News Scan for Sep 05, 2014

More misplaced lab pathogens
No MERS in Filipino nurse
Foodborne hepatitis A

Plague bacteria, other misplaced pathogens found at NIH, FDA labs

A search of government labs in the wake of a July discovery of old vials of smallpox virus has turned up additional improperly stored pathogens that cause plague, tularemia, melioidosis, botulism, and a certain foodborne disease, as well as the toxin ricin, the Washington Post reported today.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) officials said today they had found five of the select agents in recent weeks. Three of them were at the NIH Clinical Center's Department of Medicine, which stores thousands of microbes dating to the 1950s.

The collection included two vials of Yersinia pestis, which causes plague; two vials of Burkholderia pseudomallei, which causes melioidosis; and three vials of Francisella tularensis, which causes tularemia.

NIH scientists also turned up a vial of ricin misplaced in a chemical lab's historical collection dating from 1914. The NIH also found two vials of botulinum toxin, which causes botulism.

All of the pathogens were in intact containers, and there have been no known human exposures, said Alfred Johnson, director of the NIH's office of research service. He added, however, "These things were stored in locations where they should not have been stored."

Also today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it has found vials of Staphylococcus enterotoxin at a lab in the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition that was not registered to handle the bacterium, the Post reported.

The NIH said the pathogens in its labs were discovered from Jul 29 to Aug 27, while the FDA discovered the Staph samples on Jul 15.

The White House has urged government labs to conduct a "clean sweep" for all improperly stored dangerous microbes, in light of the discovery in an FDA lab on the NIH campus of decades-old vials of smallpox virus in July.
Sep 5 Washington Post story
Jul 8 CIDRAP News story
"Decades-old smallpox samples turn up in federal lab"


Filipino nurse tests negative for MERS-CoV

A Filipino nurse who was reported 2 days ago to be infected with Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) does not have the virus, the Associated Press (AP) reported today. Confirmatory tests turned out negative.

Philippines Department of Health spokesman Lyndon Lee Suy, MD, reported the negative tests results and said that tracing of the 37-year-old nurse's fellow passengers on her flight from Saudi Arabia has been halted. Initial tests at the nurse's health facility in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, had indicated MERS-CoV.

The nurse and her family had been put under quarantine in Davao City, Philippines, while they waited for the additional tests results.

Lee Suy said the steps the health department took were consistent with "rumor surveillance" procedures. "Everything starts with a rumor. What if it turned out to be true? It is up to us to validate," he said. "We don't consider it a mistake, but a part of process and investigation."
Sep 5 AP story
Sep 3 CIDRAP News scan on initial report


Report: 2013 hepatitis A outbreak tested public health procedures

A 10-state hepatitis A outbreak last year tied to pomegranate seeds from Turkey prompted an effective public health response that included product recalls, warnings to the public, and post-exposure prophylaxis for more than 10,000 people, according to a report yesterday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and several states analyzed data on 165 patients—3 more than the CDC reported in its final outbreak update last October. Their median age was 47, and 55% were women.

The investigators noted that hepatitis A genotype 1B, which is uncommon in the Americas, was recovered from 117 of the patients. Although the genotype was never recovered from the product, trace-back efforts implicated pomegranate seeds from Goknur Foodstuffs of Turkey early in the outbreak as the likely culprit. Genotype 1B is common in Turkey, the authors said.

Investigation into the source of the outbreak combined epidemiology—with data from several sources—genetic analysis of patient samples, and product tracing, the authors note. Affected products were recalled, the public was warned not to consume the products, and postexposure prophylaxis with both hepatitis A vaccine and immunoglobulin was provided to more than 10,000 people.

The authors conclude, "Our findings show that modern public health actions can help rapidly detect and control hepatitis A virus illness caused by imported food."
Sep 4 Lancet Infect Dis abstract
Sep 4 Lancet Infect Dis commentary on the report
Oct 28, 2013, CDC final outbreak notice

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