News Scan for Dec 04, 2014

UK lab breaches
Pertussis in California
Antibiotics in food animals

Reports reveal over 100 safety breaches at high-security UK labs

UK labs that handle the most dangerous pathogens have reported at least 116 accidents or other biosecurity breaches in the past 5 years—about one every 2 weeks—The Guardian reported today.

Reports from the UK regulatory agency Health and Safety Executive revealed that, in one instance, live Bacillus anthracis samples—the causative agent of anthrax—were mistakenly sent from a high-security government facility to lower-security labs across the country. In another breach, an air-handling system that helped contain foot-and-mouth disease virus failed at a large animal lab.

More than 70 of the incidents were serious enough to investigate, The Guardian reported. Many led to enforcement letters or orders to shut labs down until improvements were made.

Some of the most worrisome breaches, including the B anthracis incident, happened at the Surrey-based Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), renamed the Animal and Plant Health Agency in October.

Biosecurity expert Richard Ebright, PhD, of Rutgers University, said the reports, taken together, revealed failures in procedures, infrastructure, training and safety culture in some labs. Regarding the AHVLA incidents, he said, "Does British agriculture have a death wish?"
Dec 4 Guardian story


Infants, adolescents most affected in California pertussis epidemic

Nearly 10,000 cases of pertussis have occurred this year in California, with preponderance in infants, so expectant mothers are being encouraged to receive the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis) vaccine in their third trimester to provide transplacental immunity to their children, researchers reported today in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The authors, from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), analyzed the 9,935 cases occurring through Nov 26 to prioritize public health activities and work toward prevention, particularly of severe cases, which most often occur in infants.

Pertussis incidence during the study period was 26 cases per 100,000 population overall. Disease burden was highest in infants up to 12 months of age, with an incidence of 174.6 cases per 100,000. Hispanic infants had the highest incidence (rate ratio = 1.7; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.5-2.1) and Asian/Pacific Islander infants the lowest (rate ratio = 0.4; CI, 0.3-0.6) , compared to white, non-Hispanic infants.

Hospitalization was necessary in 347 of the 6,790 patients for whom information was available; 275 (79%) of these were infants were younger than 12 months, with 214 (62%) younger than 4 months; Tdap vaccine is not given until 2 months of age. Very few of the mothers had been vaccinated during pregnancy.

Disease burden was also high in 14- to 16-year olds, with the incidence peaking at 137.8 cases per 100,000 in 15-year-olds. In 1997 acellular vaccine rather than all or some whole-cell pertussis vaccine was introduced, so adolescents at the upper end of this current high-incidence group would have received only the acellular type. The authors point out that the immunity conferred by this type wanes more quickly than does that of whole-cell vaccine.

CDPH declared that pertussis had reached epidemic stage on June 13 when the number of cases reached five times the baseline level. The authors point out that pertussis incidence is cyclical, peaking every 3 to 5 years; the last epidemic was in 2010.
Dec 5 MMWR article


Pew study reveals gaps in FDA food-animal antibiotic rule

Research by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that, a year after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released guidance on overprescribing antibiotics in animals, gaps exist that could allow many drugs to be used to augment weight gain instead of treat disease, Food Safety News reported today.

Pew researchers reviewed the labels of 287 antibiotic products governed by the FDA recommendations, called "Guidance for Industry #213." They found that 66 of them (23%) can be used in chickens, turkeys, pigs, or cattle for disease prevention at the same levels as weight-promotion doses and without a limit on duration.

The FDA classifies 29 of those 66 products as critical and 37 as highly important for human treatment. Thirteen labels had overlapping dosages but with duration limits, and four overlapped but only partially.

The guidance is set to be fully implemented by December 2016.

"Even if Guidance #213 is fully implemented, we are concerned that dozens of products could still be added to animal feed or water throughout the animals' lives in the absence of any threat from a specific bacterial disease," said Gail Hansen, DVM, in a Pew news release.
Dec 4 Food Safety News story
Nov 30 Pew press release

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