NEWS SCAN: Novartis flu vaccine particles, USAID disease support, H5N1 in India, H1N1-related encephalopathy, health and climate

Oct 29, 2012

Six countries stop use of Novartis flu vaccines; company says they're safe
Six European countries have halted the use of two Novartis flu vaccines because of protein particles or aggregates seen in certain batches, but the company says the aggregates are harmless. Italy and Switzerland suspended sales of Fluad and Agrippal on Oct 24, and Austria, France, Germany, and Spain subsequently followed suit, according to an Oct 26 Associated Press (AP) report. But in an Oct 26 statement, Novartis voiced confidence in the safety and efficacy of the two vaccines, which are made in Italy. "To date, data from the ongoing seasonal vaccination campaign have shown no unexpected adverse events," the company said. "The protein aggregates observed in the one batch that led to precautionary measures in some markets can occur in the normal vaccine manufacturing process and have no impact on the safety or efficacy of the vaccines." The European Medicines Agency (EMA) concurred in another Oct 26 statement, saying that so far there was no indication that the particles have any effect on safety or efficacy. The EMA said the Italian Medicines Agency is taking the lead in investigating whether the problem affects the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. The AP story said other flu vaccines are available in the affected countries but that delivery bottlenecks may occur. The vaccines are not sold in the United States.
Oct 26 AP story
Oct 26 Novartis statement
Oct 26 EMA statement

USAID boosts funding for FAO disease threat programs
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced today that the United States has provided a more than $20 million boost in funding to help track H5N1 avian influenza and other pandemic threats in the world's hot spot regions. The funds come from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of its Emerging Pandemic Threats program. The FAO said much of the assistance will help strengthen preparedness and response activities in countries such as Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, and Vietnam that continue to experience H5N1 outbreaks in poultry. Also, the support will benefit regional efforts to fight and identify the disease in Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, and Myanmar. Juan Lubroth, DVM, PhD, the FAO's chief veterinary officer, said the United States has played a key role in addressing the threat in animals in efforts to prevent the disease from spilling over to humans. "Such support for basic prevention measures is rare, yet most sensible and cost effective," he said. The continued partnership with USAID also includes funding for FAO's field work on wildlife, which is designed to monitor other zoonotic threats.
Oct 29 FAO press release

H5N1 outbreak kills 3,400 farm poultry in India
H5N1 avian flu has killed 3,481 birds on a government-run poultry farm near Bangalore in southern India, according to a report from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The remaining 784 poultry in the flock were destroyed to prevent the spread of the outbreak, which began Oct 12. Officials said, "An intensive surveillance campaign has been launched" within 10 kilometers of the farm, adding that birds will be restocked using a specified protocol after disinfection of the premises.
Oct 26 OIE report

Study: Children with pandemic H1N1 encephalopathy deteriorated quickly
In a study of the clinical features of acute encephalopathy associated with pandemic 2009 H1N1 influenza in children, Japanese researchers reported that the patients fell into a coma rapidly after the onset of encephalopathy. Writing in the Journal of Clinical Virology, the researchers said they retrospectively examined the cases of 20 children who died or were in a prolonged deep coma associated with H1N1 infections. The group included 13 boys and 7 girls, with a median age of 45 months (range, 11 to 200 months). Acute encephalopathy developed within 2 days of influenza onset in 16 patients. Eighteen patients became comatose within 6 hours after the onset of encephalopathy, and 16 patients died, with a median survival time of 2.5 days after encephalopathy onset. The other four patients remained in deep comas and couldn't breathe on their own. Computed tomography revealed marked brain swelling in all but one patient. The report says that an estimated 200 to 500 children in Japan suffer flu-related encephalopathy every year and that 10% to 30% of them die.
Oct 26 J Clin Virol abstract

WHO report traces links between climate and public health challenges
The World Health Organization (WHO) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) today released The Atlas of Health and Climate, aiming to provide scientific data on the connections between weather and climate and major health challenges, including infectious diseases. Climate variability and extreme events such as floods can trigger epidemics of diarrheal diseases, malaria, dengue fever, and meningitis, the WHO said in a press release about the 68-page report. "Stronger cooperation between the meteorological and health communities is essential to ensure that up-to-date, accurate and relevant information on weather and climate is integrated into public health management at international, national and local levels, WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in the release. "This Atlas is an innovative and practical example of how we can work together to serve society." Stronger climate services in countries where diseases like dengue and meningitis are endemic can help predict the onset, intensity, and duration of epidemics, the WHO said. For example, the report says, statistical models, based on correlations between climate and other environmental variables and dengue incidence in areas with good disease surveillance, can be used to predict dengue transmission in areas with weak surveillance. The WHO said the atlas is being released at the World Meteorological Congress, which runs from today through Oct 31 in Geneva.
Oct 29 WHO press release
Home page for health and climate atlas

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