NEWS SCAN: Airborne agent detectors, assay for anthrax and plague, HAI declines, EU measles cases

Oct 19, 2011

DHS says automated devices will speed detection of airborne pathogens
The federal BioWatch program, which works to detect airborne pathogens in more than 30 large cities, is testing automated devices designed to identify biological agents in 4 to 6 hours, versus 12 to 36 hours with the current system, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told a Senate committee yesterday. DHS Chief Medical Officer Alexander G. Garza, MD, MPH, noted that the current system involves manual collection of filters from aerosol collectors and taking them to a lab for analysis. He said the automated devices, called Generation-3 (Gen-3), should not only speed the identification of agents but also increase population coverage and be more cost-effective. "Gen-3 field testing was recently concluded in Chicago, and operational testing and evaluation is scheduled to begin in one city this fiscal year, and three additional cities in fiscal year 2013," Garza said in prepared testimony for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Oct 18 Garza testimony

Rapid assays developed for anthrax, plague, and ricin
In other testimony at the hearing, Tara O'Toole, MD, MPH, of DHS reported the development of a rapid assay for antibiotic susceptibility in Bacillus anthracis and Yersinia pestis, the respective causes of anthrax and plague. "These rapid assays reduce the timeline for answers by 50% compared to the gold standard conventional susceptibility assay," said O'Toole, who is under secretary of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate. The assays were developed by the directorate in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). O'Toole also commented that a rapid test for detecting ricin, a potent poison derived from castor beans, has been developed and is undergoing final validation. The test has extremely high sensitivity and specificity and is expected to be deployed through the CDC's Laboratory Response Network before the end of this year, she said.
Oct 18 O'Toole testimony

CDC tracks drop in four healthcare-associated infections
Four types of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) decreased in 2010, CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, said today at an infection-prevention policy summit hosted by the National Journal in Washington, D.C. His assessment is based on data submitted by hospitals to the National Healthcare Safety Network, the CDC's HAI monitoring system. The four HAIs that saw a drop include central-line bloodstream infections, which decreased by 33%; catheter-associated urinary tract infections, which fell 7%; surgical site infections, which dipped by 10%; and invasive methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections, which saw an 18% reduction. Frieden commended hospitals' progress in driving down certain infections in intensive care units by implementing CDC prevention strategies, but said hospitals and state health departments need to translate the success to other settings and infections, such as dialysis and ambulatory surgery centers and diarrheal infections such as Clostridium difficile.
Oct 19 CDC press release

EU measles outbreak slows
Measles cases in Europe this year topped 29,000 in September, but the outbreak has slowed, according to a report yesterday from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). About 800 new cases were detected via epidemic surveillance in September, bringing the 2011 total to 29,100. This compares with more than 2,000 new cases in August. The ECDC said no new outbreaks were reported in the most recent month, and the tapering of cases is "an expected consequence of the seasonal pattern of measles in temperate climates." Four of the 31 European countries monitored have remained free of measles thus far in 2011: Cyprus, Hungary, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.
Oct 18 ECDC report

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