NEWS SCAN: Poultry safety standards, global flu update, H5N1 vaccine trial, H7N7 outbreaks, European pandemic surveillance, immunomodulator study

Ju1 1, 2011

New pathogen standards for poultry processors take effect
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) yesterday announced that tougher new standards for preventing Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry processing plants take effect today. The new standards are the first to address Campylobacter. Though the standards are not requirements, the names of firms that don't meet the Salmonella standard will be published online. The standards apply to plants that process young chickens and turkeys. The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has estimated that the standards will prevent 5,000 Campylobacter illnesses and 20,000 Salmonella infections each year once they have been in effect for 2 years.
Jun 30 FSIS notice
Mar 17 CIDRAP News story

WHO: Flu season starting in Southern Hemisphere
The 2011 influenza season is starting in at least one part of the Southern Hemisphere, according to today's flu update from the World Health Organizations (WHO). Reports from South Africa note high flu activity, with more than 80% of cases over the past 2 weeks caused by the 2009 H1N1 virus and increasing levels of type B flu. Flu activity in New Zealand is low, as it is in much of Australia, but a recent increase in emergency department visits for influenza-like illness may indicate the beginning of the flu season there as well. Elsewhere, pockets of flu transmission exist in South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and tropical Asia. In the Dominican Republic, 2009 H1N1 flu levels have increased over the past 3 weeks, and in Bolivia, the incidence of H3N2 flu has increased over the past 8 weeks, now accounting for about 20% of clinical specimens tested. In West Africa, influenza B is showing moderate activity in Mali, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Flu activity in the United States was at a typically low summer level last week, with only 1% of visits to sentinel medical providers attributed to flu-like illness, according to today's update form the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The national baseline cited by the CDC is 2.5% of visits.
Jul 1 WHO influenza update
Jul 1 CDC FluView report

Medicago's plant-based H5N1 vaccine shows promise in phase 2 trial
Medicago, a biotechnology company based in Quebec City, reported yesterday that final phase 2 clinical trial results showed that its plant-based virus-like particle H5N1 avian influenza vaccine induced a solid immune response and was safe and well tolerated. The company said in a press release that the first phase of the study involved 135 healthy volunteers and was designed to determine the optimal dose. In the second phase, 104 volunteers received two 20-microgram (mcg) doses or placebo, 21 days apart. Immune response was assessed 21 days after the last dose. Of adults aged 18 to 49 years who received the 20-mcg doses, 77% showed an immune response after the second dose. Half of them had a fourfold increase in hemagglutinin inhibition (HI) titer from baseline, and half showed seroprotective antibody titers. In the 50-to-60 age-group, 76% of subjects receiving the same dosage had an immune response after the second dose, with the same HI and seroprotective antibody titers as the younger group. Andy Sheldon, president and chief executive officer of Medicago, said in the statement that the similar efficacy in the two age-groups could offer an advantage over other vaccine technologies.
Jun 30 Medicago press release

H7N7 turns up on more German farms
Animal health officials in Germany yesterday reported six more low-pathogenic H7N7 avian influenza outbreaks, according to a report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). They occurred at four farms in Saxony state and two farms in North Rhine-Westphalia state. In total the outbreaks sickened 20 birds, killed 1, and led to the culling of 27,337. The most recent round of H7N7 outbreaks began in May and has so far affected 16 farms.
Jun 30 OIE report

Lessons from European pandemic surveillance
A review of surveillance systems used during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic in 27 European countries found that the systems were resilient and useful, but some countries' systems had a hard time capturing data on severe respiratory infections. The findings were published yesterday in Eurosurveillance. The authors, from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), wrote that systems for tracking severe cases and deaths in many cases were introduced during the pandemic, which they said isn't the best time to launch a new system, because resources are stretched. The group also noted that systems for sharing information from the first affected countries could be improved by protecting the security and confidentiality of the communication systems. They also suggested that revised pandemic plans include more seroprevalence studies to provide better information in real time. In an accompanying editorial, two public health experts, Dr Heath Kelly of the Victoria Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory in Australia and Dr Benjamin Cowling of Hong Kong University, said early estimates of the reproductive number in the United Kingdom may have been too high, for several reasons. Counting imported cases as locally acquired cases and selection bias could have led to overestimates, they noted. Also, the early estimates included a high proportion of infections in school-age children, a group that had a higher reproductive number than the general population. Another factor that could have led to overestimates was unrecognized transmission that occurred prior to testing. The two experts voiced support for the ECDC authors' surveillance suggestions and said the improvements should e addressed before the next pandemic strikes.
Jun 30 ECDC report
Jun 30 ECDC editorial

Study: Immunomodulator inhibits cytokine storm in flu
In a mouse study, dampening the host's immune response against influenza virus through use of the immunomodulatory drug AAL-R improved mortality rates over those accompanying oseltamivir treatment alone, according to a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) Jun 29. While oseltamivir alone reduced mortality rates by 50%, the immunomodulator reduced rates by 82% and, when combined with oseltamivir, reduced rates by 96% in mice infected with influenza A/Wisconsin/WSLH34949/09. AAL-R inhibits cellular and cytokine/chemokine responses to limit immunopathologic damage while maintaining host control of virus replication, the report says.
Jun 29 PNAS study

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