the relationships that CRP has forged on the ground in Sierra Leone to improve laboratory capacity and the accuracy and timeliness of diagnostic tests has allowed CRP to expand its fight against Ebola. CRP has been granted access to clinical data and samples from patients who have survived the disease. CRP and its interagency partners hope that the blood and sera of those patients can be used to create new therapeutics or a vaccine for the Ebola virus.

 

The GMU Biodefense Policy Seminars are monthly talks that are free and open to the public and feature leading figures from the academic, security, industry and policy fields discussing critical issues in biodefense. For more information, please visit https://pandorareport.org/events/biodefense-policy-seminar-series/.

Dr. Gregory Koblentz discusses Ebola on CTV News

In case you haven’t watched the news today (or looked at a newspaper, or been on the internet), yesterday, President Obama pledged he would send 3,000 American military personnel to West Africa in order to help with the Ebola outbreak which is continues to ravage that region.

George Mason University Biodefense Deputy Director, Dr. Gregory Koblentz was on CTV News this morning to discuss the continuing outbreak and reaction to the President’s decision.

Watch Dr. Koblentz’s interview here

If you’re interested in learning more about the West African Ebola outbreak, join us tonight at 7:00 for the September Biodefense Policy Seminar featuring Dr. Michael Smith, of the Department of Defense, who will discuss, “Biosurveillance and the Atypical Epidemic: The 2014 West African Ebola Epidemic”. The talk will be held at the GMU Fairfax Campus in Research Hall room 163.

Pandora Report 9.13.14

This week we look at a report that claims DHS is not prepared for a pandemic and information about Chemical Weapons in Syria, still. We also have an Ebola update, and if you’re interested in learning more about the West African outbreak, join us Wednesday for our September Biodefense Policy Seminar!

Have a great weekend!

Homeland ill-prepared for Pandemic, Doesn’t Even Have Enough Drugs to Protect Secret Service

In a recently released report, the Office of the Inspector General claims that “the Department of Homeland Security may not be able to provide sufficient pandemic preparedness supplies to its employees to continue operations during a pandemic.” DHS, however, has disagreed with much of the report claiming it misrepresents the agency’s preparedness for an outbreak.

The Washington Times—“One of the biggest problems, investigators said, is that most of the stockpiles are of antiviral drugs that are expiring. By the end of 2015, the IG said that 81 percent of Homeland Security’s stockpiled antiviral medication will be past its shelf life. In addition, 84 percent of the agency’s stock of hand sanitizer has already expired, some batches by as long as four years, inspectors said.”

Watchdog Says Chlorine Gas Used as a Chemical Weapon in Syria

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reports that chlorine gas was used “systematically and repeatedly” as a weapon in northern Syria earlier this year. U.S. officials say that the Assad regime is the only force capable of launching such an attack. Even after the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, chlorine is not a forbidden substance under the CWC. However, the use of any chemical as a weapon is prohibited by the CWC. This news comes among concerns that any hidden weapons stockpiles may fall into the hands of terrorist or extremist groups, like ISIS

The Wall Street Journal—“The OPCW team traveled to the sites of attacks and interviewed victims, doctors and witnesses. According to the report, victims’ symptoms and the effect of the gas led the mission ‘to conclude with a high degree of confidence that chlorine, either pure or in mixture, is the toxic chemical in question.’”

This Week in Ebola

Another American Ebola patient was sent to Emory University in Atlanta for treatment and American Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly donated blood to the American patient, Dr. Rick Sacra, who is being treated in Nebraska. The thought is that Dr. Brantly’s blood will help confer passive immunity to Dr. Sacra. On last Sunday’s Meet the Press, President Obama pledged U.S. military assistance in setting up isolation units and providing security for health workers in West Africa but House Republicans indicated they would provide less than half of the White House’s requested funding for fighting Ebola. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations has pledged to contribute $50 million to support emergency efforts to contain the outbreak in West Africa. There were reports this week of a U.S. air marshal who was injected with a syringe at the Lagos Airport in Nigeria. Though it appears that the syringe was not infected with Ebola, it has caused fears that Ebola could be used as a weapon. All of this comes at a time when disease modelers at Northeastern University predict that as many as 10,000 cases of Ebola could be detected by the end of the month and there have been 60 cases resulting in 35 deaths from the Ebola outbreak in Congo.

Image Credit: WGBH News

Pandora Report 9.6.14

This week we cover dengue in Japan, dog flu in NYC, more forgotten lethal specimens in government labs, and of course, an Ebola update.

Canine Influenza Cases Spreading in Manhattan

Flu season is rapidly approaching, and evidently, it doesn’t only affect humans. Veterinarians in Manhattan have reported cases throughout the borough. The cases are likely due to dogs playing with other infected dogs at parks and dog runs. Vets warn owners to watch for coughing dogs and if they are present to take their dog to another area. The good news is, just like their human counterparts, dogs, too, can receive a flu vaccine.

The Gothamist—“According to the ASPCA, symptoms include coughing, sneezing, difficulty breathing, fever, lethargy and loss of appetite; most dogs will recover within a month, but secondary infections like pneumonia can be problematic.”

 

New Cases of Dengue Fever Should be a Wake-Up Call for Japan

As many as 70 people in Japan have been infected with Dengue fever—traditionally, a disease found in tropical climates—the country’s first outbreak since 1945. The diagnoses prompted authorities to fumigate an area of Yoyogi Park in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, which was the apparent source of the infections. Dengue fever is transmitted by mosquitos and produces an extremely high fever and pain in the joints. The disease is not transmitted person to person.

The Asahi Shimbun—“The most effective way to deal with a global dengue epidemic is to step up the efforts to exterminate mosquitoes in countries with a large number of patients, especially in urban areas.”

 

Forgotten Vials of Ricin, Plague, and Botulism found in U.S. Government Lab 

A strong feeling of deja vu hit this week when we learned about yet another case of forgotten vials of dangerous pathogens at U.S. labs. In this case, the containers were discovered during an investigation of NIH facilities after scientists found vials of smallpox earlier this summer. This search discovered a century (!!) old bottle of ricin, as well as samples of tularemia and meliodosis. The FDA also reported they found an improperly stored sample of staphylococcus enterotoxin.

The Independent—“The NIH does have laboratories that are cleared to use select agents, and those pathogens are regularly inventoried, the director of research services Dr. Alfred Johnson said. However, these samples were allowed to be stored without regulation.”

 

This Week in Ebola

We learned that new cases of Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo are genetically unrelated to the West African strain and that researchers from the Broad Institute and Harvard are working to sequence and analyze virus genomes from the West African outbreak. Senegal is working hard to manage contacts with the Guinean student who tested positive for the virus in the capital, Dakar. Human trials of an Ebola vaccine continued in the U.S. and are planned to take place in Mali, the U.K., and Gambia. A third American infected with Ebola will return to the U.S. and will be treated at a Nebraska medical containment unit which was built for the SARS outbreak. I read an article that hypothesized that Ebola may be able to be transmitted sexually which could account for a high number of cases, while the Washington Post pointed to the fact that the West Africa outbreak is drawing attention from diseases which are more widespread and kill more people—it’s the Kardashian of diseases. Lastly, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said that this outbreak of Ebola is “threatening the stability” of affected and neighboring countries, and Dr. Daniel Lucey, of the Georgetown University Medical Center, predicts that the current outbreak “will go on for more than a year, and will continue to spread unless a vaccine or other drugs that prevent or treat the disease are developed.”

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Pandora Report 8.31.14

Fall classes at George Mason have already started and this Labor Day weekend marks the official end of summer. This week, we have stories covering a wide range of topics—an Ebola update (of course), a fascinating article on vaccinia infections acquired through shaving, Haj precautions, and the ISIS “laptop of doom.”

Best wishes for a safe and enjoyable holiday!

Ebola Virus Outbreak Could Hit 20,000 Within Nine Months, Warns WHO

There were many stories this week covering the continuing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Senegal saw its first (imported) case of the virus this week and has banned flights to and from the affected countries while shutting its land border with Guinea and Nigeria saw its first death outside of the capital city of Lagos. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Ebola first emerged in 1976, there have been reported cases of a hemorrhagic gastroenteritis similar to Ebola. I read conflicting accounts this week of the “patient zero” for the Ebola outbreak—a young boy or an older traditional healer. There were reports of some U.S. universities screening students from West Africa for Ebola. There was coverage of a Toronto medical isolation unit ready for patients and information about GlaxoSmithKline’s experimental ebola vaccine which would be tested on humans in the next few weeks.

All of this news came among World Health Organization estimates that this West African outbreak could affect 20,000 people over the next nine months and that half a billion dollars would be needed to stop the spread of the disease.

The Wall Street Journal—“The WHO program will likely cost around $490 million and require contributions from national governments, some U.N. and non-governmental agencies, as well as humanitarian organizations, it said.”

First Reported Spread of Vaccinia Virus Through Shaving After Contact Transmission

This week, reports in the August issue of Medical Surveillance Monthly Report from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center covered vaccinia virus infection—the virus used for smallpox vaccinations—within the U.S. Air Force. The infections in the report occurred in June 2014, and affected four individuals.

Infection Control Today—“Over the past decade, most cases of contact vaccinia (i.e., spread of the virus from a vaccinated person to an unvaccinated person) have been traced to U.S. service members, who comprise the largest segment of the population vaccinated against smallpox. Most involve women or children who live in the same household and/or share a bed with a vaccinee or with a vaccinee’s contact. Of adult female cases, most are described as spouses or intimate partners of vaccinees or secondary contacts. Of adult male cases, most involve some type of recreational activity with physical contact, such as wrestling, grappling, sparring, football, or basketball. Household interactions (e.g., sharing towels or clothing) and “unspecified contact” are also implicated.”

Government to Keep Haj Infection-Free 

This week, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health announced mandatory measures for Haj and Umrah pilgrims coming from countries with active outbreaks or high rates of infectious diseases. The Health Ministry sent information to embassies outlining health requirements for those seeking pilgrim visas.

Arab News—“‘Although we do not issue Haj visas for pilgrims coming from endemic countries, we will still be monitoring pilgrims coming from other African countries for Ebola symptoms,’ said [Sami] Badawood [Jeddah Health Affairs director.]

He said the ministry would also focus on diseases such as yellow fever, meningitis, seasonal influenza, polio and food poisoning.”

Is the ISIS Laptop of Doom an Operational Threat?

Discovery of a laptop, which has been linked to ISIS, raises new questions about the organization’s plans relating to use of WMD—specifically chemical or biological weapons. Over 35,000 files on the laptop are being examined and has offered new insight into ISIS and their WMD aspirations.

Foreign Policy—“Most troubling is a document that discusses how to weaponize bubonic plague. But turning that knowledge into a working weapon requires particular expertise, and it’s not clear that the Islamic State has it.”

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons