NEWS SCAN: Smuggled vials, Obama's food safety group, HHS preparedness nominee, H5N1 developments

May 13, 2009

Scientist accused of smuggling lab vials into US
A Canadian scientist was arrested May 5 for allegedly trying to smuggle vials used in Ebola and HIV research at Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory into the United States, Canadian and US officials told Agence France-Presse today. The man said he took the materials from the lab on his last day of work and intended to use them at his new job at a National Institutes of Health lab in Bethesda, Md. Officials said the man did not have access to infectious materials and that tests showed the contents of the vials were not hazardous. He remains in custody. [May 13 AFP story]

President's food safety group holds listening session
President Obama's newly formed Food Safety Working Group held its first listening session today, and it was streamed live on the Web. Afterward, administration officials and congressional staff members broke into small groups to discuss challenges and opportunities with stakeholders. The panel, whose creation was announced by Obama Mar 14, is working on a set of principles and guidelines for reforming food safety. The group has also launched a Web site, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account to encourage public feedback on food safety issues. [Food Safety Working Group Web page]

TFAH applauds Obama's HHS preparedness nominee
The nonprofit advocacy group Trust for America's Health today lauded President Obama's nomination yesterday of Nicole Lurie as assistant secretary for preparedness and response in the Department of Health and Human Services. Jeff Levi, PhD, TFAH executive director, said Lurie brings strong medical and subject matter expertise and proven management skills to the position. Lurie has had leadership roles in several federal and state health departments. Her most recent position was with the Rand Corp., where she directed research on a range of public health preparedness issues.

Egypt reports new H5N1 case
Egypt's health ministry reported an H5N1 avian influenza infection in a 5-year-old girl from the southern governorate of Sohag, according to a May 10 Reuters report that cited MENA, Egypt's state news service. If the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms the girl's illness, it will raise Egypt's H5N1 case count to 69, of which 23 have been fatal. She was hospitalized on May 9, was being treated with oseltamivir, and was in stable condition. The report did not list a source of her infection. [May 10 Reuters story]

Egypt battles more H5N1 outbreaks
Egypt has reported seven more H5N1 outbreaks recently, according to the country's Strengthening Avian Influenza Detection and Response (SAIDR). The outbreaks, reported between May 6 and May 11, occurred in Gharbiya, Qalyoubia, Menofia, Kafr el Sheikh, and Sixth of October governorates. Four of the outbreaks were on poultry farms and the other three involved backyard birds. In three of the events, the birds had been vaccinated. The status of the others was not known.

Bangladesh culls poultry to stop H5N1
Animal health officials recently culled more than 1,800 chickens in southeastern Bangladesh in response to an H5N1 avian influenza outbreak, Agence France-Press (AFP) reported yesterday. The country's last H5N1 outbreak occurred in early April, when the virus stuck a commercial farm near Dhaka, the capital, according to the World Organization for Animal Health.

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