Public health

  • EbolaEbola epidemic ebbing: WHO

    The World Health Organization(WHO) has reported fewer than 100 new cases of Ebola in West Africa in the last week, which means the outbreak could soon reach its end. Some of the resources allocated to building treatment centers for thousands of sick people are now being diverted to contact-tracing efforts. “Efforts have moved from rapidly building infrastructure to ensuring that capacity for case finding, case management, safe burials and community engagement is used as effectively as possible,” read the WHO’s latest situation report.

  • Chemical facilitiesChinese ownership of a methanol plant worries Louisiana parish residents

    Roughly 150 petrochemical companies and seventeen refineries operate in a zone between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, an area locals call “Cancer Alley” due to the health concerns that have arisen during the past few decades of industrialization. Residents of St. James Parish have voiced their opposition to a proposed methanol plant in the parish. The plant will be operated by Yuhuang Chemical Inc., a subsidiary of Chinese natural gas giant Shandong Yuhuang. Recently, Shandong Yuhuang, parent company of the proposed plant in St. James, has received bad press in China for reportedly neglecting environmental laws, including releasing toxic emissions in the city of Heze, which environmentalists have connected to rising cancer rates and contaminated water.

  • BioterrorismGenetic safety switches curb bioterror risk

    The potential threat of bioterrorism using man-made biological organisms could be curbed, thanks to a new method. Synthetic biologists — who can design and modify the DNA of living organisms to give them novel, useful functions — have devised a way of containing their products to help ensure that they work only as intended.

  • EbolaEbola outbreak: where we are now and what happens next

    By Colin Brown

    Ever since its discovery, it has been appreciated that Ebola poses a serious risk to global public health. Infectious diseases represent a global threat, not just to those within the country or region of emergence. With the current increase in the movement of people (rural to urban, within countries and across borders), this risk will inevitably increase. While the current priority should be to contain the present outbreak, there is a great need to plan for prevention of future events. The development of an international response group tasked with immediate assessment of and initial response to emerging pathogens is needed, backed by sufficient international political will, clinical expertise, and funding. This needs to be agile and responsive, with clear chains of command, and able to engage early.

  • Food safetyA computer program would track food, ingredients in packaged food, imported into U.S.

    Scientists at University of Minnesota’s National Center for Food Protection and Defense(NCFPD) are developing a computer program called CRISTAL, which could allow the government and private sector to map the supply chain of every product imported into the United States, from mobile phones to car seats to the ingredients in packaged foods. The USDA already monitors some aspects of the nation’s food safety, but DHS is particularly interested in CRISTAL because of increasing terror threats to the nation’s food supply.

  • ResourcesChallenges for sustainability as many renewable resources max out

    The days of assuming natural resources can be swapped to solve shortages — corn for oil, soy for beef — may be over. An international group of scientists demonstrate that many key resources have peaked in productivity, pointing to the sobering conclusion that “renewable” is not synonymous with “unlimited.” The researchers examined renewable resources, such as corn, rice, wheat, or soy, which represent around 45 percent of the global calorie intake. They also reviewed fish, meat, milk, and eggs. The annual growth rate of eighteen of these renewable resources — for example, increase in meat production or fish catch — peaked around 2006.

  • EbolaSpeeding up Ebola drug production

    Researchers at the University of California, Davis, will explore ways to speed production of the Ebola drug Zmapp with a $200,000 rapid-response grant from the National Science Foundation. Zmapp is a cocktail of antibodies produced in and extracted from whole tobacco plants. The UC Davis team, including plant scientists, molecular biologists and chemical engineers, will attempt to produce the antibodies from plant cells grown in bioreactors instead of in whole plants.

  • Medical cybersecurityMedical devices, not only medical records, are vulnerable to hackers

    Health organizations have spent millions of dollars to protect hospital computer systems and software from malware, but hospitals today are increasingly equipped with many medical devices linked to Wi-Fi, making the devices a portal to hospital room operations. Infusion pumps deliver measured doses of nutrients or medications such as insulin or other hormones, antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, and pain relievers into a patient’s body. Although it has yet to happen, it is quite possible for a hacker to infiltrate an active infusion pump on a hospital’s Wi-Fi and change the dosage. Hackers can also use the pump’s network access to inject malware in the hospital’s network systems, giving them entry to patients’ medical records. The records can then be sold to identity thieves.

  • EbolaHigh security Australian laboratory advancing Ebola research

    With the Ebola epidemic still a threat, many in the international disease research community are searching for a cure. One such laboratory is a high-security facility in Geelong, Australia. It focuses exclusively on Ebola research and testing, particularly the Zaire strain of the virus, which has ravaged Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

  • Food safetyNew technology quickly traces source of tainted food

    Foodborne illnesses kill roughly 3,000 Americans each year and about 1 in 6 are sickened, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet most contaminated foods are never traced back to their source. This is because existing methods to track tainted food following its supply chain from table to farm are highly inefficient, jeopardizing the health of millions and costing the food industry billions. A typical process to trace food includes interviewing consumers and suppliers and examining every detail of the supply chain, a tedious method that takes weeks at best to complete. Researchers have now developed a cost-effective and highly efficient method to accurately trace contaminated food back to its source.

  • AgroterrorismAgroterrorism is a major threat to America: Experts

    The economic effects of a successful attack on the U.S. food supply would be devastating, as agriculture accounts for roughly 13 percent of the country’s gross annual domestic product. An introduction of deadly pathogens into U.S. livestock, poultry, or crops would not only result in a disease outbreak, but would disrupt the global food industry and drive up food prices. Agroterrorism is not limited to the intentional introduction of harmful pathogens into U.S. farms and livestock. Terrorists can also cyberattack industrial agriculture systems responsible for operating feeding machines, maintaining milk temperatures, and processing foods.

  • Biolabs2014 saw potentially serious safety mishaps at U.S. biolabs

    U.S. government laboratories working with potentially deadly biological agents have had to deal with several lab incidents in the past two years.Congress and federal officials have called for better enforcement of safe operating procedures at U.S. government labs. “There is a continued lack of national standards for designing, constructing, commissioning and overseeing” these labs, said a Government Accountability Office (GAO) expert.

  • Bioterror agentsA combination ricin/anthrax vaccine shows promise

    Soligenix, Inc. last month announced the publication of data demonstrating that the combination of RiVax and VeloThrax induces protective immunity to both ricin toxin and anthrax toxin exposure. RiVax is the company’s candidate vaccine for the prevention of exposure to ricin toxin using an antigen which is completely devoid of the toxic activity of ricin. VeloThrax is the company’s candidate vaccine which employs a derivative of recombinant protective antigen, termed Dominant Negative Inhibitor (DNI), which is a candidate for inclusion in a next generation anthrax vaccine.

  • Nuclear facilitiesStudying cancer risks near nuclear facilities

    The National Academy of Sciences has issues a brief report which provides an expert committee’s advice about general methodological considerations for carrying out a pilot study of cancer risks near seven nuclear facilities in the United States. The pilot study will assess the feasibility of two approaches that could be used in a nationwide study to analyze cancer risk near nuclear facilities regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

  • EbolaIMF-imposed reforms undermined healthcare provision in Ebola-stricken West Africa

    Researchers criticize reforms advocated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for chronically under-funded and insufficiently staffed health systems in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. They say these policies contributed to “lack of preparedness” of West African health systems to cope with disease and emergencies such as Ebola. The researchers argue that IMF programs over the years have imposed heavy constraints on the development of effective health systems of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone — the cradle of the Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 6,800 since March this year.