NEWS SCAN: Smallpox vaccine extension, SARS vaccine grant, flu in bird handlers, tempeh outbreak grows, hantavirus surge, healthcare infections

May 24, 2012

Bavarian Nordic gets smallpox vaccine contract extension
Bavarian Nordic, a drug company based in Denmark, announced it has received a $32 million contract extension from the US government for it work on Imvamune, a third-generation smallpox vaccine for the nation's Strategic National Stockpile. The company said in a May 22 statement that the new funds, which boost the contract's total to $544 million, will allow the company to launch a phase 3 trial that is expected to begin enrolling subjects in the first half of 2013. The trial is slated to include 4,000 subjects, which is larger than originally proposed, so Bavarian Nordic said it requested the contract extension to cover the extra costs. The phase 3 trial could support a biologics license application to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the company said. The government is stockpiling 20 million doses of Imvamune under a Project Bioshield contract. So far Bavarian Nordic has delivered 8 million doses. Imvamune is produced using a weakened version of vaccinia virus and is being developed for people who are at risk for serious complications, such as those with immune deficiencies.
May 22 Bavarian Nordic press release

Baylor group announces SARS vaccine grant
Baylor College of Medicine announced that it has received a $6.2 million, 5-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to develop a vaccine for SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), the college said in a May 22 statement. Baylor 's collaborators on the project include the New York Blood Center (NYBC) and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Shibo Jiang, MD, PhD, head of the viral immunology lab at the NYBC, said in the statement, "Although SARS has been contained so far, there is a constant fear of reemergence, especially when used as a bioterrorism agent. Developing an effective and safe vaccine is urgently needed." One of the challenges in developing the vaccine will be resolving vaccine immune enhancement. Peter Hoetz, MD, PhD, dean of Baylor's National School of Tropical Medicine, said in the statement that the vaccine would stimulate neutralizing bodies to block the virus from attaching to receptors. A 2003 SARS epidemic resulted in 8,098 cases and 774 deaths.
May 22 Baylor press release

Study suggests avian flu infections in migratory-bird handlers are rare
A study from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCSA) suggests that avian and swine influenza infections are rare in people who handle migratory birds. A UCLA team conducted a serologic survey of individuals with occupational or recreational exposures to migratory birds and used a questionnaire to assess behavioral risk factors, according to their report in the Journal of Clinical Virology. Of 401 people tested, the team found only 1 who showed evidence of a past infection, which involved an avian H5N2 virus. The report says this is the first known human infection with this subtype linked to wild rather than domestic birds. No evidence of co-infections with avian and swine flu viruses was found. The authors looked at exposure to songbirds, waterfowl, and shorebirds; the bird handlers were exposed to songbirds four times as often as to the other two types.
May 24 J Clin Virol abstract

Salmonella cases grow to 88 as tempeh starter yeast is recalled
A salmonellosis outbreak linked to tempeh sold by an Asheville, N.C., company has grown by 5 cases, to 88, after a Rockville, Md., company issued a recall for imported "Tempeh Starter Yeast." David Sweat, MPH, foodborne disease epidemiologist with the North Carolina Division of Public Health in Raleigh, told CIDRAP News today that, as of yesterday, his agency had recorded 76 confirmed, 6 probable, and 6 suspected cases in five states: 80 in North Carolina, 3 in Georgia, 3 in South Carolina, 1 in Tennessee, and 1 in Michigan. But all case-patients "were exposed in Asheville, N.C., as far as we can tell," he said. The most recent illness-onset date was May 8, he said. The recalled starter yeast, imported from Indonesia, was distributed by nationwide and internationally through direct mail order, according to a May 22 company statement that was posted online by the FDA. The product comes in sealed, clear plastic packages in 30-, 50-, 250-, and 1,000-gram sizes, and the company has ceased distributing it. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services found Salmonella in some of the product, the company statement said.
May 22 FDA recall notice

Germany sees surge in hantavirus infections
Germany has seen an unprecedented increase in hantavirus infections since October 2011, suggesting that the number of cases this year could reach unusually high levels, according to a report published today in Eurosurveillance. From October through April the country had 852 cases, including 580 in the southern state of Baden-Wurttemburg. In that state, "The early and intense increase in case numbers since October 2011 is without precedence," including in 2007 and 2010, when large outbreaks occurred, the report says. It says that 69% of patients were hospitalized and 75% had renal impairment, but none have died. The major type of hantavirus in western Europe is the Puumula virus, which humans contract through exposure to the excrement of bank voles. The cause of the spike in cases is not clear, but it may have to do with a rise in the bank vole population due to climatic factors or high seed production last year by beech trees. The report says a further increase in cases is likely this summer.
May 24 Eurosurveillance report

UK survey puts prevalence of healthcare-related infections at 6.4%
A prevalence survey in English hospitals in late 2011 found that 6.4% of patients had a healthcare-associated infection (HAI) and that 34.7% of all patients were being treated with antibiotics, the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) reported today. The survey, conducted between September and November, covered 99 National Health Service (NHS) hospitals averaging 518 beds and 114 private-sector hospitals averaging 15 beds. The survey included 52,443 patients, 97% of whom were in NHS hospitals. The 6.4% prevalence of HAIs compares with 8.2% in a 2006 survey, but the difference was not statistically significant, the HPA said. The survey was the first to measure antimicrobial use nationally, and the result will be used as a baseline. The most common HAIs were respiratory tract, 22.8%; urinary tract, 17.2%; surgical site, 15.7%; clinical sepsis, 10.5%; gastrointestinal, 8.8%; and bloodstream, 7.3%. Where microbiology results were available, members of the Enterobacteriaceae family (which includes Escherichia coli, Klebsiella, and Enterobacter species) were the most common causes of HAIs, accounting for 32.4% of the total.
HPA report highlights and access to full text
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