NEWS SCAN: UN anticipates cholera threat, food safety phone app and school programs, MRSA test cleared, FMD transmission

May 6, 2011

UN warns Haiti's rainy season could hamper cholera response
United Nations (UN) officials working in Haiti yesterday cautioned that the country's upcoming rainy season could raise the threat of further cholera spread, according to a statement. Sylvie van den Wildenberg, spokeswoman for the UN's mission in Haiti, said in a statement, "The rainy season is coming and this is a great source of concern for us, because the more water you have, the more the risk of new propagation of the epidemic." She reaffirmed that the UN and its partners are committed to the cholera response effort in Haiti, especially in light of the new threat. Haiti is still vulnerable to the disease, due to remaining poor sanitation conditions, she said, adding that a $175 million humanitarian appeal to help with response only met 48% of its goal. The UN's warning and reassurance comes a day after the group released a report from independent experts that suggested UN peacekeepers from Nepal likely played a role in bringing the disease to Haiti, but that the disease couldn't have spread without the country's poor water and sanitary conditions. In other cholera outbreak developments, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said in a May 3 update that a vulnerability analysis by it, health partners in the region, and Haiti's health ministry predicts that certain departments are more at risk for further cholera outbreaks. The areas include South and South-East departments, which are among the few areas seeing increasing numbers of cholera cases. So far the number of reported cases is 285,931, including 4,870 deaths. The group noted that many nongovernmental organizations are winding down their activities owing to the decrease in cholera cases and the lack of funding.
May 5 UN press release
May 3 PAHO cholera outbreak update

USDA unveils mobile food safety app
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) yesterday launched a mobile "Ask Karen" smartphone application to help answer consumers' food safety questions. The USDA said in a press release that the application, from its Food Safety and Inspection Service, contains advice about proper handling, storage, and preparation of food to prevent illness. Dr. Elizabeth Hagen, the USDA's undersecretary for food safety, said the tool is designed to deliver food safety messages more quickly. "Now, people can 'Ask Karen' right away when they need food safety information, without being tethered to a computer. The application is based on the USDA's "Ask Karen" tool that is currently available from desktop and laptop computers. It contains nearly 1,500 answers by topic or product, chat with a live representative, or e-mail to an agency hotline. The app is currently optimized for the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. The tool can be accessed by going to on the phone's Web browser.
May 5 USDA press release

GAO critiques USDA approach to food safety in school meals program
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken a somewhat unsystematic approach to setting safety standards for the commodities it buys for the national school meals program. In a report released this week, the GAO said that for 7 of about 180 foods purchased, the USDA uses tougher microbial contamination standards than the federal regulations for the same foods sold commercially. In particular, the USDA program has zero tolerance for Salmonella in ground beef, whereas the federal rules for commercial ground beef tolerate a certain amount of the pathogen. But the USDA does not use stiffer standards for some other foods, such as cut-up chickens, that have contamination potential, the GAO said. USDA officials said they used an informal process for selecting the foods subject to tougher standards and for setting the standards. The GAO also found that the commodity program's ground-beef safety standards are generally similar to those of other large purchasers, such as grocery and fast-food chains. Among other advice, the GAO recommended that the USDA establish "a more systematic and transparent process to determine whether additional specifications should be developed related to microbial contamination." The report says the USDA generally agreed with the recommendations.
May 3 GAO report
Jul 2010 CIDRAP News story on USDA standards

FDA clears rapid MRSA test
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today cleared the first test that can detect whether a Staphylococcus aureus infection is methicillin resistant (MRSA) or is susceptible to the drug (MSSA). The KeyPath MRSA/MSSA blood culture test, made by MicroPhage, Inc., based in Longmont, Colo., can confirm presence of resistance or susceptibility within 5 hours of bacterial growth detection in the sample, the FDA said in a press release. The test doesn't require any other equipment, aside from the blood culture equipment. Alberto Gutierrez, PhD, director of the FDA's office of in vitro diagnostics device evaluation and safety, said in a statement that the test's clearance gives clinicians a useful tool. "This not only saves time in diagnosing potentially life-threatening infections but also allows health care professionals to optimize treatment and start appropriate contact precautions to prevent the spread of the organism," he said. The FDA based its decision on a clinical study of 1,116 blood samples from four major US hospital centers. When the organism was confirmed to be S aureus, the MRSA finding was 98.9% accurate and the MSSA determination was 99.4% accurate.
May 6 FDA press release

Study: Infectious period for foot-and-mouth disease shorter than thought
British scientists say their experiments show that cattle with the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) are infectious for only about 1.7 days, about half as long as previously thought. The finding suggests that harsh control measures, such as killing large numbers of cattle, may not be necessary, according to their report, published today in Science. In 28 attempts to infect healthy cows by placing them with sick cows, infection occurred only eight times, according to a press release from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publisher of Science. The scientists also found that cows did not become infectious until about half a day after they first showed clinical signs of disease. "We now know that there is a window where, if affected cattle are detected and removed from the herd promptly, there may be no need for pre-emptive culling in the immediate area of an infected farm," said Dr. Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh, senior author. The authors said that if the disease could be diagnosed 24 hours before clinical signs appear, farmers might have time to remove infected cattle before they could spread the virus to others.
May 5 AAAS press release
May 6 Science abstract

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