News Scan for Dec 11, 2013

News brief

Report: Recent malaria-control efforts saved 3.3 million lives

Global malaria-control efforts since 2000 have saved an estimated 3.3 million lives and reduced global mortality rates by 45%, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in its "World Malaria Report 2013," released today.

A large majority of the lives saved were in the 10 countries with the highest rates of malaria and in preschoolers, who are most effective by the disease, the agency said. Mortality rates since 2000 have dropped 49% in Africa and an estimated 54% in African children.

Increased funding and political commitment helped lower the incidence of malaria 29% worldwide and 31% in Africa, the report said.

"This remarkable progress is no cause for complacency: Absolute numbers of malaria cases and deaths are not going down as fast as they could," said Margaret Chan, MD, MPH, WHO director-general, in a WHO news release. "The fact that so many people are infected and dying from mosquito bites is one of the greatest tragedies of the 21st century."

The WHO estimates that in 2012 malaria sickened 207 million people, killing about 627,000. It said an estimated 3.4 billion people are at risk, mostly in Southeast Asia and in Africa, the continent that witnesses about 80% of malaria cases.

The agency said the world is still a long way from universal access to malaria prevention and treatment and that funds continue to be urgently needed, even though global funding increased from $100 million in 2000 to almost $2 billion in 2012.
World Malaria Report 2013
Dec 11 WHO news release


Plague outbreak confirmed in Madagascar

Officials have confirmed that a deadly outbreak in a Madagascar village is caused by bubonic plague, BBC News reported yesterday. At least 20 people died in the village, which is near the northwestern town of Mandritsara.

The Pasteur Institute of Madagascar yesterday confirmed that tests on samples from bodies in the village showed that bubonic plague had caused the deaths. The story did not specify the type of testing that was done but said health officials are in the remote region to investigate the outbreak.

In October the International Red Cross warned that the country was at risk of an epidemic of plague, which is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis.

Madagascar had 60 deaths last year from plague, the highest toll in the world, BBC News said.
Dec 10 BBC News report


Texan pleads guilty to ricin mailings to Obama, Bloomberg

A former "Walking Dead" and "Blind Side" actress from Texas pleaded guilty yesterday to sending letters containing ricin to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Associated Press (AP) reported today.

In federal court in Texarkana, Tex., Shannon Guess Richardson pleaded guilty to a federal charge of possessing and producing a biological toxin, under a deal that her attorney said would mean a maximum of 18 years in prison. Prosecutors said she could have faced life in prison.

Richardson, 35, was arrested in June after she tried to implicate her estranged husband in mailing ricin-tainted letters to the two public officials and to a gun-control advocate. Investigators noted inconsistencies in her statements and later learned she had bought castor beans and other material to make ricin. The letters were postmarked May 20.
Dec 11 AP story
Jun 10 CIDRAP News scan on Richardson's arrest

Flu Scan for Dec 11, 2013

News brief

H7N9 found in samples from Shenzhen live-bird markets

Three environmental samples from live-poultry markets in Shenzhen, China, have tested positive for H7N9 avian flu virus, the South China Morning Post reported today. Two recent cases in Hong Kong have been linked to Shenzhen.

Officials discovered the virus after collecting 70 samples at 13 live-bird markets throughout the city.

One H7N9-positive sample was from blood taken from a chopping board at a stall selling live poultry, and the other two were from urine samples from a stall housing chickens, the story said. The contaminated markets are located in Shenzhen's Longgang district.

University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung urged Hong Kong to discontinue all live-poultry imports from the mainland. Currently, Hong Kong has suspended imports only from three Shenzhen farms.

Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection (CHP), in a brief statement today, said it had been informed of the findings and "will continue to maintain liaison with the Mainland health authorities to monitor the latest developments."
Dec 11 South China Morning Post story
Dec 11 Hong Kong CHP statement


WHO: Global flu activity low

Global influenza activity remained low overall but has started to increase slightly in the Northern Hemisphere, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a Dec 9 update on virus activity.

During weeks 46 and 47 (which concluded on Nov 23), flu activity increased slightly in the Northern Hemisphere and stayed low in the Southern Hemisphere, the WHO said. As noted in recent regional reports, activity in North America and Europe has increased a bit, with 2009 H1N1 predominating in the United States and Canada and all three major strains circulating in European nations.

Of 1,169 flu-positive samples from national labs, 852 (72.9%) were influenza A and 317 (27.1%) influenza B. Influenza A strains were almost evenly divided, with 331 (51.8%) subtyped 2009 H1N1 and 308 (48.2%) H3N2. Only 14 influenza B viruses were subtyped, with 13 belonging to the Yamagata lineage and 1 to the Victoria lineage.
Dec 9 WHO update

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