The US Department of Homeland Security has signed a multi-million dollar contract with a global management consulting firm to boost the country’s attempt to master biosurveillance using social networks.
Virginia-based Accenture Federal Services will receive $3 million in federal funds to spend during the next year as they assist with efforts from the DHS and the Office of Health Affairs (OHA) to improve the United States’ ability to track health trends and potential pandemics by means of monitoring social media accounts and other online activity.
According to a statement from the company, Accenture will be working hand-in-hand with the OHA in order to test out a pilot program that hopes to manage, link and analyze crucial data submitted by individuals about diseases and perhaps even a biological attack by pulling feeds from social networks.
“Biosurveillance is the monitoring of public health trends and unusual occurrences, relying on pre-existing, real-time health data – data that is publicly available and easily obtained,” says Joanne Veto, Accenture’s director of media and analyst relations. “Because of the vast amount of data and information available and readily shared through social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs) and the rapid pace information is shared, collecting and understanding information from these channels is critical.”
It’s no secret that the government has used social media to analyze domestic trends earlier, but this could be the first time that the DHS is determined to try and keep track of science, monitoring user-inputted data to map out and make sense of certain statistics.
“In theory, social media analytics would have shown timely indicators for multiple past biological and health-related events,” John Matchette, Accenture managing director for US public safety, tells NextGov.
Earlier this year, an independent team of researchers from the University of Rochester in Western New York State analyzed millions of GPS-tagged tweets from over 600,000 residents of the Big Apple to see how disease traffic could be captured and comprehended using algorithms.
“Given that three of your friends have flu-like symptoms, and that you have recently met eight people, possibly strangers, who complained about having runny noses and headaches, what is the probability that you will soon become ill as well,” Adam Sadilek of the school said in his research. “Our models enable you to see the spread of infectious diseases, such as flu, throughout a real-life population observed through online social media.”
At roughly the same time that Sadilek’s team went public with their findings, President Obama issued a national strategy for biosurveillance in hopes that federal agencies will be able to take control of similar projects.
“Consider social media as a force multiplier that can empower individuals and communities to provide early warning and global situational awareness,” the guidelines stated.
In a statement from Pres. Obama at the time, the commander-in-chief said he was giving federal agencies 120 days to lay out the specifics of a biosurveillance program tasked with“obtaining timely and accurate insight on current and emerging risks.”
On a page on the Accenture website, the company acknowledges their several already established-ties with the DHS, with who they’ve worked with on previous projects in the past.
“Nothing is more important than securing the nation — the fundamental mission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Accenture works with DHS, both in its external mission to protect the people of the United States from terrorist threats and in its internal quest to improve operations,” the company writes.
By rolling out a pilot program that analyses tweets and blog posts, Accenture’s Matchette says their latest project only makes sense to keep on task with making America safe from any outbreaks.
PUBLISHED: 15:50 EST, 16 November 2012 | UPDATED: 16:51 EST, 16 November 2012
The biggest germ traps found in restaurants have nothing to do with undercooked meat or day-old seafood. It’s the menu and the seats customers sit on should be worried about.
Investigating the horrifying bacteria hidden in restaurants’ most unlikely places, ABC NewsConsumer Correspondent Elisabeth Leamy went undercover at 10 restaurants in three U.S. states.
She took swab samples from surfaces you come typically in contact with at a restaurant, which showed the top four dirtiest culprits are the chairs, menus, beverage lemons and salt and pepper shakers found on tables across America.
Germ traps: The biggest germ traps in restaurants have nothing to do with undercooked meat or day-old seafood – it’s the menu and the seats customers sit on should be worried about
Dr. Philip Tierno from the New York University Microbiology Department tested the samples, and found 70per cent of the chair seats Ms Leamy sampled had 17 different kinds of bad bacteria on them, including strains of E. coli.
(AFP) – 2 days ago
KAMPALA — A fresh outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in central Uganda has killed at least two people, the health minister said Thursday.
The virus has killed two members of the same family since Saturday about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the capital Kampala, Health Minister Christine Ondoa said.
“The ministry of health would like to inform the general public that another viral haemorrhagic fever, Ebola, has broken out in the country,” Ondoa said.
A third man also died in the area late last month after showing symptoms of Ebola however no samples were taken from the victim and the case was not reported to local health officials, the minister said.
So far five people who came into contact with the deceased are being monitored, with two admitted to the isolation unit at Kampala’s main Mulago hospital, she said.
The new cases come just weeks after an Ebola outbreak in western Uganda that claimed at least 17 lives was officially declared over following a 42-day surveillance period mandated by the World Health Organisation during which no new cases were reported.
Since then an outbreak of another similar virus, Marburg haemorrhagic fever, in southwestern Uganda has killed at least eight people.
Health officials say there is no evidence that the latest Ebola cases are related to the previous outbreak.
Ebola, which spreads by contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of infected people or corpses, is fatal in between 25 and 90 percent of cases according to WHO, with victims in the most severe cases bleeding from body orifices before dying.
The rare haemorrhagic disease killed 37 people in western Uganda in 2007 and at least 170 in the north of the country in 2000.
In neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo the latest outbreak of Ebola around the northeastern town of Isiro, some 350 kilometres (220 miles) from the Ugandan border, had claimed 26 lives by late October, when the WHO said the outbreak had stabilised.
DR Congo has recorded eight outbreaks of Ebola since the virus was first reported near a Congolese river that gave the disease its name in 1976.
The data, compiled by the Washington-based Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy’s Extending the Cure project, shows that patterns of antibiotic overuse vary dramatically by region, with the Southeastern states having the highest rates, according to the L.A. Times.
Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana had more than one antibiotic prescription per capita in 2010. Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington ranked the lowest with just over one annual prescription for every two people.
Overall antibiotic use in the United States has dropped over the last decade. In 1999, 966 prescriptions were made for every thousand residents. The number dropped to 801 in 2010.
Public health officials are concerned that antibiotic overuse and misuse could lead to the development of drug-resistant strains. Urinary tract infections were once easily treated and have now become resistant to medication.
“It’s something we see on a weekly basis in our emergency room,” Dr. Sara Cosgrove of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore said, the L.A. Times reports. “We have women who need to be admitted to the hospital for a urinary tract infection. In the past we would have sent them home with a pill.”
The center has tracked antibiotic use over time and incorporated the data with statistics from bacterial culture labs nationwide, as well as prescription data from U.S. pharmacies, to create what it calls a “resistance map.”
The map was unveiled as part of the annual Get Smart About Antibiotics Week.
The new Ebola outbreak was confirmed Wednesday in a district 60 kilometers (40 miles) from the Ugandan capital, Kampala. The outbreak comes roughly a month after Uganda declared itself Ebola-free following an earlier outbreak in a remote district of western Uganda. Last month at least five people in a southwestern district of Uganda were killed by Marburg, a hemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola.
The latest Ebola outbreak, officials say, is of the Sudan strain of Ebola and not linked to the previous one, of the Congo variety, which killed at least 16 villagers in July and August in the western district of Kibaale. In addition to the three dead in the latest outbreak, up to 15 are being monitored for signs of the disease, officials said. They advised against panic after it was revealed that two possible Ebola patients had since checked into Kampala’s main referral hospital.
“The Ministry of Health once again calls upon the public to stay calm as all possible measures are being undertaken to control the situation,” Christine Ondoa, Uganda’s minister of health, said.
“Survivor: Philippines” contestant Lisa Welchel has confirmed that she has been stricken with a case of West Nile Virus. She broke the news via Twitter earlier this week and says that while she is safe, it will be a long road to recovery.
“Dr. just called with blood test results . . . I have West Nile. Ugh. I’m fine, just tired. Takes a year to recover,” she wrote.
The 49-year-old former “Facts of Life” star says she’s up for the challenge, however, just like when she took on “Survivor.”
“I didn’t have one moment where I regretted being out there,” she told People Magazine last fall. “In fact, the contrary. I was having an adventure; I was doing something that was a challenge, that was very hard.”
by RTT Staff Writer
By Bob Tuskin
November 15, 2012
The following was sent to me by a reader. HIV has never been isolated.
The tests do not test for HIV and the only CURE is to know that it is a lie and to get off of the Pharmaceutical Cocktail and to deal with any real health issues one may have.
From the Reader:
July 2000 was my diagnosis of HIV+ with Elisa and Western Blot, Viral Load and instant intimidation to take a precautionary flu shot and start an Antiretroviral Regime.
What I remember of the first weeks was being told I would live a maximum of six more years due to high Viral Load and low CD4 count and, even then, only by strict and immediate adherence to the ‘life saving’ pills.
To make it short, I’ve never taken a single pill nor have I taken any flu or other vaccines, I simply refused any kind of interference by the medical establishment.
My inner voice communicated a lot during those first weeks of being stigmatized, mainly through vivid dreams that I carefully noted down the next mornings, sometimes fragments but often whole sequences of life-periods that occurred to me.
Many of those dreams helped me later understand what it all was about.
For 12 years I have survived, but then also, knowing what I know now I cannot say survived, because all I have done is what is normal to a man of my age, 42 .
Prior to this 2000 result I had tested for HIV on a few occasions, in 1987 I had been sent to the local hospital for further blood tests since a house doctor detected some unspecific dark patches in my blood after he’d sent it to a laboratory for blood analysis.
The doctor in the hospital was quite a young lady as I remember, good looking as well, she informed me that they had tested my blood for any known diseases at that point but couldn’t come to a conclusion about what it was that caused fever and feelings of being unwell for almost a month.
So she told me to go out and enjoy life as much as possible, since there could be something but also nothing to worry about.
I had done three other tests over the years – one when I applied for a job with an international company, another when I applied for citizenship in a country and one more – they were all negative.
It was, to the least to say, surprising to me, when those tests in 2000 showed a positive status. I lived healthily, only occasionally did recreational drugs and did quite a lot of sports.
Also I didn’t have unprotected sex with any girl I had met so it was a big question mark to me how I was infected. What hit me with the fear button was the prospect given to live only for a few more years, so between the first test which was Elisa and the next ones to follow I overdosed quite a bit on Ecstasy, took such stuff in a liquid form for a good three weeks in the testing phase.
It made me at least not think about it all the time. Then came the intimidation phase by docs from which I escaped for two months to a mountain resort, needed time to think and took along a few good books.
I could find nothing in 2000 on the local markets or bookstores that was critical but I had found a guy who didn’t share the general public opinion on it, so at least that helped me clear my mind to a certain extent.
What I can say is that I came back and had one last appointment with the docs who wanted me to go on meds immediately. I told them very clearly that it was my decision not to take them as I would die one day eventually anyway, but I would want the choice to decide how.
So they tried afterwards to intimidate more and convince but as I am very stubborn once taken a decision they had no chance. Only two years later, in 2002 I found the first critical websites on this subject and ever since I have read pretty much all there is from both sides.
It strikes one clearly when you read how helplessly the AIDS establishment is still trying to uphold their lie, and it strengthens you every time you read about a little progress in the dissident’s view.
I have come to freedom with myself, not searching for some wonder remedy to something that is only in the minds of some money greedy individuals, but still I feel it as a duty to enlighten a few souls, especially the children worry me.
What makes me angry is that the ignorance of our fellow humans have put us in a social status of ‘unwanted’, ‘dangerous’, ‘sexual monsters’, ‘dissidents’, ‘denialists’.
To live in such a society feels like you want to leave it, but there’s nowhere to go.
In 2004 I took another chance with a home test that I had ordered over the internet. It stated, that if it showed positive bands you’d need to go for further check-up, but if it didn’t, there would be no need to worry as it would detect any kind of immune reaction.
So guess what, it came out negative!
By Matt McGrath Science reporter, BBC World Service
Canadian scientists have shown that the deadliest form of the ebola virus could be transmitted by air between species.
In experiments, they demonstrated that the virus was transmitted from pigs to monkeys without any direct contact between them.
The researchers say they believe that limited airborne transmission might be contributing to the spread of the disease in some parts of Africa.
They are concerned that pigs might be a natural host for the lethal infection.
Ebola viruses cause fatal haemorrhagic fevers in humans and many other species of non human primates.
Details of the research were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the infection gets into humans through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs and other bodily fluids from a number of species including chimpanzees, gorillas and forest antelope.
The fruit bat has long been considered the natural reservoir of the infection. But a growing body of experimental evidence suggests that pigs, both wild and domestic, could be a hidden source of Ebola Zaire – the most deadly form of the virus.
Now, researchers from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the country’s Public Health Agency have shown that pigs infected with this form of Ebola can pass the disease on to macaques without any direct contact between the species.
In their experiments, the pigs carrying the virus were housed in pens with the monkeys in close proximity but separated by a wire barrier. After eight days, some of the macaques were showing clinical signs typical of ebola and were euthanised.
One possibility is that the monkeys became infected by inhaling large aerosol droplets produced from the respiratory tracts of the pigs.
One of the scientists involved is Dr Gary Kobinger from the National Microbiology Laboratory at the Public Health Agency of Canada. He told BBC News this was the most likely route of the infection.
“What we suspect is happening is large droplets – they can stay in the air, but not long, they don’t go far,” he explained.
“But they can be absorbed in the airway and this is how the infection starts, and this is what we think, because we saw a lot of evidence in the lungs of the non-human primates that the virus got in that way.”
The scientists say that their findings could explain why some pig farmers in the Philippines had antibodies in their system for the presence of a different version of the infection called Ebola Reston. The farmers had not been involved in slaughtering the pigs and had no known contact with contaminated tissues.
Dr Kobinger stresses that the transmission in the air is not similar to influenza or other infections. He points to the experience of most human outbreaks in Africa.
“The reality is that they are contained and they remain local, if it was really an airborne virus like influenza is it would spread all over the place, and that’s not happening.”
11/14/2012 1:52 PM
By Chelsea Conaboy, Globe Staff
Barry Cadden, owner of the Framingham pharmacy whose drugs have been linked to hundreds of fungal meningitis cases and at least 32 deaths, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and declined to answer questions Wednesday during a congressional hearing in Washington on the outbreak.
Cadden walked into the hearing room accompanied by three other men, including two attorneys. After being sworn in, he refused to respond to questions. He read from an index card four times in response to questions:
“Mr. Chairman, on the advice of counsel, I respectfully decline to answer [because] of my constitutional rights and privileges, including the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.’’
Cadden, who has not made any public comments since the outbreak began and the New England Compounding Center was shuttered last month, was subpoenaed to testify before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Lawmakers said they wanted to question him and public health officials about whether the outbreak could have been prevented.
When Representative Cliff Sterns, a Republican from Florida and chairman of the subcommittee, asked Cadden if he would invoke the Fifth in response to all questions, Cadden said, “Yes.”
Sterns told him he could go, and a crush of television cameras followed him for about a block as he left the building. Without responding to reporters’ question, he got into a black SUV, which sped away.
Previously in a letter to the committee, attorney Bruce A. Singal said questions about the outbreak “have anguished my client since the terrible news broke about the tragic deaths and illnesses that have been imputed to the drug compounded at NECC. I understand that in order to try to answer those questions, he has devoted himself to cooperating with the FDA and CDC in assuring the quickest and most complete possible recall of all relevant product. He has done so in the hope that his efforts may minimize any further potential risk to the public health.”
While Cadden “strongly desires” to answer the committee’s questions, Singal wrote that he had recommended that he not do so because of the ongoing state and federal investigations into the outbreak.
After testifying before a state hearing this morning on Beacon Hill, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. JudyAnn Bigby said she was “disappointed” that Cadden did not respond to questioning, because much remains unanswered about New England Compounding.
“He’s the only one that can answer” some of those questions, she said.
2:03PM EST November 14. 2012 – Republican lawmakers challenged the country’s top medical regulator Wednesday to explain why her agency did not take action sooner against the specialty pharmacy at the center of a deadly meningitis outbreak.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has convened the first hearing to examine the outbreak that has sickened about 440 people and caused 32 deaths across the U.S. The illness has been tied to the New England Compounding Center, which distributed pain steroids that later tested positive for contamination.
Health officials say as many as 14,000 people received the steroid shots, mostly for back pain.
Republicans lawmakers, who make up the majority of the House, focused on NECC’s history of troubles, questioning why regulators at the FDA and the Massachusetts board of pharmacy did not take action against the pharmacy years earlier.
“After a tragedy like this, the first question we all ask is: could this have been prevented?” asked Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla. “After an examination of the documents provided by the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy and the FDA — the answer here appears to be yes.
Hamburg told lawmakers that the problems uncovered in inspections were “very serious,” but that the agency was obligated to defer to Massachusetts authorities, who have more direct oversight over pharmacies.
“The challenge we have today is that there is a patchwork of legal authorities that oversee the action we can take,” said Hamburg, who was nominated to head the FDA by President Obama in 2009.
By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News
An outbreak of the hospital superbug MRSA has been brought to an end by UK doctors cracking the bacterium’s genetic code.
It led to them finding one member of staff at Rosie Hospital, in Cambridge, who may have unwittingly carried and spread the infection.
They say it is the first time rapid genetic testing has been used to track and then stop an outbreak.
One expert said this would soon become “standard practice” in hospitals.
Doctors were concerned after MRSA was detected in 12 babies during routine screening.
However, current tests could not tell if it was one single outbreak being spread around the unit or if they were separate cases being brought into the hospital. About one in 100 people carry MRSA on their skin without any health problems.
To find out, researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Sanger Institute embarked on more sophisticated version of a paternity test.
They compared the entire genetic code of MRSA bugs from each baby to build a family tree. It showed they were all closely related and part of the same outbreak.
After two months without a case and deep cleaning the ward, another case appeared. Analysing the DNA showed that it was again part of the outbreak and attention turned to a carrier.
Tests on 154 members of staff showed that one was also carrying MRSA, which may have been spread to babies in the unit. They were treated to remove the infection.
“We believe this brought the outbreak to a close,” said Dr Julian Parkhill, from the Sanger Institute.
“This is really exciting for us because it gave the hospital the opportunity to intervene.
“We think this is the first case where whole genome sequencing has actually led to a clinical intervention and brought the outbreak to a close.”
November 13, 2012
U.S. and state health regulators called on Congress on Tuesday to strengthen federal oversight of compounding pharmacies as lawmakers prepared for two days of hearings on a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak linked to a compounded steroid.
But the main federal regulator, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said in a statement to Reuters that it faces legal restrictions in regulating drug compounders such as the New England Compounding Center. The Massachusetts pharmacy was at the center of the outbreak that has infected 438 people, including 32 who have died, in 19 states.
The chief public health officer for Massachusetts also urged immediate congressional action to bolster federal oversight of the little-known, lightly regulated compounding industry, which is primarily overseen by state pharmacy boards.
By David Ferguson
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 15:12 EST
Antibiotic overuse is producing new drug-resistant strains of the second most common infection in the U.S., urinary tract infections. According to Extending the Cure (ETC), a division of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, the problem is particularly acute in the southeastern U.S., where doctors routinely over-prescribe antibiotics, leading to decreased effectiveness over time.
Using ETC’s tool, ResistanceMap, an interactive map of antibiotic use and effectiveness in the U.S., researchers were able to track infections between 1999 and 2010 and found that the overall effectiveness of the drugs prescribed to treat UTIs declined by 30 percent.
According to a news release from ETC, the highest rates of the new drug-resistant UTIs are in the Southeast, while rates are lowest in New England and the Pacific states.
More than 50 percent of U.S. women will get urinary tract infections in their lifetime, prompting 8.6 million visits to health care providers each year. The relatively minor annoyance can turn serious if left untreated.
“Without proper antibiotic treatment, UTIs can turn into bloodstream infections, which are much more serious and can be life-threatening,” said ETC director Ramanan Laxminarayan. The new findings are particularly disturbing, he said, “because there are few new antibiotics to replace the ones that are becoming less effective. New drug development needs to target the types of drug-resistant bacteria that cause these infections.”
UTIs are caused when E. coli or other enteric bacteria invades the urinary tract. According to the CDC website, symptoms range “from painful urination in uncomplicated urethritis or cystitis to severe systemic illness associated with abdominal or back pain, fever, sepsis and decreased kidney function in some cases of pyelonephritis.”
Scientists are currently at work on a vaccine in hopes of inoculating vulnerable populations. Everyone is susceptible to UTIs, but they occur most commonly in women who are sexually active.
By Brian Vastag
The Washington Post
The West Nile virus epidemic of 2012, the worst in a decade, may be notorious for yet another reason: The virus, in some cases, is attacking the brain more aggressively than in the past, raising the specter that it may have mutated into a nastier form, say two neurologists who have extensive experience dealing with the illness.
One doctor, Art Leis in Jackson, Miss., has seen the virus damaging the speech, language and thinking centers of the brain — something he has never observed before. The other, Elizabeth Angus in Detroit, has noticed brain damage in young, previously healthy patients, not just in older, sicker ones — another change from past years.
Leis said it’s crucial to know whether the virus is mutating. “Otherwise,” he said, “we might be unprepared to deal with it in the future.”
But a scientist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the federal agency has not seen any evidence that the virus is causing a different type of brain damage. He said doctors may be seeing more serious cases this year because there are more cases overall. But he acknowledged that the CDC does not collect the granular data needed to quickly determine whether the virus is causing more severe brain damage.
Still, Angus, who has treated West Nile patients for a decade, and Leis, who has more experience treating severe West Nile illness than perhaps any doctor in the country, both suspect the virus has changed.
“I’ve been struck this year that I’m seeing more patients where the brain dysfunction has been very much worse,” said Angus, of Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital. “It makes you wonder if something’s different, if something’s changed.”
And while the virus in the past has typically invaded the brain and spinal cord only of people who have weakened immune systems, such as the elderly and transplant or cancer patients, Angus this summer treated a severely affected woman in her 20s and a man in his 40s.
Leis said he is seeing much more severe encephalitis — inflammation of the brain — than he has in the past. “It is clearly much more neuroinvasive, neurovirulent,” he said.
Four patients Leis treated this summer had lost their ability to talk or write. Another was paralyzed on one side, as often seen in strokes, not West Nile infections. Others experienced recurring seizures.
In all, 11 of the first 12 patients Leis saw this year at the Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson had more severe brain damage than he had seen previously. The outlook for such patients varies, but most will face years or a lifetime of disability.
“For the first time, we have radiographic evidence, clinical evidence of the virus attacking the higher cortical areas,” said Leis, who has published 15 scientific papers describing previous West Nile patients.
University of Maryland researchers found antibiotic-resistant methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) at two water treatment plants in the Midwest and two more in the mid-Atlantic area. This brings into question the health and safety of the facilities’ workers as well as individuals exposed to wastewater.
What many news agencies are not addressing, however, is the dangerous state of modern medicine in which we turn so easily—eagerly, in many cases—to ineffective, even harmful antibiotics perpetuating runaway germs like staph.
(MY FOX NY) About 450 southwestern Pennsylvania school students will be wearing electronic devices that will track how often they come in contact with one another at school — and on their day off during Election Day — to help researchers track how the flu may be spread among them.
The University of Pittsburgh’s Social Mixing and Respiratory Transmission in Schools, or SMART, study was prompted by the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009. Although older people are typically most affected by the flu, the 2009 outbreak was first detected in a 10-year-old California child.
The students in the Canon-McMillan School district will wear electronic motes around their neck that will track how often they come into contact with one another. Researchers hope that will help them figure out how children interact and how the flu could spread among them.
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