Public health

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Health care worker in mask

Osterholm advocates for protecting health care workers in fight against coronavirus

February 14, 2020

A Washington Post article by Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker states that, "Of all our endless wars, the most protracted is our war against dangerous microbes, of which the covid-19 coronavirus is the latest battle. Just as we honor our fallen warriors on the battlefield, we should honor 34-year-old Li Wenliang, the Wuhan physician who died of the disease last week after defying Chinese authorities by trying to get the word out about the growing outbreak." Dr. Osterholm is Director of CIDRAP, a Consortium member center. Read more. 

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Integrated Food Systems Leadership Program

Applications Being Accepted for New Food Systems Leadership Program

June 3, 2019

The University of Minnesota Twin Cities has launched the Integrated Food Systems Leadership program (IFSL) designed for working professionals to help bridge the gap between traditional food system education and professional leadership programs. The IFSL program is a graduate-level certification that provides a broader knowledge of how the food system is interconnected – from farm to fork – while promoting critical thinking and problem solving across disciplines. The curriculum was developed through a partnership between the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), the School of Public Health and the College of Veterinary Medicine. The director of the IFSL program, Jennifer van de Ligt, is on the faculty of the Food Protection and Defense Institute, a Consortium member. Applications are currently being accepted for September 2019 admissions; learn more here.  

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Map of Ebola cases in Congo

Two Major Infectious Disease Outbreaks Challenge Public Health Officials

April 26, 2019

Rising measles infections in the US and the spread of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) illustrate the difficulty of controlling outbreaks once they start. The spike in measles represents a major setback, since the vaccine was first introduced in 1963 and the Americas were declared measles-free in 2002. An article on the website of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), a Consortium member, notes there were 704 cases of measles in 22 states as of April 26; that puts the US on pace to exceed the previous post-vaccine record of 963 cases in 1994. While the Ebola outbreak in the DRC is receiving less media attention, it is far deadlier, with 1,466 cases and 957 deaths. CIDRAP reports that the difficult security situation in the DRC is a significant factor in managing the spread of the illness: "Throughout the outbreak, violent attacks have been followed by a rise in cases as surveillance and outbreak response is temporarily halted in the attack aftermath." CIDRAP provides daily updates on major infectious disease activity; visit their website here. Image of affected regions of the DRC courtesy of NordNordWest

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Michael Imperiale

Video Now Available: Imperiale Describes Biosecurity Needs

March 18, 2019

On Feb. 28, Michael Imperiale (University of Michigan) shared the work of a committee he led that was tasked with outlining potential responses to new bioweapons. The lecture, which was part of the Consortium's series on Consumer-Driven and DIY Science, reviewed the recent history of US bioterrorism preparations, and described the opportunities and challenges presented by the emerging field of synthetic biology. Prof. Imperiale was joined by Michael Osterholm of CIDRAP, a Consortium member center, who added a policy perspective based on his expertise in infectious disease and public health. The moderator of the event, Amy Kircher of the Food Protection and Defense Institute (also a Consortium member), added insights from her experience as part of the national security apparatus. Video of the event is available here 

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White tailed deer doe and fawn

Osterholm Raises the Alarm on 'Zombie Deer'

February 15, 2019

In testimony last week before Minnesota legislators, Michael T. Osterholm expressed concern about the public health implications of chronic wasting disease (CWD), which is currently found in deer, elk and moose in 24 states, according to the Huffington Post. CWD is a "progressive, fatal disease that affects the brain, spinal cord and other tissues of animals. . . . The symptoms, which have been compared to those of zombies, may include drastic weight loss, stumbling, lack of coordination, listlessness [and] drooling." Osterholm warns, "It is probable that human cases of CWD associated with the consumption of contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead." Studies from the Centers for Disease Control are exploring the likelihood of that method of transmission. Prof. Osterholm is Director of the Center for Infectious Disease and Research Prevention (CIDRAP), a Consortium member. He will be acting as commentator for the Feb. 28 lecture/webcast by Michael Imperiale, "The Perils of Science to Create Pathogens: Controlling Biosafety and Biosecurity Threats." Learn more and register for the event here

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Globe made out of puzzle pieces

CIDRAP Awarded $5 Million Gift to Address Global Drug Shortages

January 16, 2019

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) has received a $5.4 gift from the Walton Family Foundation to "develop and provide a roadmap for both the public and private sectors to build resilience in the global health care supply system and to improve the availability of critical medical supplies," according to the University of Minnesota. The co-directors of the team administering the project are both directors of Consortium member centers, Michael T. Osterholm at CIDRAP and Amy Kircher at the Food Protection and Defense Institute. Osterholm has been vocal about the inadequacy of drug and medical supplies in the face of a medical emergency. He notes: “We know, based on our recent experience, that there will be more and more incidents where necessary drugs or medical supplies will be unavailable to those in crisis and, increasingly, the consequences are truly about life and death.” Kircher uses the example of the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico: "That natural disaster not only created a public health crisis on the ground but effectively disrupted the global supply of a critical medical supply, IV bags. This work will create an opportunity for us to apply research and build operational solutions to mitigate those surprises.”

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Public health workers Ebola

Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreads

December 20, 2018

The latest outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to grow, with officials reporting "549 total Ebola cases and 326 deaths. Eighty-two suspected cases are under investigation," according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Prevention (CIDRAP), a Consortium member. In STAT, Helen Branswell reports "this outbreak, centered in the province of North Kivu in northeastern DRC, is now the second largest in known history, with 440 cases and 255 deaths as of Sunday. That is massive in traditional Ebola outbreak terms, but still pales in comparison to the West African outbreak of 2014-2016, where more than 28,000 people were infected and more than 11,000 died." A new tool being used in this outbreak is an experimental vaccine, which was developed in 2015 and is currently allowed for compassionate use. However, there are concerns there won't be enough doses of the vaccine to adequately contain the spread of the deadly disease. Follow the development of this epidemic and public health responses to it on CIDRAP's featured topic page for the virus. Image courtesy of the European Commission ECHO via Flickr.

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Mike Osterholm

Osterholm Appointed an International Science Envoy

June 12, 2018

Michael T. Osterholm has been honored with the position of Science Envoy by the US Department of State. Through the Science Envoy Program, eminent scientists and engineers leverage their expertise and networks to forge connections and identify opportunities for sustained international cooperation, championing innovation and demonstrating America’s scientific leadership and technical ingenuity. Osterholm is an international leader regarding preparedness for a global pandemic as well as the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. As a Science Envoy for Health Security, he will combat biological threats by working with priority countries on infectious disease preparedness and antimicrobial stewardship. Osterholm is Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), a Consortium member, and currently serves on our Executive Committee. Read an interview with him about his appointment here

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Romaine lettuce

E. Coli Outbreak Illustrates the Limits of US Food Traceability

May 2, 2018

The recent cluster of E. coli contamination, which is linked to romaine lettuce and has sickened people in 22 states, has just caused its first fatality. We don't yet know the source of the infection. The outbreak demonstrates gaps in the systems used to track food pathways in the US. According to an article in ​Wired, compared to Europe and Japan, "the procedures that might make [the US] food supply more traceable have been caught in a tug of war between federal officials, who want to solve outbreaks more quickly, and growers and shippers, who are resistant to investing in technology they don’t think they need." Amy Kircher, director of the Food Protection and Defense Institute​, a Consortium member, is interviewed for the piece. She notes that "when there are records, they aren’t necessarily granular enough to be useful." Referring to a typical four-pack of tomatoes, Kircher explains that "'we assume those tomatoes come from the same source.' But because tomatoes from many farms get commingled at packing houses and then sorted for similarity of ripeness, size and color, that four-pack could contain tomatoes from four different farms." The article notes it's possible that blockchain – a "distributed, encrypted ledger that supports cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin​ – could also be used to build a record of every transaction that affects a piece of produce."

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CDC bar graph of positive flu tests Feb 2018

Current Flu Season Sparks Discussion of Prevention, Vaccines

February 21, 2018

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) host Mike Mulcahy interviewed two experts yesterday about this year's unusually strong — and deadly — outbreak of influenza. Patsy Stinchfield of Children's Minnesota focused on steps to prevent the illness. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), a Consortium member, outlined the challenges to developing effective vaccines. Osterholm co-authored a New York Times op ed in January, with Mark Olshaker, sounding the alarm on our lack of preparedness for a flu pandemic. They write: "A worldwide influenza pandemic is literally the worst-case scenario in public health — yet far from an unthinkable occurrence. Unless we make changes, the question is not if but when it will come."

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Martin J. Blaser

Blaser Shares Groundbreaking Research on Antibiotics and Microbiome Health

February 7, 2018

Today, Martin J. Blaser of New York University's School of Medicine spoke to a standing-room-only crowd on "The Dark Side of Antibiotics." Prof. Blaser provided an overview of what we've learned about changes to the human microbiome over the past 70+ years. His talk focused on obesity, diabetes, asthma and other harms that appear to be linked to the aggressive use of antibiotics. Prof. Blaser also outlined research indicating that microbiome characteristics can be passed from mother to child, leading to ever more limited microbiotic diversity over generations. He looked at global differences in the human microbiome related to the number of antibiotics prescribed, and discussed the more judicious use of these drugs in countries like Sweden, where antibiotics are prescribed less frequently but health measures are still strong. Finally, he described some possible approaches to microbiome restoration. James R. Johnson, an infectious disease specialist, provided a commentary in which he discussed the various ways antibiotics have been viewed by medical professionals since coming into wide usage in the early 1940s. Prof. Johnson offered a clinical perspective on the challenges of limiting their use. A video of the entire talk can be viewed here.  

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MERS virus

NIH Lifts Ban on Making Lethal Viruses

December 21, 2017

The National Insitutes of Health (NIH) has ended "a moratorium imposed three years ago on funding research that alters germs to make them more lethal," according to the New York Times. The goal of such research is to better understand the mechanisms that drive pathogens to mutate and become deadly; the new guideline requires the germ pose a "serious health threat" and that the research be done in a highly secure lab. The Times article notes, "There has been a long, fierce debate about projects — known as 'gain of function' research — intended to make pathogens more deadly or more transmissible." The ban on such reseach was put in place after an incident in which lab workers at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were accidentally exposed to anthrax. Michael T. Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), a Consortium member, is quoted in the article. He believes this type of work could be done safely, but wanted restrictions on what would be published, noting "if someone finds a way to make the Ebola virus more dangerous, I don’t believe that should be available to anybody off the street who could use it for nefarious purposes. . . . We want to keep some of this stuff on a need-to-know basis."

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Genomic Screening: What's Age Got to Do with It?

December 18, 2017

A new post on the Bill of Health blog discusses new research that looks at whether upper age limits should be established for population-based preventive genomic screening. These types of limits are used in other clinical screenings on the assumption that older individuals wouldn't see clinical benefits. The authors of the paper used data from the GeneScreen study to look at how age issues were perceived and valued by researchers and participants. Their findings? "While clinical benefits of preventive genomic screening for older adults are debatable, our respondents perceived a range of benefits of screening in both clinical and research settings. Researchers and clinicians should carefully consider decisions about whether to exclude older adults and whether to provide information about benefits and risks across age groups."

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WHO Recommends Against Antibiotic Use for Healthy Animals

November 8, 2017

New guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals. According to the WHO, "Over-use and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance," a serious danger to global health that's the subject of the Consortium's 2018 lecture seriesDr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at WHO, states "The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.” However, H. Morgan Scott, DVM, PhD (Texas A&M University), who will be delivering the second lecture in the Consortium series, emphasizes that veterinarians and producers must work to achieve reductions in the need for preventive use of antimicrobials. In his talk, he'll explore the social norms, moral imperatives (to both humans and animals), and ethical features that should frame future antimicrobial stewardship practices. To register for the lectures, which are free and open to the public, click here

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Andres Perez

Leadership Change at Center for Animal Health and Food Safety

October 11, 2017

Prof. Andres Perez, DVM, PhD, is the new director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS), an interdisciplinary team at the University of Minnesota. The Center is coordinated by the College of Veterinary Medicine, and is a Consortium member. Perez takes over for Dr. Scott Wells, who is stepping down after serving as director and co-director for the past six years. Prof. Perez joined the College in 2014 and is a veterinary epidemiologist specializing in the prevention and control of food animal diseases. He also holds the Global Animal Health and Food Safety endowed chair. Prof. Perez notes, “CAHFS has been an effective catalyst for lasting change in the animal health and food safety sectors, and I hope to continue that success. . . . The goal is to increase CAHFS’ portfolio in areas such as policy, online education and outreach, quantitative data analysis, aquatic health, and antimicrobial resistance.”

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Wake-up Call for Food Companies Focuses on Cyber Security

September 27, 2017

A new article in Food Safety Magazine by a Senior Fellow at the Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI), a Consortium member, outlines a worrisome gap in protecting global food #supplychains. John T. Hoffman, a retired military officer, describes significant changes in the food and beverage industry, noting "the food industry has evolved from a manual, hands-on and labor-intensive manufacturing profile to a largely automated environment that exploits a variety of information technologies and industrial controls." However, Hoffman cautions that unlike the financial, insurance, and regulatory sectors, "food sector clients, in which there are substantial investment in terms of money, accountability and rules compliance, have not been required to implement similar [IT] standards." This raises the specter of bad actors using IT systems to attack the food supply, with potentially catastrophic consequences for public health and the economy. FPDI's research and education program is aimed at reducing the potential for contamination at any point along the food supply chain; they collaborate with the Department of Homeland Security to reduce the vulnerability of the nation's food system. To learn more, click here.

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Prof. J. Neil Henderson

$10 Million Gift Will be Used to Found Native American Health Center

September 13, 2017

An anonymous donor has given $10 million to the Medical School at University of Minnesota, Duluth, which will be used to build on the school's already strong foundation in Native American health. According to the Duluth News Tribune, "In any given year, Native Americans comprise about 10 percent of the university's medical school class. . . . Moreover, the six faculty members at the school's Duluth campus who are Native American comprise about a quarter of all Native Americans on medical school faculties in the entire country. Only about 1 percent of the nation's doctors are Native American." Among those UMD faculty members is Prof. J. Neil Henderson, PhD, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation. He notes that the private gift, which has very few stipulations attached to it, could fund portions of research not covered by federal grants. Prof. Henderson spoke at the Consortium-sponsored research ethics conference last March, on the inter-cultural aspects of working with American Indian institutional research boards when conducting research. You can see his talk here.

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Aspostolos Georgeopoulous Photo

Georgopoulos Presented with American Legion's Top Award

August 30, 2017

Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos, MD, PhD, received the American Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal on Aug. 22 during the organization’s national convention in Reno, Nev. Georgopoulos is director of the Brain Sciences Center at the Minneapolis Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and holds the American Legion Family-University of Minnesota Brain Sciences Chair. He is also a faculty member at the Center for Cognitive Sciences, a Consortium member. For decades, Georgopolous has conducted research into the mechanisms behind PTSD, Gulf War Illness, alcohol abuse and other ailments among veterans. The Distinguished Service Medal recognizes outstanding service to the nation and programs of the American Legion, and is the organization's highest honor.

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