News Scan for Feb 16, 2016

Saudis note 2 fatal MERS cases
MERS antibodies in alpacas
Flu antibodies and ethnic variation
Nutritional powder Salmonella outbreak

Saudi Arabia reports two fatal MERS cases in Al-Kharj

Saudi Arabia today reported two fatal MERS-CoV cases in elderly men in the same city, Al-Kharj in the central part of the country, where two other cases were reported in recent weeks.

The two latest victims were 75 and 80 years old and were not healthcare workers, the Saudi Ministry of Health (MOH) said. The younger man had contact with camels, but the older one did not, and the source of his infection is under investigation.

With the two deaths, Saudi Arabia has had three fatal MERS cases this month; the previous one involved a 34-year-old man in the southern city of Najran.

Last week the MOH reported MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) in a 41-year-old man in Al-Kharj who had household contact with another MERS patient and indirect contact with camels, a known source of the virus. He was in stable condition on Feb 12.

In addition, a 47-year-old Al-Kharj man who had frequent contact with camels contracted MERS in late January, according to earlier reports. He was in stable condition when the World Health Organization noted his case on Feb 2.

The MOH's cumulative count of MERS cases in Saudi Arabia has reached 1,296, including 554 deaths, 740 recoveries, and 2 patients still under treatment.
Feb 16 MOH update
Feb 12
CIDRAP News item noting previous Al-Kharj cases


MERS antibodies detected in Qatar alpacas

Antibody tests from a healthy alpaca herd in Qatar suggest that all had been exposed to MERS-CoV, according to a report today from researchers from the Netherlands and their Qatari collaborators. The team also found similar antibodies in camels from a nearby herd. The team published their findings in a letter to Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Alpaca sampling took place in April 2015, including 15 from a herd of 20 animals from a farm in Qatar's Al Shahaniya region. Researchers also obtained samples from 10 of 25 dromedary camels at a facility in the complex that shared the same farm workers.

Serum tests specific to MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome) IgG antibodies were positive in all 15 of the alpaca samples and in 9 of 10 camel samples. However, no evidence was found of active infections.

The group said their findings show that alpacas are susceptible to MERS-CoV infection and set the stage for future studies to sort out whether those animals are another livestock reservoir for the virus. Also, the findings raise the question of whether other members of the camelid family could become infected with MERS-CoV.

Researchers noted that it's still not known if alpacas can shed the virus or can maintain it in their populations and that more studies are needed to gauge the risk to alpacas and other camelids in different parts of the world.
Feb 16 Emerg Infect Dis letter


Antibody response to flu vaccine depends on gene expression, ethnicity

Variations of the gene IGHV1-69 affect the strength of an individual's antibody response to flu vaccination, and these genetic variations correspond with ethnic background, according to findings published today in Scientific Reports.

Researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute analyzed blood samples for frequency of the IGHV1-69 gene in 85 volunteers who received the H5N1 influenza vaccine in 2007. IGHV1-69 is significant for immune system response to the flu vaccine because it contains instructions for producing antibodies that bind to the virus' stable hemagglutinin stem, rather than to the mutable hemagglutinin head.

The IGHV1-69 gene is expressed in three allele groups (F/F, F/L, L/L) that form a total of 14 variations, depending on the presence of the amino acids phenylalanine (F) and leucine (L). Every individual inherits two forms of the gene.

Antibody response was 2.29 times higher in individuals with F/F alleles and 1.67 times higher in those with F/L alleles than those with L/L alleles . The scientists also found that people with F alleles had higher circulating levels of IGHV1-69 than people with L allele expression.

There was no significant difference in hemagglutinin inhibition titers between the allele groups. The researchers observed binding activity of antibodies to the hemagglutinin stem in each group for up to 4 years after vaccination, though the immune system's use and transcription of the IGHV1-69 gene was lower in L/L individuals.

Significant differences in allele frequency were associated with ethnicity, suggesting that antibody response to flu vaccination may vary widely according to ethnic background. Among 288 blood samples obtained from the 1000 Genomes Project, a higher mean copy number (CN) of IGHV1-69 was associated with F/F and F/L allele groups (mean CNs, 2.53 and 2.46, respectively) when compared to L/L group (mean CN, 2.0) overall.

People of African origin had higher frequencies of F/F and F/L allele groups (mean IGHV1-69 CNs, 3.04 and 2.87, respectively) compared with Europeans (mean CNs, 2.55 and 2.39, respectively) and Asians (mean CNs, 2 and 2.08, respectively). The mean CN of IGHV1-69 was 2 in all ethnic groups possessing the L/L allele expression.

The authors said their findings have important implications for the development of universal flu vaccines that prompt effective antibody response. They recommended that scientists build a catalogue of all 50 genes that instruct for flu antibody production and map them to demographic groups in order to produce vaccines based on genetic differences in immune system response.
Feb 16 Scientific Rep study


Nutritional powder recall expands after more Salmonella cases in 9 states

Garden of Life, LLC, has expanded its recall of RAW Meal Organic Shake and Meal Replacement products as more cases of Salmonella Virchow linked with moringa powder used in the products were reported over past weeks, according to a Feb 12 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) update.

Salmonella cases linked to the nutritional products have been reported in 11 people in nine states, including Minnesota (2 cases), New Jersey (2), New Mexico (1), Ohio (1), Oklahoma (1), Oregon (1), Tennessee (1), Utah (1), and Wisconsin (1). One person has been hospitalized. Of 10 people interviewed, all had consumed a Garden of Life RAW Meal product in the week prior to becoming ill.

On Feb 12, Garden of Life expanded its initial Jan 29 recall to include 31 products. The recall affects RAW Meal organic shake powders in original, chocolate, vanilla, and vanilla chai flavors. Testing revealed that organic moringa leaf in the products was the source of Salmonella contamination.

Salmonella infection causes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps that begin 12 to 72 hours after eating a contaminated product. The FDA, which has now jointed the investigation of the outbreak, according to a Food Safety Network (FSN) story today, urges anyone with symptoms and a recent history of eating RAW Meal replacement shakes to contact their healthcare provider and cautions consumers to dispose of any Garden of Life RAW Meal products affected by the recall.

Garden of Life said in a press release that it is removing moringa leaf from future products.
Feb 12 FDA update
Feb 12 Garden of Life LLC
press release
Feb 16 FSN story
Feb 1 CIDRAP News
scan on Salmonella cases

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