Merck, NewLink Ebola vaccine appears safe, effective in new studies

REUTERS by Sharon Bagley                                                                      April 1, 2015

Early-stage trials of an experimental Ebola vaccine, two in the United States and four in Africa and Europe, have found that it appears to be safe and triggered robust production of Ebola-fighting antibodies, scientists reported on Wednesday.

Since trials cannot ethically expose volunteers to Ebola, the production of antibodies is a proxy for whether vaccines could prevent or even treat the disease.

The trials all tested a vaccine called VSV-ZEBOV, which was developed at the Public Health Agency of Canada and licensed to NewLink Genetics Corp and then to Merck & Co Inc. It consists of a cattle virus called rVSV that has been engineered to carry Ebola genes, which produce proteins meant to trigger production of anti-Ebola antibodies.

According to separate teams of scientists, that is what happened, two papers in the New England Journal of Medicine reported.

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App enables self-reporting of possible Ebola symptoms in Maryland

ASSOCIATED PRESS                                                                                     April 1, 2015

BALTIMORE — A Baltimore company and Maryland public health officials are announcing a smartphone and Web application for self-reporting possible Ebola symptoms.

Emocha Mobile Health Inc. said Wednesday that people returning from affected West African nations can use the app to report their temperature and any symptoms twice daily to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The federal government recommends such reporting for 21 days.

The state health agency has operated a call center since October for monitoring people known to have been in affected countries. The app eventually will link to the state's database of such individuals to automate the reporting of data to Maryland and federal authorities.

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Vanuatu Risks Long-Term Food Insecurity After Monster Cyclone: U.N.


Many families affected by Tropical Cyclone Pam are forced to prepare their meals outdoors as seen here in Vanuatu. Photo: WFP/Victoria Cavanagh - by Alisa Tang - March 30, 2015

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The monster cyclone that hit Vanuatu earlier this month wiped out more than 90 percent of the archipelago's crops, putting its people at risk of a secondary emergency and long-term food insecurity, the United Nations warned on Monday.

Tropical Cyclone Pam destroyed homes, electricity infrastructure and crops when it swept across the South Pacific island nation on March 13, leaving at least 11 dead.

The United Nations issued an appeal last week for $29.9 million to provide an estimated 166,000 affected people with safe drinking water and shelter, but said only $6.4 million had been pledged.


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Amazon Deforestation ‘Threshold’ Causes Species Loss to Accelerate


Corn plantation nearby remaining forest in the Amazon region.  Credit: Jose Manuel Ochoa-Quintero

One of the largest area studies of forest loss impacting biodiversity shows that a third of the Amazon is headed toward or has just past a threshold of forest cover below which species loss is faster and more damaging. Researchers call for conservation policy to switch from targeting individual landowners to entire regions.

CLICK HERE - RESEARCH STUDY - Thresholds of species loss in Amazonian deforestation frontier landscapes

University of Cambridge - - March 4, 2015

One of the first studies to map the impact of deforestation on biodiversity across entire regions of the Amazon has found a clear ‘threshold’ for forest cover below which species loss becomes more rapid and widespread.    

By measuring the loss of a core tranche of dominant species of large and medium-sized mammals and birds, and using the results as a bellwether, the researchers found that for every 10% of forest loss, one to two major species are wiped out.

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Ebola diaries: Regaining the people’s trust

WHO                                                                                                          March 31, 2015
Cristiana Salvi, a risk communications specialist from WHO’s European regional office was deployed to Guinea at the end of April – early May 2014 to provide social mobilization support to the Ebola response. Social mobilization involves working with communities to gain their acceptance of the need for early identification of people with illness, early treatment and identification and follow up of all people who have been in contact with people confirmed to have Ebola virus disease.

 Cristiana was among the first from WHO offices other than Headquarters and the African office to provide support to the field response, many others followed from the “wider WHO”. She travelled to Gueckedou where communities had begun to hide people who were sick, fearing treatment centres, believing rumours Ebola response teams were there for sinister purposes. This is what she found.


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BioCryst gets HHS contract for Ebola drug development

CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY by Lisa Schnerring               March 31, 2015

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today that it has awarded BioCryst Pharmaceuticals a $12 million grant to continue development of BCX4430, a small-molecule drug designed to treat Ebola and other filovirus infections, and to prepare for large-scale manufacturing of the agent.

Studies in nonhuman primates suggest that the drug is effective against Ebola and Marburg viruses and could be useful as a broad-spectrum antiviral, the HHS said in a statement. BCX4430 is currently in phase 1 human trials, and if results show safety, it could be one of the treatments to be tested for efficacy in clinical trials.

BCX4430 is the first small-molecule Ebola treatment that BARDA has supported. Other Ebola products in development that have received BARDA funding include the monoclonal antibody cocktail ZMapp and three vaccines.
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Faulty modeling studies led to overstated predictions of Ebola outbreak

MEDICAL EXPRESS                                                                       MARCH 31, 2015

(scroll down for complete paper.)

Frequently used approaches to understanding and forecasting emerging epidemics—including the West African Ebola outbreak—can lead to big errors that mask their own presence, according to a University of Michigan ecologist and his colleagues.

Last September, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated—based on computer modeling—that Liberia and Sierra Leone could see up to 1.4 million Ebola cases by January 2015 if the viral disease kept spreading without effective methods to contain it. Belatedly, the international community stepped up efforts to control the outbreak, and the explosive growth slowed.

"Those predictions proved to be wrong, and it was not only because of the successful intervention in West Africa," King said. "It's also because the methods people were using to make the forecasts were inappropriate."

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Guinea finds three Ebola cases in the alumina hub of Fria

REUTERS   by Saliou Samb                              March 31, 2105

CONAKRY --Guinea has detected at least three new cases of Ebola in the alumina hub of Fria, according to the national coordination of the fight against the disease, as authorities blamed popular resistance for hampering the battle against the virus.

Fria is home to the only alumina smelter in the West African country, Friguia, which produced some 630,000 tonnes of alumina a year until it was shuttered by Russian aluminium giant RUSAL in 2012.

The report noted the refusal by the local population in Conakry to hand over two other suspected cases, despite the intervention of local authorities. It said families in the town of Coyah, 50 km ( miles) from Conakry had refused to follow contacts of an Ebola case.

The resistance of local communities, which refuse to admit the existence of the disease, has dogged efforts to eradicate Ebola in Guinea since it was detected in March 2014

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Center for Climate Systems Research - Earth Institute | Columbia University


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Measures to safeguard schools in Ebola-hit Liberia point to need for continued vigilance

 When students returned to school in Liberia, they learned about the importance of good hygiene. Now they’re teaching others.

UNICEF BY  Tim Irwin                                         March 30, 2015

MONROVIA, Liberia, Classes at the Slipway primary school in central Monrovia resumed only a few weeks ago, but the new morning drill is already well established.

In Liberia, schools were closed for six months because of the Ebola epidemic. Now that class is back in session, students are following a new set of protocols to stave off infection with the deadly disease. Here, children queue to wash their hands before morning devotionals.

“We rub our palms together 10 times, wash between our fingers five times, around our thumbs five times and then scrub around our nails,” says Grace Winnie, who is in Grade 4.

Schools across Liberia reopened on 16 February, following a six-month closure because of the Ebola crisis. UNICEF has helped put in place new procedures aimed at minimizing the risk of infection.

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‘No Confirmed Case’: Liberia Slates Reports on Ebola Return

FRONT PAGE AFRICA  by Stephen D. Kollie                                                       March 31, 2015

Monrovia - The Head of the Incident Management System (IMS), the command center responsible to oversee Liberia’s Ebola response, has clarified that contrary to several reports on social media, including Facebook and other sources, Liberia has no other confirmed Ebola case apart from a lady who tested positive for the virus but died last weekend.

“Since the 20th, we have one confirmed case. Unfortunately, the case has since died,” he said Monday. “No other confirmed cases since then as of this morning (March 30). I am not saying it will not be (a case)if it is tested positive. But the cases are being followed up, nobody is sick yet.”

Tolbert Nyenswah disclosed that out of 211 contacts that were being monitored by the Ministry of Health team, 26 contacts have been cleared while 185 contacts are still under surveillance. “We still are intensifying our normal contact tracing. We are investigating to see whether or not the people should remain on the contact list or it is fair enough to release them,” he said.

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Guinea shuts border with Sierra Leone in effort to end Ebola

ASSOCIATED PRESS by BOUBACAR DIALLO               March 30, 2015

CONKAKRY --Guinea closed its border with Sierra Leone on Monday as part of new efforts to stamp out Ebola, an official said.

... the disease remains stubbornly entrenched in Guinea more than a year after the outbreak started and authorities are now ramping up efforts to eliminate the disease.

Guinean President Alpha Conde announced this weekend that emergency measures would be "reinforced" for a 45-day period in five districts, including some along the border with Sierra Leone. The decision to close the border was made in the context of those new measures, according to Cmdr. Mamadou Alpha Barry, spokesman for the national gendarmerie.

Previously, Guinean authorities had monitored people crossing into the country for symptoms of the disease.

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Liberia Ebola Survivors Complain About Lack of Support

VOICE OF AMERICA by Benno Muchler                          March 30, 015
MONROVIA—For Liberian survivors of Ebola, the struggle is not over.  Many have lost property and family members, and often face tremendous stigma after being released from the hospital. Unresolved medical issues are another problem.  Despite their suffering, they are still waiting for support a year into the Ebola crisis.

People shun them.  Landlords terminate their leases.  Some lost their jobs.  Many survivors also suffer from headaches and eye problems.  Doctors do not know yet if these Ebola side effects are only temporary.

To make their voices heard, survivors formed a network under the umbrella of Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare last September.

Korlia Bonarwolo was part of that, but then broke away and formed his own group. He said that after months without support, it seemed to him the government only used survivors to attract foreign aid.

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The End of Ebola? Lessons at the Epidemic's One Year Anniversary

Columbia University                                            March 30, 2015

One year ago, the current Ebola epidemic was announced to the world. Since then, we have learned and accomplished an enormous amount....

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Sierra Leone’s 3-Day Ebola Lockdown is Over

Sierra Leone Ebola lockdown exposes hundreds of suspected cases

REUTERS                                                                                                      March 30, 015

(Scroll down for earlier story.)

FREETOWN - A three-day lockdown in Sierra Leone has exposed hundreds of potential new cases of Ebola, aiding efforts to bring to an end an epidemic that has already killed 3,000 people in the country.

Officials ordered the country's 6 million residents to stay indoors or face arrest during the period that ended late on Sunday as hundreds of health officials went door-to-door looking for hidden patients and educating residents about the virus.

Reports to authorities of sick people increased by 191 percent in Western Area, which includes the capital, during the lockdown compared with the previous weekend, said Obi Sesay of the National Ebola Response Center.

"Tests are being carried out on their blood samples, and the results will be in by Wednesday," Sesay said, adding that 173 of the patients in Freetown met an initial case definition for Ebola.

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