NEWS SCAN: Airborne Ebola, Marburg & FMD vaccine funds, fungal meningitis update, African meningitis efforts, pneumococcal vaccine

Nov 16, 2012

Study raises possibility of airborne Ebola spread via pigs
Ebola virus experimentally spread from pigs to monkeys without direct contact, suggesting the pathogen can transmit via the air and pose a threat to farm workers in at-risk countries, according to a Canadian study yesterday in Scientific Reports. Earlier studies by the same group showed the Zaire strain of Ebola (ZEBOV) to be transmissible between pigs via physical contact. In the current study, researchers placed four macaques in cages within pens of ZEBOV-infected pigs, with the cages placed to eliminate contact between the species. All four primates showed clinical signs of Ebola infection from 8 to 12 days postexposure, and lab tests confirmed the diagnosis. Although the authors said the exact route of transmission is "impossible to discern with certitude," they conclude, "Infection of all four macaques in an environment, preventing direct contact between the two species and between the macaques themselves, supports the concept of airborne transmission." They add, "Our findings support the hypothesis that airborne transmission may contribute to ZEBOV spread, specifically from pigs to primates, and may need to be considered in assessing transmission from animals to humans in general."
Nov 15 Sci Rep study

US awards contracts for Marburg, FMD threats
Two US government agencies have awarded Danish biotechnology company Bavarian Nordic contracts to use the vaccine platform it uses to make smallpox vaccine to address two additional biological threats, Marburg hemorrhagic fever in humans and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in animals. The company said in a press release that awards totaling $18.9 million will support the development of vaccines using its modified Vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA-BN) platform, which the company uses to make smallpox vaccine for immunocompromised people for the Strategic National Stockpile. Bavarian Nordic said the contracts show the versatility of the platform for infectious disease vaccines and cancer therapies. The contract for the Marburg vaccine is from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is worth $17.9 million, and the contract for the FMD vaccine is from the Department of Homeland Security. Viral hemorrhagic fevers, including Marburg, are considered category A bioterrorism agents by federal officials, and accidental or intentional introduction of FMD into countries free of the disease is a major threat to animal production.
Nov 14 Bavarian Nordic press release

Fungal meningitis outbreak total rises to 480
This past week 19 additional patients have been sickened in a multistate fungal meningitis outbreak linked to tainted steroid injections, and one more has died, according to an update today from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The new cases bring the outbreak totals to 480 infections, 33 of them fatal. The recalled methylprednisolone acetate injections, made by New England Compounding Center (NECC), were also used to treat joint problems, and the CDC's tally of related peripheral joint infections linked to the contaminated product rose by 1 to 11. So far 19 states have been affected, a number that has held steady for the last few weeks. The CDC said that as of yesterday, the predominant fungus remains Exserohilum rostratum, which has now been lab confirmed in 84 cases.
Nov 16 CDC fungal meningitis update

African meningococcal vaccine campaign reaches 58.5 million people
More than 58.5 million people have been vaccinated against meningococcal disease in Africa's "meningitis belt" in the past 2 years, with plans to almost double that number this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a news release yesterday. In an event to mark the expansion of the immunization program to Benin, WHO Regional Director for Africa Luis Sambo, MD, commended the commitment of governments, development partners, and healthcare stakeholders. Since the meningoccal A conjugate vaccine MenAfriVac was launched in December 2010, more than 58.5 million people have been vaccinated in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad. Plans are to expand the campaign to the other 16 countries of the meningitis belt, including covering 54 million additional people yet this year in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, North Sudan, Ghana, Benin, and Senegal.
Nov 15 WHO news release

Study finds pneumococcal vaccine protection gaps for high-risk adults
The introduction of seven-valent pneumococcal vaccine (PCV7) in children cut invasive pneumococcal disease in adults, but levels rose over the study period in those with underlying medical conditions, especially diabetes, according to a study yesterday in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Researchers used population- and lab-based surveillance data collected from 1998 to 2009 to explore patterns of pneumonia incidence in adult populations before and after PCV7 introduction. Though they found striking reductions in adults of pneumococcal disease caused by strains covered by the vaccine, they found that adults with chronic conditions—especially diabetes—are disproportionately affected by strains that aren't in the vaccine. The investigators said the nation's diabetes epidemic could multiply the invasive pneumonia risk over the coming decade and could be one reason for the increasing incidence of pneumonia in blacks.
 Nov 15 Clin Infect Dis abstract

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