…A WHO panel concluded last year that retaining stocks served no public health purpose. Research has already provided the world with a vast scientific arsenal to respond to an outbreak of smallpox. By destroying the last stocks, the world would be drawing a clear legal distinction: anyone in possession of the virus after that date would be guilty of a crime against humanity.
The greatest danger of an outbreak comes not from al-Qa’ida (which almost certainly does not have the virus) but from an accident at the labs in Atlanta or Koltsovo (which most certainly do).
The stocks of the pathogen may already be scientific anachronisms. Using the latest DNA technology, scientists could potentially recreate the virus at will, using synthesised nucleic acids.
The US and Russian desire to retain smallpox stocks seems at least partly symbolic, a toxic microbial arms race in which neither side is willing to back down. Destroying the last stocks would be a significant act of mutual biological disarmament.
China is facing yet another case of melamine contamination after police seized 26 tonnes of tainted milk powder from an ice cream manufacturer.
State media reported that the powder was seized from a company in Chongqing in south west China. Media reports claim that the tainted powder, which is thought to come from Inner Mongolia in north west China, has not filtered through to the consumer.
Melamine-tainted milk has continued to appear in the Chinese dairy supply chain despite government efforts to improve the food safety record of the industry…
(The post-earthquake cholera epidemic in Haiti - more than 200,000 cases and 4,000 deaths so far - reaches the industrialized world, according to a report from Montreal physicians. - m.)
…We report a case of V. cholerae O1 serotype Ogawa in Canada related to the outbreak in Haiti. It was diagnosed in Montréal, Québec, on January 5, 2011.
A 49-year-old Canadian woman traveled to Haiti with her 5 brothers and sisters during December 22–29, 2010, to attend her mother’s funeral. While in Haiti, they stayed with family members.
She came to the emergency department of the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal on January 1, 2011, with abdominal cramps and diarrhea of moderate intensity that had started on December 29, the day she returned from Haiti.
The patient was asthenic, but vital signs and results of a physical examination were normal. A complete blood count, levels of serum electrolytes and serum creatinine, and results of liver function tests were within reference ranges. A fecal sample was submitted and the patient received intravenous fluids and 1 dose (300 mg) of doxycycline. She improved rapidly and was discharged on January 3.
The patient returned to the outpatient clinic on January 7, and she had recovered from her illness. Control fecal specimens obtained on January 9 and 10 were negative for V. cholerae. Family members
that traveled with her did not get ill, and there were no secondary cases among her family members in Montréal….
The fecal culture of the sample provided on December 29 contained V. cholerae. The isolate was confirmed as toxigenic V. cholerae serogroup O1, serotype Ogawa, biotype El Tor, and matched the Haiti outbreak strain when tested by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Antimicrobial drug susceptibility testing was performed by continuous gradient dilution (Etest), and results were interpreted according to standard criteria (2). The strain was susceptible to azithromycin (0.25 mg/L), ciprofloxacin (0.5 mg/L), and tetracycline (1 mg/L) and resistant to trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (>32/608 mg/L).
Cases of diagnosed cholera are rare in Canada (0–3 laboratory-confirmed isolations of serogroup O1 and O139 V. cholerae per year (3). All cases in Canada have been associated with travel to cholera-endemic areas, including Africa and Southeast Asia. Monitoring of cholera in Canada is completed through the National Notifiable Diseases Program and through the public health laboratory network. Biochemical identification, serotyping, and PFGE testing are performed on all suspected V. cholerae isolates. Confirmed isolations of a serogroup O1 or O139 V. cholerae strain that produces cholera toxin are also reported through the International Health Regulations focal point.
Whole genome sequencing has been completed for several isolates to investigate the origin of the Haiti cholera outbreak (4,5). However, PFGE remains one of the primary tools for defining the outbreak strain (4). The highly standardized methods of PulseNet International for generating, analyzing, and comparing PFGE patterns are used worldwide to track the temporal and geographic distribution of V. cholerae (6,7).
PFGE for V. cholerae was performed by using restriction enzymes SfiI and NotI (8). The PFGE patterns of this travel-associated case matched patterns of the representative Haiti cholera outbreak strain that was deposited into the American Type Culture Collection (Manassas, VA, USA) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Atlanta, GA, USA; strain BAA-2163; CDC isolate 2010EL-1786) (Figure). PulseNet Canada SfiI and NotI PFGE pattern designations were VCSFI.0006 and VCNTI.0006, respectively, and were equivalent to PulseNet USA patterns KZGS12.0088 and KZGN11.0092.
We’re numb here as the clock nears 4:30 a.m., and we’re not quite sure what to do. The deaths of Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington on Tripoli Street still seem unreal. Bryan just walked off from the little space we’ve been huddled in, working. He’ll sleep soon, I hope. The work kept us busy…
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued four warning letters to companies that manufacture and market over-the-counter (OTC) drug products, including hand sanitizers, that claim to prevent infection from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (MRSA).
Labeling and marketing materials for the affected products also claim that they can prevent infection from other disease-causing agents. In addition, the labeling of some of the firms’ hand sanitizing drug products make claims related to preventing infection from E.coli and/or H1N1 flu virus.
The FDA does not have sufficient evidence demonstrating that these products are safe and effective for these purposes…
The American farm-raised catfish is proving an elusive catch for Southern restaurant owners who draw big crowds with heaping platters of fried fish and hush puppies.
Rising grain prices and cheaper imports have forced many domestic catfish farmers out of business, creating a shortage of American fish that has pushed prices up.
That leaves owners of restaurants like Mr. Whiskers Family Catfish Restaurant in McComb, Miss., and Smackin’ Mack’s Catfish Restaurant in Alexandria, La., grappling with whether to raise prices or risk the ire of their customers with less expensive substitutes, like Asian catfish varieties known as “swai” or “basa.”
The predicament stems in part from what U.S. farm-raised catfish themselves eat: pellets made of soybeans, corn and wheat. The prices of those ingredients have jumped, causing the price of catfish feed to double over the past four years.
Many farmers—caught between rising costs and tight credit that makes it tougher for them to borrow—have been leaving the business. There were 9% fewer American catfish operators on Jan. 1 than there were a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture…
(Statement issued this morning in Geneva, no details yet. -m.)
17 APRIL 2011 | GENEVA - After a week of negotiations continued through Friday night and into Saturday morning, an open-ended working-group meeting of Member States successfully agreed upon a framework to ensure that in a pandemic, influenza virus samples will be shared with partners who need the information to take steps to protect public health. The working-group meeting was convened under the authority of the World Health Assembly and coordinated by WHO. The new framework includes certain binding legal regimes for WHO, national influenza laboratories around the world and industry partners in both developed and developing countries that will strengthen how the world responds more effectively with the next flu pandemic. By making sure that the roles and obligations among key players are better established than in the past - including through the use of contracts - the framework will help increase and expedite access to essential vaccines, antivirals and diagnostic kits, especially for lower-income countries…
After days of openly denying the “existence and public health importance” of the NDM-1 gene, India has finally decided to check the presence of superbugs in the Capital and its water supply lines.
Quietly yielding under pressure, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has decided to lead a study to gauge the “prevalence of Carbapenem resistance in Delhi’s ICUs and environment”. Carbapenems are the most powerful generation of antibiotics.
British scientists had recently claimed that the NDM-1 gene or the New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase gene makes bacteria highly resistant to all-known antibiotics, including Carbapenems.
A national workshop for scientists, who will undertake the six-month study, will be held on April 25…
“The salient point, as we enter shutdown mode, is this: Republicans have had at least three opportunities this week to preserve the livelihoods of US service members and their families, while keeping the budget debate open. They had their moment. They had their chance. They have not led.”—From “The GOP’s Phony Troop-Pay Ploy.” Those final three sentences, ironically, are taken from a speech by George W. Bush at the 2000 GOP presidential convention, complaining about Democrats. We think the words are especially apt here. (via motherjones)
Parents are being urged to get their children vaccinated against measles before they travel for the Easter holidays following outbreaks in Europe, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA).
It has sent letters to schools warning of a “large outbreak” in France plus outbreaks in Italy, Germany and Bulgaria.
The letter reads: “Families planning to travel abroad during the school holidays should check that they are up to date with their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccinations prior to departure. This is also important for any planned school trips.”
It also said there had been “confirmed measles cases across Surrey and Sussex” in schools.
So far this year 4,000 people have been diagnosed with measles in France - not far short of the 4,500 diagnosed in Britain since 2006. Switzerland and Spain are also reporting large numbers of cases.
Last month the National Travel Health Network and Centre issued advice stating that “overseas travel is an important factor in the international spread of measles”.
It noted that a third of measles cases reported in January (eight of 22) were in people who had recently been to France, India, Turkey or Switzerland.
An HPA spokesman said: “We are seeing more cases where people have been abroad then come back to England and developed measles symptoms.
"We want parents to be aware of the symptoms and mindful that if they are travelling abroad and their children have not been immunised they will be vulnerable."
Measles is spread by inhaling droplets released when infected people cough or sneeze. Most people only experience a mild fever but complications affect one in 15. These can include ear infections, pneumonia and seizures and, more rarely, encephalitis - swelling of the brain - which can cause brain damage and even death.
The disease has been largely eradicated by vaccination, including the MMR programme which started in 1998.
However, millions of parents boycotted the triple-vaccine after Dr Andrew Wakefield and colleagues claimed in a 1998 study, published in The Lancet, that it could cause autism and bowel disease…
…The Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize 2011 in association with the Guardian and The Observer aims to celebrate new voices in the ever-growing ecosystem of science journalism.
We want to identify some of the best writing about the remarkable ideas and stories emerging from the world’s laboratories, field trips and research journals. If you can enthuse people about cutting-edge particle physics or the latest developments in synthetic biology, this is the competition for you.
You might be a new PhD student laying out your research ideas, a seasoned blogger who writes about science in his spare time, or a professor of biology discussing a new idea in her field.
You might be none of the above and, instead, someone who just looks at the world in wonder and wants to write about what you see.
Or maybe you have never written about science before. As long as you’re not already a professional writer or journalist you can enter this competition…
On March 2, 2011, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) confirmed measles in a Hennepin County resident aged 9 months. As of April 1, investigation of contacts and heightened surveillance had revealed a total of 13 epidemiologically linked cases in Hennepin County residents. Of those cases, 11 were laboratory confirmed, and two were in household contacts of confirmed cases and met the clinical case definition for measles.
The patients included children aged 4 months—4 years and one adult aged 51 years; seven of the 13 were of Somali decent. Eight patients were hospitalized. Vaccination status was known for 11 patients: five were too young to have been vaccinated, and six (all of Somali descent) had not been vaccinated because of parental concerns about the safety of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The most recent rash onset was March 28. An additional, unrelated case of measles was confirmed in a Hennepin County resident aged 34 years who was exposed in Orlando, Florida, sometime during March 1—10.
The investigation determined that the index patient was a U.S.-born child of Somali descent, aged 30 months, who developed a rash February 15, 14 days after returning from a trip to Kenya. The patient attended a drop-in child care center 1 day before rash onset; measles developed in three contacts at the center and in one household contact. Secondary and tertiary exposures occurred in two congregate living facilities for homeless persons (four patients), an emergency department (two patients), and households (two patients). A virus isolate from the index patient was genotyped at CDC as B3, which is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa.
Outbreak control efforts have included following up with potentially exposed persons, providing immune globulin to persons without evidence of immunity, and recommending that persons without evidence of immunity who have been exposed to measles not leave their residence while potentially infectious (21 days). Multiple vaccination clinics have been held or scheduled at community venues and in the congregate living facilities.
In the United States, MMR vaccine normally is given as a 2-dose series, with the first dose at age 12—15 months and a second dose at age 4—6 years.* However, this series may be accelerated during outbreaks. In response to the current outbreak, MDH has recommended that children aged 6—11 months living in selected congregate living facilities receive a dose of MMR vaccine,† and that older children and adults in these facilities receive vaccine if they are susceptible and have had less than 2 doses of MMR vaccine. MDH also has recommended an accelerated vaccination schedule (a total of 2 doses of MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days) for all children aged ≥12 months living in Hennepin County and all children of Somali descent living in the wider Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.
Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000. However, importations of measles from other countries still occur, and low vaccination coverage associated with parental concerns regarding the MMR vaccine puts persons and communities at risk for measles. Public health and health-care providers should work with parents and community leaders to address concerns about the MMR vaccine to ensure high vaccination coverage and prevent measles.
Hysteria or a new disease? China’s public health agency is dealing with a wave of complaints from people who test negative for HIV despite having AIDS-like symptoms. - m.
…Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), said at a press conference yesterday that the center collected blood samples from 59 patients in January 2010, who claimed they had symptoms, despite being tested negative.
"The tests showed that they were HIV negative, and that their CD4 level (for monitoring immune-system functions) generally confined within the normal standards," Zeng said, adding that none of the symptoms were related to HIV/AIDS.
Zeng’s words resonated with Ministry of Health spokesman Deng Haihua, who said the day before that the HIV suspicions were most likely caused by an HIV phobia. According to Deng, people who have HIV phobia usually call themselves “negative HIV carriers,” as they do not believe the test results or authorities.
In response to a Global Times’ inquiry, Connie Osborne, a senior HIV/AIDS adviser for the World Health Organization (WHO), said the health agency supports Chinese authorities’ assertion on this matter, as judging from the patients’ known information, it’s possibly an HIV phobia-related syndrome. “If there are signs of an AIDS-like illness, then more sophisticated tests for other causes of AIDS-like illnesses are called for,” Osborne said in an e-mail.
According to Zeng, the CDC did not immediately release the outcome of the 2010 tests, in consideration of the mental and psychological vulnerability of the 59 patients, but recent media reports hyped the case, which could cause unnecessary concerns among the public. Earlier this week, several media reports quoted “negative HIV carriers” as saying that they had AIDS-like symptoms after kissing, despite being HIV negative, and that their family members were all infected.
Some thought they were infected with a new virus or an HIV mutation that was not being detected.
According to Zeng, the 59 patients’ blood samples were sent in January to the University of California in San Francisco, to undergo comparisons with 15,000 known viruses, including HIV.
"As of March 30, the university had completed testing one third of the samples, but it hadn’t detected any sign of viral infection. At least we are now sure that they are not infected with HIV or any other known infectious virus," Zeng said. He did not rule out the possibility of a new virus, but he noted that, based on CDC studies, the patients’ symptoms are not infectious, and most are exaggerated…
A woman from Geauga County, Ohio, pleaded not guilty to robbery charges after police said she used a MRSA infection on her arm as a weapon to steal from a Cleveland gas station.
Caroline Slusher, 32, of Chesterland was arraigned on one count of robbery and one count of theft.
According to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, Slusher entered the BP gas station on East 152nd Street near I-90 on Oct. 3 and began taking candy and gum off the shelves and stuffing it in bags and in her clothing.
When a worker confronted her, prosecutors said Slusher showed her methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus-infected arm to the attendant, told him to stay away and then left the store…
She was arrested March 30 after skipped out on a November court appearance, prosecutors said…
Four people have been hospitalised with dengue fever in Hawaii during the first outbreak of the deadly disease in the country for 10 years.
A further 12 people are suspected of having contracted the illness, as Hawaii health officials said they hoped to contain the epidemic to ‘small numbers’.
The Hawaii state Department of Health had issued an alert about the disease last month, when the first two cases were diagnosed. Three of the four people so far confirmed as infected are from the same family, while the fourth is one of their neighbours in Pearl City, Hawaii…
…As of April 1, 2011, 12 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Hadar have been reported from 10 states: Arizona (1 case), California (1 case), Colorado (1 case), Georgia (1 case), Illinois (1 case), Missouri (1 case), Mississippi (1 case), Ohio (1 case), Washington (1 case), and Wisconsin (3 cases).
Isolation dates range from December 27, 2010 to March 24, 2011. Ill persons range in age from 1 year to 86 years old, with a median age of 29 years old. Sixty-three percent are female. Among the 12 ill persons with available information, three have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.
Illnesses that occurred after March 18, 2011, might not be reported yet due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of 2 to 3 weeks.
Collaborative investigative efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies have linked this outbreak to eating turkey burgers. Investigators were not able to determine consumption of turkey burgers for all case-patients. However, FSIS determined that at least three of the case-patients in Colorado, Ohio, and Wisconsin specifically reported eating Jennie-O Turkey burgers the week before their illness began. Samples of Jennie-O ground turkey burgers were collected by public health agencies from the homes of case-patients in Colorado and Wisconsin who tested positive for the outbreak strain of Salmonella Hadar. Both turkey burger samples were positive for the outbreak strain.
States have reported antibiotic resistance of the outbreak strain to several clinically useful drugs including ampicillin, amoxicillin/clavulanate, cephalothin, and tetracycline. …
BEIJING — China’s quality inspection agency has ordered nearly half the nation’s dairy firms to halt production as part of a campaign to clean up an industry that has been blighted by toxic scandals.
China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said on Saturday that of 1,176 dairy production companies vetted for new licenses, 426 producers outright failed to pass the renewal inspection and another 107 were ordered to suspend production to improve their operations.
The General Administration warned milk product makers that failed to pass the quality drive not to flout the law and secretly resume production.
"Intensify law enforcement and oversight of the businesses that failed to pass scrutiny or were ordered to cease production and clean up," said the agency in a statement on the central government’s website (www.gov.cn). “Production without a license will be strictly punished according to the law.”
China’s food sector has been beset by poisonings and toxin scandals that have repeatedly shaken consumer confidence, and the fast-growing but fragmented dairy sector has been at the heart of those worries. In 2008, at least six children died and nearly 300,000 fell ill from powdered milk laced with melamine…