NEWS SCAN: Cholera clues, Salmonella in food workers, feds reassess gene stance

Nov 1, 2010

CDC: Haiti's cholera resembles South Asian strain
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today that Haiti's health ministry has received results of CDC testing on 13 cholera isolates recovered from patients that suggest the strain is most similar to ones found in South Asia. A press release says CDC is conducting more studies on the strain, which might show if the strain in Haiti is present in other parts of the world. Dr Alex Larson, Haiti's health minister, said in the press release that the finding isn't surprising because cholera strains spread via global travel and trade. "Therefore, we will never know the exact origin of the strain that is causing the epidemic in Haiti. This strain was transmitted by contaminated food or water or an infected person, he said. In other developments, the number of people sickened in Haiti's cholera outbreak has grown to 4,714, with 330 cases fatal, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said in its most recent update Oct 29. Artibonite department, which reported the earliest cases, is still reporting the highest incidence, with cases also confirmed in Central and West departments. Ecuador's health ministry is sending Haiti medical supplies to help respond to the outbreak, including intravenous fluids, oral rehydration salts, disinfectants, and other materials. Meanwhile, Haiti's government and aid organizations are bracing for a possible hurricane hit toward the end of the week, which could complicate cholera response efforts. Tropical storm Tomas is heading west toward Caribbean countries and could turn north and strengthen again as a hurricane, Reuters reported today.
Nov 1 CDC press release
Oct 29 PAHO cholera update
Nov 1 Reuters story

Study sheds new light on food-worker Salmonella infections
An analysis of Salmonella surveillance in Minnesota from 1997 through 2004 revealed that a substantial number of cases were in food workers who were part of outbreaks at their restaurants, researchers reported in the November issue of the Journal of Food Protection. Of 4,976 patients with culture-confirmed Salmonella over the study period, 110 (2.2%) were food workers, 20 (18%)of whose cases  were linked to illness outbreaks, the group found. The findings suggest rapid identification and follow-up of salmonellosis in food workers can help officials more quickly identify and respond to outbreaks. The authors suggest that clinicians who suspect Salmonella infections in patients who are food workers order stool cultures and promptly report the cases, even before receiving test results, to the health department. The researchers also found that Salmonella shedding is relatively long in food-worker populations, with a median of 27 days. They said this finding supports the need for more practical solutions to encouraging food workers to stay home when they are sick.
Nov J Food Prot abstract

DOJ weighs in on gene patent case
In a development that might someday impact the ongoing global virus-sharing debate, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) on Oct 29 filed an amicus brief in a genetics case that appears to counter the federal government's stance at the Patent and Trademark Office, the New York Times reported. In a case involving two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer, the DOJ wrote that human and other genes should not be eligible for patents because they are part of nature. The brief, which didn't side with either party in the case, said the simple isolation of a gene does not change its nature and that genetic modifications are still eligible for patents. The brief acknowledged that the stance was contrary to practices of the Patent and Trademark Office and government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, according to the Times report. It was unclear whether government agencies have discussed the legal position that the brief takes or whether the patent office will adopt the stance. Biotechnology companies say gene patents play a key role in the development of tests and medicines. However, during work on vaccines against H5N1 avian influenza, developing countries threatened to withhold viral samples, fearing pharmaceutical companies would patent the materials and produce vaccines and treatments that the countries couldn't afford.
Oct 29 New York Times story

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