NEWS SCAN: H5N1 vs 1918 virus, avian flu outbreaks, H5N1 in China, seasonal flu studies, Salmonella updates

Feb 10, 2009

Study suggests H5N1 virus more virulent than 1918 pandemic strain
Arizona researchers report that the H5N1 avian influenza virus had more damaging effects on the lungs of nonhuman primates than reassortant versions of the 1918 pandemic virus did. Carole Baskin and colleagues compared the effects of a seasonal flu virus with those of a 2004 strain of H5N1 and two versions of the 1918 virus, according to an Arizona State University press release. Although the 1918 viruses were highly virulent, the H5N1 virus replicated faster and more widely in the lungs and caused a more intense inflammatory response. The study is to appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
[Arizona State news release on EurekAlert]

China, Vietnam report avian flu outbreaks
China's agriculture ministry today announced that H5N1 avian influenza struck 519 birds in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the northwestern part of the country, according to a Reuters report today. Authorities culled 13,218 birds to stop the outbreak. In Vietnam, animal health officials reported that the H5N1 virus struck nine farms in Quang Ninh province on the country's northeastern coast, Xinhua, China's state news agency, reported today. Vietnam's latest H5N1 case-patient, a 23-year-old woman, is hospitalized in Quang Ninh province.
[Feb 10 Reuters story]
[Feb 10 Xinhua story]

China reports no dangerous mutations in recent H5N1 cases
Mao Qun'an, a spokesman for China's health ministry, said that analysis of H5N1 viral samples from the country's recent human cases shows no evidence of mutations that would enable the virus to spread more easily among humans, according to a report from Xinhua today. He also said scientists found little mutation among the virus strains isolated from the recent patients.
[Feb 10 Xinhua story]

Children more likely to be treated for flu
A review of insurance claims of 20 million people over the 2005-06 and 2006-07 flu seasons by the Thomson Reuters healthcare division revealed that children were more than twice as likely as adults to use health services because of influenza-like illnesses (ILI), according to a press release from the company yesterday. The survey also found low rates of antiviral medication use among all age-groups—only 4% to 6% of patients filled their prescriptions during the week they received their ILI diagnosis.

Absolute humidity strongly affects flu virus transmission
Oregon researchers say that absolute humidity (the actual amount of water vapor in the air) affects flu virus transmission much more strongly than does relative humidity (the amount of water vapor relative to the saturation point at the ambient temperature). Jeffrey Shaman and Melvin Kohn reached this conclusion by reanalyzing data from previous studies. Their report was published online by PNAS.
[PNAS abstract]

Salmonella outbreak reaches 600 cases
The Salmonella outbreak tied to peanut products reached 600 cases in 44 states, as Florida reported its first case, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported yesterday. The latest illness onset date was Jan 23.
[CDC investigation update]

Peanut firm linked to outbreak puts Texas plant on hold
Peanut Corp. of America (PCA), whose processing plant in Blakely, Ga., has been linked to the nationwide Salmonella outbreak, said today it was suspending operations at its processing plant in Plainview, Tex., while state and federal officials investigate the facility. Also, the Associated Press (AP) reported today that Texas health officials said private test results showed a possibility of Salmonella in some products from the plant, though it did not appear that any of those products reached consumers. Last week it was reported that the Texas facility had operated without a license or government inspections from 2005 until PCA came under investigation because of the outbreak.

State inspectors found some problems at Virginia peanut facility
Virginia inspectors found some sanitation problems at a Virginia peanut-blanching plant owned by PCA, the company whose Georgia plant has been linked to the nationwide Salmonella outbreak, according to USA Today. The Tidewater Blanching Plant in Suffolk, Va., was cited last year for problems that included mouse droppings in a warehouse, a live bird inside the plant, and mold on totes holding peanuts, the story said. The Tidewater plant has not been linked to the current outbreak.
[USA Today report]

House committee holds Salmonella hearing tomorrow
The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow at 10 am (EST) on the nationwide Salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products. The hearing will be available via webcast. The witness list includes Steward Parnell, PCA's president; Frank Torti, MD, MPH, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; Thomas Irvin, Georgia's agriculture secretary; and officials from two laboratories that PCA used.
[House Energy and Commerce Committee press release]

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