NEWS SCAN: Food safety bill, E coli O145 in meat, UK flu absences, plant-derived flu vaccine, chicken pox vaccine

Jan 5, 2011

President signs food safety bill
Without fanfare, President Barack Obama yesterday signed the landmark food safety bill that Congress passed in the last hours of the 111th Congress in December. The bill, called the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, was among 35 that Obama signed yesterday, as listed on the White House Web site. The law aims to increase efforts by the Food and Drug Administration and the food industry it regulates to prevent food contamination, rather than just reacting to problems. FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in a Jan 3 statement, "This law represents a sea change for food safety in America, bringing a new focus on prevention, and I expect that in the coming years it will have a dramatic and positive effect on the safety of the food supply." The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of implementing the new law at $1.4 billion over 5 years. Today a Republican in the US House reiterated previous comments that his party may try to withhold at least some of the funds needed for implementation. Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, who is in line to chair the House subcommittee that funds the FDA, told Bloomberg Businessweek, "There's a high possibility of trimming this whole package back."
Jan 3 statement by Margaret Hamburg
FDA question-and-answer statement about the law

E coli O45 illnesses linked to Wisconsin meat market
Seven people so far have been sickened in an Escherichia coli outbreak linked to a Wausau, Wis., butcher shop's smoked meat products, the Wausau Daily Herald reported today. The Marathon County Health Department (MCHD) yesterday in a press release warned customers of Zillman Meat Market not to consume ready-to-eat smoked meat products produced between Sep 30 and Dec 23, 2010, because they may be contaminated with E coli O45. Three of the seven sick people are from Michigan. The MCHD said the source of the contamination has not been identified. Judy Burrows of the MCHD told the Daily Herald that the Wausau people who were sick had shared some of the smoked meat products with others from Michigan. E coli O45 is one of six non-O157 Shiga toxin–producing E coli (STEC) strains that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists as pathogenic to humans. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently considering whether to regulate non-O157 STECs in beef products.

Flu-related absences surge among UK health staffs
The absence rate due to flu among Britain's National Health Service workers, who are handling a surge of 2009 H1N1 infections, was 50% higher than the rate in other job sectors yesterday, according to FirstCare, a firm that monitors absence rates, the London-based Daily Mail reported today. The company reported that 18,000 NHS staff were out sick yesterday. It noted that the level was 2,000 higher than at this time last year and that absence rates for the NHS are typically higher than for other employee groups. FirstCare said the level for private and public groups was 12% higher than on the same day in 2010. In other flu developments, hospitals in Israel are seeing a surge in 2009 H1N1 activity, and the country's health ministry said today that 14 people are in critical condition, including 6 children, according to Ynet News, based in Tel Aviv. The ministry said central Israel has reported the highest number of cases, with Jerusalem the least affected area.
Jan 5 Daily Mail story
Jan 5 Ynet News story

Firm reports test results for plant-derived H5N1 vaccine
A plant-derived virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine against H5N1 avian influenza tested well in ferrets and was found to be safe and immunogenic in a phase 1 clinical trial, according to a recent report in PLoS One. The vaccine, made by Quebec-based Medicago, Inc., contains H5N1 hemagglutinin protein that is produced in Nicotiana benthamiana, a tobacco-like plant from Australia. In ferrets, the vaccine prevented illness and reduced viral loads after exposure to high doses of a different H5N1 strain, according to the report. In the clinical trial, the researchers tested an alum-adjuvanted formulation of the vaccine at three doses: 5, 10, or 20 micrograms. Forty-eight healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 60 received two doses of the vaccine or a placebo, 21 days apart. The vaccine was well-tolerated at all three doses, with no allergic reactions and no significant increases in antibodies to plant-specific glycans. Three different assays (hemagglutination inhibition, single radial hemolysis, and microneutralizaton) showed immune responses to the vaccine. The researchers say the findings "suggest that plant-based VLP vaccines should be further evaluated for use in pre-pandemic or pandemic situations." In a press release, Medicago said the report marks the first time a clinical trial of a plant-derived VLP flu vaccine has been described in a peer-reviewed journal.
Dec 22 PLoS One report
Jan 5 Medicago press release

Study: 2 vaccine doses better than 1 in combating chicken pox
Children who receive two doses of varicella (chicken pox) vaccine lower their risk of contracting the disease by 95% compared with those who get just one dose, Yale and Columbia researchers have found. The results confirm a 4-year-old Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) policy that recommends two doses of the vaccine. When the CDC made the change in 2006, studies showed that one dose was 86% effective, according to a Yale University press release today. The current study found two doses to be 98.3% effective. "The findings confirm that, at least in the short term, the policy of routinely administering two rather than one dose of varicella vaccine is sensible," said lead author Eugene D. Shapiro, MD, professor in the Yale Department of Pediatrics. "Other countries that are routinely immunizing children with varicella vaccine may consider changing to a two-dose regimen." The authors studied 71 case subjects 4 years old or older who had contracted varicella and compared them with 140 matched controls. No cases (0%) versus 22 controls (15.7%) had received two doses of varicella vaccine, 66 cases (93.0%) versus 117 controls (83.6%) had received 1 dose, and 5 cases (7.0%) versus 1 control had not received the vaccine.
Feb 1 J Infect Dis study
Jan 5 Yale press release

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