NEWS SCAN: Early flu in Australia, H1N1 mortality in adults, seasonal flu vaccine and H1N1, WHO on drug resistance, spinach recall

Apr 6, 2011

Australian states hit hard with early flu season
The southern Australian states of Victoria and South Australia are seeing an early influenza season that is producing four to five times the number of flu cases reported at this time last year, according to local newspapers. Victoria's health department has confirmed 353 flu cases this year, compared with 67 at the same time last year, according to the Melbourne-based Herald Sun. The story quotes flu specialist Dr Alan Hampson as attributing the phenomenon to increased rainfall, which may be keeping people indoors, as well as a mild flu season last year. In South Australia, lab-confirmed flu cases have reached 172, compared with 40 at this time last year, according to AdelaideNow. University of Adelaide virologist Chris Burrell also attributed the surge to increased precipitation. "What this means is that the upsurge that happens annually is coming earlier this year," he said. Health officials are stressing the importance of early vaccination.
Apr 6 Herald Sun story
Apr 6 AdelaideNow article

California study says 50-somethings had highest 2009 H1N1 death rate
A study of deaths in California from the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus showed that among adults, people in their 50s had the highest H1N1 mortality rate. Writing in PLoS One, researches from the California Department of Public Health report that 541 adults (20 years and older) died of H1N1 flu from April 2009 through August 2010. The annualized fatality rate per 100,000 population was highest in 50- to 59-year-olds at 2.6, followed by 60- to 69-year-olds at 1.7. The rates for younger and older age-groups ranged from 0.3 to 1.4. The authors say their findings are consistent with national data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which show a 2009 H1N1 mortality rate of 1.69 per 100,000 in the first 10 months of the pandemic in those 50 to 64, the highest of any age-group. The researchers noted that adults over 60 may have had some protection because of preexisting immunity. Among adults who were admitted to intensive care units for H1N1 illness, fatality rates ranged from 24% to 42%, the report says.
Apr 5 PLoS One report
CDC report on H1N1 hospitalization and fatality rates

Study: Seasonal flu vaccination did not affect H1N1 risk
In a case-control study in Victoria, Australia, seasonal influenza vaccination neither raised nor lowered the risk of infection with the 2009 H1N1 flu virus, according to a report published in Vaccine. The authors note that previous studies have yielded conflicting evidence on this question. The study involved sentinel patients who had flu-like illnesses at general practices in Victoria and were tested for the virus. The researchers found no evidence that the seasonal vaccine yielded significant protection for patients in any age-group, but age-specific point estimates suggested that the vaccine provided some non-significant level of protection in younger patients while increasing the risk of H1N1 in patients aged 50 to 64 years, the report says. Overall vaccine effectiveness for all ages was 3% (95% confidence interval, -48% to 37%).
Apr 5 Vaccine report

WHO observance sets sights on drug resistance
In its observance of World Health Day tomorrow, the World Health Organization (WHO) today unveiled a six-part policy package outlining measures that governments and their partners can use to combat antimicrobial resistance. With the launch of the document, the WHO warned that drug resistance problems are becoming more severe, requiring urgent action by many sectors to slow the spread and limit the impact on future generations. WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said in a statement today, "At a time of multiple calamities in the world, we cannot allow the loss of essential medicines—essential cures for many millions of people—to become the next global crisis." The WHO's recommendations include developing and implementing comprehensive national plans, boosting surveillance and lab capacity, ensuring reliable access to essential medications, regulating and promoting the rational use of medications, improving infection prevention and control, and encouraging research and development of new therapies.
Apr 6 WHO statement
WHO "Combat Drug Resistance" Web portal

Salmonella finding prompts spinach recall
Fresh Express, a produce company based in Salinas, Calif., said yesterday that it was recalling 2,939 cases of spinach after a random sample tested positive for Salmonella. The company said it wasn't aware of any illnesses and that it was coordinating closely with regulatory officials. The subject of the recall is 9-ounce bags of fresh spinach that have product codes starting with H081 and H082, a UPC code of 7127913204, and use-by dates of Apr 6 and 7.Fresh Express said it was recalling the spinach out of an abundance of caution. The spinach was distributed in eight states: Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Maine. In addition, it may have been redistributed in the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Virginia, Delaware, Vermont, New Hampshire, and West Virginia.
Apr 5 Fresh Express press release

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