News Scan for Mar 20, 2014

Avian flu in Iceland's birds
USDA meat inspectors
Promising disease trends in Africa
Antibiotic resistance in kids
Measles-free nations

Study finds avian flu mixing pot in Iceland's wild birds

Wild birds in Iceland harbor avian influenza viruses (AIVs) of entirely American lineage, entirely Eurasian lineage, and mixes of the two, providing compelling evidence of the importance of the North Atlantic as a corridor of virus movement and mixing, according to a study yesterday in PLoS One.

Researchers from Iceland and the United States, including some with the US Geological Survey (USGS), collected cloacal swabs from 1,078 waterfowl, gulls, and shorebirds in 2010 and 2011. From them, they were able to isolate and fully sequence the genomes of 29 separate AIVs from gulls and waterfowl.

"We detected viruses that were entirely (8 of 8 genomic segments) of American lineage, viruses that were entirely of Eurasian lineage, and viruses with mixed American-Eurasian lineage," they wrote. "Prior to this work only 2 AIVs had been reported from wild birds in Iceland and only the sequence from one segment was available in GenBank."

"None of the avian flu viruses found in our study are considered harmful to humans," Robert Dusek, USGS scientist and lead author of the study, said in a USGS press release. "However, the results suggest that Iceland is an important location for the study of avian flu and is worthy of special attention and monitoring."

The findings demonstrate that the North Atlantic is as significant as the North Pacific as a melting pot for birds and avian flu, according to the USGS release. Many wild birds from Europe and North America congregate and mix in Iceland's wetlands during migration.

By crossing the Atlantic this way, AIVs from Europe could be transported to the United States, the study notes. This commingling could also lead to the evolution of new flu viruses. The study also highlights that gulls play an important role in AIV movement.
Mar 19 PLoS One study
Mar 19 USGS press release


FSIS refutes claim of meat-inspector shortage

Vacancies at the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are not affecting food safety in spite of media reports to the contrary, FSIS official said yesterday on USDA Blog.

FSIS vacancy rates fluctuate, as with other organizations, said Aaron Lavallee, an FSIS deputy assistant administrator, adding that current vacancies do not mean fewer inspections at US meat plants. The New York Times on Feb 20 reported shortages of meat inspectors, "raising the possibility that contaminated products could reach consumers," according to the story. The Times used information from a union official and the consumer advocacy group Food and Water Watch.

Lavallee, however, wrote, "The New York Times article was based on misleading and inaccurate information, and to the paper’s credit it ultimately ran at least a partial correction. . . . The Times unfortunately reported faulty information without verification."

For example, he said the vacancy rate for the USDA's Raleigh, N.C., district is 8.3%, but the Times reported that it was 11%. The overall vacancy rate, Lavallee said, is 7.6%.

"FSIS always prioritizes food safety inspection and dedicates significant resources toward ensuring that all plants have the required number of inspectors," he wrote. "Again, if a plant does not have enough inspectors, it is illegal for that plant to operate."

"There is no connection between recent recalls and FSIS vacancy rates, and any claims that these issues are linked are false."
Mar 19 USDA blog post
Feb 20 New York Times story


WHO notes progress against top African diseases

Major health reports released at the end of 2013 and into 2014 signal that African countries are making some headway against three of its biggest killer diseases, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria, according to a statement today from the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.

The agency said the "cautiously optimistic" characterization of the diseases have also been reflected in upbeat pronouncements from health officials in the African region, bringing a halt to several years of pessimistic scenarios about the diseases.

The WHO said the regional office's Deputy Director Dr. M. Moeti reviewed some of the achievements at a Mar 5 meeting on the three diseases in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. For example, she said that by the end of 2012, 68% of eligible people were receiving antiretroviral treatment, an increase of more than 90% from 2009. Also, a 2013 United Nations report noted a steep drop in infection rates in southern Africa, such as a 73% decline in Malawi between 2001 and 2011.

Moeti said malaria incidence in sub-Saharan countries fell by 31% from 2000 to 2012 and added that a WHO report on the disease in December estimated that malaria interventions in the region saved 3.3 million lives, 90% of them children.

Regarding TB, she highlighted two indicators of success: turning an increase in cases into a decline and screening more patients for TB.

Challenges still remain for all three diseases, including a high number of HIV cases and that 50% of people in the region don't know their HIV status, Moeti said. She said some of the TB challenges include emergence of multi-drug resistant TB and difficulty accessing and affording some treatments.


Study finds antibiotic-resistant infection rise in kids

Infections in children that involve a type of drug-resistant bacteria are increasing, especially in those ages 1 to 5 years old, researchers reported yesterday. A team based at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago focused on resistant bacteria that produce extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL), an enzyme that can disarm many strong antibiotics.

Looking for resistance patterns, the group analyzed about 370,000 bacterial cultures from pediatric patients that were collected nationwide between 1999 and 2011. They published their findings in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.

Prevalence of ESBL-producing bacteria rose from 0.28% to 0.92% from 1999 to 2011. Meanwhile, resistance to third-generation cephalosporins increased from 1.4% to 3%. Just over half of the resistant organisms were seen in youngsters between ages 1 and 5.

The authors noted that although the overall rate of the infections in kids is still low, ESBL-producing bacteria can spread rapidly and have been linked to longer hospital stays.

Latania Logan, MD, lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Rush University Medical Center said in a press release from the institution that the type of bacteria are increasingly being found in the community. "In our study, though previous medical histories of the subjects were unknown, 51.3% of the children with these infections presented in the outpatient or ambulatory setting," she said.
Mar 19 J Pediatr Infect Dis Soc abstract
Mar 20 Rush University Medical Center press release


WHO: Measles gone from Australia, Macau, Mongolia, Korea

Measles has been declared eliminated from Australia, Macau, Mongolia, and South Korea, the WHO's Western Pacific Region Office (WHO WPRO) announced today. They are the first nations or areas in the WPRO to achieve that status.

"The elimination of measles must remain a priority in order to promote equity and to reduce the high burden of mortality and morbidity caused by this disease on the world's most vulnerable, not only in our Region but also around the world," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WPRO regional director.

Although 2013 and 2014 have seen measles outbreaks in China, the Philippines, and Vietnam, measles is down overall in the region, the WHO WPRO said in a news release. Measles deaths in the region dropped from 12,100 in 2000 to 2,000 in 2012, largely because of increased vaccination coverage, the agency said.
Mar 20 WHO WPRO news release

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