NEWS SCAN: H7N1 in ostriches, E coli recall, shingle vaccine effectiveness, possible bioterror drugs, fighting ICU infections, polio in Pakistan

Apr 10, 2013

H7N1 detected in South African ostrich flock
Another flu strain has struck an ostrich farm in South Africa's Western Cape province, Reuters reported yesterday. Sampling from a farm near Oudtshoorn found the H7N1 virus, which differs from the highly pathogenic H5N2 strain that decimated the country's ostrich farming industry in 2011. Marna Sinclair, state veterinarian near the outbreak area, told Reuters that the strain had previously been found in the region and is not related to the H7N9 findings in China. In 1999 and 2000 an H7N1 outbreak in Italian turkeys led to the culling of about 14 million birds, according to background information from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Apr 9 Reuters story
WHO background information

School lunch products included in E coli O121 recall
A portion of the frozen snack foods that were recalled in the wake of an Escherichia coli O121 outbreak may have been distributed to school lunchrooms, according to an Apr 8 Associated Press (AP) report. Dwight Gram, a spokesman from Rich Products Corp., said the company estimates that of the 10.5 million pounds of recalled food products, about 3 million pounds may still be in consumer's homes and 300,000 pounds may have been destined for schools. He added that the main items sent to schools were pizza dippers and pepperoni pizzatas. The company first recalled some of its products on Mar 28 after illnesses were linked to its chicken mini quesadillas. On Apr 4 it expanded the recall to include all products made at its Waycross, Ga., facility. So far the outbreak has sickened 27 people in 15 states, according to an Apr 5 update from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Apr 8 AP story
Apr 5 CDC outbreak update

Large study finds shingles vaccine about 50% effective, but uptake low
A study of a large sample of US Medicare beneficiaries suggests that the shingles (herpes zoster) vaccine reduces the risk of the condition by about half and cuts the risk of related residual pain (post-herpetic neuralgia) by about 60%, but uptake of the vaccine is very low, according to a new report in PLoS Medicine. British and US researchers examined records of a randomly chosen 5% sample of Medicare members (aged 65 and older) for 2007, 2008, and 2009, amounting to 766,330 patients. About 13,000 people in the sample had shingles during that time. The incidence per 1,000 person-years was 10.0 for unvaccinated people and 5.4 for vaccinated people, yielding an adjusted vaccine effectiveness (VE) of 48% (95% confidence interval [CI], 39%-56%). For immunocompromised patients the VE was 37% (95% CI, 6%-58%). The vaccine was found to be 59% effective (95% CI, 21%-79%) for preventing post-herpetic neuralgia. Vaccine uptake, however, was 3.9%, and was much lower than that in black and low-income people. The editors note that because vaccination was not randomized, the vaccinated persons might have shared other characteristics that could have contributed to their lower incidence of shingles. The authors say their study is the first to examine shingles VE in an "unselected general population."
Apr 9 PLoS Med study
Apr 9 Public Library of Science press release

Study shows preliminary promise of current drugs against bioterror pathogens
San Antonio scientists have demonstrated that currently approved drugs can be used against highly pathogenic bacteria and viruses, including bioterror threats like Bacillus anthracis, which causes anthrax; Francisella tularensis, which causes tularemia; and Marburg and Ebola viruses, according to a study in PLoS One. Researchers from Texas Biomed tested 1,012 Food and Drug Administration–approved drugs used for treating common illnesses like diabetes and hypertension. They found that in mice, 10 of the drugs were active against two or more bacteria and that 24 were active against two or more viruses. Two drugs, lomefloxacin and erythromycin, were found to be the most potent compounds in protecting mice against anthrax, while chloroquine, formerly used to treat malaria, protected mice against Ebola virus. "It would be important to determine if a combination of drugs could be more potent than each individual drug," said study author Robert Davey, PhD, according to a Texas Biomed news release. "Such synergy, when seen, usually means you can lower the dose of each drug and still have a big impact on the disease while minimizing bad side effects."
Apr 5 PLoS One study
Apr 8 Texas Biomed news release

Copper surfaces may reduce ICU infection and colonization
Use of antimicrobial copper surfaces in intensive care units (ICUs) reduced healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) by 58%, according to a study yesterday in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA). US researchers conducted the study from Jul 12, 2010, through Jun 14, 2011, at three East Coast hospitals. Patients were randomly assigned to receive care in a traditional ICU room or in a room in which items such as bed rails, tables, IV poles, and nurse's call buttons were made solely from copper-based metals. Both types of rooms were cleaned the same way. The rate of HAI or colonization with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus was significantly lower among patients in rooms with copper surfaces (7.1%) compared with patients in traditional rooms (12.3%). HAIs result in 100,000 US deaths each year and an estimated $45 billion in healthcare costs, a SHEA press release said.
Apr 9 Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol study
Apr 9 SHEA press release

Pakistani policeman killed in polio vaccine effort
A Pakistani policeman was shot and killed and another wounded today while escorting polio vaccination workers in Mardan, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. No one has claimed responsibility for the killing, and members of the vaccination team remained unhurt, officials said. The shootings happened on the second day of a 3-day local polio immunization campaign. "One policeman was killed and another was wounded when two armed men riding a motorbike opened fire on the team comprising two females and one male member," a local police official said. The incident is the latest in a string of attacks on polio workers and their security escorts in Pakistan, which is one of three nations in which the disease is endemic.
Apr 10 AFP story

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