Ebola transmission in West Africa remains a public health emergency
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that Ebola virus infection in West Africa continues to constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), largely due to the potential for transmission of the virus from survivors and convalescent populations, according to a Dec 18 statement.
The statement follows meetings of the WHO's Emergency Committee, which from Dec 15 until yesterday heard presentations from representatives of Sierra Leone and Liberia regarding Ebola epidemiology, exit screening, patient care and survivor follow-up, surveillance, and response capability.
One concern of the committee was that, though the original chains of virus transmission appear to have been interrupted in West Africa, approximately 10 new outbreaks this year have occurred due to reintroduction of the virus from survivors. The WHO also noted the ongoing need for international response in West Africa and more research into the virus's behavior and the long-term health consequences of infection.
Although the emergency situation in West Africa continues, the WHO highlighted the fact that many countries still have inappropriately restrictive travel and transport policies related to the Ebola outbreak. The committee recommended that countries should not have general bans on international travel from affected countries, yet should still remain prepared to address potential imported Ebola cases.
Dec 18 WHO statement
In related news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) yesterday said that, as of today, travelers from Sierra Leone are no longer required to go through enhanced visa and port-of-entry screening when they enter the United States.
Travelers must still comply with outbound screening in Sierra Leone and are encouraged to closely monitor their health for 21 days following their US arrival.
Dec 21 CDC statement
France reports 8 new avian flu outbreaks, raising total to 61
France officials today reported 8 new outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in poultry in just 1 day, bringing the total to 61. But they offered few details, as has been the case in recent weeks.
At least three of the outbreaks involve the H5N9 strain and four involve an H5 strain that hasn't been subtyped, according to an agriculture ministry update translated and posted by Avian Flu Diary, an infectious disease blog. The eighth outbreak was caused by an unspecified HPAI strain.
All of the latest outbreaks are in the Landes region, which has had 27 outbreaks so far, officials said in the update. Dordogne is the second-hardest-hit region, with 12 HPAI outbreaks. The country has confirmed H5N1, H5N2, and H5N9 in the outbreaks, all of which have been in top poultry-producing areas of southwestern France.
Dec 22 Avian Flu Diary blog post
Blood donor policies amended for MSM and people with clotting disorders
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday issued a statement recommending that men who have sex with men (MSM) be deferred from blood donation for 12 months following their last sexual contact.
The new guidance loosens blood donor deferral policies, which for the past 30 years have indefinitely prohibited MSM from donating blood. The 12-month deferral period is based on examination of HIV epidemiologic data, consultation with stakeholders, and precedence from other countries that have implemented similar guidelines, the FDA said.
The FDA claims that the new policy still serves to reduce HIV transmission via blood transfusion but aligns the deferral period for MSM with other groups of men and women who are perceived as having increased risk for HIV infection.
"Ultimately, the 12-month deferral window is supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time, relevant to the U.S. population," said Peter Marks, deputy director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
The United Kingdom and Australia each have adopted a 12-month blood donation deferral policy for MSM, and Australia has since conducted studies of more than 8 million blood units that showed no change in risk of HIV transmission through the blood supply with the shorter deferral period.
The amended FDA guidance also changes recommendations for deferral of people with hemophilia or other clotting disorders from blood donation, citing the risk of harm to the donors from large needles rather than the risk of HIV transmission to recipients as the rationale.
A safety monitoring system to evaluate the effect of new deferral recommendations on the blood supply has been implemented by the agency.
Dec 21 FDA recommendations