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Today's Headlines: March 13, 2018

Biological Agents & Infectious Diseases

Thinking of Going to Brazil? You Will Need a Yellow Fever Vaccination ( New York Times) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advice for people thinking about traveling to most parts of Brazil: get vaccinated against yellow fever, or stay home. Brazil is currently suffering a major outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever, and it's striking places that don't normally see the virus. Since the beginning of 2017, 237 people, including several tourists, have died after becoming infected with the virus. Go to article

Mexico Reports Two Outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic H7N3 Bird Flu: OIE ( Reuters) Mexico reported two outbreaks of highly pathogenic H7N3 bird flu virus in the central part of the country, of which one at chicken farm, the World Organisation for Animal Health said on Monday, citing a Mexican agriculture ministry report. Go to article

Bhutan Reports Outbreak of Severe H5N1 Bird Flu-OIE ( New York Times) Bhutan has reported an outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu virus among backyard birds, the Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health said on Tuesday, citing a report from the country's agriculture ministry. Go to article


Domestic Preparedness & Response

Please Stop Building Houses Exactly Where Wildfires Start ( Wired) Built well, a city should provide a bulwark against disaster. Fundamentally, all cities are fortresses. Or at least they should be. If a city is a fortress, where's the wall? The edges of North American cities today aren't edge-like at all. Most of them, especially in the West, ooze outward in a gradient, urban to suburban to exurban to rural to wild. Some megacities cycle through suburban and exurban forms without ever manifesting anything that looks like a downtown, much less a high street. Go to article

The Housing Trend Feeding Wildfires' Flames ( Nature) A boom in house-building in forests, scrublands and grasslands of the US is exacerbating wildfire risk. In recent years, wildfires have torched homes and taken lives across the country, from California to Tennessee. To investigate housing trends that contribute to destructive wildfires, Volker Radeloff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his colleagues combined census data with information from a national land-cover database. Go to article

See also: Rapid Growth of the US Wildland-urban Interface Raises Wildfire Risk ( PNAS) When houses are built close to forests or other types of natural vegetation, they pose two problems related to wildfires. First, there will be more wildfires due to human ignitions. Second, wildfires that occur will pose a greater risk to lives and homes, they will be hard to fight, and letting natural fires burn becomes impossible. We examined the number of houses that have been built since 1990 in the US in or near natural vegetation, in an area known as the wildland-urban interface, and found that a large number of houses have been built there. Approximately one in three houses and one in ten hectares are now in the WUI. These WUI growth trends will exacerbate wildfire problems in the future. Go to article

Shouting in the Dark: Emergency Communication in USVI After Irma and Maria ( CDC Public Health Matters Blog) When Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the US Virgin Islands in September 2017, this wasn't just advice for Nykole Tyson. Nykole is the USVI Department of Health's Director of Public Relations. She serves as the DOH spokesperson and emergency communicator. Like all of USVI's responders and government officials, she is a survivor who was impacted by the storms. Go to article


Global Health & Security

Health Workers Scramble to Contain Deadly Rat-borne Fever in Nigeria ( Science) By early January, it was clear something "really, really extraordinary" was going on in Nigeria, says Lorenzo Pomarico of the Alliance for International Medical Action. Cases of Lassa fever, a rare viral hemorrhagic disease, were skyrocketing across the country--more were recorded in the first 2 months of this year than in all of 2017. Unprepared for a disease that has no vaccines or drugs for treatment and kills 20% to 30% of those it sickens, eight health care workers were infected early on and three died. "Something was going very wrong with the outbreak," Pomarico says. Go to article


Science & Technology

'There Are a Lot of Unknowns': British Scientists Set to Work on Zika Vaccine (The Guardian) Scientists in the UK have started work on developing a vaccine to protect women against the Zika virus. The 4.7m Pounds project, involving the universities of Manchester and Liverpool, and Public Health England, aims to have trials on humans up and running within the next three years. Go to article

Can Machine Learning Find Medical Meaning in a Mess of Genes? ( Wired) "We don't have much ground truth in biology." According to Barbara Engelhardt, a computer scientist at Princeton University, that's just one of the many challenges that researchers face when trying to prime traditional machine-learning methods to analyze genomic data. Techniques in artificial intelligence and machine learning are dramatically altering the landscape of biological research, but Engelhardt doesn't think those "black box" approaches are enough to provide the insights necessary for understanding, diagnosing and treating disease. Go to article


21st Century Threats

An Unwelcome "Newcomer" to the United Kingdom ( Bifurcated Needle) Today, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced that a "Novichok" agent was used in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England. This announcement is highly significant because the use of one of these agents points to a very sophisticated operation using next-generation chemical weapons. Go to article

What a Brave Russian Scientist Told Me About Novichok, the Nerve Agent Identified in the Spy Attack ( Washington Post) Thanks to the Russian nerve agent "Novichok," I once got to see the inside of an interrogation room at Lefortovo, the old KGB prison on the east side of Moscow. It was in 1993. The Russians were not pleased that I had written an article the year before disclosing the existence of Novichok, identified Monday by British investigators as the weapon used last week in the attempted murder of former Soviet spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Go to article


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Preparedness Pulsepoints: March 13, 2018
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Delivered first thing each Tuesday morning, Preparedness Pulsepoints provides a snapshot of each week's USG action on readiness and response. Read | Subscribe


Clinicians' Biosecurity News, March 13, 2018
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Modeling Smallpox in 2018: The Role of the Immunosuppressed Population. Although smallpox is the only human infectious disease that has been eradicated from the planet, it remains one of the most feared infectious diseases because of its virulence and transmissibility, coupled with the existence of a largely immunologically na├»ve population. The immunological gap that human populations have to smallpox arises from the cessation of routine vaccination against the disease as well as waning of immunity in those who were vaccinated decades ago. A new modeling study, published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, 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.  Read Now


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