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Biodefense Headlines – 10 Mar 2019

Disease detectives on the scene investigating a plague outbreak in the Himalayas. Credit: CDC

See what we’re reading this week at Global Biodefense on topics including: HHS funding development of a Marburg virus vaccine; expansion of extraterritorial reach of U.S. to counter WMD proliferation networks; and plans for a big overhaul at the World Health Organization.

Quick Index

POLICY + PRACTICES

WHO Chief plans to reorganize a vast bureaucracy

The World Health Organization on Wednesday announced a long-awaited restructuring intended to streamline the agency — and strongly hinted that it intended to shake up some staffers’ resistance to change. A fundamental problem — tension between regional offices and the headquarters in Geneva — cannot be fixed by fiat. Still, staffers are set to move around the globe. NY Times

NIH statement on transparency in handling research involving potential pandemic pathogens

“Although the HHS pre-funding review of specific proposals is not public (to preserve confidentiality and to allow for candid critique and discussion of individual proposals), information about all NIH-supported research projects, once awarded, is publicly available on NIH Reporter. HHS also intends to link to information about projects that are ultimately funded after review under the HHS Framework on their Science, Safety, Security website to further demonstrate our commitment to transparency.” NIH

The supportive role of tech platforms in disease outbreaks

For public health proponents, it can be frustrating and exhausting trying to correct the misinformation in anti-vaxxer posts. A recent investigation by The Guardian found that even neutral search terms (think “vaccination” or “immunizations”) on social media yields a startling amount of anti-vaccine context on both Facebook and YouTube. But the road to changing social media algorithms is tough, and a lot of tech platforms are leery to do so. Contagion Live

FDA takes new steps to protect food products from deliberate attacks

The FDA on 5 Mar released a revised draft guidance, “Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration: Guidance for Industry,” to support compliance with the intentional adulteration (IA) rule set forth under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The IA rule is designed to address hazards that may be intentionally introduced to foods, including by acts of terrorism, with the intent to cause widespread harm to public health. The IA rule requires certain facilities – both domestic facilities and foreign facilities that export to the U.S. – to develop and implement food defense plans that assesses their potential vulnerabilities to such acts of deliberate contamination. Food and Drug Administration

The ABCs of death: Anthrax, Bruce Ivins, and Congress

A major driving force behind reorganizing the U.S. biodefense direction has come from the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, of which Sen. Daschle is a co-chair. The panel has worked diligently since 2014 to persuade administrations to implement strategies that harness the U.S. biodefense network. In 2018, the Trump administration published their National Biodefense Strategy. The strategy called upon the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to be the prime coordinator of the strategy. Pandora Report

Mumps, other outbreaks force U.S. detention centers to quarantine over 2,000 migrants

The number of people amassed in immigration detention under the Trump administration has reached record highs, raising concerns among migrant advocates about disease outbreaks and resulting quarantines that limit access to legal services. Internal emails reviewed by Reuters reveal the complications of managing outbreaks and the risks to detainees. Reuters

OUTBREAK NEWS + THREAT SURVEILLANCE

Ebola treatment center in Congo is attacked again; 1 dead

Heavily armed assailants again attacked an Ebola treatment center in the heart of eastern Congo’s deadly outbreak on Saturday, with one police officer killed and health workers injured, authorities said, while frightened patients waited in isolation rooms for the gunfire to end. The early-morning attack in Butembo came less than a week after the treatment center reopened following an attack last month. AP

The battle against one of the worst Ebola epidemics ever is in trouble

“Ebola responders are increasingly being seen as the enemy,” Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, said at a news conference on Thursday. “In the last month alone, there were more than 30 different incidents and attacks against elements of the response.” efforts to stamp out the disease are failing in some areas because many people still don’t understand Ebola, and also because heavy-handed measures by outside organizations, local police and the military have alienated the communities, officials from aid groups and doctors who have worked in the region said. Fearful of being confined in isolation units, people have avoided testing and treatment. They do not want outside interference in rituals around death and burial. NY Times

Biological and chemical weapons: the other threats from North Korea

After the breakdown of talks between the United States and Pyongyang last week, the future of not only nuclear weapons but biological and chemical weapons is uncertain. “The real terrorists threats, primarily when you talk about weapons of mass destruction — nuclear, chemical and biological — are chemical weapons, biological diseases and radioactive materials,” said Paul Walker, vice chairman of the board of directors for the Arms Control Association. Military Times

U.S. adds sniffer dogs to combat African swine fever

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is adding 60 teams of sniffer dogs to keep African swine fever out of the country. USDA announced the move as part of a larger initiative to improve border security and biosecurity at hog farms. African swine fever is spreading through pig herds in Eastern Europe, Russia and China and was recently detected in Vietnam. It’s a serious viral disease that can cause fever, internal bleeding and high death rates in swine. The Western Producer

MEDICAL COUNTERMEASURES

HHS’ BARDA funds its first Marburg virus vaccine development

The Public Health Agency of Canada initially developed the vaccine and licensed it to Public Health Vaccines LLC. Under the agreement with BARDA, Public Health Vaccines LLC will conduct preclinical development to demonstrate the proof of concept that the vaccine can protect against Marburg virus. HHS

Safety and immunogenicity of influenza A(H5N1) vaccine stored up to 12 years in stockpile

BARDA conducted a randomized, double-blinded Phase 2 clinical study with the oldest stockpiled influenza A(H5N1) antigen, stored over the previous 10–12 years administered with or without MF59® adjuvant, stored over the previous 2–7 years at the time of vaccination. Stockpiled vaccines were well-tolerated, adverse events were generally mild, and there was no drop in immunogenicity to the oldest stockpiled A(H5N1) vaccine. Compared to unadjuvanted vaccine, greater peak antibody responses were observed in subjects who were vaccinated with MF59-adjuvanted vaccines, regardless of antigen dose. Vaccination with the A(H5N1) vaccine antigen also results in cross-reactive antibody responses to contemporary circulating strains of A(H5) influenza viruses. Vaccine

One more time, with big data: Measles vaccine doesn’t cause autism

In emphatic language, the researchers, who followed 657,461 Danish children born between 1999 and 2010, stated in the Annals of Internal Medicine: “The study strongly supports that MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination.” NY Times

The unintended benefits of vaccines

A new study shows that vaccination with a weakened strain of salmonella not only protects against typhoid fever but also seems to rev up the immune system to fight off other problems, like influenza and yeast infection. NPR Goats and Soda

CHEMICAL + RADIOLOGICAL THREATS

How U.S. law enforcement expanded its extraterritorial reach to counter WMD proliferation networks

This report addresses challenges in how the United States contends with violations of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-related trade controls in overseas jurisdictions, and what the implications are for broader U.S. and international nonproliferation efforts, as well as wider international security and economic concerns. Belfer Center

Fact-Finding Mission final report on Apr 2018 chemical weapons use in Douma

Released 1 Mar 2019, the report concluded: “Regarding the alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon on 7 April 2018 in Douma, the Syrian Arab Republic, the evaluation and analysis of all the information gathered by the FFM—witnesses’ testimonies, environmental and biomedical samples analysis results, toxicological and ballistic analyses from experts, additional digital information from witnesses—provide reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place. This toxic chemical contained reactive chlorine. The toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine.” Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons .pdf

Chernobyl: How bad was it?

A 2006 United Nations report contends Chernobyl caused 54 deaths. But MIT Professor Kate Brown, for one, is skeptical about that figure. As a historian of science who has written extensively about both the Soviet Union and nuclear technology, she decided to explore the issue at length. The result is her new book, “Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future”.  MIT News

RESEARCH + TECH

Research and development of airtight biosafety containment facility for stainless steel structures

Airtightness of containment structures of a high-level biosafety laboratory is a critical parameter for preventing leakage of harmful bioaerosols. An experimental study was conducted on a domestic high-level pathogenic microorganism model laboratory, considering the sealing process of the containment structure, including airtight doors, pass boxes, dunk tanks, through-wall pipeline sealing devices, and sealed floor drains. Journal of Biosafety and Biosecurity

SPECIAL INTEREST

Nominate an infectious diseases colleague for a Society Award

Help celebrate the field of ID by nominating hard working clinicians, promising young researchers, outstanding mentors, and those who have had a lifetime of impact on the field. Nominations for the 2019 awards will be reviewed by the Society Awards Committee and a final recommendation for each award will be made to the IDSA Board of Directors for approval. Infectious Diseases Society of America Deadline: 1 Apr 19

Submit your suggestions for the Sydney Statement on Global Health Security

What are your suggestions for the Sydney Statement on Global Health Security? We invite you to contribute your ideas, suggestions, direction and content to inform the development of the Sydney Statement on Global Health Security today Global Health Security Summit

ASM Microbe late-breaker abstract submission is open

A late-breaking abstract should highlight novel, unanticipated and high impact or disruptive studies that appeal to a large audience. The late-breaking abstract submission option is not intended to be merely an extension of the general submission deadline. ASM  Deadline: 15 Mar 19

Transmission electron microscopic (TEM) image of H5N1

Fast Track for Chickungunya Vaccine, Promising T-Cell Panfilovirus Vaccine

HIV Particles

Pediatric Nephrologists Awarded $3M NIH Grant for APOL1 and HIV Synergy Research