NEWS SCAN: Poultry inspection defended, possible raw milk outbreaks, airport H1N1 screening, H5N1 aquatic survival

Apr 16 2012

USDA official answers critics of proposed changes in poultry inspections
Complaining of misleading information in the media, the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) top food safety official recently defended the agency's plan to change its approach to safety inspections in poultry processing plants. "Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of misinformation in the media about a proposal by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to modernize inspection at poultry slaughter plants. In fact, our plan will help prevent foodborne illnesses," FSIS Administrator Alfred Almanza wrote in a blog post. The FSIS plan, proposed in January, calls for inspectors to spend less time visually inspecting poultry carcasses and more time checking sanitary conditions. This approach will simultaneously improve food safety, enable the FSIS to shed some jobs, and allow poultry plants to increase their production line speeds, according to the USDA. But some consumer groups have charged that the USDA is turning poultry inspection over to the industry. "Nothing could be more misleading or incorrect," said Almanza, adding that USDA inspectors will continue to be in every plant. He also said critics have exaggerated how much line speeds will increase under the plan. Currently line speeds are capped at 140 birds per minute, and the new plan will allow them to increase to 175, a speed that has been tested in a pilot program in 20 plants since 1999, he said.
Apr 13 Almanza blog post
Jan 20 CIDRAP News story on inspection change

E coli outbreaks in Missouri, Oregon may be caused by raw milk
Officials are investigating 13 cases of Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in central Missouri from late March to early April that may be associated with consuming raw (unpasteurized) milk products, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (MDHSS) said Apr 13. Seven of the 13 have matching E coli O157:H7 pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns, and PFGE results for 3 cases are due this week, the agency said. Of the 7 with matching PFGE patterns, 6 patients reported consuming raw dairy products from the same farm, as did 1 of the patients whose PFGE results are pending. One of the cases with matched PFGE is in a 2-year-old who has hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially life-threatening kidney disorder. A 17-month-old with STEC also has HUS, but that case has a different PFGE pattern.
Apr 13 MDHSS update
Elsewhere, Oregon authorities are investigating an E coli O157:H7 outbreak involving three hospitalized children and a fourth child with E coli of an unspecified strain who has not been hospitalized, according to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). All the cases are lab confirmed, and all four children drank raw milk from Foundation Farm in Clackamas County, which has voluntarily ceased production during an investigation. All of the children are younger than 15 years, and two of them developed HUS. Other customers of the farm have also reported symptoms consistent with E coli infection, the OHA said.
Apr 13 OHA news release

Study: Airport screening didn't slow pandemic spread into New Zealand
An airport screening program at New Zealand's Auckland International Airport during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic wasn't very sensitive and probably didn't do much to delay the spread of the virus into the country, researchers reported in Emerging Infectious Diseases. The airport's screening program was in effect for about 2 months, from Apr 27 through Jun 22, 2009. Airline staffers were asked to observe and report on the health of passengers, and the cabin crew asked sick passengers to identify themselves and be screened. Sick passengers were assessed by a nurse or medical officer, and swabs were taken from those who met the case definition. Those with flulike illness were given oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and sent home or to an isolation facility. The screening program found only 4 infected passengers of 456,518 who arrived at the airport during that period. Researchers estimated that only 69 infected passengers passed through the airport, which translates to a sensitivity of 5.8%. For entry screening to delay the spread of pandemic flu by 1.5 weeks, border restrictions would have needed to reduce imported infections by 90%, which they did not do. The authors suggested that border screening might be useful for other reasons, such as providing public reassurance or communicating health information.
May Emerg Infect Dis report

Study shows poor survival of H5N1 viruses in lab-created aquatic biotopes
Although highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu viruses lasted no more than 4 days in rainwater and not at all in experimental aquatic environments, their RNA lasted a week in pond and lake water and almost three times that long in rainwater, according to a study by Cambodian and Hong Kong scientists. Using mud and water from Cambodian ponds and a lake in an area where an H5N1 outbreak had occurred, researchers established artificial biotopes meant to replicate tropical environments. They conducted experiments on biotopes without plant and animal life and biotopes that included aquatic plants and animals such as guppies, tadpoles, snails, and clams. They found that H5N1 viruses persisted only in rainwater, for up to 4 days. Viral RNA (but not infectious particles) persisted for up to 7 day in pond and lake water and up to 20 days in rainwater. The researchers also found infectious particles for up to 6 days in mussels and for 1 day in tadpoles and Siamese fighting fish, "although these organisms seemed to be mostly passive carriers of the virus rather than host allowing virus replication," they wrote. The authors conclude, "Our results, along with previous data, support the idea that environmental surveillance is of major relevance for avian influenza control programs."
Apr 13 PLoS One study

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