News Scan for Feb 09, 2018

Olympics norovirus outbreak
2018 priority diseases
Polio in Afghanistan, DRC
Guinea Lassa fever case
Far-UV light against flu

Norovirus outbreak strikes Winter Olympics security staff, others

With the Winter Olympics just getting under way in South Korea, a norovirus outbreak has sidelined 32 workers, including 21 from the security staff, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Authorities have called in military personnel to help with security.

According to the report, about 1,200 people working security are being kept in their rooms during testing for the virus. Meanwhile, 900 South Korean military members are covering for them at 20 venues.

Organizers said tests on the water supply have so far been negative for norovirus, but officials have beefed up their inspections of all food and beverage facilities at the games locations, which open today.

A New York Times story today said officials have confirmed 128 total Olympics-related norovirus cases.

In a Feb 7 health advisory, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the risk of food- and waterborne outbreaks is higher during large gatherings where crowds eat from food outlets, of which many are temporary.
Feb 6 AP story
Feb 9 New York Times story
Feb 7 WHO health advisory


WHO updates infectious disease R & D priority list

In an annual effort meant to guide research and development on infectious disease drugs and vaccines, the WHO yesterday released an updated priority disease list for 2018. Topping the list are four categories of hemorrhagic fever disease, including Crimean-Congo, Ebola, Marburg, and Lassa.

The WHO, which has been publishing the list since 2015, said the tool identifies diseases that pose a public health risk because of their epidemic potential and for those with no or insufficient countermeasures. "This is not an exhaustive list, nor does it indicate the most likely causes of the next epidemic," it said. The list is based on an expert view that took place on Feb 6 and 7.

The list also includes two coronavirus diseases, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Also included on the list again are Nipah and henipavirus diseases, Rift Valley fever, and Zika.

New on the list this year is a category called "Disease X", which the WHO said represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be triggered by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease, requiring research and development preparedness that would cover such a disease as much as possible.

Some health experts have knocked the list before for leaving out influenza and have said its exclusion presents the illusion that the world is ready for a global outbreak. The WHO said flu is among several diseases—alongside diseases such as yellow fever and cholera—that are outside the scope of the blueprint, and though they pose major health problems, more research and development is needed through existing programs that already exist.

The WHO also said there are concerted efforts to address antimicrobial resistance though specific initiatives, but they said the emergence of a resistant pathogen in the future would be prioritized.
Feb 07 WHO list of pathogens
Jan 27, 2017, CIDRAP News scan "Lassa fever, MERS, Zika make WHO's top-priority disease list"


Polio cases confirmed in Afghanistan; DRC reports vaccine-derived case

In its latest weekly update, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) provided more details on two wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV 1) cases from Afghanistan that it initially reported last week and reported one more circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) case from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Afghanistan's cases are both from Kandahar province, and the patients' paralysis onsets were Jan 5 and Jan 6. The country now has three confirmed cases this year. The report also said another environmental sample from Kandahar province was positive for WPV1 and that a supplemental immunization campaign is slated to begin on Feb 12, targeting children in 24 provinces.

Meanwhile, the DRC's latest cVDPV2 case was reported from Tanganyika province, and the patient's paralysis onset was Nov 20, 2017, meaning the illness will be reflected in the total for 2017, which now stands at 18.
Feb 9 GPEI update

In other polio developments, Portugal has reported that poliovirus type 1 has been isolated from a stool sample of a 5-month-old child from Cape Verde, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said today in its weekly communicable disease update. The child had been given the oral polio vaccine on the second day of life and has been diagnosed with severe immunodeficiency. The baby arrived in Lisbon on Nov 30, 2017, and is isolated in the hospital awaiting a bone marrow transplant.

Genetic analysis in Portugal suggests that the virus hasn't diverged enough to be classified as vaccine-derived and that the divergence pattern seen so far is consistent with evolution in patients who have immune deficiency. Authorities are verifying polio vaccination status in health workers caring for the child and are monitoring the child's virus excretion.
Feb 9 GPEI update
Feb 9 ECDC communicable disease update


Guinea investigates Lassa fever death in patient who died in Liberia

Guinea's health ministry announced yesterday that a resident of the country died from Lassa fever, its first known case since 1996, AP reported today.

A health ministry statement in French said the patient was a woman who sought care at a clinic in Liberia on Jan 9, died in Liberia on Jan 11, and was buried in a safe and dignified way in Liberia. An investigation is under way in the woman's town in Guinea. So far 28 contacts are being monitored, and none have shown symptoms or tested positive for the disease.

Though Guinea has gone more than two decades without a known Lassa fever case, the disease has long been present in West Africa. Nigeria is currently experiencing an outbreak that has resulted in nearly 300 suspected cases since the first of the year, including 77 confirmed cases and 22 deaths.

Lassa fever is a hemorrhagic virus that is endemic to West Africa. Human-to-human transmission can occur after contact with infected body fluid, similar to Ebola, but the virus is often transmitted by rats.
Feb 2 AP story
Feb 7 Guinea health ministry statement


Far-UV light efficiently kills airborne flu viruses, study finds

Continual low doses of far-ultraviolet C (UVC) light can inactivate airborne influenza flu viruses, researchers from Columbia University in New York City explain today in Scientific Reports.

The scientists released aerosolized H1N1 flu viruses into a test chamber and exposed them to very low doses of far-UVC light, while a control group of aerosolized viruses was not exposed to the UVC light. The far-UVC light killed the flu viruses about as efficiently as conventional germicidal UV light.

"If our results are confirmed in other settings, it follows that the use of overhead low-level far-UVC light in public locations would be a safe and efficient method for limiting the transmission and spread of airborne-mediated microbial diseases, such as influenza and tuberculosis," said senior author David J. Brenner, PhD, in a Columbia news release.

The lamp that emits the far-UVC light costs less than $1,000, a price that will certainly drop if it were mass-produced. And it could provide a safer alternative to germicidal UV light, which can lead to skin cancer and cataracts, which prevents its use in public spaces, Brenner said.

"Far-UVC light has a very limited range and cannot penetrate through the outer dead-cell layer of human skin or the tear layer in the eye, so it's not a human health hazard," he added. "But because viruses and bacteria are much smaller than human cells, far-UVC light can reach their DNA and kill them," he said.
Feb 9 Sci Rep study
Feb 9 Columbia University news release

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