NEWS SCAN: Hantavirus in UK, pig-farm MRSA, norovirus variant, Kansas biolab progress, Pakistan polio security

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Jan 4, 2013

First isolation of hantavirus reported in UK rodents
Hantavirus has for the first time been isolated in wild rodents in Great Britain, according to UK scientists reporting in Eurosurveillance yesterday. After a suspected case of hantavirus infection in a patient who had acute kidney failure in early 2012, rodents from the patient's property in Yorkshire and the Humber were trapped for hantavirus screening. Of 11 rodents tested (5 wood mice, 4 Norway rats, and 2 bank voles), 2 Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) tested positive for the virus by polymerase chain reaction. Complete sequencing and phylogenetic analysis further established the virus as a Seoul hantavirus (SEOV). The authors conclude, "This represents the first isolation of a UK hantavirus from wild rodents and further confirmation of SEOV as a human pathogen outside of Asia."
Jan 3 Eurosurveill report

Study profiles short-term exposure to pig-farm MRSA
Researchers detected methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in veterinary students exposed to contaminated farms 22% of the time, with a short duration of carriage, according to a study in PLoS One yesterday. Iowa researchers obtained nasal swabs from 30 veterinary students performing diagnostic investigations at 40 pig farms before and at intervals after the students visited the farms. They also collected swabs from the pigs and from farm environments. Prevalence of MRSA on pig farms was 30%, which is lower than in similar studies in Europe but on par with previous North American findings. The group reported that they were surprised to find that ST5 subtypes were predominant on the farms, and they noted that ST398—the predominant MRSA type found on pork farms—was not detected in any of the students. They found an array of isolates with different resistance profiles, though some of the characteristics resembled ST398. They concluded that MRSA subtypes from multiple lineages have likely jumped from humans to livestock.
Jan 3 PLoS One abstract

Report: Emerging norovirus variant may portend severe season
Surveillance in a number of countries showed an increase in norovirus cases in late 2012, perhaps related to the emergence of a new variant of norovirus genotype II.4 (GII.4) named Sydney 2012, says a report in yesterday's Eurosurveillance. Countries reporting increased levels of norovirus infection late last year are the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, France, and New Zealand. The first molecular data available through NoroNet, a norovirus surveillance network /in Europe, Asia, and Australia, suggests that the increase is related to emergence of the Sydney 2012 variant. It was first reported from Australia in March 2012. Two countries not reporting an increase in cases did detect the new variant in outbreaks last fall—Belgium and Denmark, and it was detected in 23% of lab-confirmed outbreaks in September 2012 and 52% of December 2012 outbreaks in the United States. Norovirus II.4 has been responsible for most norovirus outbreaks over the past decade, the report said. New variants of norovirus GII.4 have emerged every 2 to 3 years since 1995, according to the article, with population immunity and genetic drift as the driving forces. Norovirus infections occur all year but are most prevalent in the winter season in temperate climates. The article advises healthcare institutions to be prepared for a severe norovirus season.
Jan 3 Eurosurveill article

Land transfer moves Kansas biolab forward
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has signed a land transfer agreement with the state of Kansas for property on which a new National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) will be built, according to a Jan 2 news release from the office of Kansas governor Sam Brownback. In 2009 the DHS selected the site to replace an aging animal pathogen research facility at Plum Island, N.Y. Federal funding for the lab, however, has been held up over concerns raised by the National Research Council  (NRC) about the scope and completeness of the DHS's risk assessment for the biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) facility, one of four in the world that will accommodate large animals. In March 2012 the DHS released an updated risk assessment, but in June the NRC said though the risk assessment was improved, it still had a number of deficiencies. The 46-acre site is on the north side of the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan. US Sen Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said in the relsease that he spoke with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano last week, who made clear that that construction of the lab's Central Utilities Plant should proceed without further delay. "I look forward to planning a ground breaking in 2013," he said. The DHS has already invested $125 million into the site preparation, engineering, design, and risk assessments, according to the news release.
Jan 2 State of Kansas press release
Jun 15, 2012, CIDRAP News scan "Updated assessment of Kansas BSL-4 lab gets more low grades"

Pakistan changes polio vaccination approach
Pakistani health officials say polio vaccinations are being resumed more discreetly and with extra security provided to workers, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report today. UN groups suspended polio immunization campaigns in the country in December following militant attacks that killed nine health workers. On Jan 1 gunmen on motorcycles in a northwestern district killed six more people involved with polio immunization. A senior government official told AFP that children will be inoculated in phases with a more low-key approach with adequate security. Some officials say female health workers are refusing to take part in the activities in high-risk areas. Javed Khan Marwat, an official from Peshawar, told AFP that motorcycles will be banned to help prevent drive-by shootings. An official from Charsada district in northwestern Pakistan said teams of four to five health workers accompanied by two policemen and two paramilitary personnel will give the oral drops. Pakistan is one of three countries in which polio is endemic.
Jan 4 AFP story

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