News Scan for Feb 13, 2019

MERS in Saudi Arabia, Oman
;
Lettuce E coli probe
;
H5N8 in Namibian penguins

Saudi Arabia, Oman record new MERS cases

Today health officials in Saudi Arabia and Oman reported one new case of MERS-CoV each. This is the sixth case recorded in recent weeks in Oman; in Saudi Arabia, the new case is possibly linked to an ongoing hospital outbreak in Wadi ad-Dawasir.

According to the Muscat Daily yesterday, the Omani Ministry of Health tweeted that a new patient had been diagnosed as having MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus).

Recent cases in Oman are the first recorded in that country since March of 2018. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization said the cluster reported in Oman included five women, age 30 to 59, living in the same region. Officials provdied no details on the new patient.

In Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Health (MOH), in an update to its epidemiologic week 7 report, said a 50-year-old man from Wadi ad-Dawasir is in home isolation for his infection. He did not have camel contact, and the source of his infection is under investigation.

The latest case raises Saudi Arabia's number of MERS-CoV cases since the first of the year to 60, which includes 37 from Wadi ad-Dawasir.
Feb 12 Muscat Daily story
Feb 13 Saudi MOH report
Feb 11 CIDRAP News story "Saudi MERS total grows; WHO details Oman cluster"

 

FDA implicates reservoir water in E coli lettuce outbreak investigation

Today US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, MD, released findings from an FDA investigation into the source of a romaine lettuce Escherichia coli outbreak that sickened 62 people late last year in 16 states and the District of Columbia, implicating irrigation water and possible wild-animal exposure but leaving some questions yet unanswered.

The illnesses were caused by Shiga toxin–producing E coli O157:H7 traced back to a contaminated farm in Santa Barbara County, California. The FDA investigation found that contaminated water on the farm's agricultural reservoirs caused the outbreak. 

"It is believed that this water came into contact with the harvested portion of the romaine lettuce, since the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 was found in sediment from the reservoir and in no other sampled locations," Gottlieb said. "The water from the reservoir doesn't explain how lettuce grown on other ranches or farms identified by traceback may have been contaminated. So, this one farm cannot explain the entire outbreak."

The FDA also said investigations revealed evidence of extensive wild animal activity on the farm, including waterfowl, rodents, and coyotes, as well as animal burrows near the contaminated water reservoir.

Gottlieb said the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which partnered with the FDA to investigate the outbreak, will continue to work with farmers and producers to reduce contamination risk.

From 2009 to 2017, the FDA and CDC identified 29 foodborne illness outbreaks of Shiga toxin–producing E coli with a confirmed or suspected link to leafy greens. Earlier in 2018, romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, was also linked to a multistate E coli outbreak. 
Feb 13 FDA press release  
Jan 10 CIDRAP News Scan "CDC ends probe of E coli outbreak tied to tainted California lettuce"

 

H5N8 avian flu strikes penguin breeding site in Namibia

Namibia's agriculture ministry yesterday reported a highly pathogenic H5N8 avian flu outbreak—the country's first detection of the strain—that struck African penguins at a conservation site on Halifax Island, located just off the country's mainland, according to a notification from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

The outbreak began on Feb 2 at the island breeding site of about 7,000 African penguins. The virus killed 217 birds and sickened 223. The penguins had neurologic signs, corneal opacity, and lethargic or comatose behavior. Six birds were culled. Two of the birds collected from the island and taken to the Luderitz Marine Research Quarantine Center showed neurologic signs and were destroyed.

The source of the virus isn't known but may be migratory birds. Animal health officials said the disease is limited to African penguins and no other wild birds on Halifax Island were affected.

H5N8 has been implicated in an outbreak involving penguins before in the region. In February 2018, South Africa reported an outbreak in sea birds that included African penguins, which were treated for their infections because of their endangered status.
Feb 12 OIE report

 

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