Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – January 9th, 2004

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

January 9, 2004

EPA Releases Planning Tool for Water Security

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has released a package of interim guidance documents to help U.S. water utilities plan for and respond to intentional drinking water contamination.

The Response Protocol Toolbox (RPTB) was designed by USEPA for integration into individual emergency response planning activities to effectively manage a threat to U.S. water supplies. Information contained in the RPTB was developed to assist in the revision of a utility’s emergency response plan (ERP), particularly for contamination threats. However, it is noted that there is currently no regulatory requirement to use the RPTB in the revision of a utility’s ERP.

The EPA produced the RPTB in conjunction with a number of U.S. drinking water utilities, in particular the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

A complete copy of the RPTB is available at:
http://www.epa.gov/safewater/security/pdfs/guide_response_overview.pdf ( PDF)

Norovirus Infects Two End-of-the-Year Cruises

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that two cruise ships, Holland America’s Volendam and P&O Cruises’ Pacific Sky, experienced outbreaks of norovirus gastroenteritis on December voyages.

Norovirus infection results in gastrointestinal illness that is spread through contaminated food, contact with infected people or surfaces, and poor hygiene.

On Holland America’s Volendam, 53 passengers and 11 crewmembers were treated for symptoms that included nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping during a seven-day cruise of the Gulf of Mexico and Bahamas. The Sydney-based Pacific Sky reported that 151 passengers and 165 crewmembers became similarly ill during a 10-night cruise to New Caledonia.

The CDC defines an official outbreak of the virus when the infection rates exceed 3 percent of the ship’s passenger and crew.

According to the CDC, norovirus infects about 23 million people every year. The illness is usually brief, with symptoms lasting for 1 or 2 days. The CDC recommends a series of steps to help prevent norovirus infection, including regular hand washing with soap and cleaning and disinfecting potentially contaminated surfaces using a bleach-based household cleaner.

More information about norovirus and these outbreaks is available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/revb/gastro/norovirus.htm
http://www.cruisecritic.com/news/news.cfm?ID=1026 and
http://www.abcactionnews.com/stories/2003/12/031230cruise.shtml

HHS Funds Early Warning Disease Surveillance System for U.S.-Mexico Border

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has provided the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission with $5.4 million in funding to enhance early warning capabilities for identifying infectious diseases. The three-year program will focus on the early detection, identification and reporting of infectious diseases, both naturally occurring and bio-terrorism related.

The commission will distribute the funds as determined by the HHS and Secretariat of Health of Mexico to the four U.S. states and six Mexican states that share the U.S.-Mexico border. The funding will be applied to disease detection and reporting, epidemiological investigations, information technology, and training activities for developing an early warning infectious disease surveillance system.

For more details about the HHS funding, please visit:
http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2003pres/20031212.html

First Case of Mad Cow Disease Found in U.S. – Overview and Update

As has been widely reported in the national and international media, the first U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, was discovered on a farm near Yakima, Washington on Dec. 23rd. Ear tags discovered at the Washington slaughter plant were traced back to a dairy farm in Leduc, Alberta Canada. Alberta is the same province where Canada’s first native case of mad cow disease was reported in May 2003.

On January 7th U.S. and Canadian agriculture officials confirmed that genetic testing established the cow was born in Canada.

More than two dozen U.S. trading partners have halted shipments of U.S. beef as a result of the discovery of the infected animal. Teams from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have visited Japan, South Korea and Mexico in an effort to restore trade with these top buyers of U.S. beef.

In response to the mad cow disease episode, the USDA announced new protection measures that ban the use “downer” cattle, those unable to walk on their own, for use in the food supply. Additionally, it will be illegal for animals showing signs of neurological illness to be used in human food.

Many scientists believe that cows contract mad cow disease when they consume feed contaminated with pathogenic animal proteins called prions, which are thought to originate in the nerve tissue. In 1997, the FDA prohibited the feeding of most mammal protein to cows.

For more information about the mad cow disease outbreak, please visit:
http://www.forbes.com/business/newswire/2004/01/05/rtr1198433.html
http://www.reuters.com/printerFriendlyPopup.jhtml?type=healthNews&storyID=4075070 and
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N02360666.htm

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