Biodefense Headlines – Lassa Fever in Nigeria, Vaccine Pills, Novichok Poisoning

See what we’re reading this week at Global Biodefense on topics including Lassa fever stressing the healthcare system in Nigeria, development towards vaccines delivered in pill form, and coverage of the Novichok poisoning in the UK.

BIOPREPAREDNESS

Are we prepared for the looming epidemic threat?

Bill Gates, who funds a group that uses computer simulations to predict the spread of diseases, says the model estimates that a perilous virus, carried via cars, planes, ships and trains, and spreading quickly in packed cities, could kill up to 33 million people in just over 200 days. The Guardian

3 ways the US should prepare for the next flu pandemic

As an expert in public health law, I can state two things with confidence. First, the U.S. has made enormous strides in preparing for and treating the flu. And second, we still are not nearly as prepared as we need to be for the next pandemic. The Conversation

CHEMICAL WEAPONS

Updates on the Salisbury incident

Following the incident in Salisbury on Sunday 4 March, three inpatients remain in the care of Salisbury District Hospital. A man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s remain in a critical, but stable condition in intensive care after being exposed to a nerve agent. NHS England

Investigators from chemical weapons watchdog to arrive in UK

Independent investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will arrive in the UK tomorrow to kick off their investigation into the nerve agent used in the attempted assassinations of Mr Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury on 4 March. Gov.UK

New kid on the bench

I think it is fair to say that there was a ripple of surprise when Prime Minister May announced that the organophosphate used in the Salisbury murder attempt was a Novichok. Until yesterday the classification on these agents was such that even mentioning them in company got a raised ‘should you be talking about this?’ eyebrow. Now that shibboleth is broken and Novichoks can be discussed over the breakfast table. CBRNe World

Novichok – An unwelcome newcomer to the United Kingdom

This latest use of a chemical warfare agent follows the 2017 assassination of Kim Jong-nam – the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un – in a Malaysian airport. In that case, a binary preparation of VX nerve agent was directly applied to the victim’s face. The US recently imposed additional sanctions on the DPRK in response. Bifurcated Needle

SELECT AGENTS

Modeling smallpox in 2018: The role of the immunosuppressed population

A new modeling study attempts to understand what a smallpox outbreak would look like in 2 major cities in the modern context of waning immunity, immunosuppressed individuals, and people who have never been vaccinated. Clinicians’ Biosecurity News

Emergence of monkeypox — West and Central Africa, 1970–2017

Endemic human monkeypox has been reported from more countries in the past decade than during the previous 40 years. Many countries with endemic monkeypox lack recent experience and specific knowledge about the disease to detect cases, treat patients, and prevent further spread of the virus. MMWR

UW experts develop plans to test experimental Ebola vaccine in Japan

University of Wisconsin experts are leading a $3 million effort to create as many as 1000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine that will be tested during clinical trials in Japan mid-2019. The Badger Herald

OUTBREAKS + THREAT SURVEILLANCE

World’s first extensively drug-resistant typhoid outbreak

Infectious disease experts say Pakistan is in the grip of the world’s first outbreak of extensively drug resistant (XDR) typhoid, and they suspect the country’s abysmal sewage and water systems are the root cause for its spread. Scientific American

Health workers scramble to contain deadly rat-borne fever in Nigeria

Already, Nigeria’s fragile health care system is overwhelmed. The one dedicated Lassa fever ward in the country at Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital has just 24 beds. Without access to proper training, health care workers continue to become infected—by now 16 cases have been reported, with one additional death. Science

Saudi Arabia is creating a nationwide camel database

Grain-sized chips containing 15-digit tracking numbers will be implanted in camels as part of a mandatory system to control animal diseases and keep track of owners. The new measures have been introduced after camels were linked to a recent deadly outbreak of so-called Middle East respiratory syndrome, which has been reported in humans. Verdict

Nigeria faces mystifying spike in deadly Lassa fever

ALIMA has brought in veterans from its Ebola response in Guinea to set up an isolation ward on the grounds of a government hospital in Owo in Ondo State. NPR Goats and Soda

MEDICAL COUNTERMEASURES

Lassa fever: the killer disease with no vaccine

Lassa fever is not a new disease, but the current outbreak is unprecedented, spreading faster and further than ever before. Health workers are overstretched, and a number have themselves become infected and died. Lassa fever normally has a fatality rate of about one per cent. But in the Nigerian outbreak it is thought to be more than 20% among confirmed and probable cases, according to the country’s Centre for Disease Control. BBC News

First steps taken for vaccine pills

For this new influenza-A vaccine, scientists at Cardiff University created man-made peptides that mimic those in real viruses. Unlike the biological peptides, these “mirror image” molecules cannot be digested, opening up the possibility for them to be administered in pill form. BBC News

Here’s why it’s so hard to make a better flu vaccine

This year’s flu vaccine has been only about 36 percent effective so far, the CDC said on Thursday. That is far better than expected, and it was 59 percent effective in young kids, meaning it lowered the risk of getting a case of flu serious enough to need medical attention by 59 percent. NBC News

Flu vaccine grown without eggs provided measurably better protection this season

The sole influenza vaccine made in cell culture in the United States may have worked about 20 percent better this flu season than the standard vaccines made in eggs. STAT News

Fast-acting antidote in sight for cholera epidemics

Cholera is caused by a toxin released by bacteria, cholera toxin, which binds to the intestinal wall, causing massive fluid loss through diarrhea. The binding has long been believed to be dependent on a specific receptor in the intestine, GM1. Current research shows, however, that mice that completely lack GM1 also get diarrhea after drinking water containing cholera toxin. Science Daily

RESEARCH + TECH

A new test can diagnose malaria in under two minutes—without taking blood

The invention uses light and magnetism to differentiate between the blood of an infected and a healthy person. Unlike ‘gold standard’ tests that work by detecting molecules produced by the malaria parasite, it deploys polarized light to detect hemozoin crystals, which are by-products excreted by the parasite. Quartz

MERS coronaviruses from camels in Africa exhibit region-dependent genetic diversity

This study demonstrates viral genetic and phenotypic differences in viruses from West Africa, which may be relevant to differences in zoonotic potential, highlighting the need for studies of MERS-CoV at the animal–human interface. PNAS

High-containment lab raises sand flies to investigate global health issue

In a highly specialized lab at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) a team of researchers is raising sand flies to understand more about transmission of the disease and our immune system’s response to it. Medical Xpress

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