News Scan for Mar 24, 2017

More H7N9 cases in China
US flu slows
Farmworkers and food safety

Eighteen more H7N9 cases reported in China

The Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said today that the mainland reported 18 more H7N9 avian flu illnesses, 2 of them fatal, from Mar 17 to Mar 23, according to a regular weekly update.

After an unusually large surge of cases in December, China's H7N9 cases peaked in February. Though cases are declining, the country continues to report a steady stream of infections from a number of provinces.

Illness-onset dates ranged from Mar 9 to Mar 15, with cases reported in nine provinces, though half were in Guangxi and Hunan. All of the patients are adults, ranging in age from 37 to 86. Eleven are men and seven are women.

Sixteen had a history of exposure to poultry or poultry markets, known risk factors for contracting the disease.

China has now reported at least 583 cases and at least 176 deaths in the fifth and biggest wave of H7N9 activity since the virus was first detected in humans in early 2013.
Mar 24 CHP statement


US flu activity slows further, CDC says

US influenza activity ebbed for the fifth straight week last week, with two new flu-related deaths in children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in its weekly update today. Flu activity, though, has now remained elevated for 14 straight weeks.

Flu was geographically widespread in 36 states for the week ending Mar 18, the CDC said, the same as the week before. Ten states reported regional flu activity, down from 11 the previous week. The percentage of respiratory samples that tested positive for flu was 17.9%, down from 18.3% the week before. The proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness (ILI) was 3.2%, down from 3.7% the week before but still well above the national baseline of 2.2% for this time of year.

Last week 12 states reported high ILI activity, down from 18 the week before. Nine states saw moderate ILI activity and 23 reported minimal activity. Seven of 10 regions noted ILI above baseline levels, the same as the previous week.

One marker that rose again was hospitalization rate for lab-confirmed flu, which climbed from 46.9 per 100,000 population to 50.4 per 100,000. Among those 65 and older, the rate rose from 214.0 to 228.6 per 100,000 population. In 2012-13, another season dominated by the H3N2 "A" strain, the overall hospitalization rate during this time of year was 41.3 per 100,000 population.

Both deaths in kids were caused by the H3N2 strain. The CDC has now confirmed 55 pediatric deaths this season. That compares with 111 for the entire 2013-14 season, 148 in 2014-15, and 89 last season.

For the week ending Mar 11, 60.5% of flu specimens were influenza A and 39.5% were influenza B, compared with 61.1% and 38.9%, respectively, the week before. Of the "A" strains that were subtyped, 95.7% were H3N2.
Mar 24 CDC FluView report
Mar 24 CDC summary of FluView findings


Initiative enlists farmworkers to fight foodborne disease

The Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) is a new effort to use produce workers to spot potential foodborne disease problems in the field and subsidize them for their work. According to Food Safety News, EFI has already caught the eyes of major retailers including Costco and Whole Foods Market.

Produce workers are often the first to come in contact with potential sources of food pathogens, including animal droppings, unhygienic equipment, or a lack of hand-washing stations. EFI certifies farms to reward (and not penalize) their workers for calling out any potential problems. In the past, farmworkers have said speaking out would have cost them their jobs.

A farm earns EFI certification when workers and management take classes on conflict resolution. So far, Costco and Whole Foods Market have agreed to pay more for EFI foods without raising the retail value, with profits going directly to farmworkers. EFI began in 2014 and in 2016 expanded into Mexico.

The CDC estimates that each year the country sees 48 million cases of food borne illness, which result in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.
Mar 24 Food Safety News story

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