Senate to Take Up Biological Threats; Firms Could Get Funding Sooner
“The Senate is moving to take up legislation as soon as this week revamping a struggling multibillion-dollar effort to counter bioterrorism threats with a national stockpile of new vaccines and other drugs. The legislation creates a central authority within the Health and Human Services Department to manage the effort, sets aside an additional $1 billion for research and gives the federal government the flexibility to provide cash infusions to the small firms doing most of the work. Supporters of the bill, which is more than a year in the making, are cautiously optimistic that it will pass... The initiative is intended to salvage the Bush administration's Project BioShield, a $5.6 billion program to counter biological and radioactive weapons... Project BioShield ‘didn't work because a majority of the companies choose not to participate and the ones that did, they were not financed through the valley of death,’ [Senator Richard] Burr [R-N.C.] said.” (The Washington Post; 15Nov06; Renae Merle)
Using nanotechnology and lasers to rapidly detect viruses
“Waiting a day or more to get lab results back from the doctor’s office soon could become a thing of a past. Using nanotechnology, a team of University of Georgia researchers has developed a diagnostic test that can detect viruses as diverse as influenza [and] HIV... in 60 seconds or less. In addition to saving time, the technique – which is detailed in the November issue of the journal Nano Letters – could save lives by rapidly detecting a naturally occurring disease outbreak or bioterrorism attack...
The technique, called surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS), works by measuring the change in frequency of a near-infrared laser as it scatters off viral DNA or RNA. This change in frequency, named the Raman shift for the scientist who discovered it in 1928, is as distinct as a fingerprint... [Lead author Ralph Tripp, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Vaccine Development at the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine] said the technique is so powerful that it has the potential to detect a single virus particle and can also discern virus subtypes and those with mutations such as gene insertions and deletions. This specificity makes it valuable as a diagnostic tool, but also as a means for epidemiologists to track where viruses originate from and how they change as they move through populations.” (Nanowerk News; 15Nov06) http://www.nanowerk.com
New Gas Safely Kills Anthrax [Bacillus anthracis], Super Germs, Experts Say
“There's still no surefire treatment for people who inhale anthrax [Bacillus anthracis], but now, there is a major breakthrough in prevention. Any post office, hospital, airplane or other enclosed space contaminated by anthrax can soon be quickly sterilized with a dry gas that destroys spores and bacteria. The gas -- called Vaprox -- can also kill drug-resistant super bugs like bird flu and hospital-acquired infections, says Dr. Mark Smith, Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Washington Hospital Center. ‘The gas is very effective at filling all the spaces and killing all the bugs,’ Dr. Smith says... Steris, a company specializing in decontamination and infection prevention, developed Vaprox...” (WTOP Radio; 14Nov06; Evan Haning)
Get Your Free Flu Shot and Ward Off Bioterrorism
“On Friday, a free drive-through flu shot clinic will be available to the public... The city of Santa Clarita [California] is participating in the planning and implementation of this drive-through flu clinic because this event is actually exercising the city's bioterrorism preparedness plan with L.A. County Public Health and COC [College of the Canyons]. The exercise is designed to test the ‘Cities Readiness Initiative’ [CRI] response during a bioterrorism attack or pandemic. The purpose of the CRI plan is to treat the impacted population with medications within a condensed time period. This exercise is a tremendous undertaking for a three-hour operation. The model that will be exercised during the drive-through clinic is called a ‘rapid point of dispensing’ (POD). The objective of this exercise is to test the through-put of processing people within the three-hour time period of the operation. The benefit of the exercise is the public will be administered actual flu shots.” (The Signal; 14Nov06; Frank Ferry)
HazMat responds to anthrax scare at FRDC [Fulton Reception and Diagnostic Center, Fulton, Missouri]
“The Fulton Fire Department responded to a call of a suspicious white powder substance at the Missouri Department of Corrections Fulton Reception and Diagnostic Center around 10:30 a.m. Monday. The Cole County Regional Hazardous Materials Team also responded to the call with specialized chemical testing equipment... ‘[A testing] machine determined the substance was not anthrax,’ [Fulton Fire Department Public Information Officer Vikki] Schulte said. ‘It identified the substance as crushed aspirin, and could even tell us it was Shop-Rite Aspirin.’ The package originated internally from an offender who was trying to send it to his girlfriend on the outside. A note was included with the package that stated the powder was anthrax.” (Fulton Sun; 14Nov06; Justin Kelley) http://www.fultonsun.com
THS [Tecumseh High School, Oklahoma] Bioterrorism Exercise Successful
“The Pottawatomie County [Oklahoma] Health Department and local first responders conducted a successful bioterrorism exercise Sept. 15 at Tecumseh High School. The Mass Immunization Prophylaxis Strategies (MIPS) exercise was implemented to test the emergency planning and response capabilities of a bioterrorism attack on the citizens of Pottawatomie County. The exercise was centered on an outbreak of the plague and how to provide simulated medication to a large number of residents in a short period of time... ‘Our MIPS exercise was the first of its kind in the State of Oklahoma, in that a multi-county (Pottawatomie, Seminole, Hughes, Okfuskee, and Lincoln) approach to a bioterrorism attack was planned, collaborated, and executed successfully[,]’ [said Tina R. Johnson, administrative director for Pottawatomie, Seminole, Hughes, and Okfuskee County Health Departments].” (Tecumseh County Wide News & The Shawnee Sun;
Acambis loses U.S. smallpox deal
“Vaccine maker Acambis said on Tuesday it had been unexpectedly dropped from consideration by the U.S. government for a new smallpox vaccine contract that analysts believe could be worth up to $1 billion... Acambis had been competing with Denmark's Bavarian Nordic... to supply the U.S. government with a weakened version of the smallpox vaccine suitable for vulnerable members of the population such as the elderly... A company spokesman said technical issues, rather than price, lay behind the move...
Acambis had already supplied the U.S. government with more than $500 million worth of standard smallpox vaccine as the country moved to build up stocks amid fears of bio-terrorist attack. Analysts had assumed Acambis would win at least half of the new contract.” (Reuters UK; 14Nov06; Mark Potter and Ben Hirschler)
Poor lab controls increase risk of bioterrorism, experts warn
“Lax controls in laboratories, poor international agreements on harmful pathogens and ignorance among scientists of the risks their research may pose are increasing the danger of terrorists devising biological weapons, according to specialists at a meeting on genetics and terrorism at Edinburgh University. The conference, held by the Economic and Social Research Council's genomics policy and research forum, brought together experts on bioterrorism to discuss ways to reduce the risk of terrorists exploiting advances in biological sciences... Their recommendations suggest scientists take mandatory educational courses on the potential threats of research and set up bioterror ‘hotlines’ for lab staff to use if they create a dangerous organism by accident.” (The Guardian; 14Nov06; Ian Sample)
Seoul To Ban Development Of Bio Weapons
“South Korea is set to ban the development and possession of bio weapons starting 2007, a government statement said Sunday. In the statement, South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy detailed what would no longer be allowed. That includes all development, manufacturing and possession of biological weapons, including the trading and transportation of bio-products used in the manufacture of such weapons.
The ban will take effect after the government revises the current law on chemical and biological development in April 2007, the statement said. The ministry also said biological products used for peaceful purposes, such as clinical treatment, should be reported to the government before being allowed.” (All Headline News; 12Nov06; Komfie Manalo)
Keeping Airmen safe and secure
“From identifying chemical agents to maintaining safe working conditions, [the US Air Force] 379th [Air Expeditionary Wing] bioenvironmental office does a little bit of everything... The job of being in this career field involves playing numerous roles such as being a front-line responder to detect chemical/biological/radiological agents in contingency situations, as well as functioning behind-the-scenes ensuring personal safety for people deployed here... Bioenvironmental Engineering office’s primary mission is readiness and responding to any CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) incidents... Captain Lee [chief, bioenvironmental engineering office] and his team have a variety of equipment at their disposal. The hand-held assay detects and identifies eight different biological agents; the hapsite — a portable gas chromatogram/mass spectrometer detects and identifies chemical agents such as Sarin and mustard gas and toxic industrial chemicals; the SAM-935 detects and identifies various radioisotopes.” (Blackanthem Military News; 13Nov06; Tech. Sgt. Steve Staedler)
FSA [Food Standards Agency] summit plans UK food terror response
“Plans to deal with widespread contamination of the UK food supply caused by a terrorist attack have been discussed by industry, food safety and security officials amid concerns at the terror threat facing the country... The FSA intends to use Thursday's meeting, organised jointly by Leatherhead Food International, to develop a ‘portfolio of good practice guidance’ to both prevent and respond to a food terror attack... An attack would be very difficult to achieve, according to Dr Keith Neal, an expert on bioterrorism and part-time government advisor from the University of Nottingham. ‘You've got to get a very harmful poison and you've got to be able to distribute it. There's various nasty chemicals, but to actually do this on mass is really very difficult because most poisons are bitter, and we have evolved to spit bitter things out,’ Neal told BeverageDaily.com.
Other problems include the need for heat-stable toxins, the potential for chemicals to be washed off food before it is eaten, and the potential for contamination to be discovered quickly and dealt with via batch recalls.”
(Beveragedaily.com; 15Nov06; Chris Mercer) http://www.beveragedaily.com
Radiation Detection Equipment Up and Running in Slovenia
“The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced that radiation detection equipment to screen for nuclear and radiological material at the Port of Koper in Slovenia is fully operational.~ The equipment was installed in the Republic of Slovenia under NNSA’s Second Line of Defense program, which works around the world to prevent the illicit trafficking of nuclear weapons and ‘dirty bomb’ material. ‘Detecting smuggled nuclear material is part of our overall efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism.~ The Slovenian Port of Koper is a major crossroad between eastern and western Europe.~ It is important that we have adequate detection there,’ said NNSA Administrator Linton F.
Brooks.” (NNSA Press Release; 13Nov06)
Military nanotechnology - how worried should we be?
“All major powers are making efforts to research and develop nanotechnology- based materials and systems for military use... Stressing continued technological superiority as its main strategic advantage, [the US military] is determined to exploit nanotechnology for future military use and it certainly wants to be No. 1 in this area. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is a major investor, spending well over 30% of all federal investment dollars in nanotechnology... Of considerable concern is the question to what degree military nanotech could lead to destabilization (when one military power develops a technology that others cannot effectively defend against) and undermine arms-control agreements like the Biological Weapons Convention. A NATO study group states that ‘the potential for nanotech-driven innovations in chemical and biological weapons are particularly disquieting as they can considerably enhance the delivery mechanisms of agents or toxic substances. The ability of nanoparticles to penetrate the human body and its cells could make biological and chemical warfare much more feasible, easier to manage and to direct against specific groups or individuals.’” (Nanowerk Spotlight; 13Nov06; Michael Berger)
Envoy: Islamic Extremists Seek Weapons
“Islamic extremists, including members of al-Qaida, have tried to acquire chemical or radiological weapons to use in attacks against Britain and other Western targets, a senior British diplomat said Monday... Britain's Foreign Office has evidence of efforts by the terror groups to purchase chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials for use in attacks, the diplomat said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of his work... The diplomat acknowledged that an attack with chemical or radiological weapons would most likely be mounted with crude technology and cause mass panic rather than mass casualties. Britain's Foreign Office is concerned over the potential access terrorists could have to substances with legitimate uses that could also be used to create weapons and biological agents like smallpox or anthrax, the official said.... The Foreign Office official said hundreds of British Muslims were making terrorism-related trips between Britain and Pakistan each year.” (The Washington Post; 13Nov06; AP, David Stringer)
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