• Budgeting for medical countermeasures is essential for preparedness

    Preparedness against a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) threat requires a sustained and multi-pronged approach by both the public and private sectors. An essential component of this strategy is the development, procurement, and stockpiling of diagnostic tests, drugs, and vaccines in response to a potential event, as well as the ability to distribute these products where needed.


  • 21 U.S. diplomats in Cuba suffered “acquired brain injury from an exposure of unknown origin”: Experts

    In late 2016, U.S. government personnel in Havana, Cuba, visited the embassy medical unit after experiencing unusual sound and sensory phenomena and the onset of neurological symptoms. Researchers who examined the twenty-one diplomats say that concussion-like symptoms were observed in the 11 women and 10 men after they reported hearing intensely loud sounds in their homes and hotel rooms and feeling changes in air pressure caused by an unknown source. The symptoms were consistent with brain injury, although there was no history of head trauma. The experts who examined the American diplomats concluded: “The unique circumstances of these patients and the clinical manifestations detailed in this report raise concern about a new mechanism for possible acquired brain injury from an exposure of unknown origin.”

  • 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.

  • Five finalists in $300K biothreat prize competition

    Five finalists were announced today for Stage 1 of the $300,000 Hidden Signals Challenge. Issued by the DHS S&T, in collaboration with the Office of Health Affairs National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC), the challenge calls for the design of an early warning system that uses existing data to uncover emerging biothreats. The announcement was made at the American Society for Microbiology’s 2018 ASM Biothreats meeting.

  • Dozens of safety violations found at U.K. biolabs

    The U.K. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said that there have been more than 40 incidents at high-security biolabs between June 2015 and July 2017. Mistakes led to staff being infected and falling ill at labs run by hospitals, private companies, and Public Health England.

  • 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.

  • Preventing intentional or accidental creation of synthetic biological threats

    Battelle has been awarded a contract by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) to develop threat assessment software to help prevent the creation of dangerous organisms. Using predictive algorithms, the software would be able to determine the suspected function of a DNA fragment based solely on its sequence. It would be used to screen DNA sequences to determine whether the sequence is related to any known organisms, predict the function of unknown sequences, and assign a threat level based on the potential for harm. By screening and characterizing genetic sequences before they are synthesized, the software would enable the end user to vastly reduce the risk that biological threats will be created either intentionally or accidentally.

  • Vanessa Trump, Obama's D.C. office receive envelopes with suspicious white powder

    The suspicious letter which was sent to Vanessa Trump, the wife of Donald Trump Jr., was postmarked from Boston and contained corn starch, law enforcement officials told CNN. Vanessa Trump and two other people were taken to New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center as a precautionary measure.

  • Distinguishing harmless bacteria from pathogens

    Bacteria underpins much of our world, acting behind the scenes to affect the health and behavior of animals and plants. They help produce food, provide oxygen, and even reshape the environment through a vast array of biological processes. They come in a phenomenal number of strains—many still unknown—and thrive in different ecological and environmental niches all over the world. But while their diverse behaviors make them essential to life, bacteria can also be deadly. This threat only grows as greater global travel brings people into contact with new places, foods, and animals, dramatically increasing the chances of exposure to dangerous microbial species known as pathogens.

  • Comparing pollution levels before and after Hurricane Harvey

    Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in late August 2017, brought more than 64 inches of rain to the Houston area, flooding 200,000 homes, 13 Superfund sites, and more than 800 wastewater treatment facilities. As disasters become more frequent and populations living in vulnerable areas increase, interest in the health effects of exposure to the combination of natural and technological disasters has grown. A new study examined concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) before and after Hurricane Harvey in the Houston neighborhood of Manchester. Manchester, which is located near refineries and other industrial sites along the Houston Ship Channel, is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where residents face disproportionate health risks due to pollution and other environmental hazards.

  • With glaciers disappearing, will water become scarce?

    There are around 200,000 glaciers worldwide. They play a central role in the water cycle, particularly in the middle and low latitudes, by offsetting runoff fluctuations. Rivers are lifelines on which billions of people depend worldwide, either directly or indirectly. The world’s largest rivers begin in glaciated mountain regions. Climate change may cause many glaciers to disappear. Will water become scarce? Will the Alps, the Himalayas, the Rocky Mountains and the Andes continue to act as water towers? Climate change is a global problem with local consequences. If the international community succeeds in restricting the temperature rise to an acceptable level via contributions from each individual member, the effects may be mitigated. Many glaciers would still shrink significantly even with major climate protection efforts, but the consequences for water resources would be more moderate.

  • S&T sponsors workshop on “sequences of interest”

    Synthetic biology has led to the creation of new products, markets, companies, and industries. At the same time, the technology poses potential risks to biosafety and biosecurity, as recently demonstrated by the synthesis of horsepox virus, a cousin of variola, the virus which causes smallpox. DHS S&T sponsored a workshop to discuss the evolving role of databases which contain genetic sequences of pathogens and toxins — termed “sequences of interest” — which pose safety or security concerns.

  • Scientists call for better global and local control of mercury

    Mercury is a complex, multifaceted contaminant which can take many different forms. It is poisonous to humans and wildlife and damaging to the environment. Currently, around two thirds of the mercury entering the environment comes from current or legacy human sources including mining, industrial activities, coal combustion and incinerators, with the remaining originating from natural sources. A special issue addressing the most up-to-date science on the fate and effects of mercury has now been published in the journal Ambio.

  • Massive reserves of mercury hidden in permafrost hold significant implications for human health

    Researchers have discovered permafrost in the northern hemisphere stores massive amounts of natural mercury, a finding with significant implications for human health and ecosystems worldwide. The scientists measured mercury concentrations in permafrost cores from Alaska and estimated how much mercury has been trapped in permafrost north of the equator since the last Ice Age. Their study reveals northern permafrost soils are the largest reservoir of mercury on the planet, storing nearly twice as much mercury as all other soils, the ocean and the atmosphere combined.

  • CDC: Flu still rising across U.S.; 16 more pediatric deaths

    We are not out of the woods yet,” said Anne Schuchat, the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as she described the rising influenza activity that’s swept across the United States. According to Schuchat, this past week brought yet another increase in influenza-like illness (ILI) activity, a spike in hospitalizations, and, most distressingly, 16 new reports of pediatric influenza deaths. Now 53 pediatric deaths this season have been attributed to the flu. The last season as severe as this year’s was in 2014-15, but at this point in that season the cumulative hospitalization rate was 43.5 per 100,000 population. This week that number was 51.4 per 100,000 population, according to the latest FluView surveillance data published by the CDC.