NEWS SCAN: Novel H3N2 virus's cousins, cell-based flu vaccine, school vs community vaccination, ground beef Salmonella recall, point-of-care tests

Dec 16, 2011

European report says novel H3N2 viruses most closely akin to 1990s strains
A genetic analysis suggests that people who were exposed to influenza A/H3N2 viruses in the 1990s would probably have some protection against the swine-origin triple-reassortant (SOtr) H3N2 strain identified in 11 cases in the United States recently, but further studies are needed, according to French researchers writing in the Dec 15 issue of Eurosurveillance. The 11 recent US isolates include the matrix gene from the pandemic 2009 H1N1 virus. The French researchers compared the nucleotide sequences in part of the hemagglutinin (HA1 region) protein of six of the SOtr H3N2 isolates with those from human H3N2 strains used in flu vaccines between 1972 and 2011 and two swine-origin H3N2 viruses found in swine in 2010 and 2011. The phylogenetic analysis suggested that the previous human H3N2 strain most closely related to the novel H3N2 virus is a 1995 isolate from Wuhan, China. The study also suggested that human H3N2 viruses of recent decades have divided into two groups: strains isolated between 1983 and 1999, which are most closely related to the novel strain, and strains isolated before 1983 or after 1999, which are more distant. "According to the similarities observed between the sequences of the S-Otr and human H3 influenza viruses (especially those circulating before 1995), the likelihood of cross-protection is high, but should be confirmed with seroepidemiological studies," the report states. Officials of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have previously said the novel SOtr H3N2 strain is related to H3N2 viruses that circulated in the 1990s.
Dec 15 Eurosurveillance report
Dec 9 CIDRAP News story

EMA clears Baxter's cell-based seasonal flu vaccine
A panel of the European Medicines Agency announced yesterday it was recommending approval for Baxter's vero cell–based H5N1 avian influenza vaccine. The unadjuvanted, inactivated whole-virus vaccine, called Vepacel, is designed for use in a prepandemic or pandemic setting for adults age 18 and older. The recommendation of the EMA Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) for the vaccine is based on immunogenicity data from healthy, immunocompromised, and chronically ill subjects who received two doses of the vaccine, according to the EMA statement. Vepacel is the third cell-based seasonal flu vaccine cleared for use in European countries. In 2007, regulators cleared Optaflu, made by Novartis. In March, another Baxter vero cell–based seasonal flu vaccine, a split-virus product called Preflucel, was cleared for use in 13 EU countries though a mutual recognition procedure based on Austria's approval in 2010. Growing flu vaccine viruses in mammalian cell cultures is seen as more flexible and somewhat faster than the traditional method of growing them in eggs, but some experts say cell-based production offers only an incremental improvement over the older production method.
Dec 15 EMA statement
Mar 2 Baxter press release

In NYC, H1N1 vaccination cost less per dose in schools than in community
Researchers in New York City found that a pandemic 2009 H1N1 vaccination campaign in elementary schools delivered vaccine at a lower cost per dose than a community-based campaign did, according to a report published online yesterday by the American Journal of Public Health. The school campaign involved vaccinating enrolled children age 4 years and older at 1,232 schools, while the community campaign targeted anyone age 4 or older through 58 points of dispensing. The community sites, each staffed by 125 people, operated for five weekends in November and December 2009. The school program delivered 202,098 vaccine doses for $17.9 million, or $88 per dose, while the community effort provided 49,986 doses for $7.5 million, or $150 per dose. At full capacity, the school campaign could have delivered 371,827 doses at $53 each, or $13 with in-kind contributions excluded, the researchers said. Similarly, the community campaign could have delivered 174,000 doses at $50 each, exclusive of in-kind contributions.
Dec 15 Am J Pub Health abstract

Salmonella outbreak prompts ground beef recall
A Maine-based grocery store chain yesterday recalled an undetermined amount of fresh ground beef after an outbreak investigation linked it to 14 Salmonella Typhimurium illnesses, the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced yesterday. The illnesses involve a rare pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern, and initial tests suggest that the pathogen is an antibiotic-resistant subtype. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said 10 of the 14 case-patients reported purchasing ground beef at Hannaford stores in Maine, New York, New Hampshire, and Vermont between Oct 12 and Nov 20. Seven of the patients were hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported. Epidemiologic and trace-back investigations are ongoing. The recall applies to packages of in-store-ground beef labeled as Hannaford, Taste of Inspirations Angus, and Nature's Place. They have sell-by dates of Dec 17 or earlier and were sold in Hannaford stores in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. The FSIS and the company said they are concerned that some of the products may still be in consumers' freezers. During the trace-back investigation, Hannaford's limited records didn't allow the FSIS to determine what firms supplied the ground beef. The FSIS said it is pursuing rulemaking to address that concern.
Dec 15 FSIS recall notice

Nonprofit groups put $32 million toward new point-of-care tests
Two nonprofit groups that work on improving health in developing countries are teaming up to spur new point-of-care diagnostic tests to more rapidly diagnose diseases in rural areas, Grand Challenges Canada announced today. The other group is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The two groups are providing $32 million over 3 years to a total of 22 grantees. Examples of projects that received funding include a fabric-based chip that can test blood and urine samples, a cotton swab that can detect diarrheal disease, and tools to help manage HIV and tuberculosis treatment. The groups targeted the grants to five research components: sample drawing, preparation, sample analysis, data transmission, and ensuring the devices work in the field.
Dec 16 Grand Challenges Canada press release

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