News Scan for Jul 10, 2014

Questions on anthrax scare
Ebola in Liberian health workers
Office for climate and health

House committee members question CDC over anthrax safety lapse

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) director, Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, has been asked by three top Republicans on the US House Energy Committee for several types of information on the recent breach of safety protocols resulting in possible exposure of lab personnel to Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax, according to Reuters today.

The writers of a series of letters to Frieden, which include committee chair Fred Upton (R-MI) as well as Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Michael Burgess (R-TX), said they are gathering materials for a hearing before the committee's Oversight and Investigations subcommittee Jul 16, at which he is scheduled to testify. A spokesperson for a committee Democrat said that party's members were not told of the letters until after they were sent, according to the story.

The materials sought include results of CDC lab inspections and audits of potential weaknesses in biosecurity protocols back to 2007. Ten questions were asked, including "How many suspected exposures to select agents and/or toxins have been reported at CDC since October 2007?" and "How many actual exposures have been reported?"

The CDC is working with the subcommittee and will respond "quickly and as completely as possible," according to the story.

The anthrax scare occurred last month, when B anthracis thought to be inactivated was transferred from a CDC biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) lab to three BSL-2 labs for research purposes. When it was discovered that viable anthrax spores might have been aerosolized at the latter labs, more than 80 staff were given antibiotics prophylactically; none have shown symptoms.

Information on the incident was also requested from the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general, says the story.
Jul 10 Reuters story
Most recent (Jul 2) CIDRAP News story on anthrax scare


Liberia health workers said to flee after Ebola cases, deaths

Healthcare workers (HCWs) are said to be fleeing their assignments in Liberia after 12 Ebola infections among their ranks, 10 of them fatal, AllAfrica reported today.

Dr. Peter Coleman, a Liberian senator from Grand Kru County and committee chair on health, cited the cases and deaths yesterday at Liberia's Capitol Building. He said HCWs are leaving clinics and hospitals in affected areas out of fear of infection with the deadly virus, which has infected 131 people in the country, killing 84, according to an update this week from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Outbreak cases in Liberia and neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone now total 844, including 518 deaths, a 61% case-fatality rate, the WHO said.

The Liberian Senate called for $1.5 million to combat the deadly disease, the story said.

In related news, the Ebola outbreak, which is the deadliest on record, will be one of the main agenda items today for the 45thsession of the Economic Community of West African State of Heads and Government, according to Africa Business Communities, a network of African companies and organizations.
Jul 10 AllAfrica story
Jul 8
CIDRAP News scan on recent WHO update
Jul 10 African Business Communities


WHO, meteorological agency launch climate and health office

The WHO and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have established a new climate and health office under the auspices of the Global Framework for Climate Services to promote the coordinated use of climate research and reporting to improve public health, the two agencies said in a news release this week.

"There have been great strides in both climate and health science in recent years. By working together we can maximize the benefits of these advances for the greatest possible number of people," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in the WHO/WMO release.

"Climate change is leading to an increase in extreme events such as heat-waves and heavy rains which have a major impact on human health. We need to have a common understanding of the challenges we face in order to overcome them."

The office will address the increasing demand from the health community for improved access to climate and weather tools like regional climate predictions, hazard warnings, and seasonal outlooks needed to understand and manage health risks related to weather and climate, according to the WHO/WMO release.

"The most significant impacts [of climate change] often occur indirectly and more slowly, such as under-nutrition resulting from crop failure, respiratory diseases from poor air quality, and water-borne and vector-borne diseases. Climate-informed preparedness and prevention can greatly reduce these health risks," said Flavia Bustreo, MD, MPH, WHO assistant director-general of family, women, and children's health.
Jul 8 WHO/WMO press release

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