• VaccinationSocial media trends can predict vaccine scares tipping points

    Analyzing trends on Twitter and Google can help predict vaccine scares that can lead to disease outbreaks, according to a new study. Researchers examined Google searches and geocoded tweets with the help of artificial intelligence and a mathematical model. The resulting data enabled them to analyze public perceptions on the value of getting vaccinated and determine when a population was getting close to a tipping point.

  • EpidemicsPredicting 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.

  • Food safetyBioelectronic “nose” detects food spoilage by sensing the smell of death

    Strong odors are an indicator that food has gone bad, but there could soon be a new way to sniff foul smells earlier on. Researchers have developed a bioelectronic “nose” that can specifically detect a key decay compound at low levels, enabling people to potentially take action before the stink spreads. It can detect rotting food, as well as be used to help find victims of natural disasters or crimes.

  • WMDDHS establishes the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office

    Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen last week announced the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Office. DHS says that the CWMD Office will elevate and streamline DHS efforts to prevent terrorists and other national security threat actors from using harmful agents, such as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear material and devices to harm Americans and U.S. interests.

  • GunsAnalyzing recent research on causes of gun violence

    In 2015, over 36,000 people died from gunfire in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with roughly two-thirds of those deaths being classified as suicide. America’s gun-murder rate is 25 times that of the other high-income nations, and the gun-suicide rate is eight times as high. Despite these numbers, the last extensive analysis of research into the origins of gun violence, conducted in 2004, was inconclusive. Consensus is growing in recent research evaluating the impact of right-to-carry concealed handgun laws, showing that they increase violent crime, despite what older research says.

  • PreparednessU.S. medical profession unprepared for nuclear attack: Study

    Escalating tensions between Washington and Pyongyang over North Korea’s nuclear program have fueled concerns about the possibility of nuclear warfare, and a new study has found that American medical professionals are woefully unprepared to handle the needs of patients after a nuclear attack. “I was not surprised that the responses from the emergency medical community were relatively poor in terms of knowledge and attitudes, because that’s what you get with radiation-myths versus reality,” said the study’s lead author.

  • Disaster evacuationExplaining personal hurricane evacuation decisions

    Why do some people living in the path of a major hurricane decide to evacuate while others stay put? That’s what researchers want to know so that they can improve how emergency evacuations are handled. The researchers are gathering information about residents in areas hit by hurricanes Irma and Harvey to learn more about how people make decisions in risky situations. This will ultimately help officials and emergency personnel better manage evacuations in the future.

  • Synthetic biologyThe Gene Drive Files: Who is in charge of bioengineering research?

    Synthetic biology, also called “gene drives” or “bioengineering” – a field that uses technologies to modify or create organisms or biological components – can be used to benefit mankind, but may also be used by terrorists and nation-states to develop design pathogens which could be unleased to kill tens of millions of people. Critics of gene drives are alarmed by the fact that the U.S. military has been the main funder of synthetic biology research in the United States. Given the possible security vulnerabilities related to gene drives developments, a new report by the National Academies of Sciences proposes a framework to identify and prioritize potential areas of concern associated with the field. “While biotechnology is being pursued primarily for beneficial and legitimate purposes, there are potential uses that are detrimental to humans, other species, and ecosystems,” says one of the report’s authors. A nonprofit monitoring synthetic biology research releases new documents ahead of a key UN scientific conference on bioengineering.

  • PlagueLimited 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.

  • SuperbugsManaging antibiotics insufficient to reverse resistance

    Researchers have discovered that reducing the use of antibiotics will not be enough to reverse the growing prevalence of antibiotic resistance for some types of bacteria. Besides passing along the genes bestowing antibiotic resistance to their offspring, many bacteria can also swap genes amongst themselves through a process called conjugation. There has long been a debate, however, as to whether this process occurs fast enough to spread through a population that is not under attack by antibiotics.

  • GunsLead poisoning risk at indoor firing ranges

    Indoor firing ranges may put hobby shooters, law enforcement officers and employees at risk from lead exposure, particularly if proper dust-control measures are not in place. We are seeing an increase in firing range–related lead poisoning in adults, which can result from faulty ventilation systems or just inadequate cleanup of lead dust,” says one expert. “Exposure can happen from inhaling the lead dust emitted when the firearm is discharged or from ingestion of lead from contaminated hands or food.”

  • BioengineeringSynthetic biology and bioengineering: Opportunities and risks

    Human genome editing, 3D-printed replacement organs and artificial photosynthesis – the field of bioengineering offers great promise for tackling the major challenges that face our society. But as a new article out today highlights, these developments provide both opportunities and risks in the short and long term.

  • BioengineeringCould gene editing tools such as CRISPR be used as a biological weapon?

    By James Revill

    The gene editing technique CRISPR has been in the limelight after scientists reported they had used it to safely remove disease in human embryos for the first time. Concerns are mounting that gene editing could be used in the development of biological weapons. In 2016, Bill Gates remarked that “the next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus”. More recently, in July 2017, John Sotos, of Intel Health & Life Sciences, stated that gene editing research could “open up the potential for bioweapons of unimaginable destructive potential.” Biological warfare is not an inevitable consequence of advances in the life sciences. The development and use of such weapons requires agency. It requires countries making the decision to steer the direction of life science research and development away from hostile purposes. An imperfect international convention cannot guarantee that these states will always decide against the hostile exploitation of biology. Yet it can influence such decisions by shaping an environment in which the disadvantages of pursuing such weapons outweigh the advantages.

  • Animal healthAnimal 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.

  • Climate threatsInaction on climate change has “jeopardized human life”: Report

    A major new report into climate change shows that the human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and that the delayed response to climate change over the past twenty-five years has jeopardized human life and livelihoods. The human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible – affecting the health of populations around the world today.