• EbolaSymptomless Ebola – questions need to be answered before the next outbreak

    By Edward Wright

    Scientists know that Ebola can cause anything from severe hemorrhagic fever to no symptoms at all (asymptomatic infections). What wasn’t known, until now, is the number of people who experienced asymptomatic infections during the 2013-2016 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. While the new report of asymptomatic cases of Ebola virus infection is not unique, it does raise important questions that need to be answered. Over the last couple of years, governments and global public health agencies have increased resources to tackle these questions. Hopefully, we will be better equipped and prepared for the next outbreak.

  • Disease outbreaksFactors influencing the timing of infectious disease outbreaks

    The delay between the time when a disease outbreak becomes possible and when it actually happens depends chiefly on how frequently infection is introduced to the population and how quickly the number of cases caused by a single individual increases, according to new research. The research lays the theoretical groundwork for a disease forecasting system that could give public health officials time to prepare for-or possibly even prevent-certain outbreaks in the future.

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  • Public healthExonerating “Patient Zero”: Debunking the myth of the origins of the 1980s U.S. AIDS crisis

    The genetic testing of decades-old blood samples has demonstrated that Gaétan Dugas, a French-Canadian flight attendant who became notorious as the human epicenter of the U.S. AIDS crisis of the 1980s – and the first person to be labeled the “Patient Zero” of any epidemic – was simply one of many thousands infected in the years before HIV was recognized. In fact, the very term Patient Zero was the result of a misreading: In one of the early cluster studies of AIDS patients in California, Dugas was code-named “Patient O” (for “[O]utside-of-California”) – but some researchers discussing the investigation began interpreting the ambiguous oval as a digit, and referring to Patient O as Patient 0.

  • EbolaMSF closes final West Africa Ebola projects for survivors

    The Ebola outbreak that swept across West Africa infected more than 28,700 people and killed more than 11,300 men, women, and children. Whole families were ripped apart and communities were devastated by the disease, which saw schools close, economies grind to a halt and health systems collapse, leading to even greater loss of life. The shocking human toll of the outbreak was exacerbated by the painfully slow international response. More than two and a half years after the Ebola outbreak officially began, MSF is now closing its last projects in West Africa dedicated to caring for people who survived the disease.

  • SuperbugsCombatting antibiotic resistance

    CDC has awarded more than $14 million to fund new approaches to combat antibiotic resistance, including research on how microorganisms naturally present in the human body (referred to as a person’s microbiome) can be used to predict and prevent infections caused by drug-resistant organisms. The initiative, which also provides funding for state health departments and other partners, implements the tracking, prevention, and antibiotic stewardship activities outlined in the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria.

  • EpidemicsBusiness cycle drives the spread of viral diseases

    Next time a flu epidemic hits your area, putting everyone in bed, rejoice: it may mean that the recession is over. A new paper highlights the connection between the business cycle and the spread of viruses: “We find that epidemics spread faster during economic booms,” the paper says. “During booms more people are traveling, which increases inter-personal contacts and the spread of diseases.”

  • Zika virusU.S. response to Zika: Fragmented and uneven

    By Scott L. Greer

    How is the United States responding to Zika? CDC is doing what it can to support efforts to halt disease transmission and support state and local government. But on 30 August CDC director Tom Frieden announced that the agency had almost run out of money to fight the virus. Congress has yet to pass a funding bill, leaving the Obama administration to redirect money earmarked for other purposes to support Zika research and response efforts. The response so far seems fragmented, and even somewhat contentious – not unlike the response to the Ebola crisis in the United States in 2014. The response to that public health crisis was shaped by the fragmented and partisan U.S. political system, not by epidemiology or medicine.

  • Public healthData sharing should become routine for best response to public health emergencies

    The recent outbreaks caused by Ebola and Zika viruses have highlighted the importance of medical and public health research in accelerating outbreak control and have prompted calls for researchers to share data rapidly and widely during public health emergencies. However, the routine practice of data sharing in scientific research, rather than reactive data sharing, will be needed to effectively prepare for future public health emergencies.

  • Public healthYellow Fever outbreak on verge of going global, with vaccine supply running short

    The largest Yellow Fever epidemic for decades is now sweeping the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola and could soon spread to the Americas, Asia, and Europe. The outbreak has all but emptied global emergency stocks of vaccine. There are only seven million emergency vaccines available for the current vaccination campaign — too few to even fully cover the city of Kinshasa, let alone the whole of the DRC.

  • Epidemics$2.3 million grant for Ebola vaccine research

    The Center of Excellence for Emerging Zoonotic and Animal Diseases, or CEEZAD, at Kansas State University will use a $2.3 million federal grant to study the safety in livestock of a newly developed vaccine to protect humans from the Ebola Zaire virus. No infectious Ebola virus will be used in the Biosecurity Research Institute during the studies.

  • 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.

  • 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.