NEWS SCAN: Haiti cholera strains, Italian autism ruling, Lyme disease dynamics, anthrax grant, vaccine funding

Jun 19, 2012

Second cholera strain may be involved in Haiti outbreak
A second strain of cholera in addition to the one traced to UN peacekeepers from Nepal may be involved in the current Haitian outbreak that has sickened at least 550,000 and killed more than 7,200 people, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). An international team of researchers analyzed isolates from 81 cholera patients from 18 towns across Haiti. They found that 48% of patients were infected with the O1 strain that has been traced to the UN peacekeepers, 21% with a non-O1/O139 strain endemic to the country, and 7% with both strains. The non-O1/O139 strain has never been known to cause an epidemic, according to an NPR story on the study. "This suggests that it's very likely that local strains are involved," lead researcher Rita Colwell, PhD, of the University of Maryland told NPR. "Because no one has tested for pathogenic cholera strains in that country before, we have no evidence that it wasn't there already." Another scientist on the team, Claire Fraser-Liggett, of the University of Maryland, said in a news release that the team's phylogenomic analysis "has shown that there is significant genomic diversity among the cholera bacteria" and point up the need for a comprehensive global genomic database.
Jun 18 PNAS abstract
Jun 18 NPR story
Jun 18 University of Maryland news release

Italian court awards damages in vaccine-autism case
In a ruling that flies against a number of studies, an Italian judge awarded a family 174,000 euros ($220,000) after the Italian Health Ministry conceded that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism in their 9-year-old son, the UK-based Independent reported. Valentino Bocca was 15 months old when he received the MMR vaccine and immediately experienced serious discomfort, the boy's parents said. The story said it was unclear what evidence was presented to the court in Rimini in northeastern Italy to warrant the ruling, but experts assert timing is coincidental, as autism symptoms typically manifest at about the age when the shot is given. Up to 100 similar cases are now being examined by Italian attorneys and experts, the story said. A purported link between the vaccine and autism was widely publicized after Dr Andrew Wakefield reported such findings in The Lancet in 1998, but his data have since been soundly discredited and he is no longer allowed to practice medicine in Britain. In the United States, the Court of Federal Claims has rejected hundreds of claims from families concerning vaccine-related autism, but in 2010 one family received compensation after a girl experienced an autism-like illness after receiving nine vaccines in one day. In that case, federal officials said the vaccinations aggravated an existing mitochondrial disorder, which in turn led to her illness.
Jun 17 Independent story
Jan 6, 2011, CIDRAP News story on analysis of Wakefield's research
Sep 14, 2010, CIDRAP News item on US case

Study: Dwindling fox population may raise Lyme disease risk
Dwindling fox populations, rather than a recovering deer population, may help explain the sustained increase in US Lyme disease cases and geographic spread, investigators reported in PNAS. Researchers from the University of California-Santa Cruz (UCSC) developed a model to illustrate how reductions in small-mammal predators can sharply increase the incidence of Lyme disease, which is transmitted via tick bites. They then showed "that increases in Lyme disease in the northeastern and midwestern United States over the past three decades are frequently uncorrelated with deer abundance and instead coincide with a range-wide decline of a key small-mammal predator, the red fox, likely due to expansion of coyote populations," according to the study. Red foxes feed on small mammals like mice, shrews, and chipmunks, which transmit Lyme disease bacteria to deer ticks, according to a UCSC news release.
Jun 18 PNAS abstract
Jun 18 UCSC press release

NIH awards anthrax vaccine grant to Alabama company
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health has awarded a $110,000 6-month grant to vaccine developer Vaxin Inc., of Birmingham, Ala., for continued work on its new anthrax vaccine, AdVAV. The award is a Phase I Small Business Initiative Research grant. Animal testing so far has shown a single dose of AdVAV to be effective with no appreciable side effects, according to a Vaxin press release. The company claims that if funding and development stay on track, the vaccine may be ready in 6 to 8 years, according to a story in the Birmingham News. Vaxin landed a 2-year $14.7 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services less than a year ago for work on the nasally administered AdVAV.
Jun 18 Vaxin press release
Jun 18 Birmingham News article

Zimbabwe children to receive Japan-funded vaccinations
Funds for a weeklong immunization program covering about 2 million children in Zimbabwe against polio and measles have been provided by the Japanese government, according to Voice of America (VoA) yesterday. Zimbabwe's national immunization week, which began yesterday, is part of efforts to reduce the country's child mortality rates in coordination with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). With 100 child deaths every day in Zimbabwe, officials say immunization is the best, most cost-effective preventive measure, according to the story. The African nation depends to a large degree on international support for its healthcare programs because of political and economic turmoil.
Jun 18 VoA article

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