NEWS SCAN: CDC lab biosafety, Salmonella and E coli outbreaks, global flu activity, antiviral partnership

Jun 22, 2012

Congress queries CDC about lab airflow problems
A congressional committee is investigating a report of airflow problems at a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lab in Atlanta, following a Jun 12 newspaper report, CNN reported today. The earlier report in USA Today was based on internal CDC e-mails that detailed employee concerns, including a February incident in which air from a biosafety level 3 lab reportedly blew into a corridor where visitors weren't wearing protective gear. The story also aired concerns CDC engineers have had about the building's air containment systems, alongside reassurances from the CDC that no pathogen leaks have occurred and multiple systems are in place to protect worker and public safety. The episode caught the attention of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has asked the CDC for documents about the Feb 16 corridor incident, according to the CNN report, which quoted committee member Rep Michael Burgess, MD, R-Tex., and cited a statement that CNN received from the committee. In the CNN story, CDC spokesman Tom Skinner repeated that no workers or members of the public were in harm's way. He said the CDC will continue to address safety issues in a transparent manner and will cooperate with the committee to answer any questions it has.
Jun 22 CNN report
Jun 13 CIDRAP News item "Newspaper: Internal CDC records raise lab safety concerns"

Outbreak of raw tuna–related salmonellosis reaches 390 cases
The outbreak of Salmonella infections from raw tuna that began in March has reached 390 cases in 27 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in an update yesterday. That was an increase of 74 cases and one state since the last update on May 17. Of the total case-patients, 376 have been infected with Salmonella Bareilly and 14 with Salmonella Nchanga. No deaths have occurred, but 47 patients have had to be hospitalized. The outbreak peaked in April, with the number of new cases now in decline. The food associated with the outbreak, which was recalled April 13 with an expanded recall May 10, is Nakaochi Scrape, a frozen raw yellowfin tuna product manufactured by Moon Marine USA Corp. of Cupertino, Calif., and primarily used in sushi.
Jun 21 CDC notice

Another case in E coli O145 outbreak
The case count in an outbreak of Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli 0145 (STEC O145) has increased by 1 to 15 total since the last official CDC update on June 10. In today's update the CDC said states affected and the number in each are Alabama (2), California (1), Florida (1), Georgia (5), Louisiana (5), and Tennessee (1); the newest case occurred in Louisiana. Hospitalization has been required in four cases, and one death, in Louisiana, has occurred. Patient ages range from 1 to 79 years, with a median of 31. No source of the illnesses has been identified, but CDC and state public health officials continue to investigate and interview affected individuals. Today's update states that the most recent illness onset was May 12, which could mean the outbreak is over, although there may be cases that have not yet been reported..
Jun 22 CDC update

WHO sees signs of Southern Hemisphere flu activity
Although the Southern Hemisphere's flu season hasn't yet started, several countries including Australia, Chile, Paraguay, and South Africa are reporting small but sustained upticks in flu detections, most of them involving the H3N2 subtype, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today. Some tropical countries in Central America, the Caribbean, South America, and sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing increasing or stable flu transmission. The 2009 H1N1 virus has made up 40% of flu detections in El Salvador and is circulating at lower levels in other countries in that region. In tropical Asia, Hong Kong is reporting an unusual spike in flu activity for this time of the year, with some severe and even fatal H3N2 infections in older adults. Northern Hemisphere flu activity in temperate countries has largely ended, except for some persistent low-level transmission in eastern Europe and northern China, according to the WHO. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in an update today said flu markers remained low. The CDC reported three more pediatric flu deaths, raising the season's total to 29. The deaths occurred in early March, late April, and early June. One was linked to the 2009 H1N1 virus, and two involved type B viruses.
Jun 22 WHO influenza update
Jun 22 CDC flu update

Roche signs deal with lab to develop new flu drug
Savira Pharmaceuticals, a Vienna-based spin-off of the European Molecular Biology Lab (EMBL), has signed an agreement with Roche to jointly develop and license new drug candidates to battle seasonal and pandemic flu, according to a EurekAlert press release yesterday from the EMBL. The drugs are aimed at the "cap-snatching" mechanism that flu viruses use to hijack protein production in infected cells to produce viral protein. The drug candidate is based on small-molecule polymerase inhibitors that target the cap-snatching mechanism. EMBL said the contract with Savira will give Roche an exclusive global license on the cap-snatching inhibitor program in exchange for payments that could total more than $300 million. Iain Mattaj, director general of EMBL, said in the statement, "This partnership proves the importance of basic research in the fight against global health threats such as flu."
Jun 21 EurekAlert press release

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