News Scan for Jul 10, 2018

MERS in Saudi Arabia
DRC polio outbreaks
Wellcome funds innovation
Southern Hemisphere flu rise
Australia Wolbachia mosquitoes

Four MERS cases recorded by Saudi Arabia in June

A new report from the World Health Organization's (WHO's) Eastern Mediterranean regional office shows four more MERS- CoV cases reported by Saudi Arabia in June, one of them fatal.

The WHO said none of the four cases of appears to be in a cluster. In late May, Saudi officials identified clusters of cases in Najran and Jeddah linked to household outbreaks.

The WHO did not release patient details for the most recent cases, but said none involved healthcare workers and no infections were transmitted in a healthcare setting. Since January, the agency has confirmed 94 MERS cases globally, 92 of them in Saudi Arabia. Twenty-six of the cases (27.7%) proved fatal.

With the new cases, the total number of cases recorded since 2012 globally is 2,229, including 791 deaths, the WHO said. The case-fatality rate is 35.5%.
Jul 10 WHO report
Jun 18 CIDRAP News story "MERS in Saudi Arabia this year includes hospital, household clusters"


DRC details 3 vaccine-derived polio outbreaks

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) confirmed three separate, ongoing vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) outbreaks, according to a separate WHO update today.

In February, the DRC declared cVDPV2 outbreaks a national emergency, and monovalent oral polio vaccine type 2 is being used in line with internationally agreed-upon outbreak response protocols.

The cVDPV2 strain implicated in the first outbreak was initially detected in June of 2017, and recently found in a patient who had onset of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) on May 5 in Ituri province, which borders Uganda. A different cVDPV2 strain is behind an outbreak in Maniema province, which sickened two people in 2017. Officials have not detected any cases this year in that province. The third outbreak, in Mongala province, involved a patient whose AFP began on Apr 26.

"The geographic extent of the outbreak response to all three strains is now being re-evaluated, given the confirmed spread of one of the strains to Ituri and confirmation of the new strain in Mongala," the WHO said.

Transmission risk remains very high throughout the DRC and the risk of international spread is high, officials said.
Jul 10 WHO report


Wellcome Trust announces new Leap Fund to back riskier projects

Today the Wellcome Trust announced a new initiative, the £250 million ($332 million) Leap Fund, intended to finance "bold ideas" that may be considered too risky for traditional funding streams.

"We want to take advantage of the surprising, left-field ideas that pose the question 'what if?' and support them in a new way that complements our existing funding structures," said Jeremy Farrar, MD, PhD, director of the Wellcome Trust, in a press release.

The Leap Fund aims to deliver breakthroughs on a 5- to 10-year timetable. It will begin in 2020 on an initial 5-year run, during which it will account for 5% of Wellcome's funds. Leap funding will not replace or duplicate any of Weillcome's current research funding schemes.

Farrar said the Leap Fund will use principles from the technology and venture capital sectors, where early-stage, high-risk ideas are treated as important investments. In traditional medical research funding, projects are not often awarded venture capital in early stages.
Jul 10 Wellcome Trust press release


WHO: Flu rising in parts of Southern Hemisphere

Flu activity is rising in the Southern Hemisphere's temperate zones as the area enters its winter months, but levels haven't passed baseline in Australia and New Zealand, the WHO said yesterday in its latest global flu update.

Areas seeing increases include Southern Africa and South America, with flu activity reported as variable in tropical regions of the Americas, with Colombia and Peru reporting elevated flu markers.

In other parts of the world, flu levels are low the Caribbean, southern Asia, other parts of Africa, and Southeast Asia. Flu remained at interseasonal levels in the Northern Hemisphere.

Globally, of flu samples tested in the middle of June, 76.1% were influenza A and 23.9% influenza B. Of subtyped influenza A samples, the 2009 H1N1 virus was the dominant strain, accounting for 84.9% of samples.
Jun 9 WHO global flu update


Australian Wolbachia mosquitoes dramatically cut Aedes aegypti

A trial of Wolbachia-treated male mosquitoes in a community in Queensland, Australia, decreased the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes by more than 80%, the country's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) said today in a news release.

Wolbachia is a naturally occurring bacterium that renders male mosquitoes infertile. When the infertile male mosquitoes mate with local female mosquitoes, the eggs don't hatch, reducing the numbers of mosquitoes. The trial took place from November 2017 to June 2018 in trial zones along the Cassoway Coast in North Queensland. Collaborators included CSIRO, Verily Life Sciences, and James Cook University (JCU).

The trial involved a mosquito raising, sex-sorting, and release processes developed by Verily, an affiliate of Alphabet, Inc. The millions of mosquitoes needed for the trial were raised at JCU.

Kyran Staunton, PhD, with JCU, said in the release that Verily's technology enabled faster and more accurate mosquito sex sorting. "We learnt a lot from collaborating on this first tropical trial and we’re excited to see how this approach might be applied in other regions where Aedes aegypti poses a threat to life and health," he said.

At a 2016 WHO expert meeting to discuss mosquito-fighting options in the wake of Zika virus outbreaks, Wolbachia was one of only two technologies endorsed for careful pilot testing and rigorous monitoring. In January, Florida's Miami-Dade County announced the launch of Wolbachia-treated male mosquitoes through Mosquito Mate in South Miami.
Jul 10 CSIRO press release
Jan 30 CIDRAP News scan "Wolbachia mosquitoes released in Miami to help combat Zika"

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