News Scan for Jan 05, 2017

More Saudi MERS
CDC lab-mishap reports
New malaria vaccine
Avian flu in Chile
Novel H5N6 in Korea

MERS-CoV infects 5 more in Saudi Arabia, 1 fatally

In updates yesterday and today, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health (MOH) announced five new MERS-CoV cases, one of them fatal.

Yesterday the MOH reported four new MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) cases, two in Riyadh and a pair from Buraydah, located about 200 miles northwest of Riyadh in the north central part of the country.

One of the Riyadh patients is a 58-year-old man who has an asymptomatic infection and is listed as a household contact of an earlier case. The other three had primary exposure to the virus, meaning they aren't thought to have contracted their infections from another patient. They are a 56-year-old foreign man in Riyadh who is in critical condition, an 87-year-Saudi woman from Buraydah who is listed as stable, and an 88-year-old Saudi woman from Buraydah who died.

Today the MOH reported an additional MERS patient in Buraydah, a 70-year-old Saudi woman who is in stable condition and has a primary infection source.

The new cases boost Saudi Arabia's MERS-CoV total to 1,527, including 636 deaths. Eleven people are still being treated.
Jan 4 Saudi MOH update
Jan 5 Saudi MOH update


CDC releases heavily redacted lab-mishap reports after FOIA request

Two years after filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to see reports of recent biosafety breaches at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-affiliated labs, USA Today reported yesterday that the agency has finally complied—but with much of the key information blacked out, including the dangerous pathogens involved.

From the information that was left to read, the newspaper noted that CDC scientists apparently lost a box of deadly and highly regulated influenza specimens and experienced multiple exposures involving viruses and bacteria, including equipment failure in a biosafety-level 4 lab, in which the most dangerous pathogens are studied and contained.

"The 503 pages of records the CDC released in many cases look like Swiss cheese when an incident involves any pathogen that is on a federal list of potential bioterror pathogens, called 'select agents,' " the story says. "They include pathogens such as those that cause anthrax, Ebola, plague, or certain avian or reconstructed flu virus strains."

Several reports had every word redacted. In an Aug 1, 2014, e-mail about a lab incident, the only words not blacked out were "When I came in this morning" at the beginning and "Please let me know if you have any questions" at the end.

The CDC would not respond to USA Today's questions about specific incidents, which occurred at CDC labs in Atlanta and Fort Collins, Colo., during 2013 through early 2015. "None of the incidents described in these documents resulted in reported illness among CDC staff or the public," the agency said in a brief e-mailed statement. In justifying the redactions, the CDC cited a 2002 bioterrorism law that allows withholding information from the public for security reasons.
Jan 4 USA Today story


Scientists alter genes in promising new malaria vaccine candidate

Researchers from Washington state successfully altered Plasmodium falciparum, allowing the malaria parasite to be used as a vaccine in 10 healthy volunteers. The study was published yesterday in Science Translational Medicine.

While using whole but weakened malaria parasites has been a target of vaccine research, there is concern such vaccines could cause breakthrough malaria infections. To combat this, researchers knocked out three genes that cause liver infection before using the parasite on human subjects. The subjects were tested with exposure to the altered parasites (via 150 to 200 mosquito bites per person), and all developed antibody responses without malaria symptoms.

The modified parasite was then transferred to humanized mice, where antibodies blocked malaria infection in the liver. The promising results pave the way to a phase 1b trial of the GAP3KO vaccine candidate using controlled human malaria infection, the researchers said, according to a news release from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which publishes the journal.

Malaria is still the world's most threatening mosquito-transmitted disease, with over half the global population at risk for infection.
Jan 4 Sci Transl Med study
Jan 4 AAAS
news release


Poultry producer reports avian influenza outbreak in Chile

Reuters reported today that a poultry production plant in Chile (run by Agrosuper) has detected avian influenza in a flock of turkeys. The plant is located in the country’s Valparaiso region.

According to the infectious disease news tracking blog Avian Flu Diary (AFD), Chilean officials have said a H7 strain of avian influenza was detected in the birds. On Wednesday, Chile's Agriculture and Livestock Service said all infected birds will be culled and the area will be kept under surveillance.

Avian flu is not as common in South America as it is in China, Europe, and North America. Authorities said no humans have been infected in Chile and there is little to no risk to the general public. In 2002, Chile experienced its first avian influenza outbreak, which severely limited poultry exports.
Jan 5 Reuters story
Jan 5 AFD post


H5N6 genotype causing widespread bird flu activity in South Korea

In today's Eurosurveillance, a new study explains that a novel genotype of highly pathogenic H5N6 avian influenza is behind South Korea's current avian influenza outbreak. South Korea has been hard hit with H5N6 this fall and winter.

The researchers examined the H5N6 clade, first found in wild bird fecal samples in October of 2016 in South Korea. They determined the strain is a novel reassortant of virus subtypes H5N6, H4N2 and H1N1. By mid-November, this strain was causing poultry outbreaks across the country.

Initial animal studies have shown this strain to be particularly pathogenic in chickens, which explains why it traveled from wild birds to poultry populations quickly, the researchers said.
Jan 5 Eurosurveill study

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