NEWS SCAN: Flu antivirals, animal-disease spread, India adds labs, flu hits islands, handwashing and MRSA, climate and bluetongue

Mar 31, 2009

Multiple antivirals advised to treat seasonal flu
When antiviral treatment is indicated for seasonal influenza, more than one agent should be used, according to a recent commentary in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Using just one antiviral may increase resistance to antiviral drugs like oseltamivir (Tamiflu), say virologist Gregory Poland, MD, and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic. They recommend that physicians prescribe at least two antiviral drugs with different mechanisms of action, consider point-of-care testing, and use better treatment algorithms that may reserve prescriptions for patients likely to develop life-threatening complications.
[Clin Infect Dis abstract]

FAO calls for urgent efforts to stop boundary-hopping animal diseases
Though countries have made significant steps to limit the spread of avian influenza, governments need to urgently address the international spread of animal diseases, especially those that can infect humans, a United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official said today. Carolyn Benigno made her comments at the biennial FAO conference for Asia and the Pacific, according to the UN's IRIN News. Over the past decade, Benigno said, new disease outbreaks such as avian flu have affected millions of impoverished households that depend on livestock. She added that more than 75% of infectious agents known to be emerging in human populations are considered zoonotic. Other "priority diseases" mentioned in an FAO report distributed at the meeting are foot-and-mouth disease, swine fever, and hemorrhagic septicemia.
[Mar 31 IRIN News story]

India adds four BSL-3 labs to fight avian flu
India now has four biosafety-level 3 (BSL-3) labs, with two more on the way in the coming months, up from one such lab when the country faced its first avian flu outbreak in poultry in February 2006, according to a story today in The Times of India. The labs, meant to bolster India's capability to diagnose avian flu quickly in humans, are each capable of testing 30 human samples a day, the story said. In addition, India, which has yet to register a human case of avian flu, has nine non-BSL-3 labs for preliminary testing of human samples, a health ministry official said.
[Mar 31 Times of India story]

Remote South Pacific islands hit hard by flu
The tiny islands of Tokelau, which lie about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, have been hit by an epidemic of seasonal flu that has affected about a tenth of their residents, according to a BBC News story today. Health officials from New Zealand and the World Health Organization are en route with vaccine to the isolated three-island archipelago, which has no airport. Most of the 150 infected are children, and schools have been closed and public gatherings canceled.
[Mar 31 BBC story]

Handwashing more important than isolation for hospital MRSA control
Hospital patients who have been identified as carrying methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) need not be isolated or grouped if visitors and healthcare workers practice rigorous hand hygiene, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the Society for General Microbiology in Britain. In a year-long study in two intensive care units in which patients were checked weekly for MRSA colonization and hand hygiene was audited, researchers from University College Hospital, London found that transmission of MRSA within the units did not increase when colonized or infected patients were not moved into single rooms or housed together.
[March 30 Eurekalert press release]

Climate change blamed for spreading bluetongue in Europe
Rising temperatures have led to increasing outbreaks of bluetongue, a potentially fatal viral disease of ruminants, by creating a climate more friendly to the biting midges that carry it, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the Society for General Microbiology in Britain. Some European countries vaccinate against one bluetongue serotype, but others have arrived in Europe since 1998 and have spread, thanks to greater midge activity and increased viral replication in the insects, according to researchers from the United Kingdom’s Institute for Animal Health.
[March 30 Eurekalert press release]

FDA approves vaccine for Japanese encephalitis
The US Food and Drug Administration yesterday announced its approval of a new vaccine against Japanese encephalitis, a mosquito-borne viral disease found mainly in Asia. There, the disease afflicts about 30,000 to 50,000 people a year, causing 10,000 to 15,000 deaths, the agency said. US cases are rare, but a few occur in Americans who travel to Asia. In clinical trials, the new vaccine, called Ixiaro, was found to be more tolerable than an older US-licensed vaccine, JE-Vax, which is no longer made, the FDA said. Xiaro is made by Intercell Biomedical of Livingston, United Kingdom.
[Mar 30 FDA press release]

Intestinal parasites leave victims more vulnerable to cholera
Cholera patients who are also infected with parasitic intestinal worms have a significantly reduced immune response to the cholera toxin, according to a report published today in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. Results of the study suggest that parasitic infection could reduce immunity to future cholera infection and may compromise the effectiveness of cholera vaccines. Vibrio cholerae infections cause an estimated 5 million cases of cholera annually worldwide, primarily in impoverished areas with poor sanitation. Intestinal parasites are also common in these areas.
[PLoS Negl Trop Dis study]
[Mar 30 press release]

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