NEWS SCAN: EU boosts pathogen research, Haiti travel alert, antibiotics in livestock, anthrax in Vietnam, sperm-free mosquitoes, polio in India

Aug 9, 2011

EU boosts pathogen outbreak research capacity
The European Commission today announced that it has allocated $17 million from its research program to boost the European Union's capacity to respond to pathogen threats such as the recent Escherichia coli O104:H4 outbreak. A portion of the funds will help support the fall launch of a cross-border consortium called ANTIGONE (ANTIcipating the Global Onset of Novel Epidemics), in which researchers will more fully characterize the E coli outbreak strain and a range of other pathogens such as Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, Ebola, SARS, plague, and Q fever. Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, commissioner of research, said in the statement, "Our policy is to focus EU research and innovation funding on the things that matter most to Europeans, and of course health is right at the top of that list. So I am very pleased that we have been able to allocate this additional funding." The project will also include a flexibility clause to speed response to future emergencies without the need for the European Commission to issue a new call for proposals.
Aug 9 European Commission press release

State Department downgrades travel warning on Haiti
The US State Department yesterday said citizens should "consider carefully all travel to Haiti," as opposed to its previous travel alert, in January, which said the department "strongly urges US citizens to avoid all travel to Haiti" unless it was essential. Citing continued crime, a shattered infrastructure, and an ongoing cholera epidemic, yesterday's alert said, "Travel fully supported by organizations with solid infrastructure, evacuation options, and medical support systems in place is recommended and preferable to travel in country without such support structures in place. US citizens traveling to Haiti without such support have found themselves in danger in the past." It also states, "While no longer at peak levels, cholera persists in many areas of Haiti, and the risk of contracting it remains."
Jan 20 State Department travel warning

European panel calls for reducing antimicrobial use in food animals
To protect humans from drug-resistant bacteria, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently recommended reducing the overall use of antimicrobials in food animals and restricting or stopping the use of cephalosporins to treat them. The recommendation was made in a report by the EFSA's Panel on Biological Hazards on the risk posed by bacteria known as extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBL) and AmpC beta-lactamases, which are resistant to broad-spectrum beta-lactam antibiotics, the EFSA said in a press release. Since 2000, ESBL and AmpC-producing Escherichia coli and Salmonella have increasingly been found in Europe and globally and have been reported in all food animals, the EFSA said. The panel concluded that the use of antimicrobials in general—not just cephalosporins—is a risk factor for the spread of these resistant strains, as is the extensive trade in animals in Europe. The experts asserted that reducing the use of all antimicrobials in food animals should be a high priority for the European Union, because ESBL/AmpC strains are resistant to many other veterinary drugs. Further, the panel said that one "highly effective control option . . . would be to restrict or stop the use of cephalosporins in the treatment of food-producing animals." In line with its assignment from the European Commission, the experts considered only the threat of resistant bacteria to human health, not the impact of the proposed control measures on animal health, the EFSA said.
Aug 2 EFSA press release, with link to full report

Vietnamese anthrax outbreaks linked to tainted meat
Vietnam health officials recently issued an alert to three northern provinces about anthrax outbreaks in humans linked to handling and eating contaminated meat, Thanh Nien News, a newspaper based in Ho Chi Minh City, reported yesterday. The alert was sent to Lai Chai, Dien Bien, and Ha Giang, provinces, all of which are located in the country's mountainous region. Authorities said the anthrax infections have been reported since June, with Lai Chai reporting the highest number of cases—12, including 1 death. Some of the cases are linked to residents in Dien Bien province slaughtering two buffalos that had died of diseases. A resident also sold the meat from nine sick animals.
Aug 8 Thanh Nien News story

Researchers develop infertile malaria mosquitoes that stop reproduction
In a study that one day may bode well for malaria-control efforts, UK researchers found that female malaria mosquitoes can be tricked into mating with infertile males, thereby eliminating their only chance of breeding. The group, using Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, the most common malaria-spreading mosquitoes in Africa, "developed spermless males by RNAi silencing of a germ cell differentiation gene," according to the study published yesterday. These males then successfully mated with females, and the females exhibited normal postcopulation behavior, including laying many eggs after blood feeding and not mating again. In a press release, lead author Dr Flaminia Catteruccia of Imperial College London, said: "In the fight against malaria, many hope that the ability to genetically control the mosquito vector will one day be a key part of our armoury. . . . This study strongly suggests that [female A gambiae] cannot tell the difference between a fertile and a spermless mate."
Aug 8 Proc Natl Acad Sci abstract
Aug 8 Imperial College press release

India reports 5 vaccine-derived polio cases
India recently confirmed five cases of vaccine-derived polio and one case from wild poliovirus (WPV) after going 7 months with only one WPV case, according to an Aug 7 Times of India story. One child, who was highly immunodeficient, died from vaccine-derived polio, which is caused by the weakened virus used in the vaccine. "We are aware of the vaccine-derived poliovirus cases. But, all the five cases are isolated and they do not seem to be circulating the virus in the community," said a senior official from the ministry of health and family welfare in New Delhi. He said the virus in the vaccine can mutate and cause paralysis, "but it is much easier to bring vaccine-derived polio under control." The former chairman of the India Expert Advisory Group, Dr. T. Jacob John, said the benefits of vaccination still outweigh the risk of contracting vaccine-derived polio. India had 42 confirmed WPV cases in 2010 and 741 in 2009, according to World Health Organization data.
Aug 7 Times of India story

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