News Scan for Feb 22, 2016

News brief

MERS cases reported in Saudi Arabia, Qatar

Saudi Arabia today confirmed another new MERS-CoV case, while Qatar reported its first case since May 2015.

The MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) case in Saudi Arabia involves a 74-year-old man in Afif, a city in the central part of the country about halfway between Mecca and Riyadh, according to the Saudi Ministry of Health (MOH). It is the nation's sixth case in a week.

The man's case is listed as "primary," meaning he did not likely contract his case from another MERS patient. The man, who is not a healthcare worker, had recent contact with camels and is hospitalized in stable condition, the MOH said. His case raises the Saudi MER-CoV count to 1,299 cases since 2012, including 554 fatalities.

In Qatar, a 66-year-old man is in critical condition at Hamad General Hospital in Doha after contracting the disease. He has several chronic diseases and had symptoms after returning from an unspecified neighboring country, Doha News reported.

Authorities are following up with the man's close contacts, according to the country's health ministry. Six of the 15 MERS cases in Qatar in recent years have proved fatal, the story said.
Feb 22 Saudi MOH update
Feb 21 Doha News story


PAHO notes more than 30,000 new chikungunya cases

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) late last week added 1,968 new chikungunya cases to its list, while catch-up reporting of its 2015 cases by El Salvador added 28,722 infections to last year's total.

The new numbers bring the 2016 outbreak total to 16,668 confirmed and suspected cases, while the 2015 cases rise to 726,478. The new infections, reported on Feb 19, bring the overall outbreak total to 1,890,772 chikungunya cases.

Colombia accounted for the lion's share of the 2016 increase, with 1,189 new cases and 5,752 for the year so far. El Salvador had the next highest gain, with 355 new cases and 3,236 total. Costa Rica had 222 new cases and 850 total, while Venezuela reported 170 new cases, raising its 2016 total to 1,216.

The newly added 28,722 cases bring El Salvador's 2015 total to 63,673 infections. The nation hadn't added cases since week 35, but now its 2015 total is up to date.

No chikungunya-related deaths have yet been reported for 2016. The outbreak began in December 2013 on St. Martin in the Caribbean with the first recorded cases of the disease in the Americas.
Feb 19 PAHO update
Latest PAHO 2015 cumulative case numbers


Flu levels rising or high in many Northern Hemisphere countries

Flu levels in the Northern Hemisphere continued a late-season rise, especially in parts of Europe, with increases also noted in North America, northern Africa, and parts of Asia, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today in an update. The 2009 H1N1 virus is the predominant strain in many locations, though a mix of strains has been reported in some areas, including northern China.

Europe appears to be one of the main global hot spots, with an increase in severe infections—even in previously health young adults—in northern and eastern areas where 2009 H1N1 virus is dominating, a pattern seen in past seasons with the virus. Activity is picking up in southern Europe, where 2009 H1N1 and influenza B is co-circulating. Some countries such as Belgium and France are reporting influenza B as the dominant strain.

In North America, flu levels have increased to moderate levels, with US levels rising slightly, activity in Canada at levels expected for this time of year, and Mexico still at the interseasonal level with H3N2 as the most commonly detected flu virus.

In the Middle East, flu levels are still high in Israel and Jordan, and in northern temperate parts of Asia, flu activity is increasing in South Korea and northern China. In southern China, flu levels continued to decline, though activity increased in Hong Kong. Africa's main areas of activity were in northern Africa, especially Algeria and Morocco, and eastern Africa.

In the tropical Americas, flu activity was low and at expected levels, with little activity seen in Southern Hemisphere locations.

Globally, influenza A made up 82.9% of flu detections in recent weeks, and, of the subtyped samples, 86.6% were the 2009 H1N1 virus. Of the subtyped influenza B samples, only 28.4% were from the Yamagata lineage, the type recommended for this season's trivalent Northern Hemisphere flu vaccines.

WHO vaccine advisors are meeting today through Feb 24 to settle on the strains to recommend for the Northern Hemisphere's 2016-17 season.
Feb 22 WHO global flu update
WHO strain selection meeting information


WHO notes 71 Lassa cases in Benin

Benin reported that seven of its departments have reported 71 total Lassa fever cases, 23 of which proved fatal, the WHO said late last week that. Six of the cases were confirmed by a laboratory at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital in Nigeria, 10 are probable, and 55 are suspected.

Borgou (52) and Collines (13) have reported the most cases, with the other departments reporting 1 to 2 cases each. The WHO reported that 318 contacts have been identified and 292 are currently under follow-up since the beginning of the outbreak on Jan 21.

The Ministry of Health of Benin is working on control measures such as field investigation, infection prevention and control, and contact tracing and follow-up, according to the Feb 19 WHO statement. The agency and its regional office in Africa have also given their support by providing funding and a team of experts to help assess the situation.

Lassa fever causes seasonal outbreaks in West Africa through contact with contaminated rodent urine or feces, person-to-person infections, or laboratory transmissions. The WHO "does not recommend any restriction of travel and trade to Benin based on the information available."
Feb 19 WHO statement

Food Safety Scan for Feb 22, 2016

News brief

FDA requests $25.3 million more to implement food safety act

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is requesting an additional $25.3 million for the 2017 fiscal year in order to implement the final two rules of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). According to an FDA statement, the money would be used toward creating infrastructure, training, and accountability among food importers and state, local, and tribal governments.

The FDA argues that states do not have the resources to adequately prevent foodborne disease unless they receive financial and development support from an outside source. The FDA estimates that $11.3 million will be needed to help implement the necessary programs. The remaining $14 million would go toward making importers ensure that their products meet US standards.

Under FSMA, the FDA will create future training, outreach, and inspections domestically and abroad to help workers along all parts of the food supply chain identify weaknesses and develop ways to improve, according to the statement. The agency has already received $104.5 million in additional funds for fiscal year 2016 to finish implementing the first five rules.
Feb 22 FDA statement


Two-state Salmonella outbreak linked to sprouts leads to recall

Sweetwater Farms in Inman, Kans., has voluntarily recalled one of its lots of sprouts after it was linked to five cases of salmonellosis in Kansas and three in Oklahoma, according to Food Safety News.

The most recent onset of illness was Jan 21, in a Kansas man. Since then the cases in Oklahoma were also matched to the outbreak strain.

An investigation by state and federal officials found that Sweetwater Farm's irrigation water and product tested positive for Salmonella, but the strain isolated from the farm has not yet been matched to the outbreak strain, the story said. Kansas health authorities recommend that consumers avoid any sprout product from Sweetwater Farms, which at this time is recalling only lot number 042016 of its sprouts.

Kansas health officials also recommend that people with a higher risk of infection, such as pregnant women, children, or those with compromised immune systems, should not eat raw sprouts from any supplier. Only cooking can remove harmful bacteria that may be on them, they said. 

As of today, the FDA has not yet added Sweetwater Farms' voluntary recall to its Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts Web page.
Feb 19 Food Safety News article

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