NEWS SCAN: Cholera update, Rift Valley fever, obesity and dengue, flu on Manitoba reserve, 16th-century flu

Dec 3, 2010

Mobs kill 'witches' as Haiti's cholera cases mount
Haiti's cholera case count has risen to 84,391, which includes 39,010 hospitalizations and 1,882 deaths, according to the latest report from the country's health ministry. In other developments, mobs of people in some towns in Haiti's Grand Anse department, which so far has seen lower cholera levels than other parts of the country, have killed some people they accuse of spreading cholera in the area through witchcraft, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported today. Kesner Numa, a prosecutor in the area, told AFP that the first such killing occurred last week and that similar attacks have been occurring daily. About half of Haiti's population practices a voodoo type religion. Elsewhere, public health officials in the Dominican Republic, Haiti's neighbor, have received reports of three more cholera cases, raising the total so far to 12, Diario Libre, a newspaper based in Santo Domingo, reported yesterday.
Nov 30 Haiti health ministry update
Dec 3 AFP story
Dec 2 Diario Libre story

Rift Valley fever outbreak reported in Mauritania
An outbreak of a disease believed to Rift Valley fever has killed 17 people in the West African country of Mauritania, according to an AFP report translated and posted by ProMED-mail, the disease reporting service of the International Society for Infectious Diseases. The disease, which has killed cattle as well as people, erupted in the town of Aoujeft, the report said. The country's minister of health and interior has warned people in the Adrar region, which includes Aoujeft, not to consume meat or milk until the results of lab tests on infected animals are confirmed. Rift Valley fever, a viral disease for which there is no vaccine or specific treatment, previously struck in Mauritania in 2003, according to the ProMED editors. The disease is usually relatively mild in humans, but in a few cases it becomes severe. Humans usually contract the disease through contact with the blood, organs, and possibly the milk of infected animals or from mosquitoes.
Dec 2 ProMED-mail notice

Expert predicts obesity epidemic will magnify dengue threat
A tropical disease expert predicted today that treating dengue fever will become more difficult in the future as more people become overweight and obese, according to a Reuters report. The story said dengue patients suffer from blood leakage from capillaries, leading to breathing problems and complications in major organs such as the brain and liver. Jeremy Farrar, a professor of tropical medicine and director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam, said obesity itself makes capillary leakage more likely, and dengue infection makes the condition worse. Farrar made the comments in an interview after speaking at a conference in Singapore. The story noted that the World Health Organization estimates there are 50 million cases of dengue each year, including 500,000 severe cases.

Severe flu cases reported on Manitoba native reserve
Public health officials in Manitoba are monitoring developments surrounding three severe flu cases, two of them fatal, that occurred recently on a native reserve in the northern part of the province, the Toronto-based Globe and Mail reported yesterday. David Harper, grand chief of the Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Manitoba's northernmost First Nations group, told the Globe that the two who died were in their 30s and 40s and were healthy before they got sick with influenza. He said one more person is hospitalized and that other related illnesses are suspected. Dr Joel Kettner, Manitoba's chief public health officer, said rapid tests on one of the fatal cases revealed an influenza A virus, and more tests are underway on other cases, the Globe reported. He added that certain factors put some First Nations members at risk for flu complications, including poor sanitation and underlying medical conditions.
Dec 2 Globe and Mail story

Influenza began to be recognized in 16th century
Contemporary accounts from the 16th century, which saw influenza pandemics in 1510, 1557, and 1580, suggest it was in that era that influenza began to be recognized as a distinct illness that caused recurrent epidemics, according to an article in the Dec 4 Lancet by three researchers from the National Institutes of Health. The article by David M. Morens, Michael North, and Jeffrey Taubenberger focuses mainly on accounts by seven European authors who wrote about the 1510 pandemic. One of them spoke of "an illness that lasts three days with a great fever, and headache and then they rise . . . but there remains a terrible cough that remains maybe eight days." The NIH authors observe that the invention of the printing press in the 15th century served as an important catalyst for understanding of influenza. "We suggest that well before the end of the 16th century influenza was beginning to be conceptualised as a specific, clinically recognisable disease that appeared frequently in both epidemic and endemic form," they write. "Indeed, it is striking how 16th-century chroniclers of this disease recorded how it caused moderate mortality in the very young, the elderly, in pregnant women, and in the infirm, which are the basic features by which we know influenza today."
Dec 4 Lancet article

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