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Today's Headlines: October 12, 2017

Biological Agents & Infectious Diseases

Madagascar Plague Outbreak Case Count Reaches 500 ( Outbreak News Today) In a follow-up on the Madagascar plague outbreak, the Ministere de la Publique reported an additional 51 news plague cases today, bringing the total cases since August to 500. On Oct. 11, 29 new pneumonic plague cases were reported, while and additional dozen bubonic plague cases were reported. 10 suspect cases were also recorded. In addition, six additional deaths have been reported, bringing the total to 54. The capital city of Antananarivo saw an additional 37 cases, mostly pneumonic, and four deaths. Go to article

Seychelles Reports a Case of Plague ( New York Times) The outbreak of plague in Madagascar has spread to the Seychelles, a nearby chain of islands in the Indian Ocean, the country's health ministry said Wednesday. According to the ministry, a 34-year-old man who fell ill after returning from Madagascar on Friday has tested positive for pneumonic plague. He is now in isolation at Seychelles Hospital and is receiving antibiotics. Go to article

Puerto Rico Investigates Post-hurricane Disease Outbreak ( STAT) Four deaths in Hurricane Maria's aftermath are being investigated as possible cases of a disease spread by animals' urine, Puerto Rico's governor said Wednesday amid concerns about islanders' exposure to contaminated water. A total of 10 people have come down with suspected cases of leptospirosis, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said at a news conference. Go to article

FG Confirm Suspected 33 Cases of Monkeypox in 7 States ( Nigerian Tribune) The federal government has confirmed that the existence of suspected monkeypox has now spread to seven states of the federation with a total of 33 cases identified so far. Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, disclosed this while briefing State House Correspondents on the outcome of the Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday. Go to article


Domestic Preparedness & Response

The View from Puerto Rico--Hurricane Maria and Its Aftermath ( New England Journal of Medicine) Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20 and caused unprecedented damage affecting the island's 3.4 million inhabitants. Though no one in Puerto Rico was spared at least some impact, the poor and vulnerable were disproportionately affected. Loss of communication and electricity, scarcity of water, isolation of some residents, slow coordination of the aid that has been sent, and the magnitude and scope of the necessary repairs all merit a call for help from and the engagement of the global community. Indeed, Puerto Ricans and US Virgin Islanders are US citizens and expect the same federal aid and support during natural disasters as the rest of the US. Go to article

California Fires Burn 'Faster Than Firefighters Can Run' ( New York Times) Hundreds of sleep-deprived, stubble-faced firefighters, their yellow coats layered with soot, assembled here Wednesday to hear their commanders say what they already knew: The fires that have devastated California's wine country were still spreading, nowhere near containment, and the crews battling the blazes were stretched to their limits. Go to article

In Cities, It's the Smoke, Not the Fire, That Will Get You ( Wired) Now, in just a single fire season, ash has rained down on Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angles. That might seem like an anomaly--but it's more a portent of the country's new, char-coated normal. As climate-change fuels increasingly large and frequent wildfires that hit closer and closer to densely populated urban centers, the smoke they produce is becoming a public health crisis. Go to article

When Cartography Meets Disaster Relief ( Citylab) Another issue slowing recovery? Maps--or lack of them. While pre-Maria maps of Puerto Rico were fairly complete, their level of detail was nowhere near that of other parts of the US. Platforms such as Google Maps are more comprehensive on the mainland than on the island, explains Juan Saldarriaga, a research scholar at the Center for Spatial Research at Columbia University. This is because companies like Google often create maps for financial reasons, selling them to advertisers or as navigation devices, so areas that have less economic activity are given less attention. Go to article

Trump Threatens to Abandon Puerto Rico Recovery Effort ( Washington Post) President Trump served notice Thursday that he may pull back federal relief workers from Puerto Rico, effectively threatening to abandon the US territory amid a staggering humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Declaring the US territory's electrical grid and infrastructure to have been a "disaster before hurricanes," Trump wrote Thursday that it will be up to Congress how much federal money to appropriate to the island for its recovery efforts and that relief workers will not stay "forever." Go to article


Global Health & Security

Regional Health Leaders Target Elimination of: Measles and Rubella; HIV, Hepatitis B and Syphilis in Babies ( WHO) Ministers of health and senior officials from 37 countries and areas today endorsed regional action plans for eliminating measles and rubella, as well as mother-to-child transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis. They also called for action to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing. In addition, they took steps to strengthen health promotion for sustainable development. Go to article

Drug-resistant Malaria Is Spreading, but Experts Clash over Its Global Risk ( Science) In what scientists call a "sinister development," a malaria parasite resistant to a widely used drug combination is on the march in Southeast Asia. It has rapidly made its way in an arc from western Cambodia, through northeastern Thailand, to southern Laos; now it has landed in southern Vietnam, where it is causing alarming rates of treatment failure. Go to article

Local, National, and Regional Viral Haemorrhagic Fever Pandemic Potential in Africa: a Multistage Analysis ( Lancet) Predicting when and where pathogens will emerge is difficult, yet, as shown by the recent Ebola and Zika epidemics, effective and timely responses are key. It is therefore crucial to transition from reactive to proactive responses for these pathogens. To better identify priorities for outbreak mitigation and prevention, we developed a cohesive framework combining disparate methods and data sources, and assessed subnational pandemic potential for four viral haemorrhagic fevers in Africa, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, Ebola virus disease, Lassa fever, and Marburg virus disease. Go to article


Government Affairs & National Security

Biodefense: Federal Efforts to Develop Biological Threat Awareness ( GAO) Key biodefense agencies-the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency--conduct a wide range of activities to develop biological threat awareness for intentional and naturally occurring threats, and reported using that information to support investment decisions. Go to article

Trump to Nominate Kelly's White House Deputy as DHS Secretary ( Politico) The White House announced on Wednesday that President Donald Trump will nominate Kirstjen Nielsen to run the Department of Homeland Security. Nielsen served as White House chief of staff John Kelly's top aide during his time as DHS secretary and moved with him to the West Wing as his principal deputy chief of staff when he was appointed in July, leaving the Cabinet post vacant. Go to article

Elusys Delivers First Shipment of Anthim, Its Treatment for Inhalation Anthrax, to the US Government Strategic National Stockpile--Anthim Lyophilization Program Continues to Advance ( Elusys) Elusys Therapeutics, Inc. announced today that the company has delivered the first doses of ANTHIM(obiltoxaximab) Injection, its treatment for inhalational anthrax, to the US Strategic National Stockpile, the US Government's repository of critical medical supplies for public health emergency preparedness. The company is providing this delivery of ANTHIM as part of a procurement contract totaling $44.9M issued in 2015 by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Go to article


Medicine & Public Health

Experimental Ebola Vaccines Elicit Year-long Immune Response ( National Institutes of Health) Results from a large randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial in Liberia show that two candidate Ebola vaccines pose no major safety concerns and can elicit immune responses by one month after initial vaccination that last for at least one year. The findings, published in the October 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, are based on a study of 1,500 adults that began during the West Africa Ebola outbreak. Go to article

See also: Phase 2 Placebo-controlled Trial of Two Vaccines to Prevent Ebola in Liberia ( New England Journal of Medicine) The safety and efficacy of vaccines to prevent Ebola virus disease were unknown when the incidence of EVD was peaking in Liberia. Go to article


Science & Technology

A Century-old Vaccine Vial Sheds Light on One of Medicine's Enduring Mysteries ( STAT) 115-year-old vaccine vial has provided an important clue in the search for an answer to one of medicine's enduring mysteries: What went into the world's first vaccine? Medical legend has it that Edward Jenner - the father of vaccination - used cowpox virus to protect against the dreaded smallpox. Go to article

See also: An Early American Smallpox Vaccine Based on Horsepox ( New England Journal of Medicine) Smallpox was declared eradicated in 19801 thanks to the use of the vaccine initially developed by Edward Jenner in 1798.2 Since that time, it has generally been assumed that the smallpox vaccine is based on cowpox virus, even though it has been known since the late 1930s that the virus that is used to immunize against smallpox, now referred to as vaccinia, differs from cowpox virus. Go to article

DNA Sequencing at 40: Past,Ppresent and Future ( Nature) This review commemorates the 40th anniversary of DNA sequencing, a period in which we have already witnessed multiple technological revolutions and a growth in scale from a few kilobases to the first human genome, and now to millions of human and a myriad of other genomes. DNA sequencing has been extensively and creatively repurposed, including as a 'counter' for a vast range of molecular phenomena. We predict that in the long view of history, the impact of DNA sequencing will be on a par with that of the microscope. Go to article

Preparing for the Next Harvey, Irma, or Maria - Addressing Research Gaps ( New England Journal of Medicine) Extreme events often cast in bold relief what we do and don't know about medicine and public health. In recent weeks, three hurricanes, each characterized by "unprecedented" features, have illuminated our knowledge gaps regarding the consequences of disasters and their mitigation.Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria affected large populations and caused widespread destruction, resulting in massive resource losses and economic costs. We know quite a bit about the likely consequences of these storms. As winds diminish and rescues proceed, the response focus rapidly shifts toward reestablishing essential infrastructure. Go to article

A Fashionable Chemical and Biological Threat Detector-on-a-Ring ( Science Daily) Wearable sensors are revolutionizing the tech-world, capable of tracking processes in the body, such as heart rates. They're even becoming fashionable, with many of them sporting sleek, stylish designs. But wearable sensors also can have applications in detecting threats that are external to the body. Researchers now report a first-of-its kind device that can do just that. And to stay fashionable, they've designed it as a ring. Go to article

Ebola RNA Persistence in Semen of Ebola Virus Disease Survivors - Final Report ( New England Journal of Medicine) Ebola virus has been detected in the semen of men after their recovery from Ebola virus disease. We report the presence of Ebola virus RNA in semen in a cohort of survivors of EVD in Sierra Leone. Go to article

The Future of DNA Sequencing ( Nature) Forty years ago, two papers described the first tractable methods for determining the order of the chemical bases in stretches of DNA. Before these 1977 publications, molecular biologists had been able to sequence only snippets. The evolution of DNA sequencing from these nascent protocols to today's high-throughput technologies has occurred at a breathtaking pace. Go to article

The MERS CoV Receptor and Areas for New Research ( Virology Down Under) Middle East respiratory syndrome is a respiratory disease of humans. The receptor for the causative coronavirus is called dipeptidyl peptidase-4. DPP4 has a wide tissue distribution and a is also present in camels, horses, goats, cows, sheep, pigs and bats among others. DPP-4 in humans is found in high levels in alveolar cells, found low in the lower respiratory tract; an area in which MERS-CoV is active. Go to article


21st Century Threats

NASA Using Asteroid's Close Flyby to Test Warning Network ( AP News) NASA is using an asteroid's close flyby to test Earth's warning network for incoming space rocks. The small asteroid was on track to pass within 27,200 miles (43,800 kilometers) of Antarctica early Thursday. Program scientist Michael Kelley said that's "pretty close" as these things go. But he stressed there's no chance it will hit us. Future space rocks might, though - thus this first-of-its-kind cosmic fire drill. Go to article

The Assad Regime Is Quietly Bombing Hospitals While the World Looks Away ( NewStateman) For  Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad, the horrors of the Las Vegas shooting, the North Korean nuclear situation and Brexit are the perfect cover to try to exterminate the opposition in Syria. In the last 10 days, five hospitals run by the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations have been all but destroyed by Russian and Syrian airstrikes. These hospitals are located in supposedly safe zones in Idlib, a province in the north of Syria, which is policed by the Russian military. Go to article

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