Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – December 19th, 2003

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

December 19, 2003

New Federal Compliance Policy Guide For Food Imports Now in Effect

On December 12, 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began enforcing new federal guidelines designed to protect the U.S. food supply from terrorists.

The rules are part of the 2002 Bioterrorism Act and require all facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold food for consumption in the United States to register with the FDA. This will create the first complete roster of foreign and domestic food sources. The guideline also requires all companies that sell imported food in the United States to let the FDA know when the food is expected to arrive. The FDA must receive prior notice two to eight hours before arrival at the United States border so the agency can conduct spot inspections.

The FDA and CBP consider the next eight months a phase-in period where they will educate affected firms and individuals about the rule and escalate monetary penalties and ultimately the refusal of shipments as the phase-in period comes to a close.

More information about the rule is available at:

A compliance guide is available at:

FDA Confirms Hepatitis A Outbreak Associated with Green Onions from Mexico

According to investigations by state and local health departments, the CDC and FDA, the recent hepatitis A outbreaks in Tennessee, Georgia and Pennsylvania trace back to green onions from Mexico. The source of the fourth outbreak in North Carolina has not been established.

More than 500 people were infected in the recent outbreaks and three people died.

While the exact source of the contamination has not yet been established, an examination of four firms identified by the FDA traceback investigation found each facility to have poor sanitation practices, inadequate hand washing facilities, and worker health and hygiene issues. Water used in the fields, packing sheds, and ice making was determined to be substandard and potentially a contributing factor in the spread of the disease.

Hepatitis A is transmitted in raw or undercooked food that has been contaminated with the feces of a person with the disease or been exposed to water contaminated with the virus. Symptoms on the virus include jaundice, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea and fever, and can be fatal to those with chronic liver disease.

Additional details about the investigation can be found at:

USDA Awards Water Quality Grants

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded more than $12 million in grants to 22 institutions to conduct research, education and extension programs aimed at improving the quality of the Nation’s water resources. The grants are administered by the USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.

Grant recipients will focus on the impacts of bacteria and pharmaceuticals on water quality and developing improved tools for decision-making through economic and policy analyses. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman confirmed that the grants will be used for both project related to agricultural water issues, and to fund consumer education about safe drinking water practices.

Approximately $750,000 of the funds will be used to train Technical Service Providers who assist farmers and ranchers on nutrient and pesticide management issues related to water quality.

More information about the grants is available at:

UN Conference Proposes Action Plan for Water Crisis in Africa

The United Nation’s Pan-African Implementation and Partnership Conference on Water (PANAFCON) concluded December 12th with an established plan of action to meet targets on sanitation and water management set by the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), African Water Vision and Millennium Development Goals (MGDs).

According to statistics presented at the five-day international conference, more than 300 million Africans lack access to clean water.

Approximately 45 African Ministers of Water and Environment resolved to give special attention to countries that will most likely miss their targets for safe drinking water and sanitation. They also agreed to establish a National Task Force on Water and Sanitation that will prepare national plans with service delivery targets for achieving water and sanitation goals by 2015.

The ministers also launched the African Water Facility, with a targeted funding of more than $600 million for medium-term projects on water and sanitation.

More information about the conference is available at:

Flu Outbreak Nearing Epidemic Levels

According to the latest reports from the CDC, the recent flu outbreak is now widespread in 24 states, with cases reported in all 50 states. From December 7th to December 12th, pneumonia and influenza were responsible for 7 percent of all deaths logged by the country’s reporting system – just below the 7.6 percent that the CDC set as the epidemic threshold.

It is reported that young infants, school-age children and adolescents are especially vulnerable to this year’s flu outbreak.

This year’s vaccine was formulated to protect against three strains of the virus, however the Fujian strain that is circulating is somewhat different. According to the CDC, only 25 percent of influenza viruses found so far are the Panama strain of Influenza A, which is contained in the current vaccine. Though studies have shown that the Panama strain will have some effect against the Fujian strain, the CDC reports that quantifying its effectiveness will not be complete until after the flu season is over.

With vaccine supply limited, the CDC has asked that healthy children aged 6-23 months, adults over 65, pregnant women in their second or third trimester during the influenza season and people over 2 years with chronic conditions be given priority for the injected vaccine. Healthy people aged 5-49 are encouraged to use the inhaled vaccine.

The CDC recommends the following to help prevent the flu:

* Avoid close contact with others when you are sick;
* Stay home from work, school, errands, etc. when you are sick to avoid spreading the illness;
* Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing;
* Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or use an alcohol hand sanitizer if soap and water are not immediately available; and
* Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, since germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.

More details about the flu outbreak are available at:

*Look for the next issue of “In the News” on January 9, 2004.

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