NEWS SCAN: Avian flu developments in Egypt, Army probes Ft. Detrick samples, dengue drug targets

Apr 22, 2009

Egypt reports two H5N1 infections, one fatal
Egypt's health ministry said yesterday that a 6-year-old boy has died of an H5N1 avian influenza infection and that a 4-year-old boy from a different governorate has been hospitalized with an H5N1 infection, Xinhua, China's state news agency, reported today. The 6-year-old, from Qalyubiya governorate, about 25 miles north of Cairo, was hospitalized on Mar 28 and died yesterday. His death marks Egypt's first fatal H5N1 case this year. Meanwhile, the Egypt-based Strengthening Avian Influenza Detection and Response (SAIDR) reported that the 4-year-old, from Sohag governorate, about 240 miles south of Cairo, started experiencing a fever and runny nose on Apr 18; he was hospitalized and treated with oseltamivir (Tamiflu) the same day and is in good condition. The boy's mother said he had close contact with sick or dead poultry. If the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms the two cases, the H5N1 count for Egypt will increase to 68 cases, of which 24 have been fatal.
[Apr 22 Xinhua story]

Egypt H5N1 outbreak linked to recent case
Animal health officials in Egypt reported an H5N1 avian influenza outbreak in backyard birds in Kafr el-Sheikh governorate and linked the findings to a recently announced human case, an 18-month-old girl from Kellin district whose H5N1 infection was confirmed by the WHO yesterday as Egypt's 66th case-patient, SAIDR reported today. The outbreak involved 30 chickens for which vaccination status wasn't known. In a separate report today SAIDR said the girl remains hospitalized in good condition.

Experts point out Egyptian H5N1 gaps
A WHO official in Egypt said recently that the country's medical system has responded well to the rash of H5N1 infections in humans, a possible reason the fatality rate from the disease this year is so low, but he said the country needs "a more holistic approach" to control the spread of the virus, according to an Apr 16-22 report from Al-Ahram Weekly, the foreign-language edition of a Cairo-based daily newspaper. Ahmed Abdel-Latif said more disease awareness campaigns targeting children, who play with poultry in the streets, are needed in rural areas. He said education campaigns should be directed through mosques and churches, because people are more likely to respond if instructed by religious leaders. In addition, Hamed Samaha, head of Egypt's veterinary authority, said the country needs more H5N1 vaccine stocks for poultry, because existing supplies only cover 30% of the population. He also said the country's veterinary workforce is aging, seriously understaffed, and unable to keep up with the demand for H5N1 vaccinations.
[Apr 16-22 Al-Ahram Weekly story]

Army probes potentially missing virus samples at Ft. Detrick
Officials from the Army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID) are working to determine if any virus samples are missing from the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Ft. Detrick, Md., the Frederick News-Post reported today. On Feb 6 the Army said it was suspending nearly all select-agent work at the lab so it could conduct an inventory of all its laboratory samples. The review of security measures was prompted by events surrounding the death of former lab employee Bruce E. Ivins, whom federal officials believe played a role in the 2001 anthrax attacks. Though CID's investigation reportedly began near the same time the inventory was announced, it's not clear if the two probes are related. Two former lab employees told the News-Post that the CID investigators asked specifically about samples of Venezuelan equine encephalitis. A USAMRIID spokeswoman told the paper that the inventory is nearly complete, though the end date is not yet known.
[Apr 22 News-Post story]

Scientists identify potential targets for dengue drugs
Researchers have identified cellular components in mosquitoes and humans that the dengue virus uses to multiply after infecting both hosts, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which funded the study. By studying fruit flies, which are closely related to mosquitoes, the scientists identified 116 dengue virus host factors, the NIAID reported in a press release. They determined that 42 of these host factors have counterparts in humans, and these may serve as targets for new drugs to treat dengue infections. Currently there are no specific drug treatments for dengue, which sickens 50 million to 100 million people each year. The research report was published in Nature.

[NIAID news release]
[Nature abstract]

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