Plague bacteria, other misplaced pathogens found at NIH, FDA labs

A search of government labs in the wake of a July discovery of old vials of smallpox virus has turned up additional improperly stored pathogens that cause plague, tularemia, melioidosis, botulism, and a certain foodborne disease, as well as the toxin ricin, the Washington Post reported today.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) officials said today they had found five of the select agents in recent weeks. Three of them were at the NIH Clinical Center's Department of Medicine, which stores thousands of microbes dating to the 1950s.

The collection included two vials of Yersinia pestis, which causes plague; two vials of Burkholderia pseudomallei, which causes melioidosis; and three vials of Francisella tularensis, which causes tularemia.

NIH scientists also turned up a vial of ricin misplaced in a chemical lab's historical collection dating from 1914. The NIH also found two vials of botulinum toxin, which causes botulism.

All of the pathogens were in intact containers, and there have been no known human exposures, said Alfred Johnson, director of the NIH's office of research service. He added, however, "These things were stored in locations where they should not have been stored."

Also today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it has found vials of Staphylococcus enterotoxin at a lab in the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition that was not registered to handle the bacterium, the Post reported.

The NIH said the pathogens in its labs were discovered from Jul 29 to Aug 27, while the FDA discovered the Staph samples on Jul 15.

The White House has urged government labs to conduct a "clean sweep" for all improperly stored dangerous microbes, in light of the discovery in an FDA lab on the NIH campus of decades-old vials of smallpox virus in July.
Sep 5 Washington Post story
Jul 8 CIDRAP News story
"Decades-old smallpox samples turn up in federal lab"


Filipino nurse tests negative for MERS-CoV

A Filipino nurse who was reported 2 days ago to be infected with Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) does not have the virus, the Associated Press (AP) reported today. Confirmatory tests turned out negative.

Philippines Department of Health spokesman Lyndon Lee Suy, MD, reported the negative tests results and said that tracing of the 37-year-old nurse's fellow passengers on her flight from Saudi Arabia has been halted. Initial tests at the nurse's health facility in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, had indicated MERS-CoV.

The nurse and her family had been put under quarantine in Davao City, Philippines, while they waited for the additional tests results.

Lee Suy said the steps the health department took were consistent with "rumor surveillance" procedures. "Everything starts with a rumor. What if it turned out to be true? It is up to us to validate," he said. "We don't consider it a mistake, but a part of process and investigation."
Sep 5 AP story
Sep 3 CIDRAP News scan on initial report


Report: 2013 hepatitis A outbreak tested public health procedures

A 10-state hepatitis A outbreak last year tied to pomegranate seeds from Turkey prompted an effective public health response that included product recalls, warnings to the public, and post-exposure prophylaxis for more than 10,000 people, according to a report yesterday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and several states analyzed data on 165 patients—3 more than the CDC reported in its final outbreak update last October. Their median age was 47, and 55% were women.

The investigators noted that hepatitis A genotype 1B, which is uncommon in the Americas, was recovered from 117 of the patients. Although the genotype was never recovered from the product, trace-back efforts implicated pomegranate seeds from Goknur Foodstuffs of Turkey early in the outbreak as the likely culprit. Genotype 1B is common in Turkey, the authors said.

Investigation into the source of the outbreak combined epidemiology—with data from several sources—genetic analysis of patient samples, and product tracing, the authors note. Affected products were recalled, the public was warned not to consume the products, and postexposure prophylaxis with both hepatitis A vaccine and immunoglobulin was provided to more than 10,000 people.

The authors conclude, "Our findings show that modern public health actions can help rapidly detect and control hepatitis A virus illness caused by imported food."
Sep 4 Lancet Infect Dis abstract
Sep 4 Lancet Infect Dis commentary on the report
Oct 28, 2013, CDC final outbreak notice

Flu Scan for Sep 05, 2014

News brief

Chinese researchers report new H7N2 avian flu virus

An H7N2 avian flu virus isolated from the farm of a Chinese man who had contracted H7N9 avian flu is a novel reassortant of H7N9 and H9N2 viruses, Chinese researchers reported yesterday in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

In February of this year the team sampled 60 of 500 chicken's on the patient's farm in Jilin province and 50 from neighboring flocks and collected 36 fecal samples from the patient's farm and neighboring flocks. From cloacal (anal) samples taken from birds on the patient's farm they isolated an H9N2 and an H7N2 virus.

The scientists found that the H7N2 virus derived its HA, PB2, PB1, PA, NP, and M genes from the H7N9 virus that emerged in China last year, and they said its NA and NS genes were closely related to the H9N2 virus isolated on the same farm.

They observed the chickens for 10 days, and none showed signs of disease. Mice inoculated with the H7N2 virus all survived but showed signs of weight loss.

The authors wrote, "Although we did not find any H7N9 viruses in chickens during this investigation, the fact that the owner of the chickens was infected with an H7N9 virus indicates that H7N9 viruses might have circulated among these chickens." They did, however, find high levels of antibodies to H7 in the chickens.

They conclude, "The nonpathogenic nature of H7 viruses in poultry enables them to replicate silently in birds. The high positive ratio of antibody against H7 viruses detected by hemagglutination assay and the huge diversity of antibody levels among chickens from the H7N9 patient's farm demonstrate that the H7 viruses might have been introduced and circulated in these birds for several weeks before they were detected."
Sep 4 Emerg Infect Dis story


South Australia struggling with heavy flu burden

Hospitals in South Australia state are struggling with flu levels not seen since the 2009 pandemic, with the number of cases double what it was a year ago, the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) reported today.

"It's having a huge impact on the number of people who are presenting to our emergency departments, particularly the people who are vulnerable," said state Minister for Health Jack Snelling. He predicted the crush could continue for about a month and said 100 extra hospital beds have been made available.

Another official said five out of six metropolitan hospital emergency departments in Adelaide were full at some point yesterday. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital had been full for a week, with some patients waiting hours to be treated, the story said.

"Our major hospitals have really been stretched to breaking point in the past week," the official said.
Sep 5 ABC report

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