NEWS SCAN: H5N1 in Indonesia, pandemic planning, food recall response, speedy ricin test, NIH stimulus funds

Apr 14, 2009

Indonesian province reports H5N1 outbreaks
District officials in Indonesia's Riau province reported that the H5N1 avian influenza virus recently struck chickens at several sites, according to an Apr 11 report in the Jakarta Post. The reports of poultry deaths follow the late March confirmation by a hospital official that a 2-year-old boy from Riau province died of an H5N1 infection after he reportedly had contact with dead birds.
[Apr 11 Jakarta Post story]

Tokyo gauges pandemic-related worker absences
A survey from Tokyo's transportation ministry revealed that 25% of those who commute to their jobs in central parts of Tokyo from surrounding areas would not report to work during an influenza pandemic, the Yomiuri Shimbun, an English-language newspaper in Japan, reported today. The findings included 2,000 responses to an online survey, which was conducted to estimate transport capacity during an influenza pandemic. Of those who said they wouldn't report to work, 17% said they'd stay home, though their companies don't have pandemic-related attendance policies. Seven percent said their companies would prohibit them from coming to work during a pandemic scenario.

Hawaii to prompt pandemic discussions with online game
In its efforts to encourage public discussion about pandemic preparedness and vaccine allocation, the Hawaii State Department of Health (HSDH) will sponsor an alternate reality online game starting in mid May, according to an Apr 12 report on the Alternate Reality Gaming Network Web site. The game, funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is titled Coral Cross and features a pandemic scenario that takes place on the island of Oahu. Though anyone can play, the main audience is Hawaii residents. In addition to the computer game, the HSDH will also host dialogues on vaccine allocation and a live TV panel.
[Apr 12 ARGNet story]

Consumers don't follow through on food recalls
Consumers pay attention to food recalls, but many aren't following recommendations to check their homes for recalled food products, according to a survey released today from the Rutgers Food Policy Institute. The telephone survey of 1,101 adults from Aug 4 through Sep 24, 2008, found that only about 40% of consumers think that the recalls apply to them, though most say they pay a great deal of attention to the information. The researchers said in a press release that personalizing recall information to consumers might boost the impression that the recall applies to them. For example, 75% of respondents said they'd like to see recall information at the bottom of grocery store receipts, and 60% said they'd like to receive e-mails or letters.
[Rutgers Food Policy Institute consumer food recall survey]

A quicker, more sensitive test for ricin
Researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine have developed a faster, more sensitive test for detecting ricin, a potential bioterrorism agent, according to a study that appears in the Apr 15 issue of Analytical Chemistry. The test detects and quantifies the amount of adenine, released by cells when ricin disrupts ribosomal RNA. The reagent emits light when ricin is present, and luminescence increases as the concentration of the toxin increases. The researchers said in an Apr 8 Albert Einstein College press release that the assay could help speed the development of a ricin antidote by replacing slower multistep methods of detecting ricin activity. They also said only minor changes would be needed for the detection method to be used in the field and in clinical practice.
[Apr 15 Anal Chem abstract]
[Apr 8 Albert Einstein College of Medicine press release]

Public health included in NIH stimulus funding
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) yesterday announced a new funding opportunity under the Recovery Act that targets $200 million toward large-scale research products that are likely to stimulate the economy through advances in biomedical research, public health, and healthcare delivery. The NIH said in an Apr 13 press release that it is looking for high-impact ideas that, with short-term support, may lay the groundwork for "new fields of scientific inquiry." For example, the NIH said the type of project that might qualify would be validation of biomarkers for disease detection.
[Apr 13 NIH press release]

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