NEWS SCAN: H5N1 in Vietnam, Nepal; Hong Kong swine flu hybrids; FDA in China; food pathogen software

Feb 14, 2012

H5N1 outbreaks affect thousands of birds in Vietnam, Nepal
Vietnam and Nepal have each had several outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu in poultry and wild birds, according to recent reports filed with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). In Vietnam, officials confirmed four outbreaks in separate provinces that killed 1,410 birds and led to the culling of 8,031 others, according to an OIE report yesterday. The first, in Kien Giang province, began Jan 27 and killed 150 poultry, with an additional 71 destroyed to prevent disease spread. The second outbreak began Jan 29 in Thai Nguyen province. It involved 400 dead birds, with an additional 6,350 culled. The third outbreak began Feb 5 in Hai Phong province, with 460 poultry dead and 1,010 destroyed. The fourth outbreak killed 400 birds in Bac Giang province, with an additional 600 poultry culled. It began Feb 8. Kien Giang is in southern Vietnam's Mekong Delta region, while the other three provinces are in the north.
Feb 13 Vietnam OIE report
In Nepal, H5N1 killed 3,115 birds in three outbreaks in separate districts, and another 2,626 were culled to prevent further spread, according to a separate OIE report. The first outbreak, on Jan 17 in the capital of Kathmandu, involved four dead crows discovered near city hall. In the second outbreak, 500 backyard chickens died in a village bordering Ilam and Panchthar districts in eastern Nepal in an outbreak that began the next day. A further 241 poultry were culled. The third outbreak struck a layer farm in Sunsari district in the east, killing 2,615 poultry and necessitating destruction of the remaining 2,385 birds, for a total of 5,000 birds. That outbreak began Jan 19.
Feb 12 Nepal OIE report

Hong Kong swine sampling finds human flu hybrids
In an update on routine flu surveillance in Hong Kong pigs, officials said 27 of 1,500 samples from the most recent round of testing contained genes from human swine influenza viruses, according to a press release today from government's Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD). The surveillance program at Sheung Shui Slaughterhouse is conducted by Hong Kong, and today's results cover tests conducted from mid October 2011 to January 2012. One sample was positive for the 2009 H1N1 virus. Malik Peiris, PhD, who leads the program, said in the statement that the finding isn't surprising and is likely to turn up again, given the virus' wide transmission in humans. Of the 27 samples that had human swine influenza genes, two involved  H3N2 and 25 were H1N2. The FEHD said the previous two rounds of sampling also detected evidence of swine influenza that contained genes from human strains. Peiris said similar findings have been reported from other parts of the world and that the positive findings don't pose a major human health risk and aren't a food safety threat.
Feb 14 FEHD press release

FDA seeks to put more food inspectors in China
The US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) proposed budget for fiscal 2013 includes a $10 million increase for inspecting products in China, of which $4.4 million would be for food safety inspections and the rest for drug inspections, according to a National Journal report published today. The $10 million would enable the agency to move 19 employees to China, of whom 16 would be inspectors, the story said. The FDA has had an office in China since 2009, but the additional funds would allow the agency to increase its efforts there, said Patrick McGarey, FDA assistant commissioner for budget. At a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health last week, the story noted, lawmakers of both parties expressed concern about lax oversight of drug plants in foreign countries.
Feb 14 National Journal story on GovExec site

Software package helps characterize foodborne pathogens
Scientists used software developed by a Georgia Tech team to help characterize the bacteria responsible for two huge food outbreaks last year—the Escherichia coli O104 outbreak centered in Germany and involving sprouts and the Listeria outbreak linked to Colorado cantaloupes, according to a Georgia Tech press release. A team of graduate students led by School of Biology associate professor King Jordan, PhD, collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create software for analyzing microbial genomes. The software package, called the Computational Genomics Pipeline, is now used for global public health efforts, according to the release. Jordan said the software "analyzes the sequences, finds the genes and provides clues as to which genes are involved in making people sick. Manually, this process used to take weeks, months or a year. Now it takes us about 24 hours." In referring to the European sprout outbreak, Andrey Kislyuk, PhD, another developer, said, "The software was used to determine that genetic material from two previously distinct strains of E. coli was combined in a new, hyper-virulent strain."
Feb 13 Georgia Tech press release

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