Public health

  • 2014: A trying year for U.S. health agencies

    2014 has been a trying year for U.S. health officials. Globalization and the movement of people from previously remote villages to large cities introduced diseases such as Ebola to places where the flu virus was once considered the most alarming public health scare. “If anyone still needed convincing, 2014 really showed that a disease threat anywhere is a disease threat everywhere,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director. A series of mishaps in handling deadly pathogens in CDC and NIH labs raised questions about the safety culture in U.S. biolabs.

  • Progress made in slowing Ebola spread in West Africa – but it is still spreading

    Nearly 20,000 people have been infected with the Ebola virus since December 2013, and about 7,700 of them have died. Over 90 percent of patients live in West Africa, where poor public healthcare systems have accelerated the spread of the disease. As 2015 approaches, healthcare officials in West Africa are seeing progress in eradication efforts. Ebola-infected dead bodies are being picked up from the streets of major towns and properly buried by government workers, and more patients are being admitted to hospitals due to an increase in the number of hospital beds available. Yet, despite the progress made in recent weeks, Ebola is still spreading in remote villages. “It is encouraging to see that when we get to a place where Ebola is spreading quickly, we can end that cluster within a month or two,” said one expert. “But the problem is, there are clusters all over, and new ones popping up all the time,” adding: “This is going to be a long, hard fight.”

  • FUJIFILM completes acquisition of Kalon Biotherapeutics

    Morrisville, North Carolina-based FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies U.S.A. Inc. (FDBU), a FUJIFILM Corporation subsidiary, has completed its acquisition of College Station, Texas-based Kalon Biotherapeutics LLC. The two companies say this is another step toward making the Texas biosciences industry into a center for development and manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Kalon is a biopharmaceutical contract manufacturing organization (CMO) with advanced technologies and facilities, developing and manufacturing medical countermeasures to protect public health in emergencies, including incidents of bioterrorism or an outbreak of pandemic influenza.

  • Klain defends CDC protocols after lab technician’s potential exposure to Ebola

    The Obama administration’s Ebola czar, Ron Klain, yesterday (Sunday) defended the security procedures of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after a technician at one of the agency’s labs in Atlanta was potentially exposed to the deadly disease. The CDC has been criticized earlier this year not only for its response to the Ebola outbreak and Ebola cases within the United States. Numerous safety violations and lax procedures have been reported in the CDC’s labs and in the manner the agency’s technicians transport lethal pathogens, including anthrax and botulism bacteria, from one lab to another.

  • Disease can be monitored, predicted by analyzing views of Wikipedia articles

    Scientists can now monitor and forecast diseases around the globe more effectively by analyzing views of Wikipedia articles. Researchers were able successfully to monitor influenza in the United States, Poland, Japan and Thailand, dengue fever in Brazil and Thailand, and tuberculosis in China and Thailand. They were also able to forecast all but one of these, tuberculosis in China, at least twenty-eight days in advance.

  • One million curies of radioactive material safely recovered

    Experts at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) helped the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Off-Site Source Recovery Project (OSRP) recover more than one million curies of radioactive sources since 1999. LANL says that the accomplishment represents a major milestone in protecting our nation and the world from material that could be used in “dirty bombs” by terrorists. “Taking disused, unwanted and, in limited cases, abandoned nuclear materials out of harm’s reach supports the Laboratory’s mission of reducing global nuclear danger,” said Terry Wallace, principal associate director for global security at Los Alamos.

  • Fear of terrorism increases basal (resting) heart rate, risk of death

    A new study of over 17,000 Israelis has found that long-term exposure to the threat of terrorism can elevate people’s resting heart rates and increase their risk of dying. This is the first statistics-based study, and the largest of its kind, which indicates that fear induced by consistent exposure to the threat of terror can lead to negative health consequences and increase the risk of mortality. “We found that fear of terrorism and existential anxiety may disrupt the control processes using acetylcholine, causing a chronic accelerated heart rate. Together with inflammation, these changes are associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke,” one of the researchers said.

  • First successful vaccination against “mad cow”-like chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer

    Researchers say that a vaccination they have developed to fight a brain-based, wasting syndrome among deer and other animals may hold promise on two additional fronts: protecting U.S. livestock from contracting the disease, and preventing similar brain infections in humans. Their study documents a scientific milestone: The first successful vaccination of deer against chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal brain disorder caused by unusual infectious proteins known as prions. Prions propagate by converting otherwise healthy proteins into a disease state. Equally important, this study may hold promise against human diseases suspected to be caused by prion infections, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, kuru, familial insomnia, and variably protease-sensitive prionopathy.

  • FBI's investigation of 2001 anthrax attacks was flawed: GAO

    In a report released Friday, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) says the FBI relied on flawed scientific methods to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks which killed five people and sent seventeen others to hospitals. The report raises questions about the FBI’s firm conclusion that it was Army biodefense specialist Bruce Ivins was responsible – or solely responsible – for the attacks.

  • Could the Sydney siege have been predicted and prevented?

    It’s the question everyone is asking — could the Sydney siege have been predicted and therefore prevented based on the past behavior of gunman Man Haron Monis. Monis’s troubled history was well known to media and the police, but can we predict if and when such a person is likely to commit any further crimes? Further, we need to be very careful about stereotyping the mentally ill as potentially “dangerous.” It is simply not the case that all people with serious mental illnesses are prone to violence. There are very specific factors that govern the complex relationship between mental illness and violence. We need to understand and prevent people from experiencing them.

  • Improved protective suit for Ebola caregivers

    An advanced protective suit for health care workers who treat Ebola patients, devised by a Johns Hopkins University team, is one of the first five awardees in a federal funding contest aimed at quickly devising new tools to combat the deadly disease. The JHU prototype is designed to do a better job than current garments in keeping health care workers from coming in contact with Ebola patients’ contagious body fluids, both during treatment and while removing a soiled suit. In addition, it is expected to keep the wearer cooler — an important benefit in hot, humid regions such as West Africa.

  • Preventing animal-borne diseases from affecting humans

    Roughly 75 percent of newly emerging diseases are zoonotic, which means that they can spread from animals to humans. Incredibly damaging, these diseases usually wreak havoc on humans, who rarely have natural defenses to protect them against such strains. About 2.7 million people die each year from zoonotic diseases. It is estimated that between 1997 and 2009, the cost of dealing with and treating these types of diseases around the world amounted roughly $80 billion. Scientists hope that by connecting human medical and veterinary science, and by organizing and establishing different medical professionals along a spectrum of disease detection, it would be possible to thwart the outbreak of another zoonotic disease.

  • Murder charges against leaders of compounding company whose adulterated product killed 64

    In the fall of 2012, 751 people in twenty states fell ill and sixty-four died from a fungal meningitis outbreak shortly after receiving injections of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate produced at the New England Compounding Center (NECC), a Massachusetts-based compounding pharmacy. Fourteen people connected to NECC are facing a 131-count indictment, with Barry Cadden, co-founder of the company, and Glenn Adam Chin, a pharmacist who ran the sterile room, facing second-degree murder charges.

  • The growing economic cost of infectious diseases

    Emerging pandemic disease outbreaks such as Ebola increasingly threaten global public health and world economies, scientists say. We can expect five new such diseases each year, into the future. We should also expect them to spread. The tropical disease dengue fever, for example, has made its way to Florida and Texas, seemingly to stay. Five new such diseases expected each year; strategies to reduce climate change adaptable to infectious diseases. Economists, disease ecologists, and others collaborated on an in-depth economic analysis of strategies to address pandemic threats in a proactive way — rather than a reactive response to a crisis.

  • Mecca faces severe air pollution during annual pilgrimage

    Dangerously high levels of air pollutants are being released in Mecca during the hajj, the annual holy pilgrimage in which millions of Muslims on foot and in vehicles converge on the Saudi Arabian city, according to findings of a new study. “Hajj is like nothing else on the planet. You have 3 to 4 million people — a whole good-sized city — coming into an already existing city,” said one researcher. “The problem is that this intensifies the pollution that already exists. We measured among the highest concentrations our group has ever measured in urban areas — and we’ve studied seventy-five cities around the world in the past two decades.”