News Scan for Jun 26, 2014

Chikungunya in Suriname
Anthrax scare and GOF studies

Suriname reports suggest local chikungunya transmission

Suriname health officials yesterday said more chikungunya infections have been detected, suggesting the possibility of local transmission, Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) reported today.

The Suriname Bureau of Public Health (BOG) has now confirmed 17 cases, which included two announced earlier in travelers—one in a man who returned from St Martin and the other in a woman who was in neighboring Guyana. The BOG said the 15 other cases were confirmed yesterday and that it expects widespread illnesses to follow. A local media report translated and posted by FluTrackers, and infectious disease news message board, said of the 15 new cases, two are family members of the first case-patient and are considered imported cases. It said the other 13 patients contracted the disease locally.

Locally transmitted cases have been detected in two countries that border Suriname, Guyana to the west and French Guiana to the east.

At a press conference yesterday with the ministry and other regional health groups, officials warned that the virus could affect thousands unless precautions are taken, such as avoiding mosquitoes and emptying outdoor water containers.

In other developments, Alabama has reported its first chikungunya case this year in a traveler, the Associated Press (AP) reported yesterday. The Alabama Department of Public Health said the patient is a woman from Huntsville who was exposed to the virus while traveling in Haiti.

So far this year 74 imported cases from 23 states have been reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to a Jun 24 update from the agency. The number is much more than the average total of 28 cases in a whole year. All but one of the cases this year had a link to Caribbean travel.
Jun 26 CMC story
Jun 25 AP story
FluTrackers thread


Nature editors: CDC anthrax scare hints at risks of GOF studies

Last week's incident involving possible exposure of numerous CDC staffers to live Bacillus anthracis adds fuel to the heated debate over laboratory work on dangerous pathogens, including "gain-of-function" (GOF) research, says an editorial published in Nature yesterday.

"If an accident can happen at the CDC, then it can happen anywhere," states the piece.

Last week's episode involved anthrax bacteria that were supposedly inactivated in a biosafety-3 (BSL-3) lab for use in research at several BSL-2 labs. It was found that a lapse in safety procedures may have allowed live bacteria to survive in the samples, potentially exposing more than 80 CDC workers at the BSL-2 labs, which do not provide adequate protection for the handling of dangerous live pathogens, to the live bacteria.

The workers were warned and offered prophylactic antibiotics. The CDC has since said that preliminary environmental testing at the labs showed negative results.

Questions as to the advisability of GOF research, in which pathogens are engineered to be more lethal and/or to transmit more easily, have been raised since late 2011, when two groups modified H5N1 avian flu viruses to increase their transmissibility. The resulting controversy promoted a temporary moratorium on influenza GOF research, which has since expired.

Says the Nature editorial, "It is impossible to read about the CDC [anthrax] incident and not breathe a large sigh of relief that it did not involve a novel engineered pandemic influenza strain."

It adds, "The CDC accident shows that, should such [GOF] research proliferate, the idea of an accidental release of a potentally pandemic flu virus cannot be completely written off. This demands that such research proposals receive the utmost scrutiny."
Jun 26 Nature Editorial
Jun 19 CIDRAP News story on CDC anthrax incident
Jun 19 CIDRAP News commentary on GOF controversy
May 22 CIDRAP News story on GOF controversy


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