CDC Downsizing Work in 39 Countries

The CDC is preparing to downsize its work in 39 countries starting in 2019. Much of the funding for the CDC’s work that helps developing countries detect and respond to outbreaks comes from a five year emergency package that Congress approved as a response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The money is set to run out in 2019, and there are currently no plans to replace the funding. If you’re thinking this sounds like the start of any number of scary outbreak movies you’d be right. According to the Atlantic:

“These changes would make the world—and the United States—more vulnerable to a pandemic. “We’ll leave the field open to microbes,” says Tom Frieden, a former CDC director who now heads an initiative called Resolve to Save Lives. “The surveillance systems will die, so we won’t know if something happens. The lab networks won’t be built, so if something happens, we won’t know what it is. We can’t be safe if the world isn’t safe. You can’t pull up the drawbridge and expect viruses not to travel.”

The CDC will narrow its focus to 10 “priority countries.” They are India, Thailand, Vietnam, Jordan, Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Guatemala. Countries where the CDC is scaling back “include some of the world’s hot spots for emerging infectious disease, such as China, Pakistan, Haiti, Rwanda and Congo.” According the The Washington Post:

“The risks of deadly and costly pandemic threats are higher than ever, especially in low- and middle-income countries with the weakest public health systems, experts say. A rapid response by a country can mean the difference between an isolated outbreak and a global catastrophe. In less than 36 hours, infectious disease and pathogens can travel from a remote village to major cities on any continent to become a global crisis.”

Let that thought fester in your head as you work on your bunker.

Are Rats Really to Blame for the Black Death?

Rats get a bad rap, and deservedly so. They’re gross and carry a number of diseases.
And they’re infamously known for contributing to the spread of the Black Death, a plague pandemic that terrorized Europe in 1347 for five years and killed more than 20 million people.

Now, a new study is suggesting the possibility of a different scenario. The study proposes that human parasites like fleas and lice (also gross) were responsible for not only the spread of the plague, but the spread of a number of outbreaks from the 1300s to the 1800s (known as the Second Pandemic). Some historians have long believed rats were being unfairly blamed. According to the National Geographic:

For one, the Black Death tore through Europe far faster than any modern plague outbreaks. In addition, “rat falls” precede some modern outbreaks, but medieval plague records don’t mention rats dying en masse…If fleas and lice picked up the plague by biting an infected human, they could potentially hop onto a person in close quarters and transmit the disease.

The new study evaluated which model “best matched mortality patterns from nine different European plague outbreaks from the Second Pandemic. To their surprise, they found that in seven of the nine cities they examined, the human-parasite model more closely fit mortality records than the rat-flea model.”

What does this mean for the rats? Will their reputation be softened by this news? I lived for a number of years in a city fondly known as “Allston Rat City” nicknamed for its truly giant rats. On my street, rats were routinely run over, progressively flattened by cars until they became one with the road. It’s a cool party story I like to pull out. Everyone who has lived in Allston has at least two rat stories. I’ll spare you the second one.

Beware the Flu, Part Two

The flu this year is so bad the CDC is postponing their much anticipated How to Prepare for Nuclear War training. I suppose it’s comforting the CDC considers the flu a more pressing threat than the potential for nuclear war. On the other hand, the NY Times reports that “Even in the absence of a pandemic, a severe flu year kills nearly 650,000 people worldwide, while a mild one kills just under 300,000…In recent years, the C.D.C. estimates, flu has killed about 12,000 Americans in mild years and 56,000 in moderately severe ones.” Sure, those numbers don’t compare to those predicted to be killed in a nuclear attack, but that’s a different article.

Emergency rooms all over the country have struggled to keep up with incoming patients, some of them even having to turn patients away. Though the flu shot this year is estimated to be about 30% effective, it’s still very much worth getting:

It’s not too late to get a flu vaccine, the CDC said, and there should still be plenty of vaccine supply. Sometimes there are second and even third waves of flu, so a state that’s been hit hard by H3N2 might see a fresh wave of H1N1 flu later and then influenza B may pass through even later.

In addition to the flu shot and perhaps somewhat compulsive hand-washing, I’d like to offer my other personal recommendations of more citrus, and more fresh air.


Lethal Virus Experiments – What Could Go Wrong?

The federal government recently lifted a ban on funding experiments that deal with lethal viruses. Work focused on altering germs to make them more dangerous can now proceed, “but only if a scientific panel decides that the benefits justify the risks.

Some scientists are eager to pursue these studies because they may show, for example, how a bird flu could mutate to more easily infect humans, or could yield clues to making a better vaccine…

The pathogen to be modified must pose a serious health threat, and the work must produce knowledge — such as a vaccine — that would benefit humans. Finally, there must be no safer way to do the research…

Critics say these researchers risk creating a monster germ that could escape the lab and seed a pandemic.

If you think this sounds like the start of the next 28 Days Later movie, you may be right. Now is a good time to brush up on your “In Case of Super Contagious Disease Outbreak” plans and it wouldn’t hurt to consider a “Zombie Plan of Action” as well. The CDC has you covered:

Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse

World AIDS Day

Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. Globally, it’s estimated there are 36.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS. There were approximately 1.8 million new infections in 2016, many occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. In the U.S., there are about 1.1 million people living with HIV and roughly 1 in 7 don’t know it.

It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.

Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.

NPR has an article about, Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, who started an HIV/AIDS non profit in Uganda. His group, the Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project, provides education to children who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS. Kaguri sees World AIDS Day as a helpful way to raise donations, but notes:

“What is frustrating is that people only think about the issue for just one day, then go on to something else,” he says. “Someone will give us a $50 check on World AIDS Day and think that they saved the world … until another World AIDS Day comes along…”

Many countries still don’t talk about infection rates in their countries. South Africa [where 19 percent of the adult population is HIV-positive] still has leadership that denies HIV/AIDS is a problem, like former president Thabo Mbeki. And [in 2006, former president] Jacob Zuma was caught sleeping with a prostitute. When they asked him if he was worried about contracting HIV/AIDS, he said, “Oh no, I took a shower after we had sex.” The country has put a blanket over its head when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

As a complement to World AIDS Day, the WHO is promoting the “right to health” theme, as a way to “highlight the need for all 36.7 million people living with HIV and those who are vulnerable and affected by the epidemic, to reach the goal of universal health coverage.”

For more info: