Pilgrims and Pandemics: Hajj, Umrah, and MERS

Click here to check out my blog post for George Washington University‘s International Health Regulations Blog!

The Hajj and Umrah, the two largest pilgrimages of Islam, both take place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This presents a public health concern, as millions of people from all over the world will be coming to the country that has reported the largest number of MERS-Coronavirus cases.


Preparing for Hurricanes

Display of tax-free hurricane supplies outside a Virginia Home Depot (C) Hillary Craddock, all rights reserved

Display of tax-free hurricane supplies outside a Virginia Home Depot (C) Hillary Craddock, all rights reserved

Hurricane season officially starts for the Atlantic Coast June 1, and weather experts predict that the 2013 hurricane season will be more dangerous than normal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts as many as 20 total named storms, which could include seven to 11 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes. Accuweather also predicts a worse than normal hurricane season, with 16 tropical storms and eight hurricanes. They predict that four of those will be major hurricanes, and that three of those will make U.S. landfall.

So what can you do? It’s simpler than you may think – Get a kit. Make a plan. These two simple sentences have been used by everyone from the Red Cross and CDC to state and local health departments to encourage everyone to be prepared. Kits help ensure that you can either take shelter safely in your home or evacuate quickly and safely. A plan helps you care for yourself and your loved ones, even your pets and livestock. Continue reading

Link Aggregation: 1/26/13

Disaster Response:

The CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response has recommended the site Do 1 Thing as a good starting point for preparing yourself and your family for a disaster. Do 1 thing sends free monthly suggestions on simple ways to prepare yourself, your family, and your community, and they also offer materials in large print, audio format, braille, Spanish, Chinese, Nepali, Arabic, Swahili, Somali, and Burmese.

An article about cholera in Haiti provides a really cool look at how the health of responders is an important factor to consider in emergency management.

A great article on disaster planning for people with horses.

Science Communication:

Occam’s Typewriter blogger summarizes the #overlyhonestmethods trend on twitter.

Also in twitter, #MiddleEarthPublicHealth discussed population health concerns in Lord of the Rings.

I absolutely love the video blog The Brain Scoop. Check out one of their videos below!

Public Health Emergency: Influenza 2013

Members of the U.S. Army receiving the flu vaccine. Source: Flickr Creative Commons, (C) U.S. Army

Members of the U.S. Army receiving the flu vaccine. Source: Flickr Creative Commons, (C) U.S. Army

Recently the State of New York and the City of Boston have both declared public health emergencies. A Pennsylvania hospital (Lehigh Valley) has set up surge tents outside the emergency rooms to handle any patients with a fever. While last year’s flu season was incredibly mild, this year has been very different. The flu is becoming much more widespread much earlier in the season, and the strain in question is causing severe illness. for example, in Boston 25% of reported cases (a case is reported any time someone tests positive, so any time you go to a doctor and get swabbed you are being tested, and those data are being reported) are requiring hospitalization.

What is a Public Health Emergency?

Essentially, a Public Health Emergency is declared when a state or city (or the entire country) needs to release resources (monetary resources, vaccine stockpiles, healthcare providers, ect.) to handle a threat. These are bad situations (or imminent threats) requiring lots of people, supplies, and funds to deal with. For example, part of the emergency declaration in NYC allows pharmacists to give vaccines to children between the ages of 6 months and 18 years. Ordinarily  pharmacists can only administer vaccines to adults, but since children are considered an at-risk group for severe influenza the emergency declaration waived that regulation. Continue reading

My, what an impressive nose you have: How rats could help detect Tuberculosis

Adorable and a TB detection device!

Adorable and a TB detection device! Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dogs have powerful noses; they can be trained to sniff out anything from land mines to cancer. However, they are not the only furry, four-legged creature that relies on a keen sense of smell. The Gambian pouched rat (Cricetomys gambianus, also known as the African giant pouched rat) is a large rodent (not technically a true rat) that relies heavily on its sense of smell.

What does this have to do with Tuberculosis? TB bacterium omit a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC), which can then be detected by smell. The rats are being utilized in countries that can’t afford state-of-the-art testing methods, which can cost more than 20 USD per sample and require the purchase of tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. TB disproportionately affects resource-poor nations; more than 95% of deaths due to TB occur in low- and middle-income countries. Continue reading

Chronic Wasting Disease: A New Threat To Pennsylvania Deer, No Gun Required

Dinner. Unless he has CWD. Source, Wikimedia Commons, (C) USDA, Agricultural Research Service

This post was originally published at Mind the Science Gap on Nov. 29, 2012.

In early October a deer tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease for the first time in Pennsylvania. The positive result, which was found in a farm herd, resulted in the quarantine of all the deer on the property. Earlier this month, a deer escaped the quarantine and was running free in Pennsylvania. Two days ago that deer was shot and killed to prevent further disease transmission. That doe is still undergoing testing to determine if she was infected. As a result of all of these events unfolding, Pennsylvania has swiftly put plans into action. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is nearly impossible to eradicate once it establishes itself in a population, and in order to save PA’s deer herds, they needed to act fast.

Chronic Wasting Disease is endemic (established in wild populations) in Colorado and Wyoming. It has also been reported in wild herds in Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. CWD has been found in captive herds in other states, such as Iowa. States with no confirmed cases often have CWD task forces and policies to prevent introduction of the pathogen. For example, Washington recently began requiring hunters returning from CWD-endemic areas to undergo testing and processing to remove infectious material.

CWD is a type of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), a group of disease that includes Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow), Scrapie (a disease commonly found in sheep), Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (a neurodegenerative disease in humans), and Fatal familial insomnia (a disease where protein misfolding results in insomnia which progresses to delusions and eventually death). TSEs are all caused by a pathogenic organism known as a prion. Prions are rather unique in that they are not a virus or bacteria, but a protein with an abnormal structure. These prions can be infectious and transmissible (like CWD and Mad Cow) or inherited (like the fatal insomnia). Continue reading