News Scan for May 09, 2014

Call for DURC steps in Germany
New H7N9 cases in China
US flu tapers off

German ethicists call for national DURC committee, legislation

Saying current regulations are insufficient, a German ethics panel has asked the German government to enact legislation to regulate dual-use research of concern (DURC) and set up a national committee to review DURC proposals, according to a ScienceInsider article yesterday.

The German Ethics Council also said awareness needs to be raised both in Germany and globally about the issue—which involves research that can be used for both good and bad ends—the panel said in its 300-page report released yesterday.

"This is an admirable, comprehensive, and compelling report," said Peter Hale, founder of the Foundation for Vaccine Research in Washington, DC, who has lobbied for limiting DURC. The document "for the first time, contains a set of substantive recommendations that will hopefully inform/inspire debate and action in other countries."

Others disagree. Lars Schaade, MD, vice president of the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, says he supports some of the report's proposals, such as creating a scientists' code of conduct and initiating mandatory biosecurity training, but he disagrees over proposed legislation and the need for a national committee. "Local committees at universities can review DURC proposals just as efficiently," he said, "and they may have more support from scientists."

Virologist Simon Wain-Hobson, PhD, of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, who testified before the council last August, said, "If virologists are unhappy, it is because they don't want to face up to the changing world. We do need DURC committees."

The German government asked the Ethics Council to study DURC issues after two controversial studies on lab-mutated H5N1 avian flu viruses were published in 2012—one led by Ron Fouchier, PhD, of Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, and the other by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, DVM, PhD, at the University of Wisconsin. The studies were initially held up by a US biosecurity panel over DURC implications.
May 7 ScienceInsider article


H7N9 sickens 2, kills 1 in China

After a 6-day lapse with no cases, two of China's provinces today reported new H7N9 influenza infections, as well as a death in a previously confirmed case, according to health department notices translated and posted by FluTrackers, an infectious disease news message board.

One of the patients is from Jilin province, which had reported only one other H7N9 case and is located well north of the main outbreak areas. The case involves a 63-year-old man with underlying health conditions from Yangi who is hospitalized in critical condition.

The second case-patient is from Guangdong province, a 50-year-old man from Zhongshan who is hospitalized in critical condition. The health department report said the man had a chronic health condition.

Guangdong province also reported the May 4 death in a case that was confirmed on Mar 24, which appears to be a 58-year-old man from Guangzhou who got sick after he was exposed to poultry and was hospitalized Mar 19 in critical condition.

The new cases boost the overall outbreak total to 436, according to a patient list maintained by FluTrackers. So far 300 cases have been reported in the second wave, compared with 136 in the first. The latest death lifts the unofficial fatality count to 131.
May 9 FluTrackers thread
FluTrackers human H7N9 case list


US flu shows more signs of decline

Flu activity in the United States continued to decline last week, with activity in some northeastern states still higher than in other areas but below baseline levels for influenza-like illness (ILI), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today.

A not-unexpected late-season increase of influenza B, along with H3N2, has been responsible for much of the nation's late-season flu activity, especially in the northeast, the agency said.

For the nation as a whole, the percentage of clinic visits for ILI dropped from 1.5% to 1.2%, and deaths from flu and pneumonia remained below the epidemic threshold at 6.8%. No new pediatric flu deaths were reported, keeping the season's total at 91.

Widespread geographic flu activity was reported by Guam, plus four states, all of them in the Northeast: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. Only one state—Minnesota—reported low flulike activity, a measure of clinic visits for flu, with the rest of the states reporting minimal levels.

Elsewhere, flu levels continued to tail off in Europe, with low intensity activity or no geographic spread reported by 24 countries, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said today. Of respiratory specimens tested last week, only 5% were positive for influenza.
May 9 CDC FluView report
May 9 ECDC weekly flu report


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