• CDC to review oversight of bioterror labs as concerns grow over lax supervision

    Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, has ordered a review of how the agency oversees and implements safety and security measures in bioterror laboratories across the country. Documents obtained through FOIA request show that dozens of labs handling the most dangerous bioterror pathogens have time and again failed to comply with key safety and security measures, but CDC inspectors allowed these labs to operate for years before offering to put them on a “performance improvement” plan. Even when inspectors identified significant violations of safety or security practices in work with “Tier 1” select agents – the deadliest of bioterror weapons — the agency only “strongly recommend[ed]” the labs stop work with the pathogens, but without mandating it.

  • HHS launches first compendium of resources for health emergencies

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week launched the first online collection of the federal resources and capabilities available to mitigate the health impacts of emergencies. The compendium offers an easy-to-navigate, comprehensive, Web-based repository of HHS products, services, and capabilities available to state, state, tribal, territorial, and local agencies before, during, and after public health and medical incidents. The information spans twenty-four categories, and each category showcases the relevant disaster resources available from HHS and partner agencies, a brief description of each resource and information on accessing each one.

  • Accelerometers embedded in ear tags detect disease in beef cattle

    A smartphone switches its orientation from portrait to landscape depending on how it’s tilted. A car’s airbags inflate when it senses collision forces. By detecting earth’s vibrations, a computer can measure the magnitude and aftershocks of an earthquake. These technologies are made possible by accelerometers — small, electromechanical devices that measure acceleration. The devices are able to detect the most sensitive of motions, from the number of steps taken during a morning walk to the number of jaw movements during a heifer’s morning meal. In fact, some dairy producers use these devices to measure feed intake, detect heat and notably, identify sick animals.

  • Humans are at risk because of lack of knowledge on animal disease

    Researchers have painted the most detailed picture to date of major infectious diseases shared between wildlife and livestock, and found a huge gap in knowledge about diseases which could spread to humans. The world-first study has found that just ten diseases account for around 50 percent of all published knowledge on diseases at the wildlife-livestock interface. It is based on an analysis of almost 16,000 publications spanning the last century.

  • North Korea conducted human experiments with chemical weapons: Defector

    A 47-year old North Korean researcher has defected to Finland, taking with him gigabytes of information on human experiments which he plans to present to EU parliament later this month. The scientist, using the pseudonym “Lee,” worked at a microbiology research center in Ganggye, Chagang Province, which shares a border with China. Lee reached Finland via the Philippines, according to a Korean human rights group.

  • Drones contribute to improving crops

    Researchers have used a drone to measure the temperature, humidity, luminosity, and carbon dioxide concentration in a greenhouse. The capacity of an aerial vehicle to move in three-dimensional space, and the possibility to place the sensor at any point, have clear advantages compared to other alternatives such as sensor networks. By building maps of environmental variables, the drones could help achieve optimal conditions for plant growth.

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  • Kosovo’s capital cuts water supplies for fear of ISIS plot to poison reservoir

    Kosovo security and health authorities have cut off water supplies to tens of thousands of residents in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, following a suspicion that ISIS followers had poisoned the city’s water supplies. The city’s water board said supply was cut early on Saturday “because of security issues” and that supplies had been tested for suspicious substances. Police sources say that security officers patrolling the Badovac reservoir saw three of the men behaving suspiciously near the reservoir, and arrested them. They were later identified as ISIS supporters. Kosovar members of ISIS recently appeared in propaganda videos, warning of attacks against targets in the Balkans, including the water supplies of major cities.

  • WHO incapable of effective response to Ebola outbreak-like health crises

    The World Health Organization (WHO) does not have the capacity and internal culture to launch and manage an effective response to an epidemic such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, according to a scathing WHO-commissioned report, which also blames governments for not offering more support for the organization. The report says the organization was too slow in its response to the Ebola epidemic, which killed more than 11,000 people.

  • 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.”

  • 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.