News Scan for Jun 04, 2013

Hepatitis A outbreak grows
;
New fungal infections
;
No DRC Ebola
;
Syrian outbreak concerns

Hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen berries grows to 49 cases

A hepatitis A outbreak linked to a frozen berry mix has grown to 49 cases, 11 hospitalizations, and 7 states, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in an update today. Those figures have grown by 19 cases, 2 hospitalizations, and 2 states (Hawaii and Utah) since the agency's last update on May 30.

Based on epidemiologic data for 26 cases, 15 patients (60%) are women, ages range from 2 to 71 years, and illness-onset dates range from Apr 29 to May 24. Of 25 people interviewed, 19 (76%) reported eating Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend frozen berry and pomegranate mix bought from Costco, which has pulled the product from its shelves.

Preliminary tests of samples from two patients show hepatitis genotype B, which is rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in North Africa and the Middle East.
Jun 4 CDC update

In related news, Townsend Farms, Inc., of Fairview, Ore., announced yesterday that it was voluntarily recalling certain lots of its frozen berry mix "out of an abundance of caution" because of the outbreak, according to a recall notice posted on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Web site.

The recall covers 3-pound cases of Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend sold at Costco, as well as 10-ounce bags sold at Harris Teeter stores from Apr 19 through May 7 as Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Berry Blend. Townsend did not specify how much product is involved in the recall.
Jun 3 FDA recall notice

Steroid-linked fungal outbreak grows to 745 cases, 58 deaths

A multistate fungal illness outbreak linked to contaminated steroids has grown by 4 cases and 3 deaths, to 745 cases and 58 deaths, the CDC said yesterday. Its previous update was May 6.

The CDC said 232 cases were meningitis only, 150 involved meningitis with spinal or paraspinal infections, 7 involved stroke without lumbar puncture, 321 were paraspinal or spinal infection only, 33 were peripheral joint infections only, and 2 were paraspinal or spinal infections with peripheral joint infections.

The outbreak emerged last fall and was linked to three recalled lots of methylprednisolone acetate made by New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass. The state having the most cases by far is Michigan, with 264, followed by Tennessee, with 152, and Indiana, with 88.
Jun 3 CDC update

Outbreak in DRC is not Ebola, say doctors there

Physicians in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have ruled out Ebola virus as the cause in six suspected cases reported there recently, according to a report today from Chinese news agency Xinhua. Dr. Ilunga Kebela of the DRC Health Ministry told Xinhua that blood samples from the area tested at the National Institute for Biomedical Research in Kinshasa were negative for Ebola but that the medical team was "deepening" their testing to identify the exact disease involved.

The suspected cases occurred in the Bas-Uele district (Mongo health zone) in Orientale Province, which is in the northeastern part of the country, from May 1 through 12 and were announced May 29. Workers from the World Health Organization (WHO) were brought in to investigate and take samples, according to a May 29 story from the South African Press Association (SAPA).

The first discovery of Ebola was in the DRC in 1976, and eight epidemics have occurred in various areas of the country, the story said. The most recent, which occurred last summer and fall in the same region as the current suspected cases, affected 62 people, killing 34. Kebela said yellow fever might be present in the area.
Jun 4 Xinhua article
May 29 SAPA story

WHO voices concern over infectious diseases in Syria, exiles

The WHO is "deeply concerned about the increasing cases of communicable diseases" in Syria and among Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and fears outbreaks, the agency's Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO) said in a news release yesterday.

Two years of political strife has severely disrupted Syria's health system, with at least a third of public hospitals inoperable and up to 70% of health workers having fled the violence. In addition, more than 4 million displaced Syrians live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, the agency said.

"All the risk factors that enhance the transmission of communicable diseases in emergencies are present in the current crisis in Syria and its neighbouring countries," said Jaouad Mahjour, MD, MPH, EMRO's director of communicable diseases. "We are anticipating a number of public health risks from water-borne diseases, specifically hepatitis, typhoid, cholera and dysentery."
Jun 3 WHO EMRO news release

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