NEWS SCAN: Rising pertussis cases, produce testing, vaccine stabilizer, swine and human flu, Boston biolab assessment

Jul 10, 2012

US on pace to have record number of pertussis cases
Editor's note: This item was revised on Jul 11, 2012, to list the correct source of the comment about parents opting out of vaccination for their children.
Federal health officials say the United States might be on track for another record pertussis year, according to a report today from MSNBC. Stacey Martin, MSc, an epidemiologist with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the network that so far the agency has received reports of more than 16,000 confirmed cases, outpacing the 15,216 cases reported at this time last year. The latest pertussis peak occurred in 2010, when 27,550 cases were reported to the CDC. Washington state has declared a pertussis epidemic, reporting more than 2,700 cases so far this year. The CDC is also following outbreaks in several other states, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Idaho, Montana, Texas, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Florida, Arizona, Maine, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Oregon. Martin said the spike in pertussis can be attributed to a combination of factors, including vulnerability in babies who are too young to receive the vaccine and a vaccine formulation change in the 1990s that made it safer but a little less effective. In Washington, Tim Church, a spokesman for the state health department, said another possible factor is that many parents have opted out of getting their children vaccinated. Also, teens and adults may need a booster. The CDC said in its latest guidelines that every adult should get at least one dose of combined tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine. It also recommends the vaccine for women in the late stages of pregnancy as a way to protect the youngest babies.
Jul 10 MSNBC story

USDA produce testing program may be canceled
The US Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Microbiological Data Program (MDP) could be eliminated as early as the end of this month, reducing public testing for pathogens in fresh produce by more than 80%, according to an article in today's Food Safety News. The Obama administration's 2013 budget request zeros out the $4.5 million MDP, and Congress is not seeking funding for it next year, the article says. The program, housed within the Agricultural Marketing Service, uploads positive test results to PulseNet, the federal database of pathogen DNA that helps public health officials link foodborne illness cases to specific food products, and is the only federal program that tests fresh produce for non-O157 Escherichia coli, according to the story. The Obama administration and the fresh produce industry feel that the AMS, which focuses on marketing, is the wrong place to house safety testing, and some believe it should instead reside within the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates produce safety. The FDA pulls an average of 80% fewer fresh produce samples for testing than the MDP, says the article, and it is not clear whether the former would or could ramp up to the MDP's current level of testing.
Jul 10 Food Safety News article

Silk compound may render refrigeration of some drugs, vaccines unnecessary
A silk-based stabilizer has been shown effective in vivo in allowing some vaccines and antibiotics to be stored at far higher temperatures and for far longer periods of time than those recommended, according to an article published online yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Institutes of Health (NIH)–funded research tested silk films that essentially wrap up live bioactive molecules. The technology was tested on the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, which rapidly loses potency at temperatures above 2 to 8°C; on penicillin, which breaks down within weeks at 25°C and within 24 hours at 37°C; and on tetracycline, which similarly breaks down in solution. The researchers were able to store the vaccine and the antibiotics for 6 months at up to 60°C without appreciable loss of potency. The NIH said the method raises the possibility of eliminating the need for refrigeration of some drugs and vaccines, which could potentially revolutionize the efficient and widespread distribution of therapeutic agents worldwide.
Jul 9 PNAS abstract
Jul 9 NIH press release

Study: H1N1 flu in pigs and people at Ohio county fair identical
The discovery of identical triple-reassortant H1N1 influenza in pigs and humans at a county fair in Ohio in August 2007 illustrated the importance of coordinating public health and animal health disease investigations, says a report released yesterday in Zoonoses and Public. Clinical signs of a flu-like illness were seen in most of more than 200 pigs within 80 hours of their arrival at the fair; these included anorexia, fever, lethargy, and a "barking" cough. The pig barns were temporarily closed to the public and the animals were treated with antibiotics. Five days after the pigs' arrival at the fair, respiratory symptoms in several exhibitors were reported. Nasal swabs and sera were collected from 10 randomly selected pigs and two ill people and analyzed. The viruses isolated from the animals and the people—A/SwOH/511445/2007, A/Ohio/01/20007, and A/Ohio/02/2007—were genetically identical and were similar to H1N1 swine flu viruses currently found in US swine. Serologic testing suggested that the pigs had been exposed to swine flu virus by natural pathways or vaccination before coming to the fair. This investigation is described as one of the first documented instances in which direct comparison was possible between samples from infected humans and animals.
Jul 9 Zoonoses Public Health abstract

NIH panel issues final risk report for Boston biolab
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently issued its final risk assessment for a proposed biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) lab at the Boston University Medical Campus (BUMC), according to a Jul 6 report from the Boston Globe. The publication follows the Feb 24 release of a draft supplementary risk assessment that was conducted by an advisory panel. Some community members have opposed the lab's location in an urban area, and in 2007 a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) review found that the NIH's initial assessment of the proposed facility was "not sound and credible." But in December 2011 the NAS said the NIH had vastly improved its risk assessment. A public hearing was held in Boston in April to allow residents to air further concerns. The 2,717-page final risk assessment includes comments from the community, along with some responses. Publication of the report triggers a 30-day comment period, after which the NIH will decide if the risks associated with the lab are acceptable. Legal challenges that sparked the most recent review of the lab can then proceed in state and federal courts, according to the Globe report. In a BUMC statement yesterday, Ara Tahmassian, associate vice president for research compliance, said the scope of the final risk assessment shows that the NIH has looked carefully at a number of concerns the community has raised, analyzed them using the best available information, and concluded that the risks to the public are negligible. In December 2011 state officials cleared BSL-2 research work to begin at the lab. Stephen Burgay, senior vice president for external affairs, said in the statement that though the release of the final risk assessment was a milestone, "It is not the final step in the approval process. This will allow us to go to the regulators and courts and ask for the certification needed for research at other biosafety levels."
Jul 6 Boston Globe story
NIH risk assessment update
July NIH Final Supplementary Risk Assessment for the Boston University National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL)

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