NEWS SCAN: H5N1 cases in Egypt, virus-sharing impasse, NYC's new health commissioner

May 18, 2009

Egypt reports two new H5N1 cases, one fatal
Egypt's health ministry recently reported two new H5N1 avian influenza cases in young children, one of them fatal, according reports from Strengthening Avian Influenza Detection and Response (SAIDR). A 4-year-old girl with a history of contact with sick poultry died from her infection today at a hospital in Dakahliya governorate. She got sick on May 9 and was hospitalized May 17. The second case involved a 3-year-old boy from Gharbia governorate. He got sick on May 12, was hospitalized on May 15, and was listed in good condition. His family said the boy had contact with sick poultry. If the World Health Organization confirms the cases, they will be listed as Egypt's 71st and 72nd cases, with the girl's death marking the country's 27th fatality. In other developments, the WHO on May 15 confirmed an H5N1 infection ion a 5-year-old girl from Sohag governorate. She became ill on May 7, was hospitalized 2 days later, and remains in stable condition. On the same day the WHO also noted the deaths of three previously confirmed case-patients from Egypt: a 6-year-old by from Qaliobia governorate, a 33-year-old woman from Kafr el Sheikh governorate, and a 25-year-old woman from Cairo governorate. The WHO confirmations raise the global H5N1 total to 424 cases, 261 of them fatal.
[May 15 WHO statement]

WHO virus-sharing meeting ends without agreement
An intergovernmental group convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) met in Geneva on May 15 and 16 but did not complete an agreement to share influenza virus samples and vaccines, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported yesterday. In a statement, the group said they reached an agreement on most elements of the "pandemic influenza preparedness framework for sharing of influenza viruses and access to vaccines and other benefits." The unresolved issues are sharing of data between laboratories and intellectual property rights relating to viruses. The dispute over virus-sharing began in December 2006 when Indonesia, the nation hardest hit by the H5N1 virus, stopped sending samples to the WHO to protest the high cost of vaccines made by pharmaceutical companies from the isolates the country provided. Since then, the intergovernmental group has met several times but has not forged a final agreement. At the last meeting, in December 2008, the group asked Margaret Chan, WHO director general, to help them flesh out a traceability mechanism, set terms of reference for WHO collaborating centers, revise a material transfer agreement, and outline needs and priorities for benefits such as vaccine stockpiles and financing. Chan's office published a report on the four tasks, dated Apr 30, in advance of the recent meeting.
[Apr 30 WHO director-general's report on virus sharing issues]

New York City names new health commissioner
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today that Dr. Thomas Farley, a pediatrician and epidemiologist from Louisiana, will head the city's health department. He will replace Dr. Thomas Frieden, who was named this week by President Barack Obama as the new director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Reuters reported. Farley heads the Department of Community Health Sciences and the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University in Louisiana but has worked as a senior advisor to Frieden since 2007. He will step into his new position in June. Farley said today that his top priority would be handling novel H1N1 influenza issues, but he also intends to continue Frieden's fight against obesity and smoking. Farley.
[May 18 Reuters story]

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