News Scan for Dec 06, 2017

Boston BSL-4 lab OK'd
Zika infection patterns
Refugee diphtheria outbreak

Boston University lab receives final clearance to begin BSL-4 work

Boston University's National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories (NEIDL) received final approval from the Boston Public Health Commission to conduct biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) research, clearing the final hurdle to begin work on some of the world's most lethal pathogens, such as Ebola and Marburg virus, BU Today, the campus newspaper, reported.

The lab was completed in 2008 but has been barred from doing BSL-4 work while it faced several litigation challenges from neighborhood and other groups who have safety concerns over work on pathogens at the lab in the urban area where the NEIDL is located. During the legal challenges, the lab has done BSL-2 work, and then in 2014 began BSL-3 work.

Gloria Waters, PhD, vice president and associate provost for research at BU, told BU Today, "With the opening of the NEIDL's BSL-4 lab, BU is poised to establish itself as a national leader in fighting microbial systems and infectious diseases. The work that will be carried out here will bring benefit and relief in the form of vaccines, treatments, and cures to people in Boston, the United States, and around the world."

Of 10 BSL-4 labs in the United States, NEIDL is one of two located at a university. The other is the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch, according to the report, which said each BSL-4 project at NEIDL will be scrutinized and monitored by multiple local and federal agencies.

The lab's first approved BSL-4 project involves establishing novel infection platforms that mimic the pathology of Ebola and Marburg viruses to help shed light how why the virus is so lethal in humans. Hands-on work is expected to begin in another 1 to 2 months, according to the report.
Dec 6 BU Today story
May 15, 2014, CIDRAP News story "Steps move Boston lab closer to BSL-4 work"


Zika analysis finds female, younger patients more likely to report symptoms

Zika infection prevalence is similar in female and male patients, but females are more likely to report symptomatic illnesses, according to a household-based cluster investigation in Puerto Rico just after the epidemic peaked in 2016. Researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Puerto Rico Department of Health reported their findings today in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The findings challenge earlier reports from Puerto Rico, Brazil, and other affected areas of disproportionately higher rates of Zika disease in females and in people of both sexes ages 10 to 39 years.

To tease out infection patterns, the team conducted clusters investigations within a 100-meter radius of the houses of 19 people in the San Juan metropolitan area who had lab-confirmed Zika infections. Participants took a questionnaire and submitted blood specimens for testing.

Of 367 people who participated in the study, 114 (31.1%) tested positive for Zika virus, of which 30% reported a recent illness consistent with Zika symptoms, such as rash or joint pain.

Age and sex weren't associated with Zika infection in general; however, some factors were independently associated with symptomatic infection: female sex, age younger than 40 years, and asthma.

The researchers wrote that the lack of difference in prevalence by age or sex suggests that different infections rates, such as from sexual transmission, may not significantly contribute to observed age and sex differences in Zika cases in Puerto Rico. They also noted that the pattern of females and people under age 40 being more likely to report Zika symptoms has not been seen with dengue or chikungunya virus infections. Also, they didn't find an obvious explanation for increased symptom reporting in people with asthma and said they can't rule out the possibility that the finding might be a chance observation.

More investigation is needed to examine if and potentially how hormonal and immunologic factors affect a patient's likelihood of developing symptomatic Zika disease following infection.
Dec 6 J Infect Dis abstract


WHO: diphtheria outbreak strikes refugee settlements in Bangladesh

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned today that diphtheria is spreading quickly among Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who have fled to densely populated settlements in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

So far more than 110 suspected cases have been reported, 6 of them fatal, based on illnesses diagnosed by health workers from groups including Doctor Without Borders and the International Federation of the Red Cross.

Navaratnasamy Paranietharan, MBBS, MPH, the WHO's representative to Bangladesh, said in a WHO statement, "These cases could be just the tip of the iceberg. This is an extremely vulnerable population with low vaccination coverage, living in conditions that could be a breeding ground for infectious diseases like cholera, measles, rubella, and diphtheria."

He said health officials have been worried about communicable disease threats to the more than 624,000 people who have fled violence in neighboring Myanmar since August, arriving in crowded temporary settlements that have poor access to clean water, sanitation, and health services. Paranietharan said a cholera vaccine campaign reached 700,000 people, and a measles-rubella vaccine campaign just ended yesterday, which targeted 350,000 children. "Now we have to deal with diphtheria," he said.

The WHO, Bangladesh's health ministry, and other partners are working together to step up diagnosis and treatment and are preparing for a vaccination campaign targeting all children up to age 6 years with pentavalent (DTP-HepB-Hib) and pneumococcal vaccines to protect against diphtheria and a host of other diseases.

Also, the WHO has procured an initial 1,000 vials of diphtheria antitoxin that are slated to arrive in Bangladesh by the weekend. Antitoxins are used in patients who are sick with the disease to neutralize toxins produced by the bacteria and are used alongside antibiotics.

The diphtheria outbreak in Bangladesh's refugee settlements is the second to be reported recently during a humanitarian crisis. On Nov 27 the WHO said it was shipping antitoxin and medical supplies to Yemen to curb an diphtheria outbreak there. Over the past 3 months, the country reported 189 cases, 20 of them fatal, mainly in children and young adults. A vaccination campaign launched in Yemen on Nov 25 targeted 300,000 children under 12 months old, with another round slated for this month to reach more than 3 million children and young adults.
Dec 6 WHO press release
Nov 27 WHO press release

Newsletter Sign-up

Get CIDRAP news and other free newsletters.

Sign up now»


Unrestricted financial support provided by

Bentson Foundation Gilead 
Grant support for ASP provided by


  Become an underwriter»