NEWS SCAN: German E coli probe, food import risks, Dominican Republic cholera spread, airline measles alert

May 24, 2011

Germany investigates big spike in severe E coli infections
German health officials are investigating a dramatic increase in the number of patients with enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli infections, which includes 80 reports of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially fatal kidney complication, according to a post from ProMed, the internet mailing list of the International Society for Infectious Diseases. The post included stories on the outbreak from the German media and Agence France-Presse. So far 400 confirmed or suspected infections have been reported since the middle of May, with a higher-than-expected rate in women. Germany typically records 800 to 1,200 similar cases in a calendar year. Public health officials have not determined a food source yet, but they suspect the culprit could be fresh produce or other product marketed mainly to women. One death has been reported, in an 83-year-old woman. Several other patients are hospitalized. A ProMed moderator speculated that an outbreak that produces so many HUS cases might be linked to a verotoxin-producing E coli (VTEC) strain.
May 24 ProMed post

Expert details food import risks
The increasing portion of US food imported from other countries poses greater risks of foodborne diseases, due to overseas farming practices, lax oversight, and the sheer volume of imported products that can overwhelm federal inspectors, food safety expert Dr Michael Doyle said yesterday. He was speaking at a symposium at the annual meeting of the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) in New Orleans. Doyle, a microbiologist at the University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety, said in an AMS press release that much of the contamination in imported food stems from fecal matter. For example, in 2010 80% of fish and seafood in the United States was imported from Asia, where many countries use raw domestic or livestock sewage in fish farming. He added that in China, crops and seafood are often grown on small parcels of land, a practice that requires farmers to also use large amounts of pesticides and antibiotics, some of which aren't approved for use in the United States. Doyle said consumers shouldn't avoid food products from particular countries. "It is incumbent on food processors to ensure ingredients or products they import are produced under good sanitary practices. It is the industry that is responsible for producing safe foods. It is the government's responsibility to verify that they are providing safe foods," Doyle said in the press release. The ASM also conducted a webcast interview with Doyle.
May 23 EurekAlert press release
MicrobeWorld archive of Doyle interview

Dominican Republic reports cholera spread
The Dominican Republic's cholera outbreak has now spread to 28 of the country's 32 provinces, the Associated Press (AP) reported yesterday. Earlier media reports said most of the country's cases had been centered around its capital, Santo Domingo. The country's deputy health minister, Jose Rodriguez, told the AP that the number of new cholera cases has increased 50% since the middle of May. He said since the outbreak began in November the ministry has received reports of 1,143 cases and 14 deaths. In neighboring Haiti, which since October has battled a massive cholera epidemic, cholera deaths have now topped 5,000. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said in a May 20 epidemiologic alert that as of May 10 Haiti's health ministry has received reports of 302,401 cholera cases, of which 5,234 were fatal. PAHO said it is seeing a rise in cholera hospitalizations, especially in South-East and North-West departments, as well as in Port-au-Prince.
May 23 AP story
May 20 PAHO alert

Sick airline passenger prompts measles alert
Health officials are tracking airline passengers who may have been exposed to measles during two Continental Airline flights on May 17, the San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (SDHHSA) said in a May 21 press release. The actions are linked to a woman who got sick in London and then flew to the United States, where she was hospitalized on May 17 shortly after landing in San Diego. On the first leg of her trip she flew from London to Houston, Her symptoms worsened on her flight from Houston to San Diego, and she was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. The SDHHSA said 113 passengers who flew with the woman from Houston to San Diego are being contacted to warn them of possible exposure to measles. Fifteen passengers on the international portion of the flight are also being contacted. No one in the San Diego air terminal was exposed to measles, because paramedics took precautions, the SDHHSA said. Several European countries are reporting measles outbreaks, and some US states and jurisdictions have linked local infections to European travel (see today's related news story).
May 21 SDHHSA press release

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