NEWS SCAN: More egg safety questions, mandatory flu shots, emergency volunteers

Sep 9, 2010

Senator asks if USDA had early warning about egg farm
Sen Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) secretary Tom Vilsack on Sep 7 asking if the department had received food safety complaints from Wright County Egg employees before the Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) outbreak occurred and the company issued a nationwide egg recall. Grassley's letter, posted on his Web site, said the employee concerns were cited in press reports. According to an Associated Press (AP) report, two former Wright County Egg workers said they complained about problems at the farm to USDA employees who were working at the site but said their concerns were ignored. He asked Vilsack to confirm if the USDA received the complaints and if so, what it did to explore the concerns. Grassley also asked if procedures are in place when food safety concerns are raised in settings in which the USDA and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) share jurisdiction, as they do at egg producers' sites. USDA spokesman Caleb Weaver told the AP that the USDA employee who oversaw the department's work on the farm didn't recall hearing the concerns but that the USDA is investigating claims. He also said the USDA is preparing a response to Grassley's letter. The FDA has said the USDA's role at the farm is to grade the eggs, though the AP story says an agreement allows the USDA to report unsanitary conditions to the FDA along with other situations that would allow it to withhold grading services. In other developments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today issued an update on the Salmonella investigation, which says as many as 1,519 reported SE cases are probably linked to the recalled eggs, 50 more since its last report on Sep 2. The CDC said the number probably underestimates the true burden of disease and that it expects to receive more case reports. The FDA has nearly completed its investigation of the two farms and is still processing nearly 600 laboratory samples that it obtained from the two sites.
Sep 7 Sen Grassley press release
Sep 9 CDC outbreak update

AAP endorses mandatory flu shots for healthcare workers
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has joined the medical organizations calling for mandatory influenza vaccinations for healthcare workers. The AAP announced the position in a brief online statement, saying the full policy report will be published Sep 13 as an early-release article in Pediatrics. The brief statement says immunization rates in health workers remain unacceptably low and that flu immunization for all healthcare personnel is "ethically justified, necessary and long overdue to ensure patient safety." The statement does not specify whether the AAP endorses exemptions for any reasons other than medical contraindications. The estimated cost of annual flu epidemics includes 610,660 life years lost, 3.1 million days of hospitalization, and 31.4 million outpatient visits, the AAP says. Other organizations that have called for mandatory flu immunization include the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

HHS launches site to help health workers volunteer for emergency duty
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week launched a national Web site to help healthcare workers volunteer to help out in public health emergencies. The new site connects health workers with the Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals (ESAR-VHP), a network of state-based programs for registering workers in advance so they can volunteer during emergencies, according to HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. "The HHS national ESAR-VHP website provides a single point of entry for potential volunteers, connecting them with each state's ESAR-VHP program, so health professionals can volunteer quickly without losing time waiting to have their credentials verified," the HHS statement said. It said registering with the system does not mean volunteers are obligated to serve. ESAR-VHP now has nearly 150,000 volunteers registered in 49 states, but state coordinators are eager to add to their ranks, HHS said. "ESAR-VHP saves time so we can make the most of volunteers' specialized medical skills when hours, even minutes, really matter," said Dr. Nicole Lurie, HHS' assistant secretary for preparedness and response.
Sep 7 HHS announcement
HHS ESAR-VHP site

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