News Scan for Mar 13, 2019

Acting FDA acting chief named
MERS-CoV in Kenyan camels
Subclinical Nipah infections
Avian flu in Iran, Vietnam

HHS appoints NIH cancer chief as acting FDA commissioner

The US Department of Human Services (HHS) said yesterday that Ned Sharpless, MD, will serve as acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), replacing Scott Gottlieb, MD, who announced his resignation on Mar 5 after less than 2 years in the position.

Sharpless has been director of the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health since October 2017. He earned his medical degree at the University of North Carolina School of medicine before completing an internal medicine residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and a hematology/oncology fellowship at Dana-Farber/Partners Cancer Care, both with Harvard Medical School in Boston.

In addition to his work at director of the NCI, Sharpless is chief of the Aging Biology and Cancer Section at National Institute on Aging Laboratory of Genetics and Genomics. On his Twitter account yesterday, Sharpless said change is good, but bittersweet, and he thanked President Donald Trump, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and Gottlieb for their support.

Following the announcement, Gottlieb said on Twitter that he was delighted that Sharpless will serve as acting FDA commissioner. "Ned is a friend to FDA, a great public health champion, a dedicated physician, and will be warmly welcomed into his new role. FDA will benefit greatly from his leadership," he added.
Mar 12 HHS public affairs tweet
Ned Sharpless
Twitter feed
Mar 12 Scott Gottlieb


MERS-CoV detected in Kenyan camels

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) yesterday recorded six outbreaks of MERS-CoV among camel herds in Kenya in 2017 and 2018, resulting in 18 cases among 2,025 susceptible animals.

This is not the first time evidence of the coronavirus has been detected in Kenya. Studies conducted in 2015 and 2016 showed that the blood of nearly half of animals tested contained antibodies to MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus). And humans who worked with animals in Kenya have also tested positive for antibodies to the virus in 2016.

The OIE report, however, confirms detection of the virus itself. It is the agency's first report of MERS-CoV in Kenyan camels.

The current outbreaks occurred on four farms, in one village, and in Kora National Park on the Tana River. The two outbreaks from 2017 took place in Isiolo County, which is in the central part of the country. Other affected counties are Garissa, Marsabit, and Laikipia.

No animals died in the outbreaks.
Mar 12 OIE
Mar 4, 2016, CIDRAP News story on antibodies in people


2018 Nipah outbreak in India led to 3 subclinical infections

A study yesterday in Emerging Infectious Diseases describes how a Nipah virus (NiV) outbreak in Kerala, India, last year led to three subclinical infections.

In May 2018, a Nipah outbreak emerged in Kerala connected to fruit bats found in a family's well. A total of 18 people were diagnosed with the emerging infectious disease, and 16 died (case-fatality rate of 89%).

The infections were found via serum sampling conducted on 155 healthcare workers (HCWs) and 124 household and community members who had close contact with the 18 patients. All contacts were considered high-risk; 123 HCWs (79.4%) and 88 household contacts (71.0%) reported physical contact with one or more Nipah patients.

Among the contacts, three had immune markers indicating a Nipah infection.

"We calculated the overall seroprevalence of NiV as 1.08% (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.37% to 3.11%)," the authors wrote. "None of the seropositive persons reported having a febrile illness after their last contact with an NiV patient, indicating subclinical infections. Two seropositive persons were family members of a laboratory-confirmed patient, and the third was a HCW in the emergency medicine department."

The authors also said all three contacts had a history of exposure to an infected patient's bodily fluids, and the risk for subclinical infections was higher for contacts with exposure to bodily fluids compared with those who had physical contact only (4.4% [95% CI, 1.5%–12.2%] vs 0% [95% CI, 0%–1.8%]; P = 0.007).
Mar 12 Emerg Infect Dis


High-path H5 outbreaks strike poultry in Iran and Vietnam

In the latest highly pathogenic avian flu outbreak developments, Iran reported another H5N8 event in poultry and Vietnam reported an H5N6 detection, according to the latest notifications from the OIE.

Iran's outbreak struck backyard poultry in Tabriz in East Azarbayejan province in the country's northwest. The event began on Feb 26, killing 10 of 31 birds. The surviving ones were destroyed to curb the spread of the virus. The last H5N8 outbreak in Iran occurred in late January.

Vietnam's H5N6 outbreak began Feb 11 in village birds in Quang Nam province in the central part of the country. The virus infected 1,350 of 3,800 susceptible birds. No deaths were reported but authorities culled the flock as part of the response to the event. The country's last H5N6 outbreak occurred in early January.
Mar 9 OIE report on H5N8 in Iran
Mar 13 OIE report on
H5N6 in Vietnam

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