NEWS SCAN: E coli in Japan, pasteurized meat, Ebola advances, measles vaccination, malaria drug access, asthma increase

May 3, 2011

E coli linked to raw meat kills 2, sickens 56 in Japan
Two boys died and 56 other people became ill from Escherichia coli O111 linked to a raw meat dish at a restaurant in central Japan, according to Japanese news outlets. One boy, a preschooler, died Apr 27 in Fukui prefecture after eating at a chain restaurant, health officials revealed May 1, according to a story today from the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. The second boy, whose age was not specified, died Apr 29 after eating at an outlet of the chain, owned by Food Forus Co., in Toyama prefecture. Officials suspect the source to be yukhoe, a Korean dish made from raw beef. At least one of the boys developed hemolytic uremic syndrome from his E coli infection, which can cause kidney failure. Of the 56 other cases, at least 19 involved "critical symptoms," according to the Asahi Shimbun story. Four restaurants are linked to the outbreak, a Jiji Press article reported yesterday. The article also said that Food Forus officials said at a news conference that they had not conducted hygiene inspections for the past 2 years of raw meat supplied by a wholesaler for the dish. The company said the wholesaler recommended the raw beef to Food Forus for use in yukhoe, saying it had disinfected the meat twice, the Asahi Shimbun reported, but the wholesaler denied the allegations.
Meat producers ask USDA allow 'pasteurized' on labels
The North American Meat Processors Association (NAMP) yesterday asked the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), along with its counterpart in Canada, to allow the word "pasteurized" to be used for qualifying meat and poultry products. Phil Kimball, executive director of NAMP, said in statement today that new technologies have allowed producers to pasteurize certain meat and poultry products, and that the term "pasteurized" is best poised to describe the products to consumers. The process has traditionally been applied to the heat treatment of milk beer, and other liquid foods to curb pathogens; however, pasteurization has recently been applied to other foods, such as crabmeat, eggs, and shellfish, NAMP said. Kimball said NAMP is asking FSIS to approve the use of the term immediately and clarify its policy. "FSIS is legally required to accept the use of such terminology unless it can reasonably assert that the use of such a claim on a given label is either false or misleading," he said. Dr James Marsden, in a Meatingplace blog post today, said he helped draft the NAMP petition to the FSIS. Marsden is a senior scientific advisor for NAMP and a contributor to Meatingplace, a Web site for the North American meat and poultry industry. He said advances in packing and antimicrobial technologies such as high-pressure processing have allowed meat producers to pasteurize raw and cooked products and have been accepted by consumers. He wrote that even animal carcasses can be pasteurized.  The NAMP petition asks the USDA to define the term "pasteurization" as it would apply to meat products and establish performance standards for the process, Marsden added.
May 2 NAMP press release

Receptor for Ebola, Marburg viruses identified
The first known cell-surface receptor for Ebola and Marburg viruses has been identified by a team of US researchers, according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The team, led by Wendy Maury, PhD, of the University of Iowa, reports that a protein called TIM-1 (T-cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain 1) binds to the receptor-binding domain of Zaire Ebola virus glycoprotein. The researchers used a new bioinformatics-based approach, developed by John Chiorini at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in Bethesda, Md., to identify the protein, according to a University of Iowa press release. The study further showed that TIM-1 is widely expressed on epithelial cells that line various tissues, including mucosal surfaces of the airways and in the eyes. The study also included the identification of a monoclonal antibody targeted to TIM-1, called ARD5, and demonstrated that it blocked Ebola virus binding and infection in cells that express TIM-1. However, Maury cautioned in the press release that TIM-1 is not the only receptor for Ebola, because the protein is not found in some cells that are invaded by the virus. "Ultimately, epithelial cells are not as important a target for the virus as some other cell types, but they may be the first entry point for Ebola, so they may provide a conduit that allows Ebola access to those other cells within the body," she said.
May 2 Proc Natl Acad Sci abstract
May 2 University of Iowa press release

NIH awards grant for research on Ebola, Marburg vaccines
The National Institutes of Health has awarded nearly $5.4 million to a team of scientists from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, Emory University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology to develop vaccines against the Ebola and Marburg viruses, according to a Texas Biomed news release yesterday. The vaccines will be developed in Texas Biomed's high-containment laboratories in San Antonio, the statement said. The Emory group has developed virus-like particle vaccines (VLPs) and has shown that Ebola VLPs stimulate immune cell activity and induce strong antibody responses, according to the release. The group has also found that using a mixture of DNA and VLP vaccines induces stronger immune responses than using either type of vaccine alone. Lead investigators for the research include Jean L. Patterson, PhD, and Ricardo Carrion Jr., PhD, of Texas Biomed; Chinglai Yang, PhD, at Emory, and Mark Prausnitz, PhD, at Georgia Tech.
PAHO, WHO advise travelers on measles, rubella vaccination
After recent travel-related measles outbreaks in four US states, the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) today urged international travelers to get vaccinated against measles and rubella before visiting the Western Hemisphere. The alert, which states that measles and rubella have been eliminated from the hemisphere, was issued "in view of increased international travel expected for upcoming cultural and sporting events hosted by countries in the Americas." It also recommends that Western Hemisphere residents get vaccinated before traveling outside the region. Imported measles cases have been reported in recent weeks in Minnesota, Utah, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. The alert also urges travelers and healthcare providers to be on watch for fever, rash, cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis.
May 3 PAHO/WHO alert

Malaria drug partnership takes shape in Africa, Cambodia
A pilot program launching a new funding to make the most effective malaria treatments at affordable prices is under way in seven African countries and Cambodia, the Daily Independent, based in Lagos, Nigeria, reported on Apr 30. The African nations are Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania (including Zanzibar), and Uganda. Program officials used lessons learned in those countries in advance of a possible global rollout. The financing model, called the Affordable Medicines Facility-malaria (AMFm), is designed to expand access to artemisinin-combination therapies, which are the most effective treatment for the disease, and one that helps prevent resistance to the drugs. To reduce the cost of the drugs, the Global Fund picks up part of the cost, then negotiates with drug companies to reduce the price of the medications, lowering the cost by about 80%. The program's other partners are the UNITAID, UK Department for International Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership.
Apr 30 Daily Independent story

CDC reports rising asthma prevalence
To coincide with World Asthma Day observances, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today released new figures on asthma that reveal the prevalence has increased from 7.3% in 2001 to 8.2% in 2009, which amounts to a 12.3% increase. The analysis, in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), comes from the state-based Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. In children, asthma prevalence was higher in poor children and non-Hispanic black children. In adults, asthma prevalence was highest in women and the poor. The disease burden was also higher in uninsured people who can't afford to buy prescription medications. Only about one third of people with asthma had a written action plan, and 68% had been taught how to appropriately respond to an asthma attack. At a media briefing today on the report, Paul Garbe, DVM, MPH, chief of the CDC's air pollution and respiratory health branch, told reporters that officials aren't sure why asthma prevalence is rising, despite decreased levels of smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. He said exploring the rise is an active research question. He said the key to reversing the trend is to involve patients and caregivers more in asthma treatment planning. Garbe pointed out examples of state programs that are successfully reducing the number of doctors' visits for asthma, such as one in Connecticut that features in-home assessment to identify asthma triggers and one in New York that has produced asthma management tools for primary care providers.
May 3 MMWR Vital Signs report
May 3 CDC press release

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