NEWS SCAN: Global flu update, H5N1 in Japan, Salmonella sprout suspects, public health info network, disease reporting rates

Dec 20, 2010

WHO: Flu season under way in Northern Hemisphere
The World Health Organization (WHO) said in its latest flu update that the season is starting in some Northern Hemisphere locations such as the East Asia, North America, and most notably the United Kingdom. England is seeing co-circulation of 2009 H1N1 and influenza B viruses. with an increasing number of severe flu cases. The latest data show the 2009 H1N1 strain is epidemiologically and virologically similar to last year's strain. A genetic analysis of H1N1 samples from England shows several genetic substitutions compared with the vaccine virus, but the WHO said they don't affect the antigenicity of the virus and are similar to changes that have already been detected in other parts of the world. Small to moderate increases in flu-like illnesses have been noted in 14 European countries, especially in children, with activity rising above baselines in the Russian Federation and the Ukraine. In East Asia, flu activity has recently increased in Mongolia and South Korea, and to a lesser extent, northern China. In tropical countries flu activity is low, except for Sri Lanka, where 2009 H1N1 activity recently peaked. Little flu activity has been reported in sub-Saharan Africa, except for Cameroon, which reported a recent surge in 2009 H1N1 infections.
Dec 17 WHO influenza update

Japan finds H5N1 in swan
Animal health officials in Japan have detected the H5N1 avian influenza virus in a dead tundra swan found on the balcony of a home in Tottori prefecture, located in the western part of the country, Kyodo news service reported today. The house is 4 miles from a poultry farm in Shimane prefecture that reported a recent H5N1 outbreak. Specialists conducting surveillance in the areas around the house and farm found 23 dead birds, which will be tested for the virus. Scientists said examination revealed the virus found in the swan samples is "partially identical" to the strain found on the poultry farm, Kyodo reported. In other developments, South Korean authorities reported a low pathogenic H7N2 outbreak at a poultry farm in Southern Chungcheong province, according to a Dec 17 report from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The virus turned up during surveillance activities. One bird on the poultry farm was sick and all of the 110 birds were culled to control the spread of the virus.
Dec 17 OIE report

Sprouts suspected in Illinois Salmonella cases
Health officials in Illinois are investigating a Salmonella serotype I4,5,12,i- outbreak that they suspect is linked to alfalfa sprouts that has sickened 46 people in nine counties. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) said in a Dec 17 statement that many of the people who became ill ate at Jimmy John's restaurants. The state has been receiving reports of illnesses matching the Salmonella serotype since Nov 1. State authorities are testing produce for Salmonella and investigating alfalfa sprout producers.
Dec 17 IDPH press release

GAO: HHS falls short on planning for public health information network
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has not developed a strategic plan for establishing an electronic public health situational awareness network, a step required by Congress in a 2006 preparedness law. Under the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2006, HHS is supposed to work with state, local, and tribal officials to prepare such a plan and present it to Congress, the GAO said in a report released last week. Several offices within HHS have developed related strategies that could contribute to such a strategic plan, but they created them for other purposes, the GAO said. For example, HHS has developed systems to share information for disease and syndromic surveillance, but did not do so as part of a comprehensive strategy as required by the law. HHS also has awarded funds to states and localities to improve the ability to detect public health threats, the report notes. In written comments on a draft, HHS said that a complete strategy would be developed, according to the report.
GAO page with report summary and links

Study: Reporting of notifiable diseases improving but still limited
Researchers in North Carolina found that the rate of reporting of notifiable infectious diseases in the state improved over more than a decade but remained low, according to an article published online today by Emerging Infectious Diseases. The researchers, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the North Carolina Department of Health, studied the reporting of 53 notifiable diseases by eight healthcare systems from 1995-97 and 2000-06. They examined healthcare system records to identify all patients who were assigned a diagnostic code for a reportable communicable disease and then compared the resulting data with the number of cases reported to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. They found that the completeness of reporting varied from 2% to 30% among the eight health systems and improved with time. Reporting rates for specific diseases ranged from 0% to 82%, "but were generally low even for diseases with great public health importance and opportunity for interventions," the report says. They suggest that the combination of electronic health records and automated case-finding and data collection will be the key to substantially improving disease reporting.
Dec 20 Emerg Infect Dis study

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