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Weekly Update – Interesting News Roundup

Nigel Lightfoot Associates maintains a constant global watch for emerging public health threats.

Our weekly news updates, in combination with up to the minute analysis from Professor Lightfoot, are designed to keep clients and readers informed and empowered with the knowledge they need to protect their companies and staff.

The earlier we know that a problem is beginning to occur, the better the outcome.

Don’t forget to keep your preparedness plans up to date – please get in touch if you’d like to find out more.



The political situation in Syria continues to cause concern. We are aware of stockpiled chemical weapons, such as mustard gas and sarin, and it is of the utmost importance that they do not get into the hands of home grown terrorists.

Stores of biological weapons remain unconfirmed, but these would likewise be of concern and pose a major global threat to public health.


Although blue fin tuna caught off the US Pacific Coast has been found to contain Caesium, which clearly demonstrates the potential for global spread, the radiation levels are far below safe-to-eat limits set by the U.S. and Japanese governments.

Likewise, the Japanese government’s coastal testing programme, carried out over many months, revealed low levels of Caesium in fish, but nowhere near high enough to cause health problems. We should not be alarmed by these findings – they were always to be expected.


There has been another animal outbreak of Anthrax, this time in Colombia, and two subsequent human infections. We will soon be issuing a summary report on global Anthrax cases so far this year.

Professor Lightfoot first started working with Anthrax 35 years ago, when he was tasked with managing biological warfare defence for the armed forces and developing policies for post exposure prophylaxis with antibiotics. He went on to carry out ground breaking Anthrax research, in terms of antibiotic efficacy and typing methods.

Anthrax is always out there and presents an easy source for terrorists. Even though the organism is under lock and key in highly secure laboratories in Western nations, in the bigger picture it remains freely available.

In Professor Lightfoot’s own words, ‘Anthrax has always impressed me. It basically never dies, it exists in the environment as spores, and it is able to survive for many years. The cases I often saw in clinical practice were from imported Mohair wool from Afghanistan and hides from Africa. In terms of preparing for a bioterrorism threat, the persistence of anthrax spores presents a unique and difficult problem especially in terms of recovery from attack’.

Avian Influenza

On the 5th of June, Hong Kong declared a major public health alert due to a case of avian influenza in a boy who had travelled from his home in Guangzhou. This appears to be an over-reaction by the Chinese authorities, as there is no evidence of further transmission from this case – the boy had visited a market with live birds shortly before he became ill and as yet the H5N1 virus is not able to transmit between humans.

It is possible that recent international concern over the genetic manipulation of H5N1 and the publication of papers describing methods for doing so, has elevated risk perception.

Professor Lightfoot explains, ‘We are aware that a ten year old girl has recently died from H5N1 in Cambodia, after very close contact with infected poultry in her village, but it is the detection of changes in the virus at the animal-human interface that would necessitate global concern and indicate an increased potential for spread. We keep watching for you.’

Next week: Comment on Nodding disease in Uganda, ongoing undiagnosed illness in Vietnam and special report on Anthrax from Professor Lightfoot.


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