NEWS SCAN: Eggs for vaccines, cause of Black Death, workplace flu prevention, diarrheal disease survey

Oct 11, 2010

BARDA contract ensures egg supply for pandemic flu vaccines
The US Department of Health and Human Services has awarded a 3-year contract worth $57 million to vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur, renewing an agreement to provide a year-round supply of eggs and other materials for making pandemic influenza vaccine. Dr Robin Robinson, director of HHS's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), said in an Oct 8 press release that though BARDA is investing in new vaccine technologies, it must also ensure a robust supply of vaccine with the current egg-based technology. Before BARDA awarded the first egg-supply contract to Sanofi in 2004, eggs for flu vaccine were available only during a limited part of the year when seasonal vaccines were produced. Because a pandemic influenza virus can arise at any time, federal health officials needed to make sure vaccine makers had access to eggs year-round. The first contract provided eggs needed to make the 2009 H1N1 vaccine—enough for Sanofi to open a second production line—and allowed the government to stockpile H5N1 avian influenza vaccine. The new contract will allow Sanofi to expand to a third domestic production line in the event of a pandemic. Chickens and eggs used for vaccines are monitored closely for contamination, and the vaccines made from the eggs are tested to ensure that they are safe and don't contain bacteria, HHS said.
Oct 8 HHS press release

Study says evidence from graves confirms Y pestis caused Black Death
Claiming to settle a scientific controversy over what pathogen was responsible for the Black Death in Europe in the 14th century, European researchers have confirmed that Yersinia pestis—the agent of plague—caused the epidemic, according to an Oct 7 PLoS Pathogens study. The investigators analyzed DNA and protein signatures specific for Y pestis from human skeletons found in mass graves of Black Death victims in northern, central, and southern Europe. Though many assumed Y pestis was the cause of the disease, inconsistencies in historical descriptions of the clinical and epidemiologic characteristics cast doubt on that view. Researchers also analyzed genetic markers to follow the evolution of the bacteria, which revealed two previously unkown but related clades, ancestors of two modern Y pestis variants. This suggests that plague was imported to Europe at least twice, each following a distinct route, the report says.
Oct 7 PLoS Pathogens study

CDC launches flu-prevention toolkit for employers
As the nation approaches its annual flu season, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Oct 7 released a toolkit to help businesses promote seasonal flu vaccination for their employees. The CDC says the top strategies employers can use to prevent flu this season are to host a flu vaccine clinic or to make sure employees know where to get the vaccine in the community. The materials are also designed to teach businesses, employers, and employees about flu-prevention strategies. The materials, themed "Make it Your Business to Fight the Flu," are available on the CDC's Web site and include checklists, materials for promoting at-work vaccination clinics, resources to help guide employees to community vaccination sites, and information about disease prevention.
Oct 7 CDC seasonal flu information for employers

Survey illuminates population's beliefs about diarrheal disease
A large majority of people understand that diarrheal illness is most commonly self-limited and does not require stool culture or antibiotic treatment, according to a survey published in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. More than 60% believe that the most common source of diarrheal disease is food, more than 70% further believe it is normal for raw meats to contain bacteria when they come into the home, and more than 40% think it is legal to sell raw meat that has bacteria on it, said the telephone survey, which involved 2,117 adults in Tennessee and was designed to explore consumer knowledge and practices associated with diarrheal illness. The authors acknowledge limitations of the study but say their findings should discourage healthcare professionals from overusing antibiotics for diarrheal illness, particularly if they are influenced by perceived patient expectations. They also conclude that patient education efforts should focus on supportive care for diarrhea and, because consumer food safety behaviors do not necessarily line up with their beliefs about food contamination, on safe practices in food handling and preparation.
Oct 8 Foodborne Pathog Dis article

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