Wednesday, May 27, 2015

DOD Inadvertently Ships Live Anthrax To 9 Labs

# 10,104

The past 12 months have not exactly been stellar examples of good government lab biosafety, with several high profile `incidents' (see CDC Statement On Possible Lab Exposure To Anthrax), (see CDC Media Statement on Newly Discovered Smallpox Specimens), and the accidental shipment of live H5N1 to a USDA lab in Georgia (see CDC Announces Another Serious Biosecurity Incident).

While no laboratory workers were harmed in the making of these blunders, it nonetheless led to several heated congressional hearings, new lab safety regulations, and a promise that  labs around the country would work fervently to foster a greater `culture of safety’

We saw a setback on Christmas Eve when we learned of yet another incident (see CDC Statement On Ebola Lab Incident ) where the BSL-4 Ebola virus was inadvertently shipped to a BSL-2 lab.

Once again, no one was infected, but the CDC's review made additional recommendations for continued safety improvements.

Fast forward almost exactly a year since the first incident - involving anthrax - and we have a report this afternoon that a DOD lab has inadvertently shipped live anthrax to labs in 9 states; California, Texas, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and New York.

While details are still coming out, this from NBC News.

Live Anthrax Mistakenly Sent to U.S. Labs

Federal health officials say they are investigating the accidental shipment of live anthrax bacteria to labs in nine states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that it's investigating the accidental shipments.

No one's been sickened by the bacteria, which can cause potentially deadly illness although it's easily treated with antibiotics if caught soon enough.

"CDC is investigating the possible inadvertent transfer of a select agent from the U. S. Department of Defense (DOD) to labs in nine states. At this time we do not suspect any risk to the general public," CDC said in a statement sent to NBC News.
(Continue . . . )


I've looked for, but have not found on the CDC media site, the CDC statement.   Presumably we'll learn more in the next few days. 

All of this is likely to renew calls for greater oversight on the use of select agents, and some restrictions on what types of research that should be permitted. Last year, it was quite the  hot topic, as the following blogs attest.

The Journal Nature Weighs In On Lab Accidents & Biosafety Making Viruses Deadlier – An Accident Waiting To Happen.

While scientists engaged in this type of work insist that the risks are negligible (see Scientists For Science: GOF Research `Essential’ & Can be Done `Safely’), many others  (see Updating The Cambridge Working Group) are less convinced.

Some earlier blogs on this highly contentious debate include:

mBio: The Risks & Benefits Of `GOF’ Experimentation On Pathogens With Pandemic Potential
The Laboratory Bio-Safety Backlash Continues
ECDC Comment On Gain Of Function Research
Lipsitch & Galvani: GOF Research Concerns

Nebraska Confirms 4th Avian Flu Outbreak - 3 Million Birds Affected


# 10,103

Although there has been a lot of optimistic talk that the avian flu outbreaks in the Midwest are beginning to decline due to the warmer weather, the news over the past 24 hours hasn't been particularly encouraging.

Minnesota reported 6 new outbreaks yesterday,  Iowa added 2 farms from two new counties, and this afternoon Nebraska announced their 4th outbreak.

Avian Influenza in Nebraska

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza (HPAI) in three commercial layer flocks in Dixon County, Nebraska and one in Knox County, Nebraska. (as of 5-27-15).  The flocks are being referred to as Dixon 1, Dixon 2, Dixon 3, and Knox 1.

Dixon 1 - is a commercial layer flock with 1.7 million egg laying chickens and was confirmed positive for HPAI on May 12, 2015
Dixon 2 – is a commercial layer flock with 1.8 million egg laying chickens.  Dixon 2 is in close proximity to Dixon 1 and was confirmed positive for HPAI on May 14, 2015.
Dixon 3 - is a flock of 500,000 pullets (young hens).
          Knox 1 - is a flock of 3 million hens.

May 27, 2015 Contact: Bobbie (402) 471-6860
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  
Risk to people from HPAI H5 infections considered to be low
LINCOLN - The Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed preliminary testing shows the presence of a fourth case of highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza (HPAI) in Nebraska. This case has been found at a farm in Knox County. T
he Knox County case is a flock of 3 million hens. The farm is owned by the same operator as the three previously-announced Nebraska cases in Dixon County. Those three cases involve 3.5 million laying hens and a flock of 500,000 pullets (young hens), bringing the total impacted birds to date in Nebraska to 7 million.
The location in Knox County is approximately 50 miles from the three Dixon County locations. The Department quarantined the Knox County facility this morning following a preliminary positive test for the disease; the test is expected to be confirmed tomorrow at a federal laboratory. As with the three previous cases, a perimeter has been established around the Knox County facility, and the birds will be depopulated. Under the USDA protocol, NDA will visit all locations that have poultry within a 6.2 mile radius of the Knox County site to conduct testing.
Ibach said a response team has already been pulled together and is in Knox County to address the HPAI finding, including federal, state and local officials. “I cannot stress enough the importance for all Nebraska poultry facility operators to ensure they maintain the strictest of biosecurity measures,” Nebraska Agriculture Director Greg Ibach said. “That means strictly limiting the traffic, both humans and vehicles, into and out of facilities in an effort to avoid any cross-contamination.”
(Continue . . . )

Kazakhstan's Massive Saiga Antelope Epizootic

# 10,102

Whenever a disease spread quickly and at unexpected rates among non-human animal species, it is called an epizootic.  HPAI avian influenza is considered an epizootic, as it is both unusual and causes serious illness.

In contrast, low levels of  fairly benign LPAI (low pathogenic) influenza viruses commonly found in wild birds are considered enzootic - or endemic in an animal population. 

In addition to avian flu, we've looked as some significant epizootic events in history - but none was probably more dramatic than the great equine epizootic of 1872 (see Morens and Taubenberger: A New Look At The Panzootic Of 1872)  which has been theorized to have been linked to concurrent outbreaks of poultry deaths across the country,

Ian York author of the Mystery Rays blog described the impact of  this incident back in December of 2009 in a blog called Influenza before 1918, part II: 1872.  A brief excerpt:

Without horses, business slammed to a halt; the mail didn't run, groceries didn't reach the cities, crops weren't harvested or transported.  After a few weeks, most of the horses recovered and business followed, but the epizootic swept across the country (intensely tracked by the newspapers of the day, warning each city in turn that it was going to be attacked), finally fizzling out the following summer in British Columbia.

 Epizootics such as the 1872 event can cause heavy losses, but rarely are entire species threatened.

Over the past two weeks, however, an unidentified disease has claimed the lives of roughly half the world's Saiga Antelopes - an endangered species found primarily in the north-central region of Kazakhstan. While they numbered in the millions a few short years ago, the last estimate put their number at about 200,000.

In the past two weeks, more than 100,000 of those have reportedly died.

The following is an early report from the UNEP/CMS.
More than 10,000 Saigas Found Dead in Central Kazakhstan

Bonn, 19 May 2015 - About 10,000 saigas have been found dead in Amangeldy district of the Kostanay region in Central Kazakhstan. The Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan reported the first mortality cases on the 12 May, and since then the numbers of dead animals discovered have been increasing. Currently the area affected covers about 16,000 hectares, within the range of the saiga’s Betpak Dala population, the largest in Kazakhstan. The state authorities are investigating the situation in the field, collecting samples for further analysis of the causes and burying the carcasses.  
Just a little more than a week later and the New Scientist is carrying the following report:

Mystery disease claims half world population of saiga antelopes 
16:42 27 May 2015 by Andy Coghlan
The death toll of iconic saiga antelopes in central Asia has soared to around 120,000, almost half of the world's remaining population, according to unofficial estimates. Today vets and scientists investigating the catastrophe presented their results so far to government officials in Kazakhstan, where the animals are dying. 
"The current official figure is 85,000, but we are hearing unofficial estimates in excess of 100,000, approaching 120,000," says Aline Kühl-Stenzel of the UN Convention on Migratory Species.
(Continue . . . )

As the article explains, several possible etiologies are under investigation; hemolytic septicemia, epizootic hemorrhagic disease, and toxemia caused by clostridia bacteria.

In recent years Saiga antelopes have been felled by much smaller, but still significant outbreaks attributed to FMD or hemorrhagic septicemia (pasteurellosis).  

None have come close to the size and speed of the current outbreak.  We will hopefully learn more once laboratory results are in.   

NIOSH Releases Hospital Respiratory Protection Toolkit

# 10,101

This week's MERS infection of a doctor in South Korea serves as another reminder that HCWs are at particular risk of ATDs (Aerosol Transmissible Diseases) and of the importance of always taking the proper precautions around potentially contagious patients.

Today NIOSH (National Institute Of Safety & Health) has released three new resources for HCWs, designed to reduce their risks of infection.  

May 2015
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2015-117

Resources for Respirator Program Administrators

This toolkit was developed to assist hospitals in developing and implementing effective respiratory protection programs, with an emphasis on preventing the transmission of aerosol transmissible diseases (ATDs) to healthcare personnel.
Healthcare personnel are paid and unpaid persons who provide patient care in a healthcare setting or support the delivery of healthcare by providing clerical, dietary, housekeeping, engineering, security, or maintenance services. Healthcare personnel may potentially be exposed to ATD pathogens. Aerosols are particles or droplets suspended in air. ATDs are diseases transmitted when infectious agents, which are suspended or present in particles or droplets, contact the mucous membranes or are inhaled.

Housekeeping Note

# 10,100

After 9 years and 10,000 blogs written using the same blogging software, sometime yesterday afternoon that program was no longer was able to log into my blogger account.

Overnight, I that see a lot of others are having the same difficulty. Several people have suggested that a change has been made in the Blogger API rendering my stalwart (and no longer supported) software unusable.

So, over the next few days you may notice some changes to the look of this blog as I try out some other blog authoring options. 

I  appreciate your patience, and hope I can maintain mine.

Hurricane Preparedness - Inland Flooding

National Hurricane Preparedness Week 


Although this week's disaster in Texas and Oklahoma prove you don't need a tropical system to produce massive flooding, some of the worst flooding on record has come from slow moving tropical systems - often hundreds of miles inland from where they first came ashore.

On Sunday (see Hurricane Preparedness Week 2015 – Day One) I mentioned 1972's Hurricane Agnes, which caused 113 fatalities - mostly due to  inland fresh water flooding - a thousand miles north of where she came ashore in Florida.

But other notable flood-producing storms include 1969's Hurricane Camille which killed more than 100 in Virginia, long after it had lost its tropical punch.

And slow moving tropical storm Allison, which dumped massive amounts of water along its entire path, flooding Houston, Texas with more than 3 feet for rain.

You can read a concise history of some of the most notable hurricanes of the past 115 years on NOAA's Hurricanes in History website.

The point of all of this being that hurricanes are not just a coastal problem, and you can live 1000 miles inland and still be adversely affected by one of these systems.  

Later today we should get NOAA's tropical forecast for the 2015 Hurricane season, and while it is expected to come in `below average', it only takes one storm to ruin your entire summer.

Tomorrow we'll look at Hurricane forecasting, and later in the week we'll get into the specifics of hurricane preparedness.  In the meantime, consider downloading the updated Tropical Cyclone Preparedness Guide and visiting NOAA's National Hurricane Preparedness Week website.

And finally, even though you'll find a lot of hurricane discussion on the web, when it comes to getting the latest forecast information on an impending storm, your first stop should always be the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida. These are the real experts, and the only ones you should rely on to track and forecast the storm.

If you are on Twitter, you should consider following @FEMA, @CraigatFEMA, @NHC_Atlantic, @NHC_Pacific and @ReadyGov.