NEWS SCAN: H3N8 in US seals, H5N1 in Hong Kong, monitoring variant flu, H1N1 and protecting kids, ground beef Salmonella cases

Dec 20, 2011

New England seal deaths caused by H3N8
Scientists studying a string of deaths in 162 seals since September off the New England coast have confirmed H3N8 influenza in five of the dead seals, according to a news release today from the Northeast Regional Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "This H3N8 virus is usually associated with wild birds, and a separate group of H3N8 infects horses and dogs," said Dr. Hon Ip, of the US Geological Survey's (USGS's) National Wildlife Health Center in the release. "This is the first time that a virus which is similar to the H3N8 avian influenza virus has been associated with a large-scale mortality in marine mammals." Dr. Teri Rowles, coordinator of the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Program for NOAA Fisheries Service, added, "We are now conducting tests on additional animals to learn more about the role this virus may have played in the die-off and to better understand the virus itself." In the meantime, the agency warned people to stay away from seals in distress, keep pets away, and call an NOAA hotline.
Dec 20 NOAA press release

Hong Kong raises alert level after H5N1 confirmed in poultry
Hong Kong has changed its avian flu response level from "alert" to "serious" after three birds tested positive for H5N1 avian flu, including a dead chicken from a marketplace, an Agence France-Press (AFP) story said today. Authorities will cull 17,000 chickens in response to the positive test, the story said. "With a heavy heart, I announce that the dead chicken has been tested positive for the H5N1 strain of virus after a routine check by the agriculture, fisheries and conservation department today," Hong Kong's health chief York Chow said. Officials also banned all live poultry imports. The other two birds that tested positive for H5N1 were an Oriental magpie robin and a black-headed gull. The "serious" response level covers two scenarios, the less serious of which involves a highly pathogenic avian flu outbreak in the environment of or among poultry, as is the case today. (The second scenario involves a human case with no evidence of person-to-person transmission.) Hong Kong was the site of the first known outbreak of H5N1 in people in 1997, when 18 were infected and six died.
Dec 20 AFP story
Hong Kong's pandemic influenza response levels

WHO underscores vigilance for novel flu viruses
The World Health Organization (WHO) in a statement yesterday reminded countries to monitor for and report novel influenza viruses like the reassortant swine-origin H3N2 found in 11 US residents in recent months. "WHO reminds Member countries that it is an obligation under the International Health Regulations (IHR) to report to WHO all human cases of infection with influenza viruses that are not currently circulating seasonally in human populations, and to conduct epidemiological investigations around each case to identify or rule out any onward human-to-human spread which could indicate emergence of a more transmissible virus," the agency said. It also recommended that nations send samples of unsubtypable influenza A viruses to 1 of 6 WHO collaborating research centers for definitive typing and said it will continue to share information on variant flu viruses with the global community.
Dec 19 WHO statement

US adults place high value on protecting kids in H1N1
When considering avoiding 2009 pandemic H1N1 flu (pH1N1) illness and vaccine-related adverse events, US adults placed the highest value on preventing poor outcomes in kids and on avoiding the more serious complications, researchers reported yesterday in PLoS One. Investigators surveyed 718 nationally representative adults in an online survey (65% response rate) and calculated time trade-off amounts (willingness to trade quantity of life for quality of life) and quality-adjusted life years lost for various events like hospitalization and Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). Multivariate regression analyses revealed that respondents placed the highest value on preventing adverse events in children compared with adults. The researchers also found that those who had received the pH1N1 vaccine were willing to trade significantly more time to avoid hospitalization, severe allergic reaction, and GBS. The authors conclude, "Considering these public values along with other decision-making factors may help policy makers improve the allocation of pandemic vaccine resources."
Dec 19 PLoS One study

CDC: Two more sickened in ground beef Salmonella outbreak
Two more patients have been sickened in a Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak linked to a grocery store chain's ground beef, raising the total to 16, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today. On Dec 15, Hannaford, a Maine-based chain, recalled an undetermined amount of its fresh, in-store ground beef after epidemiologic investigations into 14 illnesses with the same genetic fingerprint found a link to the products. The CDC said the patients are from seven different states: four each from Maine, New Hampshire, and New York, and one each from Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Vermont. The CDC said initial tests suggest the outbreak strain is resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics, which could increase the risk of hospitalization or treatment failure. Among 13 cases with available information, 7 patients were hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Eleven of the 16 patients said they ate ground beef the week before they got sick, and all but one reported buying ground beef from Hannaford stores. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has said the company's sparse records were making it difficult to identify the companies that supplied the beef. Today's CDC update said the company is cooperating with public health officials.
Dec 20 CDC outbreak update

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