NEWS SCAN: Pathogen testing cuts, pneumococcal vaccine in preemies, vaccine plant nixed, measles in Indiana, low-path avian flu in Minnesota

Jul 5, 2011

Federal budget cuts threaten produce pathogen program
Congress is considering legislation that would dismantle the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Microbiological Data Program, a national foodborne pathogen monitoring program launched in 2001 that tests about 15,000 samples of vulnerable produce each year, the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday. The US House of Representatives in June approved a bill that would end the program's $4.5 million annual funding, and the Senate is expected to address the measure over the next few months as it addresses discretionary funding bills for the USDA and Food and Drug Administration, according to the Tribune. Some produce industry groups have said the program has overstepped its initial monitoring mission and has led to unnecessary food recalls and testing duplication. However, some food safety experts have said the program is valuable, because of the broad scope of pathogens it tests for. They said, for example, the program fills a void, because it tests for non-O157 Escherichia coli strains, such as the one linked to sprouts in a European outbreak that has now sickened more than 4,200 people.
Jul 4 Chicago Tribune story
USDA Microbiological Data Program Web page

10-valent pneumococcal vaccine shown safe, immunogenic in preemies
The 10-valent pneumococcal vaccine is safe and immunogenic in preterm infants, according to a study yesterday in Pediatrics. European researchers vaccinated three groups of infants with three doses of 10-valent pneumococcal nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae protein D conjugate vaccine: preterm 1 (27 to <31 weeks gestation), preterm 2 (31 to <37 weeks gestation), and term. They administered vaccine to 50 preterm-1 infants, 87 preterm-2 infants, and 149 term infants at 2, 4, and 6 months of age, as well as a booster dose at from 16 to 18 months of age. They found that general post-vaccine symptoms were low across all groups, as were grade 3 (the most serious) symptoms. In addition, at least 92% of subjects in each group had an opsonophagocytic activity (OPA) titer of 8 or greater after the booster for each of the 10 vaccine serotypes, and pneumococcal antibody concentrations and OPA titers were comparable between the two preterm groups. The authors conclude that the vaccine is "well tolerated and immunogenic in preterm infants."
Jul 4 Pediatrics abstract

UPMC pulls out of plan to build biodefense vaccine plant
Citing government delays and shifting federal priorities, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) officials scuttled plans to build a $600 million to $800 million biodefense vaccine production and development center in Pittsburgh, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In the Jul 2 article, Robert Cindrich, chairman of 21st Century Biodefense, a subsidiary of UPMC, and senior adviser to the UPMC president, said that federal delays and altered strategy compelled the center to back out of the public-private project after spending millions of dollars. Saying that a recent request from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is designed to leverage commercial capacity and includes no guaranteed orders from the government, he concluded in a UPMC press release, "Our strategy was to create an innovative facility fully dedicated to the government's needs for non-commercial vaccines to protect the nation from bioterrorism and pandemic diseases. Unfortunately, the request for proposals recently released by [HHS] cannot be reconciled with that approach and would greatly increase the risks for UPMC." The Post-Gazette story reported that the US Department of Defense plans to seek bids on its own project for developing biodefense vaccines.
Jul 2 Post-Gazette report
Jul 1 UPMC press release

Indiana reports 8 new cases of measles
Officials from the Indiana State Department of Health said Jul 1 that the state's measles count has now reached 13 cases, up eight cases from the previous week, according to the South Bend Tribune. Twelve of the cases were confirmed in Noble County residents, and one in LaGrange County. State public health officials are urging people in northeastern Indiana to make sure their measles immunizations are up to date, and some local health departments are offering free vaccine to those who may have been exposed to measles, according to the Tribune story.

Low-path avian flu detected on Minnesota turkey farm
Minnesota state health officials have quarantined poultry on a 5,500-bird commercial turkey farm in rural Wright County after routine premarket testing detected low-pathogenic avian flu, according to a report filed last week with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The report did not specify the subtype, but both H5 and H7 avian flu strains are required to be reported to the OIE. No turkeys are showing clinical signs of the disease, but the Minnesota Board of Animal Health has quarantined birds on the farm and has established a 3-mile surveillance zone around it. Both that agency and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are conducting a "comprehensive epidemiological investigation," according to the report.
Jun 29 OIE report

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