• Gene drivesThree ways synthetic biology could annihilate Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases

    By Andrew Maynard

    There are tried and tested approaches in the arsenal of weapons against the mosquito-borne disease, but to combat Zika and other mosquito-borne disease, more is needed. Gene drives, synthetic biology-based genetic engineering techniques, offer one solution by reengineering mosquitoes or obliterating them altogether. Yet we still have only the vaguest ideas of how the systems we’re hacking by using gene drives actually work. It’s as if we’ve been given free rein to play with life’s operating system code, but unlike computers, we don’t have the luxury of rebooting when things go wrong. As enthusiasm grows over the use of synthetic biology to combat diseases like Zika, greater efforts are needed to understand what could go wrong, who and what might potentially be affected, and how errors will be corrected.

  • Public healthInfluenza outbreak would cost U.S. billions of dollars in losses

    An influenza pandemic would cost the nation tens of billions of dollars in economic losses — nearly double what previous estimates showed, a new study reveals. The study, which was funded by the National Biosurveillance Integration Center of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, found that the nation would lose as much as $45 billion in gross domestic product if Americans failed to get vaccinated for the flu, compared with $34 billion if they were vaccinated.

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  • Public health threatsThe politicization of U.S. handling Ebola may carry over to Zika

    If the United States responds to Zika the way it did to Ebola — and early indications are that in many ways it is — the country can expect missteps brought about by a lack of health care coordination and a lot of political finger pointing, according to a new analysis. The researchers studied the U.S. response to Ebola and found a fragmented system with no clear leadership, and considerable “strategic politicization” due to the outbreak’s arrival during a midterm election year.

  • Public health threatsU.S. needs greater preparation for next severe public health threats: Experts panel

    In a report released last week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), an Independent Panel formed to review HHS’s response to Ebola made several recommendations on how the nation’s federal public health system should strengthen its response to major public health threats, both internationally and domestically. “Without focused and sustained effort, the result of other novel public health threats could be much more devastating,” said the chairman of the Independent Panel.

  • EbolaLessons of 1976 Ebola outbreak analysis are relevant today

    With the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa reviving interest in the first outbreak of the deadly hemorrhagic fever 40 years ago, scientists have released a report highlighting lessons learned from the smaller, more quickly contained 1976 outbreak. “Key to diagnosis in 1976 was the relatively quick clinical recognition of a severe, possibly new disease by national authorities,” according to one of the researchers.

  • EpidemicsBolstering international response capabilities to infectious disease threats

    To make the world safer against future infectious disease threats, national health systems should be strengthened, the World Health Organization’s emergency and outbreak response activities should be consolidated and bolstered, and research and development should be enhanced, experts say

  • EpidemicsHow will the next leader of WHO tackle future health emergencies?

    In light of heavy criticism of the World Health Organization’s handling of the Ebola outbreak, the election process for the next director general will be under intense scrutiny. Experts outline the key questions on epidemic preparedness for prospective candidates.

  • EpidemicsYellow fever epidemic threatens new global health emergency

    Evidence is mounting that the current outbreak of yellow fever is becoming the latest global health emergency, two experts say, calling on the World Health Organization (WHO) to convene an emergency committee under the International Health Regulations. In addition, with frequent emerging epidemics, they call for the creation of a “standing emergency committee” to be prepared for future health emergencies. The add that vaccine “supply shortages could spark a health security crisis.”

  • EbolaCellphone-sized device detects the Ebola virus quickly

    The worst of the recent Ebola epidemic is over, but the threat of future outbreaks lingers. Monitoring the virus requires laboratories with trained personnel, which limits how rapidly tests can be done. Now scientists report in ACS’ journal Analytical Chemistry a handheld instrument that detects Ebola quickly and could be used in remote locations.

  • CholeraHaiti’s cholera epidemic could have been prevented with low-cost approaches

    Haiti’s cholera epidemic killed close to 9,000 people and hospitalized hundreds of thousands more. The epidemic also spread to several neighboring countries. Cholera remains a critical risk for UN peacekeeping operations, years after Nepalese troops inadvertently introduced the disease to Haiti in fall of 2010 and triggered one of the worst epidemics in recent years. Researchers have found that simple and inexpensive interventions — which the United Nations has yet to implement — would be effective in preventing future outbreaks of the bacterial infection.

  • EbolaEfficient alternative for Ebola screening program for travelers

    As of 31 January 2016, a total of 28,639 cases and 11,316 deaths have been attributed to Ebola, figures that are assumed to significantly underestimate the actual scope of the 2014 Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever outbreak in West Africa. In the United States, there were also two imported cases and two locally acquired cases reported in September-October 2014. Researchers offer an alternative policy for Ebola entry screening at airports in the United States. “Security measures implemented after 9/11 taught us a lot about what not to do,” one of the researchers say. “We learned that finding the one person who intends to do harm out of several million passengers is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.”

  • EbolaEbola no longer a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”: WHO

    On Tuesday the WHO officials met to consider the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa, and to decide whether the event continues to constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and whether the current Temporary Recommendations should be extended, rescinded, or revised. WHOconcluded that Ebola transmission in West Africa no longer constitutes an extraordinary event, that the risk of international spread is now low, and that countries currently have the capacity to respond rapidly to new virus emergences. Accordingly, the Ebola situation in West Africa no longer constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and the temporary recommendations adopted in response should now be terminated.

  • EbolaEbola no longer a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”: WHO

    On Tuesday the WHO officials met to consider the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa, and to decide whether the event continues to constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and whether the current Temporary Recommendations should be extended, rescinded, or revised. WHOconcluded that Ebola transmission in West Africa no longer constitutes an extraordinary event, that the risk of international spread is now low, and that countries currently have the capacity to respond rapidly to new virus emergences. Accordingly, the Ebola situation in West Africa no longer constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and the temporary recommendations adopted in response should now be terminated.

  • Health emergenciesSharing of research data, findings should be the norm in public health emergencies

    Opting in to data sharing should be the default practice during public health emergencies, such as the recent Ebola epidemic, and barriers to sharing data and findings should be removed to ensure those responding to the emergency have the best available evidence at hand, experts say.

  • PlagueIdentifying areas of plague risk in Western U.S.

    Plague was first introduced into the United States in 1900, by rat–infested steamships which had sailed from affected areas. Epidemics occurred in port cities, with the last urban plague epidemic in the United States occurring in Los Angeles from 1924 through 1925. Researchers have identified and mapped areas of high probability of plague bacteria in the western United States. The findings may be used by public health agencies to aid in plague surveillance.