NEWS SCAN: Flu activity fades, H5N1 in Egypt, Israeli anthrax vaccine, funds for new lab, little-known viruses

Mar 27, 2009

US flu activity continues to recede
US influenza activity continued its slow fade during the third week in March, as 24 states still reported widespread cases, compared with 30 states the week before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported today. Nineteen states reported regional activity. Three more children died of flu-related causes, one each in Kentucky, New York, and West Virginia, bringing the seasonal total to 35, the CDC said. Extending a recent trend, more than half (52.5%) of tested flu viruses were type B, the only type for which the strain in this year's vaccine is not well matched to the circulating strains. Nationally, 2.6% of medical visits in the CDC surveillance network were attributed to flu-like illness, staying above the national baseline of 2.4%.
[CDC flu update]

Egyptian girl has avian flu
A 30-month-old Egyptian girl has contracted H5N1 avian influenza, according to news reports from Reuters and Xinhua. A health ministry spokesman said the girl is from the southern province of Qena, 450 kilometers south of Cairo, according to Xinhua. She was hospitalized with a fever Mar 23 and tested positive for the virus yesterday, the story said. If confirmed, her case will bring the World Health Organization's H5N1 case count for Egypt to 60, of which 23 have been fatal.
[Mar 27 Reuters report]
[Mar 26 Xinhua report]

Report criticizes test of anthrax vaccine in Israeli soldiers
A report by the Israel Medical Association (IMA) said hundreds of Israeli soldiers were pressured to participate in a trial of an anthrax vaccine without being fully warned of the risks, according to reports by the Jerusalem Post and Agence France-Presse (AFP). Dozens of ex-soldiers who were vaccinated starting in 1999 complained of skin, eye, and gastrointestinal side effects that still persist, the Post reported. The IMA said the vaccine trial was unnecessary because Israel, fearing attack by Saddam Hussein's Iraq, already had at least a million doses of anthrax vaccine at the time of the trial, AFP reported.
[Mar 26 Jerusalem Post story]

Tufts receives $9.5 million for zoonotic disease lab
The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University will get $9.5 million from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to help build a biosafety level 3 lab to study zoonotic diseases, the Boston Business Journal reported yesterday. The facility's mission will include studying possible bioterrorist use of zoonotic pathogens. The lab, with a total price of $33.5 million, is one of 13 regional labs that are being funded partly by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the report said. The facility will be built in Grafton, Mass..
[Mar 26 Boston Business Journal report]

Recently discovered polyomaviruses found to be widespread
A study from the University of Colorado suggests that infection with three recently discovered human polyomaviruses, known as KIV, WUV, and Merkel cell (MCV), is widespread. The researchers tested blood samples from more than 2,200 donors, including 721 children, for antibodies to the viruses, according to their report published today in PLoS Pathogens. Among adults, they found evidence of KIV in 55%, WUV in 69%, MCV strain 350 in 25%, and MCV strain 339 in 42%. Antibodies were also widespread in children. The report says KIV and WUV may be respiratory viruses, but little is known about the potential disease associations of the three viruses.
[PLoS Pathogens report]
[Mar 26 news release]

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