Friday, September 30, 2016

Icelandic Met Office Raises Alert Level On Katla


Katla, one of the biggest volcanoes in Iceland, has been showing signs of increased activity this summer after going nearly 100 years without a violent eruption.  Buried under 600 to 2000 feet of glacial ice, Katla has erupted 16 times over the past 11,00 years. 

Over the past 48 hours, shallow earthquake  activity has been unusually high (see chart above), although the telltale signs of rising magma - changes in harmonic tremors - have not been reported.

While this activity could easily subside without an eruption (as we saw with Mt. Hekla in 2011 and 2013), the Icelandic Met Office has taken the precaution of raising the alert level for Katla from Green to Yellow and tourists are being advised to leave the Mýrdalsjökull glacier.

This was posted on the Icelandic Met Office website a short time ago:

Seismic swarm at Katla

An intense seismic swarm is ongoing since yesterday morning 29 September at Katla volcano. An intense pulse started today at 12:02 (30 September) with several earthquakes around magnitude 3 or larger. No seismic tremor has been detected. Due to the unusually high level of unrest at the Katla volcano we rise the aviation colour code from green to yellow. The volcano continues to be monitored closely.

Aviation colour code yellow means that the volcano is experiencing signs of elevated unrest above known background levels. More on colour codes on our website.

We saw a similar alert in late August, when Katla rumbled for several days, before quieting down for several weeks.  So Katla may well rumble for a while, and then return to its century-long slumber.

But Katla is considered `overdue' to erupt, and so the experts are taking this threat seriously.
Some local media reports today include:
The colour code for Katla volcano raised to yellow — a new and powerful earthquake swarm hit at noon 

In 2014, after several weeks of rumbling, we saw a Modest Fissure Eruption Near Bárðarbunga, while in the spring of 2010, the relatively small eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano sent thick plumes of ash into the atmosphere, closing many air corridors in Europe and disrupting travel for 6 days.

An estimated 100,000 flights were affected, at a cost of over 1.7 billion dollars.  That said, not every volcanic eruption produces large ash plumes.. 
So this volcano, which has the potential for very large eruptions, bears watching.  While there isn't much to see right now, you can monitor the Mt Katla volcano webcam here.

WHO Statement On Zika-Related Microcephaly In Thailand

Credit WHO Zika SitRep


In the wake of the announcement this morning (see Thailand Confirms 2 Zika-Related Microcephalic Births), the World Health Organization has issued the following statement calling for stronger measures against Zika and reminding pregnant women not to travel to areas where Zika is circulating.


New Delhi, 30 Sep 2016 – The World Health Organization today urged countries across the WHO South-East Asia Region to continue to take decisive action to prevent, detect and respond to Zika virus as Thailand confirmed two cases of Zika-related microcephaly.

“Zika virus infection is a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of a pregnant woman and her unborn child. Countries across the Region must continue to strengthen measures aimed at preventing, detecting and responding to Zika virus transmission,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia, said.

Thailand has confirmed two cases of Zika-related microcephaly, which, along with other neurological disorders, can occur when a neonate has been exposed to Zika virus in utero.

“Thai authorities have been active in detecting and responding to Zika virus,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said. “Thailand’s diligence underscores the commitment of health authorities to the health and wellbeing of the Thai public, and provides a positive example to be emulated.”

The presence of Zika virus in the WHO South-East Asia Region has been documented in recent years, including from Thailand, Indonesia, Maldives and Bangladesh.

Since a Public Health Emergency of International Concern was declared in February, WHO has been working with countries across the Region to strengthen Zika virus and birth-defect surveillance; enhance vector surveillance and control; scale-up laboratory capacity; and amplify risk communication and community engagement. All countries now have the laboratory capacity to conduct Zika virus testing, as well as to assess and identify microcephaly cases.

In addition to official efforts, WHO has been urging householders and community groups to be on the frontlines of mosquito control. “Controlling mosquito populations is crucial to diminishing Zika virus transmission, as well as the transmission of other vector-borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya. Alongside government efforts, householders are encouraged to disrupt standing water that can gather in gutters, pot plants and spare or discarded tires, and to dispose of household waste in sealed plastic bags,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

“WHO also urges pregnant women as well as the rest of the general public to take precautions to limit mosquito-human contact, including wearing long-sleeved, light colored clothing; using mosquito repellant; sleeping under a bed net; and fitting windows and doors with screens wherever possible.”

Based on available evidence, WHO does not recommend trade or travel restrictions with countries, areas and/or territories with Zika virus transmission. Travelers to areas with Zika virus outbreaks should seek up-to-date advice on potential risks and appropriate measures to reduce the possibility of exposure to mosquito bites and sexual transmission of Zika.

Pregnant women should be advised not to travel to areas with an ongoing Zika virus outbreak. Pregnant women’s sexual partners living in or returning from areas with Zika virus outbreaks should ensure safer sex or abstain from sex for the duration of their partner’s pregnancy.

For regions with active transmission of Zika virus, WHO recommends correct counselling and that women be offered a full range of contraceptive methods to enable informed choice regarding whether and when to become pregnant. WHO recommends safer sex or abstinence for a period of 6 months for men and women who are returning from areas of active transmission, whether they are trying to conceive or not.

#NatlPrep: Today Is National PrepareAthon! Day


Note: This is day 30 of National Preparedness Month . Follow this year’s campaign on Twitter by searching for the #NatlPrep hash tag.
This month, as part of NPM16, I’ll be rerunning some edited and updated older preparedness essays, along with some new ones.


All month long FEMA, READY.Gov, state and local Emergency agencies, and grassroots coalition members (including this blog) have been promoting National Preparedness Month through community events, drills, and exercises.

Over the past 30 days I've written roughly 20 preparedness blogs, some of which I hope you have found useful. To view them (newest to oldest) click this link.

Today is the culmination of these combined efforts, where it is hoped that you and your family will take action, review their local threats, and increase their level of preparedness to deal with them.

Although preparedness takes a lot of forms, FEMA has some basic steps to get you started.

Release date: 
September 27, 2016
Release Number: RV-NR-2016-13
CHICAGO –Join National PrepareAthon! Day on September 30 and take action to improve your emergency preparedness and resilience to disasters.  America's PrepareAthon! is a grassroots campaign developed to encourage individuals, organizations and communities to prepare for specific hazards through drills, group discussions and exercises.

“It’s important to be proactive about emergency preparedness so you know what to do if disaster strikes,” said FEMA Region V Administrator Andrew Velasquez III. “Engage your family, friends and neighbors to identify the risks in your community and understand what to do to stay safe.”
  • Sign up for local alerts and warnings and check for access to wireless emergency alerts. Visit the websites for your city and/or county to find out if they offer emergency alert notifications. You should also ensure your cell phone is enabled to receive Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to warn you of extreme weather and other emergencies in your area. Remember, warning sirens are intended for outdoor notification. When indoors, your alert-enabled smart phone or weather radio can provide you with critical alerts.
  • Develop and test emergency communications plans. Visit for tips on how to ensure your plan is as comprehensive as possible.
  • Assemble or update emergency supplies. Include drinking water, a first-aid kit, canned food, a radio, flashlight and blankets. Visit for a disaster supply checklist. Don’t forget to store additional supply kits in your car and at the office.
  • Collect and safeguard critical documents. Make copies of important documents (mortgage papers, deed, passport, bank information, etc.). Keep copies in your home and store originals in a secure place outside the home, such as a bank safe deposit box.
  • Document property and obtain appropriate insurance for relevant hazards. Discuss with your insurance agent the risks that may threaten your home and the types of coverage you may need to ensure your property is adequately insured.
  • Download the FEMA app to your smartphone. You’ll receive alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations across the U.S. and have access to information about how to stay safe.
More information about the ways to register for and participate in America’s PrepareAthon! Day is available at For even more readiness information, follow FEMA Region V at and

Follow FEMA online at,, and  Also, follow Administrator Craig Fugate's activities at The social media links provided are for reference only. FEMA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies or applications.

FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

As you can see, it doesn't  take a huge investment in either time or money for you and your family to become better prepared.  It just takes the resolve to do so.  But I can assure you, just having the peace of mind knowing you are prepared for an emergency is well worth the effort.
After all, preparing is easy . . . it’s worrying that is hard.

CDC Issues Zika Travel Recommendations For Southeast Asia

Zika Transmission in Asia- Credit ECDC


For just over a month we've been watching as the number of Zika virus infection reported by Southeast Asian nations has grown (see Zika Updates: Singapore - Malaysia - Thailand) raising new concerns for the spread of the virus.

While the numbers remain small compared to what has been reported from South and Central America, surveillance in many areas is just starting to ramp up, and so the actual risk is difficult to gauge. 

Last night the CDC issued new travel advice for 11 Southeast Asian Nations.  Follow the link to read the full report.

What is the current situation?

Travelers have returned from certain areas of Southeast Asia with Zika virus infection. While our understanding of the complications of Zika virus infection continues to evolve, and pending broader international surveillance efforts for Zika virus infection, we are providing pregnant women and their partners updated recommendations on reducing their risk for travel related Zika virus infection.
CDC recommends pregnant women should consider postponing nonessential travel to Southeast Asia countries with reports of Zika virus infection from local transmission or related to travel to those countries, and those countries with adjacent borders where limited information is available to fully evaluate risk of Zika virus infection.

Zika virus has been present in areas of Southeast Asia for many years, and several countries have reported occasional cases or small outbreaks of Zika virus infections. Zika virus is considered endemic in some countries, and a large number of local residents are likely to be immune. However, US travelers to endemic areas may not be immune to Zika virus and infections have occurred among travelers to Southeast Asia.
Recent variations have been observed in the number of cases reported in Southeast Asia. This can reflect changes in awareness of Zika virus, surveillance and testing for Zika virus, or changes in intensity of Zika virus transmission. Pregnant women traveling to Southeast Asia could become infected with Zika virus. The level of this risk is unknown and likely lower than in areas where Zika virus is newly introduced and spreading widely.
Countries included in this travel message include those listed below. For country-specific information, please visit Health Information for Travelers for individual countries:

Travel Considerations for Pregnant Women Traveling to Southeast Asia

Zika virus infection during pregnancy causes severe birth defects, including microcephaly and severe fetal brain abnormalities. Therefore, pregnant women should talk with their healthcare provider and consider postponing nonessential travel to Southeast Asia. Zika virus testing should be offered to pregnant women and considered for other people who have symptoms of Zika virus disease if they have recently traveled to Southeast Asia.
       (Continue . . . . )

Thailand Confirms 2 Zika-Related Microcephalic Births


The Asian strain of Zika has been circulating - presumably at low levels - in Asia for a couple of decades. But unlike we've seen over  the past year in the Americas, maternal infection with the virus in Asia has not been linked to congenital defects.

Over the past few weeks, however, we've seen a spike in the number of Zika cases reported in Asia, and concerns it may have led to congenital defects. This from the World Health Organization's Zika Update of Sept 29th.

  • Countries in the Western Pacific Region continue to report new cases as seen in Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia and Viet Nam. Thailand, in the South-East Asia Region, has also recently reported Zika cases. Key areas of the response as identified by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are disease surveillance and risk assessment, relevant and timely sharing of data, regional surveillance and response, vector control, diagnostic testing, laboratory networks and risk communication, and sharing knowledge and best practices. The Ministry of Public Health of Thailand is investigating cases of microcephaly to determine if they may be linked to Zika infection.  
  • The investigation of microcephaly cases in Thailand is important to determine whether these cases are linked to Zika infection – if found to be linked, these would be the first identified cases of Zika-associated microcephaly in Southeast Asia. If Zika is identified, viral sequencing would be necessary to determine the strain of the virus to determine whether it is a local or imported strain.

Less than 24 hours later, we appear to have an answer.  This from Xinhua News.

Two Thai babies confirmed born with Zika-linked microcephaly

Source: Xinhua   2016-09-30 16:08:22  

BANGKOK, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- Thailand confirmed on Friday that the Zika virus had caused two cases of microcephaly, a condition results in babies being born with small heads, which is the first time microcephaly had been linked to Zika virus in Southeast Asia.

"We have found three infants who are born with microcephaly and two cases are caused by Zika," Prasert Thongcharoen, an adviser to the Department of Disease Control, told reporters in Bangkok, according to Thai media Khaosod.

"As for the third infant, we have not detected the virus until now, " Prasert said, adding that their is still a suspected case of microcephaly in an unborn baby.

He said a team has be set up to look up the mother of the unborn baby and try their best to keep her from being infected with Zika.

The World Health Organization said this was the first Zika-linked microcephaly in Southeast Asia.

Similar reports are available from Reuters and the AP.

It isn't clear at this time is whether these cases indicate that a change has occurred in the virus, making it more virulent, or if birth defects from Zika have occurred all along in Asia, but were at such a low level they we're never linked to the virus.

In either event, Zika in Southeast Asia is rapidly becoming a new front for the battle against the virus.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

EID Journal: Reassortant EAH1N1 Virus Infection In A Child - Hunan China, 2016


While we watch as avian influenza viruses make tentative jumps to humans - and are justifiably concerned over their pandemic potential -  many researchers believe that pigs may pose an even bigger risk of producing the next pandemic virus.

Last December, in PNAS: The Pandemic Potential Of Eurasian Avian-like H1N1 (EAH1N1) Swine Influenza, we looked at a study where researchers had isolated and characterized a number avian H1N1 virus variants circulating in Chinese pigs that had the ability to infect, and potentially transmit efficiently, in humans.

In the `Significance' section the authors boiled it down to this:
Here, we found that, after long-term evolution in pigs, the EAH1N1 SIVs have obtained the traits to cause a human influenza pandemic.

Xinhua News carried an English Language report on this study, with interviews with the lead author, which you can read at the following link:
 Avian-like H1N1 swine flu may "pose highest pandemic threat": study

In March of this year (see WHO: H1N1v Cases In China), it was revealed that during 2015 China had reported 3 H1N1v infections, including a 30 month old boy from Hunan Province, described as follows:
A 2.5-year-old male from Hunan Province with illness onset on 30 June 2015 was detected through sentinel Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) surveillance. The patient was hospitalized with pneumonia and later recovered. He had no underlying medical conditions. The case investigation found that the case was exposed to pigs in his village. 

And in June, in Sci Rpts: Transmission & Pathogenicity Of Novel Swine Flu Reassortant Viruses we looked at another study - again out of China - where researchers experimentally infected pigs with one of these  Eurasian-Avian H1N1 swine influenza viruses and the 2009 H1N1pdm virus.

In doing so, they generated yielded 55 novel reassortant viruses spread across 17 genotypes, demonstrating not only how readily EAH1N1 SIV can reassort with human H1N1pdm in a swine host, but also finding:
`Most of reassortant viruses were more pathogenic and contagious than the parental EA viruses in mice and guinea pigs'. 

All of which brings us to an EID Journal report today, on the 30-month old child from Hunan Province, who was infected with one of these reassortant EAH1N1 viruses.

Not only do we learn about the course, and severity, of the child's illness, we also learn that in a mouse model, this reassortant virus displayed increased infectivity and virulence.

It's a long, detailed report, and you'll probably want to read it in its entirety.  I've provided some excerpts below:

Volume 22, Number 11—November 2016

Reassortant Eurasian Avian-Like Influenza A(H1N1) Virus from a Severely Ill Child, Hunan Province, China, 2015

Wenfei Zhu1, Hong Zhang1, Xingyu Xiang1, Lili Zhong, Lei Yang, Junfeng Guo, Yiran Xie, Fangcai Li, Zhihong Deng, Hong Feng, Yiwei Huang, Shixiong Hu, Xin Xu, Xiaohui Zou, Xiaodan Li, Tian Bai, Yongkun Chen, Zi Li, Junhua LiComments to Author , and Yuelong Shu Comments to Author

In 2015, a novel influenza A(H1N1) virus was isolated from a boy in China who had severe pneumonia. The virus was a genetic reassortant of Eurasian avian-like influenza A(H1N1) (EA-H1N1) virus. The hemagglutinin, neuraminidase, and matrix genes of the reassortant virus were highly similar to genes in EA-H1N1 swine influenza viruses, the polybasic 1 and 2, polymerase acidic, and nucleoprotein genes originated from influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 virus, and the nonstructural protein gene derived from classical swine influenza A(H1N1) (CS H1N1) virus.

 In a mouse model, the reassortant virus, termed influenza A/Hunan/42443/2015(H1N1) virus, showed higher infectivity and virulence than another human EA-H1N1 isolate, influenza A/Jiangsu/1/2011(H1N1) virus. In the respiratory tract of mice, virus replication by influenza A/Hunan/42443/2015(H1N1) virus was substantially higher than that by influenza A/Jiangsu/1/2011(H1N1) virus. 

Human-to-human transmission of influenza A/Hunan/42443/2015(H1N1) virus has not been detected; however, given the circulation of novel EA-H1N1 viruses in pigs, enhanced surveillance should be instituted among swine and humans.
EA-H1N1 SIVs have been shown to preferentially bind to human-type receptors, and ferrets have been experimentally infected with some EA-H1N1 SIVs via respiratory droplet transmission (12). EA-H1N1 SIVs reportedly have the potential to transmit efficiently and cause a pandemic among humans after long-term evolution in pigs (12). We report a severe human infection with a reassortant influenza virus in China and the results of genetic, infectivity, and virulence investigations of the novel virus.
In conclusion, EA-H1N1 swine influenza viruses occasionally infect humans. We report on a novel EA-H1N1 virus reassortant, HuN EA-H1N1 virus, which was isolated from a boy in China with severe pneumonia. The virus contained 2 surface genes from an EA-H1N1 virus and 4 internal genes from A(H1N1)pdm09 virus.
Compared with JS/1/11 EA-H1N1 virus, the reassortant virus exhibited higher infectivity, virulence, and replication in C57BL/6J mice, demonstrating the need for further evaluation of HuN EA-H1N1 virus to assess the threat it poses to public health. Our results indicate the need for heightened surveillance.

Dr. Zhu is an influenza researcher at the Chinese National Influenza Center, National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Her research interests include evolutionary analysis and pathogenicity mechanism of influenza viruses.
Since the influenza subtypes that commonly circulate in swine (H1, H2 & H3) are also the same that have caused all of the human pandemics going back 130 years (see Are Influenza Pandemic Viruses Members Of An Exclusive Club?), they are generally regarded as having less far to `jump’ to humans than many avian viruses.

Which is precisely how the H1N1 pandemic virus emerged in 2009, after kicking around (and reassorting in) swine herds for a decade or longer.

Which is why we watch reports like today's with particular interest. For more on swine variant viruses, both in the United States and around the world, you may wish to revisit:

CDC On Protecting Against Swine Variant Viruses
Front. Microbiol.: A Novel H1N2 Reassorted Influenza Virus In Chinese Pigs
Eurosurveillance: Seroprevalence Of Cross-Reactive Antibodies To Swine H3N2v – Germany
JID: Evolutionary Dynamics Of Influenza A Viruses In US Exhibition Swine 
Live Markets & Novel Flu Risks In The United States