NEWS SCAN: Emergency alert aftermath, polio hot spots, cholera in Haiti, more vaccine-autism debate

Nov 10, 2011

Nationwide emergency alert test uncovered widespread problems
Media outlets across the country reported glitches with the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System yesterday, Mike Coston reported today on his Avian Flu Diary preparedness blog. Problems included a Denver TV station having equipment failure, Alabama radio and TV outlets failing to broadcast the message, Michigan customers losing cable connections or finding their TV sets locked on one channel, and repeated alerts and audio problems at a St. Louis radio station. On a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) blog, Damon Penn, assistant administrator of National Continuity Programs, wrote yesterday, "We are currently collecting data about the initial results, and it will take the test's participants several weeks to send us the full results of their tests. . . . This nationwide test served the purpose for which it was intended—to identify gaps and generate a comprehensive set of data to help strengthen our ability to communicate during real emergencies. Based on preliminary data, media outlets in large portions of the country successfully received the test message, but it wasn't received by some viewers or listeners."
Nov 10 Avian Flu Diary post
Nov 9 FEMA blog post

Polio situation worsens in Afghanistan, Pakistan
Afghanistan and Pakistan—two of the world's four nations with endemic polio—have both seen increases in wild poliovirus (WPV) infections, according to a report today in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). In Afghanistan, WPV cases dropped in 2010 from 2009 levels, from 38 cases to 25. However, the first 9 months of 2011 brought 42 confirmed cases, compared with 19 for the same period in 2010, with 30 of those cases in August and September alone. In Pakistan, which has been singled out by aid groups for its lack of success in controlling WPV spread, the situation is worse. From 2009 to 2010, cases increased from 89 to 144. And 120 cases were logged in 2011 through September, compared with 93 cases for the same months in 2010. The report said that the recent migration of health authority in Pakistan from federal power to provincial governments may further impede eradication efforts.
Nov 11 MMWR report

PAHO: Flooding adds to cholera caseload in Haiti
Cholera cases in Haiti have increased in several parts of Haiti, notably in the South department, because of heavy rains and flooding, according to the most recent report from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). Several treatment centers were made inaccessible by road because of the floods, and supplies had to be airlifted. Cholera outbreaks have also been reported in the North, North East, and Nippes departments. As of Oct 14, the country has confirmed 473,649 cholera cases and 6,631 deaths. Of those infected, 251,885 (53%) were hospitalized. Overall mortality for the country since the start of the epidemic in fall 2010 is 63.7 per 100,000 inhabitants.

British journal publishes more debate on alleged vaccine-autism link
The British journal BMJ yesterday published the latest salvo in the vaccine-autism controversy surrounding Andrew Wakefield, whose medical license was revoked because of research misconduct and whose research claiming a link between autism and the measles, mump, and rubella (MMR) vaccine has been discredited.. The journal published a letter yesterday from David Lewis of the National Whistleblower's Center in Washington, DC, that asserts Wakefield did not commit research fraud. Lewis, a microbiologist, focused on reports of biopsies of stomach tissue from children that he says showed the children had nonspecific colitis, a supposed sign of an MMR-induced syndrome. BMJ also published reports from two experts, Karel Geboes and Ingvar Bjarnason, who said the wording of Wakefield's original 1998 paper in The Lancet did not reflect the data shown in the biopsy reports and that there are no grounds to believe that Wakefield discovered any new inflammatory bowel disease in the patients. The journal also published a rebuttal to Lewis from Brian Deer, the journalist whose articles in BMJ in 2010 and 2011 detailed numerous problems with Wakefield's research and conflicts of interest. Also, at least 12 large-scale epidemiological studies failed to find evidence of Wakefield's hypothesized vaccine-autism link, according to a news article yesterday in Nature. The Lancet retracted Wakefield's 1998 article in February 2010.
Nov 9 BMJ letter from Lewis
Nov 9 BMJ Geboes commentary
Nov 9 BMJ Bjarnason commentary
Nov 9 BMJ response from Deer
Nov 9 Nature article

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