News Scan for Dec 30, 2015

Microcephaly in Brazil
HCW pandemic absenteeism
End to Iowa poultry ban

Suspected microcephaly cases in Brazil increase by almost 200

Nearly 200 new suspected cases of microcephaly potentially related to the spread of Zika virus were reported in Brazil over the past week, raising the total of suspected cases to 2,975, according to a translated bulletin from Brazil's Ministry of Health (MOH) posted yesterday by infectious disease blog Avian Flu Diary.

Microcephaly, in which infants are born with smaller-than-normal heads and brains, has been reported in 656 municipalities in 20 Brazilian states, increasing in incidence with the spread of Zika virus in the country.

Of the total number of suspected microcephaly cases, 1,153 (39%) have been reported in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco. Other states reporting high numbers of suspected cases include Paraiba (476), Bahia (271), Rio Grande do Norte (154), Sergipe (146), Ceara (134), Alagoas (129), Maranhao (94), and Piaui (51).

MOH officials are also investigating 40 deaths that are potentially related to microcephaly. It has declared a public health emergency and opened an emergency operations center as a response, as well as a national center to combat microcephaly that will focus on controlling Aedes mosquitoes, which transmit Zika virus.
Dec 30 AFD report
Dec 23 CIDRAP News scan on Zika virus and microcephaly in Brazil


Study: Absenteeism rose among HCWs as 2009 H1N1 pandemic progressed

Absences due to acute respiratory infection (ARI) increased in healthcare workers with each phase of the 2009 H1N flu pandemic, according to findings published yesterday in BMC Infectious Diseases.

Hong Kong researchers analyzed ARI-related absenteeism among healthcare workers (HCWs) during seasonal flu epidemics from 2004 to 2009 and compared it to the containment (May 1 through Jun 10, 2009) and mitigation (Jun 11 through Dec 31, 2009) periods of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

During the study period, 27,419 (34.8%) of the 78,743 HCW absences were ARI-related, accounting for an average staff time loss of 17.4 person-days, the authors said.

HCW absences due to ARI increased significantly during the pre-pandemic and pandemic phases, with a 26.5% increase during flu seasons, a 43.2% increase during the 2009 pandemic containment period, and a 90.9% increase during pandemic mitigation.

Medical staff experienced the highest jump in ARI-related absences during the containment and mitigation periods, with 771.2% and 1,496.8% increases, respectively. Increases among medical staff were 7 times those of other staff during containment and 15 times during mitigation.

In comparison, HCW absences due to all causes of illness increased by 8.4% during seasonal flu epidemics, while the containment and mitigation phases of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic saw 35% and 57.7% increases in all-cause illness, respectively. Substantial increases of HCW absence during pandemic periods may be due to ongoing exposure to the virus and the low rate of influenza vaccination (20% to 25%) among Hong Kong HCWs, the authors said.

Climbing absentee rates, especially among medical staff, during pandemic phases is a cause for concern that should be factored into service delivery and patient surge capacity planning for future epidemics, the authors concluded.
Dec 29 BMC Infect Dis study


Iowa declared free of high-path avian flu, lifts poultry exhibition ban

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) announced yesterday that it is lifting a statewide ban on poultry exhibitions effective Jan 1, 2016.

The ban was issued in May as a response to outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in the state. Poultry gatherings at fairs, livestock auctions, swap meets, and exotic sales were all prohibited. Minnesota lifted a similar ban a month ago.

No new cases of HPAI have been identified in Iowa since June, and the last poultry quarantine order was lifted on Dec 1, meaning that Iowa is now free of HPAI.

The 2015 Iowa outbreak of HPAI affected 31.5 million birds, including those from commercial and backyard flocks, on 77 premises in 18 counties.
Dec 29 IDALS press release
Dec 1 CIDRAP News story on Minnesota's step

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