Global flu activity declines, with flu B proportions increasing

News brief

After peaking in late 2022, global flu activity continues to decline, though subtype proportions are shifting, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this week in its latest update, which covers roughly the middle 2 weeks of February.

Though the H3N2 strain was dominant earlier in the season, a slightly larger proportion of viruses in the latest reporting period were the 2009 H1N1 virus. Influenza B now makes up 41% of samples, and all characterized influenza B viruses belonged to the Victoria lineage. Influenza B levels typically rise in the latter part of the Northern Hemisphere flu season.

In Europe, flu activity was still above the epidemic threshold and reported as stable. Some Eastern European countries reported highly intense activity.

In East Asia, flu activity increased sharply in northern and southern China, with the H1N1 strain most common. Media reports from China, translated and posted by Avian Flu Diary, said Chinese officials are urging people to avoid hoarding oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and to not use the drug without a doctor's prescription.

In South Asia, flu levels declined or held steady, though Sri Lanka and Bhutan reported increases. Recent media reports from India say the country is experiencing a surge in H3N2 activity.

Quick takes: H5N1 avian flu in sea otter, other mammals; US, UK mull poultry vaccination

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Sea otters
Terry Llovet / Flickr cc
  • The United States has reported six more H5N1 avian flu detections in mammal species, according to a notification from the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH). Most involve animals found dead, except for a raccoon from Montana with neurologic symptoms that was euthanized. Other detections include three mountain lions, two from Wyoming and one from Colorado, a bobcat in Colorado, and a river otter in Wisconsin.
  • Chile has reported another H5N1 detection in a mammal, this time in a sea otter, according to a government report translated and posted by Avian Flu Diary, an infectious disease news blog. In February, Chile reported its first detection of the virus in a mammal, a sea lion.
  • In the wake of record poultry losses from H5N1, the Biden administration is considering a vaccination campaign for poultry, according to the New York Times. The report said the US Department of Agriculture is testing vaccine candidates and has launched discussions with poultry industry executives about a possible vaccine campaign. Also, the UK Department for Food, Environment, and Rural Affairs said in a blog post that it is exploring the possibility of poultry vaccination but hasn't changed its policies, which currently ban vaccine use in poultry and other captive birds. Some countries, such as China, allow poultry vaccination, but other nations prohibit the practice because of several issues, such as the risk that vaccinated birds without clinical signs could continue to spread the virus.

CWD confirmed in white-tailed deer in Manitoba, new Mississippi county

News brief
White-tailed buck
Chad Goddard / Flickr cc

For the first time, chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been detected in white-tailed deer in Manitoba—previous detections were in mule deer—and the disease has spread to another county in Mississippi.

In a news release this week, Manitoba Natural Resources and Northern Development (MNRND) reported 2 CWD cases in white-tailed deer, along with 11 new detections in mule deer. The agency said that, since 2021, officials have confirmed 18 CWD infections in mule deer and 2 in white-tailed deer.

This week's update didn't specify the number of new cases in mule deer, but a December 15, 2022, MNRND news release said 7 cases were confirmed at that point, all near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. Some of the new cases were in deer located a bit farther east in Manitoba. More positive tests could be revealed in the coming weeks, as officials said wait times for tests are around 16 to 20 weeks, CTV News reported.

There is a serious risk that CWD will threaten the health of all cervid populations in the province.

CWD is a highly contagious, fatal disease that affects members of the deer family (cervids), such as deer, elk, moose, and caribou. Animals infected with CWD may appear healthy until late in the disease progression. Though CWD is not known to infect humans yet, public health officials recommend that people not eat meat from a CWD-infected animal.

"If the disease spreads and becomes endemic to Manitoba, there is a serious risk that CWD will threaten the health of all cervid populations in the province," MNRND said.

10 counties affected in Mississippi

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) on March 3 confirmed CWD for the first time in Tunica County in the northwestern corner of the state.

The sample was from a hunter-harvested doe, but the MDWFP didn't say when the deer died. Testing by the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory confirmed CWD. Since 2018, 206 CWD-positive white-tailed deer have been detected in 10 Mississippi counties.

Groups call on Congress to support PASTEUR Act

News brief

More than 230 organizations representing healthcare providers, public health professionals, scientists, and the pharmaceutical and diagnostics industries have sent a letter to Congress urging support for the PASTEUR (Pioneering Antimicrobial Subscriptions to End Upsurging Resistance) Act.

The legislation, which was originally introduced in 2020 and then reintroduced in 2021, would create a subscription-style payment model that would allow the federal government to pay up-front for access to newly approved antibiotics that target drug-resistant infections and meet critical, unmet health needs. Intended as one solution to the financial challenges that have resulted in a weak pipeline of new antibiotics, the bill has yet to pass through Congress, despite bipartisan support and a growing recognition that antimicrobial resistance is a significant health threat.

Supporters say passing the bill is critical for ensuring that patients who are susceptible to infections have access to new antibiotics and that the US government is prepared for future public health threats that involve drug-resistant infections, including pandemics, natural disasters, outbreaks, and bioterror attacks.

"PASTEUR would increase our nation's resilience by strengthening the antibacterial and antifungal pipeline to ensure clinicians and other medical professionals have the innovative products they need to treat patients, and ensuring antimicrobials are used appropriately," the groups wrote to the chair and ranking member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. "Every day we wait to address the crisis in the antimicrobial ecosystem is another year patients and providers must wait to have access to life-saving medicines."

PASTEUR would increase our nation's resilience by strengthening the antibacterial and antifungal pipeline.

While antibiotics are essential for much of modern medicine, companies don't make much money from them because they are only used for short periods. The hope is that the model outlined in PASTEUR would help solve this problem by providing a stable return on investment and by de-linking pharmaceutical companies' profits from the volume of antibiotics sold. It also includes requirements for ensuring appropriate use.

The letter suggests PASTEUR, which is unlikely to be passed as a stand-alone bill, could be included in the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act.

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