NEWS SCAN: Smallpox samples, Korea's ag outbreaks, US chikungunya, Salmonella outbreak, food-safety funding, anti-vaccine messaging

Jan 18, 2011

US, Russia oppose move to destroy smallpox virus samples
US and Russian officials say their governments will fight international efforts this week to set a deadline for destroying the last known stocks of the smallpox (variola) virus, the Wall Street Journal reported today. The World Health Organization's (WHO's) executive board, with representatives from 34 countries, is scheduled to discuss tomorrow whether enough research on medical defenses against smallpox has been completed to justify destroying the remaining samples, held by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta and at a Russian lab near Novosibirsk, the story said. It quoted an unnamed US official as saying the United States needs to keep the virus samples "for the foreseeable future" to continue work on drugs and vaccines to guard against a potential bioterrrorist attack or accidental release of the virus. Valdimir Starodubov, a member of the Russian delegation to the WHO executive board, told the Journal that Russia is likely to concur with the US position. Smallpox was eradicated in the late 1970s, and in 1996 the World Health Assembly agreed that remaining samples of the virus should be destroyed, but the step has been repeatedly postponed, the story noted. In a biosecurity journal article last week, an analyst predicted that the issue of the smallpox virus samples could trigger an acrimonious battle at the annual assembly in May.
Jan 18 Journal story
Jan 11 CIDRAP News story on the smallpox virus issue

South Korea reports more H5N1 outbreaks; FMD cited in North Korea
The number of H5N1 avian influenza outbreaks in South Korea has jumped to 31 in a series that dates back to late November, according to a report the government filed with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) yesterday. The latest outbreak started Jan 14 on a farm in Gyeonggi province in the country's northwest and involved just four sick birds but forced the destruction of all 45,000 birds on the farm, the report said. A total of about 745,000 domestic birds have been culled in the outbreaks. The report also said 113 wild birds have been found infected with the virus. Meanwhile, a BBC News report today said foot-and-mouth disease (FMD)—which South Korea has been battling for weeks—has been reported in North Korea. An official with South Korea's Unification Ministry said recent visitors to North Korea had reported the communicable livestock disease, but the government has not confirmed it. South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the North Korean military had sent troops to disinfect farms since the disease emerged in December. The last FMD outbreak in North Korea occurred in 2007, the story said. In South Korea the disease has cropped up at 114 sites, and 1.4 million animals have been destroyed in the control effort, the British newspaper the Guardian said today.
Jan 17 OIE report
Jan 18 BBC News story
Jan 18 Guardian report

Chikungunya on the increase in US travelers
Reported cases of the primarily tropical mosquito-borne disease chikungunya have spiked sharply in the United States in recent years, and most cases are not reported to the proper national surveillance system, according to a new study. Researchers, writing in Clinical Infectious Diseases, said they looked at data from 1995 through 2009 and found that all but 3 of 109 confirmed cases occurred from 2006 on. Of the 78 patients for whom travel information was available, all had traveled outside the country just before or during their illness onset, the vast majority (62, or 79%) to India. Only 6 patients (8%) had traveled to a region (in Africa or Asia) that had no known outbreak of the disease at the time. Of the 106 cases identified from 2006 through 2009, only 27 (25%) had been reported to ArboNET, the nation's arbovirus surveillance system (the disease is caused by an arbovirus). The authors caution that, while no locally acquired cases were identified, several infected travelers returned to states that host mosquito species known to transmit chikungunya. They write that healthcare providers and public health officials need to be educated about the disease.
Jan 17 Clin Infect Dis study
CDC chikungunya home page

Sprout-linked Salmonella outbreak cases rise to 125
In an update on a Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- outbreak linked to an Illinois company's alfalfa sprouts, the CDC said on Jan 14 that it has received reports of 13 more sick patients, raising the total to 125. Four more states—Arkansas, Nebraska, Nevada, and Oregon—reported cases, for 22 total states. The last illness onset date is Dec 27, and the hospitalization rate for patients for whom information is available is 24%, the same as the CDC's last update. No deaths have been linked to the outbreak. Many of the patients sickened in the outbreak ate sandwiches containing sprouts at Jimmy John's restaurants. In its investigation, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested product and environmental samples from Tiny Greens Organic Farm, based in Urbana, Ill. So far tests on product samples are negative, but one water run-off sample was positive for the outbreak strain on pulse-field electrophoresis gel testing. The FDA said in an updated recall notice that additional genetic testing is under way. However, Bill Bagby, Tiny Greens' owner, disputed the water run-off findings, saying the water sample was taken from a compost pile outside the building and had no connection to the indoor growing operation, The Packer, a produce industry newspaper, reported yesterday.
Jan 14 CDC outbreak update
Jan 14 FDA updated recall notice

Pew, grocer association call for FDA funding for food safety
Presidents of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) are calling on Congress to fund the Food Safety Modernization Act recently signed into law. On a blog for the congressional publication The Hill, Pew president and CEO Rebecca W. Rimel and GMA head Pamela G. Bailey write, "The parties who played an instrumental role in turning food safety reform into a reality will still need to press for adequate funding for FDA’s new responsibilities. Without increased appropriations, there will not be enough resources to carry out this critical mandate to protect the health of the public."
Jan 13 The Hill opinion piece

Researcher tracks changes in anti-vaccine themes
A study on the evolution of anti-vaccine information on the Internet found two new patterns that emerged during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic: claims that the threat was "manufactured," and the increased presence of "experts" who oppose vaccination. The findings, in Vaccine, were reported by Sandra Bean, a public health doctoral student at Oregon State University. She analyzed 25 anti-vaccine Web sites between February and May 2010 for content, design, and credibility attribute, then compared the results with earlier analyses. Two themes that seemed to diminish during the pandemic were parent testimonials and the assertion that adverse events are underreported. Bean concluded that public health trends and vaccination successes are two factors that drive messaging changes on anti-vaccine Web sites, which often make emotional appeals, and that monitoring responses can help public health authorities craft messages to counter their arguments. She added that messages supporting vaccination might be more effective if they include a stronger emotional pitch.
Jan 14 Vaccine abstract

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