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North Korea’s Bioweapons Program, Eradicating Viral Hepatitis, Working in BSL-2 Plus

See what we’re reading this week at Global Biodefense on topics including what it’s like to work in a biocontainment unit, the strain of measles outbreaks on U.S. public health labs, and North Korea’s biological weapons program.

POLICY + PRACTICES

North Korea’s Less-Known Military Threat: Biological Weapons

Pound for pound, the deadliest arms of all time are not nuclear but biological. A single gallon of anthrax, if suitably distributed, could end human life on Earth. Even so, the Trump administration has given scant attention to North Korea’s pursuit of living weapons — a threat that analysts describe as more immediate than its nuclear arms.  NY Times

Why We Should be Skeptical About Recent Reports on North Korea’s Biological Weapons Programs

Assessments are made about the extent and sophistication of North Korean BW capabilities that are based on very little information. North Korea also justifies its fear of other states’ biological capabilities by citing how in 2015 the US military acknowledged that it mistakenly sent live anthrax cultures to an American military base in South Korea. 38 North

Is Eradicating Viral Hepatitis by 2030 a Realistic Goal?

Thankfully, hepatitis B vaccination has been quite successful, but vertical transmission (mother-to-child) does represent a critical transmission route. It is also thought that 5% of individuals with hepatitis B are co-infected with hepatitis D virus, which requires hepatitis B for viral replication. This codependent relationship further supports the need to eradicate hepatitis B. The goal of viral hepatitis eradication by 2030 is lofty, but as Brierly highlights, there is truly a potential for it to occur. With the right financial and pharmaceutical backing for vaccination, testing, and drug development, it is possible eradicate these viral infections. Contagion Live

Clinical Laboratories: Using BSL-2 Plus When Working with Pathogens Transmitted via Inhalation

Clinical laboratories, such as public health or academic labs, commonly conduct procedures involving pathogens that are infectious via inhalation. These pathogens present a significant risk because in addition to getting the individual working with them sick, it can then be quickly transmitted to others. To prevent infection, it is recommended that such work be conducted in a BSL-3 that has the appropriate mechanical systems, personal protective equipment (PPE), and administrative controls. Yet most often clinical laboratories do not have access to a BSL-3 facility and do not have the funds to create or maintain one. Environmental Health & Engineering

OUTBREAK NEWS + THREAT SURVEILLANCE

Measles Outbreaks Challenge Public Health Systems

State health officials from Washington, California and New York spoke Wednesday of recent and previous measles outbreaks on a call organized by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. To contain the spread of infection, a state of emergency has been declared in Washington, where resources have been pulled from other public health services, such as visiting nurse programs. Many of the families with infected children in the WA outbreak traveled to very public places, including Costco, Ikea, the Portland International Airport and the basketball arena where the Portland Trail Blazers play.  CNN

Ebola Outbreak Hits Six Month Mark, Over 70,000 Vaccinated

Recipients of VSV-EBOV, Merck’s unlicensed Ebola vaccine, span 28 health zones in four provinces of the DRC, mostly in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, where ring vaccination campaigns began last August. The WHO said this week that roughly 350 people had received experimental therapeutics to treat Ebola.  CIDRAP

Ontario Officials Detail Unusual Listeria Outbreak Tied to Pasteurized Milk

The Listeria outbreak tied to pasteurized—not raw—chocolate milk was behind a listeriosis outbreak in Ontario in 2015 and 2016, according to a study published this week in Emerging Infectious Diseases. Ontario sees about 50 cases of listeriosis each year, with most outbreaks connected to the consumption of raw milk, soft cheeses, or other unpasteurized dairy products. In 2015 and 2016, officials confirmed 34 cases that involved hospitalization for 32 patients (94%) and 4 deaths (12%), all connected to bagged, pasteurized chocolate milk. CIDRAP

Northern Exposure: Scientists Find Resistance Genes In Arctic

An international team of scientists reported yesterday that they have detected antibiotic resistance genes in soil from remote group of islands the High Arctic, a finding they say illustrates the global nature of the threat. Among the genes found by the team was bla NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo beta-lactamase-1), which confers resistance to a broad range of antibiotics and has been associated with highly resistant bacterial pathogens and severe, multidrug-resistant infections. CIDRAP

SPECIAL INTEREST

This is What it’s Like to Work in an Elite Bio-containment Unit

Respiratory therapists work on a great many teams, but few can compare to the team in place at the Nebraska Bio-containment Unit (NBU) on the campus of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Read about one RT’s experience. American Association for Respiratory Care

Being a Polio First Responder in Pakistan

Dr. Ujala Nayyar is a female surveillance officer who leads a team of health workers who crisscross Punjab to hunt down every potential incidence of poliovirus, testing sewage and investigating any reports of paralysis that might be polio. Pakistan is one of just two countries that continue to report cases of polio caused by the wild virus. In addition to the challenges of polio surveillance, Nayyaor faces substantial gender-related barriers that, at times, hinder her team’s ability to count cases and take environmental samples. ReliefWeb

HIGHLIGHTED EVENTS

Webinar on Strategies to Increase Adult Vaccination Rates

Feb 6: Join the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) for an update on current US adult vaccination recommendations and strategies for increasing coverage among this population. NFID Medical Director William Schaffner, MD will moderate the webinar with a presentation by Robert H. Hopkins, Jr., MD , Chair, National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC); Professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and Director of the Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Medicine. National Foundation for Infectious Diseases

USDA ARS 5th International Biosafety and Biocontainment Symposium

Feb 11-13: The USDA ARS 5th International Biosafety & Biocontainment Symposium will focus on Biorisk and Facility Challenges in Agriculture. Six professional development courses will address topics including life science security, facility maintenance and operational issues, agricultural risk assessment, emergency response and preparedness for livestock disease outbreaks, and strategic leadership. Courses will be held on Monday, February 11. USDA ARS Newsletter

DARPA Measuring Biological Aptitude Proposers Day

Feb 12: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Biological Technologies Office is holding a Proposers Day meeting to provide information on the objectives of the new Measuring Biological Aptitude (MBA) program. MBA aims to improve how the individual warfighter identifies, measures, and tracks personalized biomarkers throughout his or her career to help achieve new levels of performance for specialized roles. MBA technologies could improve training, team formation, mission performance, and post-mission recovery, yielding a better prepared, more effective, more resilient force. DARPA Registration deadline Feb 5

Talking Biodefense with Senator Daschle

Feb 19: Talking Biodefense with Senator Daschle The Biodefense Graduate Program at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University invites you to an informal discussion about key issues in biodefense with former Senator Thomas Daschle, founder of the Daschle Group and a Panel Member on the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense. The event will be held on February 19 but is open only to Schar/GMU faculty, students, and alum. Look for an email coming soon if you’re able to attend with details regarding registration. Pandora Report

Schar School Biodefense Master’s Open House

Feb 21: Learn more about Schar School’s programs by attending an open house. You will have the opportunity to discuss our graduate programs with program directors, faculty, admissions staff, current students, and alumni. Master’s Open House Thursday, February 21, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. (Arlington Campus) George Mason University

HISTORICAL REFLECTIONS

New Explanation for Alexander The Great’s Death

Dr Katherine Hall, a Senior Lecturer at the Dunedin School of Medicine and practising clinician, believes the ancient ruler did not die from infection, alcoholism or murder, as others have claimed. Instead, she argues he met his demise thanks to the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). The 32-year-old was said to have developed a fever; abdominal pain; a progressive, symmetrical, ascending paralysis; and remained compos mentis until just before his death. Dr Hall believes a diagnosis of GBS, contracted from a Campylobacter pylori infection (common at the time and a frequent cause for GBS), stands the test of scholarly rigour, from both Classical and medical perspectives. Science Daily

The 500-Year-Long Science Experiment

In the year 2514, some future scientist will arrive at the University of Edinburgh (assuming the university still exists), open a wooden box (assuming the box has not been lost), and break apart a set of glass vials in order to grow the 500-year-old dried bacteria inside. This all assumes the entire experiment has not been forgotten, the instructions have not been garbled, and science—or some version of it—still exists in 2514. The Atlantic

DoD Biorisk Program, Ebola mAbs Therapeutics, Measles Outbreak in PacNW

Ebola Virus Host Factor Therapeutic Target

Anthrax Countermeasures, Biopreparedness Complacency, Ebola Crisis Update