Epidemics and pandemics

  • Ebola outbreakWest African countries intensify efforts to contain Ebola outbreak

    Togo-based, pan-African airline ASKY has suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone, and growing fears of the rapidly spreading Ebola virus have led the Liberian football association to cancel games. Liberia plans to shut down schools and many markets, place all non-essential public servants on leave and quarantine several communities. The rural communities which will be guaranteed will have food supplies and medical support ferried only by approved persons. All public facilities could be chlorinated and disinfected on Friday, and public gatherings have already been banned.

  • EpidemicsWhat you need to know about Ebola

    More West African nations are alerting health officials and citizens about the potential for the deadly Ebola disease to spread by individuals traveling from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where more than 700 people have died in recent weeks.An American doctor, Kent Brantly, working in Monrovia, Liberia with Ebola patients has contracted the disease.

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  • EpidemicsEbola spreads to Nigeria, most populous African nation

    The Ebola outbreak which has so far left more than 700 people dead and 1,100 infected across three West African countries — Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea — has now spread to Africa’s most populous nation after a Liberian man, who traveled to Lagos for an international conference, became sick on the airplane, and died two days later in a Lagos hospital. The sister of the 40-year-old man had recently died of Ebola in Liberia.

  • PlagueChinese authorities seal off city after bubonic plague death last week

    Chinese authorities have sealed off the city of Yumen, in the north-western province of Gansu, and 151 people have been quarantined since last week after a man died of bubonic plague. The 30,000 residents of the city are not being allowed to leave, and police at roadblocks on the perimeter of the city are preventing people from going into the city, instructing motorists to find alternative routes.

  • Public healthKilling malaria parasites dead with anti-tank missile detection technology

    Malaria kills 1.2 million people every year. Existing tests look for the parasite in a blood sample. The parasites, however, can be difficult to detect in the early stages of infection. As a result the disease is often spotted only when the parasites have developed and multiplied in the body. Scientists say that state-of-the-art military hardware could soon fight malaria: they have used an anti-tank Javelin missile detector, more commonly used in warfare to detect the enemy, in a new test rapidly to identify malaria parasites in blood.

  • EpidemicsDisagreement over use of experimental drugs in desperate effort to contain Ebola outbreak

    The efforts to contain the largest Ebola outbreak in history have so far failed. International response teams, desperate to limit the toll of the fast-spreading epidemic in three West African countries, have been calling for the use experimental drugs or vaccines to try to stop the deadly virus. Many experts, however, including the scientist who led the work on a Canadian-made Ebola vaccine, say that using untested medications in the current West African outbreak could be disastrous. Other scientists disagree. The World Health Organization reports that the current outbreak, which is the first in West Africa, has so far infected 844 people, causing the death of 518 of them. This is double the size of the next largest outbreak, in Uganda in 2000, and this outbreak has just begun.

  • Bubonic plagueJohn Tull, whose 2002 bubonic plague illness raised bioterrorism fears, dies

    In November 2002, John Tull, a New Mexico lawyer, was visiting New York when he was found to have bubonic plague. The discovery occurred a year after the fall 2001 anthrax attacks – which, at the time, were still unresolved – raising fears that Tull was a victim of bioterrorism. Those concerns were alleviated when it was determined that Tull’s case was linked to fleas in northern New Mexico, where Tull and his wife had a five-acre property outside Santa Fe. Tull, 65, died last week of cancer not related to the 2002 illness.

  • BioterrorismCongress debates BioShield funding while medical schools debate bioterrorism training

    Just as researchers urge medical schools across the United States to include bioterrorism preparedness courses in their curricula, Congress is debating whether to continue spending on Project Bioshield, an initiative launched in 2004 to incentivize otherwise unprofitable research on treatments for rare outbreaks or bioterror agents such as anthrax and botulinum toxin.

  • BioterrorismCongress may modify the amount, manner by which Project BioShield procurements are funded

    In 2004, Congress passed the Project BioShield Act to provide the federal government with new authorities related to the development, procurement, and use of medical countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) terrorism agents. Among other things, the authority allows the government to guarantee a market for CBRN medical countermeasures. Under this provision, the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) may obligate funds to purchase countermeasures that still need up to ten more years of development. Since 2004, HHS has obligated approximately $3.309 billion to guarantee a government market for countermeasures against anthrax, smallpox, botulism, radiation, and nerve agents. Another provision established a process through which the HHS secretary may temporarily allow the emergency use of countermeasures which lack Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. The 113th Congress may also consider modifying the amount and manner by which it funds Project BioShield procurements.

  • EpidemicsEbola epidemic in West Africa is “out of control”

    Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has warned that the ebola epidemic in west Africa is “out of control” and will not be contained unless politicians, religious leaders, and aid agencies urgently improve their response to the unprecedented outbreak. The deadly disease is continuing to spread through Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, and the World Health Organization (WHO) says the outbreak has so far claimed 337 lives. WHO says that the confirmed, probable, or suspected cases stands at 528, with the disease identified in more than sixty locations across the three west African countries. The WHO said on Saturday that a failure by the authorities in Guinea to gauge the severity of the initial outbreak, and a subsequent relaxation of counter-measures, had created a “second wave” of the disease.

  • PandemicsAvian flu viruses has all the ingredients necessary for the emergence of 1918 influenza-like virus

    The 1918, or “Spanish flu,” pandemic was one of recorded history’s most devastating outbreaks of disease, resulting in an estimated forty million deaths worldwide. Researchers have shown that circulating avian influenza viruses contain all the genetic ingredients necessary to underpin the emergence of a virus similar to the deadly 1918 influenza virus. The researchers have identified eight genes from influenza viruses isolated from wild ducks that possessed remarkable genetic similarities to the genes that made up the 1918 pandemic flu virus.

  • Microbial forensicsAdvancing microbial forensics to respond to global biological outbreaks

    Much as human DNA can be used as evidence in criminal trials, genetic information about microorganisms can be analyzed to identify pathogens or other biological agents in the event of a suspicious disease outbreak. Biological outbreaks can include natural occurrences, accidental, or negligent releases from laboratories, biocrimes aimed at individuals or small groups, or acts of bioterrorism and biowarfare intended to affect large populations. The tools and methods used to investigate such outbreaks belong to an emerging discipline known as microbial forensics, but the field faces substantial scientific and technical challenges, says a new report.

  • Public healthExperiments with dangerous bird flu stains pose risk of accidental release

    Experiments creating dangerous flu strain that are transmissible between mammals pose too great a risk to human life from potential release, according to researchers. Although experiments on these so-called novel potential pandemic pathogens (PPPs) are conducted at high levels of biosecurity, the researchers argue that they pose a substantial risk to human life. They are calling for greater scrutiny of experiments that make virulent influenza strains transmissible, and for future studies on flu transmission to use safer and more effective alternative approaches.

  • PandemicsPandemics: who should be given life-saving treatment first? Who should make the decision?

    In the event of a flu pandemic, who should have priority access to life-saving ventilators, and who should make that determination? Few disaster preparedness plans have taken community values regarding allocation into account, but a new study is aiming to change that through public engagement with Maryland residents. “In the event of a healthcare crisis, understanding the community perspective and having citizen buy-in will be critical to avoid compounding the initial disaster with further social upheaval,” says the principal investigator.

  • EpidemicsBetter understanding of the 1918 Flu Pandemic aids in better infectious disease response today

    The 1918 Flu Pandemic infected over 500 million people, killing at least fifty million. Now, researchers have analyzed the pandemic in two remote regions of North America, finding that despite their geographical divide, both regions had environmental, nutritional, and economic factors that influenced morbidity during the pandemic. Findings from the research could help improve current health policies.