More H5N8 detections in Europe as Vietnam reports H5N1 outbreaks

Two European countries—Italy and Russia—reported new highly pathogenic H5N8 avian flu outbreaks, and Vietnam reported five H5N1 events that were detected back in February, according to the latest notifications from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

Italy's outbreak involves a whooper swan found dead on Apr 27 at a nature park in the Piedmont region city of Turin in the country's northwest. Meanwhile, Russia reported two more H5N8 outbreaks on commercial farms in Rostov Oblast in the far southwest. The events began on Apr 21, together killing 8,223 of 339,098 susceptible birds. The rest were culled to curb the spread of the virus.

In Vietnam, agriculture officials reported five H5N1 outbreaks, all of them in backyard birds in Nghe An province in the central part of the country. The events all began on Feb 18 and were declared resolved on Mar 18. Of 5,499 susceptible birds in the four cities, the virus killed 950, and authorities destroyed the remaining ones as part of the response.
May 3 OIE report on H5N8 in Italy
May 4 OIE report on H5N8 in Russia
May 4 OIE report on H5N1 in Vietnam


CDC wraps up soy nut butter E coli outbreak probe

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today that its investigation into Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections linked to contaminated soy nut butter is over, though more illnesses are likely to be reported, because the product has a long shelf life and some people may not be aware that the products have been recalled.

Since its last update on Mar 30, the CDC reported 3 more illnesses, raising the overall total to 21. The number affected states remained the same, at 12. Twelve people were hospitalized, and 9 of them developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially fatal kidney complication. No deaths were reported.

Investigators earlier linked the outbreak to I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter. The company recalled the products on Mar 7, along with others that were made with the potentially contaminated soy nut butter. On Mar 31 the Food and Drug Administration announced that it was temporarily shuttering operations at Dixie Dew Products, based in Erlanger, Ky., which produced the contaminated soy nut butter.
May 4 CDC final outbreak update


Scientists develop new method to produce penicillin

Scientists in the United Kingdom say they've developed a method to produce penicillin from baker's yeast. They report their findings today in Nature Communications.

In the study, scientists from Imperial College London describe how they used genes from the fungus Penicillium chrysogenum, which naturally produces penicillin, to re-engineer the cells of the baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This set off a biochemical reaction process that enabled the baker's yeast, in turn, to produce small amounts of the nonribosomal peptide penicillin. They then further modified the yeast to produce more penicillin.

When added to a petri dish containing Streptococcus bacteria, the yeast actively secreted penicillin that had the same bioactivity against Streptococcus as commercially obtained penicillin.

While producing more penicillin isn't necessarily a priority, the authors of the study say their research, though still in its early stages, demonstrates that baker's yeast could be a potential vehicle for producing and testing a whole range of new antibiotics. Baker's yeast is easy to genetically re-engineer and has previously been used to create molecules with industrial and therapeutic relevance, but this is the first time it has been genetically reprogrammed to produce antibiotics.      

"We believe yeast could be the new mini-factories of the future, helping us to experiment with new compounds in the nonribosomal peptide family to develop drugs that counter antimicrobial resistance," study co-author Ali Awan, PhD, said in an Imperial College news release.

May 4 Nat Commun study
May 4 Imperial College news release


Study: Immunization gaps slow Africa's progress to measles elimination

Measles incidence decreased 63% in African countries from 2013 to 2016, but because countries didn't meet their targets for vaccine coverage, surveillance, and disease incidence, the continent won't likely meet the goal of eliminating the disease by 2020, a team from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC reported today in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The report is an update of the groups' estimates in 2012.

The number of children estimated to have received their first dose of measles-containing vaccine rose only 3 percentage points (71% to 74%) from 2013 through 2015, and in 2015 first-dose coverage was below the target of 95% in 87% of the African nations.

 Of the 8.9 million African babies who didn't receive their first measles dose in 2015, more than half were from four nations: Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola. The number of countries providing a routine second dose rose from 11 in 2013 to 23 in 2015.

To make better strides toward meeting the 2020 measles elimination goal, more countries need to introduce the second dose of measles-containing vaccine to their immunization programs, boost coverage by improving the management of staff and financial resources, improve access to populations for health providers, and increase demand for the vaccine by linking immunization to community services.
May 5 MMWR report


Polio workers helping tackle meningitis outbreak in Nigeria

The WHO announced yesterday it was deploying 190 Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) officers to help control an outbreak of cerebrospinal meningitis (CSM) in Nigeria.

In the past 2 months, the Nigerian states of Zamfara, Sokoto, Kastina , Kebbi, Yobe, and Niger have reported thousands of cases of CSM. These states fall within the "meningitis belt" of elevated activity in central Africa. As of May 1, officials have logged 3,687 suspected cases of the disease and 200 deaths, which can be prevented with a vaccine.

The PEI officers will be vaccinating a targeted 740,000 Nigerians in the affected states. In the past 4 days, 560,000 of the targeted population have been vaccinated (76% coverage). The vaccination will be extended by 2 days until 90% or more of all eligible recipients—those ages 1 to 21—receive the vaccine.

"The WHO Country Representative to Nigeria, Dr Wondimagegnehu Alemu appreciated the polio infrastructure for supporting the response without jeopardizing the polio eradication activities," the WHO's statement concluded.
May 3 WHO statement

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