NEWS SCAN: Strawberry E coli outbreak, beef grinding and Salmonella, mass anthrax prophylaxis, measles hits refugees

Aug 8, 2011

Strawberry-linked E coli outbreak sickens 16 in Oregon, one fatal
Oregon health officials announced today that they have linked at least 10 Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections, including 1 death, to a strawberry farm in Newberg. Jaquith Strawberry Farm sold the strawberries to buyers, who resold them at roadside stands and farmer's markets, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) said in a news release. Though the farm finished its strawberry season in late July and the products are no longer on the market, consumers may still have them in their homes, such as in their freezers or in uncooked jam. The farm has recalled the strawberries. Ten residents from Washington, Clatsop, and Multnomah counties have confirmed E coli O1057:H7 infections involving the outbreak strain, and six others from the northwestern part of the state also appear to be part of the outbreak. Four patients have been hospitalized. An elderly woman died from kidney failure associated with her E coli illness. Paul Cieslak, MD, with the Oregon Public Health Division, said in the statement that case-control studies linked the illnesses to the strawberries.
Aug 8 OHA news release

Study cites trace-back difficulties with retail outlets that grind beef
A study that dissects a 2007 outbreak of multidrug-resistant Salmonella Newport linked to ground beef in several western states concluded that maintaining detailed retail grinding logs and having meat-grinding policies to prevent cross-contamination between product batches are crucial in identifying contaminated beef products. The outbreak affected at least 42 people in California, Arizona, Idaho, and Nevada, according to the Journal of Food Protection study. Case-patients had consumed multiple types of ground beef products from numerous locations of what the researchers call "chain store A," but which the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) identified as Safeway stores. Ultimately, officials from the USDA and the California Department of Public Health were unable to identify the source of contamination despite having access to detailed purchase histories, including shopper card information for several patients. The stores had received beef products for grinding from multiple slaughtering and processing businesses.
August J Food Prot abstract
Dec 20, 2007, USDA news release on the outbreak

Survey finds willingness amid challenges in anthrax mass prophylaxis
In the event of an inhalational anthrax attack, the public would be willing to participate in a mass antibiotic prophylaxis program, though some fears could pose obstacles, according to a poll conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, who published their findings in Biosecurity and Bioterrorism. The phone survey, conducted in December 2009, included a representative sample of 1,092 adults along with about 500 from each of three metropolitan areas that were affected by the 2001 anthrax attacks: New York City, Washington, D.C., and Trenton/Mercer County, N.J. The 50-question survey included a scenario involving an attack in which disease was found from an identified source, which required the whole city to receive antibiotic prophylaxis within 48 hours. The researchers found that most respondents would pick up antibiotic pills at dispensing sites, with national responses similar to those from the three cities. Those who were hesitant had several fears, including their safety in crowds in an attack setting and lack of confidence in public agencies. The research group noted that the lack of confidence was reported at a time when the 2009 H1N1 vaccine was delayed. They also identified several other challenges for public health officials, such as the role of misinformation about the disease, some respondents' belief that doctor's offices and pharmacies would have the antibiotics, and a "wait and see" approach to taking the pills.
Aug 5 Biosecur Bioterror abstract

Measles outbreak suspected in Somali refugees
A United Nations (UN) relief agency recently raised an alert about a suspected measles outbreak in a refugee camp in southeast Ethiopia where thousands of Somalis have fled to escape drought and famine conditions. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in an Aug 6 statement that so far 47 suspected cases, along with 3 deaths, have been reported at the Kobe camp, which houses more than 25,000 refugees. Children are the most affected group, and community health workers also suspect cases in two other refugee camps in the area, as well as at a transit center where people await relocation. UN officials said malnutrition can make measles more deadly. Moses Okello, a UNHCR representative in Ethiopia, said in the statement, "This situation is alarming, and we cannot afford to wait. We must act now, urgently and decisively, to arrest and turn around this situation. Mass vaccination of all children ages 6 months to 15 years at the transit center started on Aug 5, and officials expect to launch a similar campaign at the Kobe camp tomorrow.
Aug 6 UNHCR press release

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