News Scan for Feb 21, 2018

Saudi MERS cases
Trump and anti-vaxxers
Vaccine against Ebola, Marburg, more

New MERS cases reported as hospital outbreak confirmed

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported two new MERS cases yesterday, and the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that a small healthcare-associated outbreak occurred in Hafar Al-Batin in January.

Two 66-year-old Saudi men, one from Riyadh and the other from Taif, have been diagnosed as having MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus). The man from Riyadh is in stable condition and the source of his illness is listed as "primary," meaning it's unlikely he contracted the virus from another person. The Taif man is in critical condition, and the MOH said he had direct contact with camels, a known risk factor for MERS-CoV.  

Saudi Arabia has now confirmed 1,798 MERS cases since 2012, including 731 deaths. Seven people are still being treated for their infections, the MOH said.

The WHO also released its monthly situation update on MERS, noting Saudi Arabia reported 25 cases, including 8 deaths, in January. They also confirmed a small hospital outbreak in Hafar Al-Batin, which involved one patient and three asymptomatic healthcare workers.

Globally since 2012, there have been 2,160 cases of MERS, including 773 deaths. The case fatality rate for the virus is 35.8%.
Feb 20 Saudi MOH report
Feb 20 WHO report


Trump backs off on Kennedy's anti-vaccine review

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., tapped by President Donald Trump to investigate whether vaccines cause autism, said he hasn't heard from the White House in months, according to a report today in the UK newspaper The Guardian.

A year ago, Trump and Kennedy met weeks after Trump became president, and Kennedy was tasked with leading a review of the possible connection between childhood immunizations and autism. Trump had spoken at some anti-vaccine events as a presidential candidate, and tweeted about the connection between childhood immunizations and the rise in autism.

Now, Kennedy said he hasn't heard from the White House for the last 6 months, and said President Trump is "going in a different direction," on vaccines. The review has never been formerly supported by the White House, Kennedy told the Guardian.

In 2005, Kennedy wrote an article for Rolling Stone magazine suggesting thimerosal, a preservative used in vaccines until 2001, led to autism. The article was later retracted.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both maintain that childhood vaccines are safe, effective, and in no way cause autism.
Feb 21 Guardian story


Vaccine protects non-human primates against Ebola and Marburg viruses

A new prophylactic vaccine was immunogenic and effective against multiple filoviruses, including Ebola and Marburg, in monkeys, according to a study yesterday in PLoS One.

The vaccine, which expresses glycoproteins from Ebola virus (EBOV), Sudan virus (SUDV), Tai Forest virus (TAFV) and Marburg virus (MARV), is being investigated as a universal filovirus vaccine. Unlike ring vaccines, which have been used during filovirus outbreaks, a single-prophylactic vaccine could be introduced in childhood and offer life-long protection.

To test the vaccine, a team of international researchers immunized macaques with a multivalent vaccine comprising adenovirus serotypes 26 and 35 (Ad26 and Ad35) and modified vaccinia virus Ankara. The animals were then challenged with EBOV, MARV, and SUDV. The vaccine protected the monkeys from EBOV and MARV fully and SUDV partially.

"A multivalent filovirus vaccine would be optimal for prophylactic administration, for example, of populations who are deemed to be at risk of geographical or occupational exposure, and also for aid workers and other professionals who may be called into filovirus endemic regions," the authors concluded. "The results from our studies, combined with clinical data, indicate that a prophylactic multivalent filovirus vaccine is a realistic goal."
Feb 20 PLoS One study

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