Public health

  • Disinformation campaigns damage credibility of social media emergency alerts

    Disinformation campaigns, which populate sections of social media platforms such as Twitter, are making real emergency data and notifications harder to absorb, a cybersecurity analyst argues. The spreading of emergency-related hoaxes, including those which involve conspiracy-related topics, damages the credibility of sites that provide useful information in those circumstances.

  • Lawmakers demand answers on labs’ handling of deadly pathogens

    The leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from both parties yesterday sent a letter to the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services demanding answers regarding the Federal Select Agent Program (FSAP). “Select agents” is the term used by the government for viruses, bacteria, and toxins that could be used by terrorists. The committee members directed ten questions to the HHS IG in an effort to learn details about labs that have been fined or faced other enforcement actions, including suspension or revocation of their federal authorizations to work with select agents. “So far we’ve been lucky, but that luck may run out if we don’t get the system fixed,” said Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-New Jersey).

  • Highly sensitive test to detect and diagnose infectious disease, superbugs

    Infectious diseases such as hepatitis C and some of the world’s deadliest superbugs — C. difficile and MRSA among them — could soon be detected much earlier by a unique diagnostic test, designed to easily and quickly identify dangerous pathogens. Researchers have developed a new way to detect the smallest traces of metabolites, proteins or fragments of DNA. In essence, the new method can pick up any compound that might signal the presence of infectious disease, be it respiratory or gastrointestinal.

  • Senior federal officials join initiative to help secure power supply to healthcare facilities during disasters

    Powered for Patients, a not-for-profit public private partnership established after Hurricane Sandy to help safeguard backup power and expedite power restoration for critical healthcare facilities, has added two former senior federal officials to serve as advisors. Initial funding for Powered for Patients was provided in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) through ASPR’s cooperative agreement with Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul N. Stockton and former HHS Director of the Office of Preparedness and Emergency Operations Kevin Yeskey join Powered for Patients.

  • New commercial method for producing medical isotope reduces proliferation risks

    The effort to secure a stable, domestic source of a critical medical isotope reached an important milestone last month as the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory demonstrated the production, separation, and purification of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) using a new process. Mo-99 production faces several issues, beginning with its traditional production method using highly enriched uranium (HEU) in research reactors. HEU presents a risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, so the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has focused on the development of other methods for Mo-99 production and conversion of reactors to use low-enriched uranium (LEU). Mo-99 is also not produced in the United States, leaving the country to rely on isotopes from other sources in other countries, including a Canadian research reactor that will cease regular production next year, reducing the global supply.

  • If global warming is left unchecked, fish will have to find new habitats -- or perish

    The goods and services our oceans provide are valued at hundreds of billions of dollars per year. A new study assessed the impact of climate change on marine and coastal ecosystems, ocean chemistry, tourism, and human health. The study specifically analyzed how warming will impact fisheries and the global economic gains we receive from these fisheries. It found that Climate change is forcing fish out of their current habitats and into cooler waters and many more species will soon be affected if climate goals are not met. “From looking at the surface of the ocean, you can’t tell much is changing,” said one researcher. “The oceans are closely tied to human systems and we’re putting communities at high risk.”

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  • Rising fossil fuel energy costs risk global food security

    Ongoing efforts to feed a growing global population are threatened by rising fossil-fuel energy costs and breakdowns in transportation infrastructure. Without new ways to preserve, store, and transport food products, the likelihood of shortages looms in the future. In an analysis of food preservation and transportation trends, scientists warn that new sustainable technologies will be needed for humanity just to stay even in the arms race against the microorganisms that can rapidly spoil the outputs of the modern food system.

  • Muzzle biometrics for cattle ID reduces food fraud

    Meat products are currently a vital part of the global food supply, with beef being a major component of that trade. However, international markets, emerging infectious diseases, and criminal activity mean that there is always a risk of inferior products hitting the supermarket shelves. Researchers are developing a biometric identification system for cattle that could reduce food fraud and allow ranchers to control their stock more efficiently. The system uses the unique features of a prominent part of the animal to identify the beasts — their muzzles.

  • California's strict vaccine bill would not allow vaccination waiver

    Last Thursday, the California State Assembly passed SB227, an amendment to the current vaccine bill which would eliminate a waiver for parents to opt out of having their children vaccinated. The proposal passed on a 46-31 vote and is now going back to the Senate this week to confirm the amendments.Under SB277, students who are not vaccinated would have to be homeschooled or participate in off-campus study programs.

  • Precision agriculture: Sensors and drones as farmers’ best friends

    The precision agriculture sector is expected to grow at a high rate over the coming years. This new way of farming is already a reality in northwest Italy, where technologies are being used to keep plants in a good state of health but also to avert the loss of quality yield. Sensors and drones can be among the farmers’ best friends, helping them to use less fertilizers and water, and to control the general condition of their crops.

  • Safety concerns dog new Level 4 Biolab being built in the middle of Tornado Alley

    The new Department of Homeland Security’s(DHS) animal pathogen-research facility, a Level 4 Biolab being built in Manhattan, Kansas and aiming to replace the aging New York’s Plum Island lab, is situated in the middle of Tornado Alley, leading researchers and security experts to question the wisdom of the decision to build it there. Why place a lab in which research is conducted on pathogens for which no cure or treatment has yet been found – fir example, foot-and-mouth disease – not only in an area known for being routinely hit by powerful tornadoes, but also in the middle of a region where most U.S. cattle is being raised?

  • How anthrax spores grow in cultured human tissues

    Cultured human lung cells infected with a benign version of anthrax spores have yielded insights into how anthrax grows and spreads in exposed people. The study will help provide credible data for human health related to anthrax exposure and help officials better understand risks related to a potential anthrax attack. The study also defined for the first time where the spores germinate and shows that the type of cell lines and methods of culturing affect the growth rates.

  • Using technology to defeat a tiny beetle which threatens grain stores

    Invasive insect species pose a considerable threat to U.S. agriculture and natural resources – making it imperative that known invasive species are detected and their introduction prevented throughout global trade pathways. The tiny khapra beetle poses a major threat to unprotected grain stores. Scientists at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) are helping the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) Plant Protection Quarantine (PPQ) find an easier, more effective way to inspect bulk food supply for khapra beetles.

  • No one wants to fund the development of new antibiotics

    Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are like a ticking time bomb. The world needs new antibiotics. Scientists, veterinarians, and doctors have been describing this crisis for some time. So why is so little happening? The honest truth is money. No one wants to foot the bill. The pharmaceutical companies have to make money, which they generally do not do on antibiotics.

  • No government agency oversees handling of deadly pathogens in 1,495 U.S. labs

    According to the CDC, 181 “organizations or entities” in the United States are registered as working with live anthrax, and 321 in total working with live pathogens. Within these 321 entities, roughly 1,495 laboratories are accredited under the Federal Select Agent Program to work with live pathogens such as anthrax. There is no official government agency to oversee production and research of bioweapons that does not – as the CDC does — engage in its own active pathogen research. “Even one spore is a sufficient seed stock from which an amount could grow to mount a biological weapons attack,” says one expert. “The sad circumstance is that this massive effort [U.S. research on anthrax] since 2001 has dramatically increased the chances of a biological weapon attack on the U.S., precisely by distributing a highly lethal strain of the agent with no structure and no ability to record where they have gone.”