News Scan for Jul 10, 2013

Rinderpest research
;
Global flu activity
;
Hajj-related infections

OIE, FAO lift ban on rinderpest research, set criteria for projects

The two leading global agencies that deal with animal health have lifted a 2-year-old ban on research on rinderpest, a disease that was eradicated 2 years ago, and replaced it with criteria and procedures for official clearance of proposed research projects.

The change was announced today in a press release from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Rinderpest, a highly contagious disease of cattle, was declared eradicated in 2011. In June 2012 the OIE and FAO called for a moratorium on handling of the rinderpest virus after a survey revealed that more than 40 labs still had samples of it. At that time, OIE and FAO member countries pledged to ban research involving the virus unless approved by national veterinary authorities and the two international agencies.

The OIE and FAO announced they have set up a Joint Rinderpest Advisory Committee to review research proposals, applying strict criteria. Proposed research must aim to protect local and global food security and have potential to prevent the reemergence of rinderpest and to yield significant benefits for public or animal health.

One potential benefit of continued rinderpest research lies in the possibility of developing a vaccine based on pestis des petits ruminants (PPR) virus, rather than rinderpest virus itself, to prevent rinderpest in cattle and buffalo, the statement said.

A PPR-based vaccine for both diseases could potentially prevent rinderpest from spreading if it ever re-emerges. Such a vaccine would also eliminate the need to keep rinderpest virus to replenish rinderpest vaccines when current stocks expire.
Jul 10 OIE-FAO press release

 

Flu activity increasing in South America, Africa

Influenza activity has "increased considerably" in temperate parts of South America and southern Africa in recent weeks with the advance of winter, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in an update that was dated Jul 5 but posted online this week.

In South America, overall respiratory illness levels were high and increasing, with respiratory syncytial virus continuing to predominate but the proportion of flu viruses increasing, the agency said. The 2009 H1N1 and H3N2 viruses are both circulating.

In southern Africa, flu activity, along with acute respiratory illnesses in general, has increased since the season began in late April, the WHO said. The 2009 H1N1 virus has been predominant, but H3N2 also has been active.

In contrast, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific islands have continued to report low flu activity.

Elsewhere, flu decreased in most regions of tropical Asia, except for Sri Lanka and Vietnam, where activity was "relatively high," the WHO reported. Central America and the Caribbean had mostly low or unchanged flu activity, but high activity was reported in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and cases began to increase in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Panama. Activity in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere stayed at low interseasonal levels.
Jul 5 WHO flu update

 

Study: Viral respiratory infections common in Hajj pilgrims

Many more French pilgrims who traveled on last year's Hajj were positive for a respiratory virus while in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) or upon leaving the country than before they left, according to a study yesterday in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

French and Saudi researchers collected nasal swabs from study participants and tested for 11 respiratory viruses by real-time polymerase chain reaction.

Of 165 pilgrims sampled before leaving Marseille, 8 (4.8%) were positive for at least one virus. Seventy who had symptoms of respiratory disease underwent nasal swabbing during their pilgrimage, of whom 27 (38.6%) were positive for at least one virus (19 rhinovirus, 6 influenza A, and 1 each for influenza C, respiratory syncytial virus, metapneumovirus, adenovirus, and enterovirus).

In addition, of 154 pilgrims sampled before leaving the KSA, 17 (11%) were positive for at least one virus, 13 of which were rhinovirus. Both percentages were significantly higher than pre-travel levels, the researchers wrote.

"This study suggests a rapid acquisition of respiratory viruses among pilgrims during their stay in the KSA, most notably rhinovirus, and highlights the potential of spreading these infections in the pilgrims' home countries upon their return," the authors conclude.

Disease spread during the Hajj, which begins in October this year, is of particular concern because of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which has infected 80 people worldwide, killing 45. Of those, 66 cases and 38 deaths have been in the KSA.
Jul 9 Clin Infect Dis abstract

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