NEWS SCAN: H5N1 deaths in Cambodia, FAO avian flu warning, finding flu vaccine, severe respiratory infection in kids, polio team attack

Jan 29, 2013

Cambodia, WHO confirm country's 2 latest H5N1 deaths
In a joint news release today, Cambodia's Ministry of Health (MoH) and the World Health Organization's (WHO's) Western Pacific Region Office confirmed two deaths in girls from H5N1 avian flu that were reported yesterday in the media. In the past week Cambodia has confirmed five H5N1 cases, four of them fatal. They are the world's first H5N1 cases reported this year. The first of the two new cases involved a 17-month-old girl from Prey Nheat village in Kampong Speu province in southwestern Cambodia. She developed a fever, cough, runny nose, and vomiting on Jan 13 and was initially treated by local private practitioners. After her condition worsened and she became very sleepy and had difficulty breathing, she was admitted to Kantha Bopha Hospital in Phnom Penh. "Unfortunately, despite intensive medical care," the news release said, she died yesterday. The second case involved a 9-year-old girl from Thmei village in Kampot province, which lies south of Kampong Speu. She developed a cough and fever on Jan 19 and was admitted to Kantha Bopha on Jan 27 with somnolence and dyspnea, as well. She also died yesterday after intensive treatment. All five cases have been in Phnom Penh or nearby provinces. Since 2005 Cambodia has had 26 confirmed H5N1 cases, 23 of them fatal.
Jan 29 MoH/WHO news release

FAO warns of inadequate global surveillance and control of avian flu
The world risks a repeat of the disastrous avian flu outbreaks that occurred in 2006 unless surveillance and control of this and other dangerous animal diseases are strengthened globally, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today. "The continuing international economic downturn means less money is available for prevention of H5N1 bird flu and other threats of animal origin," FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth, DVM, said in an FAO press release. "Even though everyone knows that prevention is better than cure, I am worried because in the current climate governments are unable to keep up their guard," he said, adding, "I see inaction in the face of very real threats to the health of animals and people." The FAO noted "large reservoirs" of H5N1 virus in some Asian and Middle Eastern countries where the disease has become endemic. If adequate controls are not continued, the agency said, the disease could easily spread globally as it did in 2006, when 63 countries had avian flu outbreaks. From 2003 to 2011, the FAO said, avian flu killed or forced the culling of more than 400 million domestic poultry and caused an estimated $20 billion in economic losses.
Jan 29 FAO press release

Minnesota sets up online tool to tackle flu vaccine shortages
In an effort to alleviate spot shortages of influenza vaccine, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has set up an online forum to help healthcare providers who still have vaccine to link up with those who don't, the Associated Press (AP) reported yesterday. The MDH said some providers have used up all their doses and are looking for more. The agency said it is not directly facilitating the redistribution of vaccine, but just providing a way for providers to connect so they can share supplies. The forum is intended for the exchange of privately purchased vaccine only. Localized shortages of flu vaccine have been reported in many places around the country in recent weeks.
Jan 29 AP story

Researchers calculate severe respiratory infection burden in youngsters
In 2010, acute lower respiratory infections (ALRIs) caused severe disease requiring hospitalization in nearly 12 million children younger than 5 years old, with the most severe disease responsible for about 3 million illnesses in that age-group, according to a new meta-analysis published in The Lancet today. An international research group used 89 published and unpublished studies to arrive at their estimates. They found that 96% of the infections in children younger than 5 occurred in developing countries. Though 62% of kids with severe infections were hospitalized, 81% of the deaths occurred outside the hospital, with 99% of the deaths occurring in developing countries. Researchers found a higher hospitalization incidence among boys, which they wrote could be linked to smaller airway size in young boys or cultural factors, especially in South Asian countries where the gender disparity was greatest. In an editorial that accompanied the study, two experts from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Michael Niederman, MD, and Leonard Krilov, MD, wrote that the study's findings underscore the point that vaccines are important for preventing ALRI but need to be more accessible, that improvements in living conditions in developing countries could ease the disease burden on youngsters, and that prevention measures such as decreasing indoor air pollution are needed.
Jan 29 Lancet abstract
Jan 29 Lancet editorial extract

Pakistan militants kill polio team's security escort
Gunmen killed a policeman accompanying two polio vaccination workers in the northwestern Pakistan town of Swabi today, BBC News reported. Swabi's police chief told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the two-woman team had finished vaccinating kids in one village on the second day of the campaign and was heading with the policeman to a nearby village when three men with Kalashnikovs emerged from sugarcane fields and opened fire, apparently targeting the policeman. The women weren't hurt, and the gunmen escaped. More than 500 immunization teams had been deployed to Swabi district yesterday, each paired with a policeman for protection, according to the BBC. On Jan 1 militants in the Swabi district attacked seven charity workers who had links to an organization that offered vaccinations. Polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan have faced steep obstacles, due to suspicions about the vaccines and threats from militants, but the country's health officials have vowed to continue new immunization strategies, including use of police escorts.
Jan 29 BBC story
In other polio developments, a WHO official said yesterday that wild poliovirus 1 has turned up in the sewage systems of Karachi, Hyderabad, and Peshawar, Pakistan, The News International, a newspaper based in Karachi, reported today. The samples were collected in early January, and the findings are designed to help guide vaccination efforts. Testing did not reveal wild poliovirus 3 (WPV3), and because Pakistan hasn't had a WPV3 infection since April 2012, the country may be declared free of that type if no new cases are detected by April.
Jan 29 News International story

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