NEWS SCAN: BSE testing in Europe, Pakistan polio workers killed, UK norovirus surge

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Dec 18, 2012

Europe reduces testing for BSE; some countries shun Brazilian beef
With bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) declining in Europe, the European Union will no longer require the testing of healthy beef cattle for the disease at the time of slaughter, Meatingplace reported today. An EU committee on food and animal health has approved a new testing protocol that will take effect in March. It will allow all countries except Bulgaria and Romania to stop testing healthy cattle, but it calls for continued testing of at-risk cattle, the story said. The action was prompted by an October report of a significant improvement in the rate of BSE infection. Healthy cattle in the EU have been tested for BSE since 2001.
Meanwhile, five countries have banned beef imports from all or part of Brazil in the wake of the country's first reported BSE case, Reuters reported today. Brazil's agriculture ministry said today that Saudi Arabia has suspended beef imports from Brazil, and Egypt yesterday announced a ban on beef from Parana state, where the BSE case occurred, the story said. Japan, China, and South Africa previously announced bans on Brazilian beef. But the measured action by Egypt, a top customer, and continued imports by Russia and Hong Kong, two other leading buyers, suggest that the impact of the BSE case may be limited, the story said. Brazil revealed Dec 7 that a 13-year-old cow that died in Parana in 2010 had tested positive for BSE. Officials said the disease wasn't the cause of death and the case might have been atypical.
Dec 18 Reuters story

Polio vaccinations in Pakistan suspended after murders of six workers
Pakistan suspended its polio vaccination campaign today following the assassination of at least six vaccination workers, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and news reports. CNN, quoting a senior police official, reported that four female health workers were shot to death in Karachi, on Pakistan's coast, this morning. Two other women were shot while giving vaccinations in Peshawar, near the Afghan border in northwestern Pakistan, the story said. The WHO joined the Pakistani government in condemning the attacks. "The Government of Pakistan and the affected provinces have temporarily suspended the vaccination campaign due to concerns over the safety of health workers," the WHO said. "Such attacks deprive Pakistan's most vulnerable populations—especially children—of basic life-saving health interventions." The WHO said the Karachi murders were committed in the towns of Gadap, Landi, Baldia, and Orangi. The Associated Press (AP) reported that the latest killings interrupted a 3-day vaccination drive targeting children under age 5 in high-risk areas of the country. The story said two men who were working with the women in Karachi were critically wounded. Polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan came under suspicion last year after the CIA used a fake vaccination program to collect DNA samples from residents of Osama bin Laden's compound to confirm his presence, the CNN story noted. Also, in June a Taliban commander in northwestern Pakistan vowed to ban polio immunization for children there as long as US drone strikes continue.
Dec 18 WHO statement
Dec 18 AP story

UK norovirus cases top 3,000
Great Britain recorded 337 lab-confirmed norovirus cases during the week that ended Dec 9, compared with 236 the previous week, for a total this season of 3,046, the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) said in an update today. Last year at this point the country had confirmed only 1,669 cases. During the 2 weeks that ended Dec 16 the country experienced 61 hospital outbreaks, compared with 35 last year during that period. The HPA noted that norovirus activity has stepped up early this year and usually peaks from January through April. It said that each confirmed case likely represents almost 300 illnesses in the community, since few infected people seek treatment.
Dec 18 HPA update

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