NEWS SCAN: H5N1 outbreaks in Vietnam, combo TB therapy, smallpox contract delay, cholera outbreaks

May 17, 2011

Vietnam reports four H5N1 outbreaks
Agriculture officials in Vietnam have reported four new H5N1 avian influenza outbreaks among poultry in three provinces. In a report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) yesterday, officials said two outbreaks occurred in Vinh Long province and one each in Lang Son and Quang Ngai provinces. Out of 4,542 birds at the affected sites, 3,542 got sick and 277 died. Officials said 3,915 birds were destroyed to arrest the outbreaks. The source of the outbreaks, which affected nine villages, was listed as unknown. Yesterday's submission was Vietnam's seventh H5N1 outbreak report to the OIE this year. The last previous report, on Apr 26, cited a separate outbreak in Vinh Long, in southern Vietnam's Mekong Delta.
May 16 OIE report

New therapy cuts latent TB drug course, doses dramatically
In a large clinical trial, combination therapy shortened the treatment regimen for latent tuberculosis (TB) by two thirds, according to a press release yesterday from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC-sponsored study, conducted by an international team of researchers, found that a supervised once-weekly regimen of rifapentine and isoniazid taken for 3 months was just as effective as the standard self-administered 9-month daily regimen of isoniazid. In addition, more patients completed a full course of the combination option, according to a CDC news release. The study lasted about 10 years and included 8,053 patients who had latent TB and were at high risk of developing TB. Latent TB infection means the person has no symptoms and cannot transmit the bacterium to others. The combination regimen reduces required doses from 270 daily doses to 12 weekly ones, easing the burden on patients. CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, said in the release, "New, simpler ways to prevent TB disease are urgently needed, and this breakthrough represents one of the biggest developments in TB treatment in decades." About 11 million Americans have latent TB, according to the CDC release. The results were presented yesterday at the American Thoracic Society International Conference in Denver.
May 16 CDC news release

Company protests BARDA smallpox drug contract
SIGA Technologies, Inc, a pharmaceutical company based in New York, recently announced that another company has filed a protest with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) over its recent contract with SIGA to deliver a smallpox antiviral to the US Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). The company that filed the protest is Chimerix, Inc., based in Durham, S.C., according to a May 15 SIGA press release. The protest applies to ST-246, an oral drug that is active against orthopox viruses, including smallpox, a bioterror threat. SIGA said that work under the new contract is suspended until further notice, based on protest rules. It said work on a previous contract for advanced development of ST-246 will continue and that BARDA intends to defend the contract. In a May 13 statement SIGA said it received a 5-year $433 million BARDA contract to deliver 2 million courses of the drug to the SNS. Options for 12 million more doses could raise the contract's value to $2.8 billion. Earlier this year Chimerix received a $24.8 million BARDA contract for the development of a broad spectrum antiviral, CMX001, that can be used as a countermeasure against smallpox, according to a Feb 16 statement.
May 15 SIGA press release
May 13 SIGA press release
Feb 16 Chimerix press release

Dominican Republic reports new wave of cholera
A fresh wave of cholera infections in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic's capital, has prompted the country's health ministry to issue an alert for 17 neighborhoods, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Jose Rodriguez, the country's vice health minister, said 16 people are hospitalized with suspected cholera infections, and two deaths have recently been reported. In neighboring Haiti, where the disease has killed nearly 5,000 people, cholera activity has subsided, but health officials have feared that the rainy season could lead to a rise in new cases.
May 16 AP story
Elsewhere, unseasonably early rains and flooding in Cameroon's capital Yaounde have led to a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 250 people over the last 2 months, AlertNet, a humanitarian news service run by Reuters, reported today. Flooding contaminated drinking water from dug wells as rains, which typically begin in May, started in February and were heavier than usual. Since September 2010, other African nations have also experienced cholera outbreaks, including Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.
May 16 AlertNet story

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