NEWS SCAN: Produce safety initiative, legionellosis surge in eastern US, flu vaccination week

Dec 2, 2011

University of Maryland team to lead initiative to set fresh produce standards
University of Maryland researchers have been awarded about $9 million in government and industry grants to spearhead a major initiative to identify evidence-based food safety practices in farming and bringing fresh produce to market, according to a university press release. "Leafy greens and tomatoes remain the produce items most frequently responsible for outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, yet we still don't know what specific safety guidelines are justified scientifically," said principal investigator Robert Buchanan, director of the University of Maryland's Center for Food Safety and Security Systems. The research, which will involve scientists from several universities and industry partners who represent more than 90% of US leafy greens and tomato production, will be funded by a $5.4 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture and almost $4 million from industry. The goal will be to prevent contamination from water, air, and ground sources by setting broadly applicable standards on such factors as adequate distance from a lettuce field to farm animals, barriers needed to protect crops from contaminated water, and safe types of animal-based fertilizers. Industry and government advisory panels will monitor research progress, which will aid the rapid deployment of updated safety information as research reveals it.
Dec 1 University of Maryland press release

Legionellosis cases sharply higher in northeastern US this year
Legionellosis (Legionnaires' disease) cases have increased sharply in the northeastern United States this year, for unknown reasons, according to a Reuters report published this week. Massachusetts had recorded 211 cases as of Nov 23, compared with 118 for all of 2010, while Connecticut had 72 cases, versus 47 last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Reuters. Increases were also reported for New York, 526 versus 379 cases; Pennsylvania, 450 and 299; and Maine, 18 and 11. Dr. Stephen Sears, Maine's state epidemiologist, said experts have not been able to identify a cause for the increase. Possible causes being considered included increased testing due to greater awareness of the disease, changes in climate, more air conditioner usage, and an increase in the number of seniors, who are more susceptible, according to the story. Legionellosis is a form of pneumonia caused by inhaling Legionella bacteria, which are typically found in contaminated water in places such as cooling towers, whirlpool baths, showers, and faucets, the story noted. The CDC estimates the number of hospitalized legionellosis cases at 8,000 to 18,000 per year but says the true incidence of the disease is unknown because diagnostic testing is underused. Fewer than 5% of people exposed to the bacteria contract the disease, but the case-fatality rate ranges from 5% to 30%, according to the CDC.
CDC information on legionellosis

Next week is National Influenza Vaccination Week
National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) runs Dec 4 through 10 this year, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reminding patients and healthcare providers that it's not too late for flu immunization. "The flu vaccine is the best way modern medicine currently has to protect against this serious disease," it says on its NIVW site. Historically, flu vaccine demand drops fairly rapidly after November, but the CDC says it's important to continue flu vaccination through the holiday season and beyond. The flu season typically peaks in January or February and can last till May, according to CDC data. On its NIVW home page, the agency offers toolkits and other resources, an event calendar, key talking points, and other material about vaccination efforts. The CDC established NIVW in 2005.
CDC NIVW home page

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