• Better accountability needed of use of Ebola recovery funds: GAO

    A review of U.S.-funded Ebola recovery projects in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released this week found that, of $1.6 billion appropriated by Congress in 2014 for U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the hard-hit region, $411.6 million has been targeted to 131 specific projects. However, in tallying up the projects and their scope, the GAO found that USAID needs to do more to ensure a complete inventory of all of its Ebola recovery projects.

  • New framework for guiding controversial research still has worrisome gaps

    In December the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) release lifted the funding moratorium on Gain of Function (GoF) research, following the controversial projects involving H5N1 in 2011. The “Framework for guiding funding decisions about proposed research involving enhanced potential pandemic pathogens” is similar to the January 2017 “P3C0 Framework,” and it came with the bonus of restoring funding for such research – but there are still considerable concerns with how GoF research is evaluated and if these frameworks have really addressed the gaps.

  • Working to halt outbreaks in 60 days or less

    The increasing threat of infectious diseases is intensifying the need for breakthrough technologies and capabilities to protect first responders and equip them with therapeutics that can halt the impact of infectious agents. Current approaches for recent public health emergencies due to infectious diseases have not produced effective preventive or therapeutic solutions in a relevant timescale. Examples from recent outbreaks such as H3N2 (flu), Ebola, and Zika viruses highlight the significant lag in deployment and efficacy of life-saving solutions. To address the growing threat from infectious diseases as well as to properly equip DoD Service members who regularly deploy worldwide to provide assistance in all manner of high-risk environments, DARPA launched the Pandemic Prevention Platform program (P3). DARPA notes that quickly produced nucleic-acid-based technologies may hold key to body creating protective antibodies.

  • Analyzing the past to protect our future: discussing the 1918 flu pandemic

    Imagine living in a time of unprecedented medical breakthroughs that significantly increased the human lifespan—new therapies to treat cancers, new vaccines to prevent previously fatal infectious diseases. Imagine living in a time of new modes of communication with never-imagined speed to spread news. Sounds a lot like the world that we live in, doesn’t it? This was also the world in which the 1918 influenza epidemic took place.

  • Bill to jump-start universal flu vaccine efforts

    As the nation grapples with a long and unrelenting flu season rivaling by some measures the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, a group of U.S. senators last week unveiled a proposal to invest $1 billion in research over the next 5 years to create a universal flu vaccine that would provide lifetime protection against a range of influenza strains. The announcement came just as U.S. researchers released an interim report card on the flu vaccine’s performance so far this season, which again showed disappointingly low effectiveness against H3N2, this season’s dominant strain.

  • The U.S. export economy at risk from global infectious outbreaks

    In addition to tragic loss of life, the next global infectious disease outbreak could harm the U.S. export economy and threaten U.S. jobs—even if the disease never reaches our shores. Two Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies analyze the risks and show potential losses to the American export economy from an overseas outbreak.

  • Worst-case global pandemic scenario: 700,000 dead, $500 billion in economic losses

    The worldwide spread of a serious infectious disease could result in pandemic-related deaths of 700,000 and annual economic losses of $500 billion, according to a study. The dollar figure of economic losses is much higher than those found in previous studies, which, according to the study, means “there is an unmet need for greater investment in preparedness against major epidemics and pandemics.”

  • Mobility patterns influence the spread -- or containment -- of an epidemic

    Contrary to expectations, recurring mobility between different cities or districts of a large city (for example, from home to work and back again) can minimize the spread of an epidemic. During an epidemic, common sense tells us that we should isolate ourselves from the rest of the population or reduce our movements to diminish the likelihood of contagion. However, far from improving the situation, isolating ourselves may increase our chances of contracting the disease and worsen the existing local situation.

  • Experts criticize lack of flu pandemic readiness, commitment

    Armed with 1940s-vintage flu vaccine technology and supported by only anemic funding for developing truly revolutionary vaccines, the world is woefully unprepared for the next influenza pandemic, and the Trump administration is ignoring the problem, two experts wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece. “There is no apparent effort to make [next-generation flu] vaccines a priority in the current administration. Its national security strategy published last month cites Ebola and SARS as potential bioterrorism and pandemic threats, yet makes no mention of the risk of pandemic influenza nor any aspect of critical vaccine research and development,” the two experts write.

  • Preventing viral disease outbreaks

    Avian influenza (H7N9). MERS coronavirus. Ebola. Hepatitis E. Yellow Fever. Lassa. Zika. When you consider the viral infectious diseases that emerged and reemerged around the world in 2017 alone, what many of them have in common is that they originated in animals and spilled over into humans after a series of mutations that enable the pathogens to jump species. DARPA’s PREEMPT aims to predict and contain viral mutations to prevent cross-species transmission of disease from animals and insects to humans.

  • The global flu pandemic: 100 years later

    Called “La grippe,” “three-day fever” and the “Spanish flu,” the influenza pandemic of 1918–1919 ravaged communities worldwide, claiming the lives of an estimated 25 million to 50 million people. In the United States, more than 25 percent of the population was affected by the extremely virulent influenza A H1N1 virus, forcing schools, theaters and public places to close. Nearly 100 years later, the threat of another influenza pandemic looms large as the scientific and global health communities find ways to prepare for, and battle, future outbreaks.

  • As emerging diseases spread from wildlife to humans, can we predict the next big pandemic?

    Viruses have been moving between organisms for millions of years. And not always in a way that causes harm: Animals and humans alike host millions of different microorganisms, many of which are beneficial. For those that do harm humans, the first step is to come in contact with us. And that’s becoming more and more likely as we invade pristine forests in search of food, building materials, space for commercial developments or land upon which we can create new grassland for our livestock — or catch critters for bushmeat, pets or the “wildlife selfie” trade. Two ambitious projects aim to understand when and how the next human disease will emerge from wildlife, and what we can do to minimize harm when it does.

  • Predicting pandemics: Global spread of hemorrhagic fever viruses

    As successive epidemics have swept the world, the scientific community has quickly learned from them about the emergence and transmission of communicable diseases. Epidemics usually occur when health systems are unprepared. During an unexpected epidemic, health authorities engage in damage control, fear drives action, and the desire to understand the threat is greatest. As humanity recovers, policy-makers seek scientific expertise to improve their “preparedness” to face future events.

  • Limited global risk of Madagascar’s pneumonic plague epidemic

    Mathematical models have proven the risk of the on-going pneumonic plague epidemic in Madagascar spreading elsewhere in the world is limited. The study also estimated the epidemic’s basic reproduction number, or the average number of secondary cases generated by a single primary case, at 1.73. The case fatality risk was 5.5 percent. This was the world’s first real-time study into the epidemiological dynamics of the largest ever pneumonic plague epidemic in the African nation.

  • Animal health as a marker for predicting epidemics in human populations

    Researchers know that zoonotic diseases — illnesses transmitted from animals to humans — are the culprit behind most of the outbreaks that circled the globe over the last decade. First monkeys, and then bats, were discovered to be carriers of the deadly strain of Ebola that killed thousands of people between 2014 and 2016. Mosquitos are behind the Zika and West Nile virus, while birds carry avian flu. Animal health is increasingly gaining focus as a marker for predicting health epidemics among the human population.