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Africa

Pity the poor lion hunters

Gag me.

Houston was once the nation’s top destination for African lions killed by U.S. trophy hunters, but public backlash and new federal restrictions have all but ended the sport, according to a group of big game hunters that has launched a campaign to bring it back.

Since 2015 when a dentist from Minnesota killed Cecil, a famed lion in Zimbabwe, the U.S. government has made sport hunting of lions and elephants so difficult as to discourage most hunters from even trying to navigate all of the paperwork, said wildlife attorney and hunting advocate John Jackson III.

“It’s worse than it has ever been,” said Jackson, who is chairman of a group called Conservation Force that advocates for big game hunting. “Now it’s almost impossible to get permits.”

While animal rights groups might see that as a victory, Jackson said they are losing sight of millions of dollars that hunters — and Texans in particular — have poured into African nations to support animal conservation. Over 10 years, almost $1.1 million went from just the Dallas Safari Club to lion conservation projects around the world. The Houston Safari Club — which has about 1,200 members — has reported donating more than $3.7 million for animal conservation work worldwide.

In May the Houston Safari Club launched a federal political action committee to raise money that could be used to influence political campaigns. And the club has increased its political commentary on its website, declaring it is “ramping up its legislative and policy efforts” and vowing to “grow our voice.”

Federal records confirm that imports of lions to Houston and other U.S. destinations have plummeted.

[…]

The Humane Society of the United States, on the other hand, has argued that hunters are overstating their impact and that lions and other endangered species can be promoted by supporting wildlife tourism expeditions.

Anna Frostic, managing wildlife attorney for the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, said trophy hunters like to claim their actions promote animal conservation, because that is what they have to prove legally in order to go on their hunts. She said on the face of it, it’s clear that killing individual animals doesn’t add to protecting the species.

“At the very least it is counter intuitive, and we would argue unethical and biologically unsubstantiated,” Frostic said.

Yeah, the whole “we must be able to kill lions in order to save them” argument doesn’t carry any weight with me. The Houston Safari Club could – stay with me here – just simply donate that same amount of money to conservation efforts without hunting lions. Maybe photograph them instead, I dunno. Beyond that, I can’t imagine a less sympathetic group right now than a bunch of rich guys whining about not being able to shoot things.

Ebola treatment progress

This is encouraging.

Texas scientists who developed an effective vaccine for the deadly Ebola virus are now reporting promising results with new medication to better treat full-blown cases of the disease.

In a laboratory study published this week, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston showed a single injection of two antibodies successfully treated monkeys infected with all strains of the virus, a significant advance on current treatment options which only cover one strain and require multiple injections.

“This medication would give doctors an advantage in situations where we don’t know which strain of Ebola is going to pop up next,” said Thomas Geisbert, a UTMB professor of microbiology and immunology and the study’s primary investigator. “The fear now, with all our eggs in one basket, is we’ll get burned with the outbreak of a strain there’s no protection against.”

Geisbert said the study results, published Wednesday in Cell Host & Microbe, suggest the medication would be effective even if Ebola viruses evolve over time, and Larry Zeitlin, president of Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., the drug manufacturer, said it should “reduce the burden on health-care workers in the field during outbreaks.”

[…]

New medications are increasingly being used in the Congo to treat Ebola, most notably ZMapp, which was initially deployed late in the first outbreak. But those medications work only against the Zaire strain and require multiple injections, a challenge in Third World settings. ZMapp, for instance, must be given three times, each a few days apart, and by infusion which takes up to five hours. The single infusion of MBP134 only takes minutes.

“That’s a huge advantage in chaotic outbreaks or reactive settings where it’s often difficult to track down and identify patients to give them a second dose,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, founding dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.

Hotez added that “of course, all of this needs to be confirmed in human clinical trials.” He said the current outbreak in the Congo “looks like a good time for such an evaluation.”

See here and here for some background. I don’t have anything to add here, I just thought we could all use a bit of positive news.

Ebola treatment progress

Some good news.

A study out [recently] shows that an experimental treatment for Marburg virus – a close cousin to Ebola – can be given after symptoms of the terrible disease have started to appear.

[…]

One experimental drug – given to two Americans and several Liberians who showed signs of the disease – appears to have been helpful, though it is not clear whether the victims would have survived anyway or what other treatments they received. The drug, ZMapp, includes proteins that interfere with the way Ebola attaches and enters a host cell.

[Wednesday]’s study, published in Science Translational Medicine, looks at a different drug that takes a genetic approach to fighting the disease. The drug uses bits of genetic material to block Ebola genes from acting, the way sticking gum in a lock would prevent a key from slipping in.

The research team from the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston and Canadian drug company Tekmira Pharmaceuticals injected the Marburg virus into four groups of four rhesus monkeys. The first group got the drug 30-45 minutes after infection; the second one day after infection; the third two days later; and the last group three days later. All of the treated animals lived, regardless of when they received the drug.

Although the study was on the Marburg virus, not Ebola, senior researcher Thomas Geisbert said he thinks the results mean that a related Ebola treatment, called TKM-Ebola, will also work once symptoms appear.

As we know, the Galveston National Lab is where the action is for Ebola research in the US. I don’t have anything to add here, I’m just glad to see them make things happen.

Working on Ebola in Galveston

Given what’s been going on lately I thought this would be of interest.

As the worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history sweeps across West Africa, hope for a cure is centering on scientists thousands of miles away at the Galveston National Laboratory, where researchers are working on three of the most promising potential cures.

The National Lab, on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, has been awarded $6 million from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense to develop cures for Ebola and the equally deadly Marburg virus, UTMB said this week.

The Ebola virus that has infected more than 1,000 people in West Africa and killed more than 700 is a new strain, which could complicate efforts to develop a cure, said Scott Weaver, the National Lab’s scientific director.

The outbreak is the longest-lasting and most widespread Ebola outbreak ever recorded, Weaver said, and cases are being reported for the first time in highly populated cities.

The National Laboratory is the only academic lab in the country to be rated Level 4, meaning it is equipped to research the deadliest biological agents known because of the sophisticated safeguards in place. Weaver said scientists at the National Laboratory have been working with the Ebola virus for 10 years, making them a natural choice to pursue the cures.

[…]

Even if an infected person arrives in the U.S., there is little chance that Ebola could get a foothold here, said T.G. Ksiazek, a pathology professor at UTMB. Ebola can only be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids and is easily controlled with modern medical techniques, said Ksiazek, who will leave for Africa this month to assist in efforts to halt the spread of Ebola.

“We do occasionally have diseases like this imported into the U.S. and we fare well,” he said.

Good to know. I don’t even want to think about the panic and overreaction that would occur here if there ever was such an outbreak, even though there’s not that much danger of actually catching it. This is one of those times when being – how shall I put this? – less scientifically literate that we might be as a society would be a major negative. The politics of ignorance and fearmongering that we already have are quite enough, thanks.

One more thing:

The bulk of the research on Ebola is being done in the U.S. because the federal government has been willing to fund research into cures of what are known as “emerging diseases,” such as the Ebola and West Nile viruses. Private companies are reluctant to invest the millions – or hundreds of millions – of dollars needed to develop a cure for a disease like Ebola because there is little chance of making a profit.

“There is really no market for this in a typical sense,” Weaver said. “There is no company that thinks they can market this in West Africa for a profit.”

Sarah Kliff explored that question in more detail a few days ago. Keep that in your back pocket the next time a debate about the role of government comes up in your vicinity. I wish the scientists working on this problem and others like it all the success in the world.