Category Archives: Diseases

WHO: Superbugs That Pose the Greatest Threat to Human Health

Lena H. Sun reports for The Washington Post:

Image result for SuperbugsThe World Health Organization announced its first list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” on Monday, detailing 12 families of bacteria that agency experts say pose the greatest threat to human health and kill millions of people every year.

The list is divided into three categories, prioritized by the urgency of the need for new antibiotics. The purpose is to guide and promote research and development of new drugs, officials said. Most of the pathogens are among the nearly two dozen antibiotic-resistant microbes that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in a 2013 report could cause potentially catastrophic consequences if the United States didn’t act quickly to combat the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant infections.

“This list is not meant to scare people about new superbugs,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director-general at WHO. “It’s intended to signal research and development priorities to address urgent public health threats.”

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The Awful Diseases on the Way

Annie Sparrow writes in her review of Pandemic by Sonia Shah for The New York Review of Books:

Pandemics—the uncontrolled spread of highly contagious diseases across countries and continents—are a modern phenomenon. The word itself, a neologism from Greek words for “all” and “people,” has been used only since the mid-nineteenth century. Epidemics—localized outbreaks of diseases—have always been part of human history, but pandemics require a minimum density of population and an effective means of transport. Since “Spanish” flu burst from the trenches of World War I in 1918, infecting 20 percent of the world’s population and killing upward of 50 million people, fears of a similar pandemic have preoccupied public health practitioners, politicians, and philanthropists. World War II, in which the German army deliberately caused malaria epidemics and the Japanese experimented with anthrax and plague as biological weapons, created new fears.

In response, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), founded in 1946 to control malaria domestically, launched its Epidemic Intelligence Service in 1951 to defend against possible biological warfare, an odd emphasis given the uncontrolled polio epidemics raging in the 1940s and 1950s in the United States and Europe. But in the world of public health, the latest threat often takes precedence over the most prevalent.

According to the doctor, writer, and philanthropist Larry Brilliant, “outbreaks are inevitable, pandemics are optional.” Brilliant, a well-known expert on global health, ought to know, since he has had much to do with smallpox eradication. Smallpox, arguably the worst disease in human history, caused half a billion deaths during the twentieth century alone. The strain called Variola major—the most lethal cause—killed one third of all infected and permanently scarred all survivors. In 1975, Rahima Banu, a two-year-old Bangladeshi girl, became the last case of V. major smallpox. Two years later, Ali, a twenty-three-year-old hospital cook in Somalia, became the last case of V. minor. Rahima and Ali survived. Smallpox did not.

Forty years later, smallpox is still the only disease affecting humans ever to have been eradicated. (Rinderpest, a virus affecting cows—literally “cattle plague”—was eradicated in 2011.) There is optimism that polio and guinea worm may soon follow. Meanwhile, dozens of new infectious diseases have emerged, including the pathogens behind the twenty-first-century “pan-epidemics”—a term coined by Dr. Daniel Lucey to describe SARS, avian flu, swine flu, MERS, Ebola, and now Zika.

The fear, fascination, and financial incentives that these new diseases create divert attention and resources from ancient diseases like cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis, which infect and kill far more people. Ebola has caused relatively few deaths, while TBinfects 9.6 million people each year and kills 1.5 million, and malaria infects more than 200 million, killing nearly half a million. (Ali, smallpox’s last survivor, later succumbed to malaria.)

Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda in monkeys bitten by forest mosquitoes. In recent years, monkeys have sought food outside the forests, and Zika virus has diversified: its carriers now include Aedes aegypti, a tough mosquito with a preference for human blood and urban environments, and it has spread to the Americas.A. aegypti also carries dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile virus, but it is the evolving pan-epidemic of catastrophic birth defects that makes Zika particularly terrifying. In Brazil there have been 1,271 confirmed cases of microcephaly—babies born with severely stunted brains, blindness, and other congenital defects. Cases identified in Colombia, French Polynesia, Panama, Martinique, and Cabo Verde provide advance notice of the likely scale of the damage being wreaked.

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Leaked Report Reveals Unsanitary Conditions At UN Bases During Haitian Cholera Epidemic: Interview with Brian Concannon

Jessica Desvarieux talks to Brian Concannon, Executive Director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, who says the United States is actively discouraging countries from holding the UN accountable for bringing cholera to Haiti. (The Real News)

Is Zika Virus Linked to Deforestation? Interview with Robert G. Wallace

Sharmini Peries talks to evolutionary biologist and public health expert Robert G. Wallace who discusses the Zika virus and its links to deforestation and climate change, as well as the re-emergence of mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and malaria. (The Real News)

Ebola: ‘Isn’t that over yet?’

Tulip Mazumdar reports for BBC News:

When I told people earlier this month that I was off to West Africa again to cover the Ebola outbreak, the resounding response was, “Isn’t that over yet?”

The short answer is no, but there is a lot more to it than that.

The outbreak has been “nearly over” for months. So while “Ebola fatigue” is understandable, it’s also potentially extremely dangerous.

There are still around 20-30 new cases a week in the three worst-affected countries.

Before this outbreak, those numbers would have constituted a major epidemic, but we live in very changed times.

At the height of the outbreak, West Africa was seeing hundreds of new infections a week.

But it only takes one new infection to spark a massive epidemic.’

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Inside America’s Secretive Biolabs: Hundreds of Accidents and Near Misses Put People at Risk

Alison Young and Nick Penzenstadler report for USA Today:

Vials of bioterror bacteria have gone missing. Lab mice infected with deadly viruses have escaped, and wild rodents have been found making nests with research waste. Cattle infected in a university’s vaccine experiments were repeatedly sent to slaughter and their meat sold for human consumption. Gear meant to protect lab workers from lethal viruses such as Ebola and bird flu has failed, repeatedly.

A USA TODAY Network investigation reveals that hundreds of lab mistakes, safety violations and near-miss incidents have occurred in biological laboratories coast to coast in recent years, putting scientists, their colleagues and sometimes even the public at risk.

Oversight of biological research labs is fragmented, often secretive and largely self-policing, the investigation found. And even when research facilities commit the most egregious safety or security breaches — as more than 100 labs have — federal regulators keep their names secret.’

Of particular concern are mishaps occurring at institutions working with the world’s most dangerous pathogens in biosafety level 3 and 4 labs — the two highest levels of containment that have proliferated since the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. Yet there is no publicly available list of these labs, and the scope of their research and safety records are largely unknown to most state health departments charged with responding to disease outbreaks. Even the federal government doesn’t know where they all are, the Government Accountability Office has warned for years.’

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Peabody Energy exploited Ebola crisis for corporate gain, say health experts

Suzanne Goldenberg reports for The Guardian:

A nurse walks with a little girl suffering from Ebola, at the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) compound in Monrovia. Peabody suggested more energy access with coal generation could have helped with the distribution of an Ebola vaccine, had there been one.Public health experts involved in the response to the Ebola crisis have condemned what they described as a ludicrous, insulting and opportunistic attempt to exploit the disease for corporate gain by the world’s largest privately-held coal company.

As part of a PR offensive to rebrand coal as a “21st-century fuel” that can help solve global poverty, it has emerged that at the height of Ebola’s impact in Africa, Peabody Energy promoted its product as an answer to Africa’s devastating public health crisis.

Greg Boyce, the chief executive of Peabody, a US-based multinational with mining interests around the world, included a slide on Ebola and energy in a presentation to a coal industry conference in September last year. The slide suggested that more energy would have spurred the distribution of a hypothetical Ebola vaccine – citing as supporting evidence a University of Pennsylvania infectious disease expert.

The World Health Organisation believes nearly 27,000 people contracted Ebola in an outbreak of the virus in West Africa last year, and more than 11,000 died – although the international agency believes that is probably an underestimate.’

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Inside the Vaccine War: Measles Outbreak Rekindles Public Health Debate

WHO: Ebola cases cross 20,000 in West Africa

‘More than 20,000 people have been infected by Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea since the outbreak of the virus began, the World Health Organisation has said. Gregory Hartl, from the WHO, says urgent work will have to be done to bring down the number of cases.’ (Al Jazeera English)

New Study Raising Alarms About ‘Superbugs’

U.S. Buys Up Ebola Gear, Leaving Little for Africa

Drew Hinshaw and Jacob Bunge report for The Wall Street Journal:

‘[…] For months, companies like DuPont Co. have struggled to fill all the orders coming in for the niche products—chemical suits, boot covers, face masks, hoods—that make up what doctors call PPEs, or Personal Protective Equipment. Now, PPE orders are piling up faster than DuPont and others can fill them.

One of the demand spikes isn’t coming from West Africa—but from America. U.S. hospitals and government agencies have strained PPE supplies in some regions, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. This month, the CDC itself said it ordered $2.7 million in PPEs, a collection it calls a Strategic National Stockpile. CDC guidelines state American hospitals and firefighters need PPEs on hand, in case a potential Ebola suspect wanders into an emergency room or dials 911.

The shortage shows how the deep anxiety over Ebola’s arrival in the U.S. has complicated efforts to fight it in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Ebola has sickened more than 15,000 people in West Africa, more than 5,400 of them fatally. The U.S. has had six cases. Two people died.’

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Why Adele was right to ignore Bob Geldof and Band Aid

Bryony Gordon writes for The Telegraph:

[…] Nobody wants a world full of Ebola, but nor do I want a world full of Malaria and HIV and Tuberculosis and numerous other diseases – not to mention conditions such as hunger and poverty – that are destroying the lives of many millions of Africans every day.

Certainly, I don’t want to be told how to behave philanthropically by a man worth an estimated £32 million, a man who is said to use tax avoidance schemes (it is telling that when a journalist asked him two years ago how much tax he paid, Geldof exploded at her, saying: ‘My time? Is that not a tax?’ Well, no, Bob, it isn’t).

I don’t want to be implored to give charitably by a band that travels in separate private jets because they don’t get on (One Direction), or by a man who avoids Irish taxes while simultaneously telling the Irish government to help developing countries (Bono).

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Ebola Fears Turn Into an Epidemic of Racism and Hysteria

Andrew Jerell Jones wrote for The Intercept:

‘[..] Far more contagious here has been a new virus of hysteria — and of the sort of ignorant discrimination that immigrants in general and Africans specifically have endured for decades.

People are being shunned and mocked for having visited, or even for simply having been born in, Africa — and anywhere in Africa will do, afflicted with Ebola or not. Others face discrimination simply for living in the same neighborhood where a single Ebola patient once lived. Politicians and pundits have seriously discussed closing our borders to entire nations. Panic is dividing the country at a time when the U.S. and indeed the whole world needs to pull together to solve a viral health crisis.’

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Amid Ebola, ISIS and Ukraine, Britain’s Preppers Ready Themselves for Black Swan Events

Shane Croucher reports for the International Business Times:

Steve Hart's Every Day Carry kit‘The walls of society are falling down. After months of geopolitical crises tearing through every region, the global economy has seized up and there are supply shortages of everything: food, water, energy. News comes through that riots are breaking out across the UK. What would you do?

John Bland knows exactly what he would do because he is a “prepper”. Preppers are, as the nickname suggests, prepared. To them the collapse of society is not probable, but it is still possible. So they prepare for it in all ways, from boning up on survival skills to having fully stocked bunkers.’

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Ebola virus multiplying at ‘terrifying rate’ in Africa

Al Jazeera reports:

‘Ebola is spreading at a “terrifying rate,” with five people infected with the deadly virus every hour in Sierra Leone alone, according to data published Thursday by human rights organization Save the Children.

The London-based group estimates the rate of infected persons in the West African country will increase to 10 every hour if nothing is done to curb Ebola’s spread.

“The scale of the Ebola epidemic is devastating and growing every day, with five people infected every hour in Sierra Leone last week,” Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, said in a statement. “We need a coordinated international response that ensures treatment centers are built and staffed immediately.”

The organization’s infection-rate figures are based on both confirmed cases and an estimate of how many cases are not being reported.’

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Suggesting Ebola will become airborne is ‘irresponsible’, say experts

Rebecca Smith reports for The Telegraph:

Ebola virus‘The UN’s chief of Ebola mission Anthony Banbury said Ebola could become airborne in a ‘nightmare scenario’ but leading scientists have slammed his remarks saying this has never happened and suggesting it is ‘irresponsible’.

Mr Banbury was speaking exclusively to the Telegraph as predictions were made that Ebola could have infected 1.4m people by January.

He said the longer the virus is in humans the greater the chance it could mutate. He said the virus being spread through the air was a ‘nightmare scenario’ but that it ‘could not be ruled out’.

However leading British scientists have rounded on him saying his comments are a distraction and accused him of spreading panic.’

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Why Michael Savage Freaks Out About Ebola

U.S. Ebola patient’s friends quarantined under armed guard

Tom Dart and Lauren Gambino report for The Guardian:

‘Four members of a household with whom the US Ebola patient had been staying were confined to their Dallas apartment under armed guard on Thursday as authorities faced tough questions over a series of mis-steps in their handling of the case.

Towels and sweat-ridden bedclothes remained for two days in the Dallas apartment where an undiagnosed Ebola sufferer – Liberian citizen Thomas Eric Duncan – was staying because health officials in Texas struggled to find a waste management company willing to accept them.

It came as a freelance cameraman working for NBC in Liberia became the fifth American to contract Ebola. He will be flown home for treatment, NBC said on Thursday.

A company with experience of dealing with medical waste was finally due to clean the apartment on Thursday afternoon, but only after the patient’s girlfriend told CNN that the materials had not been disposed of.’

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A U.S. professor is telling Liberians that the Defense Department ‘manufactured’ Ebola

Terrence McCoy reports for The Washington Post:

‘[…] A major Liberian newspaper, the Daily Observer, has published an article by a Liberian-born faculty member of a U.S. university implying the epidemic is the result of bioterrorism experiments conducted by the United States Department of Defense, among others.

And while some commenting on the article were critical, the number who praised it was telling. “They are using” Ebola, wrote one, “for culling the world population mainly Africa for the…purpose of gaining control of the Africans resources criminally.”

The piece purports to describe scientific findings from various “reports,” which are not cited in detail, and even references the bestselling thriller, “The Hot Zone.”’

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Militarizing the Ebola Crisis

Joeva Rock writes for Foreign Policy In Focus:

‘[…] Few would oppose a robust U.S. response to the Ebola crisis, but the militarized nature of the White House plan comes in the context of a broader U.S.-led militarization of the region. The soldiers in Liberia, after all, will not be the only American troops on the African continent. In the six years of AFRICOM’s existence, the U.S. military has steadily and quietly been building its presence on the continent through drone bases and partnerships with local militaries. This is what’s known as the “new normal“: drone strikes, partnerships to train and equip African troops (including those with troubled human rights records), reconnaissance missions, and multinational training operations.

To build PR for its military exercises, AFRICOM relies on soft-power tactics: vibrant social media pages, academic symposia, and humanitarian programming. But such militarized humanitarianism—such as building schools and hospitals and responding to disease outbreaks—also plays more strategic, practical purpose: it allows military personnel to train in new environments, gather local experience and tactical data, and build diplomatic relations with host countries and communities.

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Newsweek’s Monkey Meat Ebola Fearmongering

Peter Hart recently wrote for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

newsweek-bushmeat‘It’s 2014, and a national magazine has a cover story about how African immigrants might spread a deadly virus in the United States, thanks to the peculiar and unsanitary food they eat. The cover image is a photo of a chimpanzee.

Yes, this really happened.

“A Back Door For Ebola: Smuggled Bushmeat Could Spark a US Epidemic” read the headline on the August 29 Newsweek, a profoundly shocking  image and message that immediately drew criticism.

But the problems of the piece were bigger than just the cover. The piece is built around the idea that illegally imported “bushmeat”–what we would call “wild game” if it were being eaten in the United States–could carry the deadly Ebola virus.’

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Growing Ebola Epidemic Has Been Underestimated and Ignored: Interview with Laurie Garrett

‘The World Health Organization is warning that the number of new Ebola cases in West Africa is growing faster than relief workers can manage. The organization says that thousands are at risk of contracting the virus in the coming weeks and more medical professionals are urgently needed to help contain the outbreak. So far, Ebola has claimed some 2,400 lives and continues to ravage Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. It is the worst outbreak since the virus was discovered in 1976. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone has lost a fourth doctor to Ebola after efforts to transfer her abroad for treatment failed. The loss is a major setback for the impoverished country, which is already suffering from a shortage of healthcare workers. Since the Ebola outbreak began, approximately 144 healthcare professionals have died while serving affected populations. We speak to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations.’ (Democracy Now!)

Will the Ebola virus go airborne? (And is that even the right question?)

Sarah Larimer writes for The Washington Post:

‘The Ebola virus, which has killed more than 2,400 people during the ongoing epidemic in West Africa, spreads through contact with bodily fluids. That means you can catch it from infected blood, for example, or if you come in contact with vomit from an Ebola patient.

You can’t catch it from breathing in the same air as someone suffering from Ebola — at least you can’t right now. But as the virus continues to spread and mutate, could airborne transmission become a concern? Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, raised that possibility in a New York Times op-ed last week.’

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Boots on the Ground? Obama Declares War on Ebola

Decades of corruption led Liberians to think Ebola was a government scam to attract Western aid

Sara Jerving reports for The Nation:

‘The distrust in the government is deeply rooted in anger at years of corruption and a lack of accountability within the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said Rodney Sieh, editor-in-chief of FrontPage Africa, a Liberian daily newspaper. Sirleaf, who became president in 2006, after the end of Liberia’s brutal civil war, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her role in the “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

 But the ghosts of the nation’s past soon began to haunt her administration. In 2009, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia recommended Sirleaf be forbidden from holding public office for thirty years because she previously backed Charles Taylor, the guerilla leader responsible for many of the atrocities committed during the war. Sirleaf remained in power. Her fellow Nobel laureate, Leymah Gbowee, resigned from her role in the commission and publicly distanced herself from the president in 2012.’

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Ebola cases in west Africa could rise to 20,000 says WHO

Lisa O’Carroll reports for The Guardian:

The WHO's assistant director-general Bruce Aylward estimates the Ebola outbreak in Liberia will requ‘The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned the number of Ebola cases could rise to 20,000 as doctors in Liberia say the deadly virus is now spreading so rapidly they can no longer deal with the crisis.

The UN health agency said the outbreak is accelerating in west Africa, where the death toll has now reached 1,552, and it believes the numbers who have been hit by Ebola could be two to four times higher than the current 3,069 cases currently reported.’

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The five biggest threats to human existence

Anders Sandberg of the Future of Humanity Institute writes for The Conversation:

A nuclear bomb blast‘In the daily hubbub of current “crises” facing humanity, we forget about the many generations we hope are yet to come. Not those who will live 200 years from now, but 1,000 or 10,000 years from now. I use the word “hope” because we face risks, called existential risks, that threaten to wipe out humanity. These risks are not just for big disasters, but for the disasters that could end history.

These risks remain understudied. There is a sense of powerlessness and fatalism about them. People have been talking apocalypses for millennia, but few have tried to prevent them. Humans are also bad at doing anything about problems that have not occurred yet (partially because of the availability heuristic – the tendency to overestimate the probability of events we know examples of, and underestimate events we cannot readily recall).

If humanity becomes extinct, at the very least the loss is equivalent to the loss of all living individuals and the frustration of their goals. But the loss would probably be far greater than that. Human extinction means the loss of meaning generated by past generations, the lives of all future generations (and there could be an astronomical number of future lives) and all the value they might have been able to create. If consciousness or intelligence are lost, it might mean that value itself becomes absent from the universe. This is a huge moral reason to work hard to prevent existential threats from becoming reality. And we must not fail even once in this pursuit.

With that in mind, I have selected what I consider the five biggest threats to humanity’s existence. But there are caveats that must be kept in mind, for this list is not final.’

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Hundreds of bioterror lab mishaps cloaked in secrecy

Alison Young reports for USA Today:

CDC scientist at work‘More than 1,100 laboratory incidents involving bacteria, viruses and toxins that pose significant or bioterror risks to people and agriculture were reported to federal regulators during 2008 through 2012, government reports obtained by USA TODAY show. More than half these incidents were serious enough that lab workers received medical evaluations or treatment, according to the reports. In five incidents, investigations confirmed that laboratory workers had been infected or sickened; all recovered.

In two other incidents, animals were inadvertently infected with contagious diseases that would have posed significant threats to livestock industries if they had spread. One case involved the infection of two animals with hog cholera, a dangerous virus eradicated from the USA in 1978. In another incident, a cow in a disease-free herd next to a research facility studying the bacteria that cause brucellosis, became infected due to practices that violated federal regulations, resulting in regulators suspending the research and ordering a $425,000 fine, records show.

But the names of the labs that had mishaps or made mistakes, as well as most information about all of the incidents, must be kept secret because of federal bioterrorism laws, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates the labs and co-authored the annual lab incident reports with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.’

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The Politics of the Ebola Serum & The History of Medical Exploitation in Africa: Interview with Harriet Washington

Editor’s Note: Harriet Washington is a medical ethicist. She is the author of “Deadly Monopolies: The Shocking Corporate Takeover of Life Itself–And the Consequences for Your Health and Our Medical Future” and “Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present“.

“Cordon sanitaire” drawn around Ebola victims

Michael Cook reports for BioEdge:

‘Bioethical debates about whether to administer an experimental drug for Ebola victims are interesting and necessary. But only a handful of doses are available anyway and hundreds of people are dying in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. According to the latest update from the World Health Organisation, 2,127  cases and 1,145 deaths have been reported. But it has also declared that “the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak”.

“Extraordinary measures,” are needed, it says, “on a massive scale, to contain the outbreak in settings characterized by extreme poverty, dysfunctional health systems, a severe shortage of doctors, and rampant fear.”

In view of the emergency, the three worst affected countries have taken the most drastic step possible – drawing a “cordon sanitaire” around the areas where the outbreak is most virulent. The perimeter is guarded by soldiers and no one is allowed in or out until the plague runs its course. It is a primitive method but in mediaeval times it was the only way to keep infection from multiplying.’

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