2019 ASTMH Annual Meeting to focus on Ebola, monkey malaria, and other infectious diseases

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News from Frontlines of Ebola Outbreak; New Evidence of Surging Monkey Malaria; Tiny Tick Big Threat to America's Blood Supply; Artificial Intelligence Teaches Disease Fighters New Tricks

India's public health power couple, Abhay and Rani Bang, pioneers of life-saving approach to neonatal health, deliver keynote; best-selling authors Richard Preston and Douglas Preston talk Ebola and harrowing encounters with infectious disease

Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo; complications in the global push for malaria eradication; emerging tick-borne disease; and artificial intelligence against infectious disease are among the highlights of the 68th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene that will bring disease fighters from around the world to National Harbor just outside Washington, DC in November.

This year's meeting will kick off with keynotes from two public health heroes who have pioneered a home-based approach to fighting infant mortality in India that's now being adopted in 10 countries.

Abhay Bang, MD, MPH, and Rani Bang, MD, MPH, together founded the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH) in 1985 in a remote district in Maharashtra, India, and they continue to provide medical care and conduct research in 150 villages. Meanwhile, "Hot Zone" author Richard Preston talks about his sequel while brother Douglas Preston discusses "The Lost City of the Monkey God."

WHAT: American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 68th Annual Meeting

WHEN: November 20-24, 2019 (Wednesday to Sunday)

WHERE: Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland (adjacent to Washington, DC)

KEYNOTE: Abhay Bang, MD, MPH, and Rani Bang, MD, MPH, of India's Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH)

Selected Highlights of the 2019 ASTMH Annual Meeting:

A World Seeks New Solutions as Ebola Spreads: Ebola virus disease (EVD) continues to sicken and kill people in the challenging northeastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with almost 2,600 deaths by late July and new cases reported daily. By the time of TropMed19, it will have been several months since the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Top Ebola experts from around the world who have been close to this fight will share the latest update from the frontlines and insights into how to fight future outbreaks.

The Rise of Monkey Malaria: Malaria carried by non-human primates was rarely considered a significant threat to humans. But a report several years ago noted infections with a species called Plasmodium knowlesi and carried by long-tailed macaques showing up more and more in humans in Malaysia.Researchers will discuss new assessments of how the species has surged to become the dominant cause of malaria infections--some of which have proven fatal--in Malaysia and in parts of Indonesia as well. Also to be discussed: New insights regarding a worrisome species of malaria called Plasmodium simium carried by howler monkeys that caused a human outbreak in 2017 in Brazil.

Artificial Intelligence, a Smarter Way to Fight Infectious Disease: Tropical disease fighters will mind meld with machine learning and big-data experts to explore fighting Zika, malaria, dengue and other infectious diseases using the same artificial intelligence or AI technology that helps us navigate traffic jams and assemble a playlist. The session will include researchers using machine learning and online data to probe the mysteries of disease outbreaks. It also will explore a new initiative committed to making these very high-tech tools relevant and accessible for the very low-tech environments where the burden of disease is often greatest.

Tiny Vampire Threatens Blood Safety (and Other Perils of Tick-borne Disease): Researchers present the latest evidence regarding the growing threat worldwide from the spread of a tick-borne disease called babesiosis. It can be mild for many healthy people but can cause severe disease for infants, the elderly and immune-compromised individuals. Most concerning is that in the United States babesia-infected blood is now the leading cause of deadly infections transmitted via blood transfusions. Researchers will discuss new screening methods critical to protecting the safety of the blood supply and new efforts to develop a babesiosis vaccine.

Related: A separate session on tick-borne diseases will explore the latest insights in the battle against Lyme disease, including the efficacy of antibiotics, and the recent invasion of the United States by the so-called longhorn tick. This tick can carry diseases that are dangerous to humans and severely affect dairy production in cattle.

Parasites and Other Diseases of Poverty in the United States: An increase in tropical diseases like intestinal worm infestation and Chagas are being found in the United States where, just as in developing countries, they disproportionately impact poor communities. Researchers will provide the latest insights on parasite threats in urban and rural areas of the United States and report on the growing economic costs of Chagas, a disease spread by insects known as kissing bugs that can cause chronic heart and digestive problems.

Revisiting Hot Zones, Looking for Lost Cities: The inaugural ASTMH Tropical Bookshelf features the brothers Preston--Douglas and Richard--talking about their best-sellers exploring the interplay between infectious disease, natural history and archaeological discovery. Douglas will discuss his latest, "The Lost City of the Monkey God," which weaves adventures in the Mosquitia Honduran rainforest with his real-life encounters with venomous snakes and leishmaniasis. Richard will discuss his recent book "Crisis in the Red Zone--The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come." The follow-up to his blockbuster "The Hot Zone" chronicles the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa and offers chilling predictions about future threats.

Poor Quality Products Threaten Anti-Microbial Drug Efficacy: Already threatened by overprescribing and overuse in livestock, the lifesaving power of anti-microbial drugs is now under siege from a rise in poor quality drugs that can accelerate the emergence of drug-resistant strains. Researchers will explore new insights into threats to the most potent class of antibiotics, fluoroquinolones (which include the commonly used drug ciprofloxacin), and whether poor quality antimicrobials are driving resistance in tropical regions.

Deploying 15 Million Bednets to Revitalize Malaria Fight: Sleeping under bednets treated with insecticides that kill mosquitoes has played a major role in historical declines in malaria infections and deaths. But growing insecticide resistance may be contributing to a potential resurgence of the disease. Experts expect new findings from a pair of clinical trials that have distributed 15 million bednets treated with combination of insecticides in hopes of restoring their efficacy.

Fall Fashions for Personal Protective Equipment: The iconic image of an Ebola outbreak response is a picture of a caregiver encased in a sort of bespoke hazmat suit fashioned from a combination of off-the-shelf pieces. While providing critical protection from infection, the suits are very restrictive, hot and difficult to endure for long periods of time. They also require a lot of training to use safely and have not been rigorously tested. Researchers will discuss innovations to improve both the form and the function of personal protective equipment, or PPE--like internal cooling systems and fluorescent materials and lighting that can be used to ensure that caregivers have successfully decontaminated their PPE.

An Outbreak Innovations Pitch Competition: Yes, TV's popular Shark Tank show has led to such successful innovations as the Squatty Potty, Tipsy Elves and Scrub Daddy. But can this format help produce the next big breakthroughs in reducing the enormous burden of infectious disease in the developing world? Proposals for innovations are now being submitted to a panel that includes experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Vulcan Inc. and Roche Diagnostics. They'll select the best of them and invite innovators to TropMed19 to make a rapid-fire pitch to a group of judges and audience. The winner gets $10,000, marketing advice and an introduction to potential investors.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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