NEWS SCAN: ECDC risk assessment of lab-modified H5N1, avian flu in Myanmar, sprout safety alliance

Feb 29, 2012

ECDC issues risk assessment on H5N1 transmissibility studies
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) today weighed in with a risk assessment of the lab-modified H5N1 viruses that have been the subject of recent debates. It addressed complex public health topics surround the issue but noted that it's difficult to give a full opinion without knowing all the data from the two studies. The ECDC supported actions that came out of recent World Health Organization (WHO) consultation on the issues, including the eventual full publication of the study findings. The ECDC said withholding the findings could threaten the WHO's fragile virus-sharing agreement. It also raised the possibility that countries in which novel transmissible viruses are made in research settings should report them as novel viruses, in line with International Health Regulations. It also said a case could be made for notifying the European Early Warning and Response System and tracking the modified viruses through the WHO virus traceability mechanism. In the 15-page report, the ECDC said a case could also be made for reviewing and restricting the number of labs that undertake similar work. The group agreed that coming up with a system for redacting the papers would be extremely difficult, and it suggested that science journal editors develop and adopt an international consensus on how to handle information that could pose biosecurity risks. The ECDC concluded that a full international debate is needed to air the complex safety, security, and public health issues raised by the studies.
Feb 29 ECDC risk assessment

H5N1 resurfaces in Myanmar
Veterinary officials in Myanmar today reported an H5N1 avian influenza outbreak at two poultry farm establishments in the same township in Sagaing region, located in the central part of the country, according to a report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The outbreak started on Feb 20, killing 61 of 1,060 susceptible birds over 4 days. The birds were 5- and 18-month-old chickens. The rest were culled to slow the spread of the virus. The source of the virus hasn't been established. Myanmar reported its last H5N1 outbreak in April 2011.
Feb 29 OIE report

FDA creates Sprouts Safety Alliance
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in conjunction with the Illinois Institute of Technology's Institute for Food Safety and Health (IIT IFSH), has created the Sprouts Safety Alliance (SSA) to help sprout producers identify and implement best practices, the agency announced yesterday in a news release. The SSA, whose steering committee met for the first time Feb 15, will develop a core curriculum and training and outreach programs for sprout producers. Several recent illness outbreaks have been tied to sprouts, including a 14-case, six-state Escherichia coli outbreak linked to Jimmy John's restaurants this month and a massive 4,000-plus-case E coli outbreak last year that was centered in Germany, caused by fenugreek sprouts, and killed 50 people. "Sprouts present a unique food safety risk because the warm, moist and nutrient-rich conditions required to produce sprouts are the same conditions that are also ideal for the growth of pathogens," the FDA said in the release. The SSA comprises FDA members, local and state food protection agencies, the food industry, and academia. It is funded by a 1-year, $100,000 grant to the IIT IFSH and is modeled after similar alliances created by the FDA for seafood, juice, and produce.
Feb 28 FDA news release

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