NEWS SCAN: FDA funding boost signed, cholera efforts, raw milk shutdown, flu vaccine effectiveness, anti-malarial shelved

Nov 21, 2011

Spending bill with boost for FDA food safety signed by Obama
A spending bill that gives the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a small increase in funds for food safety for fiscal year 2012 was signed by President Obama Nov 18. The bill boosts the FDA budget by $50 million, to $2.5 billion, to help the agency start implementing the new food safety law and improve bioterrorism preparedness, as reported previously. The measure also provides $1 billion for the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service, enough to maintain the current staff level. The bill, the product of a House-Senate conference committee, provides $334 million more for the FDA than the version approved by the House in June. On Nov 17 the compromise bill passed the House on a 298-121 vote and the Senate on a 70-30 vote, according to the Library of Congress's Thomas Web site. The measure allocates funds through Sep 30, 2012, for the departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Transportation, along with the FDA, USDA, and some smaller agencies, according to a White House statement. The bill was praised by the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, which noted that few agencies in the bill received any increase.
Nov 18 White House statement
Nov 18 Alliance for a Stronger FDA statement
Nov 18 GovExec story
Nov 16 CIDRAP News item

UN: Need to combat cholera great in DRC, Haiti
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) urgently needs $5.5 million to mitigate a cholera outbreak that has infected more than 17,000, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said the money is needed to continue outbreak-control efforts of UN aid agencies and non-governmental organizations. Eight of the DRC's 11 provinces have reported cholera cases, with four along the Congo River—Bandundu, Equateur, Kinshasa, and Orientale—the hardest hit. The outbreak has been exacerbated by a lack of clean water and adequate toilets, and the DRC is now entering its rainy season, according to UN News. The $5.5 million is on top of $4 million allocated to the country in July.
Nov 18 UN News story
Meanwhile, the pace of Haiti's cholera outbreak has slowed even as cases approach 500,000 and deaths approach 7,000, the OCHA said in a separate report. The island nation is now recording about 500 new cases a day, compared with 671 at the end of October and 1,100 at the epidemic's peak last June. Through Nov 4, Haiti confirmed 492,098 cholera cases and 6,949 deaths, according to the report, with a case-fatality rate of 1.4%. It says the upcoming dry season is predicted to bring still fewer cases. The report also highlights the slow exit of 550,000 displaced people from relief camps.
Oct 18–Nov 17 OCHA report

California shuts down dairy after E coli cases linked to raw milk
California officials have ordered the state's largest producer of raw milk to stop distributing the product until it can pass a second round of testing, which could take till Dec 1, the dairy said. Last week the California Department of Food and Agriculture ordered the recall and quarantine of all unpasteurized milk products from Organic Pastures, bases in Fresno, after five children in four counties became ill after consuming the dairy's raw milk products, a USA Today story said yesterday. All of the children had the same strain of Escherichia coli O157:H7, and three were hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially fatal kidney disorder. The company's owner, well-known raw-milk champion Mark McAfee, disputes the agency's claim, saying no product was found to contain the outbreak strain. Health officials counter that milk is typically thrown out or consumed before it can be tested. Organic Pastures supplies 95% of the state's raw milk, according to the story.
Nov 20 USA Today story

Study: Flu vaccine 58% effective against hospitalization in at-risk patients
Influenza vaccine is 58% to 59% effective in preventing hospitalizations in people at risk, according to a study by Spanish researchers published in Vaccine. The team analyzed data from 217,320 patients who were in a risk group for receiving flu vaccine: either 60 or older or having a significant chronic medical condition. Of those, 79,334 (36.5%) received the 2009-10 seasonal flu vaccine and 137,986 (63.5%) did not. During the study period, which coincided with the 2010-11 flu season, 269 patients were hospitalized with flu-like illness, 61 of whom tested positive for flu (58 for 2009 H1N1 and 3 for B virus). After employing a Cox regression model that adjusted for age, sex, children in the household, and other factors, the investigators found the vaccine to be 58% effective in preventing hospitalization. Using a nested test-negative case-control analysis, they found effectiveness to be 59%. The authors conclude, "These results suggest a moderate effect of the 2010-2011 seasonal influenza vaccine in preventing hospitalization in a risk population. The close estimates obtained in the cohort and the test-negative case-control analyses suggest good control of biases."
Nov 18 Vaccine abstract

Army stops using anti-malarial mefloquine
The US Army is discontinuing use of the almost 40-year-old potent anti-malarial drug mefloquine because of side effects, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Recipients for years had complained about psychiatric and physical side effects after its worldwide use, according to the story. "Mefloquine is a zombie drug. It's dangerous, and it should have been killed off years ago," said epidemiologist Dr. Remington Nevin, an Army major who has published research on the drug's potential toxic effects on the brain. The Army has reduced use of the drug by almost 75% in the past 3 years, but other branches of the military continue to favor it, according to the AP.

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