• Making U.S. health sector more resilient to major disasters

    The health sector in the United States would be far better positioned to manage medical care needs during emergencies of any scale by empowering existing healthcare coalitions to connect community resilience efforts with a network of hospitals equipped to handle disasters, according to a new report. The report’s authors found that while the U.S. health sector is reasonably well prepared for relatively small mass injury/illness events that happen frequently (for example, tornadoes, local disease outbreaks), it is less prepared for large-scale disasters (e.g., hurricanes) and complex mass casualty events (for example, bombings) and poorly prepared for catastrophic health events (for example, severe pandemics, large-scale bioterrorism).

  • New Congressional Biodefense Caucus launched

    A new Congressional Biodefense Caucus was launched last Monday. The caucus said it already has a bipartisan membership roll which includes twenty-seven Members of Congress. The caucus is “dedicated to strengthening our nation’s biodefense enterprise and national security.”

  • “Zero not an option”: Antibiotic use in agriculture

    In November 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) took a significant step in its campaign to address the crisis of antibiotic resistance, calling for an overall reduction in the use of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals. The WHO recommendations included a complete restriction on the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in animals, a step that has already been taken by several countries and is not considered particularly controversial. Although the use of antibiotics for growth promotion has long been a practice in animal agriculture, it has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, both from the scientific community and the wider public. But the WHO also recommended that farmers stop using medically important antibiotics for preventing diseases that have not been clinically diagnosed — and that, one expert says, is where things start to get a little tricky.

  • Growing severity of U.S. firearm injuries requiring hospitalization since early 1990s

    From 1993 to 2014, 648,662 people were admitted to U.S. hospitals for non-fatal firearm injuries. An analysis of these cases show an annual increase in severity of non-fatal firearm injuries needing hospital admission across the United States since the early 1990s. This increase “reflects a move towards hospitalization of more serious injuries, and outpatient management of less serious injuries across the board, suggesting a mounting burden on the U.S. healthcare system,” say the researchers.

  • New evidence of nuclear fuel releases discovered at Fukushima

    Uranium and other radioactive materials, such as cesium and technetium, have been found in tiny particles released from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors. This could mean the environmental impact from the fallout may last much longer than previously expected according to a new study by a team of international researchers. The team says that, for the first time, the fallout of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor fuel debris into the surrounding environment has been “explicitly revealed” by the study.

  • Protecting soldiers from blast-induced brain injury

    Researchers have developed a new military vehicle shock absorbing device that may protect warfighters against traumatic brain injury (TBI) due to exposure to blasts caused by land mines. During Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, more than 250,000 warfighters were victims of such injuries. Prior to this study, most research on blast-induced TBI has focused on the effects of rapid changes in barometric pressure, also known as overpressure, on unmounted warfighters.

  • European health worries: High levels of drug resistance in zoonotic bacteria

    A surveillance report from European health and food safety agencies indicates that antibiotic resistance in zoonotic bacteria from humans, food, and animals on the continent remains at high levels, with notable levels of multidrug resistance in two common causes of foodborne illness in humans. Zoonotic bacteria are organisms that are transmissible between animals and humans, either through direct exposure or through consumption of contaminated meat.

  • More than half of U.S. gun owners do not safely store their guns

    More than half of gun owners do not safely store all their guns, according to a new survey of 1,444 U.S. gun owners. The survey, believed to be the first nationally representative sample in fifteen years to examine gun storage practices in U.S. households, found that 54 percent of gun owners reported not storing all their guns safely. The survey defined safe storage as all guns stored in a locked gun safe, cabinet or case, locked into a gun rack, or stored with a trigger lock or other lock. This definition is based on research showing these practices reduce the risk of unauthorized access or use.

  • Working to halt outbreaks in 60 days or less

    The increasing threat of infectious diseases is intensifying the need for breakthrough technologies and capabilities to protect first responders and equip them with therapeutics that can halt the impact of infectious agents. Current approaches for recent public health emergencies due to infectious diseases have not produced effective preventive or therapeutic solutions in a relevant timescale. Examples from recent outbreaks such as H3N2 (flu), Ebola, and Zika viruses highlight the significant lag in deployment and efficacy of life-saving solutions. To address the growing threat from infectious diseases as well as to properly equip DoD Service members who regularly deploy worldwide to provide assistance in all manner of high-risk environments, DARPA launched the Pandemic Prevention Platform program (P3). DARPA notes that quickly produced nucleic-acid-based technologies may hold key to body creating protective antibodies.

  • Horsepox synthesis, dual-use research, and scientific research’s “action bias”

    Julius Caesar is said to have stated “alea iacta est” (the die is cast) as he led his army across the Rubicon river, triggering a point of no return in Roman history. In many ways, the horsepox synthesis, published by two Canadian scientists last month, is considered a new Rubicon for synthetic biology and the life sciences. Experts say that now that we’ve ventured across the river, it seems that we may be learning more about dual-use research in general. One expert notes that “Beyond the immediate issue of whether the horsepox work should have been performed (or published), the horsepox synthesis story highlights a more general challenge facing dual-use research in biotechnology: the unilateralist’s curse.” Research unilateralism contains an “action bias”: Horsepox synthesis is more likely to occur when scientists act independently than when they agree to a decision as a group.

  • Before the U.S. approves new uranium mining, consider its toxic legacy

    Uranium – the raw material for nuclear power and nuclear weapons – is having a moment in the spotlight. Companies such as Energy Fuels, Inc. have played well-publicized roles in lobbying the Trump administration to reduce federal protection for public lands with uranium deposits. The Defense Department’s Nuclear Posture Review calls for new weapons production to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which could spur new domestic uranium mining. And the Interior Department is advocating more domestic uranium production, along with other materials identified as “critical minerals.” I have studied the legacies of past uranium mining and milling in Western states for over a decade. My book examines dilemmas faced by uranium communities caught between harmful legacies of previous mining booms and the potential promise of new economic development. These people and places are invisible to most Americans, but they helped make the United States an economic and military superpower. In my view, we owe it to them to learn from past mistakes and make more informed and sustainable decisions about possibly renewing uranium production than our nation made in the past.

  • Quicker response to airborne radiological threats

    Researchers have developed a new technique that uses existing technologies to detect potential airborne radiological materials in hours instead of days. at present, emergency responders who are characterizing potential radiological risk need to take an air sample and ship it to a radiochemistry lab after preliminary screening analysis. The process means it can take days or weeks to get quality results that authorities can use to make informed decisions.

  • Analyzing the past to protect our future: discussing the 1918 flu pandemic

    Imagine living in a time of unprecedented medical breakthroughs that significantly increased the human lifespan—new therapies to treat cancers, new vaccines to prevent previously fatal infectious diseases. Imagine living in a time of new modes of communication with never-imagined speed to spread news. Sounds a lot like the world that we live in, doesn’t it? This was also the world in which the 1918 influenza epidemic took place.

  • 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.”