NEWS SCAN: Declining ear infections, dengue in Croatia, H5N1 in birds, flu in Europe, FMD in North Korea, E coli in hazelnuts

Mar 4, 2011

Decreased smoking may help explain drop in children's ear infections
The number of ear infections in children has dropped, which may be related to adecline in parental smoking and other factors, according to experts who commented in an Associated Press (AP) story today. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told the AP that the annual number of medical visits for ear infections in kids younger than 6 dropped nearly 30% between 1993 and 2008, from about 17.5 million to 12.5 million. Doctors also told the AP that they have noticed the drop in ear infections. A research group from Harvard Medical School recently linked the decline with a decrease in smoking in children's households. The study, published Jan 26 in the journal Tobacco Control, said pediatric visits for otitis media decreased steadily over a 13-year period and that reduced second-hand smoke exposure, use of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine 7 (PCV7), and other factors might have contributed to the decline. The authors added that more research is needed to compare the numbers of office visits for ear infections in children who have and haven't been exposed to tobacco smoke.
Jan 26 Tobacco Control abstract

Locally acquired dengue cases reported in Croatia
Two people acquired cases of dengue fever in Croatia last fall, making it the second European country to report an indigenous case in recent years, according to an article yesterday in Eurosurveillance. The first case was diagnosed in a German tourist who got sick immediately after returning home from a 15-day vacation on Croatia's Peljesac peninsula. After Croatian authorities were informed of the case, they launched an epidemiologic investigation along with outbreak control measures.In mid-October a woman living in the same town where the German had stayed fell ill with dengue-like symptoms, and she eventually tested positive for IgG and IgM antibodies to dengue virus. Fifteen other local residents, none of whom had traveled outside the country, also showed evidence of recent infections, suggesting that a cluster of cases had occurred. The report says no locally acquired dengue cases were reported in Europe from the 1920s until France had a case in September 2010. Aedesa bopictus mosquitoes, which can carry dengue, surfaced in Croatiain 2004 and since then have spread all along the country's Adriatic coast, the report notes. It says the virus was probably imported in the summer of 2010, but how is not clear.
Mar 3 Eurosurveillance report

Six countries report more H5N1 in birds
The H5N1 avian influenza virus has hit poultry farms again in South Korea, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and the Palestinian Territories, with Japan and Hong Kong finding it in wild birds, according to new reports to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and local media outlets. South Korea reported six fresh outbreaks at chicken and duck farms between Feb 17 and Mar 1 in three different provinces, Gyeonggi-do, SouthJeolla, and Southern Gyeongsang, veterinary officials reported to the OIE today. In total, the virus killed 2,360 birds, and 93,140 more were culled to block the virus's spread. In Myanmar, the virus struck a farm housing layer chickens in the Sagaing region in the northwestern part of the country, officials said today in an OIE report, the country's fourth of 2011. The virus killed 626 chickens over 5 days, and the remaining 6,074 birds were culled. In the Palestinian Territories, officials announced the virus was detected at a turkey farm in Jenin governorate of the West Bank. The farmer reported that 50 birds died in one day and that the virus killed all 2,000 birds. Elsewhere, livestock officials in Bangladesh said 7,000 chickens at a farm in Bhola Sadar Upazila were culled after the virus was detected in samples from dead poultry, according to, a Dhaka-based news service. The site is in Barisal division in south-central Bangladesh. In other developments, Japan yesterday reported finding the virus in seven wild birds, including three fromTottori prefecture and one each from Hyogo, Hokkaido, Nagasaki, and Miyazaki prefectures. Affected species included two Mandarin ducks, plus a peregrine falcon, great crested grebe, whooper swan, pochard, and tufted duck. Meanwhile, Hong Kong officials reported that the H5N1 virus was detected in samples from a goose that washed up on shore on Lantau Island, according to an OIE report today. The source of the bird and the virus was unknown. The report marks the fourth finding of the virus in a dead bird in Hong Kong this year.

Flu continues to decline in Europe
Influenza in the World Health Organization's (WHO's) European region continued to decline last week, with only five countries reporting high-intensity activity, down from nine the previous week, the WHO reported today. Most countries reported medium levels of flu-like illness activity. Among countries that conduct surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections, only Romania, Serbia, and the Ukraine reported an increase in hospitalizations. Doctor's visits for flulike illness continued to decline in most countries. Overall, the percentage of respiratory specimens in the region that tested positive for influenza was 39%, down from 41% the previous week. The 2009 H1N1 virus and influenza B continued to co-circulate in European countries. Of influenza A viruses that were subtyped, only 8% were H3N2.
Mar 4 WHO European region flu update

International experts assist North Koreawith FMD outbreaks
Animal health specialists from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) have arrived in North Korea to help its veterinarians manage foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreaks in pigs and cattle, the FAO said today in a press release. The team consists of a veterinarian, logistics officer, and lab technician from the FAO and a veterinarian from the OIE. The group's goal is to work with their North Korean counterparts to assess the situation and provide guidance and technical assistance. It will also help North Korea with prevention activities, such as analyzing the genetic features of the circulating virus to help select the most effective vaccines. The mission started Feb 28 and will last from 10 to 14 days. In mid-February North Korea said it was experiencing FMD outbreaksand asked the United Nations for assistance. The request was unusual, because North Korea rarely shares outbreak information. Neighboring South Korea has been battling FMD outbreaks since November 2010.
Mar 4 FAO press release

Hazelnuts linked to E coli illnesses in three states
Minnesota's health and agriculture departments today said they are investigating an Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak in three states linked to in-shell hazelnuts sold from bulk bins in grocery stores. In a press release, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) said it is investigating the outbreak along with officials in Wisconsin and Michigan. So far seven illnesses have been identified: three in Minnesota, three in Wisconsin, and one in Michigan. Minnesota's cases were in men over age 50. Two were hospitalized, but all have recovered. Routine monitoring in the three states identified the E coli cases with the same DNA fingerprint. The patients got sick between Dec 20, 2010, and Jan 28. All reported eating in-shell hazelnuts. Agriculture agencies in the three states traced the nuts to a common distributor in California. The company, DeFranco and Sons, has recalled its bulk and mixed-nut products. The products were also sent to Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. So far no shelled (out-of-shell) hazelnuts have been linked to the outbreak.
Mar 4 MDH press release

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