NEWS SCAN: Ricin in 2 Spokane letters, Haemophilus influenzae in Alaska, malaria mosquito attractant, cholera toolkit

May 16, 2013

Ricin detected in 2 letters in Spokane, Wash.
The contents of two letters in Spokane, Wash., have tested positive for ricin, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) reported yesterday. Preliminary tests indicated the presence of the biological toxin, the APWU said, and further tests are pending. One letter was addressed to the Spokane Post Office, and the other to a federal judge in the city. Both were postmarked May 14. "We have no reason to believe that any employees are at risk from handling the suspect letters as they passed through the mailstream in Spokane," APWU management told postal workers. "The substance involved was not in a form that could be inhaled or otherwise readily ingested." APWU officials encouraged employees who develop symptoms to report them to a supervisor and consult a physician promptly. Last month police arrested a Mississippi man in connection with ricin-containing letters sent to President Barack Obama and a US senator and federal judge from Mississippi.
May 15 APWU Web News article

Haemophilus influenzae type a emerges as threat to Alaska Native children
Although vaccination has greatly reduced Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) in Alaska Native children, H influenzae type a (Hia) has emerged as a serious threat to that group in the past decade, according to a report yesterday in Emerging Infectious Diseases. Through Alaska statewide surveillance, the authors identified 32 cases of invasive Hia infection that occurred from 2002 through 2011, including 15 cases in a regional outbreak in southwestern Alaska from 2009 through 2011. Twenty-seven of the 32 case-patients were hospitalized, and 3, all under age 1, died. The median age of the 32 patients was 0.7 years (range, 0.3 to 48 years). The most common clinical syndromes were meningitis, pneumonia with bacteremia, and septic arthritis. Of the patients, 27 were Alaska Native children, representing an incidence in that group of 18 per 100,000 for the 2002-11 period, versus 0.5 per 100,000 for non-Native children. "Since introduction of the Hib conjugate vaccine, Hia infection has become a major invasive bacterial disease in Alaska Native children," the authors conclude.
May 15 Emerg Infect Dis report

Malaria parasite boosts mosquito attraction to human scent
Malaria-infected mosquitoes are more attracted to human odors than uninfected ones, a factor that appears to enhance the spread of the disease, UK and Dutch researchers reported yesterday in PLoS One. The team conducted the experiments with Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto mosquitoes, some of which were infected with Plasmodium falciparum, in a lab setting. Mosquitoes infected with the parasite were three times more likely to land on and probe a fabric matrix that contained human odor. Earlier studies have shown that P falciparum can influence other mosquito behaviors, such as consuming larger, more frequent blood meals. Understanding how the parasite affect mosquitoes' sense of smell could help pave the way for new compounds that can be used for traps and surveillance programs, the group wrote.
May 15 PLoS One report
May 15 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine press release

UNICEF releases information toolkit for fighting cholera
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced yesterday the release of its cholera toolkit, a compendium of information to help the agency and its partners prevent, prepare for, and respond to the disease. "What the toolkit does is harvest the best and most up-to-date knowledge in the field and brings it together in one location," said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF's chief of water, sanitation and hygiene, in a press release. "It looks at the evidence. It looks at practices that have produced results." The online toolkit includes chapters on cholera basics, monitoring, prevention, coordination, preparedness, communication, case management and infection control, community-focused interventions, and UNICEF procedures for emergency preparedness and response. The agency said the annual toll from cholera is estimated at 3 million to 5 million cases, with 100,000 to 120,000 deaths, half of them in children under age 5. Officials said they are concerned that cholera is resurging, because of factors that include climate change and deepening poverty in many areas.
May 15 UNICEF press release
Cholera toolkit home page

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