National Biodefense Strategy, Zika Vaccine Trial Challenges, DARPA Safe Genes

Biodefense Headlines - Lassa Fever, NBACC, Avian Flu in SeabirdsSee what we’re reading this week at Global Biodefense on topics including the new U.S. National Biodefense Strategy, challenges for the Zika vaccine trial, and the DARPA Safe Genes program.

POLICY + INITIATIVES

Revamped US Biodefence Strategy Adds Natural Disasters and Lab Accidents

On 18 September, the White House released the first US biodefence strategy that spans multiple government agencies. In another first, it includes not only deliberate bioterror threats, but also naturally occurring outbreaks and infectious diseases that escape the lab accidentally. Nature

White House Shines High-Level Spotlight on Biodefense

The Trump Administration on Thursday released a new National Biodefense Strategy, along with an order from the President that directs HHS to take the coordinating lead and establishes a cabinet-level biodefense steering committee led by HHS Secretary Alex Azar including leaders from every federal department involved in biodefense. CIDRAP

Swiss Confirm Russians Tried to Hack Lab Analyzing Skripal Samples

The Swiss government has confirmed reports that Dutch authorities had arrested and expelled two suspected Russian spies earlier this year after the two allegedly tried to hack Spiez Laboratory, which analyzed samples from the March poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England. Radio Free Europe

This Is Not a Drill: 5 Reasons Why the Experts Are Worried About the Next Pandemic

Warnings tell us the next global pandemic is a case of not ‘if’, but ‘when’. So, hypothetically, how is the world preparing itself? Pursuit

How Law Enforcement Can Help Prevent a Biological Attack

The average law enforcement officer receives a very basic level of training on biological threats. The Basic POST Police Academy, which certifies all law enforcement in California, places all biological training in a small subunit within eight hours of terrorist training. Additional trainings, which are supported by grants from the federal government or are at other facilities, are usually costly, and only certain individuals are sent from a department to become certified. Police One

OUTBREAK NEWS + THREAT SURVEILLANCE

African Swine Fever: Deadly Virus Threatens Millions of Pigs in China

Although the virus does not affect humans, it has shown a capacity to kill herds of pigs quickly. It’s highly contagious, and infected pigs die within five to 10 days. Containment may prove to be difficult in a place like China, home to more than 700 million pigs — about half the world’s population. The virus can also be carried by wild boars and ticks. NPR

Classical Swine Fever: Japan Culls 546 Hogs After Detecting First Outbreak in 26 Years

Following Japan’s first outbreak of swine fever in 26 years, a local government said on Tuesday it had culled 546 hogs in the center of Honshu, the country’s largest and most populous island. The disease found in Gifu is classical swine fever, also known as hog cholera. Reuters

South Korea Reports MERS in Kuwait Business Traveler

South Korea’s case is the second recent exported MERS-CoV from the Middle East. About two and a half weeks ago, the United Kingdom announced an infection in a Saudi visitor who had a history of contact with camels. CIDRAP

The Rise of Resistant Staphylococcus epidermidis

Investigators recently reported the complete genome of an S epidermidis strain that exhibits near pan-drug resistance, including intermediate resistance to vancomycin. As there is a common lineage of S. epidermidis that tends to plague hospitals, investigators sought to analyze the global strains of all strains found to cause health care-associated infections. Contagion Live

Missouri: Case of Glandular Tularemia

A 68-year-old man from Missouri presented to the primary care clinic with a history of 1 week of fever followed by 2 months of progressive, painful swelling on the right side of his neck. Approximately 2 days before the onset of the patient’s symptoms, his outdoor cat died from a subacute illness. NEJM

Aid Agencies Ramp Up Response to Zimbabwe Cholera Outbreak

The death toll rose to 26 in Zimbabwe’s deadliest cholera outbreak in a decade, testing the capacity of a new government to handle a major crisis just weeks after violent demonstrations that followed the first election since Robert Mugabe was toppled in a coup. Reuters

MEDICAL COUNTERMEASURES

Study: Flu Vaccine Protection Starts to Wane Within Weeks

A new study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases suggests that vaccine effectiveness may begin dropping within weeks of administration, adding more evidence of waning protection over the course of a single flu season. CIDRAP

As Zika Vaccine Trial Struggles, Researchers Revive Plan to Intentionally Infect Volunteers

A $110 million vaccine trial is underway at 17 sites in nine countries, but it faces an unexpected, and ironic, challenge. Cases of Zika have plummeted to levels so low that most people vaccinated in the trial likely will never be exposed to the virus, which could make it impossible to tell whether the vaccine works. Science

The Case for Expensive Antibiotics

A handful of years ago, a small pharmaceutical company quietly acquired the rights to an old but commonly used antibiotic. Few noticed until last week, when the new owner did something that’s recently become common in the world of pharmaceuticals: It abruptly raised the price. A lot. Wired

Access to Medicines: Challenges in the Face of Epidemiological Transition

This series of papers taken together demonstrates challenges faced by public health systems in enabling access to medicines and how often the private sector fills the gap by default in varied settings around the globe, all requiring constant renegotiation of priorities between actors of a complex health system. BMJ Global Health

RESEARCH + TECH

New CRISPR Inhibitors Found with Help from U.S. Defense Department Funding

The DARPA Safe Genes program is funding projects to develop countermeasures and prophylactic treatments against unwanted gene editing. Earlier this month, two papers published in Science offered the first glimpse of the kind of research that DARPA is supporting. C&EN

New Technique Limits CRISPR-Cas9 Off-Target Mutations

One of the barriers to using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing in the clinic is the possibility that the enzyme will clip DNA in the wrong spot. A new mouse study details a method called VIVO that predicts the accuracy of any guide RNA. The Scientist

The Genes That Never Go Out of Style

Fifteen years after the Human Genome Project, scientists are still mostly studying genes that have already been well studied. That’s partly because there are substantial barriers to studying something that no one else has studied before. A researcher might spend years trying to, for example, engineer a line of laboratory rodents that lack the gene in question. They might create bespoke antibodies or other chemical reagents that can help track or visualize the gene. This all takes time, money, and effort. The Atlantic

HISTORICAL REFLECTIONS

Remembering the ‘Mother of All Pandemics,’ 100 Years Later

The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 came in three waves. When the first wave crept up in New York City during the spring, residents and officials alike saw it as just another round of the seasonal flu. By mid-summer, the number of related deaths waned, and that first wave barely received a mention in the health department’s weekly bulletins. CityLab

The Exploitative History of One of the World’s Deadliest Diseases

One of the oldest diseases on the planet remains the leading cause of death from an infectious agent. The reasons for this stretch beyond the realm of biomedical science. For example, in southern Africa, a region with some of the highest incidence rates of TB in the world, the evolution of the TB epidemic over the past century has been interwoven with the history of gold. Next

SPECIAL INTEREST

CDC Graphic Novel Foreshadows Swine Flu in California, Michigan

Illustrated by Bob Hobbs, the graphic novel follows a group of students who participate in their state’s agricultural fair. Later, the four teens attend the CDC’s Disease Detective Camp in Atlanta, a real-life summer educational program in which high school students learn how to track outbreaks of disease. CNN and Global Biodefense

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