News Scan for Feb 27, 2015

Saudi MERS cases
New bornavirus in Europe
Resistant Salmonella, Campylobacter
Marburg virus inhibition

Saudi Arabia reports 3 MERS cases, 3 deaths

The ongoing string of MERS-CoV cases in Saudi Arabia continued with a report of three more late yesterday, along with three more deaths, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Today the MOH reported no new cases but noted two more deaths in previous cases. The latest reports raise the total cases this month to 71, with 30 deaths.

The MOH did not release any of the details it usually includes about new cases, disclosing only their locations: Riyadh, Al Khobar, and Al Jawf. The latest deaths included one in Riyadh, two in Mecca, one in Hofuf, and one in Al-Quway'iyah.

The country's total of MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) cases has reached 916, with 392 deaths, 24 patients still being treated, and 500 recoveries.
Feb 26 MOH report
Feb 27 MOH report

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) released details yesterday on four MERS cases that the MOH had reported to the agency from Feb 20 to 22.

The patients were three men and one woman in four cities: Dammam, Al Khobar, Al-Quway'iyah, and Buraydah. The woman, a 58-year-old from Buraydah, died on Feb 21; two of the men were listed in critical condition and one was stable. The man in Al-Quway'iyah, a 51-year-old, matches the description in one of the deaths reported by the MOH today.

The Buraydah woman and the man from Al Khobar had possible exposure to MERS-CoV in hospitals, as they were treated in the same ward and by the same personnel as some previous MERS patients, the WHO said. The man from Al-Quway'iyah had drunk raw camel milk before he got sick. The fourth patient had no reported exposure risks.

The WHO also said it was informed of the deaths of four previously reported MERS patients. The agency's MERS case count has reached 1,030, with at least 381 deaths.
Feb 26 WHO statement


New bornavirus suspected in deaths of German squirrel breeders

Researchers say a newly discovered bornavirus may have been the cause of fatal encephalitis in three German men who bred exotic squirrels, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported today.

The three men, between the ages of 62 and 72, bred variegated squirrels, which are native to Central America and are sometimes used as pets, the ECDC said in a rapid risk assessment. The men, who knew each other but did not live close together, all died recently after illnesses that included confusion, psychomotor impairment, and ocular paresis (partial paralysis).

Veterinary investigators did a genetic analysis of tissue from a squirrel that belonged to one of the men and discovered sequences of a new type of bornavirus, a genus that can infect many species of mammals and birds, the ECDC reported. Analysis of brain tissue from the three deceased men subsequently revealed the same virus, which "is clearly different from all currently known bornaviruses."

The available evidence suggests that the virus passed from the squirrels to the men, but there is no proof yet of a direct causal relationship between the viral material in the brain and the encephalitis cases, the report said.

Additional testing of variegated squirrels from one breeder and a zoo did not detect the virus, but further investigations are under way. The role of the virus in the three cases and the identification of the virus's natural hosts, reservoirs, and transmission route all require additional research, the ECDC said.

The agency said any risk to the general population appears to be very low, but squirrel breeders and owners of pet squirrels could have an increased risk. Until the investigation is finished, the statement warned, people should avoid feeding or having director contact with variegated squirrels.
Feb 27 ECDC statement
Feb 27 ECDC rapid
risk assessment


European report notes high resistance in Salmonella, Campylobacter

Multi-drug resistant isolates of Salmonella continue to spread across Europe, and some nations have reported ciprofloxacin resistance in Campylobacter isolates from both humans and animals, according to a report released yesterday by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the ECDC.

The report, based on 2013 data, reflects for the first time, the EFSA's and ECDC's use of similar criteria to interpret data, which eases comparisons among isolates from humans, animals, and foods, according to an EFSA news release.

The report found multidrug resistance levels to be 73.0% in turkeys, 56.0% in broilers, 37.9% in fattening pigs, and 31.8% in humans. Researchers also expressed concern over the continued spread of particularly multidrug-resistant clones in human, broiler, pig, and cattle isolates.

More than half of both human and broiler Campylobacter jejuni isolates (54.6% and 54.5%, respectively) were resistant to ciprofloxacin, and the level was 35.8% in cattle. Two thirds of human and broiler Campylobacter coli isolates (66.6% and 68.8%, respectively) were resistant, compared with 31.1% of pig isolates.

"The high levels of resistance to fluoroquinolones observed in Campylobacter isolates from both humans and broilers are of concern considering that a large proportion of human Campylobacter infections come from handling, preparation and consumption of broiler meat," said Mike Catchpole, PhD, chief scientist at ECDC. "Such high resistance levels reduce the effective treatment options for severe human Campylobacter infections."

The report also includes data on resistance in Escherichia coli, enterococci, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in animals and food.
Feb 26 EFSA/ECDC abstract and link to full report
Feb 26 EFSA press release


Study identifies Marburg antibody binding site

US researchers have determined that antibodies to Marburg virus (MARV), a close relative of Ebola, bind to the virus's glycoprotein (GP) as well as to Ebola virus glycoprotein, according to a study yesterday in Cell.

The study shows that the human immune system can effectively fight MARV infections by producing antibodies and shows how these antibodies inactivate the virus, according to a news release yesterday from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB). The findings could one day help researchers develop antibody-based treatments against both MARV and Ebola viruses, the release says.

The researchers isolated a panel of neutralizing antibodies from a Marburg survivor that bind to the virus's GP and compete for binding to a single antigenic site, which could inhibit infection. This appeared to be the same spot thought to interact with human cells targeted by the virus during the initial phase of infection, according to the release.

The authors conclude, "The data suggest that MARV-neutralizing antibodies inhibit virus by binding to infectious virions at the exposed MARV receptor-binding site, revealing a mechanism of filovirus inhibition."
Feb 26 Cell abstract
Feb 26 UTMB news release

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