Pandora Report: 7.1.2016

Happy Friday from your favorite source for all things global health security – from Anthrax to Zika, we’ve got you covered…like germs on a kitchen sink! If you’re hoping to catch the Washington D.C. fireworks over the holiday, check out this article regarding the state of D.C.’s preparedness for anything from traffic issues to lone-wolf terrorism. You can also get some insight into the Strategic National Stockpile via an interview with the director of the program, Greg Burel. Ever wonder the economic impact of a pandemic influenza outbreak? A recent study analyzed the consequences of such a health emergency.

Behind the Scenes at Porton Down
BBC will be airing a new documentary on the work that takes place within the secretive site of Porton Down. Located in Wiltshire, England, this government military science park falls under the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (also known as Dstl). Dstl is an Executive Agency within the Ministry of Defense. Dstl’s website states that it “ensures that innovative science and technology contribute to the defense and security of the UK” however the facility has a long and controversial history. Considered to be one of the sites for research regarding biological and chemical weapons, the work within the 7,000 acres is extremely sensitive and secretive. “Inside Porton Down will also take viewers inside some of the site’s most secure biological research labs, where scientists have been tasked to find out how Ebola – potentially one of the biggest public threats facing us today – has the power to spread.”

Why We Need to Start Worrying About Yellow Fever Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 6.26.37 AM
It’s been a few months since we started reporting on the yellow fever outbreak in Angola and as much as we’d like to reveal that this outbreak was quickly put out….a more sinister accelerant was added to the epidemic – a vaccine shortage. The outbreak has spilled over into surrounding countries, with 1,000 suspected cases in the DRC. There are only four major manufacturers of the yellow fever vaccine…that’s right, four. These four manufacturers don’t have the capacity to make vaccine at the rate it would take should the outbreak jump to Asia, which is the growing concern as Chinese workers visit the affected areas. The WHO maintains a stockpile of 6 million doses however, this outbreak is already burning through them and the factories that can make the vaccines are only capable of 2.4 million doses per month. Simply put, the vaccine manufacturing capacity will not be effective if this outbreak spreads much further. This particular detail is why we should be worrying about yellow fever. While it may not be as deadly as Ebola or as contagious as influenza, it’s preventable through vaccination….and yet we’re running out of vaccines. Even scarier is the presence of fake vaccination certificates. Coupled with globalization, yellow fever could easily make its way back to the U.S. and remind us of a history we’d rather not relive. “A yellow fever epidemic might seem anachronistic to people in the United States and Europe, where the disease no longer poses a threat. But some of the most devastating urban outbreaks of yellow fever have occurred in America. In the 18th century, the disease was called the ‘American plague.'”

Who Isn’t Equipped For A Pandemic or Bioterror Attack?
Annie Sparrow of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists asks this question and points to the sad reality that the WHO is the front runner for this unfortunate title. Pointing to the origins of the WHO in the days of the early cholera epidemics, Sparrow notes that despite WHO claiming they were a catalyst for multilateral cooperation, the reality is much less prestigious. “But in fact, the first six International Sanitary Conferences were entirely unproductive due to conflicting interests: government fears about losing profits from trans-Atlantic trade took priority over the need to reduce the international death toll. Consensus was achieved only at the seventh conference in 1892, after the opening of the Suez Canal for use by all countries made standardized quarantine regulations necessary.” The slow WHO responses to Ebola and then Zika brought attention to the discrepancies between the WHO’s role as a front-line defense for pandemics (and bioterrorism) and what was actually happening. Many have called for a reform of the WHO and the necessity to address systemic and deep-rooted problems within the organization. Sparrow hits on several key obstacles the WHO needs to overcome if it’s going to truly serve its purpose – “increase its financial resources, eliminate the undue influence of donors and member states, and redress its subservient relationship with governments who are themselves responsible for health crises.” The WHO must also address its practices when dealing with health issues in conflict zones or transitioning states. Lastly, Sparrow highlights the suggestions that transferring global health programs to the UN would not be beneficial, but rather there needs to be a push for rehabbing the WHO. In the end, the world aspect of the WHO needs to provide some muscle behind this work, especially in times of political assertion of sovereignty.

The Up-Hill Battle of Antibiotic Resistance in the World of Infection Prevention
The recent findings of a Pennsylvanian woman with colistin-resistant E. coli in her urine sent title waves throughout the health community. It was the exact moment an organism that was so resistant we have no effective antibiotics to treat it, had reached U.S. soil. In truth, the presence of multi-drug resistant organisms (MDRO’s) isn’t new…they just aren’t as flashy as bugs like Zika or Ebola. In this article, I talk about the framing of MDRO’s and the infection preventionist perspective. “Public framing and hysteria brought Ebola to the forefront. But where is this sense of urgency for organisms so resistant that we have no means of treating them? The case in Pennsylvania received fleeting public attention but it has long been the concern and fear of those working in healthcare and biology. IPs have been working for years on MDRO surveillance and isolation. ”

WHO Appoints Emergency Unit Leader 
While we’re on the subject of WHO emergency response, it was recently announced that Peter Salama was appointed as the leader for the health emergencies unit. The Australian epidemiologist is currently with UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa, but will lead the new team that was established following criticism of the WHO’s response during the West African Ebola outbreak. The new unit was set into place to provide rapid (not rabid…but there’s some infectious disease humor for you), support to a country or community experiencing a “health emergency arising from disease, natural or man-made disasters or conflict”. The WHO website has more information here, regarding the Health Emergencies Programme.

Brexit and Public Health
Unless you’ve been vacationing in a remote part of the globe, the Brexit referendum has been taking over the news. The British vote to leave the European Union (EU) has set into motion a global wave of economic uncertainty. While many are discussing the financial, trade, and labor force implications of the Brexit, there are also far-reaching public health outcomes. Just prior to the vote, an article was published in the Journal of Public Health regarding the impact of the EU laws on public health. Aside from environmental issues ranging from water quality to emissions, the EU has also focussed on tobacco cessation. The EU has developed strong skills for information exchange to better support a healthy public. “The EU has provided continued bold and effective action on public health policy and designed an excellent funding framework for collaborative health research. The loss of the UK’s strong participation and policy voice in the EU would, as Lord Hague, the former Conservative Foreign Secretary, recently quipped ‘not be a very clever day’s work’.” While globalization makes the spread of disease easier, it would make the new British isolation extremely impacting. The isolation via Brexit could create issues regarding cross-border information sharing, which becomes especially vital during outbreaks or in cases of public health emergencies.

The Scoop on Zika
I was recently gifted (as a joke) this amazing device to fend off the Zika-carrying mosquitos…what could possibly go wrong with an electric zapping racket? University of Michigan researchers performed an analysis looking at the political response to Ebola and how that may bubble over to Zika management. Reviewing the U.S. response to Ebola they looked at the “fragmented system with no clear leadership and considerable ‘strategic politicization’ due to the outbreak’s arrival during a midterm election year.” Scott Greer of the U-M School of Public Health noted that “Republicans are going to continue not to give Obama the federal dollars he seeks to combat Zika. They don’t trust him. But when the virus starts to affect people anywhere south of Indianapolis there will be an elaborate game of blaming the administration for not doing it right.” Good news- Cuba recently announced that they have had no Zika transmission since March and Dengue is all but eliminated due to their wide-spread, military supported fumigation efforts. New studies are looking to the efficacy of Zika transmission via urine and saliva as a research team from Brazil’s Fiocruz Institute isolated live virus from such samples. U.S. Zika funding is still in limbo as Senate Democrats derailed the $1.1 billion bill on Tuesday over “objections to attached measures such as birth control restrictions.” Florida health officials reported microcephaly in a baby born to a woman from Haiti. Researchers are also finding that microcephaly may be just the tip of the iceberg, as findings suggest other developmental delays in babies born without microcephaly. There is also concern for the impact of the Zika on fetal brain tissue, causing cell death.  Despite the hold-up on Zika funding, the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has started work on a research study regarding the mechanisms that allow Zika to be sexually transmitted.  As of June 29, 2016, the CDC has reported 935 Zika cases within the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Stopping Lab-Created Global Disasters One Scientist at a Time – Biotechnologist Kevin Esvelt talks about the shaky future of genetic engineering technologies like CRISPR. Esvelt notes, “We are walking forwards blind. We are opening boxes without thinking about consequences. We are going to fall off the tightrope and lose the trust of public. Lots of people are going to die.” Since he and his colleagues first suggested, two years ago, that CRISPR could create gene drive, he has been working hard to warn how dangerous the technology is.
  • One Health and the Politics of Antibiotic Resistance– Check out this webinar on July 7, 2016 from 11am-noon EDT. Dr. Laura Kahn will discuss the rise of certain MDRO’s, the different policy approaches in Europe and the U.S., and the history behind low-dose antibiotic use in agriculture.
  • Healthcare Worker Gloves and Disease Transmission– Researchers recently revealed results from a study reviewing “cross-transmission rates between contained gloves of healthcare workers and hospital surfaces.” Not surprisingly, results showed that contaminated gloves increased the likelihood of transmission among healthcare workers and in the environment.

 

Pandora Report 6.24.2016

Welcome back to your weekly biodefense roundup! To start things off on a light note and since it’s official summer, enjoy this satirical piece on the existence of public pools. In truth, public pools are a mixture of fun and risk for waterborne diarrheal diseases, so remember to stay safe. The NIH has given the green light for CRISPR-Cas9 clinical trials for cell therapies related to cancer treatment. Japan is currently on alert for a possible North Korean ballistic missile launch. Lastly, even though the outbreak appears over, many are discussing the aftermath of Ebola and if it’s really behind us

Tales from the Front Lines of Disease Detective Cases
Foreign Policy‘s Laurie Garrett discusses epidemic fighters, especially the work of Ali Khan, and his quest to speak the truth about epidemics. Khan’s work as an EIS officer and former Director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response (PHPR) has given him a wealth of knowledge from being in the trenches of global outbreaks. Khan’s new book, The Next Pandemic: On the Front Lines Against Humankind’s Gravest Dangers, discusses his experiences from the Amerithrax attacks to the debate on smallpox sample destruction. “Khan writes, the most vital problem-solving exercise has little to do with science, and everything to do with social customs. In 2015, Khan was involved in an out-of-control moment in the Ebola epidemic of Sierra Leone. Long after neighboring Liberia had its outbreak down to a handful of cases, the military-run campaign in Sierra Leone was losing the support of the people by imposing mass quarantines, shutting down entire regions of the country for long periods. Out of the discontent over loss of business, food, and trade arose false leaders claiming witchcraft practiced by the foreigners and magic were spreading the Ebola — not intangible things few could comprehend, like ‘viruses.'” The blend of public health preparedness and front-line outbreak response gives Khan a unique and appreciated perspective into the world of global health security.

Why Hasn’t Disease Wiped Out the Human Race?
University of Pittsburgh’s infectious disease physician, Amesh Adalja, discusses why an infectious disease event with the magnitude of the Andromeda Strain is a bit more unlikely than people realize. He notes that an “apocalyptic pathogen” needs to be in the right place at the right time – more specifically, a combination of having no existing treatment or vaccine and high transmissibility prior to the start of symptoms. “The three infectious diseases most likely to be considered extinction-level threats in the world today—influenza, HIV, and Ebola—don’t meet these two requirements. Influenza, for instance, despite its well-established ability to kill on a large scale, its contagiousness, and its unrivaled ability to shift and drift away from our vaccines, is still what I would call a ‘known unknown.’ While there are many mysteries about how new flu strains emerge, from at least the time of Hippocrates, humans have been attuned to its risk.” Adalja notes that beyond these three (I’ll call them the Big Three), all the other infectious diseases out there fall short of meeting the global extinction sweet spot. Perhaps one of the most crucial lessons to take away from Adalja’s comments isn’t that we should ignore or diminish the impact of infectious diseases, but that institutional failure and infrastructure instability can often do more damage during an outbreak than the disease. With the growing concern related to antibiotic resistance Dr. Adalja notes that “to me, antibiotic resistance represents the most pressing challenge in the realm of infectious disease and, if it is not overcome, we face the very real prospect of being dragged back to the pre-penicillin era in which even routine surgery was a gamble.”

Iceland, Horses, and Hendra
GMU Biodefense MS student, Greg Mercer, can’t even go on vacation without thinking about global health security, but lucky for us, that means we get to learn about Icelandic horses and Hendra! Fueling our fascination with all things related to One Health and spillover, Greg discusses the exportation of Icelandic horses (look at them, wouldn’t you want one?) but also that importation of horses is banned in Iceland. Even an Icelandic horse that was sent abroad for a short period of time can’t return home. Greg notes that its been this way for a hundreds of years and while the import rules maintain purebred status, the ban also protects against disease. “Iceland has few natural horse diseases, and the breeder I spoke to said that Icelandic horses are frequently unvaccinated, which would be very unusual in the rest of the world. When they’re exported, they have to be treated as if they don’t have any immune protection. The import ban prevents foreign diseases from entering the country (via other horses, anyway).” Check out Greg’s Icelandic experience and why horse diseases struck a cord during his travels.

Incorporating More One Health Into the Global Health Security Diet
Some may say we need more cowbell, but in the world of global health security, we need more One Health. The One Health Commission and the One Health Initiative are teaming up to help create and promote a global education plan that will focus on the “unifying interconnected health of humans, animals, and the environment that sustains all life on earth.” A recent paper looks to accumulate interested parties and help drive the project forward. The drive behind this partnership is to capture the younger generations and lay a strong foundation of One Health education and support. “The overall intent of the concept paper is to raise awareness about the urgent need for the development  and to explore the concept further through a small pre-project proposal conference (possibly off and/or on-line) with a view to fleshing out a strong plan to fund the envisioned global learning program.” The group is currently organizing the pre-project proposal conference, but in the mean time, if you’ve already got some great ideas or are interested in participating in spreading the One Health message, check out their website here.

Zika Weekly Updates
Inovio Pharmaceuticals announced on 6/20 that it received FDA clearance for the phase 1 clinical trials for its Zika vaccine. Clinical trials are set to begin by the end of this year for the DNA-based vaccine. A new study finds that the Zika epidemic can be fielded by climate variations on multiple timescales.  Researchers utilized a novel timescale-decomposition methodology and found that “the increasingly probable 2016-2017 La Nina suggests that ZIKV response strategies adapted for a drought context in Brazil may need to be revised to accommodate the likely return of heavy rainfall.” The CDC has also recently issued guidance for travelers visiting friends in areas with ongoing transmission of Chikungunya, Dengue, or Zika. The NIH is launching a large study in efforts to answer questions about Zika virus and pregnancy. Hoping to enroll 10,000 pregnant girls and women (ages 15 and older) in their  first trimesters, the study will look to long-term impacts on babies and the role that previous dengue infections play in birth defect frequency. You can find the recently published article regarding the history of a newly emerging arbovirus here, which summarizes “the history of Zika virus from its first detection to its current worldwide distribution.” In the early hours of Thursday morning, the House passed the $1.1 billion Zika funding bill. The White House threatened to veto the bill though. “The threat from deputy White House with press secretary Eric Schultz came as the Senate prepared for a vote next week, likely Tuesday, even though there’s no guarantee that the Senate can round up the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster as Democrats call the bill partisan and inadequate.” Several studies have pointed to the linkage between earlier dengue infection and worsened Zika infections, however there is also a potential for a certain antibody against dengue being a target for a vaccine. The CDC has confirmed, as of June 22nd, there have been 820 cases within the U.S. and DC.

One Step Closer to the Zombie Apocalypse 
Researchers from the University of Washington recently reported that several hundred genes actually increase in expression after death. Scientists found that “the transcriptional abundance of some 500 genes was significantly changed after death in healthy zebrafish and in healthy mice. While gene expression overall declined after death, the expression of some genes increased shortly after death and others increased 24 hours or 48 hours later. These genes, the researchers note, were commonly involved in stress, immunity, inflammation, apoptosis, and cancer.” It’s believed that this post-mortem gene expression is a result of residual energy and this may happen in humans as well. This new discovery leaves many asking about the definition of death if a person’s genes are still active for up to 48 hours after they die.

Listeria Troubles Dozens of Schools  large-epi-curve-6-2-2016
Pre-prepared sandwiches are being recalled across 38 school districts as a result of a possible Listeria contamination. “The potentially contaminated food was produced at a facility where the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found Listeria monocytogenes ‘on multiple food contact surfaces where the products were produced on several different occasions’ during routine FDA environmental sampling, according to the recall notice.” While students have been let out on summer break, the concern is that Listeria can take 70 days for symptoms to appear. This latest food safety issue comes after Molly & Drew recalled some of its beer bread mix due to concerns over E. coli contamination.  E. coli outbreaks been plaguing the news lately as a result of the General Mills flour outbreak that sickened 38 people across 20 states.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • CRISPR vs. Flaviviruses – researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine have found a “single-gene pathway that is vital for viruses like Zika to spread infection between cells”. Even better, the team found that when they shut down a gene in this pathway, flaviviruses aren’t able to leave the infected cell and thus replicate. Using CRISPR technology to selectively shut down a single gene in the pathway, they were able to shut down flavivirus infection without negatively affecting the cells.
  • DRC Declares Yellow Fever Outbreak– The DRC Heath Minister recently declared a localized epidemic of yellow fever after reporting 67 cases. 58 of these cases were considered imported as they were from Angola, where the outbreak has grown beyond 3,100 cases and 345 fatalities. The outbreak has crept across Angola, Uganda, and now the DRA as a result of vaccine shortages.
  • MER-CoV Outbreak in Riyadh Hospital –  the WHO released information regarding the outbreak that begin with a woman whose illness wasn’t detected until after her stay in a surgery ward. Her hospitalization exposed 49 healthcare workers and all but 2 of the 22 MERS cases reported in Saudi Arabia (June 16-18) are related to this outbreak.

 

Pandora Report 6.10.2016

Summer temperatures are soaring (Arizona hit 115F last week, so I guess it’s time to start baking cookies on the dashboard again- just make sure not to use General Mills flour!) and we’ve got your weekly biodefense cool down. Check out this global outbreak monitor, where you can keep an eye on all your favorite cases. The DoD is currently conducting market research to identify vaccine developers for medical countermeasure manufacturing. They’re looking for “advanced manufacturing platforms which are adaptable to incorporating known antigens for use as a prophylaxis countermeasure against weaponizable biological agents.” Before we venture down the biodefense rabbit hole, the Pandora Report will be on hiatus next week (June 17th), but don’t fear- we’ll return the week of June 24th!

Infectious Disease Threat Management
Are emerging infectious disease outbreaks an anomaly or are these events the new norm? Dr. Daniel M. Gerstein points to a 2014 study on the global rise of these outbreaks, which point to the growing threat of zoonotic disease spillover. Gerstein discusses the common trend of failure to predict such events but also the poor response in medical countermeasures and diagnostics. Between West Nile Virus, Ebola, H1N1, and now Zika, we’ve had ample time to get both preparedness and response right. “A recent commentary by Ronald A. Klain — a former White House Ebola response coordinator — should be required reading on the United States’ lack of preparedness for responding to the Zika virus. In it, Klain provided both a dire assessment of Congress’ uncertain funding support for the current response, and made longer-term recommendations for improving our rapid response to infectious disease outbreaks. Yet while these recommendations are spot on, including calls for a dedicated organization with specialized capability to respond to disease outbreaks, more must be done to ensure adequate preparedness against emerging infectious disease in the future.” U.S. preparedness measures utilize epidemiology and biosurveillance, however these are both passive methods that rely on reactive measures, rather than proactive. “This reactive approach to emerging infectious disease should be augmented with an anticipatory model that accounts for the dramatic changes occurring through globalization, greater interactions between human and zoonotic populations, and changes to the environment and climate patterns.” He points to the need for predictive analytical tools and modeling to better focus research and development efforts in order to control and prevent such events. Gerstein acknowledges the long-term and challenging realities of such efforts though, pointing to the need for private sector contributions and strategies to focus on anticipating infectious disease threats.

CDC Biosafety Failures – “Like a Disaster Movie” 
The stories of biosafety failures in U.S. labs working with select agents is enough to send chills through even the toughest of pathologists. Reporters recently gained access to records from the CDC regarding the 2009 events in which safety mechanisms in a CDC biosafety level 4 lab failed. “The gasket seal around the exit door to the changing room deflated to the point that the scientists could see light coming in. And as they held that door shut and started an emergency chemical deluge, things got even worse.” Records include emails that hoped to avoid federal lab regulatory reporting. While these reports are shocking to biosafety experts like Richard Ebright from Rutgers University, CDC officials claim there was no risk from the equipment failures. The release of these records draws further attention to the failures but also the CDC response and challenges in even getting the records released under the Freedom of Information Act. You can read more of the records released to USAToday here and here.

Back to the Future in Global Health Security? 
People frequently think back to the days of the Black Death as a reminder of the progress we’ve made in disease defense. Are we really in a better position though? Globalization, growing populations, rising global temperatures, urbanization, and easy international travel all make it possible for diseases to jump around in a matter of hours. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan noted that “For infectious diseases, you cannot trust the past when planning for the future. What we are seeing is a dramatic resurgence of the threat from emerging and reemerging infectious diseases. The world is not prepared to cope.” The lessons from Ebola, H1N1, and even Zika haven’t truly sunken in yet and there are more outbreaks on the horizon. “International mechanisms must be established to coordinate the upstream research and development (R&D) of new medical tools to respond to priority pathogens and the downstream testing, manufacturing, and delivery of those tools as part of the larger humanitarian response to an ongoing outbreak.” Researchers have suggested four lessons from our past to encourage technological innovation to better prevent and respond to health crises – ensure adequate and sustainable long-term investment, coordinate R&D around a roadmap of priority goals, engage and energize a network of geographically distributed multi-sector partners, and remember that sustainability depends on adequate systems and equitable access. Establishing an environment of coordination and sustainability will be vital to move from a reactive to a proactive practice of global health security.

DoD Biosafety Report
GMU Biodefense MS student, Stevie Kiesel discusses the report the DoD Inspector General published regarding the biosafety and biosecurity failures within DoD labs that work with biological select agents and toxins (BSAT). Stevie’s deep dive into this report addresses the systematic failures that led to such events. Inconsistent internal or external technical or scientific peer reviews and even inspection standards led to not only missing inspections, but also duplicative ones. “Some inspectors failed to review specific vulnerability assessments for their assigned labs to ensure that shortcomings identified during previous inspections had been mitigated.  In some cases, these vulnerability assessments were not reviewed because they had never been conducted, or had not been conducted annually as required.”

Immune System Education and the Realities of the Antibiotic Resistance
Autoimmune diseases and antibiotic resistance have risen in the past half-century…but what does this really mean? The human microbiome (your body’s own community of microbes that help run your immune system) is now being considered as a potential puzzle piece for the increase in autoimmune issues. Have these microbiome communities changed so largely that our entire society is being impacted? “To test this possibility, some years ago, a team of scientists began following 33 newborns who were genetically at risk of developing Type 1 diabetes, a condition in which the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. After three years, four of the children developed the condition. The scientists had periodically sampled the children’s microbes, and when they looked back at this record, they discovered that the microbiome of children who developed the disease changed in predictable ways nearly a year before the disease appeared. Diversity declined and inflammatory microbes bloomed. It was as if a gradually maturing ecosystem had been struck by a blight and overgrown by weeds.” Coupled with several other studies, there is a growing thought that toughening the immune system early in life can alter our response later in life or that the kind of microbiome you have will determine your response to viral infections. So what happens if our immune systems begin to fail us and antibiotics are a thing of the past? That’s a pretty devastating notion and it’s right before the weekend, so let’s scale it back to just consider a world without antibiotics – would you still shake hands or take an international flight? Physiologist Kevin Fong notes “If we are to avoid a return to the pre-antibiotic landscape with all its excess mortality we must be bold. To squander the advantage we have so recently gained against microorganisms in the fight for life would be unthinkable.”

The Race Against Zika Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 1.40.13 PM
The debate regarding the 2016 Rio Olympics took a turn this week as the WHO stated it will look again at the Zika risk during the games.  150 international experts penned an open letter to the WHO regarding their “irresponsible” actions and that the organization was rejecting calls to move or postpone the games due to it’s official partnership with the International Olympic Committee. What are the actual risks? Will the Rio Olympics put the rest of the world at risk for Zika? Here is an interesting infographic and article on that exact question. Bringing thousands of people from different countries together is definitely a gold medal strategy for spreading infectious disease. The ECDC has posted their epidemiological data here, as well as their risk assessment. A new study looks at sexual transmission and the persistence of Zika virus in semen, finding that RNA can persist in semen for 62 days. Researchers found a case of a woman with Zika virus presenting 44 days after the onset of symptoms in her partner, which “corresponds to a sexual transmission occurring between 34 and 41 days after the index case.” This announcement comes after there were no previously reported secondary cases more than 19 days after the onset of signs in a man. Concerns regarding congenital eye issues in babies without microcephaly were also raised after a case was identified. As of June 8th, the CDC has reported 691 travel-associated cases within the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • CRISPR’s Gene-Editing Skills on RNA – researchers have now established a method for targeting and cutting RNA. “The new cutting tool should help researchers better understand RNA’s role in cells and diseases, and some believe it could one day be useful in treatments for illnesses from Huntington’s to heart disease.” The process involves using CRISPR to create “blades”. Given the concerns around CRISPR and dual-use technologies of concern, researchers are pointing out that there are far less ethical concerns regarding manipulation of RNA.
  • Legionnaires’ On the Rise – sadly this isn’t the name of a new historical action flick, but rather a public health concern that has the CDC looking into water system integrity. Cases of Legionnaires’ disease have quadrupled since 2000. The CDC has stated that the reason for such a stark increase is most likely due to aging building water systems, an aging population, and better surveillance/reporting systems.
  • Ebola Stability Under Hospital and Environmental Conditions – a new study looks at the role of fomites in EVD transmission, especially in healthcare settings. “To assess the potential contribution of fomites to human infections with EBOV, we tested EBOV stability in human blood spotted onto Sierra Leonean banknotes and in syringe needles under hospital and environmental conditions.” Researchers found that the virus survived more than 30 days in blood in syringes, despite hot/humid conditions, and six days on paper money under experimental conditions.

 

Pandora Report: 6.3.2016

Which country do you think is the biggest consumer of antibiotics? You’ll be shocked to see the results in this infographic. The organization, No More Epidemics, has also created an infographic on pathogens and poverty, depicting the “general trajectory of infectious disease outbreaks from outbreak to epidemic, showing the potential power of interventions to interrupt the course of progression.” You may want to rethink baking this weekend as the CDC is currently working to control an E. coli outbreak related to General Mills flour. Before we start our adventure down the biodefense rabbit hole, check out this experiment showing just how far sneezes really spread (brace yourself for a “violent explosion of saliva and mucus”).

The Importance of a Resilient Health System
Sure, this may seem like a pretty obvious concept but it’s something we still struggle with. The 2014 Ebola outbreak proved it and Zika virus is just adding some salt with a side of lime juice to the wound. Between climate change, spillover, and antibiotic resistance, the need for a resilient and robust public health system has never been more dire. “The point is that resilience in the health sector is not static but rather an ongoing and evolving state of affairs. Well-performing health systems provide sustained, equitable access to essential services for all without financial hardship. They are better able to bounce back when adversity strikes; are prepared to detect and respond to emerging disease threats; are able to adapt to adverse conditions; address a wide range of health challenges; and offer innovative solutions by leveraging diverse skills and views.” USAID is working to help fix holes in the existing system through their initiatives like Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development and the newer Combating Zika and Future Threats Grand Challenge. The world is moving at a rapid pace and with innovation and globalization, the potential for a pandemic is only a flight away. Now is the time to strengthen our public health system.

NSABB Select Agent & Gain of Function Progress
A few weeks back we discussed the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity’s (NSABB)’s meetings regarding Gain-of-Function (GoF) work and their risk assessment with subsequent recommendations for evaluation and oversight of proposed GoF research. Six meetings and two workshops later, NSABB approved the final proposal. The May 24th, 2016 version is similar to the earlier draft however, specific examples of “studies of concern” were provided. Seasonal flu GoF studies are not considered concerning and NSABB did modify its definition of GoF Research of Concern. “The report has new wording that is apparently aimed at critics who have argued that the HHS should not review studies it funds, because that would represent a conflict of interest. The report says the HHS review ‘should be structured to avoid real or apparent conflicts of interest,’ but doesn’t specify how that can be done.” While implementation will be challenging and require immediate initiation, it’s believed that agencies won’t have trouble adapting to the new policy. You can also check out Gryphon Scientific’s final analysis on the risks and benefits of GoF research. Enjoy Chapter 11 regarding the loss of trust in science -GMU Biodefense MS student Julia Homestead helped write it!

Ancient Plague Epidemiology F2.large
Get your Indiana Jones hat ready, we’re going back in time to look at bioarcheology and the Eyam plague outbreak of 1665-1666. Researchers used a stochastic compartmental model and Bayesian analytical models to study this outbreak that started in September 1665 in the Derbyshire village of Eyam. Updated data from parish records allowed scientists to study this specific outbreak in a more in-depth manner, leading to the discovery that both rodent-to-human and human-to-human transmission played an important role in the spread of the disease. “We also found that the force of infection was stronger for infectious individuals living in the same household compared with the rest of the village. Poverty significantly increased the risk of disease, whereas adulthood decreased the risk. These results on the Eyam outbreak contribute to the current debate on the relative importance of plague transmission routes.”

Health on the G7 Summit Agenda
Last week, international officials met for the G7 Summit and during this gathering the topic of infectious diseases and control methods came to the table. “At the G7 Ise-Shima Summit, leaders will consider issues including strengthening the response to public health emergencies, by taking into account the lessons learned from previous outbreaks, such as Ebola. In addition, they will discuss ensuring the provision of lifelong healthcare services, from maternal, newborn and child health, through to non-communicable diseases and aging, in the pursuit of universal health coverage (UHC)”. Ebola, Zika virus, and Yellow Fever are all hot topics (see what I did there…) of concern. Improving investment in pandemic response was a vital part of the G7, as well as endorsement of the Global Health Security Agenda. Hopefully, with more international awareness and investment, the practice of putting out infectious disease fires will be a thing of the past.

Zika Weekly Roundup
The WHO has released their latest global response report on the Zika virus outbreak. The report gives an overview regarding the Strategic Response Framework and Joint Operations Plan as well as current funding gaps for “critical activities until the end of June 2016, as well as the approach to setting a new strategy from July 2016 onwards.” You can also find a scoping review of the Zika literature here. 233 studies were compiled with findings that “several knowledge gaps were identified by this review with respect to ZIKV epidemiology, the importance of potential non-human primates and other hosts in the transmission cycle, the burden of disease in humans, and complications related to human infection with ZIKV.” A woman in New Jersey has given birth to a baby girl with microcephaly, making her the second Zika-related microcephaly case in the U.S. Entomologists and medical experts are participating in a Zika Symposium and you can check out some of the presentations here. President Obama commented on the need for Zika funding during his speech in Elkhart, IN, this week, noting that “we need more who are willing to work with us to lower health care costs, give us the funding we need to fight public health challenges like Zika and the opioid epidemic — Joe Donnelly is working on that diligently.” Researchers are looking at the risk factors for eye abnormalities in congenital Zika infections and scientists are now raising concern over transmission related to oral sex. Lastly, as of June 1st, 2016, the CDC has reported 618 travel-associated cases in the U.S. 

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • First Locally-Acquired Chikungunya Case in Texas–  The Texas Department of State Health Services has confirmed the first case of local transmission. ” A Cameron County resident got sick with the illness in November 2015 and was diagnosed with a lab test in January 2016. The case, however, was not reported to the local health department until last month. The investigation performed by the Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services determined the patient had not traveled, and the case was confirmed last week by testing at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
  • Edge of the Antibiotic Abyss – There’s been a lot of talk about antibiotic resistance and the impending dangers if we don’t act soon. Here’s an overview of the concerns and recent case that is causing so much worry. While it may not get the media attention of Zika virus, this is a very real issue and recent estimates indicate that we’re teetering on the edge of the antibiotic abyss.
  • India’s HIV Blood Transfusion Transmission Reality– The National AIDS Control Organization has released their report following a petition by activist Chetan Kothari, revealing that at least 2,234 Indians have contracted HIV while receiving blood transfusions. Scarier yet, these cases occurred in the past 17 months. Kothari has pushed for investigations, citing that while it is mandatory for hospitals to screen donors, the cost of the test and limited availability of testing facilities (Mumbai has only three private hospitals with HIV testing facilities) makes this a growing threat to anyone requiring blood transfusions. India currently has around 2.09 million people living with HIV/AIDS.
  • The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – The ECDC has updated its rapid risk assessment for the current yellow fever outbreak that is impacting Angola, DRC, and Uganda. “In the EU/EEA, the risk of yellow fever virus being introduced is limited to unvaccinated viraemic travellers coming from areas with active local transmission.”

Pandora Report 5.27.2016

Before you start your holiday weekend, what’re your thoughts on Usain Bolt outrunning a mosquito? The Jamaican sprinter jokingly responded to questions regarding athlete concerns over Zika virus, noting that he’s not worried “because I’m fast – they can’t catch me”. (Hint – it looks like he can outrun a mosquito with his 22 mph capabilities versus the 1.12-3.35 mph of an Aedes mosquito). Sticking with the Olympian theme..bacterial teams? Researchers recently found that two strains of E.coli, resistant to different antibiotics, can protect each other in an environment containing both antibiotics. The phenomenon is called mutualism and researchers at MIT are now looking looking into the range of this practice and the potential for population synchronization. At the 69th World Health Assembly this week, the WHO revealed plans to revamp itself however, many point out that for an agency better at giving advice than taking action, it’s too little too late. In the case of the WHO, critics are calling for acta non verba. 

The World Bank Rolls Out the Pandemic Insurance Plan
Following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the World Bank has announced a new program that will enable funds to rapidly be mobilized during outbreaks. In hopes of ensuring a more speedy response to infectious disease disasters, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim stated that “pandemics pose a serious threat to global health and economic security.” The new Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF) is “a combination of catastrophe insurance and bonds, is a direct reaction to the sluggish donor response to the outbreak of Ebola”. Presented at the G7 meeting for finance advisors, Japan has already committed support with a $50 million contribution. The insurance will cover several classes of infectious disease outbreaks most likely to cause epidemics – ranging from new influenza or coronavirus strains, filoviruses like Marburg and Ebola, and other zoonotic diseases. The initial plan is to have a total of $500 million  and hopefully avoid outbreaks, like Ebola, rapidly growing due to poor financial support and response.

Antibiotic Apocalypse
As much as I’d love to say this title is a dramatic take on the issue of antibiotic resistance, the truth is pretty startling. A report done by the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance  (commissioned by the UK government and reviewed by officials including economist Jim O’Neill), estimated that by 2050, 10 million lives per year and $100 trillion are at risk due to drug-resistant infections. That’s quite a stark estimate, but as many have pointed out “the problem of drug-resistant microbes isn’t just about biology and chemistry; it’s an economic problem at heart, a catastrophic and long-bubbling mismatch between supply and demand. It’s the result of the many incentives for misusing our drugs, and the dearth of incentives for developing new ones.” Can we really tackle this issue though? It still amazes me hearing people in an emergency department or urgent care asking for an antibiotic and the physician having to explain that they have a viral infection or that antibiotics simply aren’t warranted. In many ways, when we are sick enough to go to the doctor, we want to walk away with some “cure” and the notion of bedrest and hydration isn’t all that comforting. So what can we do? The report notes some steps to help prevent this impending reality – massive global public awareness campaigns, improve hygiene, improve global surveillance of drug resistance and antimicrobial consumption in humans and animals, promote development and use of vaccines, promote new, rapid diagnostics to cut out the unnecessary use of antibiotics, better incentives to promote investment for new drugs and improve existing ones, improve the numbers, pay, and recognition of people working in infectious diseases (hear, hear!), etc. Other recommendations include improving sanitation and a global innovation fund for early-stage research. Scientists were recently startled to find for the first time in the U.S., a patient with a bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics that are used as a last resort. While the predictions are daunting, the threat of antibiotic resistance is one we can get ahead of if we make the commitment and start immediately.

The Growing Threat of Spillover Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 9.38.18 AM
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released their 2016 Frontiers Report “Emerging Issues of Environmental Concern”. One of the six major issues was zoonosis. “There is a worldwide increase in disease emergence and epidemics particularly from zoonoses – diseases that can be passed on between animals and humans. The report illustrates how the emergence and re-emergence of zoonotic diseases are closely interlinked with the health of ecosystems. The risk of disease emergence and amplification increases with the intensification of human activities surrounding and encroaching into natural habitats, enabling pathogens in wildlife reservoirs to spill over to livestock and humans.” The report notes that around 60% of all infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic and 75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. You can also find several great infographics that paint a very surprising picture regarding the emerging zoonotic disease events from 1940-2012 and the top three reported zoonoses for specific continents. The growing Zika epidemic is just another in a long list of spillover cases including those of MERS, SARS, Ebola, and Rift Valley fever.

A Need To Rebalance
GMU Biodefense professor and Program Director, Dr. Gregory Koblentz, is pointing to the need for the U.S. to refocus its nonproliferation efforts on South Asia. Given the region’s high risk for nuclear crisis as a result of territorial disputes, cross-border terrorism, and increasing nuclear arsenals, there is a crucial need to re-allign nonproliferation efforts to include South Asia. “As of 2015, India was estimated to have 120 nuclear warheads while Pakistan was believed to possess 130 weapons. Both countries have also continued to develop, test, and deploy new missiles designed to deliver nuclear warheads. Pakistan has tested seven different types of nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles, including the 2,750-kilometer range Shaheen-3 ballistic missile. Meanwhile, India has tested nine different types of nuclear-capable missiles, including the Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of over 5,000 kilometers.” Dr Koblentz points to the impacting introduction of tactical nuclear weapons in South Asia and their ability to be deployed on short-notice – also concerning is India’s planned development of strategic missile submarines, which will likely trigger development from Pakistan. He notes that the international community can help restrain this dangerous competition by encouraging both countries to adopt confidence-building measures (limits on development of tactical nuclear weapons, etc.) and engage in high-level talks with “other nuclear weapon states to discuss measures that could further reduce the risk of nuclear weapons being used deliberately, by accident, or in an unauthorized manner.”

Rebuilding Trust in Biology 
Between the gain-of-function talks and biosecurity failures at major U.S. labs, there’s been a subtle shifting in the trust and support for biological sciences. New regulations could change oversight for sciences within the U.S. and many are wondering how we can restore trust back into this field. While we can all agree that forgotten smallpox vials and an accidental bird flu release translates to a need to revamp practices and facilitate more effective and efficient oversight, there’s been little mention of how we can combat the trust issues. This week the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) met to conclude their 18-month deliberation on select pathogen research practices and regulations. Let’s hope that with more effective and efficient practice recommendations, they are also looking into repairing the reputation of science and biology. Dr. Filippa Lentzos and Dr. Nicholas Evans recommend four ways to rebuilt this trust- transparency in process and outcome of experiments and review, life scientists need to play their part in monitoring and preventing deliberate misuse of biology, accountability needs to be built into scientific norms, and decisions on pursuing dangerous experiments need more transparency in regards to their process. “There should also be clear, internationally-recognized red lines about the sorts of experiments—such as attempting to make Ebola virus transmit like the flu, or modifying an extinct virus like smallpox—that simply should not be done.”

Energy & Commerce Subcommittee Looks at U.S. Biological Threat Preparedness
The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing regarding H.R. 3299, Strengthening Public Health Response Act, last week to discuss and review legislation that would enable the U.S. to prepare and defend against biological attacks. The act was presented in response to the October 2015 Blue Ribbon Study on Biodefense that highlighted the general lack of preparedness against emerging biological threats. “Thirty-three recommendations to improve the U.S. response to biological threats were made by the Blue Ribbon Study on Biodefense, which was led by former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of Homeland Security. The panel’s report was based on meetings, interviews and research.” Acting Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) Director Dr. Richard Hackett noted that “the array of threats for which we must be prepared is vast. Such threats include bioterrorist agents such as anthrax, smallpox and botulism; evolving and emerging threats causing substantial regional disruption such as Ebola and Zika; and highly communicable diseases with pandemic potential such as influenza.” This act would also expand the Priority Review Voucher program within DHS and work to facilitate BARDA’s partnership with the private sector.

Weekly Zika Updates
On Monday, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan pointed to the failure to maintain mosquito-control efforts and the spread of Zika. “Let me give you a stern warning. What we are seeing now looks more and more like a dramatic resurgence of the threat from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. The world is not prepared to cope. Above all, the spread of Zika, the resurgence of dengue, and the emerging threat from chikungunya are the price being paid for a massive policy failure that dropped the ball on mosquito control in the 1970s,”. The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) released a risk assessment for European travelers to the Olympic Games, finding that they’re most at risk for gastrointestinal illness and vector-borne diseases. Researchers are also considering the association between Zika virus and eye problems in babies that have microcephaly. During your holiday weekend, take a minute to learn about the Scottish professor who discovered Zika virus. Experts are also pointing to the role of misinformation (via social media conspiracy theories) in prevention efforts.  “The researchers behind the study—from Johns Hopkins University, George Washington University, and the University of Georgia—say the misinformation they detected by analyzing thousands of Twitter posts could cause many vulnerable people to refuse future Zika vaccinations.” The CDC has estimated that a fetus infected with Zika virus during the first trimester has a 1-13% risk of developing microcephaly. As of May 25th, the CDC has reported 591 travel-associated and 11 sexually transmitted cases in the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Why Victorian Diseases Are Making a Comeback – Scarlet fever and TB have been on the rise in the UK and many are pointing to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance and poor vaccination compliance. Many of these diseases have been under control for centuries so any uptake can cause a sensational public response, however it’s important to remember the recent plethora of measles outbreaks and just how vital vaccination is. Antibiotic resistance alone could bring back these diseases and take us back to a time where infectious diseases were the major cause of death.
  • The Threat of Agroterrorism and Zoonotic Disease in the U.S. –  Gary Flory, Agricultural Program Manager of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, discusses the threat of these diseases for the Non Conventional Threat CBRNe Meeting. “The threat of agroterrorism and naturally occurring disease outbreaks in the United States continues to expand as new diseases emerge and existing diseases become endemic in many parts of the world. The food and agricultural sector is one of the easiest sectors of any nation’s economy to disrupt and its disruption could have catastrophic consequences both nationally and regionally. Both developing and developed countries will be impacted by a disease outbreak or agroterrorism attack.”
  • The Awful Diseases on the Way– check out this overview of Sonia Shah’s book, Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, that also discusses the impact of infectious disease outbreaks from smallpox to Ebola. The review is done by a pediatric physician who has worked with UNICEF and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS across three continents. Aside from the wonderful points on infectious disease outbreaks and the importance of public health, Annie Sparrow gives a delightful segment on the corrupt schemes of outbreak coverups.

Pandora Report 5.20.2016

The biodefense world was pretty busy this week – between Zika funding, cloning, and debates over dual-use technologies, we’ve got a lot to recap! Check out this great infographic on mosquitoes and the diseases they spread. The “State of Innovation” report revealed a decrease in biotech patents in 2015, with many pointing to the correlation between three U.S. Supreme Court decisions that limited patentability of some biotechnologies. If you were wondering how the sale of Plum Island is going, the House has actually temporarily halted any transactions.

Congrats GMU Biodefense Graduates!IMG_3491
We’re so happy to announce the convocation of some of our phenomenal graduate students. Earning a MS in Biodefense- Julia Homstad (also awarded the Frances Harbour Award for Community Leadership), Brittany Linkous (earning the Outstanding Biodefense MS Student Award), Francisco Cruz, Mary Dougherty, Moneka Jani, Sadaf Khan, Brittany Ferris, Michael Smith, and Robert Smith. Graduating with their PhD’s – Jonathan Gines (also the recipient of the Outstanding Biodefense PhD Student award and his dissertation was: Designing Biorisk Oversight: Applying Design Science Research to Biosafety and Biosecurity, Patricia Kehn (Flu News You Can Use? An Analysis of Flu News Quality 2008-2010), and Mittie Wallace (Emergency Preparedness in Virginia, Maryland and DC: Using Exchange Theory to Identify Government-Nonprofit Incentives and Barriers to Collaboration). Congrats to all our Biodefense graduates in the hard work and dedication they’ve put forth to contribute to such a diverse and exciting field!

Evaluation of DoD Biological Safety & Security Implementation
The Inspector General of the Department of Defense (DoD) has released their report regarding the biosafety and biosecurity policies and practices within DoD laboratories working with select agents. The report also evaluated DoD oversight of these laboratories and compliance with Federal, DoD, and Service Policy, with careful consideration to recent GAO (among others) recommendations. Several findings were reported, which include: “DoD has not maintained biosafety and biosecurity program management, oversight, and inspections of its BSAT laboratories according to applicable Federal regulations. BSAT laboratories in Military Services were inspected according to different guidance, standards, and procedures, risking dangerous lapses in biosafety practices. Lack of coordinated oversight of DoD laboratories led to multiple, missing, and duplicative inspections, and, therefore, an excessive administrative burden that could interfere with scientific research performance.” The report also noted that public health and safety was put at risk due to the poor protection of these agents. Recommendations pushed for better internal and external tracking of inspections, coordination of external technical and scientific peer reviews, standardized training for inspectors, the creation of site-specific laboratory security vulnerability assessments, etc. Overall, the report addresses several key failures within select agent laboratories that have been gaining increasing attention. While these recommendations are a necessary first step, there is definitely an up-hill battle to better secure and work with select agents.

Public Health & Emerging Disease Outbreaks – The Importance of Communication 
Outbreak prevention and response isn’t a new concept…in fact it’s something we’ve been perfecting since John Snow took off the Broad Street pump handle. Sometimes, the fastest spreader isn’t the disease, but rather poor communication and fear. In every after-action report, communication tends to be the biggest failure. Not only do people fail to talk to each other enough, but information dissemination and comprehension tends to be poorly emphasized, when in fact it could save lives. “In particular, healthcare workers may benefit from knowing about newly found transmission risks or disease findings from a novel case under intensive care. Knowledge drives behavioural change that can save lives. We live in a global community. Even if the lives saved are not citizens of our country, withholding information because it is unlikely to benefit our own countrymen, or even delaying dissemination of important information until it is published in a scientific journal is a poor choice.” Dr. Ian Mackay and Katherine Arden point to communication failures regarding the zoonotic transmission of MERS-CoV and the illness of a nurse from the UK who recovered from Ebola and was later hospitalized for meningitis. Both instances involved poor communication, especially to healthcare workers. “Good communicators and reliable communications are vital. Create a dialogue with the public now to build a partnership for later, to reduce distrust when an outbreak, epidemic or pandemic occurs. In this way, communities know which voices to trust and where to turn for their information. Leaving an information void invites others to fill it and more often than not, it is those who delight in titillation, invention, make-believe and fear-mongering.”

Weekly Dose of Zika Virus
H.R. 5243 – Zika Response Appropriations Act of 2016 is the hot topic of discussion this week, as President Obama’s Administration is opposing the act. “While the Administration appreciates that the Congress is finally taking action to address the Zika virus, the funding provided in H.R. 5243 is woefully inadequate to support the response our public health experts say is needed.  Specifically, the Administration’s full request of $1.9 billion is needed to:  reduce the risk of the Zika virus, particularly in pregnant women, by better controlling the mosquitoes that spread Zika; develop new tools, including vaccines and better diagnostics to protect the Nation from the Zika virus; and conduct crucial research projects needed to better understand the impacts of the Zika virus on infants and children.On May 17th, the Senate voted to provide $1.2 billion to fight the growing outbreak. A team from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has traveled into uncharted territory – they are the first to genetically engineer a clone of the Zika virus strain.  Their work could help speed up vaccine development and research of the virus. As the Zika outbreak rages onwards, many are pointing to the need to understand how and why it mutated from Africa to Asia and then to the Americas.  “‘Like many arboviral agents, given the appropriate environmental and human conditions, new pathogens can be easily moved around the globe,’ Ann Powers said. And that’s what Zika did. The virus began to ripple across the Pacific—and as it traveled, it seemed to change.” The Olympic Games are fast approaching and the debate about the safety of the games has been spreading (see what I did there?). Last week you read about how some are saying the games should be cancelled, while others say it poses a minimal threat. You can also find a snapshot of Zika virus here. The WHO reported that the overall risk of Zika virus moving across the WHO European region is low to moderate during late spring and early summer. Rutgers is taking the lead on an IBM-sponsored project that will utilize supercomputing resources to identify “potential drug candidates to cure the Zika virus.” The Wilson Center is hosting an event, “Zika in the U.S: Can We Manage the Risk?” on Tuesday, May 24th, at 11am. Many are also wondering why humans and not mice are susceptible to the virus. Lastly, as of May 18th, the CDC has reported 544 travel-associated cases and 10 sexually transmitted cases within the U.S.

Governance Structures for Reducing Dual-Use Technology Risks
The American Academy of Arts & Sciences has published an examination of dual-use technology governance and the state of current efforts to control the spread of potentially dangerous technologies. “Governance of Dual-Use Technologies examines the similarities and differences between the strategies used for the control of nuclear technologies and those proposed for biotechnology and information technology. The publication makes clear the challenges concomitant with dual-use governance.” The report looks at the potential objectives of these measures, what they translate to in a technical format, and if these measures are even feasible.

Global Avian Influenza A H5N1 Trends
Researchers recently looked at the epidemiology of human H5N1 cases from 1997-2015. This was the first comprehensive analysis of human cases on a global scale. The number of affected countries rose between 2003 and 2008, traveling from east Asia into west Asia and Africa. “Most cases (67·2%) occurred from December to March, and the overall case-fatality risk was 483 (53·5%) of 903 cases which varied across geographical regions. Although the incidence in Egypt has increased dramatically since November, 2014, compared with the cases beforehand, there were no significant differences in the fatality risk, history of exposure to poultry, history of patient contact, and time from onset to hospital admission in the recent cases.”

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Health Security Available – The newest volume of Health Security is now available online. The recent issue includes pieces on Zika and microcephaly, preparing for climate disruption, adapting to health impacts of climate change in the DoD, and more!
  • Secret Genome Meeting – Last week saw a meeting hosted by Harvard Medical School’s George Church, to discuss “feasibility and implementation of a project to synthesize entire large genomes in vitro.” Initially the meeting was open to the public and media however, the decision was made to keep it private (from the media) so that researchers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and government officials could speak freely without fear of being misquoted. “Our ability to understand what to build is so far behind what we can build,” said Jeremy Minshull, chief executive of DNA synthesis company DNA2.0, told The New York Times. “I just don’t think that being able to make more and more and more and cheaper and cheaper and cheaper is going to get us the understanding we need.”
  • Four Countries Fend Off Avian Influenza- Cambodia, Ghana, and Indonesia have been battling H5N1 and Italy has just reported its second H7N7 occurrence this month. Ghana and Cambodia have reported significant bird mortalities, with the virus killing 155 of 505 susceptible birds. “In Ghana, the H5N1 virus turned up in four commercial layer and breeding farms in three of the country’s regions: two in Greater Accra and one each in Eastern and Central regions.”
  • Bavarian Nordic Smallpox Vaccine Contract – the pharmaceutical company announced that BARDA has ordered a bulk supply of their new IMVAMUNE smallpox vaccine. The $100 million supply of the non-replicating vaccine requires Bavarian Nordic to manufacture and store the bulk supply. “The freeze-dried version of IMVAMUNE is expected to reduce the life cycle management costs based on a longer shelf life and will replace the liquid-frozen version that is currently stockpiled in the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile (SNS).”
  • Early Detection Lyme Disease Test Successful – GMU researchers have proven that their early-detection urine test works to rapidly identify Lyme diseases. “The National Institutes of Health funded the research that led to Mason’s patented technology, which traps tell-tale clues (such as the Lyme bacteria protein) that a disease is present. The Mason technology, which is licensed to Ceres, works during the earliest stages of disease and finds the tiniest traces missed by most diagnostic tests.”

Pandora Report 5.13.2016

Nothing like a little biodefense news to get your Friday the 13th started off on an auspicious note! If you happened to be in Grand Central terminal in New York City on Monday, you may have witnessed a bioweapon simulation drill. A harmless, odorless gas was released on a subway platform to test air movement and the potential contamination range for a biological weapon within the subway system. The perfluorocarbon tracer gases allowed officials to observe particle dispersal and settlement. Last but not least, hundreds of passengers on a UK-to-US cruise are victims of a suspected norovirus outbreak. Health officials are working with the cruise line to determine the source of the outbreak and reduce transmission.

Evaluation and Oversight Recommendations for Gain-of-Function Research
The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) Working Group has released a draft of their evaluations and subsequent recommendations regarding the risks and benefits associated with gain-of-function (GOF) research. The report highlights the existing Federal policies in place to ensure the safety of current work with biological organisms and the recent biosafety failures at several Federal facilities. The NSAAB working group established seven major findings and seven recommendations. Findings include focus on the specific types of GOF research as only a small subset of GOF research (GOF research of concern – GOFROC) which may entail risks that are significant enough to warrant oversight, need for an adaptive policy approach, limited scope and applicability of oversight policies, etc. Recommendations include an external advisory body that is built upon transparency and public engagement, adaptive policy approaches to ensure oversight remains “commensurate with the risks associated with the GOF research of concerns”, etc. The recommendations also emphasized the need for strengthening of U.S. laboratory biosafety and biosecurity. The report provides a substantial overview of the GOF debate and existing concerns related to GOF studies with influenza, SARS, and MERS.

GMU Biodefense MS Application Deadline – June 1st!
Learn about the complex world of global health security from your living room or at one of our amazing campuses! GMU’s Biodefense MS program provides you with the knowledge and skills to understand and operate within the unique field of biodefense – where science and policy meet. Fall application deadlines have been extended to June 1st, which means you still have time to apply! Our MS program is offered in person or online, which allows students to balance work or family responsibilities while still earning a graduate degree in this exciting field.

Military & CDC Lab Biosafety Failures 
A few weeks ago, we wrote on the GAO office report on the laboratory failures and biosafety issues in relation to the investigations surrounding the 2014 National Institute of Health (NIH) smallpox discovery. The GAO report also points to laboratory safety/security failures that include shipping live anthrax and the poor dissemination of information to NIH staff after the smallpox discovery. This article, like many, emphasizes the lackluster Department of Defense (DoD) efforts regarding safety and security within their labs that handle select agents. Despite reports highlighting the poor education and training of laboratory personnel, infrequent lab inspection, and gaps in reporting, some are pointing to the eventual regression back to poor habits. Despite the GAO report, ‘the program is going to continue as before, with a new layer of managerial review that will not change matters, and with no accountability,’ says Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist and professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University who has been critical of the operations of high-containment labs. ‘The report makes it clear that DOD considers the matter concluded, and any impetus for change is going to have to come from outside DOD,’ Ebright says.” A recent report also noted that the CDC is among several other facilities to have their permits suspended in recent years for serious lab safety and security violations.  “The CDC’s own labs also have been referred for additional secret federal enforcement actions six times because of serious or repeated violations in how they’ve handled certain viruses, bacteria and toxins that are heavily regulated because of their potential use as bioweapons, the CDC admitted for the first time on Tuesday.” The CDC has stated that the suspensions involved a specific lead scientist and those labs associated with his/her work, which focused on Japanese encephalitis virus.

Is Dole the Food Safety Canary in the Coal Mine?
Food safety has long been considered America’s soft underbelly. Food-borne illness outbreaks are relatively common but are some a canary in the coal mine for diminishing industry standards? Executives at Dole are now involved in a criminal investigation related to their knowledge of the Listeria outbreak at their Springfield, Ohio plant. Executives were aware of the Listeria issues for over a year prior to shutting down the production plant. The company is now under investigation, highlighting a growing concern related to food safety standards within the U.S. This particular outbreak involved 33 people in the U.S. and Canada, of which four died. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, the senior Democrat on the U.S. House Committee that oversees FDA funding, wrote a letter to the FDA regarding the lag between company knowledge and action. DeLauro wrote: “Given that consumers have been severely sickened, and even killed, by salads produced at this facility, I urge you to immediately shut down the Dole Springfield plant. Their blatant disregard for the health and safety of American families shows that Dole executives put company profits first, at the expense of consumers, and this type of behavior should not be tolerated. The fact that Dole officials were aware of a food borne illness contamination in their facility, yet continued to ship out the product, is absolutely unconscionable. People have died, and rightfully the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Dole’s Springfield plant. However, it is more than just foodborne pathogens that the FDA inspection reports point to. FDA reports dating back to March 2014 cite at least sixteen problems that could contribute to food safety issues in the facility. It is an outrage that people had to die in order for Dole to temporarily close this plant for four months during the January Listeria outbreak. … Dole must be held accountable”. Dole isn’t the only company heavily scrutinizing their processes. In light of recent outbreaks associated with their restaurants, Chipotle has hired two former food safety critics and consultants to help improve food safety. 

A Dash of Zika Goes a Long Way ZikaFunding
The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics are fast approaching and the “wait and see” trepidation is starting to evolve into more heated debates about the safety of the games. With Brazil being the epicenter of this particular Zika virus outbreak, many are calling for action before the international games. “Simply put, Zika infection is more dangerous, and Brazil’s outbreak more extensive, than scientists reckoned a short time ago.  Which leads to a bitter truth: the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games must be postponed, moved, or both, as a precautionary concession.  There are five reasons.” These reasons include the heavy hit Rio took by Zika, the current Zika strain is considered much more dangerous, the games will surely speed up the transmission of the virus on an international level and when this does happen, the role of technological response will become more challenging. Lastly, “proceeding with the Games violates what the Olympics stand for.  The International Olympic Committee writes that ‘Olympism seeks to create … social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles’.  But how socially responsible or ethical is it to spread disease? ” The CDC updated diagnostic testing guidelines this week, noting that higher levels of the virus can be found in the urine rather than blood. The White House is calling for emergency funding to help combat the spread of the disease and speed the development of a vaccine. What impact will Zika have in the future? The unique aspect of a virus that impacts developing brains earns it a special place in the history books and as this outbreak unfolds, the long-term impacts of infectious diseases will become all the more evident. As of May 11th, the CDC has reported 503 travel-associated cases in the the U.S. 

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Challenges of Emerging Infections and Global Health Safety – you can now access the Indo-U.S. workshop summary regarding the collaborations between people, businesses, and governments. “The Indo-U.S. Workshop on Challenges of Emerging Infections and Global Health Safety, held in November 2014, encouraged scientists from both countries to examine global issues related to emerging and existing infections and global health safety, to share experience and approaches, and to identify opportunities for cooperation to improve practice and research in these areas. This report summarizes the presentations and discussions from the workshop.”
  • The Internet of Things and Infectious Diseases – “The Internet of Things (IoT) is all about devices that are programmed to sense, report on and react to certain behaviours or conditions, providing a new level of efficiency, evidence-based data and automation.” So how can we use this for infectious diseases? Validation of outcomes, analysis of behaviors, and collaboration may just help us use the Internet of Things in healthcare to reduce infection and even perform syndromic surveillance. Outcomes and objective behavior analysis may help us increase hand hygiene or reduce hospital-acquired infections.
  • Anthrax Outbreak in Kenya– 16 people were sickened and hospitalized in Kenya after consuming tainted cows. Joseph Mbai, Murang’a County health chief officer said, “The four cows that were slaughtered were sickly and the owner decided to sell the meat to neighbors and share with others”. Those hospitalized (ten children, five men, and a woman) have been treated and discharged.

Pandora Report 5.6.2016

May has arrived, summer is upon us, and we’ve got your weekly biodefense scoop..Thursday was Hand Hygiene Day – don’t forget that clean hands save lives! Check out these wonderful infographics on the impact of vaccines on battling infectious diseases in the 20th century. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 30% of oral antibiotics prescribed in U.S. outpatient healthcare facilities (urgent cares, etc.) are unnecessary. Hocking a loogie may now be a diagnostic method as researchers have found that people have saliva fingerprints. The study revealed that this new analysis could lead to non-invasive methods of disease detection. Think you know your chem-bio weapons? Take a quiz to see if your knowledge is expert level or if you need a review from anthrax to Zika. 

Potential Anthrax Attack Foiled in Kenya 
Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 7.07.53 AM Kenyan police are claiming to have foiled a “large-scale” bioterrorism attack using anthrax. Three individuals associated with a terrorist group with links to ISIS were arrested. The terrorist group was not named but was noted to have a presence in Kenya, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. Police stated that “Mohammed Abdi Ali, a medical intern at a Kenyan hospital, was in charge of a ‘terror network… planning large-scale attacks akin to the Westgate Mall attack‘ in which 67 people were killed in 2013 in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.” Mr. Ali is said to have a network that includes medical professionals who would have the tacit knowledge to develop anthrax bioweapons. The Kenyan police chief, Joseph Boinnet, posted the official documents on his Twitter. While there has been no additional information on the terrorist group or the details of their planned bioweapons attack, we’ll continue to keep you updated as more information is released.

Let Loose Your Inner Epi With EpiCore
Ramp up your epidemiology game with the EpiCore community. EpiCore is a joint effort from Skoll Global Threats Fund, HealthMap, ProMED, and TEPHINET. EpiCore is a virtual community that brings together epidemiologists using new surveillance methods. It’s “a new system that is finding and reporting outbreaks faster than traditional disease surveillance methods alone. EpiCore enables faster global outbreak detection and reporting by linking a worldwide member network of health experts through a secure online reporting platform.”

Whole Foods Salad Bar Attack
The FBI has recently arrested a man in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who poured a liquid onto items in the prepared foods bars. Reminiscent of the Rajneeshee attack in 1984, investigators are taking the situation very seriously. Authorities found that the man was spraying mouse poison in fresh foods at three Ann Arbor grocery stores. “According to the FBI, an investigation points to the man spraying a mixture of what is believed to be mouse poison, hand cleaner, and water on open food bars in three stores in the town over the last couple of weeks.” The FBI has also noted that the suspect had visited other grocery stores in recent months and they are currently investigating if those other stores were involved in the poisoning. Would you consider him a bioterrorist or prankster?

Is Texas A New Hot Zone?
Between Ebola and Zika, Texas hasn’t been able to catch a break from emerging infectious diseases (EID’s). The Center for  Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) discusses that the EID attraction to the Lone Star State really began back in 2003 with the first urban dengue fever epidemic in decades. Texas is also “now an epicenter of Chagas disease and leishmaniasis transmission in the United States (parasitic infections transmitted by kissing bugs and sandflies, respectively), as well as murine typhus (transmitted by fleas) and West Nile virus infection.” Many are wondering, why Texas? What makes Texas such a nexus for infectious diseases? CSIS points to several factors – poverty (large population + poverty rate around 16% = ranking one or two in terms of having the largest volume of people below the poverty line), urbanization (when combined with poverty, this rapid growth means the crowded poor neighborhoods are perfect for opportunistic disease), being a global commercial and migration hub (coastal gateway ports), and climate change. These four qualities have created the perfect blend for both emerging and neglected infectious disease presence in Texas. Fortunately, Texas has a strong emergency management system and heightened public health department investment and resources. While Ebola and Zika have surely reinforced preparedness practices in Texas, are they enough? You may remember in December, we recounted the Trust for America’s Health report on state specific preparedness for preventing, detecting, diagnosing, and responding to outbreaks. States were graded on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best score). Interestingly, Texas was ranked right in the middle with a score of 5. Despite all their recent EID events, I’m surprised Texas is not ranked higher (Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, New York, and Virginia ranked highest with a score of 8). If Texas is the new epicenter of emerging and neglected infectious diseases, let’s hope their capabilities and capacity to respond to such diseases improves in the future.

Lessons Learned from TV/Movie Outbreaks
The CW recently began their new miniseries, Containment. While any show or movie on an outbreak instantly captures my interest, this one is particularly captivating for the same reasons as Outbreak – it’s so bad, it’s good. A recent ranking of the most plausible pathogen and zombie virus outbreaks in movies points to our affinity for outbreak movies with poor scientific backing. I’m a fan of watching these movies, and now Containment on Tuesday evenings, to see not just how wrong people can get outbreak response, but what they think the general public wants to see when it comes to a dramatic epidemic depiction. Did I mention the plethora of epidemiology/infection control faux pas? We’ve all watched a movie or show with a disease outbreak and picked out some ridiculous (and usually hilarious) blunders. The Pandora Report is now starting a list of ways the show demonstrates how NOT to stop/prevent an outbreak. We’re hoping to publish the list after the season ends and would love to include anything YOU find while watching it. Whether it’s the ridiculous infection prevention habits, over-the-top quarantine practices, or SWAT house calls, we want to know what you find while watching the show. Please email (spopesc2@gmu.edu) or tweet with #GMUBiodefense and we’ll incorporate them into our overall list.

Zika Updates
The WHO has released a one-year overview of the outbreak, pointing to the reasons why “an obscure disease became a global health emergency.” They emphasized the potential staying power of the virus and the challenges of diagnostic testing in the field. Many experts are predicting that once there is local transmission in the U.S., Zika virus will become endemic and a “constant low-level threat” requiring annual vaccination. The FDA has issued Emergency Use Authorization to approve the first commercial U.S. Zika virus test. “The Zika Virus RNA Qualitative Real-Time RT-PCR test from Focus Diagnostics, a Quest Diagnostics wholly-owned subsidiary, is a proprietary molecular test is intended for the qualitative detection of RNA from the Zika virus in human serum specimens.” Prior to this, all testing was done at specific laborites designated by the CDC and had limited availability to physicians. The availability of a rapid test will allow for more accurate and timely surveillance and diagnoses. Brazil has reported roughly 1,300 Zika-linked microcephaly cases.  Researchers are finding that mosquitoes infected with the bacterium, Wolbachia, may help stop the spread of Zika. “We are pretty sure that mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia will have a great impact on Zika transmission in the field,” said Luciano A. Moreira, a biologist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and the lead author of a new report on the researchers’ findings, published on Wednesday in the journal Cell Host & Microbe. There is also a growing concern about the potential impact the virus may have in the U.S. as researchers have found Zika in Asian tiger (Aedes albopictus) mosquitoes. This particular mosquito has a larger range within the U.S. and travels farther north. As of May 4, 2016, the CDC has reported 472 travel-associated cases in the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Ebola Survivor Household Contacts At Higher Risk – a recent study in Sierra Leone found that nearly half of household contacts of Ebola survivors contracted the illness. The risk of infection was correlated with level of exposure, but researchers also found that it varied by age. “The adjusted risk also varied by age: 43% for children under 2 years, 30% for those 5 to 14 years; 41% for those 15 to 19, 51% for adults 20 to 29 years, and more than 60% for adults over 30.”
  • Ebola Re-Emergence Involves Virus With Reduced Evolutionary Rate – A recent study found that the mutational rate has waned a bit in the Ebola virus that re-emerged in Liberia. Performing genomic comparisons of the virus in flare-ups, the research “team saw declining genetic divergence in the flare-up strains, perhaps due to diminished evolutionary rates in individuals with persistent infection. Still, the sequence data supported the notion that the flare-ups involved strains related to those in the main outbreak, ruling out re-introduction from a reservoir animal or transmission of distinct strains from active infections elsewhere”.
  • Chinese Espionage and Traded Nuclear Information –  a former Florida Power & Light manager is accused of trading nuclear information for cash to aid a Chinese nuclear power company. He was “recruited by Szuhsiung Ho, also known as Allen Ho, to help China General Nuclear Power Co. develop special nuclear material in China, according to the grand jury indictment.”

 

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Pandora Report 4.29.2016

TGIF- We’ve got your weekly dose of biodefense and much more in this edition of the Pandora Report! Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers are saying that recent ISIS attacks have involved chemical weapons. Heads up- you may want to avoid a spiced herbal tea commonly sold at CVS due to a potential contamination with Salmonella. Check out a new study on biodiversity in swine flu and the potential for spillover.  Monday, April 25, 2016 was World Malaria Day! Lastly, here’s a chuckle to help start your weekend.

2016 Survey on U.S. Role in Global Health
A recent survey of Americans performed by the Kaiser Family Foundation addressed the public perception, knowledge, and attitude regarding the role of the U.S. in global health. The survey addressed topics like American awareness of Zika virus and the health issues that are most urgently facing developing countries. The survey found that a “majority of the public wants the U.S. to take either the leading role or a major role in trying to solve international problems generally, as well as in improving health for people in developing countries specifically.” Interestingly, the importance of improving health for developing countries was not ranked as a top priority like protecting human rights, etc. “Seven in ten Americans believe that the current level of U.S. spending on health in developing countries is too little or about right, yet the public is somewhat skeptical about the ability of more spending to lead to progress, with more than half saying that spending more money will not lead to meaningful progress. Republicans and independents are more skeptical than Democrats, and these partisan differences have increased over time. Another notable trend is the decreasing visibility of U.S. efforts to improve health in developing countries; just over a third of the public says they have heard “a lot” or “some” about these efforts in the past 12 months, a decrease of 21 percentage points since 2010.” The survey also found that while Americans believe the U.S. should help women in Zika-affected countries, there was a divide regarding involvement in their family planning and preventative health measures.

GMU Biodefense Alum Awarded Mirzayan Science & Technology Fellowship
Congrats to GMU Biodefense alum, Dr. David Bolduc, on being named a Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellow! David graduated from GMU with a PhD in Biodefense in 2011 and doctoral work focused on the threats and mechanisms of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) agents and CBRN proliferation issues such as treaties, histories and the managing of related mass casualty incidences. David is currently a Principal Investigator at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. The Mirzayan Fellowship is a very prestigious award – as a program of the National Academies, it is designed to provide mentorship and professional development opportunities to early-career leaders in the field of science and technology policymaking.

Global Health & Military Expenditure 2013_numbers_subregions_2
Last week we discussed the financing of global health versus military.  There was a recent publication by Sipri (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) that looked at global military expenditure versus health expenditure (in 2015, it was $1676 billion or about 2.3% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product). They utilized the WHO’s recent estimates of government health expenditure as a share of GDP. They reviewed 2013 data and found that “governments worldwide spent just over two and a half times as much on health than on the military in 2013: 5.9% of global GDP went to public health spending, compared with 2.3% for the military.” Here’s the interesting part – it varied regionally. While the U.S. spends a lot on military, healthcare expenditure is still very high. Western and Central Europe spent 7.8% of their GDP on health and 1.5% on military. The Middle East spent 4.6% of their GDP on military versus 3.0% on health expenditures. The study also looks at reallocation of military spending and what that may translate to regarding the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “Reallocating only around 10% of world military spending would thus be enough to achieve major progress on some key SDGs, supposing that such funds could be effectively channelled towards these goals and that major obstacles, such as corruption and conflict, could be overcome.”

Did Newcastle Disease Virus Sneak Out of the Lab?
Newcastle disease virus (NDV) is a highly infectious disease that impacts domestic poultry and other birds. Virulent NDV strains have been endemic in poultry throughout Asia, Africa, and some countries within South America. Current outbreaks continue to cause food safety and agricultural issue. In the 1940s, the first NDV panzootic occurred, specifically genotypes II, III, and IV. Other genotypes have continued to circulate and cause outbreaks. A recent study performed a complete genomic sequence of contemporary isolates from China, Egypt, and India. Researchers performed genetic analysis to distinguish historical isolates (the outbreak from the 1940s) from currently circulating genotypes (V, VI, VII, and XII through XVIII). Through their work, they found that isolates of genotypes II and IX (which are not normally circulating viruses in the environment) were found to be identical to the historical viruses that were isolated in the 1940s. “The low rates of change for these virulent viruses (7.05 × 10−5 and 2.05 × 10−5 per year, respectively) and the minimal genetic distances existing between these and historical viruses (0.3 to 1.2%) of the same genotypes indicate an unnatural origin.” The virulent strains isolated during the 1940s have been used in labs and research studies. Researchers noted that it is highly unlikely these viruses remained viable in the environment for over sixty years, which means its very possible (and scary…) that the source of these viral samples, taken from poultry and wild birds, may in fact be from a laboratory. So now we have to wonder…how did these specific virulent viral isolates find their way out of laboratories and into nature?

Is Open Science the Secret Weapon Against Zika and Future Pandemics?
Gene editing tools like CRISPR-Cas9 have the potential to combat diseases like HIV and malaria, but there’s also a potential dual-use for these technologies that is much more sinister. The price of laboratory equipment for some synthetic biology experiments is dwindling and many are becoming concerned about potential for misuse. Should science be left open and researchers ultimately allowed to make the call about potential dual-use or should scientific work/publications be regulated to avoid publications of research that could be used to build a biological weapon? Some are saying that the best way to combat global issues is through global cooperation and communication and thus, open-source information. Should Zika be the first in the test subjects of open science and its application in the global health security toolbox? Many have argued that if a research project is receiving public funding, it should be open sourced (including the data). Would this have helped the Ebola outbreak? “When Ebola was raging through West Africa in the summer of 2014, a group at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass. published open repository sequence data for 99 Ebola genomes taken from patients in Sierra Leone’s Kenema government hospital. This open sourcing of critical scientific data was the second instance in the outbreak. A team of international researchers had initially published three genomes from patients in Guinea in April. For the next three months, no more genomic data was released to the public data repositories that had become the go-to source for scientists studying Ebola. The silence puzzled many prominent scientists. A formidable array of genomic sequencing technology was aimed squarely at the virus. Yet the data was not shared.” Since this outbreak, many have pushed more for open science, especially in the wake of a global outbreak like Zika.

The Other Side of the Spectrum – How Genetic Editing Became a National Security Threat
You may recall in February, Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, stated in his World Wide Threat Assessment testimony that gene editing had become a global danger and should be considered a weapon of mass destruction. The history of genetic research has seen a burst of developments since the discovery of the double helix in 1953. CRISPR-Cas9 is the newest in the genetic engineering arsenal…and at at a fraction of the historical price. If it were only so simple as to do away with malaria by genetically modifying mosquitoes to avoid carrying the parasite. Alas, the realities are a bit darker. The truth is that genome editing of wildlife can alter entire ecosystems, not to mention the risk for accidents and negligence, which is a very real possibility. Those concerns aren’t even touching on the frightening potential for biological weapons. “Gene editing techniques could produce forms of diseases that barely resemble their naturally occurring counterparts. Such engineered pathogens could sicken or even kill hundreds of thousands of people. Armed with the proper genetic sequences, states or bioterrorists could employ genome editing to create highly virulent pathogens for use in such attacks. They could, for example, change a less dangerous, non-pathogenic strain of anthrax into a highly virulent form by altering the genome, or recreate pathogens such as the deadly smallpox virus, which was eradicated in the wild in 1980. Or they could develop specific weapons that target either individuals or even entire races: With the right manipulations, a pathogen could be made to have greater invasiveness or virulence in a target population.” So where do we go from here? With no governance of do-it-yourself facilitates, no training for the at-home gene editing experimenters, and endless debate about the dangers of gain-of-function research, what is being done? Many are saying UN Resolution 1540 should be strengthened to consider this technology and the Dual-Use Research of Concern (DURC) policy shouldn’t just apply to research funded by the government, but also small labs and individuals. With the notion of open science and DURC still up for debate, the stakes will only get higher as global outbreaks, like Zika, continue to burn through countries.

Why We Should Be Afraid of Yellow Fever
Angola is getting hit hard by yellow fever and the vaccine shortages only amplified the outbreak. With all eyes on Zika and a century since Rio saw its last case of yellow fever, where’s the link? Global supplies of yellow fever vaccines are pretty much depleted and BioManguinhos/FioCruz in Rio (one of four…yes four… yellow fever vaccine producers in the world) is having production problems. All available vaccines are being rushed to Angola and cases are spilling over into the DRC, Mauritania, and Kenya. Here’s more – “What most people don’t know is that there are a lot of Angolans coming every year to Brazil, and the more who arrive here unvaccinated, but have been exposed to yellow fever in Africa and may be carrying the virus, the greater the risk that they will infect Rio mosquitoes, allowing them to transmit yellow fever to residents and tourists.” Brazil is already waging a massive war against Zika. Add in yellow fever and it’ll be like adding a gallon of gasoline to a house fire. Mosquito control is imperative and now we’re paying the costs of historically lackadaisical efforts.

Zika Updates
The WHO announced that the number of Zika virus cases is dropping in Brazil. A recent study reports that dengue virus antibodies enhance Zika virus infection. Researchers suggest that pre-existing dengue immunity will enhance a Zika infection in vivo and can increase the severity of disease. Many are calling for more research to be done regarding the relationships between Zika and dengue infections. You can also find a timeline of Zika virus here. There are growing concerns regarding blood donations as Zika spreads internationally. The Canadian Blood service noted that new rules to protect against Zika transmission are putting stress on the blood supply. A new study looks at the impact of Zika and the challenges we many face due to the increasing frequency of viral outbreaks. As of April 27, 2016, there were 426 travel-associated cases in the U.S.

Rewiring Outbreak Preparedness and Response
Let’s take more of a deep-dive into why we should apply U.S. biodefense practices to managing and preparing for outbreaks. Hoyt and Hatchett emphasized why we should learn from American biodefense strategies to better fight infectious disease outbreak. “SARS was responsible for 800 deaths but cost $40 billion globally and Ebola has cost West African economies $6 billion plus an additional $4.3 billion in international contributions. Now, consider the cost of developing a vaccine. Hoyt and Hatchett point out that at the most expensive point, it can cost $1.8 billion to develop a vaccine (others argue that is it much closer to $500 million).”

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Neurological Problems in Ebola Survivors – a recent NIH study found that nearly all Liberian Ebola survivors reported neurological symptoms following their recovery. Symptoms were noted to have persisted for over a year, including headaches, difficulty walking, overall muscle weakness, loss of memory, and depression. Hallucinations during treatment in Ebola treatment units was prevalent in 25% of patients, with 4% having persistent hallucinations at follow up.
  • Ebola in America: Epidemic of Fear – The Center for Strategic & International Studies has put together a video on the fear and U.S. response to Ebola cases in the U.S. and in West Africa. The video discusses stigma and how Ebola was experienced in the Fall of 2014.
  • Biodefense World Summit – The 2016 event will be hosted in Baltimore, MD on June 27-30, 2016. The Knowledge Foundation’s Second Annual Biodefense World Summit brings together leaders from government, academia, and industry for compelling discussions and comprehensive coverage on pathogen detection, sample prep technologies, point-of-care, and biosurveillance. Across the four-track event, attendees can expect exceptional networking opportunities in the exhibit hall, across panel discussions, and shared case studies with members of the biodefense community from technology providers to policy makers

 

Pandora Report 4.22.2016

Happy Friday from your friends at GMU Biodefense! We’ve got some great updates in your weekly dose of global health security. First, check out this wonderful infographic on the hurdles ahead for Zika virus response. France, Myanmar, and Taiwan have all recently reported avian influenza outbreaks. Good news- researchers have found that a new technique of low-energy nuclear reaction imaging is able to detect concealed nuclear materials (weapons-grade uranium and plutonium).

Findings of Investigations into 2014 NIH Smallpox Discovery
Following the recent GAO report on security of U.S. bioresearch labs, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations released its own memo ahead of the hearing on Wednesday, April 20, 2016 (you can watch it here). The hearing addressed the investigations that surrounded the finding of potentially live smallpox in cardboard boxes in cold storage rooms within the NIH.  Some of the issues that were identified and discussed were: failure to account for regulated select agents, failure to conduct comprehensive inventory of all select agent material, and failure to restrict unauthorized access to select agents. “There’s a problem when the government somehow loses track of smallpox and other deadly agents, only to have them turn up in a soggy cardboard box. What’s worse, the urgency that should accompany such a discovery has failed to spur absolutely necessary changes,” said full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA). “Today serves as an important opportunity to ask some of the agencies in question about their next steps to ensure safety for those working in the labs, as well as the general public.”

Re-Wiring the Funding of Pandemic Response 
Jeremy Farrar, head of biomedical research charity, the Wellcome Trust, believes that governments should invest in fighting and defending against pandemics the same way they invest in the military. “We spend gazillions to defend ourselves from military attacks, but from the beginning of the twentieth century far more people have died from infection. We are hugely vulnerable from a public health perspective,”. He emphasizes that public health funding shouldn’t be left to private companies, as they will ultimately make decisions based upon commercial return. Globalization means that a disease can jump from one country to the next through a single flight and we need to be able to respond just as quickly. “We’ve had Ebola for the last two to three years, now Zika. Since 1998 I’ve been involved in about eight major epidemics including SARS and bird flu. This is the new world. These are not rare events,”. If nothing else, it’s important to consider the economics of an outbreak. The financial cost of an epidemic is staggering – cited at $60 billion annually. He notes that now is the time to share information and work towards quicker vaccine and diagnostic interventions.

Neglected Dimensions of Global Security
Researchers are discussing the Global Health Risk Framework Commission’s strategy to defend human and economic security from pandemic threats. Global health threats, like that of SARS and Ebola, have forced leaders to consider not just response, but also preparedness. “In each case, governments and international organizations seemed unable to react quickly and decisively. Health crises have unmasked critical vulnerabilities—weak health systems, failures of leadership, and political overreaction and underreaction.” Global coordination in the event of a health crisis is extremely challenging, as we saw with Ebola, and these authors are pointing to the need for “international norms and well-functioning institutions”. The recommendations also include public accountability for timely reporting and multilateral financing for pandemic preparedness and response resources.

GMU Biodefense Students Earn Prestigious Fellowship
We’re excited to provide an official announcement and interview with GMU Biodefense students, Fracisco Cruz and Siddha Hover, regarding their acceptance into the Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity (ELBI) Fellowship. Francisco earned his MS in 2015 and Siddha is a current PhD student in GMU’s Biodefense program. Check out their comments on both the ELBI Fellowship and their experiences within GMU’s Biodefense graduate programs. “For two George Mason Biodefense students to be selected for this prestigious fellowship is a great recognition of the contribution that our students and alums are already making to biodefense and global health security and the potential they have to play even stronger roles in the future,” said Associate Professor Gregory D. Koblentz, director of the Biodefense program in Mason’s School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs.

Federal Research Database on Genomic Data 
The new GenPort database will allow researchers to access enormous amounts of genomic data from research studies. The benefit of the new system is that it will allow people to review several studies at the same time and track individuals within different trials, creating “synthetic cohorts”. “The Health and Human Services Department is currently looking for small businesses who can help build that hub, so even researchers without informatics or genomics training can make ‘practical use’ of data from cohort studies other scientists have already conducted.” The plan is for GenPort to be open source, transportable, and freely shared via a cloud. Let’s just hope genomic data from certain deadly pathogens doesn’t make its way onto the cloud!

Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea Sparks Concern
While Zika virus and Ebola are quick to grab the headlines, there is another global health security threat we should be worried about. Antibiotic resistance may not have the hype that emerging infectious disease outbreaks do, but the realities of a world without effective antibiotics are pretty terrifying. Consider the re-emergence of diseases we had long eradicated and now have no effective treatment methods. With the rising incidence of multi-drug resistant organisms, the threat of a drug-resistant sexually transmitted infection is pretty terrifying. Public health officials in England are urging the public to practice safe sex with the growing rates of Azithromycin-resistant gonorrhea. Cases initially started in November 2014 however, they have been increasing. The CDC has also issued information about the threats of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea.

The Fight Against Zika VirusScreen Shot 2016-04-19 at 8.59.38 AM
Where are we with Zika? What does the future hold for this ever-changing  outbreak? Some are saying that it is a delayed epidemic. The long-term effects of the disease means we’re all trailing behind it. The lack of a vaccine or commercially available test makes it even more challenging. “Human Zika virus infection appears to have changed in character while expanding its geographical range,” the WHO paper concludes. “The change is from an endemic, mosquito-borne infection causing mild illness across equatorial Africa and Asia, to an infection causing, from 2007 onwards, large outbreaks, and from 2013 onwards, outbreaks linked with neurological disorders.” With Zika, it seems like we’re constantly rushing to catch up. Shifting U.S. funds from Ebola to Zika is just another example of the reactive approach public health tends to take. Why are we constantly rushing from fire to fire? The recent cuts to public health funding are also being highlighted since the Zika outbreak began. Many are pointing to the inability to truly prepare or respond with limited public health resources. In the mean time, many cities, like New Orleans, are organizing preparedness plans as the rainy season approaches. There are also concerns regarding the growing threat of Zika as new maps reveal 2.2 billion people reside in “at risk” areas. The Senate may also be closer to an agreement regarding emergency funding for Zika virus response. 

Americans Want More Biosecurity Preparedness Investment
A survey performed by the Alliance for Biosecurity, the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense and Trust for America’s Health, looked at the general public’s perception of preparedness and where they think we should be. Findings noted that eight out of ten Americans are concerned about naturally-occurring diseases like Ebola and Zika, and nine out of ten are concerned about the use of chemical or biological weapons by terrorists against the U.S. The survey found that only half of Americans have confidence that the U.S. government is prepared to address the next biosecurity threat. The survey also found that 88% of Americans support increasing the budget for preventative measures for biological threats.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Health Security Special Issue on Climate Change – Check out the special edition of Health Security that includes articles on adapting to health impacts of climate change and the potential for Zika and microcephaly epidemics in post-Ebola West Africa. 
  • Science Perfects the Art of Hand-Sanitizing Techniques – infection prevention researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University recently released a report on the most effective way to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Reviewing bacterial count, they published in hopes of reducing the spread of disease in healthcare through better hand hygiene.
  • MERS Contamination – MERS-CoV has caused considerable concern regarding transmission in healthcare settings since the large 2015 outbreak in South Korea. Researchers have found that MERS-CoV contamination occurred in the air and surrounding environment within the MERS outbreak units. MERS-CoV was found in 4/7 air samples from two patient rooms, one patient’s restroom, and one common corridor. “In addition, MERS-CoV was detected in 15 of 68 surface swabs by viral cultures. IFA on the cultures of the air and swab samples revealed the presence of MERS-CoV. EM images also revealed intact particles of MERS-CoV in viral cultures of the air and swab samples.”
  • California Salmonella Outbreak– California continues to investigate a five-month long Salmonella outbreak. Public health officials are considering a Mexican-style soft cheese and are currently testing samples from a woman’s home. These specific samples are being considered as the woman imported cheese from Mexico (via family members) and was selling it online.