News Scan for Dec 23, 2015

News brief

Minnesota reports first outbreak linked to new Asian norovirus strain

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) said yesterday that a new norovirus strain implicated in outbreaks in Asia last winter has turned up in Minnesota. In a statement, it said sporadic cases involving the GII.17 Kawasaki strain were detected earlier this year, and that the strain was involved in an outbreak for the first time last week.

Amy Saupe, MPH, a foodborne disease epidemiologist with the MDH said every few years a new norovirus strain emerges, which can sometimes—but not always—fuel an increase in the number of outbreaks reported.

"If we're meticulous about washing our hands and handling food properly, we may be able to limit the impact," she said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said norovirus illness can occur anytime during the year but is most common in the winter. It notes that there can be 50% more infections in years when a new strain is circulating.

Earlier this year, researchers from the National Institutes of Health reported genetic findings on a GII.17 norovirus isolated from a Maryland child. In the August issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, they said the virus was highly similar to the one causing outbreaks in Asia and was present in the United States last winter.
Dec 22 MDH press release
CDC norovirus background
Aug Emerg Infect Dis report


A thousand more cases of microcephalic birth defects in Brazil

Brazil's outbreak of microcephaly continues at an alarming clip, with an increase of more than 1,000 cases since the health ministry's previous report Dec 8, according to health ministry press conference and summary yesterday from the country that was translated and posted by Avian Flu Diary (AFD).

In just the week before the report's release, 381 additional suspected cases were reported, which roughly equals the total expected cases over a typical 2-year period in Brazil, says AFD. The outbreak count as of Dec 19 stands at 2,782 with 40 deaths spread over 618 municipalities and 20 units of federation, the ministry summary states.

The huge uptick in cases is thought to be related to the ongoing spread of Zika virus in Central and South America as well as other areas. Brazil's ministry of health has trained more than 11 public laboratories in diagnosing Zika to add to the 16 labs that already test for it. Together the 27 labs will be able to analyze 400 samples a month, the summary says.

Zika virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes; infection causes an illness similar to dengue fever.
Dec 22 AFD post
Dec 8 CIDRAP News scan on Brazilian outbreak


South Korea announces an end to its MERS-CoV outbreak

Seven-plus months after the first case of MERS-CoV occurred in South Korea in a man who had traveled to the Middle East, the country's ministry of health has declared the outbreak over, reported a story today in the Korea Times. There have been no cases in South Korea since the last patient died Nov 25, a spell double the incubation period of the virus.

The total number of cases of MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) in South Korea since the disease first appeared May 20 stands at 186, says the story. The disease was fatal in 38 cases, for a case-fatality rate of 20.4%.

South Korea has met the criteria for being free of the disease twice before, in late July and in October, and a ministry official warned of the possibility of the disease returning from overseas.

There has been some controversy over how the country's government handled the outbreak, with no initial disclosure of which hospitals had treated infected patients. The health minister relinquished his position and dozens of clinics and hospitals were shut down during the outbreak.
Dec 23 Korea Times story

In related news, a series of review articles on coronaviruses, including MERS-CoV, in animals and humans appears in the current Virology Journal. According to series editor Susanna Lau, MBBS, MD, of the University of Hong Kong, the group of articles "emphasizes advances and key discoveries in the animal origin, viral evolution, epidemiology, diagnostics and pathogenesis of different emerging and re-emerging coronaviruses."
Virology J series (published Dec 22 and 23)

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