News Scan for Feb 15, 2016

Hawaii declares emergency
New chikungunya cases
Ebola vaccine test in monkeys
European Medical Corps formed
; ; ;

Hawaii declares emergency to fight mosquito-borne diseases

The governor of Hawaii, David Ige, on Feb 12 issued an emergency proclamation intended to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses, including dengue, Zika, and chikungunya, on the islands.

The proclamation allows Hawaii to gain access to its Major Disaster Fund if necessary, to waive certain regulations in the event of a major outbreak, and to apply for federal assistance, according to a press release from Ige's office.

The proclamation is intended to prevent mosquito-borne disease emergencies on the Hawaiian islands, including the Big Island, which is responding to an ongoing dengue outbreak. "There have been no locally acquired Zika cases in the U.S. or Hawai'i, and we'd like to keep it that way," Ige said. "This is about getting in front of the situation across the state."

The governor's office had earlier released budget restrictions on the Hawaii Department of Health, allowing it to be reimbursed for costs sustained during the dengue response and hire eight vector-control specialists.

Although dengue case numbers have waned in Hawaii in recent weeks, the state continues to focus on mosquito control and public education related to disease transmission.

As of Feb 12, 255 cases of dengue had been reported on the Big Island, and one case was still potentially infectious, according to the Hawaii Department of Health. Of the confirmed cases, 231 involve Hawaii residents and 24 involve visitors. Adults have accounted for 209 cases, and 46 occurred in children under 18 years. Illness onset dates range from Sep 11, 2015, to Feb 6.

The governor's emergency proclamation follows a decision from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to move its Emergency Operations Center to level 1, its highest level, in preparation for national Zika virus prevention and response.
Feb 12 Hawaii Office of the Governor press release
Feb 12 Hawaii Department of Health dengue update


PAHO notes more than 8,000 new chikungunya cases

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) late last week added 8,279 new chikungunya cases to its list, bringing the 2016 outbreak total to 14,700 confirmed and suspected cases.

The new infections, reported on Feb 12, bring the overall outbreak total to 1,860,082 chikungunya cases. The agency each week has been reporting catch-up 2015 chikungunya cases as well, but last week it had none from last year to report.

Two countries reporting their first cases of the year had the largest increase: Honduras with 3,348 cases, and El Salvador with 2,881. Colombia reported 1,385 new cases, bringing its 2016 total to 4,563. Costa Rica noted 628 new cases, its first in 2016. Mexico logged 30 new cases, increasing its 2016 total to 49.

No chikungunya-related deaths have yet been reported for 2016. The outbreak began in December 2013 on St. Martin in the Caribbean with the first recorded cases of the disease in the Americas.
Feb 12 PAHO update


Ebola vaccine looks promising in monkey study

An experimental Ebola virus vaccine based on a cytomegalovirus (CMV) provided some protection to rhesus macaques in a lab experiment, according to a report published today in Scientific Reports, a Nature publication.

To make the vaccine, researchers from Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, the US National Institutes of Health, and the University of California, Riverside, engineered a macaque CMV to express the Ebola virus glycoprotein, according to the report.

Four macaques were injected with the vaccine and two with a control vaccine before they were exposed to a normally lethal dose of Ebola virus. Three of the four vaccinated macaques survived; the two controls and one vaccinated animal became ill and were euthanized when they reached a "predetermined humane endpoint." Two of the three surviving macaques had a transient fever, and one had Ebola virus in its blood for a short time.

In a Plymouth University press release, the investigators said CMV-based vaccines can be made to produce the target protein at different intervals after vaccination, and this vaccine was designed to make the Ebola glycoprotein at later times.

"This resulted in the surprising production of high levels of antibodies against Ebola virus with no detectable Ebola-specific T cells," the release states. "This immunological shift towards antibodies has never been seen before for such primate herpesvirus-based vaccines, where responses are always associated with large T cell responses and poor to no antibodies."

Michael Jarvis, PhD, a Plymouth associate professor and senior author of the study, said the finding "suggests that we may be able to bias immunity towards either antibodies or T cells based on the time of target antigen production. This is exciting not just for Ebola, but for vaccination against other infectious as well as non-infectious diseases."
Feb 15 Scientific Reports article
Feb 15 Plymouth University press release


European Union forms emergency medical corps

The European Commission (EC) announced the establishment today of a European Medical Corps, which will provide rapid-response medical and public health expertise and equipment during an emergency.

The European Medical Corps is a voluntary program operating under the auspices of the European Emergency Response Capacity (EERC), the EC said in a press release. Currently, nine European Union (EU) member states (Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, Finland, and Sweden) have pledged teams and supplies to the effort.

The need for rapidly deployable medical staff and equipment arose during the EU's response to the Ebola outbreak. The corps will have capacity to be deployed within and between member states, as well as outside the EU.

Medical and public health teams must be certified to operate within the European Medical Corps, the EC said. As a result, the EU has dedicated part of its budget to providing adaptation grants needed for member states to ensure their teams are ready and qualified to provide international emergency assistance. Financial support is also available for training and exercises that lead to certification.

In the event of an emergency, deployment is voluntary and coordinated by the ERCC. The EU will provide up to 85% of transportation costs related to corps deployment.

Equipment made available under the European Medical Corps includes mobile biosafety laboratories and medical evacuation mechanisms. The corps also provides for the deployment of medical assessment and coordination experts and logistical support teams.

The European Medical Corps represents the EU's contribution to the World Health Organization's Global Health Emergency Workforce, the EC said.
Feb 15 EC press release

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