NEWS SCAN: More H5N1 outbreaks, EU pandemic resolution, OB flu prevention, H5N1 in China, FDA funding, meningococcal disease in Chad

Mar 8, 2011

H5N1 strikes poultry in Israel, Bangladesh, South Korea
Israel's agriculture ministry said yesterday that the H5N1 virus struck a turkey farm at religious settlement in the West Bank area, according to a report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The virus killed 200 and sickened 800 more of the farm's 13,000-bird flock of 14-week-old turkeys. The remaining birds will be culled, along with two other flocks at the settlement that consist of 6-week-old and 4-day-old turkeys. The source of the virus is under investigation. The latest H5N1 outbreak is Israel's first in more than a year.
Mar 7 OIE report
In Bangladesh, livestock officials on Mar 6 reported 29 more H5N1 outbreaks at commercial poultry farms, the OIE reported. The latest update covers outbreaks that occurred between Feb 14 and Feb 28 at five of the country's seven divisions: Barisal, Chittagong, Dhaka, Khulna, and Rajshahi. The virus killed 12,573 birds, and authorities destroyed 70,139 more to contain the spread of the disease.
Mar 6 OIE report
Elsewhere, South Korea today reported another outbreak, this time at an egg farm south of Seoul in Gyeonggi province, according to Bernama, Malaysia's national news agency. The country's National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service said it was South Korea's 50th H5N1 confirmation in the latest round of outbreaks that began in late December.
Mar 8 Bernama story

EU Parliament passes pandemic response resolution
The European Parliament during its plenary session in Strasbourg today adopted a resolution that scrutinized Europe's pandemic response and suggested future measures such as the group purchase of vaccines and adding safeguards to protect against conflicts of interest, the group said in a press release. The nonlegislative resolution, which passed by a show of hands, included a report from the European Parliament's Environment Committee, which was adopted by its Public Health Committee on Jan 25. Michele Rivasi, a Green party representative from France who drafted the report, said in the press release, "This report is an important attempt to highlight the concerns that have been raised about the disproportionate response to swine flu in Europe, as well as the potential influence of pharmaceutical companies in response processes." The resolution says conflicts of interests by experts who advise EU health authorities should be published and that full liability for vaccines must sit with manufacturers, not member states. It also asks the World Health Organization (WHO) to review its pandemic definition and include illness severity alongside the spread of the virus and asks the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in the future to perform its own pandemic risk assessments. The European Parliament is an elected group and is one of the European Union's two legislative branches. The resolution had been approved by committee on Jan 25.
Mar 8 EU Parliament press release
Jan 25 EU Parliament press release

CDC tweaks flu prevention advice for labor and delivery settings
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yesterday released updated guidance for preventing influenza in labor and delivery settings. During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic it revised its recommendations twice, based on feedback from providers in their patients. In the latest recommendations, the CDC no longer urges women who have suspected or confirmed flu infections to wear a mask during labor, if they can tolerate one. Instead, they say women who have flu-like illness during labor should remain on droplet precautions and that the healthcare team in the delivery room should adhere to standard and droplet precautions. Citing the risk of severe complications from flu in newborns, the CDC still recommends that facilities consider temporarily separating sick mothers from their babies, though it gives more flexibility in determining the length of separation. When keeping the infant in the nursery isn't an option, the CDC lists several measures that can reduce flu exposure to newborns, such as using physical barriers like curtains when available, keeping the baby at least 6 feet away from the mother, and ensuring that a healthy adult is in the room to care for the baby. The guidance urges healthcare providers to strongly encourage flu vaccination for family members and the baby's other caregivers.
Mar 7 CDC updated guidance

H5N1 outbreaks in China seen as relatively geographically limited
Researchers found that the risk of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu outbreaks in China is more geographically limited than previously thought, and that affected provinces tended to have lower antibody response to vaccination in domestic birds. Using statistical modeling, the scientists studied outbreak data and positive viral samples identified during risk-based surveillance, applying seven variables: chicken numbers, domestic waterfowl density, proportion of land covered by rice or water, cropping intensity, elevation, and human population density. They found that risk distribution based on surveillance data emphasized areas south of the Yangtze River, while the distribution of reported outbreaks extended farther north, where poultry and human density is higher. Both of these results reduce the extent of the areas seen as having the highest risk. The researchers also found that poultry in provinces with either outbreaks or surveillance samples positive for H5N1 in 2007 through 2009 appeared to have lower antibody responses to vaccination.
Mar 3 PLoS Pathog study

Industry advocacy group urges full funding of FDA
A fully funded US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) not only ensures safe food and life-saving medications for the public, it can help expand the economy, the advocacy group Alliance for a Stronger FDA asserted yesterday in a new white paper. The group, an alliance of more than 180 medical and food-industry groups, companies, trade associations, and individuals, said in a press release that the report is intended to inform interested parties, including Congress and the White House, of the FDA's importance to the country's economy. "Most policymakers have heard that FDA-regulated industries account for nearly 25% of U.S consumer spending," said Nancy Bradish Myers, alliance president, in the news release. "However, many have not thought about the major negative economic impact if FDA, the primary regulator of those industries—which employ millions and are net exporters of US products—is not adequately funded by federal dollars." She added, "FDA is a regulatory agency that can help the economy expand."
Mar 7 white paper
Mar 7 alliance press release

WHO reports meningococcal disease outbreak in Chad
Chad's health ministry this year has reported 923 suspected cases of meningococcal disease, including 53 deaths, for a case-fatality rate of 6.2%, the WHO said today in a disease alert. Five of the country's districts have exceeded the epidemic level, while two are under alerts. So far Neisseria meningitides A is the only subtype that has been confirmed in the epidemic areas. Global health groups have provided 752,000 doses of bivalent polysaccharide AC vaccine for mass immunization campaigns for the most affected areas. Chad's last meningococcal disease outbreak occurred in April 2010. The WHO said in background information about the disease that outbreaks occur sporadically throughout the world, though Africa's "meningitis belt" carries the highest burden of the disease due to cyclic epidemics.
Mar 8 WHO statement
WHO background information on meningococcal disease

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