NEWS SCAN: H5N1 cases, avian flu in Kentucky, E coli in wildlife, food-import safety, FDA clears malaria drug, polio appeal

Apr 8, 2009

Vietnam reports H5N1 case, WHO confirms 3 Egyptian cases
Vietnam's health ministry reported that a 3-year-old boy from Dong Thap province died of an H5N1 avian influenza infection, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported today. He is listed by the WHO as Vietnam's 110th case-patient and the 55th to die of the disease. He got sick on Mar 12, was hospitalized a day later, and died on Mar 19. An investigation revealed that he had close contact with sick and dead poultry. Also today, the WHO confirmed three of Egypt's previously reported H5N1 cases, involving a pair of 2-year-old boys from Beheira governorate who are hospitalized in stable condition and a 6-year-old boy from Qalyubiya governorate who is hospitalized in critical condition. All three boys had contact with sick or dead poultry, the WHO said. Close contacts of the two boys from Beheira have been identified, and none have shown symptoms of H5N1 infection. The three boys' cases brought Egypt's H5N1 count to 63 cases, of which 23 have been fatal. The four WHO confirmations push the world's H5N1 total to 417 cases, of which 257 were fatal.
[Apr 8 WHO statement on Vietnam's latest case]
[Apr 8 WHO statement on Egypt's latest cases]

Tests show Kentucky chickens exposed to H7N9
Agriculture officials confirmed that chickens at a commercial poultry farm in Kentucky were exposed to a low-pathogenic H7N9 avian influenza virus, according to an Apr 6 report from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Routine testing revealed that the birds had been exposed to the virus, and they showed no increase in mortality or symptoms other than a modest decrease in egg production. Laboratory testing is continuing, but so far no virus has been isolated. As a precaution, authorities culled 20,000 birds in two barns at the farm in Grayson County, located in central Kentucky.
[Apr 6 OIE report]

Low rate of E coli O157:H7 found in California wildlife
Preliminary results of a California study suggest that the prevalence of E coli O157:H7 in central California wildlife—seen as a potential source of crop contamination—is very low, according to a report today from in Nevada City, Calif. A team of university, state, and federal researchers found the pathogen in only 4 of 866 animals they tested, a rate of less than 0.5%. Tested animals included deer, wild pigs, birds, rabbits, tule elk, coyotes, rodents, and others; the pathogen was found in one wild pig, one coyote, and two tule elk. As noted in the report, E coli O157:H7 was found in 13 wild-pig samples during the investigation of the E coli outbreak tied to California-grown spinach in 2006. The leader of the study said the new findings indicate that the risk of produce contamination by wildlife is probably low.
[ report]

Former FDA official says imports pose top food safety challenge
The biggest challenge to US food safety is the global market for food, Margaret Glavin, the former head of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforcement division, told food industry representatives yesterday, according to a Government Executive report. She said the FDA lags far behind the US Department of Agriculture in its ability to set standards for and inspect foreign food firms. She also called for a modernization of the nation's food safety laws, urged that lawmakers harmonize food safety strategies across government agencies, and said food safety agencies need more power to enforce prevention measures and record-keeping.
[Apr 7 Government Executive story]

FDA approves new malaria treatment
The FDA today approved a new two-drug tablet for treating patients who have acute, uncomplicated malaria. Coartem, made by Novartis Pharmaceuticals, contains artemether and lumefantrine and has been found effective in parts of the world where resistance to chloroquine, a drug commonly used to prevent and treat malaria, has been reported. Coartem is approved for use in adults and children weighing at least 5 kg (about 11 pounds), but is not indicated for severe malaria or preventing the disease.
[Apr 8 FDA press release]

Aid group makes emergency polio appeal
In response to outbreaks of wild poliovirus in 14 African countries, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) today launched a $2.1 million emergency appeal. Fundraising will help reinforce immunization campaigns and help train and mobilize volunteers. Tammam Adoudat, the IFRC's senior officer for health emergencies, said in a press release that polio is spreading, even to countries such as Uganda that have not had an outbreak in more than 10 years. He added that action is needed now to salvage progress made during the last 20 years of polio eradication efforts.
[Apr 9 IFRC press release]

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